2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 12: Dallas Cowboys Win Ninth-Straight Game
Here’s a look at the 2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 12 with the Dallas Cowboys remaining on top with their ninth straight win.
All of a sudden, the 2016 NFL Power Rankings for Week 12 are beginning to get more interesting as the Dallas Cowboys continue to stay hot after picking up their ninth win in a row over the Baltimore Ravens. Thanks to the win, the Cowboys continue to make a strong statement about being the team to beat in the NFC as they currently hold a two-game lead in their division over the New York Giants.
Dallas knew they would be in for a tough matchup against Baltimore and their No. 1 ranked rushing defense, but it was Dak Prescott who stepped it up in the passing game after the rookie threw for three touchdowns while completing 27-of-36 passes for 301 yards. Of course, the most important factor for Prescott was the rookie failed to record a single turnover as he continues to look like a veteran instead of a player with only 10 career starts.
If the Cowboys continue to play at this dominant level, it’s tough to imagine another team overtaking them with the top spot in the rankings. And to think this was the same team that won just four games for the entire 2015 season.
Up next, Dallas will prepare for a key Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Washington Redskins after Kirk Cousins and company are feeling confident following a big win Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. Now, let’s take a look at which teams are chasing the Cowboys for the top spot in the 2016 NFL Power Rankings for Week 12.
32. Cleveland Browns (32)
As if being the only winless team in the league wasn’t already frustrating enough, the quarterback issues continued for the Cleveland Browns after Cody Kessler was forced to leave Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a concussion. With all due respect to the Browns, it didn’t really matter whether it was Kessler or Josh McCown playing quarterback as this team looked flat-out awful against their AFC North rivals.
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Cleveland’s defense had zero answers for stopping Le’Veon Bell after they allowed the star running back to rush for 146 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. At 0-11, it seems more likely the Browns are going to end up on the wrong side of history by finishing the entire 2016 season without a single win as their schedule certainly doesn’t help their case for picking up a win.
Not only does Cleveland have to face Pittsburgh again in their regular season finale, but the next two games for the Browns are home matchups against the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. For a head coach in the middle of his first season with the Browns, it’s tough not to feel bad for Hue Jackson and what he’s had to go through in 2016. And now with Kessler potentially missing more time coming into this tough finishing stretch, Jackson’s job is set to get that much tougher to stomach.
31. San Francisco 49ers (31)
There’s no need to sugarcoat the fact that nobody really gavethe San Francisco 49ers much of a shot against the New England Patriots, even though they did make it a little interesting in the first half. Still, at the end of the day, San Francisco was simply overmatched in this one as the 49ers suffered their ninth loss in a row, with their last win coming opening weekend against the Los Angeles Rams.
San Francisco was only trailing New England by three points at halftime before the Patriots turned on the jets in the second half by going on to defeat the 49ers 30-17. To make matters worse, it looks as if one of their bright spots on a weak defense is done for the year as safety Eric Reid suffered a torn bicep. At 1-9, Chip Kelly‘s first season as head coach in San Francisco continues to be a disaster. One has to wonder if it’s even worth bringing him back for a second year in 2017.
The only positive takeaway from San Francisco’s end is Colin Kaepernick found a way to throw for multiple touchdowns (16-of-30 for 206 yards with two touchdowns) for just the second time in five starts this year. At least the 2016 season is almost over for the 49ers as there’s nothing this team would love more than to just see this year come to an end and start fresh in the offseason.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (29)
After another disappointing loss, it seems like only a matter of time before the Jacksonville Jaguars decide to part ways with Gus Bradley as head coach when looking how this season has gone. Not only did the Jaguars lose for the fifth time in a row, but Sunday also marked the third-straight game in which they lost by single digits and were in position to win in the fourth quarter.
For whatever reason, Jacksonville just hasn’t been able to live up to their preseason hype. Many considered them a team to keep an eye on when it comes to possibly making a run in the AFC. Lack of talent can’t even be used as an excuse when looking at the type of weapons Blake Bortles has to work with, which makes this season even more frustrating for Jaguars fans to follow.
The fact that Bradley is in the middle of his fourth season with the team and has yet to record more than five wins shows why he doesn’t deserve another shot at being this team’s head coach. It looks even worse considering the talent he now has to work with on both sides of the ball. With the way this disappointing season has turned out for Jacksonville, a fresh start sounds like the best option for this team heading into 2017.
29. New York Jets (28)
When it comes to the most disappointing teams of 2016, the New York Jets rank near the top of the list as the bye week couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for this team with a 3-7 record. If Todd Bowles was smart, the head coach would forget about Ryan Fitzpatrick and see what Bryce Petty brings to the table for the rest of the season.
Petty started the team’s last game against the Los Angeles Rams. And even though the Jets came up on the losing end, the quarterback did show potential at times during his first career start. Even if there’s the slightest chance of Petty being the team’s quarterback down the road, the best thing Bowles can do is give him as much experience as possible over the team’s final six games.
Unfortunately, the bye week may not be enough for the Jets as the first team they get to face following the extra time off will be the New England Patriots. If the first 10 games are any indication of what to expect, New York could be in for another tough outing.
Of course, the main question will be whether Bowles decides to go with Petty or Fitzpatrick has his quarterback. Facing that kind of decision in Week 12 is a clear indication of how poorly things have gone for the Jets in 2016.
28. Chicago Bears (30)
At one point, the Chicago Bears seemed like they were going to pull off one of the biggest upsets of Week 11 with a road win against the New York Giants. Of course, that was before allowing Eli Manning and company to finish the game with 17-straight points. Not only are the Bears 2-8 on the season, but John Fox‘s squad has yet to record a win on the road as his team has turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments of 2016.
To top it off, Chicago’s season took another turn for the worse when Alshon Jeffery received a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Between losing Jeffery for three more games along with all of the rumors surrounding teammates being frustrated over Jay Cutler, it’s safe to say this year has been nothing but a hot mess for the Bears.
Now, the question becomes whether Chicago will end up keeping Fox around beyond the 2016 season as the head coach hasn’t made a strong case for himself over the last two years. If there’s anything to take away from this season, it would be the Bears need to make plenty of changes once the offseason finally arrives.
27. Los Angeles Rams (27)
How on earth did the Los Angeles Rams end up losing this game against the Miami Dolphins? Once again, another strong defensive outing went to waste as the offense failed to do their part for the Rams as the hot seat for Jeff Fisher just hit an even higher level heading into Week 12.
There was plenty of hype surrounding Sunday’s game as Jared Goff was finally making his NFL debut. And while the rookie wasn’t terrible in his first career start, he still deserves part of the blame for not doing enough on offense. The fact that Goff only completed 17-of-31 passes for 134 yards shows the former California star still has a long way to go when it comes to learning the Rams offense.
After ranking near the bottom of the league in offense during the 2015 season, the argument can be made that Los Angeles has somehow taken a step back this year when considering the team has only scored 39 combined points over their last four games. It’s frustrating to watch a defense like the Rams continue to carry a team each week with strong performances, only to be let down by the offense every time.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (24)
This season has been an absolute disaster for the Cincinnati Bengals, and it looks like it may have gotten worse. A.J. Green could miss the remainder of the season after suffering a serious hamstring injury against the Buffalo Bills. Even worse, Giovani Bernard is also done for the year after tearing his ACL. For a team that was supposed to be one of the best in the AFC once again, the Bengals can basically stick a fork in their 2016 season after dropping to 3-6-1 following Sunday’s loss.
Obviously, losing Green at the beginning of the game ended up being a huge factor in this one as Cincinnati certainly missed having their top weapon on offense. If Green does in fact end up missing the rest of the season, it will be interesting to see what type of adjustments Cincinnati makes on offense as someone will need to step up for Andy Dalton in the passing game.
Expectations were high for Dalton at the beginning of the year when considering the Bengals have reached the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. Unfortunately, all signs point to that streak coming to an end unless some sort of miracle happens for Cincinnati over the final six games of the regular season, which obviously isn’t going to happen.
Also, it will be interesting to see what the team ends up doing with Marvin Lewis as the head coach’s future has been quite the popular topic of discussion as of late.
25. Arizona Cardinals (21)
Remember at the beginning of the season when the Arizona Cardinals were seen as one of the favorites to win the NFC? With the way this season is turning out, it’s safe to say the Cardinals aren’t even good enough to compete for a Wild Card spot at this point.
When looking at the amount of talent on both sides of the football, nobody could have predicted Arizona to struggle the way they have in 2016. The team is coming off another disappointing loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a team that entered Sunday with a four-game losing streak. If the Cardinals can’t even figure out a way to defeat a struggling team like the Vikings, it’s no surprise to see this team sitting at 4-5-1 heading into the final weekend of November.
Not even 160 yards from scrimmage to go along with two touchdowns by David Johnson was good enough to help Arizona in this one as they simply allowed too many mistakes on offense and special teams. Really, it’s a shame to see all of this talent go to waste as many believed this was finally going to be the year of the Cardinals reaching the Super Bowl with Carson Palmer at quarterback.
24. San Diego Chargers (23)
With the way the other three teams in the AFC West are playing at the moment, the San Diego Chargers ruined any slim chances of making a late run at the division following their Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins at home. Philip Rivers chose the wrong time to have one of his worst games of the 2016 season after the quarterback threw four interceptions against the Dolphins, including a costly one to Kiko Alonso that was returned 60 yards for what ended up being the game-winning touchdown.
If only the Chargers hadn’t started the year losing four of their first five games, this team would have been able to afford a loss like the one against the Dolphins. Instead, it would take San Diego a miracle to even come close to making the playoffs with a 4-6 record heading into Week 12.
Plus, the remaining schedule for the Chargers certainly doesn’t work to their advantage with games against teams like the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. It sounds bad, but the only type of impact San Diego seems capable of making over the final six games is the role of spoiler for the rest of the contenders in the AFC.
23. Green Bay Packers (19)
Now that they’ve officially lost five of their last six games, the Green Bay Packers can officially stick a fork in their 2016 season when looking at how terrible this team looked at the end of Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. After putting up a fight in the first half, everything seemed to go downhill for the Packers in the second half as they were outscored 29-14.
For weeks, Green Bay has been receiving the benefit of the doubt for all of the injuries they’ve been dealing with, especially at the running back position. The Packers are never going to be successful when Aaron Rodgers is forced to lead the team in both passing and rushing as the veteran quarterback finished with 33 rushing yards against the Redskins.
So how does Green Bay get out of their slump? While a matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12 seems like a perfect cure, keep in mind how well this team has been playing at home this season.
If the Eagles defense can contain the high-powered offense of the Atlanta Falcons, there’s no reason why the same can’t happen to the Packers, especially when looking at their struggles during their four-game losing streak.
22. Buffalo Bills (22)
When looking at all of the injuries the Buffalo Bills were dealing with on offense, they should consider themselves lucky for finding a way to pull off a win on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even if the Bills were at an extra advantage after A.J. Green was forced to leave at the beginning of the game with a hamstring injury, this team should just feel happy to win and put an end to their three game losing streak.
One of the key injuries by Buffalo against Cincinnati was at running back as LeSean McCoy suffered a dislocated thumb, even though it’s unsure if he will miss any time off the football field. Still, for a team barely hanging on in the playoff race, this type of injury for McCoy was the last thing the Bills could afford this late into the season.
On a positive note, at least Buffalo has a favorable matchup next weekend when they host the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars. As mentioned before, the chances of the Bills making the playoffs seem slim when looking at all of the injuries this team has been dealing with. But keep in mind this was one of the hottest teams in football during the first two months of the regular season.
21. New Orleans Saints (16)
When the New Orleans Saints faced the Carolina Panthers in the middle of October, Drew Brees had a field day as the quarterback threw for 465 yards with four touchdowns. This time around, it took the Saints until the fourth quarter to finally start putting some points up on the board, even though their late rally fell just short.
As if only completing 35-of-44 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns wasn’t already disappointing enough, Brees also recorded two turnovers as the Saints fell to the Panthers 23-20. If only New Orleans wasn’t limited to scoring just three points over the first three quarters of the game, there’s a good chance Brees and company would have come up on the winning end in this one.
Instead, the Saints have now lost two in row between Thursday’s game against the Panthers and the Denver Broncos in Week 10. For a team that was on the rise a few weeks ago after winning four of five games, New Orleans looks like the team that struggled to close out games at the beginning of the season.
To top the frustration off, five of the six losses by the Saints this season have been by six points or less.
20. Carolina Panthers (26)
Despite the impressive win over the New Orleans Saints, the main concern for the Carolina Panthers heading into Week 12 is the health of Luke Kuechly, who was forced to leave Thursday’s game after suffering a concussion. What made this injury even more devastating to watch was the reaction from Kuechly as the linebacker was sitting on the field in tears after the hit took place.
As for the actual game, the Panthers’ defense displayed another dominating performance after holding off the Saints 23-20 to earn their third win in four games. Carolina may be heating up over the last few weeks, but their disappointing 1-5 start to the season could force this team to miss out on the postseason.
Not only do the Panthers still trail the Atlanta Falcons by two games in the division, but their schedule isn’t exactly a walk in the park with upcoming road games against the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. As well as Carolina has been playing, this seems like the perfect example of too little, too late for the defending NFC champions.
Of course, nothing is over until it’s officially over as plenty could happen over the final six games for the Panthers.
19. Tennessee Titans (15)
The argument can be made that if the Tennessee Titans didn’t fall so far behind early on, they would have ended their struggles against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Unfortunately, the Titans fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter, and by the time they finally started to play defense, it was already too late as they went on to lose the game 24-17.
What makes this loss even more frustrating for Tennessee is Sunday marked the second time this season they lost to Indianapolis by single digits. For a team that finally seemed to be taking strides in the right direction, the Titans know they missed out on a big opportunity for a statement win in the AFC South.
Tennessee was already a long shot to make a late run at the division title, and after Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis, it’s safe to say winning the AFC South is out of reach at this point. While the Titans have pulled off some impressive wins on the season against teams like the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, they still have been one of the most inconsistent teams throughout the regular season, but at least the future continues to look bright for Marcus Mariota at quarterback.
18. Baltimore Ravens (17)
For the most part, the Baltimore Ravens played well against the Dallas Cowboys as the league’s top rushing defense knew they would have their hands full squaring off against Ezekiel Elliott. While the Ravens contained Elliott (97 rushing yards) for the most part, it was Dak Prescott that caused the most problems for the defense after the rookie quarterback had another strong performance by throwing three touchdown passes.
The Ravens have been one of the toughest teams to figure out this season after starting off the year with a 3-0 record before going on to lose their next four games. Even coming into Sunday’s games against Dallas, Baltimore had managed to take over first place in the AFC North thanks to key wins against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
Unfortunately, the loss on Sunday dropped the Ravens to .500 on the season, but they are technically still in first place thanks to their head-to-head win over the Steelers. On a positive note, at least Baltimore should feel confident about keeping it close with one of the league’s hottest teams in Dallas.
With three of their next four games at home, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens bounce back after falling short in Week 11.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25)
In what may go down as the biggest surprise from Week 11, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled off a shocking road win against one of the hottest teams in football over the last few games in the Kansas City Chiefs thanks to an amazing performance by the defense. Thanks to their 19-17 win, the Buccaneers improved to 4-1 on the road this season, but the frustrating factor is they struggle to win at home.
When looking at this impressive record on the road, it’s amazing to see Tampa Bay is only 5-5 on the season as this team could easily be in much better shape in the NFC South. Instead, the Buccaneers still trail the Atlanta Falcons by one game in the division heading into next weekend’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, which obviously isn’t going to be a walk in the park.
And if next weekend wasn’t already tough enough, Tampa Bay also has remaining games against the New Orleans Saints (two of them) and the Dallas Cowboys. In other words, it looks like the inability of the Buccaneers to win at home could end up backfiring over the final weeks.
Then again, if the defense can find a way to play like thy did against the Chiefs, the Buccaneers would have a much better chance at competing with the Falcons for the division title.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (12)
Sunday’s game was so bad for the Philadelphia Eagles that even Doug Baldwin was finding ways to throw touchdown passes as the road woes continued for Doug Pederson‘s team after their 26-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Everyone knew there was a possibility the Eagles would struggle to put up points in this tough road matchup, but nobody expected them to look this bad, especially on offense.
It’s no secret Philadelphia’s receiving corps is one of the worst in the league, but watching players like Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor continue to drop passes each game is the most annoying thing in the world to witness. These players are lucky enough to have jobs where all they have to do is catch the football, yet for some reason they continue to let their teammates down.
The Eagles can kiss any slim chances of winning the NFC East goodbye as this team sits at 5-5 heading into another tough matchup in Week 12 against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. If Philadelphia looked this bad against Seattle’s offense, just imagine the type of field day Rodgers is going to have when he travels to the City of Brotherly Love for Monday Night Football.
15. Indianapolis Colts (20)
It’s a shame the Indianapolis Colts can’t play the Tennessee Titans more than twice each season as Sunday marked the 11th win in a row for Andrew Luck‘s squad over their division rivals. Luck wasted no time getting the ball rolling for the Colts on offense after scoring 21 points in the first half, but they were limited to only recording a field goal in the second half before hanging on for the 24-17 victory.
Despite two impressive wins in a row against the Titans and Green Bay Packers, the Colts still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making a playoff run. Indianapolis may have won three of their last four games, but their 2-4 start to the season put them in an early hole in the division as the Houston Texans continue to be the favorites in the AFC South.
Of course, if Luck can help continue to keep this team rolling, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Colts make a surprise run in the final six games of the regular season. With one more game against Houston, anything seems possible when taking a closer look at the chances of Indianapolis pushing for the AFC South title.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (18)
Apparently, the Pittsburgh Steelers just needed a game against the Cleveland Browns to get out of their recent slump as the defense had a field day after recording eight sacks. The Steelers had been one of the most disappointing teams in the league heading into Week 11 after suffering four losses in a row, but this was the kind of performance fans have expected from Mike Tomlin’s squad all season.
Ben Roethlisberger may not have found the end zone, but it was Le’Veon Bell that did most of the damage on offense after rushing for 146 yards with a touchdown on 28 carries. When considering the Browns are the only team in the NFL without a win, the Steelers knew this was one of those games where they only needed Big Ben to perform the minimum to get by as this team also received help from the Dallas Cowboys, who defeated the Baltimore Ravens 27-17.
This season may not be going the way Pittsburgh had originally expected at the beginning of the season, but they’re still in great shape to make a run at the AFC North title as they head into Week 12 with the same 5-5 record as Baltimore. Hopefully, this game was a sign of the Steelers finally being ready to turn their season around and make a strong run at the playoffs in the final stretch.
13. Minnesota Vikings (14)
After four frustrating performances, the Minnesota Vikings finally got back on the winning track against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to keep up with the Detroit Lions in the NFC North. While there were numerous key takeaways from this big win, it was the 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Xavier Rhodes and the kickoff returned 104 yards for a score by Cordarrelle Patterson that stood out the most.
After a 5-0 start to the season, Minnesota was an early favorite to represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl before going on to lose their next four games. Unfortunately, the injury bug had been catching up with the Vikings, but their 30-24 win over the Cardinals was the perfect reason to believe they’re still capable of fighting for a playoff spot in the conference.
If Minnesota can receive better play from Sam Bradford at quarterback, it would help the team feel more confident about their chances of winning the division over Detroit or the Green Bay Packers. Not to mention the Vikings already surrendered a future first-round pick so acquire Bradford in the offseason, so let’s hope the veteran quarterback can come through when his teammates need him the most over these next few weeks.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (5)
The Kansas City Chiefs were one of the teams considered to be on upset alert heading into Week 11 when looking at how it seemed to only be a matter of time before their offensive woes caught up with them. With that being said, nobody expected the Chiefs to fall at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like they did on Sunday during their 19-17 loss.
If Kansas City can’t even score more than 17 points against a struggling defense like Tampa Bay while playing at home, it’s safe to say this team is in trouble when it comes to being contenders in the AFC. The Chiefs have established a reputation for having their defense lead the way over the last couple of years, but this year seems different.
Unless Alex Smith figures out a way to elevate the offense to another level, the Chiefs don’t seem like much of a threat in the AFC. Kansas City may seem like they’re in good shape at 7-3 heading into Week 12, but this team clearly still has plenty of areas in need of improvement on both sides of the football.
With a tough matchup on the road next weekend against the Denver Broncos, it will be interesting to see if these struggles continue for the Chiefs.
11. Miami Dolphins (13)
All hope seemed lost for the Miami Dolphins when they found themselves trailing 10-0 late in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams, but Ryan Tannehill proved once again why a game is never over until the clock officially reads zero. Thanks to the quarterback’s late heroics, the Dolphins pulled off a miraculous win on the road against the Rams to earn their fifth straight win.
To say the offense looked terrible for the most part against Los Angeles would be a huge understatement on Miami’s end as Adam Gase‘s team just couldn’t figure out a way to get anything going until late in the fourth quarter. What’s even more impressive about this victory is this marked the fourth-straight game in which the Dolphins won by single digits, which means they’re doing a much better job at closing out games.
Thanks to their recent hot streak, not only are the Dolphins making a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the AFC, but they only trail the New England Patriots by two games in the division. It sounds crazy, but if Miami continues to play this well, that regular season finale against New England could have a major impact on the winner of the division.
10. Houston Texans (10) — Play Monday Night
Isn’t it amazing how it took the Houston Texans until Week 10 to record their first road win of the 2016 season? Even though Monday’s game against the Oakland Raiders will be played in Mexico City, the Texans better hope their previous road woes are no longer an issue as this would be the perfect opportunity to make a statement against a legitimate AFC contender.
Houston may be the favorites to win the AFC South at the moment, but even they know the division is one of the weakest in the NFL. If the Texans played in any other division, there’s a chance they wouldn’t even be contenders when looking at how they’ve failed to live up to their offseason hype.
When the team signed Brock Osweiler in free agency, he was supposed to be the quarterback to build the franchise around. There’s still time for Osweiler to prove he’s capable of making that happen, but he hasn’t made that strong of a case with his play over the team’s first 10 games.
If Osweiler can manage to pull off a big game against a team like the Raiders, it would make the Texans feel more confident during this playoff stretch.
9. Washington Redskins (9)
Don’t look now, but the Washington Redskins seem to be heating up at the right time after back-to-back wins against the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Kirk Cousins played out of his mind against the Packers in the national spotlight after completing 21 of 30 passes for 375 yards with three touchdowns as the quarterback continues to make a strong case for a long-term deal in the offseason.
Cousins was the main reason why the Redskins were able to claim the NFC East title last year, and even though they still face a tough road when it comes to overtaking the Dallas Cowboys, this team is still in good position for at least a Wild Card spot. At this point, the most important factor for Washington is to just get into the postseason, and fans should be even more excited for the upcoming game on Thanksgiving against Dallas.
If the Redskins can find a way to pull off a win against the Cowboys on the road, it would make a huge statement about being a team on the rise in the NFC. After scoring 42 points against the Packers, this team has every reason in the world to feel confident right now.
8. New York Giants (8)
It may have been closer than originally expected, but the New York Giants rallied in the second half against the Chicago Bears to earn their fifth win in a row to stay close in the hunt for the NFC East title. After the offense struggled to put up points for most of the first half, Eli Manning helped turn things around in the third quarter after throwing two touchdown passes to Will Tye and Sterling Shepard.
Speaking of Shepard, the rookie has been on fire over the last couple of weeks for the Giants as the rookie has now caught a touchdown pass in each of his last three games. Between Shepard’s stellar play along with Manning having one of the league’s most talented offensive players in Odell Beckham Jr., there’s every reason to believe New York will continue to stay hot as one of the top team’s to beat in the NFC.
Despite being 7-3, the Giants still trail the Dallas Cowboys by two games in the NFC East, but there’s still plenty of time to make a last-minute run at the division title. Crazier things have happened in football, as New York will be anxious to square off against their division rivals for the second time in the middle of December.
7. Detroit Lions (11)
The last thing the Detroit Lions wanted to see happen in Week 11 was suffer an embarrassing loss at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars when considering how terrible Gus Bradley‘s squad has looked over the last few weeks. Luckily, the Lions avoided this upset with a strong performance in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars to win for the fifth time in six games.
After starting off the season with a 1-4 record, it’s amazing to see Detroit turn their season around by emerging as one of the hottest teams in the NFC over the last couple of weeks, mainly due to the solid play of Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Even though Stafford failed to throw a touchdown pass against the Jaguars, it was defense and special teams that stepped it up in Week 11 thanks to touchdowns by Andre Roberts and Rafael Bush.
With a 6-4 record, Detroit remains in the driver’s seat of the NFC North thanks to their head-to-head win over the Minnesota Vikings a few weeks back. Of course, the toughest challenge for the Lions will be surviving their tough schedule as they still have three games within the division along with road game against the red-hot Dallas Cowboys.
As long as Stafford stays healthy and continues playing at a high level, expect Detroit to continue being one of the hottest teams in the NFC.
6. Atlanta Falcons (7)
Even though they’re coming off a tough loss on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Atlanta Falcons are still in good shape when it comes to remaining on top of the NFC South. Now, the challenge becomes avoiding another collapse in the second half of the regular season like the Falcons did in 2015 so they don’t miss out on playing in the postseason.
On paper, Atlanta has one of the league’s most high-powered offenses thanks to the dynamic duo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on offense. Assuming all goes well over the remaining six games, there’s a good chance Ryan will find his name in the conversation for MVP when the time comes at the end of the regular season.
The good news for Atlanta is four of the team’s final six games will be played at home, beginning in Week 12 against the Arizona Cardinals. Hopefully, the offense of the Falcons returns to their dominant level instead of playing like they did against the Eagles before their bye week.
Otherwise, the pressure is going to hit a whole new level for Atlanta as there will be constant comparisons to what happened at the end of the 2015 season when they lost seven of their final nine games.
5. Denver Broncos (6)
In what may go down as one of the craziest endings to a game from the 2016 season, the Denver Broncos returned a blocked extra point in the final two minutes against the New Orleans Saints in Week 10 to give them a thrilling 25-23 win. With an extra week of rest following the exciting finish, the defending Super Bowl champions will need all of the help they can get with a key division matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs when they return in Week 12.
The AFC West is turning out to be one of the most competitive divisions in football, which means this game between the Broncos and Chiefs could turn out to be quite the showdown. Denver’s defense has carried this team all season, but it’s the offense that could end up being the difference maker over the final six games when it comes to earning a spot in the postseason.
Unless Trevor Siemian figures out a way to elevate his game to the next level, the Broncos’ offense is going to continue ranking near the bottom of the league. When looking at some of the key weapons Siemian has to work with in the passing game like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, there’s really no excuse for Denver to be struggling this much from an offensive perspective.
4. Oakland Raiders (3)
After years of fans dealing with frustration, the Oakland Raiders are finally contenders in the AFC as they look to continue staying hot in Mexico City against the Houston Texans. At 7-2, the Raiders have emerged as one of the hottest teams in football thanks to six wins over their last seven games, but they still have a long way to go when it comes to proving they’re the real deal.
Oakland may be in solid position when it comes to earning a playoff spot in the AFC, but it’s no secret this young team is inexperienced when it comes to the postseason. When considering the Raiders haven’t even had a winning record since the 2002 season, the true test will be how this team handles the pressure moving forward.
The best thing Oakland can do is take the rest of the season one game at a time to prove they are in fact legitimate contenders in the AFC, especially when seeing how competitive the rest of the division is turning out to be. As long as Derek Carr continues to play at his MVP level, this shouldn’t be an issue for the Raiders against the Texans as they should provide quite the show for the crowd in Mexico City.
3. Seattle Seahawks (4)
The numbers may not indicate it, but Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles was one of the more relaxing performances by the Seattle Seahawks, as they seemed to cruise for the easy 26-15 win. Once again, Russell Wilson was phenomenal at quarterback for the Seahawks after completing 18 of 31 passes for 272 yards with one touchdown, but his most impressive play of the game was arguably the 15-yard touchdown catch from Doug Baldwin in the third quarter.
After there was reason for concern at the beginning of the season due to his health, Wilson has looked like his old self over the last three games as he has Seattle’s offense rolling. And when looking at the way the Seahawks have been winning games, the argument can be made they’re one of the top teams to beat in the NFC along with the Dallas Cowboys.
Thanks to the collapse of the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, Seattle has a comfortable enough lead in the NFC West where it would almost be impossible for them not to win the division title. As conceded as a statement like that sounds, this just shows the type of level the Seahawks are playing on.
2. New England Patriots (2)
One week after the New England Patriots suffered a devastating loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks, Tom Brady bounced back with a solid performance against the San Francisco 49ers after the future Hall of Famer threw for 280 yards to go along with four touchdowns. And if the 30-17 win by the Patriots wasn’t already impressive enough, Brady also made history by tying Brett Favre for the second most wins by a quarterback in NFL history (199).
Nothing against San Francisco, but New England entered this game knowing they had no business losing when considering the difference of talent level between the two teams. Plus, the Patriots were playing with a little extra motivation to avoid suffering their third loss of the season.
With the way Brady has been playing since his return from suspension, it will be interesting to see if he can find a way to be considered for the MVP award, despite missing the first four games of the 2016 season. If any player were capable of pulling off something incredible like this, it would be Brady.
Up next, the Patriots are lucky enough to face another favorable matchup with a game against the 3-7 New York Jets. At this rate, don’t be surprised if Brady has himself another four-touchdown performance when these two AFC East rivals square off next Sunday.
1. Dallas Cowboys (1)
The Dallas Cowboys continue to be the hottest team in the NFL after picking up their ninth straight win against the Baltimore Ravens thanks to a strong performance by Dak Prescott on offense. Not only was the rookie quarterback nearly perfect after completing 27 of 36 passes for 301 yards with three touchdowns, but two of those scores went to Dez Bryant.
Even though he’s been back for a few weeks, Cowboys fans have been waiting to see Prescott get into a rhythm with Bryant in the passing game, and it’s started to show more over the last two games as the wideout has found the end zone three times. Even on Sunday against the Ravens, Bryant turned out to be a difference maker after hauling in six passes for 80 yards to go along with his two touchdowns.
After finishing 4-12 in 2015, nobody could have predicted Dallas would be this dominant this season, especially with two rookies leading the offense in Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. At 9-1, it’s tough to imagine any one else as the team to beat in the NFC as the Cowboys seem determined to make a deep run into the postseason once January rolls around.