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NFL Power 12 rankings – Week 15:  The Wild-Card shuffle

The Saints reclaim the top spot, but uncertainty elsewhere

Seth Dunlap
December 11, 2018 - 6:27 pm
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The final three weeks of the NFL season are upon us which means the return of bruising divisional matchups with some inter-conference intrigue littered in.  The first round byes in each conference are basically wrapped up, with only the Texans-Patriots battle for the #2 seed in the AFC remaining objectively undecided.

However, there are incredible battles going on for the final Wild Card spots in each conference.  The Dolphins, Ravens, Colts, and Titans are all 7-6 and tied for the final spot in the AFC, while the 6-6-1 Vikings maintain a half game lead over Philadelphia, Washington, and Carolina, and are one game up on the Packers in the NFC.  Amazingly, all of those NFC teams remain in the hunt, even though most of their fan bases had buried them weeks ago.

So, let’s try to sort it all out.  Here are my updated NFL Power 12 rankings and playoff projections.  Remember, these dozen teams are my projected playoff participants, with a sorted ranking of those teams.

NFL Power 12 - Week 15

1.  New Orleans Saints (11-2) LW-#1:  It’s not always pretty in the NFL, even for the league’s best teams.  Look at what happened to the Rams, Patriots, and Steelers this week.  The Saints avoided the same fate as that trio by outscoring the Buccaneers 25-0 in the second half on Sunday.  Is there cause for concern around Drew Brees, who has just thrown for 328 yards in his last two games combined?  Maybe, but Saints defense has morphed into one of the best units in the league over the past month, and has proven it can carry the team through any relative struggles the offense faces.  Last week:  W 28-14 @ TB, This week: @ CAR (MNF)

2.  Kansas City Chiefs (11-2) LW-#3:  The Chiefs were minutes away from falling out of the top overall seed in the conference on Sunday.  They trailed the Ravens by a touchdown with under two minutes to play, and the Patriots were seconds away from wrapping up their win in Miami.  If those two scores had held through the final whistles, the Patriots would have moved past the Chiefs into top spot in the conference, and the Chargers would have tied the Chiefs in the AFC West.  In the span of a few minutes, both Patrick Mahomes and a quartet of Dolphins made two of the most memorable plays of the NFL season, and order was restored atop the AFC.  Last week: W 27-24 vs. Ravens (OT), This week: vs. LAC (TNF)

3.  Los Angeles Rams (11-2) LW-#2:  If there’s reason to worry about the Rams postseason chances, it’s their relative struggles this season against teams currently in position to make the NFC playoffs.  The Rams are 3-2 combined against the Saints, Bears, Vikings and Seahawks.  Losses in New Orleans and Chicago are especially troubling, considering those could be the two teams in their path to a possible Super Bowl berth. The Rams continue to prove too dominant for the lesser talented teams around the NFL, but those aren’t the teams they’ll play in January.  Last week: L 15-6 @ CHI (SNF), This week: vs. PHI (SNF)

4.  Chicago Bears (9-4) LW-#5:  The Bears would love to have that Giants game back.  Their unexpected loss two weeks ago has crippled their chances to get a top-two seed and a possible home game against the Rams or Saints in the NFC playoffs.  Still, they’ll be comfortable favorites over whoever they play in the first round of the NFC playoffs and are likely headed for a rematch against the Rams if they do get by their Wild Card opponent. Last week:  W 15-6 vs. LAR, This week: vs. GB

5.  Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) LW-6:  The Chargers continue hot on the heels of the Chiefs in the AFC West, but the math doesn’t work out in their favor.  Even if the Chargers win on a short week in Kansas City this Thursday, they would still lose the divisional tiebreaker to the Chiefs based off their in-division record.  The Chiefs are 4-0 against AFC West opponents, while the Chargers are 2-2.  Divisional record is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head matchups.  Los Angeles will need to win this Thursday and hope the Chiefs trip up next week in the noise at Seattle to have any chance at capturing the division and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Last week: W 26-21 vs. CIN, This week: @ KC (TNF)

6.  New England Patriots (9-4) LW-#4:  While the most common reaction to the Patriots last-play meltdown in Miami was to shrug it off as an aberration, but fact remains that this New England team has been wildly inconsistent throughout the season.  They’ve been beaten by the Jaguars and Lions, teams with a combined record 9-17.  They also got blown out by Tennessee last month.  In fact, all four of the Patriots losses this season are on the road, and they’re just 3-4 away from Foxboro.  New England is in serious trouble if it doesn’t get a first round bye and a couple home games in January.  Last week: L 34-33 @ MIA, This week: vs. @ PIT

7.  Seattle Seahawks (8-5) LW-#10:  The Seahawks are turning into one of the more remarkable stories in the NFL.  Most had left them for dead in the preseason, and did certainly after their 0-2 start.  ESPN analyst, and former NFL quarterback, Brock Huard’s tweet yesterday pretty much sums up what this season is proving for the ‘Hawks and head coach Pete Carroll: “Hey NFL, just so you know @PeteCarroll & his crew know how to coach & develop.  While the past defensive stars and pro Bowlers thought it was all about them & wanted the $$ and credit, the secret sauce it Pete’s Program & Culture.”  Indeed, Brock.  Indeed.  Last week:  W 21-7 vs. MIN (MNF), This week: @ SF

8.  Dallas Cowboys (8-5) LW-12:  Dallas’ win over the Eagles effectively secures the NFC East title for the Cowboys.  Unless they lose their final three games, which includes contests against the sub-.500 Bucs and Giants, Dallas will be hosting a playoff game for the third time in the past five seasons.  That matchup likely will be against the Seahawks, who beat the Cowboys in Dallas earlier this season.  However, that game was before the Cowboys added Amari Cooper and changed the complexion of their offense, and their season. Last week: W 29-23 vs. PHI, This week: @ IND

9.  Houston Texans (9-4) LW-#8:  The Texans loss to the Colts maybe shouldn’t have been unexpected.  Houston’s 9-3 record entering the game had been inflated by one of the league’s softest schedules.  Actually, with the Eagles losing last week (they host the Texans next week) it guarantees that the Texans will go the entire 2018 regular season without playing anybody with a winning record.  16 games.  16 opponents who were at, or below, .500 when they played.  Incredible.   Last week:  W 34-17 vs. TEN (MNF), This week: vs. CLE

10.  Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1) LW-7:  There’s no more Jekyll & Hyde team in the league than the Steelers, who’ve followed up their six game winning streak with a brutal three game slide.  The latest disaster was Sunday’s road loss to the previously (and probably still) dysfunctional Raiders. Considering two of their final three games are against the Patriots & Saints, they’re unlikely to break past the nine win mark for the season. Even getting to nine wins will be tough. Pittsburgh remains slight favorites to hold off the Ravens in the NFC North. Barely.  Last Week: L 24-21 @ OAK, This week: vs. NE

11. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) LW-#9:  The country has spent 24 hours freaking out about the Vikings' consecutive losses . . . on the road, to two playoff teams.  Oh, and in possibly the two toughest places to win in the NFL at New England and Seattle.  Those freaking out apparently also include the Vikings themselves, who have decided to fire offensive coordinator John DeFillipo with just three weeks left in the regular season.  If that doesn’t show panic, what does? Still, the Vikings are positioned to be favored in two of their final three games.  Win those, and they’ll likely sneak in as the sixth seed in the NFC, unless Philadelphia unexpectedly wins out.  Last week: L 21-7 @ SEA (MNF), This week: vs. MIA

12.  Indianapolis Colts (7-6) LW-11:  I’ve run multiple scenarios and projections for how things will play out in the AFC over the final three weeks.  Most of those predictions end with a defacto playoff play-in game between the Colts and Titans in Week 17.  Whoever wins that game likely will snag the conference’s final spot into the playoffs.  I trust Andrew Luck over Marcus Mariota to win that game in that spot. Last week:  W 27-24 vs. MIA, This week: @ JAX

Dropping out: 

  • Ravens – LW #12

 

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