With five weeks left in the NFL regular season, all 32 teams are still mathematically alive in the playoff chase. Obviously, the Clevelands and Tennessees of the world are not headed to the postseason, but the minute possibility that they could speaks to this season’s parity and its overall mediocrity.
A different story is unfolding atop the Power Rankings, where Carolina is the lone undefeated left standing. The NFC, and the No. 1 spot here, is the Panthers’ to lose.
1. Carolina Panthers
• KING: Undefeated season in reach for the Panthers
2. New England Patriots
Gronk is OK, more or less, so all else that happened Sunday night—yes, including the loss—is inconsequential by comparison. So long as he has his star tight end, Tom Brady could move the chains with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at receiver. Now the Patriots just need Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower healthy (it sounds like Collins will play in Week 13). Without them, as the Broncos proved, their run defense is highly suspect.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The AFC’s second-best team (Cincinnati) and the NFC’s second-best team (Arizona) are interchangeable in the rankings right now. And yes, that’s counting the Cardinals’ narrow, thrilling three-point win over the Bengals a couple weeks back. There are a few tough tests ahead for Marvin Lewis’s team, but the No. 1 seed is no longer out of the question.
4. Arizona Cardinals
Back-to-back wins over Seattle and Cincinnati showed how good this Arizona team can be. The Cardinals, though, have had more sleepy performances than one might expect from a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They spent three-plus quarters against San Francisco playing with all the energy of your 60-year-old uncle after Thanksgiving dinner.
5. Denver Broncos
• BANKS: Sanders on Broncos’ resurgence under Osweiler
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Credit Alex Smith for spending, like, 10 seasons setting up Sunday’s unexpected deep-ball onslaught. It only can help the Chiefs if they keep testing the waters downfield. Jeremy Maclin is averaging 13.5 yards per catch on the season; he finished at 17.8 on Sunday.
7. Minnesota Vikings
• KING: Peterson running his way toward a third rushing title
8. Seattle Seahawks
• FARRAR: Seahawks rediscover old magic in win over Steelers
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
You know that feeling of terror that happens whenever you drop your phone? Holding your breath while you pick it up and flip it over, just to make sure the screen didn't crack? That's how Steelers fans feel whenever Ben Roethlisberger gets hit.
10. Indianapolis Colts
• BURKE: How Colts, Texans saved their seasons
11. Houston Texans
The Saints had scored a touchdown in 155 straight games and Drew Brees had thrown a TD pass in 45 consecutive outings, until the Texans snapped both runs Sunday. J.J. Watt is up to 7.5 sacks ... in the past four games.
12. Green Bay Packers
• PARLAPIANO: Bears spoil Packers’ special night
13. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo has played New England tough twice, and it pushed Kansas City to the limit last week, but great effort isn’t enough to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It might be enough to take home the Vince Papale Trophy, though, if that were a thing.
14. Chicago Bears
The Bears are very much in this, for which their staff deserves an incredible amount of praise. Adam Gase has done well with a depleted offense, but what Vic Fangio has accomplished for the defense—Chicago has allowed 19 points or fewer in four straight games—is bordering on witchcraft.
15. New York Jets
• WATCH: Jets’ tandem of Decker, Marshall continues to thrive
16. Washington Redskins
• KLEMKO: Kirk Cousins making the case that he belongs
17. Oakland Raiders
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
19. New York Giants
• FARRAR: How to fix every mediocre team in the NFC East
20. St. Louis Rams
21. Detroit Lions
• VRENTAS: Martha Firestone Ford’s patience has run out
22. Dallas Cowboys
23. Atlanta Falcons
24. New Orleans Saints
25. Miami Dolphins
• BEDARD: How can we fix NFL officiating
26. San Diego Chargers
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Baltimore Ravens
29. San Francisco 49ers
• Fantasy: Complete Week 13 player rankings
30. Philadelphia Eagles
31. Tennessee Titans
32. Cleveland Browns