NFL Power 12 Rankings - Week 11: The Wild-Card shuffle

The playoff race heats up as the weather cools down

Seth Dunlap
November 13, 2018 - 7:13 pm

The top tier of the NFL’s hierarchy has been pretty well defined for the past month or so.   The Saints, Rams, Chiefs, and Patriots are prohibitive favorites in their respective conferences and that’s unlikely to change over the final seven weeks of the season.  While some teams are trying to enter that discussion – Chargers, Steelers, and Bears – there’s a high probability that your Super Bowl Champion will emerge from that quartet.

The jockeying for Wild-Card positioning is much harder to handicap, especially in the AFC.   The Chargers seem like a playoff lock and a contender to Kansas City in the AFC West, but the sixth spot could go to one of a slew of other teams.

Most people had buried the Titans (5-4) after their three game losing streak in October, but Marcus Mariota has sparked Tennessee’s offense to consecutive as-underdog wins.  The Bengals (5-4) have a very manageable remaining schedule, but is it realistic to expect Cincinnati to overcome one of the worst defenses in league history?  There’s also the Colts (4-5), Dolphins (5-5), and Ravens (4-5) who have a path to nine or ten wins which could let them sneak into that final playoff spot.

How do you sort out that mess?  The short answer is, you don’t.  It’s nearly impossible to play Nostradamus in a league that keeps mutating before our eyes every week.  The playoff picture will become more clear by the time we get to December, but even then it would be a fools-errand to predict all twelve playoff participants with a full month still to go.

The NFC Wild-Card race is a little easier to get a handle on.  The Packers (4-4-1) travel to the Seahawks (4-5) on Thursday night in what will effectively be a playoff-elimination game for the two teams.  The winner will join the Panthers (6-3), Vikings (5-3-1), and possibly the Cowboys (4-5) and Eagles (4-5) as the league turns the corner into the final stretch of the season.  Still, the Vikings and Panthers have distinct advantages right now and would need to play themselves out of a playoff spot before anybody else can play themselves into one.

One quick disclaimer on Washington and Chicago: Those two teams lead their divisions but could really expand their margin for error with home wins against playoff contenders this week.  Washington plays host to Houston while the Bears face Minnesota at Soldier Field in a massive Sunday night clash.  A loss by those teams would make their path to the playoffs much more treacherous.

Now, on to the rankings for Week 11.  Again, these are predictions for the 12 teams that will make the playoffs, with a sorted ranking of those dozen teams.


NFL Power 12 - Week 11

1.  New Orleans Saints (8-1) LW-#1:  Make it eight straight wins for the league’s most complete team, including five straight wins against teams with winning records.  There’s now discussion comparing this Saints offense to some of the best ones in NFL history, including the New Orleans’ units from 2009 & 2011.  They now lead the league in points per game and are scoring on an absurd 61% of their possessions.  The maestro behind this orchestra, Drew Brees, continues to surge ahead in the MVP race.  Last week:  W 51-14 @ CIN, This week: vs. PHI

2.  Los Angeles Rams (9-1) LW-#2:  If you could ever classify a 9-1 team as a bit of an enigma, the Rams are it.   Their offense remains an explosive juggernaut that no NFL defense has solved this season – although losing WR Cooper Kupp to IR certainly hurts.  Their defense, however, continues to be a remarkable sieve, rather than the impenetrable wall most people thought this superstar-loaded group would be.  They’ve basically wrapped up the NFC West by beating the Seahawks last week, and should cruise to a first round bye and a top-two seed in the NFC playoffs, so it won’t be until January when this Wade Phillips defense will need to show marked improvement to be a true title favorite.  Last week: L 36-31 vs. SEA, This week: vs. KC

3.  Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) LW-#4:  The Chiefs’ offense gets all the headlines, and deservedly so when they’re among the league leaders in nearly every offensive statistical category.  Patrick Mahomes continues to be a Madden cheat code, and his MVP candidacy is very legitimate.  What has to be more disconcerting to teams around the league is the Kansas City defense now playing great complimentary football.   They’ve held six of their past seven opponents to 23 points or fewer and should only get better as the weather gets colder.  Last week:  W 26-14 vs. ARI, This week: @ LAR

4.  Los Angeles Chargers (7-2) LW-5:  If the Chiefs weren’t mesmerizing the country, it’s the Chargers and Philip Rivers who might be the unexpected darlings of football fans everywhere.  They’re not only in Kansas City’s shadow, but they’re struggling to capture the attention of Los Angeles football fans, who’ve gravitated towards the Rams.  All these Chargers do is keep winning.  The rest of their schedule includes only three teams with a winning record, and a rematch with those Chiefs.  Everything, including the top overall seed in the AFC, isn’t beyond their reach yet.   Last week: W 20-6 @ OAK, This week: vs. DEN

5.  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) LW-6:  In the least surprising development since Kanye West went peak-Ye in the Oval Office, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell won’t report to the team this season.  Anybody suggesting Pittsburgh is better off than they would be if Bell had played all season is either a Steelers fan or auditioning for a job on one of those early-morning hot-take yell fests.  Still, the Steelers are back in control of the AFC North and are in position to challenge for a first round bye.  Once again, their path to a Super Bowl probably comes down to beating New England at least once this season, something they’ve rarely done in Ben Roethlisberger’s career.    Last Week: W 52-21 vs. CAR (TNF), This week: @ JAX

6.  New England Patriots (7-3) LW-#3:  The Chicken Littles are back out after the latest Patriots road loss.  Dive a little deeper into what happened against the Titans on Sunday and you’ll see a Tennessee team with former Patriots at head coach, defensive coordinator, running back, and cornerback.  There’s probably not another franchise in the NFL who has gone all-in on beating New England like the Titans have, who were as prepared for the Pats as any team in the past handful of years.  This long way of saying the Patriots will be fine.  What, do you think the Dolphins are coming back to win that division?  Last week: L 34-10 @ TEN, This week: BYE

7. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) LW-#9:  The schedule makers did the Vikings a huge favor by giving them the bye leading into their Sunday night road battle in Chicago, not that they expected Vikings-Bears in mid-November would be for the division lead.  With the Packers playoff hopes clinging to life-support, the Vikings represent the only real threat to the Bears in the division.  A win in Chicago would be lagniappe, as they still get the Bears in Minneapolis later this season.  Last week: BYE, This week: @ CHI (SNF)

8.  Carolina Panthers (6-3) LW-#7:  There’s probably nothing more brutal for an NFL team than playing a road game on Thursday night against a Super Bowl contender.  The Panthers received a very-rare butt whopping from the Steelers, something that usually doesn't happen to them in the Ron Rivera era.  They’ll likely be favored in five of their remaining seven games, with only their pair of contests against New Orleans looking particularly daunting.   Last week:  L 52-21 @ PIT, This week: @ DET

9.  Chicago Bears (6-3) LW-UR:  The Bears have spent the last month steamrolling the inferior Jets, Bills, and Lions.  That soft schedule ends this week as they’ll face the readily equipped Vikings on Sunday night.  A win here will give Chicago complete control of the NFC North before Thanksgiving, a feat that very few saw coming before the season began.  A loss here, however, will put them in a bit more of a precarious situation with the Packers, Vikings, and a trip to Minnesota still on their schedule.  Last week:  W 34-22 vs. DET, This week: vs. MIN (SNF)

10.  Houston Texans (6-3) LW-#10:  Much like the Vikings, the Texans are benefitting from a bye leading into one of their biggest road challenges of the season.  The Texans had been beating up on NFL also-rans during their six game winning streak, but will finally be tested at Washington.  With the Titans and Colts surging behind them, the Texans will need to keep winning to maintain control of the AFC South. Last week:  BYE, This week: @ WAS

11.  Washington (6-3) LW-11:  Can anybody explain how Washington was an underdog against Tampa Bay last week?  Sports bettors surely have to be loving how often Washington is undervalued this year, as they’ve followed up all three losses with convincing wins and now have a two game cushion in the NFC East.  They can do themselves a tremendous favor by beating the red-hot Texans on Sunday.   Last week: W 16-3 @ TB, This week: vs. HOU

12.  Tennessee Titans (5-4) LW-UR:  Once again, the final Wild Card spot in the AFC continues to be incredibly difficult to handicap.  The Titans, fresh off their playoff-revenge game against New England, has quickly put themselves in position to make a second consecutive post-season appearance.  This week’s game against the Colts is perhaps the most critical game on the league schedule this week.  A Titans win would effectively eliminate the Colts from serious playoff consideration, while a Tennessee loss would give Indianapolis the inside track, due to their soft remaining schedule, on a playoff berth.  Keep a close eye on that one this Sunday.  Last week:  W 34-10 vs. NE, This week: @ IND

Dropping out: 

  • Philadelphia – LW #8
  • Cincinnati – LW #12

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