With one Sunday of regular season football left, nine teams have clinched playoff spots, six are still fighting for the last three berths, and 17 are out of contention.
While the playoffs will feature fun newcomers like the Jaguars and Rams, it’s many of the familiar faces back at the top of the power rankings going into Week 17. And who else should carry that torch than the Patriots after a 37-16 blowout of the Bills?
The Patriots will need just one postseason win in Gillette Stadium to go to the AFC Championship for the seventh consecutive season. And as long as the Patriots don’t drop a Week 17 game against the Jets, that conference championship game will be in New England too.
Tom Brady may be 40, but the Patriots dynasty is alive and well.
Not many saw this one coming. With the Seahawks in a tailspin and the Lions and Cowboys ahead of them in the standings, it looked like Seattle’s chances at the postseason would come to an inevitable end in Week 16. Instead, the Seahawks are alive and entirely realistic.
All Seattle needs is a win at home against the Arizona Cardinals coupled with a loss for the Atlanta Falcons against the Carolina Panthers. In Week 9, Carolina beat Atlanta, 20-17, and Seattle beat the Cardinals in Week 10, 22-16.
The Seahawks defense isn’t what it was and the offense is still essentially Russell Wilson on his own, but Seattle refuses to let the season die.
In a week where playoff scenarios dominate the NFL news cycle, the 49ers have reason to be extremely optimistic, despite getting eliminated from postseason contention a month ago. And it’s all because of Jimmy Garoppolo.
The former Patriots quarterback had people buzzing with his two-minute drill to beat the Titans, but putting up 44 points on the top-rated Jaguars defense is even more impressive. And it has hopes sky high in San Francisco:
#49ers Carlos Hyde: "Minus our record, we're a really good football team. Next year we're going to win the Super Bowl."— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 25, 2017
A pending free agent, Hyde said: "I feel we've got a chance to go the Super Bowl next year and I don't want to go to another team." pic.twitter.com/ARBNmsBeUU
No team has a longer winning streak than the 49ers, and the Garoppolo hype train is chugging along at full steam.
Even with a 14-7 win over the Jets, the Chargers’ season could’ve ended Sunday if other games didn’t go right. But the Bills and Titans both lost, and now Los Angeles is in business.
Given the complicated scenarios the Chargers faced in Week 16, that’s a pretty simple path to the postseason and reason for Los Angeles to cross its fingers entering the season finale.
Everything fell the Cowboys’ way and the team fell on its face anyway. With Ezekiel Elliott back in action against a defense minus Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, the Cowboys managed just 12 points Sunday. Twelve. Seattle gave up 72 points combined in the two weeks prior.
Maybe a suspension-free season for Elliott will do wonders for the Dallas offense, but the disconnect between Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant continues to be a problem:
Dak Prescott on his INT that went through hands of Dez Bryant: “I think I have to throw him a better ball. Just put it right there on his face mask and don’t give him a chance to drop it, I guess.”— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) December 25, 2017
On the bright side, at least Earl Thomas wants to be in Dallas.
Like the Cowboys, Detroit had a golden opportunity to step into the mix but completely blew it. While Dallas couldn’t score against a banged up defense, the Lions couldn’t keep the Bengals’ anemic offense in check.
The 364 yards gained by Cincinnati on Sunday is the most the team has had in a game since Week 5 and enough to snap a three-game losing streak, despite the fact that the Bengals had nothing to play for.
Detroit is perennially on the edge of actually making waves in the NFC but never good enough to get over the hump. This time it might cost Jim Caldwell his job.
This is the first time I’ve put a team that won in the “low spirits” section, but that Monday night win was awful.
All the Eagles had to do was beat an already-eliminated Raiders team in Philadelphia to clinch home field, and they barely got it done.
Philadelphia is hopeful that Nick Foles can step into the shoes of Carson Wentz and take the team to the Super Bowl, but it’s getting difficult to believe in him when he can lead the Eagles to just 216 total yards against the Raiders.
The Eagles still have a free pass to the Divisional round, but can the team score enough points to beat strong NFL competition like the Vikings, Saints, or Rams? It’s looking doubtful, and Philadelphia is as unconvincing as 13-2 teams ever come.
Full hope rankings
Weekly disclaimer: These aren’t your average power rankings and are instead an attempt to measure the current state of mind — or “hope” — for each team and fan base.
The NFL can be an emotional roller coaster, and one big week can shoot a team’s spirits through the roof and tank another’s hopes of finishing with the Lombardi Trophy in February or beyond. Teams near the top are feeling great after Sunday, while those at the bottom aren’t feeling too optimistic.
If you’re looking for a ranking of who would beat who, this isn’t always going to be the best gauge:
Hope rankings, Week 17
|1||New England Patriots||2|
|5||Los Angeles Rams||7|
|6||New Orleans Saints||8|
|7||Kansas City Chiefs||9|
|13||San Francisco 49ers||18|
|14||Los Angeles Chargers||15|
|24||Green Bay Packers||19|
|27||New York Jets||27|
|28||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||26|
|31||New York Giants||31|