1. Green Bay Packers (12-0, 1st last week): OK, they’ve been cutting it close lately, but the good news is that everyone they might play in the divisional playoffs is struggling right now. The real test will come the following weekend. San Francisco or New Orleans at Green Bay. That’s hawt.
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-2, 2nd last week): The Patrick Willis injury would hurt if they had anything left to play for. Let’s face it, they’re locked in as the No. 2 seed in the NFC after another dominant victory Sunday.
3. New Orleans Saints (9-3, 5th last week): They might actually be more dangerous than the 2009 team was. But they still need more takeaways on defense.
4. Baltimore Ravens (9-3, 3rd last week): Just 16 points allowed in their last two games. And keep in mind that they’re doing this sans Ray Lewis.
5. New England Patriots (9-3, 4th last week): They’ve won four straight and can outscore anybody, but it’s a bit concerning that they’ve resorted to using a pair of receivers in the secondary and surrendered 24 points to the terrible Colts Sunday. That was Indy’s best offensive game of the year.
6. Houston Texans (9-3, 6th last week): Six straight wins despite all of those injuries. And look at the schedule: Cincy, Carolina, Indy, Tennessee. They might have four more wins in them. Could T.J. Yates be the starting quarterback for a No. 1 seed in January?
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3, 7th last week): Encouraging to see them exhibit very good offensive balance against Cincinnati’s stout run defense.
8. Denver Broncos (7-5, 9th last week): Survived without Von Miller. And now three of their final four games are against teams in disaster mode. The AFC West should be theirs.
9. Atlanta Falcons (7-5, 8th last week): Dunta Robinson killed the Falcons against his former team, but the difference was still the Houston defense, which definitely doesn’t miss Robinson.
10. New York Jets (7-5, 15th last week): They aren’t making it easy on themselves, but back-to-back wins have saved a season that was headed in a bad direction.
11. Miami Dolphins (4-8, 16th last week): It’s not as though the Dolphins are overperforming by a lot. It’s just that they were so bad early that the 180-degree turn is startling. This is a playoff-caliber team, but that’s in spite of Tony Sparano.
12. Dallas Cowboys (7-5, 11th last week): Jason Garrett’s completely idiotic clock management screwed his team and his rookie kicker. He was also victimized himself by the reality that kickers are pretty much automatic nowadays. Pretty much automatic. A few extra yards might have changed everything in Glendale. Potential season-altering mistake.
13. New York Giants (6-6, 17th last week): Up four spots after losing for the fourth straight time? That’s what happens when you almost slay Green Bay and every team around you loses.
14. Oakland Raiders (7-5, 10th last week): Too many penalties and too many injuries. And you could say the same thing about…
15. Detroit Lions (7-5, 13th last week): Not sure why Ndamukong Suh took the car crash metaphor that would aptly describe what’s happening to Detroit’s season and decided to bring it to life.
16. Chicago Bears (7-5, 12th last week): How sick would it be if they gambled on Brett Favre? I know most fans are tired of Favre drama, but he’d have a better chance to succeed than Caleb Hanie. And it’s not as though they can’t dumb down the offense on the fly…
17. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5, 14th last week): I don’t think Andy Dalton enjoyed his first formal Pennsylvania-based introduction to James Harrison.
18. Tennessee Titans (7-5, 18th last week): Is there a team in the league getting less attention than the Titans are? And yet Tennessee is tied for the last wild-card spot in the AFC. Chris Johnson might be peaking at the right time.
19. Carolina Panthers (4-8, 24th last week): Cam Newton might have wrapped up the offensive rookie of the year award Sunday. And now his team is only three wins behind Dalton’s Bengals.
20. San Diego Chargers (5-7, 20th last week): The losing streak is over. All it took was Jacksonville with an interim head coach making his debut.
21. Seattle Seahawks (5-7, 28th last week): Most underrated front seven in football. Clemons, Mebane, Bryant, Hawthorne, Hill. Throw in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas and this defense has a very bright future.
22. Arizona Cardinals (5-7, 25th last week): Like four of their five wins have been friggin’ lucky. It’ll only hurt them come draft day.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (5-7, 23rd last week): Credit the defense for stepping up and keeping the Chiefs competitive despite a slew of injuries on offense.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8, 19th last week): On the bright side, Da’Quan Bowers had a breakout game against Carolina. And that’s the end of the bright side.
25. Buffalo Bills (5-7, 22nd last week): 2011 is over (they might not win another game), but at least they’re learning that C.J. Spiller and Brad Smith can be valuable assets in 2012.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8, 21st last week): Eagles-Dolphins this weekend. Best 4-8 vs. 4-8 matchup ever?
27. Minnesota Vikings (2-10, 26th last week): They’ve battled hard without Adrian Peterson. In fact, they’ve only been outscored by more than 10 points twice all year, which is pretty good for a 2-10 team. I don’t group them with St. Louis and Indy.
28. Washington Redskins (4-8, 27th last week): With Fred Davis and Trent Williams likely to be suspended for the remainder of the year, 5-11 or 4-12 is probably what they’re looking at in DC.
30. Cleveland Browns (4-8, 30th last week): No way Colt McCoy’s their quarterback in a calendar year.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-10, 31st last week): This is pathetic. They probably won’t win again this year, which means that aberrational win against New Orleans could cost them the top pick.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-12, 32nd last week): If Dan Orlovsky plays like that in Jacksonville in Week 17, they’ll avoid 0-16.