Last year, three teams—the Packers, Chiefs and Bills—got through the season with three or fewer losses. This year, with six weeks left, just four such teams remain. And that tells the story of a season in which everyone seems to be getting pulled toward .500. Twenty-one of the league’s 32 teams are within three games of each other, between 4–7 and 7–4.
And that makes ranking them … a challenge. But here’s my swing at it anyway, coming out of Week 12, and going into Week 13.
1. Arizona Cardinals (9–2)
Last week: Bye
Next week: at Chicago
Biggest news to come out of Arizona this week? That Oklahoma’s interested in Kliff Kingsbury. The Cards have come a long way.
2. Green Bay Packers (9–3)
Last week: Win vs. Los Angeles Rams, 36–28
Next week: Bye
Imagine where this team will go when it gets Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith back healthy.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8–3)
Last week: Win at Indianapolis, 38–31
Next week: at Atlanta
A quality win at Indy, plus a workable schedule the rest of the way means a redux of 2020’s flying finish is in play.
4. Baltimore Ravens (8–3)
Last week: Win vs. Cleveland, 16–10
Next week: at Pittsburgh
So many missing pieces, and yet the Ravens keep finding ways to win, even when it looks like it did Sunday night against the Browns.
5. New England Patriots (8–4)
Last week: Win vs. Tennessee, 36–13
Next week: at Buffalo (Monday)
A perfectly conceived team that plays to its coaching with an efficient young quarterback, an overbearing run game and a playmaking defense.
6. Buffalo Bills (7–4)
Last week: Win at New Orleans, 31–6
Next week: vs. New England (Monday)
The run game came on against the Saints, and Josh Allen responded with a more under-control game. If only Tre’Davious White didn’t go down.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (7–4)
Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Denver
Steve Spagnuolo’s defense allowed 17, 7, 14 and 9 points in a 4–0 November. If the offense becomes its scary self again, look out.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (7–4)
Last week: Win vs. Pittsburgh, 41–10
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers
The offensive line and defense have, seemingly, played over their heads, and the young skill group around Joe Burrow blew Pittsburgh away.
9. Tennessee Titans (8–4)
Last week: Loss at New England, 36–13
Next week: Bye
Lots of ifs here related to health—with Derrick Henry and the receivers. And turnovers have become an issue for a team that’s still playing tough.
10. Dallas Cowboys (7–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Las Vegas, 36–33 (OT) (Thanksgiving)
Next week: at New Orleans (Thursday)
Offensive line issues crept up on Thanksgiving, as did the receiver shortage. And now they’re going to have to play the Saints without their head coach.
11. Los Angeles Rams (7–4)
Last week: Loss at Green Bay, 36–28
Next week: vs. Jacksonville
Three straight losses, and all to teams that took it to the Rams physically. Playing the Jaguars should give the Rams a nice reset before going to Arizona.
12. San Francisco 49ers (6–5)
Last week: Win vs. Minnesota, 34–26
Next week: at Seattle
Defensive issues ironed out, a versatile, problem-creating run game emerging, and the Niners have a familiar formula to lean on here.
13. Indianapolis Colts (6–6)
Last week: Loss vs. Tampa Bay, 38–31
Next week: vs. Houston
Carson Wentz played well in defeat, and the defense was more than competent. Only question: Why didn’t Jonathan Taylor get the ball more?
14. Denver Broncos (6–5)
Last week: Win vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 28–13
Next week: at Kansas City
This feels a little rich, yes, to have Denver here. But Vic Fangio’s group is playing opportunistic defense, and finding ways to win.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (6–5)
Last week: Loss at Denver, 28–13
Next week: at Cincinnati
Every time you think you’re sold, and it looks like the Chargers have turned a corner, a game like last week happens. The NFL’s Jekyll and Hyde.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (6–5)
Last week: Win at Dallas, 36–33 (OT) (Thanksgiving)
Next week: vs. Washington
There have been bigger, non-football issue to come out of 2021 for Vegas, obviously. But that record speaks well for the players and coaches remaining.
17. Cleveland Browns (6–6)
Last week: Loss at Baltimore, 16–10
Next week: Bye
The ethos of this team—rugged and tough last year—just isn’t the same as it was. So Kevin Stefanski’s got some work to do over Cleveland’s bye.
18. Minnesota Vikings (5–6)
Last week: Loss at San Francisco, 34–26
Next week: at Detroit
All 11 of the Vikings’ games have been won or lost by a single possession. Maybe this week, in Detroit, that pattern will finally get broken.
19. New Orleans Saints (5–6)
Last week: Loss vs. Buffalo, 31–6
Next week: vs. Dallas (Thursday)
A quarterback change could be coming. The team’s lost four straight. Thursday night’s an awfully big spot for Sean Payton’s crew.
20. Washington Football Team (5–6)
Last week: Win vs. Seattle, 17–15 (Monday)
Next week: at Las Vegas
With Washington’s rally to .500—the Football Team is now just two games back of Dallas—this is starting to look a lot like 2020.
21. Miami Dolphins (5–7)
Last week: Win vs. Carolina, 33–10
Next week: vs. New York Giants
Tua Tagovailoa’s efficient. The defense is coming on. And with back to back games against the New York teams looming, .500 is very much in sight.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (5–7)
Last week: Loss at New York Giants, 13–7
Next week: at New York Jets
Jalen Raegor’s drop was a golden opportunity lost for what had been a surging Philly team. Still, with a light schedule ahead, 9–8 is possible.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)
Last week: Loss at Cincinnati, 41–10
Next week: vs. Baltimore
Lots of very bad history was made in that loss in Cincinnati, and lots of things seem to be going in the wrong direction for Pittsburgh.
24. Atlanta Falcons (5–6)
Last week: Win at Jacksonville, 21–14
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay
The roster needs work still, but there’s a lot to like about how Arthur Smith and his staff have creatively kept this team where it is.
25. Carolina Panthers (5–7)
Last week: Loss at Miami, 33–10
Next week: Bye
There have just been too many moving pieces on offense for Matt Rhule to achieve any sort of real consistency in Year 2. And that starts at quarterback.
26. Chicago Bears (4–7)
Last week: Win at Detroit, 16–14 (Thanksgiving)
Next week: vs. Arizona
They’re coming off a win, but it doesn’t feel that way after all the noise around the team leading up to the Thanksgiving game in Detroit.
27. New York Giants (4–7)
Last week: Win vs. Philadelphia, 13–7
Next week: at Miami
Give them this: The loss to the Bucs, added to the staff changes last week, could’ve made for a no-show against the Eagles. And that didn’t happen.
28. Seattle Seahawks (3–8)
Last week: Loss at Washington, 17–15 (Monday)
Next week: vs. San Francisco
The scary thing is that this doesn’t feel like a fluke. In fact, this team has the look of one that’s in need of a pretty extensive rebuild.
29. New York Jets (3–8)
Last week: Win at Houston, 21–14
Next week: vs. Philadelphia
The last month of the season is going to be pretty important for Robert Saleh, in getting some good momentum and trying to reestablish Zach Wilson.
30. Houston Texans (2–9)
Last week: Loss vs. New York Jets, 21–14
Next week: vs. Indianapolis
David Culley’s kept the team competing and working. But the game against the Jets showed, again, that the Texans have a lot of building to do.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2–9)
Last week: Loss vs. Atlanta, 21–14
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams
The good news is Trevor Lawrence is getting to learn through his mistakes, and the Jags have a full offseason coming to get him more help.
32. Detroit Lions (0-10-1)
Last week: Loss vs. Chicago, 16–14 (Thanksgiving)
Next week: vs. Minnesota
As we said, the Vikings have been in close games every week, including the first one between these two teams. So … maybe this is the week?
More NFL Coverage:
• Week 12 Takeaways: Packers Take Control
• MAQB: Joe Burrow's Toughness Helps Him As a Leader
• Five Things We Learned From the NFL’s Thanksgiving Slate
• Patriots Turn Season Around by Continuing What They Were Doing