1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
Patrick Mahomes probably reclaimed front-runner status in the league MVP chase with his crunch-time exploits in Sunday’s victory over the Ravens. The Chiefs now are in very good position to secure the AFC’s top postseason seed, even if they stumble Thursday night against the Chargers. The potential return of safety Eric Berry would be a major boost for the defense.
2. New Orleans Saints (11-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Saints finally shrugged off their recent malaise by coming from behind to win in Tampa. They’re back in the pole position for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, thanks to the Rams’ loss in Chicago. But the Saints cannot afford any more missteps.
3. Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Are the Chargers the best NFL team in L.A.? Possibly so, based on current level of play. But to keep it that way, they must go to Kansas City and win Thursday night, and that’s not easy.
4. Los Angeles Rams (11-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The temptation was to drop the Rams even further, behind the Cowboys and Bears. After all, they lost to the Bears and the Cowboys are playing even better than the Bears are. For now, the Rams get the benefit of the doubt and the loss Sunday night in Chicago will be partially forgiven as an aberration. But it was worrisome to see the L.A. offense shut down so completely this close to the postseason in a very meaningful game.
5. Dallas Cowboys (8-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
It’s easy to make fun of Jerry Jones and say that his tinkering on the football side of the operation has kept the Cowboys from recapturing their past glories. But give him credit: His trade for wide receiver Amari Cooper turned around the season, and now the Cowboys are about to win the NFC East.
6. Chicago Bears (9-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Chicago defense was tremendous Sunday night against the Rams, shutting down running back Todd Gurley and harassing quarterback Jared Goff into four interceptions and three sacks. That more than compensated for the three-interception struggles of Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Chicago clearly is a dangerous team, but Trubisky will have to play better if it is going to string together multiple postseason victories.
7. New England Patriots (9-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Having Rob Gronkowski on the field for the miraculous play by the Dolphins was a huge mistake. But it certainly wasn’t the only mistake made Sunday by the Patriots, with Tom Brady’s clock-management gaffe at the end of the first half and Stephen Gostkowski’s kicking misadventures. Nobody shrugs off setbacks better than the Patriots, and they can file that one under their ongoing issues when they play in Miami. But now they must face a desperate Steelers team Sunday in Pittsburgh.
8. Houston Texans (9-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The loss to the Colts shouldn’t keep the Texans from winning the division. But they missed an opportunity to move up in the AFC playoff seeding.
9. Seattle Seahawks (8-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
It remains pretty amazing what the Seahawks are doing in what really should be a rebuilding season. The defense was terrific Monday night against the Vikings and the offense did just enough to win.
10. Miami Dolphins (7-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Dolphins executed that play so well, they now should make a minimum of two laterals on each offensive play.
11. Baltimore Ravens (7-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Ravens pushed the Chiefs to the limit Sunday in Kansas City, losing only because of a few breathtaking plays by Patrick Mahomes. The loss undoubtedly will tempt Coach John Harbaugh to switch back to Joe Flacco at quarterback, assuming that Flacco will be able to play this coming week. But Harbaugh and the Ravens might be well served to stick with Lamar Jackson.
12. Indianapolis Colts (7-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
No matter what happens from here, this should be regarded as a successful season for the Colts. But somehow sneaking into the playoffs would make it even better.
13. Tennessee Titans (7-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Just a small suggestion: Keep giving the ball to Derrick Henry, as often as possible.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
What is going on with the Steelers? Forget about the bad-field issue on the final kick in Oakland. Having a game against the Raiders come down to that is unforgivable. The three-game losing streak is bad enough. What makes it worse is that the Patriots and Saints are up next on the schedule.
15. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Vikings gave that contract to Kirk Cousins for this?
16. New York Giants (5-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The more the Giants win, the more the what-ifs pile up: What if they’d held on to that lead in Philadelphia? What if that long field goal by the Panthers had missed?
17. Detroit Lions (5-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The win over the Cardinals keeps the possibility of a .500 season in play, and now the Bills are up next.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
It’s not looking good for the defending champs after the near-miss loss in Dallas. Now it’s off to L.A. to face the Rams with the Eagles clinging to fading wild-card hopes.
19. Cleveland Browns (5-7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The realistic goal for the Browns for this season should have been to reach respectable status. And they’ve done that, even while enduring a coaching change along the way.
20. Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The Joe Philbin interim-coaching era began ignominiously with two failed instant-replay challenges in the opening minutes Sunday against the Falcons. But Philbin and the Packers settled down from there and managed to get a win in the team’s first game since firing Mike McCarthy as head coach.
21. Denver Broncos (6-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Just when the Broncos had begun to piece together their broken season, they went out and lost to the 49ers. Now they can return to irrelevance.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The Buccaneers actually made things interesting against the Saints, making a bid to beat New Orleans for the second time this season. Then normalcy was restored.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
Jaguars defenders wanted absolutely no part of trying to tackle Derrick Henry on Thursday night. And the effort level of Jacksonville’s players in a lost season has become an issue.
24. Washington Redskins (6-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
What’s your favorite memory of the Mark Sanchez era as the Redskins’ starting quarterback? Didn’t it seem like it just started yesterday?
25. Carolina Panthers (6-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The losing streak has reached five games and quarterback Cam Newton is being asked whether he plans to sit out the final three games to rest his ailing shoulder. The Panthers still have to face the Saints twice. There’s a decent chance they’ll go winless in the season’s second half.
26. Arizona Cardinals (3-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
There is little reason to pay attention to the Cardinals, as has been the case for most of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s career. But Fitzgerald continues to act like the consummate pro and produce like a Hall of Famer, breaking Jerry Rice’s record for the most catches with one team in NFL history on Sunday.
27. Oakland Raiders (3-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The firing of Reggie McKenzie as general manager Monday was a consolidation of the power that everyone knew Coach Jon Gruden already had. Beating the Steelers was nice but it wasn’t a good Sunday for the Raiders’ draft positioning with the Cowboys and Bears, who traded first-rounders to Oakland, also winning.
28. New York Jets (4-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
If a Jets-Bills game occurs and no one notices, did it really happen?
29. San Francisco 49ers (3-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Does no one want the No. 1 pick in this NFL draft? Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned tanking?
30. Buffalo Bills (4-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Yes, the Bills actually were a playoff team last season, as difficult as that is to believe now.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
When does the Bengals’ spirited effort to save Coach Marvin Lewis’s job begin?
32. Atlanta Falcons (4-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
This is getting really ugly now, with five straight losses. The job of Coach Dan Quinn probably is safe. But he might not want to press his luck too much further.