Power Ranking the NFL’s Top Contenders After Week 12
Heading into Week 13 of the NFL season, it’s safe to say we can start weeding some teams out of the “Contenders vs. Pretenders” conversation. As we approach closer and closer to the postseason, the games become more and more meaningful. Every snap counts, and the good teams are the ones who realize that. With that said, here are my top 10 teams in the National Football League as it currently stands.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)
Some people may want to give up on the Jacksonville Jaguars after their loss to the Cardinals on Sunday, but I’m not doing that just yet. The Jaguars defense is the best the NFL has to offer, dominating nearly every opposing offense placed before them. The offense is the only thing holding them back right now. Leonard Fournette, when healthy, is an absolute beast and nightmare to slow down. But, quarterback Blake Bortles is anything but that. He hasn’t been good at all and it’s preventing the Jags from becoming true contenders. Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell can’t play quarterback for Jacksonville. All they can do is continue to dominate and keep this team in games. Doug Marrone deserves much better than the way Bortles has played, but there is still time to turn things around.
9. Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
The Seahawks are no longer the cream of the crop in the NFC, but they are still a good football team. For the past couple of seasons, their bread and butter has been defense, defense and more defense. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t been as dominant as they once were. Still a top-10 defense, the Seahawks are really banged up on that side of the ball. With all their injuries in the secondary, this unit could get exposed against the other contenders. The offense relies heavily on Russell Wilson and he’s played well so far, but can the offense be trusted? Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin are solid weapons, but the running game is almost nonexistent. They aren’t going to scare anyone there, making this offense very one-dimensional. All this to say, they are still the Seattle Seahawks, so anything can happen.
8. Carolina Panthers (8-3)
The Panthers faced a scare on Sunday against the New York Jets at MetLife, but their defense and special teams stepped up for them in a major way. That comes as no surprise, however, as they have done so up to this point in the season. Now, it’s time for the offense to show us some consistency. Cam Newton has his favorite target, Greg Olsen back. He’s finally starting to click with Devin Funchess, who is the new No. 1 receiver in Carolina. Rookie Christian McCaffrey has proved to be an explosive weapon as well. I’m not fully sold on the Panthers just yet, but that could change soon, as they have two contenders back to back in the Saints and Vikings. If Carolina can continue to improve on the offensive side of the ball, they could move up this list before you know it.
7. Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
Finally, the Atlanta Falcons have arrived to the party. After starting the season off at a pedestrian .500, the reigning NFC champions have reeled off three straight impressive victories. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have awaken a sleeping giant in Julio Jones, as he shattered all kinds of records against them last Sunday. He and Mohamed Sanu are a pretty dangerous duo at wideout. But, that’s not the only dangerous duo on this team. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are probably the best running back duo in the league when healthy. Freeman has been banged up lately, but Coleman hasn’t missed a beat in his absence. Matt Ryan is getting back on track as well after a rough start to the season. It’s still somewhat hard to trust Atlanta’s defense, however. They have played well on their winning streak, but we will need to see more of the same down the stretch to become believers.
6. New Orleans Saints (8-3)
What a pleasant surprise the New Orleans Saints have been so far this season. Before losing on Sunday, they were marching on an eight-game winning streak. Losing one was good for such a young team (besides Drew Brees, of course.) Speaking of Brees, the 38-year-old hasn’t been nearly as dominant as we’re used to seeing him be, but he surely has made the players around him better. There is so much potential on the Saints offense. Michael Thomas is becoming one of the most complete receivers in the game. And look out, there is a two-headed rushing monster in the Big Easy, in Mark Ingram and the emerging rookie Alvin Kamara. New Orleans’ defense has struggled the past two games, but they have shown that they are capable of taking over games, led by Cameron Jordan and rookie shutdown corner Marshon Lattimore.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2)
The Steelers are far and away the second best team in the AFC, but there are some holes that are preventing them from being considered the top dog in the conference. Pittsburgh’s defense has been a very inconsistent unit. One week, they look like your typical Steelers defense, then the next, they lay an egg like they did this past Sunday night against a banged up Packers offense. For the majority of the season, they have been dominant on that side of the ball, but performances like that scare me. On offense, they have started to find their rhythm. Ben Roethlisberger is a shell of himself, but he’s still Big Ben, meaning he knows how to win big games. The 1-2 punch of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown may be one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. When both players are on top of their game, this Steelers offense is unstoppable. Not to mention, they have gotten a lot of help from guys like Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
4. Los Angeles Rams (8-3)
The nay-sayers and doubters can go ahead and take their seats now because the Los Angeles Rams are for real! Who would’ve thought the Rams, a team full of young players led by a rookie head coach, would be one of the best teams in the league? Even if you thought they would be a good team, there’s no way you predicted they would be this good. The Rams have looked absolutely dominant on both sides of the ball. They have the No. 2 ranked scoring offense, averaging just under 30 points a game. Jared Goff has really come into his own in just his second year as the team’s quarterback. Todd Gurley is running like a man possessed, getting closer and closer to that 1,000 yard mark already. And Robert Woods, (yes Robert Woods) has quickly become one of the league’s most explosive playmakers. Their defense isn’t the greatest, but they have been an opportunistic one and it has put their offense in great position to close out games.
3. Minnesota Vikings (9-2)
Say what you want about the Vikings quarterback situation, but they are getting the job done. Yes, folks. Case Keenum is capable of being a starter in the NFL. He hasn’t been a touchdown extraordinaire, but he’s been more than serviceable and that’s about all they can ask from a guy who has been bounced around like a basketball. Minnesota’s running game has been impressive as of late, with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon serving as fine fill-ins for the injured Dalvin Cook. Combine that with the weapons they have in the passing attack, most notably Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, and you have an explosive offense to say the least. And I just can’t give enough praise to George Edwards for the job he has done with this defense, as they have been a Top 5 defense throughout the course of the season. Despite the injuries, the Vikings are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
2. New England Patriots (9-2)
The New England Patriots have been the class of the AFC for more than a decade, and this season is no different. For once, the Patriots may not be considered the favorite, but that’s probably the most dangerous aspect of this team. With the NFC as tight as it is, it’s easy to overlook what the Patriots have done, but I won’t make that mistake. Whenever you have Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick on the sideline, you have a good chance to win every game. After a couple early season losses, New England has hit their stride. The offense is firing on all cylinders, as just about all of their key players are healthy. They are playing without Chris Hogan right now, but they still have Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks and a four-headed monster at running back. Not bad, huh? The defense is actually one of the worst in the league, but the offense does a great job of keeping them off the field.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
The Eagles are flying high right now, atop all of the competition. They are currently sitting at 10-1, good for the best record in the NFL, with their only loss coming in Week 2 at the hands of the now-struggling Kansas City Chiefs. They are dominating, and having plenty of fun doing so, posing for squad pics and even hitting the electric slide last game against the Bears. The front office gifted head coach Doug Pederson with a roster full of talent, led by the MVP frontrunner, quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz does not look like a signal-caller in his second year in the league. He looks poised and ready to lead his team on a deep playoff run. It helps that he has an unlimited number of weapons at his disposal — Alshon Jeffrey, Zach Ertz, Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, the list goes on. The Eagles boast a top 10 defense as well, which makes them a complete force to deal with.