1. New England Patriots (10-3)
Last week: 3
The Patriots have claimed the top spot in Shutdown Corner's power rankings after they dismantled the previous No. 1 team, the Texans, 42-14 on "Monday Night Football." That blowout win was a loud statement to the rest of the conference that the AFC will go through Foxboro.
2. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)
Last week: 5
Coming off their overtime loss to the Rams, the 49ers beat the Dolphins 27-13 and have an opportunity to clinch the NFC West with a win over the Patriots in Gillette Stadium (and a Seahawks loss to the Bills). That's unlikely to happen, which means the NFC West will be decided in CenturyLink Field on Dec. 23.
3. Denver Broncos (10-3)
Last week: 4
The Broncos moved to 10-3 with a 26-13 win over the Raiders last Thursday night and will ride an eight-game winning streak into Sunday's meeting with the slumping Ravens. If there is an area of concern for the Broncos, it could be an offense that is 7 for 19 in the red zone and scored just 12 fourth-quarter points over the last four games.
4. Houston Texans (11-2)
Last week: 1
By losing to the Patriots on Monday night, the Texans are at risk of finishing outside of the top spot in the AFC South. The Texans have a two-game lead on the Colts with three games to play, with two of those games coming against the Colts to finish out the season. Houston has slipped to the No. 8 spot in Football Outsiders' team DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric, including 12th on offense and a 31st showing on special teams.
5. Green Bay Packers (9-4)
Last week: 6
Despite the injuries, the Packers have won seven of their last eight and can clinch the NFC North with a road win over the Bears on Sunday. It's scary how dangerous this team will be once they get Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson back for the postseason. Oh, and did anyone else notice the "cat who ate the canary" grin on Aaron Rodgers' face when he was discussing the addition of running back DuJuan Harris with NBC's Michele Tafoya on Sunday night? Even after losing multiple executives to other NFL teams, Green Bay's personnel department continues to uncover gems.
6. Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
Last week: 2
The Falcons gave their critics a major talking point with a 30-20 loss to a three-win Panthers team in Week 14. Atlanta has already clinched their division, but now is the time for the Falcons to start working towards sewing up the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
Last week: 8
Seattle moved into the No. 2 spot in Football Outsiders' team DVOA rankings as they rank in the Top 5 in offense, defense and special teams through 13 games. The Seahawks' five losses have come by a total of 24 points and they appear to be firing on all cylinders at just the right time.
8. New York Giants (8-5)
Last week: 9
The Giants losing three out of four games in November and early December put the NFC East back in play, but Tom Coughlin's crew bounced back with a convincing 52-27 win over the Saints and remain in pole position to seize the division if they can successfully navigate back-to-back road games against the Falcons and Ravens.
9. Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
Last week: 7
Making the playoffs is pretty much a lock, but panic may have set in as the Ravens dismissed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron this week. Replacing Cameron will be quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who has never called plays. Something had to give, though. The Ravens have not looked like a team that is primed for another deep run in the AFC playoffs.
10. Washington Redskins (7-6)
Last week: 12
One month ago, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan sounded like a man looking ahead to 2013, implying in comments following a 21-13 loss at home to the Panthers that the playoffs weren't happening for his team in the 2012 season. Five weeks later, the Redskins have won four straight and with a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way, are the biggest threats to the NFC East-leading Giants.
11. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
Last week: 11
The Colts are 28th in Football Outsiders' team DVOA metric, with their offense representing their highest ranking (19th). Despite that, the Colts can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Texans on Sunday, which if it happens, would keep their hopes alive for a run at the AFC South title.
12. Chicago Bears (8-4)
Last week: 10
By losing four of their last five, the Bears have lost control of the NFC North — the Packers can clinch with a win at Soldier Field this Sunday — and could potentially slide out of the NFC playoff picture entirely if they can't go at least 2-1 the rest of the way. The Bears' defense is still ranked No. 1 in Football Outsiders DVOA metric, but is banged up and was steamrolled by Adrian Peterson in Week 14.
13. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Last week: 16
The Cowboys are the opposite of the Bears, winning four of their last five to get back into NFC East and NFC wild-card race. The Cowboys showed tremendous resolve in overcoming the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown and arrest of nose tackle Josh Brent to score a come-from-behind win over the Bengals. With two of their last three games at home, the Cowboys could be playing in January.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
Last week: 13
Blowing a nine-point fourth-quarter lead to the Cowboys last week put a serious dent in the Bengals' playoff chances. Now the Bengals cannot afford a single loss as their schedule sends them into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in back-to-back weeks before hosting the Ravens on Dec. 30.
15 Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Last week: 18
Adrian Peterson alone warrants ranking the Vikings in the Top 15. What Peterson is doing this season is downright remarkable. Less than a year removed from major knee surgery, Peterson is closing in on a 2,000-yard season and wants Eric Dickerson's single-season record (2,105 yards). Only a fool would bet against him.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)
Last week: 15
Narrow losses at home to the Falcons and Eagles have all but sunk the Buccaneers' playoff hopes, and the team has to be somewhat concerned with how Josh Freeman is finishing the season. In two games in December, Freeman has four touchdowns and an interception, but is completing well under 50 percent of his passes and has looked out of sync at a time of the season where he should be in top form.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)
Last week: 14
When they went into Baltimore and beat the Ravens with Charlie Batch at quarterback, the Steelers looked like a team that was going to take December by storm and be a dangerous team in January. How can we take them seriously when they get Ben Roethlisberger back under center and lose to the struggling Chargers at Heinz Field?
18. St. Louis Rams (6-6-1)
Last week: 19
With three straight wins, the Rams have improved to 6-6-1 and can play the role of spoiler against the Vikings, Buccaneers and Seahawks. The first season of the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead Era is already a success and with multiple first-round picks in their back pocket, the future of the Rams is very bright.
19. New Orleans Saints (5-8)
Last week: 17
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell may be persona non grata in Who Dat Nation, but the Commish had nothing to do with a defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in total defense and run defense, and 30th against the pass. Even with Drew Brees' recent rash of interceptions — nine in the last three games — the offense has put up points, excels in the red zone and have been effective when running the ball, ranking 13th in rushing yards per play, but are 26th in rushing yards per game because they're always playing from behind.
20. Buffalo Bills (5-8)
Last week: 20
Head coach Chan Gailey has had his play-calling criticized by Steve Johnson and saw running back C.J. Spiller bemoan his lack of involvement in the offense. The Bills are going to miss the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season and appear mired in the four-to-six win range under Gailey, who will likely be coaching to save his job in the next three games.
21. San Diego Chargers (5-8)
Last week: 23
In the same week reports surfaced that both head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith would be fired after the season, the Chargers shocked the NFL when they went into Heinz Field and beat the Steelers, 34-24. Playing well in December is nothing new to the Chargers, who are 22-3 in regular-season games in December and January under Turner.
22. New York Jets (6-7)
Last week: 25
Back-to-back wins over the Cardinals and Jaguars have the Jets one game under .500 with a favorable final three games that make 9-7 a real possibility. According to Football Outsiders, the Jets' defense ranks eighth in defensive DVOA and a 27th-ranked offense added Braylon Edwards off waivers from the Seahawks this week. Edwards has just 23 receptions for 255 yards and one touchdown in 19 games since leaving the Jets as a free agent in 2011.
[Related: Jets are still amazingly in the playoff hunt]
23. Cleveland Browns (5-8)
Last week: 24
Winning three straight has kept the Browns mathematically alive for the postseason, though their remaining schedule — vs. Washington, at Denver, at Pittsburgh — finishing with a non-losing record appears to be a long shot. Still, there's a lot to be excited about with the Browns, which could mean head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert survive the change at the top as Joe Banner replaces Mike Holmgren.
24. Detroit Lions (4-9)
Last week: 21
A five-game streak and possible 10-loss season should have Jim Schwartz squarely on the hot seat. This roster has too much talent to be five games under .500 in mid-December.
25. Miami Dolphins (5-8)
Last week: 22
Once in the mix for a spot in the AFC playoffs, the Dolphins have lost five of their last six, but have a chance to claw back to 7-8 with back-to-back home games against the Jaguars and Bills before closing out the season on the road in New England. A seven-win season would be a great start to the Joe Philbin Era in Miami.
26. Carolina Panthers (4-9)
Last week: 28
The Panthers are showing some fight late in the season, beating the Eagles and Falcons and having a schedule — at San Diego, home against Oakland — that makes a six-win season very possible. Will this surge be enough to save Ron Rivera's job?
27. Tennessee Titans (4-9)
Last week: 27
Have to give the Titans a lot of credit. Playing with 80 percent of their starting offensive line on injured reserve, they went into Indianapolis and gave the Colts all they could handle in Week 14.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9)
Last week: 30
Nick Foles' numbers from his last three starts: 70 of 106 for 751 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. In what has been a lost season for the Eagles, they may have found that, in Foles, they have their quarterback of the future. Imagine if he had a healthy DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans to work with?
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)
Last week: 29
The Jaguars rank at or near the bottom of the league in many offensive categories, including total offense (31st), rushing offense (29th), first downs per game (31st), third-down percentage (31st) and 32nd in time of possession, which should not come as a surprise considering the previous two statistical rankings. The outlook is not much better on the other side of the ball, so while a franchise quarterback may not exist in the Top 5 of the 2013 NFL draft, the Jaguars should be able to find an impact player who could be the No. 1 overall pick.
30. Arizona Cardinals (4-9)
Last week: 26
The Cardinals reached rock bottom (they hope) in their 58-0 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday. It's no surprise that Arizona's offense ranks 32nd in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, which isn't good for the long-term job prospects of an offensive-minded head coach (Ken Whisenhunt) and a GM (Rod Graves) who has whiffed on multiple quarterbacks, including the ailing Kevin Kolb, who cost the franchise Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick and $20.5 million over the last two seasons.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11)
Last week: 31
Jamaal Charles may be one year removed from a torn ACL, but the 2010 Pro Bowler is on pace for a 1,500-yard season and is the offensive bright spot in what has been an all-around miserable season for the Chiefs. This week, Charles will face a Raiders' defense that over the last seven games has allowed an average of 156 yards per game on the ground, which means Charles could be in for a very big day.
32. Oakland Raiders (3-10)
Last week: 32
In the first four games of the Raiders' current six-game losing streak, opponents averaged 42 points per game. Then the Raiders suspended middle linebacker Rolando McClain and averaged 23 points per game in the two losses he wasn't around. McClain returns this week, so get ready for a points explosion from the Chiefs.
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