1. Panthers (12-0) (1): If the season ended today, Cam Newton would be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. He has been absolutely brilliant, with his latest comeback win over the Saints the latest evidence.
2. Cardinals (10-2) (3): The Cardinals overcome injuries in the offensive backfield with solid performances from David Johnson and Kerwynn Williams, Larry Fitzgerald gets his 1,000th career catch, and the Cardinals roll to their sixth straight win to keep firm control on first place in the NFC West.
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3. Broncos (10-2) (4): Brock Osweiler has gotten the best of Tom Brady and Philip Rivers in back-to-back weeks, Denver gets its third straight win without Peyton Manning, and it’s Osweiler’s team until further notice.
4. Patriots (10-2) (2): Injuries continue to take a toll, as the Patriots lose back-to-back games for the first time since 2012 and take a major step back in their bid to earn the top seed in the AFC. Some uncharacteristic mistakes burn New England against the Eagles in a rare home loss.
5. Bengals (10-2) (5): The Bengals crush the Browns in Cleveland and are on the cusp of making the playoffs a fifth straight year. We’ll resume the conversation next month about whether the Bengals can actually win a postseason game.
6. Seahawks (7-5) (9): The two-time defending NFC champions are starting to play like it, as Seattle gets its third straight win and stays in the thick of the NFC wild-card chase.
7. Chiefs (7-5) (7): The Chiefs stay on a roll with their sixth straight win by rolling over the Raiders on the road. Their next four games are against teams with losing records, meaning they have a decent shot at ending the season with 10 straight wins after a 1-5 start. Incredible.
8. Packers (8-4) (8): The Packers sputtered through most of their Thursday night game in Detroit, but Aaron Rodgers somehow rallied them from a 20-0 deficit in a 27-23 win, culminating with a 61-yard Hail Mary on the final play to tight end Richard Rodgers.
9. Steelers (7-5) (10): Looking for a dark horse Super Bowl pick? Keep the Steelers in mind, especially when they play as well as they did in a 45-10 dismantling of the Colts. Ben Roethlisberger with four TD passes in this one.
10. Vikings (8-4) (6): It’s a no-show for the Vikings in a 38-7 home loss to the resurgent Seahawks, as Adrian Peterson is held to just 18 rushing yards and Minnesota’s defense is absolutely mauled by Russell Wilson & Co.
11. Jets (7-5) (13): Ryan Fitzpatrick has won seven games as a starting quarterback for the first time in his career, as the Jets get the best of the Giants in a fourth-quarter comeback win that keeps them near the top of the AFC wild-card playoff blob. This one might come down to the final day of the season in Buffalo.
12. Buccaneers (6-6) (18): More good stuff from rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who drives the Bucs for the winning score down the stretch against the Falcons and keeps Tampa alive in the wild-card race. That’s Winston’s third comeback drive of his young career.
13. Bills (6-6) (17): Tyrod Taylor with three touchdown passes and a touchdown run, and LeSean McCoy with 112 rushing yards in an important AFC win over the Texans. Up next: at the Eagles, where McCoy will look to make Chip Kelly regret the decision to trade the running back to the Bills. “I mean, you all know who’s next,” McCoy told reporters after Sunday’s game. Let the talk commence.
14. Texans (6-6) (11): Not a great effort by the Texans’ defense this time, as Tyrod Taylor accounts for the Bills’ four touchdowns and Houston sees its four-game winning streak end with a thud.
15. Colts (6-6) (12): The Colts are smoked in Pittsburgh, and Matt Hasselbeck comes out the worse for wear with a neck issue. The good news: Indy’s still in first place in the AFC South by virtue of Houston’s loss to the Bills.
16. Eagles (5-7) (22): Talk about unexpected wins. A week after Chip Kelly is roasted for back-to-back blowout losses in which Philly allowed a combined 90 points, the Eagles stun the Patriots on the road to get back in a wholly uninspiring NFC East title chase.
17. Bears (5-7) (14): The Bears aren’t good enough to overlook anyone, but that seems to have been the case against the 49ers. Not surprisingly, it’s a 26-20 overtime loss at home.
18. Redskins (5-7) (15): A win over the Dallas at home would have put Washington alone in first place in the NFC East, but a last-minute win by the Cowboys makes it a three-way tie for the top spot. If you can use the word top.
19. Giants (5-7) (16): The Giants were in perfect position last week to take control in the NFC East. But a lethargic loss in Washington in Week 12 and then another blown fourth-quarter lead against the Jets, and they’re holding on for dear life. Were it not for the pitiful state of the NFC East, they’d be toast.
20. Cowboys (4-8) (26): Matt Cassel sets up Dan Bailey with the winning 54-yard field goal, and the Cowboys are still in business in the NFC East. Strange but true.
21. 49ers (4-8) (30): Give Blaine Gabbert credit. After bottoming out in Jacksonville, he stuck with it and got his next chance with the 49ers. His improvement is startling, evidenced no more than his performance down the stretch in Chicago with a rushing touchdown to tie it and a 71-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith to win it in OT.
22. Raiders (5-7) (19): Derek Carr with a rare meltdown, as the Raiders’ second-year quarterback throws three picks and throws away an excellent chance to gain ground in the AFC wild-card race.
23. Falcons (6-6) (20): Coming into the season, Falcons fans would have probably cheered the idea of a 6-6 record and a shot at the playoffs. But not like this. After a 5-0 start, the Falcons’ freefall continues uninterrupted with a road loss in Tampa. It’d be stunning if the Falcons can gather themselves and stay in the wild-card race.
24. Lions (4-8) (21): The three-game winning streak comes to a very Lions-like end, as Detroit gives up a Hail Mary touchdown on the final play to Green Bay and sees its playoff hopes go kerplunk.
25. Saints (4-8) (24): If this team had a defense, it would be contending for a wild-card spot. Drew Brees did everything humanly possible to hand Carolina its first loss of the season, but the defense simply can’t keep the Panthers out of the end zone in a 41-38 loss.
26. Dolphins (5-7) (25): There is a flicker of hope for a playoff berth, but only if the Dolphins win out. Forget it.
27. Titans (3-9) (31): Marcus Mariota with a spectacular effort in a 42-39 home win over the Jaguars, including an 87-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and three TD passes to outduel Blake Bortles.
28. Ravens (4-8) (23): Matt Schaub with two more interceptions, and Baltimore loses 15-13 in Miami. Blech.
29. Chargers (3-9) (28): The Chargers have scored less than 20 points in their last three home games — all losses. Back-to-back three-point efforts in losses to the Chiefs and Broncos.
30. Jaguars (4-8) (29): Blake Bortles with five touchdown passes, but it’s not enough on the road against the Titans, as Marcus Mariota one-ups his young counterpart with an equally impressive effort.
31. Rams (4-8) (27): Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti gets the gate after another woeful performance in a 27-3 home loss. Is Jeff Fisher next to go?
32. Browns (2-10) (32): The torture continues, as the Browns are demolished at home by the Bengals. All that’s left is watching Johnny Manziel in a meaningless final month of the season.