Can you feel it?
There's a chill in the air, an excitement that comes with the first snowfall. And as temperatures lower, the stakes are getting higher.
Yup, it's the home stretch of the 2021 NFL season. The playoffs are in sight.
Of course, there's a big difference between 'Playoffs!' and "Playoffs?!' and this week's edition of the NFL Power Rankings is all about exactly that.
SEE YOU IN JANUARY… AND MAYBE FEBRUARY?
1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2; Last week: 1)
2. Green Bay Packers (9-3; Last week: 2)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3; Last week: 3)
4. Baltimore Ravens (8-3; Last week: 7)
It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens' crucial divisional win over the Browns Sunday night gave Baltimore a leg up on the competition as the team to beat in the AFC -- an honour many have fought for this year, but one few have managed to actually grab hold of in this parity party that is the AFC. Of course, whether the Ravens can now keep that top spot is another question... surely, folks in New England, Kansas City, Buffalo, and Tennessee have something to say about that.
But, the question remains: How should we view that victory? Lamar Jackson threw a whopping four interceptions and made several ill-advised throws in this turnover-filled matchup and still walked away with the win... that's not supposed to happen in the NFL. The hopeful fan views it as evidence that this Baltimore team is truly a complete squad, with defence stepping up when the offence falters. But the pessimist sees a series of errors and missed scoring opportunities that healthier opponents won't let them get away with. A sign of more struggles to come, or a message delivered that the defence has finally arrived? - Sadler
HOW FAR CAN THEY GO?
5. New England Patriots (8-4; Last week: 4)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4; Last week: 5)
7. Buffalo Bills (7-4; Last week: 9)
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-4; Last week: 6)
9. Tennessee Titans (8-4; Last week: 8)
The Cowboys and Titans are heading in the wrong direction as the Chiefs return from their bye riding a four-game hot streak with three straight divisional games upcoming. The big story from this tier, of course, is the two teams battling for AFC East supremacy. The Patriots and Bills play one another twice between Sunday and Boxing Day with the first meeting taking place this Monday in Buffalo. The no-doubt game of the week. - Johnston
WILD CARD RACE IS ON
10. Los Angeles Rams (7-4; Last week: 10)
11. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4; Last week: 14)
12. Indianapolis Colts (6-6: Last week: 12)
13. San Francisco 49ers (6-5; Last week: 19)
14. Los Angeles Chargers (6-5; Last week: 11)
15. Cleveland Browns (6-6; Last week: 13)
16. Las Vegas Raiders (6-5; Last week: 23)
17. Denver Broncos (6-5; Last week: 24)
Sunday's loss to Green Bay marks three straight losses for the Rams, who were considered Super Bowl favourites just a few short weeks ago and now have plenty of question marks. The biggest one, of course, is Matthew Stafford. The quarterback is said to be struggling with plenty of pain, and it shows in his play -- he's thrown a pick-six in all three of L.A.'s consecutive losses.
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the Bengals are just one win off pace of Baltimore for the division title while the Browns break down. But the most intriguing team down the stretch might just be San Francisco... the 49ers have put together a nice little three-game win streak and are very much back in this wild-card race. - Sadler
18. Minnesota Vikings (5-6; Last week: 16)
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1; Last week: 18)
20. Miami Dolphins (5-7; Last week: 22)
21. New Orleans Saints (5-6; Last week: 15)
22. Washington Football Team (5-6; Last week: 20)
23. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7; Last week: 17)
24. Atlanta Falcons (5-6; Last week: 26)
Allowing the 49ers to put up 20 third-quarter points against them in Week 12 could end up haunting the Vikings. Falling back below .500 really hurts their chances – so does losing Dalvin Cook for a couple games – but they should be 6-6 after this week’s road contest at the Lions. Don’t look now but the Dolphins have won four in a row and have back-to-back winnable matchups with the Giants and Jets on tap. - Johnston
PLAYOFFS?! TIME TO START PREPARING FOR THE DRAFT
25. Chicago Bears (4-7; Last week: 29)
26. Carolina Panthers (5-7; Last week: 21)
27. New York Giants (4-7; Last week: 27)
28. Seattle Seahawks (3-8; Last week: 25)
29. New York Jets (3-8; Last week: 31)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9; Last week: 30)
31. Houston Texans (2-9; Last week: 28)
32. Detroit Lions (0-10-1; Last week: 32)
The Bears snapped their five-game losing streak! Unfortunately they face Arizona and Green Bay in the next two weeks. Cam Newton had a positive start to his return to Carolina but posted abysmal numbers this past weekend. Houston and Jacksonville could give them a run late, but Detroit remains in excellent position to land the No. 1 pick. - Johnston