1. Baltimore Ravens (10-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
After convincing victories over the Seahawks, Patriots and Texans, the Ravens found value in being challenged and finding a way to edge the 49ers in the rain and slop Sunday in Baltimore on Justin Tucker’s field goal as time expired. The No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs is theirs to lose, and they certainly look the part of a Super Bowl team.
2. Seattle Seahawks (10-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Seahawks took over first place in the NFC West with the win Monday night at home over the Vikings. They’re the NFC’s No. 2 seed, behind the Saints. Russell Wilson has been great but he also has plenty of help, with a solid running game and a defensive front seven capable of doing its part.
3. New Orleans Saints (10-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Thanksgiving night win over the Falcons was uninspiring. But it nevertheless was a win over a team to which the Saints inexplicably lost earlier in the season. And now comes a major test Sunday with the 49ers coming to the Superdome.
4. San Francisco 49ers (10-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The San Francisco defense matched up well with the Ravens’ revved-up offense and the 49ers took the game in Baltimore down to the final play, even while playing at 10 a.m. West Coast time. The 49ers’ only losses of the season, to the Seahawks and Ravens, have come on last-play field goals. This is an excellent team with staying power. The 49ers will be a major factor in the NFC playoffs, whether they’re the No. 1 or the No. 5 seed.
5. New England Patriots (10-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Yes, the Patriots’ reign will end at some point, and that point could be now. The offense is in disarray. Reinforcements are not on the way, and Tom Brady’s frustration was on vivid display during Sunday night’s loss in Houston. But, as always, count out Brady and Bill Belichick at your own peril.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Few people are talking these days about Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. But Mahomes has 20 touchdown passes and only two interceptions for the season, and the Chiefs are playing well entering Sunday’s game at New England.
7. Buffalo Bills (9-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Thanksgiving victory at Dallas reinforced that the Bills are a legitimate team. While they probably won’t overtake the Patriots in the AFC East, they’re not just headed to the playoffs — they’re a real threat to win a postseason game.
8. Houston Texans (8-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
It was a nice accomplishment for the Texans to beat the Patriots and for Coach Bill O’Brien to finally get a win over his former boss, Bill Belichick. But the Texans might have caught the Patriots at a low point and with a lengthy list of sick players. There are no excuses in the NFL, not for the Patriots or anyone else. But it might be wise not to read too much into this one result.
9. Green Bay Packers (9-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Packers probably aren’t on quite the same level as the Saints, Seahawks and 49ers. But they can beat anyone in the NFC if Aaron Rodgers gets a hot hand during the playoffs and the defense plays at an acceptable level.
10. Minnesota Vikings (8-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
Kirk Cousins’s career record in Monday night games fell to 0-8 with the defeat in Seattle. But this loss had a different feel to it. Cousins played relatively well and led a late comeback. The Vikings need to get healthy and be able to put RB Dalvin Cook and WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the field at the same time.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
It’s tempting to concede the AFC South to the Texans, but the Titans remain a factor. They’re playing well with Ryan Tannehill at QB and still face the Texans twice.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Steelers got the final word in their tussle with the Browns in the proper manner: by winning a football game.
13. Chicago Bears (6-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
This is dangerous territory for the Bears. They cannot get fooled into believing that things will be fine if they stay the course with Mitchell Trubisky at QB.
14. Los Angeles Rams (7-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The Rams aren’t done quite yet. They rebounded from the lopsided loss to the Ravens to outclass the Cardinals on Sunday. The Rams don’t match up with the NFC’s leading contenders. But they still have an outside chance to avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs the season after their Super Bowl appearance.
15. Dallas Cowboys (6-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Jerry Jones tried putting Coach Jason Garrett on notice following the loss at New England. That didn’t work, as the Cowboys’ performance was feeble in the Thanksgiving defeat to the Bills. So now Jones is doing nothing and hoping for the best. Good luck with that.
16. Cleveland Browns (5-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Freddie Kitchens needs to show he understands that being an NFL head coach means being the adult in the room and acting in a professional manner. Having his picture taken while wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” shirt in public amounted to childish blame avoidance. It doesn’t matter who started the Browns-Steelers melee. Myles Garrett was suspended for escalating the fracas to unacceptable levels, something that Kitchens’s apparel of choice fails to acknowledge.
17. Oakland Raiders (6-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Remember all those apologies that were issued a few weeks ago to Jon Gruden when the Raiders appeared to be playoff contenders? Did they come with an expiration date? Now the Raiders are back to faltering.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
A 3-1 finish would get the Buccaneers to .500. If that happens, a case could be made that it’s reasonable to stay the course with Jameis Winston at QB, even with all the turnovers. He is second in the NFL in passing yards, behind only Dak Prescott.
19. Denver Broncos (4-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
It wasn’t exactly a great performance by rookie QB Drew Lock in his first NFL start Sunday against the Chargers. But the Broncos managed to win in dramatic fashion, so that’s at least something on which to build.
20. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Colts, with four losses in five games, have reverted to being the team they probably should have been all season. The kicking miseries continued Sunday for Adam Vinatieri. He’s an all-time great but if this season is it for him, his career is coming to an unceremonious close.
21. Miami Dolphins (3-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The punter-to-kicker touchdown off the fake field goal during the victory over the Eagles was ingenious. Unless it hadn’t worked, of course. Then it would have been foolishly ill-conceived.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The loss to the Dolphins simply was inexcusable for a team in position to tie for the division lead. It underscores that the Eagles simply are not a very good team. They still could end up winning the dreadful NFC East. They’ll be at home for the Dec. 22 meeting with the Cowboys that could be for the division crown. But winning this division looks like less of an accomplishment all the time.
23. Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The late defensive pass interference call against the Chargers, which produced yet another excruciating defeat, was a little picky but probably correct. The real question is: What in the world were the Chargers doing on that play? It’s no wonder that they lose so many games in such agonizing fashion.
24. New York Jets (4-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
Losing Sunday to the previously winless Bengals after losing last month to the then-winless Dolphins is such a Jets thing to do.
25. Washington Redskins (3-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Redskins are, in terms of current level of play, the best team in all of the NFC East. Such as it is.
26. Carolina Panthers (5-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The loss to the Redskins sealed the coaching fate of Ron Rivera. Even though he was fired Tuesday, expect him to land another NFL head coaching job very quickly.
27. Atlanta Falcons (3-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
That two-win resurgence after the 1-7 start? That has quickly given way to losses to the Buccaneers and Saints, and there’s simply nothing positive about this season.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The switch back to rookie Gardner Minshew II at QB is the proper move under the circumstances. There are big decisions to be made by this organization moving forward. Doug Marrone probably will be out as coach. Will Tom Coughlin leave the front office? The new decision-making regime will have to pick between Minshew and Nick Foles.
29. Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Things have gone okay for Coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray in Year 1. Not great, but okay. But the Cardinals simply have to get better on defense.
30. Detroit Lions (3-8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
David Blough gave a respectable performance during the Thanksgiving defeat to the Bears. The Lions should stick with him at QB for the rest of the season and keep Matthew Stafford safely off the field.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (1-11) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Okay, the Bengals got a victory and avoided the ignominy of a winless season. So is that enough to sit down Andy Dalton again and get back to the business at hand of finding out if Ryan Finley can get any better?
32. New York Giants (2-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The trials of this season have been cruel for what traditionally has been one of the league’s most stable and best-run franchises. It will be interesting to see how the blame is divided among GM Dave Gettleman and Coach Pat Shurmur and what ownership decides to do.