Can these seven elite teams keep pace down the stretch?
Written by: Greg Lehr | @greglehr3
Power Rankings by: The Blitz Team | @Blitzalytics
Firmly into the second half of the NFL season, we're officially at that point of the year where every single week can change playoff seedings, wild card positions, and the NFL Draft order. The purpose of our power rankings, of course, is to determine which team is currently the best in the league. Typically at this stage of the season, there is less movement in the rankings week to week, particularly near the top.
These are the elite (or borderline elite) teams desperately trying to secure a home playoff game or at least keep pace in the wild card race if they're unable to lock up their division (see: NFC West, NFC North). Heading into Week 12 of the regular season, there are just seven teams with eight or more wins - two of which are in second place in their divisions. Rightfully so, these seven teams find themselves at the top of this week's NFL Power Rankings. Can the teams we consider elite, or close to it, in Week 12 remain that way for the rest of the season?
1. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
After moving into the top spot of our power rankings a week ago, Baltimore kept things rolling in the highly anticipated showdown between Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. The Ravens wasted no time in jumping all over the Texans en route to a 41-7 victory. John Harbaugh's squad enters a tough stretch of their schedule over the next three weeks, with games at LA (Rams), vs San Francisco, and then at Buffalo. Baltimore's league-best rushing attack, spear-headed by Jackson and Mark Ingram, accumulates 55 (!!) more yards on the ground (204 YPG) than the second-place 49ers (149 YPG). Sounds like a recipe for success as we get into colder weather at the end of the year, which is bound to produce more playoff-style football.
2. New England Patriots (9-1)
The NFL's best defense, led by Bill Belichick, has easily been the most reliable unit on the team all season and it's not particularly close. New England ranks 1st in total defense (2nd vs pass, 10th vs run), while their 16th-ranked offense is middle-of-the-pack (7th passing, 24th rushing). Much like the Ravens, the Patriots' next three games (vs Dallas, at Houston, vs Kansas City) should provide a good challenge for their defense. The Cowboys, Texans, and Chiefs currently rank 1st, 3rd, and 7th, respectively, in total offense.
3. San Francisco 49ers (9-1)
Did someone say defense? So far this season, the 49ers are essentially a mix of the two above-mentioned teams in terms of their strengths on each side of the ball. Jimmy Garoppolo is certainly not Lamar Jackson on the ground, but behind the 1-2 punch of Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, San Francisco boasts the second-best rushing attack in the league (149 YPG). The breakout of Deebo Samual and the addition of Emmanual Sanders have provided a much needed spark in the passing game, especially with George Kittle sidelined as of late. Defensively, they rank just four yards behind New England in terms of total defense (253 YPG). In the ongoing theme of difficult upcoming opponents, San Francisco's next three include Green Bay at home, then Baltimore and New Orleans on the road. With all eyes on the top of the loaded NFC playoff picture, matchups against the Packers and Saints will surely carry significant meaning going forward.
4. Seattle Seahawks (8-2)
Despite being in the same division as the 9-1 49ers and the 6-4 Rams, Seattle has managed closed wins against both of those teams so far this season. The trade for Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the regular season has been huge for a defense that at times struggled to find its identity a year ago. On offense, it would be hard to find anyone in the league you would rather have behind center right now than Russell Wilson. He stands alongside Lamar Jackson as the favorite for MVP with a miraculous 23:2 TD to INT ratio, a big reason why he ranks first in QBR entering Week 12. Wilson and the Seahawks will look to keep the momentum off their bye when they travel cross-country to face the Philadelphia Eagles, with other NFC matchups vs the Vikings and Rams looming in the following weeks.
5. New Orleans Saints (8-2)
Following a stunning defeat to the Falcons a week prior, Drew Brees and the Saints got back on track down in Tampa, beating the Buccaneers convincingly, 34-17. Outside of another rock solid performance by this defense, the best sight to see on Sunday for Saints fans had to have been the performances of their "Big 3". Brees (28/35, 228 yds, 3 TD), Alvin Kamara (13 rush, 75 yds, 10 rec, 47 yds), and Michael Thomas (8 rec, 114 yds, TD) were all outstanding. If these three are at the top of their game and the defense continues its stellar play (6th overall in total defense), Sean Payton's team will not be an easy out in the playoffs, especially if they're able to get a postseason game(s) in New Orleans. With upcoming matchups against the Panthers and Falcons, New Orleans has a chance to gain some serious momentum down the stretch.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-2)
So far, so good for Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers, who have led the Packers to first place in the NFC North coming off their Week 11 bye. All eyes will be on Green Bay this week when they travel to San Francisco to face off against the current top seed in the NFC on Sunday Night Football. Unlike the 49ers, Saints, and Seahawks, each of whom face big challenges in the coming weeks, the Packers' schedule lightens up a bit as they play the Giants, Redskins, and Bears before a Week 16 showdown at Minnesota. Don't look now, but if Aaron Rodgers and Co. can take care of business against those teams with a losing record, Green Bay can find themselves in prime position to host a playoff game (or more) at Lambeau.
7. Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
Mike Zimmer's squad goes into their bye week on a high note after their big comeback win at home against the Broncos, winning 27-23, to keep a firm lead as the second Wild Card team in the NFC. Finally enjoying a healthy season, Dalvin Cook is back to his explosive-self and trails only Christian McCaffery for the league lead in rushing. The passing game has also been much better thanks to the recent hot streak by Kirk Cousins even without his favorite target Adam Thielen in the lineup for the last four games. Cousins currently ranks 6th in passing yards, 3rd in completion percentage, and has a fantastic 21:3 TD to INT ratio. The Vikings will enjoy a well-deserved week off before a game in Seattle that will undoubtedly hold significant importance.
Full NFL Power Rankings: Week 12
Rankings by: The Blitz Team
New England Patriots
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Chargers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New York Jets
New York Giants