THE FINE FIFTEEN
1. New England (13-2). LW: 1. The Patriots don’t want a repeat of last year. They’re going to Miami hell-bent on locking up home-field advantage in the playoffs the only certain way, by beating the Dolphins.
2. Dallas (13-2). LW: 2. While Sunday’s injuries to Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota might have given the Cowboys some pause, continuing to play their starters last night even with the NFC’s No. 1 seed locked up was the right move. Otherwise, they’d have a month off until their next meaningful game.
3. Kansas City (11-4). LW: 3. That late Dontari Poe TD was a little shove in the face not only to the defending champion Broncos, but also to Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, who ruffled some feathers earlier this year by saying the Chiefs offense relied on some “gimmicky things.” Derek Carr’s broken fibula opens the door for the Chiefs to take the AFC West title, if they can win at San Diego and Matt McGloin and the Raiders lose at Denver.
4. Pittsburgh (10-5). LW: 6. The win against the Ravens served as an ominous reminder to the AFC that, no matter how much the Steelers offense might look like it’s struggling, it has a 181-pound receiver who can outmuscle two defenders on the goal line.
5. Atlanta (10-5). LW: 7. For a while, the most overlooked team in the NFL was the Chiefs. Now, I’d say it’s Atlanta. But suddenly they are in position to claim the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
6. Seattle (9-5-1). LW: 5. They’re the most experienced team in the NFC playoff picture, which counts for something. But the offensive line continues to be a huge liability, and there are only so many ways to scheme around that.
7. Green Bay (9-6). LW: 11. Is Aaron Rodgers eligible for Comeback Player of the Year? I kid, but you get the point. Equally impressive has been the play of linebacker Clay Matthews, who is either really feeling better after separating his shoulder last month or has just figured out how to work around it.
8. Giants (10-5). LW: 8. The statistic that concerns me for the Giants’ postseason viability: They are averaging just 83.4 rushing yards per game, fourth-worst in the league.
9. Detroit (9-6). LW: 9. The Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993. It’s down to one game, at home, against the red-hot Packers.
10. Oakland (12-3). LW: 4. The fact that I have the Raiders sliding down six spots after Derek Carr’s broken fibula is perhaps an indicator of the QB’s strong case for MVP. He was the player who had elevated this team. Without him, it’s hard to see the Raiders winning again this season.
11. Baltimore (8-5). LW: 12. It was hard to watch Sunday’s Steelers-Ravens game and not believe that both teams would be tough outs in the postseason. But for the second straight year, and the third time in four years, the Ravens will miss the playoffs.
12. Miami (10-5). LW: 13. The Dolphins have a chance of moving from the No. 6 seed to the No. 5 seed if they beat New England this week, which is a much bigger swing than it might sound like. That’s potentially the difference between playing at Pittsburgh in the first round and playing at Houston.
13. Denver (8-7). LW: 11. The Broncos gambled that their quarterback play would be good enough to make the postseason. It was not quite enough. Now, they have a big offseason decision to make at the position. Cue the Tony Romo rumors.
14. Washington (8-6-1). LW: 16. Whether this year ends with a playoff berth or not, Kirk Cousins has shown enough this season to prove that last year was not a fluke and earn a long-term place in Washington.
15. Buccaneers (8-7). LW: 14. Doug Martin being inactive for a critical Week 16 game raised eyebrows. This young team continues to be plagued by growing pains.
Also receiving consideration:
16. Houston (9-6). LW: 18.
17. Tennessee (8-7). LW: 15.
18. New Orleans (7-8). LW: UR.
19. Indianapolis (7-8). LW: 17.
20. Buffalo (7-8). LW: 19.
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