by Tim Culver
Before you sharpen your pitchforks, a short note on how we’ve come to rank the teams as we have: all NFLTR writers have compiled their own rankings, which we’ve compiled and averaged in the list below. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor, and feel free to agree, disagree, or roast us in the comments below.
Pre-Draft : Post-Draft : Week 1 : Week 2 : Week 3 : Week 4 : Week 5 : Week 6 : Week 7 : Week 8 : Week 9 : Week 10 : Week 11 : Week 12
#1) Houston Texans
Usually a tight win over a 4-7 opponent is cause for concern, but the Lions are a dangerous opponent and they put up quite the fight on Thursday. The recent big numbers put up against the Texans defense is worrisome, but they continue to tighten up when it’s critical. There’s far too much talent on the defensive side of the ball to think that teams will continue to put up gaudy numbers, but with the Patriots and Colts for three of the remaining games, there might still be a shootout or two in the cards.
#2) San Francisco 49ers
This is the type of team win that has been typical the past two years. The Smith-Kaepernick debate is going to absolutely rage, but when all is said and done, Kaepernick gave a very Smith-like statline. Neither is a world-beater, but either could drop back behind that offensive line and deliver a title. If there ever was a time to have this problem, it’s now: their still most likely going to coast to a divisional title and if they stumble a bit on the way, Harbaugh can switch to a second popular option.
#3) New England Patriots ( 1)
When they look good, they look stupid good. It’s tough to tell much regarding the defense when facing the self-defeating Jets offense, but the upcoming stretch of Dolphins, Texans, and 49ers will give us a much better idea of how they play against a dangerous offensive unit. With two games remaining against the Dolphins, it’s not their division yet, but it should be soon.
#4) Denver Broncos ( 1)
All the other top teams have enjoyed a few ugly wins and the Broncos wanted to be sure to claim theirs as well. The defense tightened up in the red-zone despite giving up some easy yards in the run game and the offense finally found it’s rhythm late to get the expected win. Despite only giving up 9 points, the defense will need to get back to their old stingy ways if they want to keep the balanced Bucs offense off the scoreboard.
#5) Atlanta Falcons ( 2)
Matt Ryan is hardly looking his best. The Falcons defense is struggling to keep teams off the board. They don’t look half as good as the Niners… and yet they’ve got the conference’s best record. I’m not crowning them yet, because they look poised for a fall, but it still appears that they’re going to have to lose a game at home to get bounced, and whether the games are close or not, they simply refuse to be beaten.
#6) Baltimore Ravens ( 1)
The Ravens just can’t seem to lose. The officials couldn’t find the strength to curb the emotion and bring back the exciting 4th and 29 play (for any one of the many available reasons), and the Ravens weren’t going to lose it after that. They aren’t playing the best football we’ve seen, but that’s a talented group of individuals they just beat (notice how carefully I phrased that) and they’ve got plenty of time to figure out how to look good in a win that’s not against the Raiders.
#7) Chicago Bears ( 1)
That win was somewhat expected, but it’s all the more important considering the Packers forgot to show up Sunday night and half the Bears are now injured. This team now could benefit more than any from clinching early and getting healthy before the playoffs. It’s clearly nice to have Cutler back, but they’ve shown earlier this year and in those before that he can’t win on his own and a serious number of the support was compromised on Sunday.
#8) New York Giants ( 4)
That was impressive and that’s why you’ve got to love the parity in this league. Everyone (including myself) was talking about how the Giants were looking poised to stumble and let the Cowboys back into things and instead they came out and dominated a top opponent. The schedule from here on out remains tough, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but when these guys play their best, it’s an impressive thing.
#9) Green Bay Packers ( 3)
In a week where the Bears seem to have ironed a few things out, the Packers were horrible. Rodgers is still going to play great football, but he can’t do it from his back. The defense looked horrible, which always makes you think back to last year. This is a season where flaws are easy to focus on, and the Packers are likely still playoff bound, but the cracks are quite clear.
#10) Tampa Bay Buccaneers ( 1)
A win against the Falcons would have kept the division winnable, but a wildcard spot is still attainable. I’m pretty stunned that a coach with so much college experience trusted a kicker with such a long range make or break field goal, but whether he didn’t trust his defense or had faith in his kicker, Schiano opted to kick and the Falcons were off the hook. There’s a tough assignment coming up on the road at Denver, but the Broncos recent form against the Chiefs should help the Bucs go into the altitude feeling good about their chances.
#11) New Orleans Saints ( 2)
You may glance at the final score and think that this was one of those early-season 0-4 type games for the Saints. Not so fast. The defense did a pretty respectable job against a top opponent and Brees threw two picks that were returned for touchdowns, which is hardly the norm. They’ve got another huge game against the Falcons this weekend, and the Bucs lost as well, so things are hardly over, but the schedule remains pretty tough for the remainder of the year.
#12) Indianapolis Colts ( 5)
The Colts won a game without the strongest game from Luck. The story is a good one, but this season is going to come down to how the Texans play against this group. The Colts may actually be rooting for the Texans to clinch the division so that they can face a group that is resting starters as they try to cling to their wildcard lead. Given the flailing challengers for the spot, this group may back into the wildcard, but they’ll more likely need to take at least one against the Texans to secure their spot.
#13) Seattle Seahawks ( 3)
Russell Wilson refuses to have a bad game, and he really needed to play well with the rushing offense stuggling as it did. The defense looked like its normal stingy self until giving up late drives to Tannehill. They really put themselves in position to win this game, and now that they’ve dropped it they’re going to need to get better against tougher opponents. Add to this the suspensions of half their secondary and things are looking much more grim than a week ago. The pass rush really needs to bring the threat it did early in the season to keep them in games.
#14) Cincinnati Bengals ( 2)
The explosive passing game is well known, but the Law Firm has put up two impressive games in a row, which will make teams struggle even more to contain this offensive group. They’ve got an absolutely critical game against the Chargers on the road, as the Chargers are reeling and the Steelers are treading water until Big Ben returns. If there’s a team that needs to separate from the rest of the faltering wildcard hopefuls, it’s the Bengals.
#15) Pittsburgh Steelers ( 5)
Let’s take a breath before we skewer Charlie Batch. His stat line wasn’t so bad considering he was facing a good defense and the picks weren’t all his fault by an means. Big Ben is certainly needed back, but it’s not as if he could have prevented the six fumbles by the rushing unit. R-Berger has stated that he wants to play against the Ravens, but is that really best? Even if he’s back, they will struggle to beat the Ravens, if he’s hurt, they’re pretty much out of it, which means I think they should roll with the punches now and wait until he’s totally healthy.
#16) Washington Redskins ( 2)
RGIII had another impressive and healthy game. They made mistakes and allowed the Cowboys to make it respectable late, but this was a real statement game in Dallas. I think it’s a bit late in the season to dig themselves out of the hole, but there’s a lot to look forward to in years ahead.
#17) Minnesota Vikings ( 2)
A poor start to the Vikings brutal stretch of schedule. If they’re to fare better in weeks to come (and I’m not overly confident), they can’t be taken out of their game as they were against the Bears. With a halftime score of 25-3, you’re not going to come out and feature your top back. The good news, if there is any, is that the Packers look beatable, but most likely they’re just going to be looking to reclaim their dominance and will come into this important match flaming mad. At 6-5, this team is probably still much more of a long-shot than the group at 5-6 given the remaining schedules.
#18) Dallas Cowboys ( 4)
Rob Ryan’s prediction turned out to be as good as Max Wittek’s (i.e. – not very). This loss is completely the fault of the defense, which did nothing in the early stages of this game to keep it competitive. Tony Romo played well to close the gap late, but his strong play continues to attract less attention than his poor play. They’re not out of the playoffs by any stretch, but that really wasn’t the most inspired effort. They’ve absolutely got to capitalize against an injury stricken Eagles team next week.
#19) St Louis Rams ( 4)
If you’d have told me that the Cardinals were going to throw 52 times against the Cardinals, I’d have told you that the Rams get about 20 sacks. It’s a testament to the strong Rams secondary that the sacks were minimal but the defense still limited Lindley by picking him off 4 times, twice for a score. Offensively, Jackson had another strong game and is going to need to keep it up if the Rams want a fighting chance when the 9ers visit next week.
#20) Miami Dolphins ( 1)
Tannehill looked like he was going to continue his slide until he picked apart the Seahawks defense to come from behind for the win. The defense had a strong showing against a top rushing threat and contained a strong rookie quarterback to give the Dolphins a chance to win late. The most important development from this weekend may have been in other games, as most wildcard challengers lost (and looked bad doing so). They need to bear down if they want to catch the Colts or Steelers, as they’ve got tough games still to come against top opponents.
#21) Detroit Lions ( 2)
Fans of teams with less fiery coordinator type head coaches often bemoan the lack of spirit and emotion. I’m pretty sure those coaches wouldn’t have given away a touchdown by forgetting the replay challenge rules. Either way, the Lions offense is looking like last year’s, which means that this group is going to be a thorn in the side of playoff contenders for the rest of the season. The schedule is full of teams in playoff battles, and with strong offensive play they’re going to be competitive in each one.
#22) San Diego Chargers ( 2)
I was going to talk about A.J. Smith, Norval, and others who will likely be out a job come the off-season. Then I realized that this is the Chargers we’re talking about and they make a name out of doing the unlikely to maintain normalcy. Stunningly, if the Dolphins lose just one game the rest of the season, the Chargers control their destiny for the 6th wildcard spot. Will they run the table? Highly unlikely, but I’m going save my cleaning-house rant for when that next loss comes. Stay tuned. I promised silver linings for the rest of this season but I don’t know if I’m up to the task; can I use Alexander again?
#23) Buffalo Bills ( 1)
The important takeaway point is that the defense is continuing to play respectably. Mario Williams is starting to return on the investment and C.J. Spiller continues to impress. Any decent attack early would have given the Bills a chance at winning this game but Fitz took too long to arrive and was hardly dominant when he did. There’s still an outside shot at a wildcard, especially with a friendly schedule to close out the season, but they really could have used the win in Indy.
#24) Cleveland Browns ( 3)
Have I mentioned that I like this defense? They brought the perfect game plan to face the backup quarterback and forced turnovers like nobody’s business. The offense didn’t impress, especially given that they were gifted so many possessions, but they’ll take a win over the hated Steelers any day. It’s irritating to see Weeden injured again, because the Browns will be facing one of the more interesting choices with their early draft picks in next year’s draft. This team more than most needs to see more tape of their starting guy.
#25) Carolina Panthers ( 4)
Kuechly may have overstated things a bit when he said they’ve got a chance to win out and get in the playoffs but they might end up saving Ron Rivera’s job in the coming weeks. The Chiefs and Raiders should be good for two comfortable wins, which means a streak is at least an outside chance. The run defense was troubling against an unknown running back, but they forced key turnovers to give their offense a chance to win against the Eagles. The Chiefs can’t do much, but they can run, so the Panthers would do well to plug that particular hole quickly.
#26) New York Jets ( 4)
I’ve picked on the Jets and Mark Sanchez nearly all season and this game makes it a bit too easy, so I’m going to apply the Chargers rule and not talk firings until the team is mathematically eliminated. The schedule gets cushy from here on out as well, so they may salvage a few wins and a few jobs before this is all said and done. As far as the game, it was all kinds of ugly.
#27) Tennessee Titans ( 1)
Judging from the coverage this game got, you may forget that the Titans wildcard hopes were still decent. The offense didn’t do much impressive and the defense was gashed by a recently potent Jaguars passing attack. Just like the unimpressive Jets, Chargers, and Bills, they’re still alive in the playoff chase, but a successful bid will likely entail a win against the Texans or Packers, and that’s probably asking a bit too much.
#28) Philadelphia Eagles ( 3)
Bryce Brown had a promising showing in relief of McCoy. It’s somewhat unlucky that Reid can’t defend his job with his top players, but he’s down to rookies at key positions and the fact of the matter is that he hasn’t built a winning team. Taking a look ahead at the remaining schedule, I would hardly be shocked if they lost out.
#29) Jacksonville Jaguars ( 2)
Blaine Gabbert is watching his job fade away with every completed Henne pass. The Titans are hardly a win you can gloat about, but this is the type of game that you expect the Jags to lose a few weeks back. The defense still gave up big yards and points late, but Henne had been successful enough early to deliver the win. If this is my team, I keep Henne at the helm for a while as I build a defense through the draft. Unfortunately, they’re looking like they win a few more before this season’s out, which isn’t really in the franchise’s best interest long-term.
#30) Oakland Raiders
Just a few years back we were talking about the strength of Bay Area defenses while both teams struggled. Fast forward a few years and we’ve got one team that has built around and supplemented theirs (49ers) and another that has disintegrated into a historically bad unit. Carson Palmer essentially did nothing worthwhile, but he’s not the type of quarterback who’s going to be able to win a 40-38 shootout anymore. GM McKenzie really needs as high a pick as he can get, so this isn’t all bad.
#31) Arizona Cardinals ( 3)
You can place a considerable portion of the blame on Lindley for this loss, but really this is all fallout from the offensive line travesty that came to light weeks back. The Cardinals have one of their most winnable games left on the schedule next week as they travel to New York to face the Jets, but this defense is going to get back to their stingy ways to get the win on the road.
#32) Kansas City Chiefs
It’s a shame that one of the Chiefs best showings ended up in 9 points on the board and a loss, but that’s the season in a nutshell. I’d love to chalk up Crennel’s conservatism to faith in his defense, but I think that’s a bit too generous. He knows that his team is ill equipped to move the ball and seems to be acting under the assumption that close games against decent opponents may keep his job another year. It would be interesting to see how this game would have played out if there were any reasonable quarterback available to KC.