A September win counts the same in the standings as a December win. They still feel more important now.
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Four weeks remain in the regular season and still 22 of 32 teams have legitimate shots at making the playoff field. We're headed right down to the wire, folks, which is just what the NFL wants and exactly what fans should be rooting for themselves.
How do the contenders and non-contenders stack up as Week 14 arrives? This week's Power Rankings ...
1. Green Bay Packers
Eight Packers caught passes from Aaron Rodgers in Sunday's win over New England. The Rodgers experience has become like watching Magic Johnson in his prime, dishing out highlight-reel assists left and right. Heck, if you put Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a team with Rodgers, I'd bet they could hook up for 10 or 12 touchdowns in a season. And I mean present-day, 67-year-old Kareem.
2. New England Patriots
Belichick seemed aware that his team got the outcome it deserved. He also knows that this result won't mean much if the Patriots take care of business from here out.
3. Denver Broncos
Aside from Manning's relatively quiet (but still decent) night -- 17-for-34, 179 yards and two touchdowns -- the Broncos played about as complete a road game as any team has this season. If the C.J. Anderson-led run game is here to stay, Denver could be back in the AFC driver's seat before long.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Wait, maybe this was the most complete road game of the season. The Eagles led Dallas 14-0 before Jerry Jones had time to pay someone to carve open a diamond-encrusted turkey for him, en route to a 33-10 win that put Philadelphia in the driver's seat of the NFC East. This is a Super Bowl-contending team, no doubt.
5. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have allowed six points and 368 yards combined over the past two weeks -- wins over Arizona and now San Francisco. Just like that, the possibilities of a Seattle division title and home-field advantage in the playoffs are back on the table. "Noooooooooo!" said the rest of the conference.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton stopped puking and, more importantly, stopped throwing interceptions long enough to help rally the Bengals away from what would have been a very disappointing loss. Every other AFC North team lost, too, so everything was coming up (eh sorry, Andy, poor word choice) Cincinnati.
7. Indianapolis Colts
Via the Associated Press, the Colts on Sunday became the first team in 48 years to score six touchdowns of 30 yards or longer in one game. Better yet, the five offensive touchdowns in that outburst came from Coby Fleener, Donte Moncrief and Boom Herron -- a trio of guys this Indianapolis offense needs to play key roles for the remainder of 2014.
8. Detroit Lions
LB Stephen Tulloch (out for the year with a knee injury) promised back in October that this team is different. Sidestepping upsets, as the Lions did on Thanksgiving by beating Chicago, might prove him right.
9. Miami Dolphins
There is something to be said for playing like a hoard of zombies for two-plus quarters and still leaving a game victorious, as Miami did in New York. "Even though it was ugly, we got better [Monday]," said DT Jared Odrick, according to the Dolphins' website.
10. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers rallied for a 34-33 win in Baltimore despite being down to their fifth center of the season. Center No. 4, Chris Watt, exited the game early with a calf injury, forcing ex-Bengals practice squadder Trevor Robinson into action. Every San Diego snap is like The Hurt Locker for the guy doing the snapping.
11. Dallas Cowboys
There will be a lot of discussion in the coming weeks about Dallas' recent December woes -- they're 5-8 in the month since 2011; QB Tony Romo holds a 13-18 combined December/January record for his career. Fortunately for the Cowboys, none of those games count in this season's standings. They're 0-0 in December 2014.
12. Arizona Cardinals
Sounds weird to say for the NFC's No. 1 seed, but this Sunday is a borderline must-win in Arizona.
13. Kansas City Chiefs
Is this Alex Smith's fault? To an extent, but there were times Sunday night when it looked like he was playing 1-on-11 against the Denver defense. Making matters worse, the Week 13 game won Andy Reid's monthly "Pretend Jamaal Charles Doesn't Exist" sweepstakes, so Smith was asked to do more than this passing attack is capable of accomplishing.
14. San Francisco 49ers
The giant M-shaped bat signal coming out of Ann Arbor might be tough for Jim Harbaugh to ignore with another loss or two. That is, of course, if he can take his eyes off the shriveled head in a jar Oakland fans sent him as a down payment for his next contract.
15. St. Louis Rams
Apologies to the 7-5 and 6-6 teams below, but it's high time to give the Rams their due. Over the past seven weeks, they've chalked up wins over Seattle, San Francisco and Denver and added a 52-point victory Sunday over the Raiders. And they nearly took down San Diego in that stretch. If only the season started in mid-October ...
16. Buffalo Bills
Let's just assume for now that the Bills win their Week 16 game at Oakland. That puts them at eight wins on the season, with games at Denver, vs. Green Bay and at New England still on the docket. Buffalo would have taken that setup before the season started. Now comes the tricky part: finding some way to upset at least two of those teams.
17. Baltimore Ravens
"Don't count us out yet," Terrell Suggs warned, via the Baltimore Sun, after his Ravens let one slip away versus San Diego. A good general rule for healthy living is to do whatever Terrell Suggs says, so we'll go along with it. But his teammates ought to listen to another of Suggs' comments from the weekend: "We have to win out."
18. Cleveland Browns
Johnny Manziel has as many completions this season as J.J. Watt has touchdowns, so turning to the rookie for a playoff stretch run would have come with inherent risk. Not that sticking with Brian Hoyer guarantees any wins, but, heck, the Browns would throw zombie Otto Graham out there if it could guarantee them an end to an 11-year postseason drought.
19. Houston Texans
Six touchdown passes for Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 6-6 record for the Texans ... and six 7-5 teams standing between them and a wild-card spot. Whatever the final four weeks hold, Bill O'Brien's first season as head coach is on the verge of earning a passing grade. The 2014 Texans are a long way from their 2-14 predecessors.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin called his team's effort in a 35-32 loss to New Orleans an "unfortunate performance." That's putting it mildly. The Steelers actually trailed by 19 in the closing minutes before Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger decided to screw up untold numbers of fantasy football matchups.
21. Atlanta Falcons
Don't look now (and judging by secondary-market ticket prices for Sunday's Cardinals-Falcons game, you weren't), but Atlanta has won three of four. Leading the way against Arizona, in explicable fashion, was RB Steven Jackson, who became the first player to top 100 yards on the ground vs. the Cardinals this season. That also marked the first time Jackson had hit triple digits since Nov. 25, 2012 ... against Arizona.
22. Minnesota Vikings
Every preseason, there tends to be one team folks jump on as a sleeper playoff pick. Consider this your early heads-up that Minnesota very well could be that candidate come 2015. The Vikings have yet to score a signature win in 2014, but they're not far away from being contenders.
23. New Orleans Saints
All signs still point to a Week 16 Falcons-Saints game as being winner-take-all in the NFC South. That is, unless the Saints can open up a little room in the meantime. New Orleans plays Carolina and Chicago the next two weeks; Atlanta draws Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
24. Chicago Bears
There was about a 15-minute span on Thanksgiving in which it appeared Chicago might stay hot and actually crawl back into the wild-card discussion. And then the clock struck 0:00 on the first quarter, the Bears defense turned back into a turducken and it was business as usual again.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds are, the Buccaneers finish 2-14 -- or at least 3-13, with a win over Carolina. They will be heavy underdogs in their other three games: at Detroit, vs. Green Bay, vs. New Orleans. That said, here's fair warning to those playoff-hungry teams not to overlook Tampa Bay. While Lovie Smith's team remains a hot mess, it has also come close to taking down Cincinnati, Cleveland, Minnesota and Chicago in recent weeks.
26. Carolina Panthers
Analysts keep spouting "Well, the Panthers are still alive in the NFC South race" in the same manner you might say, "Well, at least you have your health" to someone whose car is on fire in a ditch.
27. Tennessee Titans
The Titans have averaged 23 points over their past three games, a full touchdown up from the 16 per-game mark they carried in Weeks 1-10. So there are at least some positive reviews for the Zach Mettenberger Experience. The downside? Tennessee has come up short in all three of those outings, adding to a six-game (and counting?) losing streak.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Most teams out of playoff contention in December would be better off losing so as to gain a better draft pick. The Jaguars might be an exception to the rule. Sooner or later, Gus Bradley needs his guys to figure out what it takes to score some Ws in this league. Their come-from-behind win over the Giants on Sunday may be worth more in the long run than the difference between picking No. 2 or No. 3.
29. New York Giants
When the Mets are more interesting in November and December than either of the two Big Apple football teams, something has gone horribly awry. But that's where we're at. Four games left until the possibility of major changes for the Giants, who long had been one of the league's most stable franchises.
30. New York Jets
"I feel sick," Ryan said. "I can't believe we're 2-10. What a joke."
31. Washington Redskins
Where are you right now as you read this sentence? No matter what your answer is, you are at least three steps closer to covering Coby Fleener than Washington's secondary was on Sunday.
32. Oakland Raiders
Watching the Raiders follow up their first win with a 52-0 loss was like watching the Home Alone family get to Paris only to realize Kevin was sitting at home. On the plus side for Oakland, the 2015 No. 1 pick is squarely in its sights.