LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 11: The New England Patriots celebrate after Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots intercepted a Rex Grossman #8 of the Washington Redskins pass during the fourth quarter at FedExField on December 11, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
There are only three games left in the regular season, yet many teams' fates are yet to be decided.
It's Week 15 in the NFL and four teams have clinched a spot in the postseason already. The Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans have all clinched their division titles, while the New Orleans Saints have secured themselves a playoff berth but will have to win this week to officially take the division.
There are an unprecedented six teams that are 10-3 right now, and they are all battling for the top rankings that are left under the number one spot that the Packers have held literally all season. So here are the NFL Power Rankings for the 2011 playoff prospects.
- Green Bay Packers (13-0)
The Packers continue to roll through their season without sign of reproach, as they are now just three wins away for an undefeated regular season. The one hitch in their pursuit of perfection is the fact that they have already clinched a playoff spot, and two of their last three games are against Detroit and Chicago who will be battling hard for a postseason wild card berth. Yet whether they go undefeated or not, they are inarguably the best team in the league, and have been all year.
- Houston Texans (10-3)
The Texans are finally having the season we've all been waiting to see from them for a couple of years now; and they are doing it without Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. They also post the best total defense in the league, and enter week 15 on an incredible 7 game win streak. Even more surprising is the fact that Houston is actually poised to hold onto the number 1 seed in the AFC heading into the playoffs. Their final three games will be played against Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee; so barring any type of collapse, the worst case scenario for this team looks to be 12-4. If they hold onto a bye week, this team could realistically see themselves playing in the AFC Championship game.
- New Orleans Saints (10-3)
It's tough not to love what they Saints are doing this year. Offensively they are probably the best-rounded team, considering they have a healthy Drew Brees passing for more yards than anyone in the NFL right now; in addition to the league's 8th ranked running game. Their biggest test left in the regular season will be against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, but the way things are stacking up right now though, it looks like the Saints have the NFC South pretty much locked up.
- Baltimore Ravens (10-3)
The Ravens, like their Pittsburgh adversaries, have become playoff perennials over the past four years. Led by line-backing phenom Ray Lewis, the Ravens defense is as stingy as ever at this point in the season. They currently rank third in total defense behind Houston and Pittsburgh. Although the Steelers have minimally better season statistic, they have swept them in their regular season games; two losses that have clearly fueled this team to continue to win. They do still have a weak link at quarterback though, and even with Ray Rice they do not have the same punch in the running game that the Texans pack.
- New England Patriots (10-3)
After their far-too-close game against the Washington Redskins, the Patriots remain in the three-loss club, keeping them in the race for a postseason bye week. After they travel to Denver on Sunday, they have the newly Sparano-less Dolphins and the dreadful Bills left on the docket. Unless something divine happens at Mile High Stadium this Sunday - which could very well could be the case - the Patriots should finish at 13-3. Still, either the Texans or Ravens must stumble along the way for the Pats to sneak into the 1 or 2 seed.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3)
Despite a barrage of injuries keeping their starters in check this season, the Steelers still cling to their impressive record and maintain a stranglehold on the fifth seed wild card spot. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly beat up, and his offense has shown signs of fatigue and wear-and-tear lately, as they barely managed to put up 14 points on the Cleveland Browns last week, and two weeks earlier had the same troubles getting 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Still, their impeccable defense, ranked 2nd in the league but certainly first in consistency, will continue to make them fearsome contenders. James Harrison would serve them well to not get himself suspended, though.
- San Francisco 49ers (10-3)
The final 10-3 team, the Niners have lost two of their last three games, and things are going to get tougher before they get any easier as they must take on Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football this week. Alex Smith's ineptitudes are beginning to take their expected toll on the Niners' offense. In both of their losses, Smith did not throw a touchdown pass and never even came close to topping 200 yards passing. When defenses have been able to effectively stop or subdue Frank Gore's production, they have looked weak. Their defense is still top five, which could steal them a win in the playoffs, but if they face an offensive firepower like the Packers or Saints, there's no way they'll be able to keep up.
- Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
The Falcons definitely have an opportunity to seal a wild card berth, and are certainly in a better position to do so right now than the Lions, Bears, Cowboys and Oakland. Still, they have been wildly inconsistent so far this season. More troublesome is that they really have no marquee win on their season. Their most convincing and exciting victory came against Detroit in December, but other than that they have lost every good team that they've played against; the early season-Bears, Packers, Saints and Texans. Still, they have a chance to keep themselves in the mix and boost their confidence when they play New Orleans in week 16, and with Matt Ryan's offense, you just never know.
- New York Giants (7-6)
The Giants have regained control of the NFC East even quicker than they lost it. After the nearly beat Green Bay, they went into Dallas and beat the Cowboys on their own turf with a massive late 4th quarter comeback. Eli Manning's quarterbacking this year has been outstanding, and it's tough to overlook what Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks can do to a defensive backfield. Additionally, the Have Jason Pierre-Paul playing better defense than anyone in the league right now. The Giants have definitely let opponents put up a lot of points against them this year, but they have also had a brutal schedule; facing five of the top six total offenses in the NFL. They still have one more game against Dallas, and must get through the Redskins and Jets before they get there, but it's tough not to be excited about how hard they have played lately.
- Denver Broncos (8-5)
The Broncos have won 7 of their last 8 games, and 6 of those wins came in the form of a 4th quarter comeback resulting in a game-winning drive or in overtime. It doesn't matter what the score is in the fourth quarter, or how much times is left on the clock. Unless the other team is winning by three or more possessions with less than four minutes to go, the Bronco's have a chance to come back and win. Their enigmatic and improbable rise to the top of the AFC West is perplexing, but after New England this week, they take on Buffalo and Kansas City. Believe it or not, right now Tim Tebow and the Broncos are looking at 10-6 and a 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs.
- New York Jets (8-5)
The Jets are still right in the thick of the wild card race, but their remaining road to get there isn't exactly a easy one. They have the erratic Eagles this week, a game which they should win but certainly isn't a lock. Then they have to battle the Giants, and they close their season against a vastly improved Dolphins team that seems to win and play hard even when they have absolutely nothing to play for. Mark Sanchez has leveled out a little as the season has worn on, throwing just one interception in the last three games, but Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes have been unpredictable and therefore tough to rely on all season. The Jets still have an elite defense though, and that could be the X factor that keeps them in the final SFC playoff spot.
- Detroit Lions (8-5)
The Lions have lost five of their last eight games, struggled against the Vikings last week, and are still without their best defensive player in Ndomukong Suh; who is still serving his suspension for this conduct in their Thanksgiving game against the Packers. Their losing skid unsurprisingly coincides with their losing Jahvid Best for the season, as without an effective running game, Matt Stafford has struggled to develop rhythm in his passing offense. At 8-5 the Lions are still in position for the wild card, but still have to beat the Raiders (also battling for the wild card), the Chargers and the Packers. There's a chance they make it in, but a win over Oakland will be key to keeping that hope alive.
- Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
The Cowboys have now lost two in a row, and just can't seem to close the game when they need to. They are the anti-Broncos. At the most critical point in their season, they are falling apart. Blowing a twelve point lead with three minutes and change on the clock is practically unforgiveable, and although they have all the talent in the world to make it to the playoffs, they are really hard to believe in right now. It doesn't help that Jason Garrett's coaching decisions of late have been questionable. That's never a good thing in December.
- Chicago Bears (7-6)
Also still in the wild card race are the Chicago Bears, as they are one win and a Detroit loss of moving back up to second spot behind the Packers in the NFC North. Unfortunately losing Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, their two best offensive players for most of the season, has cut their chances significantly. The Bears are still solid defensively, but they have absolutely no explosion or dynamism on their offense and Caleb Hanie has just been downright bad. It's unfortunate too, because before the injuries it looked like the 2011 Bears might be even better than the 2010 Bears that made it to the NFC Championship game.
- Oakland Raiders (7-6)
After they were absolutely demolished 46-16 by Green Bay last week, it's tough to really give Oakland a chance at anything. Still, the AFC West is technically up for grabs with the Bronco's just one game ahead of them in the standings. If they lose to the Lions this week, their chances of catching the Broncos are slim as the Denver will still have the easier remaining schedule. It's tough to imagine this team in playoffs, but after the 7-9 Seahawks made it in last year it's even harder to ruler anyone out.