NFL Week 15 Power Rankings: Playoff Picture in both Conferences Still Quite Murky

Sure there's one more game still to be played in Week 14 -- Seattle vs. St. Louis -- but neither of those two teams makes my top-15 anyway. So let's rank 'em 1-32. Like my Week 12 edition, I'd imagine you'll find some of my placements surprising. But as I explained then, I take 'Power Rankings' to mean an assessment of each team in the present and how they project into the immediate future, not merely a ranking of teams for what they accomplished in Week 2 or 3 when circumstances and dynamics across the league were vastly different than what they are right now.

1) Green Bay Packers
  • Record: 13-0
  • Division/Record: Obviously the Packers are atop the standings in their division and conference. The Pack can clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with one more win or a loss by either San Francisco or New Orleans.
  • Thoughts: What can you say other than the Packers look amazing. Their latest win, a 46-16 thrashing of Oakland, was another masterpiece performance from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. They did, however, lose Greg Jennings with a potentially serious knee injury, a development that might force Green Bay to reconsider how they approach this last few weeks of the season.
2) Baltimore Ravens
  • Record: 10-3
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Ravens are first in the AFC North due to head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Steelers. The Ravens would be the No. 2 seed if the playoffs started today.
  • Thoughts: I'm giving the Ravens the nod over the Steelers in this edition for the simple reason that they're in better shape physically than are the Steelers. A third meeting between the two teams come playoff time would be epic.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Record: 10-3
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Steelers are second in the AFC North, which despite being tied for the top record in the conference and holding a head-to-head tiebreaker over the No. 1 seeded Patriots, means they're relegated to wild card status for now as the No. 5 seed.
  • Thoughts: I'd be disappointed to see Ben Roethlisberger sit out next Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers. I think we'd dismantle San Francisco if he were playing at full strength. At the same time, it may be prudent for Big Ben to sit out in Week 15 in order to give his ailing ankle time to heal.
4) New Orleans Saints
  • Record: 10-3
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Saints are first in the NFC South, and are on their way to catching the 49ers for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the first-round bye that goes along with it. New Orleans' final three games are at Minnesota, and then home against Atlanta and Carolina. 13-3 looking like a safe bet.
  • Thoughts: After watching New England's defense give up 27 points to a Rex Grossman led Redskins offense, I'm bumping New Orleans up ahead of the Patriots. The Saints overcame a deficit against the Titans in Week 14 to run their winning streak to five. Drew Brees is still on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record after throwing for 337 yards in NO's 22-17 win.
5) New England Patriots
  • Record: 10-3
  • Division/Conference Standing: First in the AFC East, first in the AFC.
  • Thoughts: Despite their porous defense, Tom Brady continues to lead New England to the winner's circle. Brady now has two favorite targets -- Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski -- that have essentially proven to be unguardable this season. That makes life awfully tough for opposing defenses when deciding how to disrupt New England's offensive rhythm. The Pats could very easily win it all, but their flaws on defense could also be exposed in the divisional round against, say, the Jets who look to be coming on strong and are in no way intimidated of the Patriots.
6) Houston Texans
  • Record: 10-3
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Texans clinched the AFC South with their last-second win over Cincinnati on Sunday. The Texans could very well win a first round bye, particularly if the Steelers surpass the Ravens in the North. Houston holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh, but it's Baltimore who got the better of the Texans earlier this season.
  • Thoughts: Wade Phillips has to be coordinator of the year in 2011, no? Obviously T.J. Yates has handled the pressure of taking over for a contending team mid-season with aplomb. He led Houston to victory in Week 14 despite the Texans' running game being held in check for most of the afternoon. That's a promising sign for Texans fans who were concerned -- and rightfully so -- that the Texans would be in huge trouble if Arian Foster didn't have a big game.
7) New York Jets
  • Record: 8-5
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Jets were the big winners in Week 14 among the crop of wild card contenders. New York won its third consecutive game to move into the No. 6 hole in the AFC. They trail New England by two games in the AFC East.
  • Thoughts: If you've listened to the site's podcast this season, you've heard me discuss why I think the Jets will again make the AFC Championship Game in a rematch against the Steelers. I may be one of the only believers in Mark Sanchez out there. No, he doesn't belong in the same class as the game's truly elite quarterbacks, but there's not too many I would take over him in that next tier. Sanchez does, however, have 21 TDs compared to just 11 INTs. That's not a stat line worthy of never-ending critique if you ask me. If the Jets are going to hold on for that playoff spot and then make the type of run I believe they'll make, Rex Ryan's team will have to prove they can play better on the road than they have this season. They're just 2-4 on the road, with two upcoming tests against Philadelphia this week, and then Miami in Week 17. Sandwiched in between is a very intriguing Week 16 matchup with the Giants.
8) New York Giants
  • Record: 7-6
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Giants moved atop the NFC East standings for the time being with their incredible late-game comeback against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night. If the playoffs started today, the Giants would be the No. 4 seed and host the top wild card team (the Atlanta Falcons).
  • Thoughts: Eli Manning is playing outstanding football right now, particularly in the clutch. You have to be concerned by how much yardage the Giants defense is allowing, but trailing by two scores has proven to not be a death sentence for the Giants. If I'm Green Bay, I want no part of them in a potential Divisional Round matchup.
9) Atlanta Falcons
  • Record: 8-5
  • Division/Conference Standing: The Falcons were somewhat fortunate to escape Week 14 with a win over the Carolina Panthers. The late flurry kept Atlanta in the No. 5 slot in the conference. The Falcons have held down second place in the NFC South for some time now.
  • Thoughts: I don't know what it is about this Atlanta -- they're what I might call a very good average team, or a really average good team. Either way, I like them over teams like the Broncos and Bengals in a one-game situation. I do think they could upset a team like the 49ers on the road in the wild card round, but I don't think they have enough talent to make a run to the NFC title game this season.
10) San Francisco 49ers
  • Record: 10-3
  • Division/Conference Standing: The 49ers clinched the NFC West last week, but risk losing the No. 2 spot to New Orleans if they don't win out. Which they won't.
  • Thoughts: I've debated with Neal Coolong about the 49ers and how they pose zero threat to the true big boys of the league. San Francisco is a competitive, solid team. But the lack of firepower on offense and they're inexperience winning big games at this time of year is more than enough to keep me convinced they'll finish 11-5 and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
No. 11. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas will have no one to blame but themselves if they don't make the playoffs. If they do sneak into the postseason, they'll be as dangerous as anybody in the field not named Green Bay.
No. 12. Chicago Bears
No. 13. Detroit Lions
Very lucky to have not lost to the Vikings in the final moments Sunday afternoon. The Lions have no more than one win left in them though. We'll see if it's enough to get them in. Something tells me no.
No. 14. Denver Broncos
If Marion Barber doesn't have one of the all-time biggest brain farts, the Bears escape Mile High with an impressive road win. Incredible stuff from Tim Tebow and the Broncos coming from behind yet again. That's four consecutive weeks they've trailed at the two minute warning. Another noteworthy outing from Denver's defense, but we'll see how good that unit really is when they square off against the Pats this coming weekend.
No. 15. San Diego Chargers

San Diego is going to beat Baltimore this weekend. Take that to the bank. It's probably too late though for Norv Turner's squad after the Broncos' latest miracle win, but by the end of this coming weekend, they could very well be within one game with two weeks to play. Don't count them out just yet actually.

No. 16. Cincinnati Bengals
No. 17. Philadelphia Eagles
No. 18. Oakland Raiders
No. 19. Tennessee Titans
No. 20. Miami Dolphins
No. 21. Arizona Cardinals
No. 22. Seattle Seahawks
No. 23. Washington Redskins
No. 24. Minnesota Vikings
No. 25. Cleveland Browns
No. 26. Buffalo Bills
No. 27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 28. Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 29. Carolina Panthers
No. 30. Kansas City Chiefs
No. 31. St. Louis Rams
No. 32. Indianapolis Colts
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