With all the bye weeks done and dusted, every team has five regular season games left. Much like track athletes coming off the final bend, we can now really see who’s hot and who’s not.
1. San Francisco 49ers (10-1) ←
Another week, another win… this time, a 37-8 mauling of playoff-hopefuls Green Bay. A road trip to Lambeau Field is never easy but the Niners made it look totally routine. Jimmy G remains solidly effective, George Kittle snagged a monster 61-yard touchdown and there were scores for Raheem Mostaert, Tevin Coleman and Deebo Samuel too, while their solid D-line gave Aaron Rodgers a torrid time. If the 49ers see off the Ravens (and the Rams don’t win), they’ll be in the playoffs – and we’ll also know if their Lombardi Trophy aspirations are legit.
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-2) ↑
I’m fast running out of superlatives for Baltimore, who rise again this week after a 45-6 demolition of the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. The Ravens scored TDs on their first six possessions, five of which came courtesy of Lamar Jackson’s arm. Mark Ingram, Marquise Brown, Gus Edwards and Mark Andrews are running wild in a multi-dimensional offense, while interception maestro Marcus Peters did it again for the D against his former team. The Ravens only have five days to prepare for the 49ers in what could be a sneak preview of Super Bowl LIV.
3. New England Patriots (10-1) ↓
It may be a bit harsh to drop the Pats down a place after their 21st consecutive win at Foxborough but the 13-9 victory against Dallas was another underwhelming one – offensively at least. Seventeen seasons in a row with at least 10 wins is nothing to sniff at but they have now failed to score 20 points for three straight games (for the first time since 2011). The game saw three missed field goals and 11 punts so hopefully their trip to the Texans, which could seal a playoff berth, will have more about it.
4. New Orleans Saints (9-2) ↑
The Saints squeaked a hard-fought 34-31 victory over the Panthers this week and in the end, it came down to the kicking: Carolina’s Joe Slye missed a 28-yard go-ahead FG (his third failure of the game) while Wil Lutz nailed his from 33 yards. I also have to mention WR Michael Thomas, who became only the fifth NFL player with 100 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons. If they overcome another unpredictable rival, Atlanta, on Thursday, the Saints will clinch the NFC South.
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-2) ↑
The Seahawks’ 17-9 triumph over the Eagles saw a career day for running back Rashaad Penny with 129 rushing yards and a 58-yard TD. His efforts came just at the right time, as Russell Wilson could only muster 13-of-25, and just one passing TD. They now have to prep for the Vikings in a mighty Monday night clash that could shape how the post-season shakes out.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-3) ↓
Green Bay slide again, having been royally dumped on in their own back yard by the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers looked uncharacteristically harassed, throwing for only 104 passing yards and taking five sacks. That said, the Packers remain comfortably in the playoff zone and have a bounce-back game against the Giants on Sunday.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) ↓
It was a bye week for the Chiefs but they drop a spot due to Seattle’s latest win. KC are safely nestled in the playoff picture for now but host the hit-and-miss Raiders this weekend. A loss could see them both at 7-5, which could make things much more interesting.
8. Minnesota Vikings (8-3) ←
After their amazing second-half comeback against the Broncos, Minnesota more than earned a week off and don’t take the field till Monday night. It’s probably just as well they have time to recover: they face NFC rivals Seattle and can’t afford to give their opponents a 20-point head start.
9. Houston Texans (7-4) ↑
Way back when (last Thursday against Indianapolis), Deshaun Watson tossed two TDs to DeAndre Hopkins. He also connected with his favourite downfield target, Will Fuller, seven times for 140 yards – 20 yards per catch isn’t bad! The win keeps Houston on top of the AFC South, but with the Colts and Titans just a game behind – and playing each other in a few days’ time – the NFL’s most competitive division may yet go to the wire.
10. Buffalo Bills (8-3) ↑
Whisper it quietly but the Bills – 8-3 for the first time since 1996 – are getting it done, and climbed six places in our rankings as a result. OK, so they faced the Broncos but nonetheless put them to the sword without much of a fanfare. Frank Gore now has the third-highest rushing yards in NFL history and rookie Devin Singletary posted 114 scrimmage yards – all pretty tidy stuff. The Cowboys (see below) are up next for Buffalo.
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-5) ↓
They say you reap what you sow and the risk-averse Cowboys came up short against the Patriots. But that’s what happens if you opt for a field goal with a few minutes left, you’re inside the 20 and you’re down by seven points. Maybe that odd decision was due to Dallas’ underperforming offense, featuring a reception-free Amari Cooper. Facing the Bills this weekend, the Cowboys are still contenders but don’t seem destined for post-season glory.
12. Los Angeles Rams (6-5) ↓
The season seems to be getting away from the Rams, as they’re four games behind the Niners in the NFC West and two wins adrift of the Vikings in the Wild Card race. Their yellow colour-rush jerseys were the only bright spot of a 45-6 prime-time lamping by the Ravens, with Todd Gurley bottled up, Aaron Donald invisible and Jared Goff coughing up two interceptions. Facing the Cardinals this week should raise the spirits but their schedule still contains San Francisco, Seattle and Dallas. Peak McVay may well be over.
13. Indianapolis Colts (6-5) ↓
If only Darius Leonard’s fumble recovery had counted. If only QB Jacoby Brissett had managed more than 129 yards through the air. If only TY Hilton hadn’t had those two drops. Without those ifs, buts and maybes, the Colts may have overcome the Texans and pushed up the rankings, but they didn’t – and they don’t. Nonetheless, the AFC South remains so tight that Indy’s match-up with the fast-rising Tennessee Titans this weekend probably won’t make the picture any clearer.
14. Tennessee Titans (6-5) ↑
As my biggest mover this week (up from #21), the Titans returned to action against the Jacksonville Jaguars and dished out an impressive 42-20 win over their divisional rivals. Human bulldozer Derrick Henry followed up last week’s two TDs with two more in another 150+ yard game, which probably makes him the in-form running back at the moment. Even Ryan Tannehill is looking decent (words I never thought I’d utter) in a totally revitalised offense that takes on Indianapolis next.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) ↓
After their home loss to the Seahawks, the Eagles are currently outside the playoff picture looking in, like a stray dog standing in a butcher’s shop doorway. Carson Wentz threw just the one TD (when it was already a lost cause) and he’s struggling. OK, his receiver corps are blighted by injury but his accuracy wasn’t all that either – maybe the heavy rain and high winds were to blame? This week’s jaunt to Miami should bring nicer weather and a better result.
16. Carolina Panthers (5-6) ↓
Despite the best efforts of Kyle Allen (3 TD passes), Christian McCaffrey (one rushing and one receiving TD) and DJ Moore (six catches, 126 yards receiving and 2 TDs), the Panthers suffered another defeat to a divisional foe: New Orleans. Four games behind the Saints in the NFC South, they can’t afford any more slip-ups – not least against the Redskins this weekend.
17. Cleveland Browns (5-6) ←
The Browns’ 41 points against Miami hint at what could have been this season – or maybe what is yet to come? Despite missing the suspended Myles Garrett on defense, Cleveland have the weapons to compensate. WR Jarvis Landry seems to be making some plays and the RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is morphing into the dream team it sounds on paper. Their Wild Card place is hanging in the balance so they need to beat Pittsburgh again (without resorting to GBH this time).
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) ←
Poor ol’ Mason Rudolph had another rough night, going 8-of-16 before he was hauled off in favour of third-string QB Devlin Hodges. The stand-in’s stand-in duly connected with James Washington on a 79-yard TD catch and run, while linebacker Devin Bush denied Tyler Boyd a winning TD with a tomahawk-chop takeaway. The divisional games are coming thick and fast, with the Browns up again next week (in another welterweight bout to be decided over 12 rounds).
18. Oakland Raiders (6-5) ↓
Talking of big hits, the Raiders’ playoff aspirations took one this week from the fast-improving Jets, shipping 34 points and recording a single field goal in response. Oakland presented a litany of missed tackles, missed field goals and missed passes, and Derek Carr got hooked in the third quarter (not helping my fantasy team in the slightest, I might add). As a six-win team, they still have aspirations beyond Week 17 but they’re looking decidedly wobbly at the moment. It’s the 7-4 Chiefs next so another massive week for the Silver and Black.
20. Chicago Bears (5-6) ↑
Despite injuring his hip, QB Mitchell Trubisky kept his place for the visit of the New York Giants. That game was billed, in this very column last week, as Chicago’s last-chance saloon and they (just about) came through the challenge unscathed. Trubisky ran in a TD and threw another to the impressive Allen Robinson (six catches, 131 yards). Despite being the 8th seed in the NFC postseason standings, the Bears probably require snookers if they’re going to overhaul the Rams and the Vikings.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) ↓
The Chargers’ bye week may reinvigorate them for Sunday’s trip to Denver but it’s probably too little too late. The Bolts need to win out – and for other results to go their way – for anything good to come from this disappointing season, while a loss could even see them slip below the Broncos to the foot of the AFC West.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) ↓
Last week, we said the trip to Tennessee was a make-or-break game. Well, it looks like it all but broke the Jags, after another dispiriting divisional loss. Nick Foles’ return from injury hasn’t changed their fortunes and it’s only a matter of time before the Jags fall off the bottom of those ‘playoff picture’ graphics. Hosting the Buccaneers may change the narrative for a few days but it seems their goose will be cooked well before Christmas.
23. New York Jets (4-7) ↑
This is getting silly now. Three consecutive wins with over 100 points posted mean that Gang Green are officially on fire – and duly rocket up the rankings from #28. It’s suddenly party time for messrs Darnold, Crowder, Bell and co., and the defense are playing their part too. With games against the Bengals, Dolphins and Steelers still to come, it’s not inconceivable the Jets could finish at a more-than-respectable 7-9.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) ←
Uber-inconsistent Jameis Winston threw four interceptions last week in their loss to the Saints, and two more (but also four TDs) in the win against Atlanta on Sunday. That said, there’s still an end-of-term feel about Tampa Bay. They won’t trouble the playoffs and win often enough not to feature in the race to the bottom either. Chris Godwin played a blinder (184 yards and 2 TDs from seven catches) but next week’s stellar performer – if there is one – is anyone’s guess.
25. Atlanta Falcons (3-8) ↓
The brief Falcons revival seems to have sprung a leak just as it hit open water, in the form of a 35-22 reverse to the Bucs. Julio Jones struggled with a shoulder injury and the defense got torched for 446 total yards and four TDs: that’s four more than the Saints and Panthers managed between them. On Thanksgiving night, Atlanta face a quick rematch with New Orleans but I suspect they won’t have as much to be thankful for this time.
26. Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1) ↓
After a mid-season revival of their own, the Cardinals have definitely hit a wall, going 0-4 in their last four. Still, QB Kyler Murray and Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury have probably done just about enough to give fans some hope for next year. As for what’s left of this season, four of Arizona’s last five games are against teams with a (current) winning record, starting with the LA Rams, so there may be a few more tricky moments ahead.
27. Denver Broncos (3-8) ↓
Denver delivered a consistent 60 minutes in their 20-3 loss to the Bills this week. Unfortunately, it was a consistently bad, hour-long horror show. Their 49 net passing yards was their lowest for more than a quarter of a century and, along with the Bengals, Denver have yet to score more than 25 points. Amazingly, with five games left, they are only four wins behind the Chiefs so the AFC West title is still (theoretically) within reach. They could start by leapfrogging the Chargers with a win on Sunday but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
28. Detroit Lions (3-7-1) ↓
Detroit slumped again, this time to the Redskins, after stand-in QB Jeff Driskel ended their last two drives with intercepted pass attempts. The Lions have now lost seven of their last eight after an unbeaten 2-0-1 start and are clearly half the team they were when Matthew Stafford was under centre. There’s very little riding on this weekend’s rumble with the Bears, other than maybe Matt Patricia’s long-term future as HC.
29. New York Giants (2-9) ←
The Giants returned from their bye week but needn’t have bothered – they lost 19-14 to Chicago. The D had an interception, Saquon Barkley didn’t do much again and Daniel Jones keeps racking up the giveaways. All this doesn’t matter a jot though, other than to give New York a better chance of picking their preferred collegiate star come April. Green Bay come to the MetLife on Sunday so don’t expect Big Blue to climb up the rankings anytime soon.
30. Washington Redskins (2-9) ↑
Holy-actual-Moley, the Redskins won for a second time, yet their 19-16 victory against the Lions came without an offensive or defensive touchdown. That’s quite an achievement and suggests rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins (too busy posing for selfies with fans when the game ended – tut tut) probably shouldn’t have taken quite as much credit for his first W. Still, the result was much appreciated by Dolphins, Giants and Bengals fans desperate for a first-overall draft pick.
31. Miami Dolphins (2-9) ↓
Much water seems to have passed under the bridge since those two wins earlier in the month, and the Dolphins’ defense has leaked 78 points against the Bills and Browns. Even with two Ws, Miami can still expect an early draft pick so maybe it’s safe to ponder what life could be like with sack-monster Chase Young in their D-line or Tua, Burrow or Herbert at QB rather than (the intermittently entertaining) Ryan Fitzpatrick. 2020 can’t come soon enough.
32. Cincinnati Bengals (0-11) ←
“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Owen.” “Owen who?” “Owen 11.” Yes, the team that doesn’t even put the ‘fun’ into dysfunctional reached a new low (even by their standards) with their first-ever 0-11 start. In a 16-10 defeat to old foes the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defense did just enough to win yet again and the offense did nowhere near enough to secure it yet again. After Ryan Finley confirmed for the third time that he isn’t even a NFL-calibre quarterback, the we-don’t-have-a-clue strategy seems to be bench him and recall the previously dumped Andy Dalton for the last five games, starting with the visit of the Jets. With a two-win cushion in the 2020 draft race, the Bengals insist they’re still trying to win now. Apparently.