And then there was one. Carolina stands alone as the league’s lone remaining undefeated team after starting the week with a Thanksgiving Day win. Now that the calendar has flipped to December, the race for the postseason heats up. Here is my look at the 10 best teams, and who the three worst teams are, as we march towards Superbowl 50.
Top 10 Teams Through Week 12
- Carolina Panthers (11-0): I would put them at the top even if New England had remained undefeated. Why? Because Carolina has gotten better every week dating back to late last season. Early in the season they struggled on offense, but their defense has been on point all year, currently ranked second overall just behind the Broncos. Add a top five run game, an extremely confident QB and a balanced passing attack, and you’ve got the clear favorite to come out of the NFC right now. There are more experienced teams vying to bring them down, but it’ll be hard to do it before the second round, as they will end the season with one of the two byes.
- New England Patriots (10-1): They’ve been close to a loss for a few weeks, and it took overtime for them to finally get one. But to write them off as some have after their loss to Denver on Sunday night is ridiculous. They have suffered a lot of injuries on offense, which is why they have been on a bit of a “slide” of late. But they still have their most important offense weapon in Tom Brady healthy, and Rob Gronkowski’s injury wasn’t as bad as previously thought. They could lose a bye with the recent issues, but I wouldn’t put it past them to rally and hold on even with the injuries. And with a huge lead in the AFC East, something catastrophic would have to happen for them not to make the playoffs. They were knocked down in week 12, but they are still the best team in the AFC until they get knocked out.
- Denver Broncos (9-2): It remains to be seen if Peyton Manning has been “Wally Pipped” by Brock Osweiler, but what I do know, is the Broncos offense is finally on par with the defense this season. Sure the run game has picked up, but it doesn’t hurt when the QB isn’t turning the ball over as much as Manning was before he got hurt. Not only was taking down the undefeated Patriots great for this team’s morale, it also means they still have a shot at the number 1 seed in the AFC. They found a way to go 8-0 with a less than spectacular QB performance in the first half. With a younger, hungry QB, this team could go very, very far this season.
- Cincinnati Bengals (9-2): A week 12 loss helped turn the tide after a two-game skid ended their run at perfection. Other than on loss which was due to poor offense, the other poor defense, Cincinnati has been consistently great on both sides of the ball. They’ve shown the ability to absolutely dominate, and win the close games. They have a shot a bye, with a game against their biggest competition, Denver, ahead of them. Andy Dalton is having the best season of his young career, something he and the organization need to continue through the playoffs after so many first round exits. Despite being ranked ninth, the run game has been up and down, and they need it to be more consistent. But they’ve shown they can play with anyone, and look primed to get the second round monkey off their back if they continue doing what they’ve been doing, and stay healthy and hungry.
- Arizona Cardinals (9-2): It’s amazing what this team has been the past two seasons with a healthy Carson Palmer. 15-2 as the Cardinals starter, with a TD-INT ratio of 38-12, the 13-year veteran is doing a great job leading this team. Larry Fitzgerald is having a renaissance. Their two losses were the only two games where they really let down their guard and played down to their opponents, showing when on point, they can be and have beaten everybody. Arizona boasts the top ranked total offense and fifth defense in the league, proving they are a legit title contender if they can stay healthy.
- Minnesota Vikings (8-3): It’s amazing the difference Adrian Peterson has made on this team. A rejuvenated rushing attack has lessened the pressure on second year QB Teddy Bridgewater, who really hasn’t been impressive at all this season. This team truly lives by the ground and pound mentality, relying heavily on it’s top ranked rushing offense, and it’s top 10 defense. They’re better stopping the pass, which is key in the North with the likes of Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. They’re a game up in the division while currently holding a better division record than Green Bay. Their last four games are tough, with two against the best of the NFC West, and a week 17 match-up that could determine the division against the Packers. But if the run game can continue eating up clock, and Bridgewater can find a way to be even a bit better than mediocre, they are in the drivers seat in the North.
- Green Bay Packers (7-4): Despite their poor play of late, this team is still a force to be reckoned with. A bright spot in their Thanksgiving Day loss was the return of Eddie Lacy, who had been a disappointment this season. Aaron Rodgers found success early on without his favorite target in Jordy Nelson, throwing to the likes of James Jones. But for some reason, things haven’t clicked on offense for late. The Packers QB isn’t turning the ball over, but his completion percentage is down and with the absence of a consistent run game, the offense has become one dimensional. They know how to win, but one big worry for this team right now is Rodgers health. He said he lost feeling in his fingers against Chicago, so you have to wonder how that will manifest itself going forward.
- Kansas City Chiefs (6-5): They’ve won five straight, and are doing exactly what I said they needed to do when I looked ahead to the second half:
Five of their final eight are against below .500 teams, and the three that aren’t, are the teams ahead of them in the West. They can move up quickly if Alex Smith can continue to spread the wealth in the pass game and avoid the late turnovers that have plagued him.
Smith hasn’t been reckless with the football and the team is scoring points in a major way. When they started 1-5, the most points they’d managed to score were 28 against Green Bay, but they then allowed 38. During their five-game winning streak, Kansas City has score no fewer than 23 points, while allowing a total of 61 points. And with the schedule still in their favor down the stretch, and a struggling AFC, this team is primed for a wildcard spot.
- Seattle Seahawks (6-5): They’re finally starting to look like the back-to-back NFC Champs that they are. Russell Wilson had one of his best performances in week 11, throwing for five touchdowns. The defense still wasn’t what it’s been, but if the offense can look even close to what it did last week for the stretch run, they’ll make it to the playoffs in this season’s NFC. At this point, they’re only competing with two teams for the wild card (Atlanta and Green Bay).
- Houston Texans (6-5): After making the Dolphins look like an offensive juggernaut in week seven, the defense has gotten back on track in a big way. This team was built around their defense and run game, but the loss of Arian Foster meant the passing game needed to step up. And after many changes at quarterback, Brian Hoyer has done enough to lock up the job for now. Four straight wins have put them in a position not only to make the playoffs, but to win the AFC South. And we’ve seen what JJ Watt can do in the playoffs, so the AFC should be nervous.
Three Fighting for Number 1
30. Tennessee Titans (2-9)
31. San Francisco 49ers (3-8)
32. Cleveland Browns (2-8)