Oh, what a strange season it has been.
The NFL has an undefeated team (the Panthers) but no one-loss or three-loss teams at the moment. It has a division leader at .500 (the Colts and Texans) and another below .500 (Washington/Philadelphia/New York). Just one team, Cleveland, has been eliminated from playoff contention through 13 weeks.
What’s to come? Who knows. But this is how it all shakes out for now ...
1. Carolina Panthers
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2. Cincinnati Bengals
Since a reported sitdown with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson two weeks ago, Jeremy Hill has regained a little momentum—he rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown Sunday after a 5.4 yards-per-carry effort in Week 12. The more he can do in December and January, the less there is to fall on Andy Dalton’s plate.
3. Denver Broncos
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4. Arizona Cardinals
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5. New England Patriots
Peyton Manning crumbled, Aaron Rodgers hit a rough stretch and now Tom Brady is throwing costly interceptions. It’s like the quarterback ghosts are visiting us for some NFL version of “A Christmas Carol,” and, oh, Matt Ryan will wake up tomorrow realizing he needs to change his game.
6. Seattle Seahawks
Can you guess who’s leading the league in receiving yards over the past four weeks? Nope, not Odell Beckham Jr. or A.J. Green. Allen Robinson, Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Brown are up there, but not any of them either. The answer: Doug Baldwin, with 433 yards and six touchdowns from Weeks 10 to 13.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
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8. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Colts put up as much resistance against Pittsburgh’s passing attack as the air keeping a falling leaf from hitting the ground. This has become a recurring theme, too. When Ben Roethlisberger is in the lineup, the Steelers are absolutely explosive on offense.
9. Buffalo Bills
Over the next three weeks, Buffalo plays two first-place teams and another team that's just a game back. Sounds daunting ... except all three of those clubs reside in the NFC East (Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas). If the Bills can’t make a run against that division, they deserve to stay home for the playoffs.
10. Green Bay Packers
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11. New York Jets
Every playoff qualifier produces a season-defining win or two, and the Jets might have found theirs by rallying past the Giants. Ryan Fitzpatrick targeted Brandon Marshall 13 times in the overtime win. The results: 12 completions for 131 yards and a game-tying touchdown.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Sunday’s loss to Seattle marked just the second time since the turn of the millennium that Minnesota fell short of 10 first downs. Teddy Bridgewater could hide inside a pillow fort and have more protection than his O-line gave him.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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14. Indianapolis Colts
By almost all statistical metrics, this Colts team is below average, to the point that its 6–6 record could be considered overachieving. Fortunately for them, Sunday’s humiliating loss in Pittsburgh only counts once. Indianapolis still has the driver’s seat in the AFC South, with the Texans set to visit in Week 15.
15. Houston Texans
No great mystery here. When the defense plays a dominant game, the Texans win; when it doesn’t, as was the case Sunday against Buffalo, the Texans lose. And the offense is just sort of there, like decorative parsley on top of a steak.
16. Chicago Bears
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17. Washington Redskins
Any dream that Washington was the clear class of the NFC East vanished, yard by yard, as DeSean Jackson raced backwards toward his own goal line after fielding a punt late in Monday night’s loss. The Redskins still have yet to win two in a row this season.
18. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are a team without much margin for error right now, so their three turnovers Sunday—and, specifically, Derek Carr’s late pick-six—predictably led to a loss. Finishing with seven or eight wins may not be all that important in the long run, but it feels necessary for Oakland to carry over some momentum.
19. Philadelphia Eagles
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20. Miami Dolphins
Among the most frustrating developments of this season is Ryan Tannehill’s stalled progress, bordering on debilitating regression. He hit on 9 of 19 passes in Sunday’s win, placing him along with Colin Kaepernick and Peyton Manning as the only QBs this season to attempt 19-plus throws and finish with single-digit completions.
21. Dallas Cowboys
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22. Detroit Lions
After Devin Taylor facemasked Aaron Rodgers with no time left Thursday, there was a distinct air of unease at Ford Field, as if the fans anticipated Green Bay’s miracle. A long history of heartbreak is required to get to the point where people almost expect you to give up a 61-yard, game-winning Hail Mary.
23. New York Giants
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24. New Orleans Saints
The worst defense in NFL history, the 1981 Baltimore Colts, allowed 533 points. Right now, the Saints are on pace to give up 506. But that projected mark is on the rise—in four of the past five games, New Orleans has allowed more points than its season average (currently 31.7).
25. San Francisco 49ers
This is not a good team by any stretch of the imagination. The 49ers deserve some credit, though, for their last four games—wins over Atlanta and Chicago, close losses to Seattle and Arizona. Still doubt they sell many copies of “The Story of the 2015 49ers: Good effort and ... wait, Blaine Gabbert?!”
26. St. Louis Rams
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27. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan is the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC South right now, which is a problem given that NFL divisions have four teams. He tossed another killer pick Sunday, sealing his team’s fate in a back-breaking loss to the Buccaneers.
28. San Diego Chargers
The way San Diego’s offense lined up heading into the season, it would have been unimaginable for it to struggle the way it has at times. The Chargers gave up more points when they had the ball Sunday (seven, on an interception return) than they scored (three).
29. Tennessee Titans
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30. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have improved enough that it’s more noticeable when they screw up. On the competency scale that lands them somewhere between truly awful (see: the 2012–14 Jaguars) and disappointingly mediocre (see: the 2015 Rams).
31. Baltimore Ravens
Chalk up another close loss for the Ravens, who have taken eight defeats by an average of just 4.25 points. Odds are that figure climbs over the closing four weeks. Baltimore wraps its throwaway season with games against Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
32. Cleveland Browns
Johnny Manziel is back in at QB for the Browns, as they steamroll toward the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. Given how the franchise’s front office functions, they would have equal shot of using that selection on a bona fide contributor or losing it in a poker game at the NFL combine.