1. Dallas (10-1). LW: 1. The Cowboys won on Thanksgiving and then got to sit back and enjoy dessert: a Seahawks loss. With five games to play, that gives them a 2.5 game lead for home-field advantage in the NFC, a very pretty spot to be sitting in.
2. New England (9-2). LW: 3. It was clear on Sunday that Tom Brady’s mysterious knee injury was bothering him to some degree. We all know the Patriots are notoriously tight-lipped on injuries, so it’s hard to know how serious it is, but does it have the potential to linger into January?
3. Oakland (9-2). LW: 4. The Raiders have survived a lot of thrillers, and that’s because they have a great pair of closers in Derek Carr and Khalil Mack.
4. Seattle (7-3-1). LW: 2. The Seahawks are a much better team with Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett, but most teams can say that about their star players. After a few weeks of looking dominant, the loss to the Bucs was a clunker of a game.
5. Kansas City (8-3). LW: 6. I think Alex Smith is perennially underappreciated, and maybe that’s why the Chiefs have been overlooked as contenders. Yes, he and the offense have had some struggles the past three weeks, a span during which he’s also been without top receiver Jeremy Maclin. But when he had to on Sunday night, he led three scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime.
6. Denver (7-4). LW: 5. The bad news for the Broncos was, well, the outcome. The good news was how well Trevor Siemian played. Gary Kubiak has indicated over the last few weeks that they’re going to throw everything they have into coaching Siemian, but you have to figure that a lot depends on how he finishes this season. The throws he was asked to make Sunday night—and made—said a lot.
7. Atlanta (7-4). LW: 7. The Browns must really regret cutting Taylor Gabriel. And Taylor Gabriel must really relish playing with Matt Ryan.
8. Detroit (7-4). LW: 8. This is certainly not the NFC North race anyone expected. The Lions are on top because they can do what their division foes can’t: close out games in the fourth quarter.
9. New York Giants (8-3). LW: 10. The Giants are in very good position in the NFC wild-card race, though they have a tough schedule ahead: at Pittsburgh, vs. Dallas, vs. Detroit, at Philadelphia, at Washington.
10. Washington (6-4-1). LW: 8. They have some winnable NFC games in the home stretch of their schedule (Cardinals, Panthers, Bears). Jumping way ahead here, but that New Year’s Day home game against the Giants could be a big one.
11. Miami (7-4). LW: 12. Adam Gase is a fiery coach, and that’s been a great thing for the Dolphins. He also might be the least content coach on a six-game winning streak, and that’s also been a great thing. After starting the season 1-4, Gase has Miami in the playoff picture.
12. Pittsburgh (6-5). LW: 11. It’s a two-team race in the AFC North. The Steelers need more defense. The Ravens need more offense. They don’t play head to head for four more weeks, Dec. 25 at Pittsburgh.
13. Baltimore (6-5). LW: 14. As streaky as the offense has been, it’s certainly a comfort to know you really only have to get to midfield or so to score (not hyperbole). The NFL’s only perfect kicker is worth every penny of that $16.8 million contract.
14. Tampa Bay (6-5). LW: 17. With back-to-back wins against two of the NFL’s top five teams, Kansas City and Seattle, the Bucs are keeping things interesting in the NFC South while looking like a team that’s headed in the right direction. It’s been a while since they could say that.