And then there was one... the Panthers enter week 13 as the only undefeated team left in the NFL. The top teams have clearly established themselves, and we have a good idea at who is going to end the season at the bottom... but the middle is where the fun is, with a slew of teams still right in the middle of the playoff hunt and crunch time beginning.
32. Tennessee Titans (2-9, Previously #32) - It was one of their better efforts this season, but the Titans still fell short against the Oakland Raiders. The Titans look likely to find themselves making another pick early in the draft.
31. Cleveland Browns (2-9, Previously #31) - The Cleveland Browns just keep finding ways to lose football games. Now tied for the #1 overall pick, I feel sorry for whomever they
ruin draft next. Looking at their schedule, even the biggest optimist would find it hard to see the Browns pick up more than 1 more win before the end of the season.
30. Dallas Cowboys (3-8, Previously #12) - Just one week after his triumphant return, Tony Romo's season is done for good... and so is Dallas Cowboys'. The Cowboys went 0-7 without Romo in games that they actually wanted/needed to win, I can't imagine they'll be putting up anything better now that they are playing for nothing.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7, Previously #28) - The Jaguars longest winning streak of the season (2 games) came to an end with the loss to the Chargers. Still just two games back in both the division and Wild Card, the Jaguars square off against the Titans, a team they beat just before this last game.
28. San Diego Chargers (3-8, Previously #29) - They picked up the win to stay alive, but it'll be a tough climb from here. Mathematically eliminated from the divisional race, the Chargers find themselves 3 games back in the Wild Card with just 5 games left. In those 5 games, they play the Broncos twice and the Chiefs (whom they lost to by 30 at home) on the road.
27. Baltimore Ravens (4-7, Previously #30) - The Ravens pick up the win in their first game without Flacco, but if I were a Ravens fan, I wouldn't be expecting too many more. The Ravens travel to Miami this week, before finishing out the year with games against Seattle, KC, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. That's a tough schedule for winning games, but a decent schedule for climbing up the draft board.
26. San Francisco 49ers (3-8, Previously #27) - With their last loss and the Cardinals win, the 49ers are now mathematically eliminated from winning the NFC West. While they are still alive for a Wild Card, that seems highly unlikely. The organization has some tough choices to make at head coach and quarterback, but luckily for them, they'll have an enticing draft pick to dangle in front of candidates.
25. New Orleans Saints (4-7, Previously #25) - That was an ugly game all around. The defense eventually started to step up a little, but that was after giving up two very early TDs to make sure the Saints' offense never got into a rhythm. While the offense has typically done their part this year, they were just as much to blame for the loss this week. The Saints now find themselves at the awkward point of "must win every game to stay alive" and "must lose every game to get a good pick."
24. Philadelphia Eagles (4-7, Previously #24) - Three straight losses have the Eagles reeling, and it won't get any easier against the Patriots, this week. Chip Kelly is trying to make players fit a system, instead of the other way around; that works with a good system on the collegiate level, not so much in the big leagues.
23. Miami Dolphins (4-7, Previously #23) - Another loss, another Miami coaching casualty, as the Dolphins fire another OC. I still believe Ryan Tannehill can be a very good pro QB, but he needs A) some stability and B) some accountability. It seems all of the blame falls straight to the coaches, which isn't unfounded, but at some point Tannehill has to do his part. The Dolphins are technically still alive in the Wild Card, but the latest loss and subsequent coaching move says that this team isn't quite ready to compete.
22. St. Louis Rams (4-7, Previously #22) - Their 4th consecutive loss puts the Rams in a tough spot to try to make a playoff push... Spoiler alert, it's not going to happen. Jeff Fisher (who hasn't had a winning season since 2008) has been the Rams coach for 4 years now, with his best season at 7-8-1; how does he still have a job?
21. Atlanta Falcons (6-5, Previously #20) - Losers of 5 of the last 6 games, the Falcons are in a complete free fall following a 5-0 start to the season. Dan Quinn wasn't expected to change things overnight and if you asked me before the season, this is right where I'd expect the Falcons to be at this point... but the fast start got fans excited, which makes this fall painful for them to watch.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6, Previously #19) - Still very much alive in the NFC playoff race, despite their last loss, the Buccaneers have a golden opportunity to help their chances this week. The Bucs will play host to the team tied for the 2nd WC spot this week, the Atlanta Falcons (whom the Bucs already beat this year on the road). Lovie Smith has this team actually playing for something, which has to give the fan base a buzz they've been missing.
19. Detroit Lions (4-7, Previously #26) - Three straight wins have turned around the Lions' season, as they try to make an improbable playoff birth. They can really help their chances this week, when they play host to the Green Bay Packers... the team the Lions beat to start their little run.
18. Buffalo Bills (5-6, Previously #11) - Eventually the NFL will realize that Rex Ryan is just an "OK coach," nothing more, nothing less... right? Another up and down season and likely missed playoff for Rex Ryan, this time he's just wearing different colors. Sure, players like playing for him... but owners (and fans) want actual results.
17. New York Giants (5-6, Previously #10) - Another year in which the Giants should probably move on from Tom Coughlin, another year he might have done JUST enough to keep his job. How many times will the bare minimum be enough? The Giants are sitting nicely to pull off one of their "late season surges," but I just don't think the talent is there, this time.
16. Washington Potatoes (5-6, Previously #21) - The Taters have been surprisingly solid this year, with the rest of the NFC East not playing up to their perceived potential. A big win over the Giants has Washington in first place, with a game against the Romo-less Cowboys on the horizon.
15. Houston Texans (6-5, Previously #18) - They absolutely dominated the Saints in a blowout home victory. The Texans have now won 4 consecutive and 5 of their last 6 to completely turn the tide. Currently sitting tied for 1st in the AFC South and also the wild card, the Texans have games against the Bills and Pats, before finishing the year with an AFC South tour... the results of which likely determining their playoff fate.
14. Indianapolis Colts (6-5, Previously #16) - The Colts are now 4-0 with Matt Hasselbeck and just 2-5 with Andrew Luck, that's how funky this NFL season has been. Unlike the situation in Denver, Luck is still clearly the better option when healthy. Indy has a big road game against the Steelers this week, which could go along way in deciding the Wild Card.
13. New York Jets (6-5, Previously #14) - The Jets have been really hit and miss this season, with the latest being a hit win over the Dolphins. Brandon Marshall has been a very solid receiving threat, something that has been lacking for the Jets. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Jets make the playoffs in the first year under Todd Bowles, but I would be if they made any noise after getting there.
12. Oakland Raiders (5-6, Previously #15) - Nothing like a match up against the Tennessee Titans, to stop a 3 game losing skid. Oakland is firmly planted in the Wild Card picture, and actually have a good chance of taking a playoff spot, despite currently being on the outside, thanks to two games left on the schedule against the Kansas City Chiefs. Jack Del Rio has done a good job at getting this team to take the next little step to break the Raiders' image of recent-old.
11. Chicago Bears (5-6, Previously #17) - They went to Lambeau and picked up the win against their heated rival, the Packers. The Bears have been pretty impressive of late, winning 5 of their last 8, with all of their losses by 3 points or less, and two of them to division leading teams. Not only are they playing well, but the schedule is also on the Bears' side, with 4 of their last 5 games coming against teams with losing records.
10. Seattle Seahawks (6-5, Previously #13) - The Seahawks picked up a nice win against the Steelers and find themselves tied for possession of the 2nd NFC Wild Card spot with the ice cold Falcons. During the game, however, Jimmy Graham was lost for the season. Even though he wasn't at All Pro level, Graham gave Seattle an extra dimension to game plan against. They'll have a tough test in their first effort without Graham, traveling to Minnesota.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, Previously #8) - The Steelers seem incapable of winning more than two games in a row, with all of their wins being coupled and followed by a loss. The Steelers have a very good team that can play with anyone right now, but whether they can close it out is another question, with all four losses coming by 10 points or less.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5, Previously #9) - Chiefs fans are currently enjoying that extremely impressive season turnaround that the Saints' fans were hoping to taste. After Jamaal Charles went down for the year (and considering their record at the time), I thought the 2015 Chiefs were in line for a long season... An additional game in the postseason isn't what I had in mind.
7. Green Bay Packers (7-4, Previously #6) - After an impressive 6-0 start, the Packers have dropped 4 of their last 5. Still, the Packers' record is good enough for the top NFC Wild Card spot at 7-4. Up next, they face a team trending in the opposite direction, when they visit the suddenly red hot Detroit Lions on Thursday.
6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3, Previously #7) - Now in sole possession of 1st in the NFC North following a win over the Falcons, the Vikings are going to need to play aspiring ball as they finish out the season with a tough stretch. Their season could come down to a week 17 showdown with the Green Bay Packers, a team that beat them by double digits at home just last week.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (9-2, Previously #4) - The Bengals got back on the right side of things after dropping their first two games of the season in consecutive weeks. Not only did they pick up a win, but they made a statement in blowing out the playoff contending Rams.
4. Arizona Cardinals (9-2, Previously #3) - The Cardinals hold a three game division lead with just 5 games left. The Cardinals have now won 5 in a row, after dropping 2 of 3 back in the first half of October. While the Cardinals appear to have a playoff spot locked down, they have a nice gauntlet of opponents to finish up the regular season (Rams, Vikings, Eagles, Packers, Seahawks).
3. Denver Broncos (9-2, Previously #5) - With that win, we have ourselves a quarterback controversy. Did Brock Osweiler set the world on fire against the Patriots? No, but he still picked up the win... something no other QB has been able to do against New England this season. The Broncos are now 2-0 with Manning recovering on the bench... now we must ask, should he even see the field again?
2. New England Patriots (10-1, Previously #1) - An overtime loss in Denver ended the New England Patriots undefeated season, but the season could've taken a much bigger hit when Rob Gronkowksi went down with a knee injury. Luckily, the injury isn't believed to be serious, which should keep the Patriots as serious Super Bowl contenders.
1. Carolina Panthers (11-0, Previously #2) - I still don't think this team is the best, but the record says otherwise. At 11-0, the Panthers have already clinched at least a tie for the best record in the NFC South. An impressive start to the season for a team that looked lost after the preseason injury to Kelvin Benjamin. Ron Rivera has got to be the NFL Coach of the Year.