As the regular season nears its conclusion, the NFL continues to be unpredictable. Opportunities to gain ground in the conference, clinch divisions and secure playoff spots were present in Week 15, but the Broncos (4), Patriots (6), Saints (7), Bengals (9), Eagles (16), Lions (18) and Cowboys (20) squandered those chances.
One thing of which we can be certain is that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through the 12th man in Seattle. One more win clinches home-field advantage for the No. 1 ranked Seahawks. The Niners (2) and Panthers (3) are right behind in a top-heavy NFC.
Meanwhile, the AFC has never been this wide open. The Broncos and Patriots both fall two spots after disappointing losses, while the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens move all the way up to the No. 5 spot.
As we head into the final two weeks there still is much to be decided across the league. Which teams will lock up first-round byes? Can the Patriots actually miss the playoffs? An exciting conclusion to the season is upon us.
1. (1) Seahawks (12-2) – Injuries and suspensions to starters can’t even slow down this Seahawks defense. Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, K.J. Wright and Tony McDaniel all were out of commission on Sunday, but Seattle’s D still was able to force five turnovers and get a shutout win over the Giants.
2. (5) 49ers (10-4) — The Niners are heating up at just the right time. San Fran has won four straight and is second only to Seattle in point differential in the NFC at plus-121.
3. (6) Panthers (10-4) — Cam Newton and the Panthers control their own destiny in the NFC South. If they win their final two games, the Panthers will be division champs for the first time since 2008 and will enjoy a first-round bye.
4. (2) Broncos (11-3) — The Broncos are allowing an average of 29 points in their last four games. This team has looked vulnerable of late but still has a firm grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the Texans and Raiders left on the schedule.
5. (14) Ravens (8-6) — The Ravens have just as good a shot to reach the Super Bowl as the Broncos and Patriots.
6. (4) Patriots (10-4) — It’s difficult to win in this league if your offense can’t convert in the red zone. The Patriots go from one of the best teams in the red zone to one of the worst without Rob Gronkowski. If Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can lead this team to the Super Bowl it will go down as one of the tandem’s best accomplishments of their career.
7. (3) Saints (10-4) — The Saints have played very poorly on the road. They own a 3-4 record when away from the Mercedez-Benz Superdome. They have lost by an average of 11.7 points in those four road setbacks, including Sunday’s 11-point loss at St. Louis.
8. (8) Chiefs (11-3) — You can multiply the total amount of Chiefs wins in 2012 by five and it still wouldn’t add up to what they have in 2013. It’s been quite a transformation for this team, but question marks still remain due to the fact they’ve only beaten one playoff team. The opponents the Chiefs have beaten are a combined 47-93 on the season (.335 winning percentage).
9. (7) Bengals (9-5) — One would think the Bengals would start Sunday night’s game ready to play, it being a prime time match-up against a divisional opponent with the chance to take over sole possession of the No. 2 seed in the AFC. However, that wasn’t the case, as they trailed by as many as 24 points in the first half.
10. (10) Cardinals (9-5) — Bruce Arians has done a tremendous job in his first year as Cardinals coach. The offense has improved dramatically. Carson Palmer hasn’t seen his completion percentage this high since 2007, and the run game finally is making an impact.
11. (11) Colts (9-5) — Win one, lose one is the pattern the Colts have followed since the start of November. The Colts will face the Chiefs on Sunday and attempt to win back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 8-9.
12. (16) Dolphins (8-6) — The bullying scandal seems like years ago now that the Dolphins have propelled themselves into a wild card slot in the AFC. Miami deserves a lot of credit for being able to battle through adversity and stay in the thick of the playoff race.
13. (13) Bears (8-6) — Matt Forte is having the best year of his career, and the sacks allowed are way down. The Bears offensive line has improved dramatically this year.
14. (17) Chargers (7-7) — Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead have been the unsung heroes in San Diego. The two are responsible for 14 of the team’s touchdowns this year. Chargers running backs scored a total of five touchdowns in all of 2012.
15. (20) Rams (6-8) – Jeff Fisher‘s team is loaded with young, talented players, including 23-year-old pass rusher Robert Quinn, who quickly has developed into one of the best at his position. The Rams’ future is bright.
16. (9) Eagles (8-6) — The Eagles secondary has been pitiful all year. Jay Cutler and Tony Romo are licking their chops after watching Matt Cassel throw for 382 yards Sunday.
17. (19) Steelers (6-8) — Their playoff hopes are on life support, but the Steelers still are playing hard. They can build some solid momentum going into next year if they finish the season strong. A healthy LeVeon Bell will help.
18. (12) Lions (7-7) — That was a typical Lions loss. Penalties, turnovers, dropped passes and poor coaching always seem to haunt this team at the worst possible moments. The division has been the Lions to take, but they continue to push it away.
19. (18) Packers (7-6-1) — Despite numerous opportunities, no team in the NFC North seems to have the ability to pull away with the division. The Packers surprisingly still are in the race. If Aaron Rodgers is healthy enough to return, Green Bay is the most dangerous of the bunch.
20. (15) Cowboys (7-7) — Pretty telling tweet from ESPN’s Ed Werder: “How bad is Cowboys D? The Cowboys are 1-2 this season when scoring at least 35 points. The rest of the NFL is a combined 51-2.”
21. (21) Jets (6-8) — From what we’ve seen from Geno Smith, it doesn’t look like he’s capable of being the type of quarterback the Jets need to return to being a competitive football team. However, it’s tough to give up on a high second-round pick after just one year. An interesting offseason is approaching in New York.
22. (22) Titans (5-9) — The Titans fell to 2-5 when playing at home. There are only two other teams that have a worse record at home, and both of them play in the AFC South (Jacksonville, Houston).
23. (23) Giants (5-9) — The 2013 season officially has put the end to the Eli Manning “elite” conversation.
Eli Manning: 149 games started, 169 interceptions
Tom Brady: 175 games started, 133 interceptions
Peyton Manning: 238 games started, 219 interceptions
24. (26) Bills (5-9) — The conclusion of Week 15 marked the 14th consecutive year the Bills will miss the postseason. That’s the longest active streak in football.
25. (27) Vikings (4-9-1) — The Vikings have played great football over the last four weeks. They are a plus-18 in point differential in that span against four teams that are in playoff contention (Packers, Bears, Ravens, Eagles).
26. (25) Browns (4-10) – Since returning to the NFL, the Browns franchise has selected three quarterbacks in the first round. Those QBs are Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden. Hopefully for the sake of Cleveland fans, Mike Lombardi can have some better luck in 2014.
27. (24) Buccaneers (4-10) — The way the Bucs lost on Sunday pretty much summed up their whole season. They were in the game in the fourth quarter when everything started to unravel. Tampa has repeatedly been unable to secure wins in close games. The temperature on Greg Schiano‘s hot seat went up 10 degrees.
28. (30) Falcons (4-10) – Before the season started, if someone told you the Falcons would go the entire year without winning back-to-back games you would think that person was crazy. However, the possibility of that is very strong with the Niners looming.
29. (28) Raiders (4-10) — Might be time for the Raiders to return to Terrell Pryor as the season winds down. Matt McGloin turned the ball over five times during Oakland’s embarrassing loss to the Chiefs.
30. (29) Jaguars (4-10) — It will only benefit the Jaguars if they lose their final two games of the season. The Jags jumped into the draft’s top five with their loss to the Bills and most likely will be selecting a quarterback in the first round for the third time since 2003.
31. (31) Redskins (3-11) – Not many franchises can live up to the word “dysfunctional” like Washington.
32. (32) Texans (2-12) — When the front office goes back to the drawing board this offseason, one of the first things it should concentrate on is finding a coach who will ensure the team plays more disciplined football. The Texans have committed 28 penalties in their last two games.
Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or send via Twitter to @JoeZWEEI.