Week 13 is upon us. Well, almost, as Week 12 has now been extended out until Wednesday afternoon. But December is here, I’ve finished my Thanksgiving leftovers, I saw that Corona commercial with the Christmas tree and the playoff picture is starting to round into form.
The MMQB power rankings rotation now begins its third time through the order, for those who are scoring at home. In Week 7, I wrote about some of the factors I weigh when sizing teams up at different points in the season. This time, one common theme was trust. The old adage is that teams are what their record says they are, but of course that’s not always exactly the case—especially in a season that has put teams in as many trying situations as this one has. We’ve seen teams at their best and their worst (like in any season), but this year we’ve also seen them when they’ve lost players suddenly and unexpectedly from their lineup, lost coaches, lost entire weeks of practice, had their schedules yanked around and more.
So as I sized up the 32 teams, I tried to cut through some of the noise and think more simply about which teams I trust to show up in a given week, or—for the playoff teams—in a big game come January.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (10–1)
Last week: Win at Tampa Bay 27–24
This week: vs. Denver
There is no team in football I trust more than the Kansas City Chiefs. They have the best player and plenty of talent around him. They can go up big early or they can come back late. I’m not worried about the propensity to let teams hang around (and sneak in backdoor covers). The defending champs have done nothing this year to change the perception that they’re the best team out there.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10–0)
This week: vs. Baltimore (Wednesday)
This week: vs. Washington (Monday)
I’m putting Pittsburgh No. 2 and I assume Steelers fans are, if not over it, at least understanding at this point. This routine has gone on for a while now, with Mike Tomlin’s team the NFL’s last unbeaten and power rankers routinely putting the Chiefs above them. The Steelers are having a great season but the Chiefs are truly, potentially all-time great. Second place is nothing to sneeze at and I would love to see this defense get its chance to face Kansas City on conference championship weekend.
3. Green Bay Packers (8–3)
Last week: Win vs. Chicago 41–25
This week: vs. Philadelphia
It’s very hard to pick the best team in the NFC! Some days I want to make a case for the Seahawks, other days the Saints, today I’ll go with the Packers. Between those three, this is the team I trust the most right now to win a playoff game. It would be a much easier call if they’d hung on against Indy two weeks ago, but they bounced back by outclassing the Bears this week and everyone knows they’re good enough to beat anyone on any day.
4. New Orleans Saints (9–2)
Last week: Win at Denver 31–3
This week: at Atlanta
I have to admit that I’m concerned about Drew Brees. I know everyone seems to believe he’ll be back in plenty of time for the playoffs, and that he should be fine, but it’s just sort of mind-boggling to me. He is 41, dealing with a collapsed lung and a fractured rib count in the double digits, and everyone just says, “Welp, four weeks or so.” Part of me is worried we’ll never see him play again, if he can’t get back for the end of this year. Or that he might come back without full effectiveness and have to be replaced again. But I am not a doctor, and one lesson that has been reinforced throughout 2020 is the importance of listening to medical experts. Those types seem to be saying he should be O.K., but I kind of want to see him on the field and playing well before I call New Orleans the best team in the NFC. Isn’t that fair? The roster is obviously stacked, and they have won two games convincingly with Taysom Hill, but I’m not ready to put them in the Super Bowl yet.
5. Seattle Seahawks (8–3)
Last week: Win at Philadelphia 23–7
This week: vs. New York Giants
The Seahawks have played 11 games, many of them in thrilling high-wire fashion, and won eight of them. And even though they’ve done it with a unique flair, and we’ve learned plenty about them along the way, it feels like most people I talk to about them have just dug in deeper on their preseason takes. I am high on Seattle. Some people point out their flaws on defense or call out turnover and red zone numbers as unsustainable. I don’t really care. I maintain a ton of faith in Russell Wilson and this goofy team that never makes things easy but often pulls through in close games. I have a small margin between 3, 4 and 5 on this list and might still pick Seattle to beat the teams ahead of them, depending on the seeding.
6. Tennessee Titans (8–3)
Last week: Win at Indianapolis 45–26
This week: vs. Cleveland
It feels like the Titans have everyone exactly where they want them, ready to make a late-season charge like they did last year. The Titans may also be one of the teams that will emerge with a sneaky hidden benefit from the new playoff format. If they wind up with the third seed, like I expect, they’ll travel to Kansas City or Pittsburgh and catch a two seed that has been forced this year to play a seven seed instead of sitting at home with a bye. You’d much rather face (and presumably attempt to tackle) Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown after a week off.
7. Buffalo Bills (8–3)
Last week: Win vs. Los Angeles Chargers 27–17
This week: at San Francisco (Monday)
The Bills’ season has been a wild rollercoaster, but it has also been a clear step forward. They may not be in the AFC’s top tier, but they are really talented and know how to keep things exciting. But they have a ceiling in the power rankings and for now it’s right around here.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7–5)
Last week: Loss vs. Kansas City 27–24
This week: Bye
Ah, Tampa Bay Buccaneers discourse. Two straight losses, and three in four games, have them at 7–5 and has the rest of the world trying to dissect press conference quotes and decide whose fault it is. I wanted to move them lower, but their losses have come against good teams and some of the teams behind them have their faults as well.
9. Indianapolis Colts (7–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Tennessee 45–26
This week: at Houston
The Colts were in a tough spot this week, missing multiple crucial defenders before a huge game against the Titans. By this point in the season, almost every team, even the good ones, have a game or two that looks like a dud, and I’m choosing to mostly throw this one out. They split with the Titans, and that’s what I take away from two games with lopsided final scores. The Colts’ defense will be there when they get back to full strength.
10. Cleveland Browns (8–3)
Last week: Win at Jacksonville 27–25
This week: at Tennessee
The Browns haven’t always felt like a top-10 team this year, but they just keep stacking wins against the teams they should beat. And it’s a lot easier to make an argument in their favor when they have Nick Chubb back in the lineup. His ability is such a crucial part of their identity, and with him they can be in the top 10.
11. Baltimore Ravens (6–4)
This week: at Pittsburgh (Wednesday)
This week: vs. Dallas (Tuesday)
Baltimore has dropped two straight winnable games, and I thought we’d get a chance to see if they can bounce back before this week’s rankings, but the postponed game with the Steelers means we’re catching them mid-week. Honestly, I don’t expect to learn much about them this week anyway, given how many players will be out. The schedule is very favorable the last five weeks (Cowboys, at Browns, Jaguars, Giants, at Bengals) so we should still see last year’s top seed get back in the playoff bracket if they can get everyone back on the field.
12. Miami Dolphins (7–4)
Last week: Win at New York Jets 20–3
This week: vs. Cincinnati
The Dolphins remain one of the feel-good stories of the year, and if they can hang in the AFC East race until the end, a winner-take-all date with the Bills would be a very good game to flex into primetime in Week 17.
13. Los Angeles Rams (7–4)
Last week: Loss vs. San Francisco 23–20
This week: at Arizona
I’m not quite sure why the Rams can’t beat the 49ers, but I think they’ve been good enough against everyone else this year that I’m listing them second in the NFC West. And they could very well still win the thing if they have better luck with the Cardinals and Seahawks down the stretch.
14. Arizona Cardinals (6–5)
Last week: Loss at New England 20–17
This week: vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Cardinals were on top of the world two weeks ago when the Hail Murray put them at 6–3. Two losses later, you realize, “Uhhh, you know it’s a good thing they won a game on a miraculous final play or else they might be under .500 right now.” We know how talented they are, and how much potential they have, but the season may very well come down to two dates with the Rams in Weeks 13 and 17, and right now I’m giving L.A. a slight edge.
15. Minnesota Vikings (5–6)
Last week: Win vs. Carolina 28–27
This week: vs. Jacksonville
It might be too little too late, but the Vikings deserve a lot of credit for their turnaround. They’ve looked a lot more like the team we saw win a playoff game in New Orleans last year, and that team sneaks into the top half of my rankings with a 5–6 mark.
16. New England Patriots (5–6)
Last week: Win vs. Arizona 20–17
This week: at Los Angeles Chargers
Just when you think it’s finally time to bury the New England Patriots … well it usually isn’t. I think this run will ultimately fall short of the playoffs but the 2020 Patriots will go down as a fairly average football team, which is a lot better than I expected when they were clawing their way back from down 10 against the Jets, now three wins in four games ago.
17. San Francisco 49ers (5–6)
Last week: Win at Los Angeles Rams 23–20
This week: vs. Buffalo (Monday)
The 49ers have been exiled from their home, which puts them on the shortlist of teams that have had the strangest, most authentic 2020s. They have also put up with an absurd amount of injuries, as we all know, which is a shame because Sunday was a great reminder of how good this team can be. A Niners win and a Bucs loss kept the dream alive for all four NFC West teams to reach the playoffs together, but don’t bet on it.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (6–5)
Last week:Win at Atlanta 43–6
This week: at New York Jets
There have been some memorable eggs teams have laid this season, (some that immediately come to mind: Bucs 38-Packers 10, Saints 38-Bucs 3, Steelers 38-Browns 7) but not many can top Falcons 43-Raiders 6. I’ll often give a team a pass for one game when things start to get out of hand, but that was a rough one.
19. Houston Texans (4–7)
Last week: Win at Detroit 41–25
This week: vs. Indianapolis
The Texans are making their slow recovery after just a ridiculous schedule to open the season, and I am thankful for reminders of how incredible Deshaun Watson is. This is a point countless other people have made already, but it bears repeating: He’s the best selling point any team has in trying to hire the top coaching candidate this offseason.
20. Atlanta Falcons (4–7)
Last week: Win vs. Las Vegas 43–6
This week: vs. New Orleans
The Falcons are actually a top-seven team in the NFC by point differential, but I guess winning a game by 37 points helps. They are absolutely rolling under Raheem Morris, but have a tough schedule down the stretch with the Saints, Chiefs and two Bucs games. But they are going to win at least one of those four and play spoiler for somebody angling to improve a playoff seed.
21. Chicago Bears (5–6)
Last week: Loss at Green Bay 41–25
This week: vs. Detroit
It doesn’t seem to matter who’s at quarterback, this offense just isn’t good enough. It felt true in Week 1 and it remains that way in Week 13. I don’t think they’re going to fix what ails them in 2020.
22. Carolina Panthers (4–7)
Last week: Loss at Minnesota 28–27
This week: Bye
The Panthers have been better this year than most people (myself certainly included) thought they had any business being. I’m excited to see what Matt Rhule can build there with some more time.
23. New York Giants (4–7)
Last week: Win at Cincinnati 19–17
This week: at Seattle
The Giants are in first place in the NFC East, which ought to count for something. It seems awfully unlikely that they can stay there if Colt McCoy plays for an extended period of time, but then you look around at everybody else …
24. Washington Football Team (4–7)
Last week: Win at Dallas 41–16
This week: at Pittsburgh (Monday)
I was a harsh critic when Washington pulled the plug on Dwayne Haskins early this year, but I think I’m ready to admit I was wrong. I figured the most important thing Washington had to do this year was evaluate Haskins and decide if he had a future being their franchise QB. But Ron Rivera knows a lot more than I do, and if he already had an answer, then I think he’s been proven right that switching to Kyle Allen and now Alex Smith has helped the team play better and, in turn, made it easier for the coaches to analyze the rest of the roster.
25. Detroit Lions (4–8)
Last week: Loss vs. Houston 41–25
This week: at Chicago
The Matt Patricia era is over, and it feels like a small percentage of my lasting memories from his run took place on the field. Detroit now has some work to do to rebound from an underwhelming stretch of football.
26. Denver Broncos (4–7)
Last week: Loss vs. New Orleans 31–3
This week: at Kansas City
Credit to Kendall Hinton, who did his best and has a cool story. That’s about all I have to say about Week 12 in Denver.
27. Los Angeles Chargers (3–8)
Last week: Loss at Buffalo 27–17
This week: vs. New England
Who knows what to make of the Chargers? I was thinking yesterday about my expectations for them in 2021 and there’s such a wide range of outcomes. Maybe they’ll go 4–12. Maybe they’ll go 12–4 and score 3 points in a depressing wild-card playoff loss. The possibilities are endless.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1)
Last week: Loss vs. New York Giants 19–17
This week: at Miami
Joe Burrow’s injury is just such a bummer, and it’s also virtually sapped my desire to watch Bengals games.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7-1)
Last week: Loss vs. Seattle 23–17
This week: at Green Bay
The Eagles’ offense is so broken, listing all the issues is an undertaking deserving of an entire article. One pithy power rankings blurb wouldn’t do it justice. Suffice to say, I could not have imagined in September I’d be putting them 29th.
30. Dallas Cowboys (3–8)
Last week: Loss vs. Washington 41–16
This week: at Baltimore (Tuesday)
The Cowboys have fallen to sole possession of last place in the NFC East, and their Thanksgiving loss to Washington had enough lowlights for them to show they belong there.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1–10)
Last week: Loss vs. Cleveland 27–25
This week: at Minnesota
The Jaguars have actually been competitive in a bunch of their games, and it makes you wonder what their record would be if they played in the NFC East. But at some point you look up and see 10 losses in a row and think, “Why am I trying to talk myself into moving them up from No. 31? They’re 1–10.”
32. New York Jets (0–11)
Last week: Loss vs. Miami 20–3
This week: vs. Las Vegas
The Jets are cruising toward Trevor Lawrence, and someday soon it may all be worth it.