Hold on to your butts, we're in for one heck of an ending to the 2015 season. Most of the division leaders have established themselves as the cream of their respective crop by now, but the dogfight for the wild card spots is just getting started. Which teams are playing for the season, and who on the outside has themselves positioned well for next year?
32. Tennessee Titans (3-10, Previously #32) - And things go right back to normal, a week after the Titans managed to pick up their 3rd win on the season. Following each of their three wins the Titans have lost the next game by at least 14 points (and the 14 point one was to the Browns). The only thing the Titans have left to play for, is ruining the playoff hopes of either Houston or Indy, whom they play in the last two weeks, respectively.
31. Dallas Cowboys (4-9, Previously #30) - The Cowboys are probably a borderline playoff team with Tony Romo, without him this is about where they belong. Now just 1-9 without Tony, the Cowboys' season is officially over.
30. San Diego Chargers (3-10, Previously #28) - I doubt that even the biggest San Diego "haters" would have predicted them to be just this bad, at the beginning of the season. The Chargers have just three wins, all by 6 points or less, and none against a "good" team.
29. Cleveland Browns (3-10, Previously #32) - Manziel actually looked somewhat competent in the Browns 24-10 win over the 49ers. While it was against a lesser opponent, it's definitely a positive result for both Johnny and the Browns. His next challenge will be a little tougher, a road bout against the Seattle Seahawks.
28. Baltimore Ravens (4-9, Previously #27) - The Ravens weren't doing well when they were playing with Flacco and Forsett, so it shouldn't be a surprise to see their recent struggles without. Another win is going to be hard to come by, but that might not be too bad of a thing.
27. San Francisco 49ers (4-8, Previously #25) - A week after pulling off the upset against Chicago, the 49ers fall flat on their face and lose to the (other) most dysfunctional team in the NFL, well done. While they aren't in playoff contention, how the 49ers play during the last three games could have an impact at what they do with Tomsula.
26. Atlanta Falcons (6-7, Previously #23) - We're at the point were the beginning of the season doesn't really mean much, and without the beginning of the season, the Falcons have arguably been the worst team in the NFL... a 38-0 blowout at the hands of the Panthers just shows how far they've fallen.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8, Previously #29) - That win vaults the Jaguars right into contention for the division title. They'll have to play their way in, but they have the schedule to do so with games against Atlanta, New Orleans, and co-division leader Houston.
24. New Orleans Saints (5-8, Previously #26) - Another case of too little too late, but the Saints looked like a pretty decent football team on Sunday. That was a solid road win against a playoff contender. It would take a
mini full blown miracle for the Saints to make the playoffs, but they aren't quite technically dead, yet.
23. Miami Dolphins (5-8, Previously #22) - From now on, we should just pencil the Dolphins to finish between 6-10 and 8-8, that's just who they are. Another coaching change in the offseason isn't going to fix that. How many more chances does Ryan Tannehill get to finally turn the proverbial corner?
22. Detroit Lions (4-9, Previously #20) - Back to back losses has the Lions officially eliminated from playoff hopes. Matthew Stafford has had a pretty down year, but his next game against the Saints should help him pad his stats up a little. There's a common saying in the NFL, "If you want a good season, Jim Caldwell will give you one. If you want two good seasons, Jim Caldwell will give you one."
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, Previously #19) - That loss really hurts the Buccaneers playoff hopes, but no matter what happens from now on, this year has to be considered a success. A nice turn around from last season, and a feeling going into the offseason that you are ready to contend next year is exactly what a fairly young team needs.
20. St. Louis Rams (5-8, Previously #24) - The Rams broke a 5 game losing skid, beating the Lions by a touchdown. The Rams have talent on their team, shown by wins over Seattle and Arizona, but have really struggled to put it all together at the same time. If Jeff Fisher is the head coach next year, don't expect anything different than middle of the pack.
19. Indianapolis Colts (6-7, Previously #15) - That's two lopsided losses in a row for the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are currently sitting tied for first in the division with the team they happen to play next, the Houston Texans. The winner of this week's showdown will control their own destiny. Note: Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of the Jacksonville game, but is expected to be able to play this week.
18. New York Giants - (6-7, Previously #18) - The Giants remain in the three way tie for the NFC North with the Monday Night win over the Dolphins. The Giants shot themselves in the foot (dated Plaxico Burress joke unintended) early in the season losing close games due to poor game management. Those losses could be damning as the Giants face a tough schedule to close out the season (Carolina, Minnesota, Philadelphia). No matter what, Odell Beckham Jr. is a special player.
17. Houston Texans (6-7, Previously #16) - Houston has failed to capitalize on Indy's stumbles, as the Texans have lost two in a row, themselves (albeit in less worrisome fashion). The Texans completely control their own destiny, as they take on the Colts next week and finish the season with the Jaguars in week 17. Prior to the two losses (one to the Patriots) the Texans were looking like the cream of the AFC South crop, having won 5 of their previous 6, including a 2-0 division record and wins over the Saints, Jets, and Bengals during that stretch.
16. Chicago Bears (5-8, Previously #12) - With that loss, the Bears playoff hopes are essentially extinguished. Even if they can't make a run themselves, the Bears have a chance to play spoiler to rival Minnesota this Sunday. Chicago has played well at times this season, and have done so without first round draft pick WR Kevin White. Having the combination of Jeffrey and White for Cutler to go along with emerging RB Jeremy Langford should have the Bears feeling good about the offensive side, going into next season.
15. Buffalo Bills (6-7, Previously #14) - That loss dimmed the light on the Bills playoff chances, in their first year under Rex Ryan. Still, if the Bills can beat Washington and Dallas, the spotlight could be set for a huge showdown for the last wild card spot against Rex's former employers, the Jets.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7, Previously #21) - The Eagles followed up the shocking Patriots upset with a solid home win against Buffalo. After playing Cardinals next week, the Eagles finish the year with the two teams they are currently tied with for the NFC East crown. If the Eagles can upset the Cardinals, they are sitting pretty for the playoff spot.
13. Washington Potatoes (6-7, Previously #17) - Washington has been the epitome of inconsistency this season, failing to win more than one game in row all season. Of the three teams tied for the NFC East, the Taters probably have the easiest path, finishing with Buffalo, Philly, and Dallas.
12. Oakland Raiders (6-7, Previously #13) - The Raiders keep their season alive with a nice road win in Denver, but losing 4 of 5 before that likely put the Raiders in too big of a hole to climb out on. Not only do the Raiders have to win out (with games against Green Bay and Kansas City left), but they also need some really good teams to lose to some really bad teams. Still, I think most people thought the Raiders were at least one season away from the playoffs, going into the season.
11. New York Jets (8-5, Previously #11) - Three consecutive wins has the Jets back in a wild card spot, but things aren't overly favorable from here on out. After going on the road to Dallas, the Jets finish the year against two teams to whom they've already lost this year, New England and Buffalo.
10. Minnesota Vikings (8-5, Previously #9) - They've lost two in a row, but still hold a two game advantage over the first team out of the wild card. All three of their remaining opponents are playing for the playoffs, which should make this tough closing stretch interesting.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5, Previously #8) - The anti-Falcons, Kansas City has now won 7 straight games and are currently sitting in an AFC wild card spot. The schedule is on their side, with games against Baltimore, Cleveland, and Oakland to finish out the year.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5, Previously #10) - The Steelers went into Cincy and got the job done against the division leader. The Steelers are currently the last team out of the playoffs, due to tiebreakers, but they have proven that they can play with anyone. They have a tough home game against the Broncos, before finishing the season out against two of the bottom tiered teams.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-5, Previously #7) - After a rough 2-4 start to the 2015 season, there was some talk that the Seahawks were coming crashing back down to earth... looking back, that hasn't been the case. All five of their losses have been by 7 points or less, with 4 coming against teams currently leading their respective divisions. Throw in that they've won 4 in a row and their last two by a combined score of 73 to 13, and the defending NFC Champs are looking good as they try to claim the top NFC wild card spot.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-3, Previously #5) - The loss hurt, the loss of Andy Dalton hurts even worse. The Bengals are on their way to a playoff birth, but will have to finish out at least the regular season with AJ McCarron. While he wasn't horrible filling in for Dalton on Sunday, he was also very uninspiring. Is the overall team talent enough to overcome this obstacle?
5. Green Bay Packers (9-4, Previously #6) - Green Bay picked up a lopsided victory over the Cowboys to take solo control of the NFC North. Outside of the 5 game spell in which they lost 4 games, the Packers have looked pretty solid this season, and will be a tough opponent for either of the top NFC teams come playoff time.
4. Denver Broncos (10-3, Previously #2) - It wasn't a bad loss, but it was also the type of game the Broncos need to win in order to claim one of the AFC's hotly contested 1st round byes. A week 16 showdown against fellow 10-3 team, the Bengals, could end up being the ultimate decider in who gets the bye, barring a Patriot's meltdown.
3. New England Patriots (11-2, Previously #4) - The Patriots got back on the winning side of things with a dominant road win over AFC playoff hopeful, Houston Texans. That was the type of win they needed following their first two losses of the year, and it also clinched the AFC East for the Pats for the 7th straight season. They play the Titans in week 15, before a two game road stint to finish out the year.
2. Arizona Cardinals (11-2, Previously #3) - The Cardinals picked up another nice win, this one a 3 point victory over the playoff hopeful Minnesota Vikings. The Cardinals have looked really good this season and have amassed several quality wins. They have a chance to add the names of three more playoff contenders to their resume, as they finish the season against Philly, Green Bay, and Seattle.
1. Carolina Panthers (13-0, Previously #1) - When both teams started off 5-0, it looked like it would be a close race in the NFC South. Since then, it has been anything but. The Panthers continue to roll and pick up their most one-sided win of the season as we head into the home stretch.