There are so many teams still in the playoff race that the next three weeks will be the most exciting finals in years.
10. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
Sean McDermott, the AFC's Mike McCarthy, is ready for another shot at the Patriots. The victory over Carolina, combined with a Patriots loss in Indy, puts destiny in Buffalo's hands. Beat the Pats on Sunday in Foxborough and take care of business against the Falcons and Jets, and this frustrating regular season will end with the desired result: a division title and home playoff contest next month. Will these Bills rise to the occasion? Be careful now as the preseason predictions are needing validation. It all comes down to Sunday at New England.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
What were they thinking? Over and over, the Chargers passed on easy points on Thursday night in favor of bold risks that didn’t pay off. Two trips inside the Kansas City 5-yard line ended with fourth-down incompletions; another trip imploded with a goal-line fumble. I guess we are in the beginning of the new analytics. The only mistake Brandon Staley made vs. the Chiefs was not going for two when the Chargers were up seven. Every other decision was sound. He believes in his team, and they’ll be dangerous in January. The coach had the final word; “ With a quarterback like ours, with an offense like ours, that’s how we’re going to play.”. Others say; “ The future is bright. The present is murky.”.
8. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
Once again, it was Jonathan Taylor to the rescue. One Jonathan Taylor run ended a decade-plus of the Colts getting outcoached, out-toughed, and outplayed by the Patriots. These Colts are contenders even with a Carson Wentz-sized weight around their ankles. Frank Reich remained committed to the run down the stretch, showing a noticeable lack of faith in Carson Wentz. The Colts have proven their bona fides as legit AFC contenders. They’ll go as far as Jonathan Taylor takes them.
7. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)
There’s much to love about the final quarter of the NFL season. From a number one seed to possible wild card, in the course of six days. The Cardinals have now lost four of seven after their 7-0 start. Sunday brought the season's most disappointing moment: a 30-12 defeat to the Lions. Kyler Murray says the Cardinals aren’t about to fold down the stretch like they did last season. I’ll believe it when I see it. And this week is set to witness against a very hot opponent. A home showdown with the surging Colts should tell us a lot about Kliff Kingsbury's team.
6. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
The Cowboys lead the league with 23 interceptions and are tied for first in takeaways with 31. The D will take Big D to an NFC East title, but there's no road back to the Lombardi unless the offense finds its groove. Ugly wins are still wins, especially when other high-end NFC contenders are losing. The Cowboys have become the NFC version of what the Chiefs were in the AFC for much of this season: a team filled with high-profile stars on offense getting regularly carried by its defense. Dak Prescott hasn't looked right since he returned from injury. The Cowboys need No. 4 to get back to balling if they want to make any noise in January.
5. New England Patriots (9-5)
The Hood should be in a bad mood this week at practice. The lack of energy in the first half was uncharacteristic for a Bill Belichick team. The seven-game winning streak is a memory after multiple uncharacteristic mistakes and breakdowns in fundamentals led to a 27-17 loss to the Colts on Saturday night. The Patriots beat themselves for three quarters and still almost came back to knock off the Colts. The AFC is still there for Mac and Hoodie to take on Sunday against the Bills.
4. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
Survive and advance. After three straight losses, three straight wins. How many more will there be? The Rams worked their way through the COVID-19 week from hell, then found a way in a 20-10 win over the Seahawks. The Rams now find themselves tied with the Cardinals atop the NFC West with three games to play. This should be fun. The Rams appear to have benefitted from their game vs. the Seahawks being pushed back to Tuesday. The Seahawks are losing guys to the COVID list as the Rams get healthier. Them’s the breaks. The Offensive Player of the Year Award should come down to Cooper Kupp.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)
A 17-game season is a war of attrition, and the Bucs lost a huge battle on Sunday night. Brady struggled without his key playmakers, committing two turnovers in his first shutout loss in over 15 years. The Saints are Tom Brady’s Kryptonite, but the Bucs have bigger issues than a loss to the Saints as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette all left Sunday’s game with injuries putting the team's hopes for a playoff bye in serious doubt. Mike Evans (hamstring), Chris Godwin (knee) and Leonard Fournette (hamstring) all exited leaving Tom Brady in a vulnerable and frustrating situation. As much as the coaching staff deserves blame for the implosion against the Saints, it also deserves a ton of credit for helping this team win 10 games despite being decimated in the secondary. Time for Brady to find more magic and take over this year’s destiny.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
Just like that, the Chiefs are back in first place in the AFC. Same as it ever was. The Chiefs are on the verge of winning their sixth straight AFC West crown, and they control their own destiny toward winning the AFC's top playoff seed. Is Travis Kelce the teams MVP? Kelce has rarely performed like a dominant force this season, so consider the veteran's sudden re-emergence as a game-wrecker an early Christmas present for the Chiefs and their fans. Kelce lit up the Chargers for a career-high 191 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches. Three straight Super Bowl appearances suddenly isn’t out of the question.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)
The Packers are 11-3 despite their special teams being dog water. They might be impossible to beat if they ever get that ironed out. Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, is now in the driver's seat for his fourth MVP award (and second in as many years). Rodgers posted three more TD passes and has been the league's best quarterback for the past month. Crunch-time performance counts in this race ... or at least it should. Can they finish the job this year?