On Monday night, Nov. 30, 2015, in rather dramatic fashion, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns 33-27. With the score tied 27-27 in the waning moments, the Browns attempted what would have been a game-winning 51-yard field goal. Instead, the kick was blocked by Ravens defensive lineman Brent Urban. Ravens Will Hill III then picked up the loose football and ran 64 yards the other way for the game-winning touchdown. A fitting end, as this was the final game played on the twelfth week of NFL Football in the 2015 regular season.
Now that every team has played 11 games, the playoff picture is getting murkier as it becomes more clear. While it is becoming more clear which teams are going to be fighting for the few playoff spots available, it is very unclear which teams will be left without a chair, when the music stops.
In the AFC, the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos have owned their respective divisions almost since day one. The AFC South division now has an entertaining battle between the Indianapolis Colts and the suddenly resurgent Houston Texans. The Colts and Texans are two of five AFC teams with a record of 6-5. Lurking in the wings are the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders, both of whom sit at 5-6.
In the NFC, the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals look like they are all but mathematically assured of a playoff spot, as are the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings may be the most fragile, as there are a lot of young players on the team, most of whom have yet to deal with the pressures which await.
The wild card race should definitely bear watching. The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons both sit at 6-5. Behind them are the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, both of whom have a record of 5-6 and are tied for the lead in the NFC East; from the looks of that divsion, only the division winner will make the playoffs.
Considering all the aforementioned variables, here is a look at the latest NFL Power rankings after 12 weeks of play.
1) Last week # 2: Carolina Panthers (11-0) Celebrated Thanksgiving by putting a vicious beatdown on both the Dallas Cowboys and anyone who previously doubted the Panthers. This team is here to stay. Of course, just like the Cincinnati Bengals, they will need to prove it in the postseason.
2) LW # 1: New England Patriots (10-1) So the Patriots finally lost a game. No need for panic unless the knee injury to Rob Gronkowski is actually more than just a “bone bruise” as has been reported. 16-0 would have been a great achievement, but as the Pats know all too well, it would not have guaranteed a Super Bowl win.
3) LW # 3: Arizona Cardinals (9-2) After losing both running backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, the Cards ground game struggled against San Francisco. As a result, the football-watching public got to witness an epic Carson Palmer touchdown run. The NFC West division still belongs to Arizona, provided rookie running back David Johnson to pick up the slack.
4) LW # 5: Cincinnati Bengals (9-2) After a tough couple weeks, quarterback Andy Dalton is back to being the ‘Red Rifle’ and the Dalton gang is back to its dominant former self. They have a soft spot in the schedule as they face Cleveland this week, then comes a big game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
5) LW # 4: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) The success of this team really depends on the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben is tough as nails, but can only take so much pounding. Kudos to the future hall-of-famer for pulling himself out of the Week 12 game against Seattle, due to possible concussion. Knees, ribs, ankles, etc . . will heal. Head injuries are a whole different ballgame. Ben knows the difference.
6) LW # 7: Minnesota Vikings (8-3) Methodically took apart the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12. On defense, linebacker Anthony Barr looks like a superstar in the making. On offense, with Adrian Peterson to keep opposing defenses honest while Mike Wallace and Stefon Diggs stretch the field, this is a tough team to beat. The Week 13 matchup against Seattle is happening at the perfect time.
7) LW # 8: Denver Broncos (9-2) The Brock Osweiler era has begun in earnest. In erasing a 14-point deficit and rallying to beat New England, Osweiler looks like a true heir-apparent to the quarterback throne. When Peyton Manning is finally healthy enough to return, this whole situation may become quite awkward.
8) LW # 6: Green Bay Packers (7-4) No matter how the season ends up, there is no way anyone can doubt the toughness and resolve of this squad. The problem is not the personnel they have, it is the personnel they don’t have. A few positions really need to be shored up, especially at wide receiver.
9) LW # 12: Seattle Seahawks (6-5) Here they come. Normally a grind it out type of team, in Week 12, quarterback Russell Wilson threw five touchdown passes to lead his team to victory over a prolific Pittsburgh team. The only downside was losing tight end Jimmy Graham who looked like he was finally ready to become a big part of the offense.
10) LW # 13: Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) It is hard to believe this team started out 1-5. They have now pulled off a five-game win streak despite having lost running back Jamaal Charles for the season. Playoffs for this team ? Really ? Unbelievable. Since Week 7, the Chiefs have the best turnover differential in the league.
Honorable mention – 11) LW # 10: Houston Texans (6-5) A four-game win streak without the services of running back Arian Foster. Other than the Chiefs, who could have seen that coming ? 12) LW # 11: New York Jets (6-5) Their Week 13 game against the Giants should be an entertaining matchup, especially if Darrelle Revis clears concussion protocol. 13) LW # 9: New York Giants (5-6) Were it not for the destructive moments the Giants seem to have every game, they might be solid contenders. 14) LW n/a: Indianapolis Colts (6-5) Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is now 4-0 on the season. When Andrew Luck returns, will he have to win his job back ? 15) LW # 15: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6) Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is improving every week, but still has plenty of work to do.
Nov. 30, 2015 NFL Injury update – In the wake of the games of Week 12, here is a partial list of players expected to miss significant time due to injury. Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw is out for the season due to a wrist injury; this is the third straight season in which Bradshaw has been unable to finish due to injury. Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee and is out for the season. Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson suffered a leg fracture and is out indefinitely. Arizona also lost running back Andre Ellington to a ‘turf toe’ injury during Week 12. Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Alex Carrington is out for the season due to a quadriceps injury. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a bone bruise in his knee and is expected to miss several games. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be going through the NFL’s concussion protocol and his future availability is unknown at this time.