The closer we get to the playoffs, we’ve seen teams rise to the occasion and others well fall off to no-mans-land and start struggling to stay on track towards the road to the playoffs. For most of the season, the Patriots looked invincible. Now they're in the throes of a two-game losing streak.
Are Tom Brady & Co. still a top-five team in their current injury-riddled state? ESPN's Power Panel says yes, but barely. After a stunning loss to Philadelphia, New England fell three spots to No. 5, easily its lowest mark of the season. Carolina, which narrowly avoided an upset loss at New Orleans to stay unbeaten, is No. 1 for the second straight week, followed by Arizona, Cincinnati and Denver.
Here’s a closer look at how each of the leading vote-getting teams are doing this season.
Carolina secured a shootout win over the Saints in New Orleans, moving to 12-0 for the year. Carolina has won 16 regular season games dating back to last year, and they’ve done it with balance on both sides of the ball, a strong run game, a deadly passing attack, a stout defense, and a smothering pass defense. After Carolina, there are four 10-2 teams, and you could make arguments for just about any order among the rest of the NFL elites. Their offense still isn’t where it probably needs to be for a real run at the Super Bowl, but that elite defense will keep them in every game, week after week.
The Bengals are up two in the rankings, sitting at No. 3 this week. They probably have the deepest and most talented roster in the NFL this year. A.J. Green has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season once again. The list of those with 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first five seasons? Green and Randy Moss.
The Broncos have rediscovered their running game, averaging 161 yards and 4.5 yards per rush with Brock Osweiler at quarterback. They averaged 86 yards and 3.8 yards per rush to start the season. The Broncos are down one spot to No. 4 this week.
While the Patriots held the top spot in the ranking from Weeks 2-12, they’ve now lost two in a row and are certainly showing signs of stopping after losing several key players on both sides of the ball. If Rob Gronkowski has to miss more time, Tom Brady will be without his top three —Amendola was back this weekend — leading receivers. Gronk also leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns since 2010 (63). The good news is that Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski should return this season, but New England is now on the outside looking in for the first time ever.
The Steelers blew out the Colts on Sunday to improve to 7-5 as well and are now positioned in the AFC for a Wild Card run. Pittsburgh is one of those teams that no one is going to want to face once the playoffs roll around.
The Giants took another potentially fatal blow to its season, losing a 23-20 game in overtime to the Jets. The loss drops the 5-7 Giants down to third place in a division that is surprisingly still very much up for grabs. However, the Giants have the third-toughest remaining strength of schedule this season.
Tyrod Taylor, a quarterback with 35 career attempts entering this season, hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 4. Taylor’s streak of 187 attempts without a pick is the longest in Bills history. The Bills made the biggest jump in the rankings, moving seven spots up to No. 12.
The Falcons are giving up too many opportunities for points, committing an NFL-high seven turnovers on red zone plays this season. Tampa Bay beat the Falcons, and the Falcons are still at No. 15. Matt Ryan has an NFL-worst four red zone interceptions, so needless to say, it doesn’t look good for them.
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