NFL Power Rankings Week 13: The AFC Playoff Logjam

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SLR’s Week 12 NFL Power Rankings: The Top 8 Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) runs with ball as center Ryan Kalil (67) and tight end Greg Olsen (88) block in the fourth quarter of a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The Panthers won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

8. San Francisco 49ers (7-4) NC

They snapped their mini-losing streak against the Redskins to keep pace with the Cardinals (of all people) in the playoff hunt. Even Colin Kaepernick had a nice, efficient game to support an ineffective run game. Then again, that was one of the league’s worst defenses they were playing against. Like the Chiefs in the AFC, this is a strong defensive team that will only go as far as its offense will allow.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) ▼3

Losing to the Broncos is forgivable. Losing to the Chargers makes it look like the 9-0 Cinderella is starting to go pumpkin. They have the Broncos at home next week, so 9-3 is a distinct possibility. Luckily for them, the strong start combined with the weak AFC basically assures them a playoff berth, but how far will they get if the vaunted defense is giving up 41 points to the Chargers? Especially if Tamba Hali and Justin Houston miss extended time?

6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) ▲2

The Bengals watched AFC North action this weekend with a shrug and a sigh. As long as they play reasonably well (i.e. get Andy Dalton to stop turning the ball over) the rest of the season, nobody in the division will challenge them for the playoffs. Now beyond that? All bets are off.

5. Carolina Panthers  (8-3) NC

That’s seven straight wins, and the Rivera train keeps rolling. They have a big matchup against New Orleans circled in two weeks, but they need to take care of the suddenly dangerous Bucs first. They’re in charge in the playoff race, even if it’s only a wildcard berth.

4. New England Patriots (8-3) ▲2

Alright, I confess. I wrote the Patriots’ epitaph here at halftime when they were getting their lunch eaten by the Broncos 24-0 at halftime. Clearly, I underestimated this team. That or I underestimated just how awful the Broncos’ defense is. Either way, mistakes were made, so here’s the real writeup: The Patriots are never out of any game, ever, against anyone, period.

3. New Orleans Saints (9-2) NC

They made it interesting against the vastly inferior Falcons, but great teams need the poise to win unexpectedly close games, and they’ve shown that. The game against Seattle next week might not just be a battle for home-field advantage. The Saints need to keep winning to keep the red-hot Panthers at bay.

2.  Denver Broncos (9-2) ▼1

Well, that was a short run at the top. The Broncos just showed off the thing that will most likely keep them from going far in the playoffs: they can’t stop anybody. I won’t knock Peyton Manning for a poor cold weather performance, because he’s playing hurt, and he played well enough to tie the game late (he also didn’t give up 34 points to the Patriots’ offense). But still, they’re surprisingly vulnerable for a 9-2 team. Can they recover from this deflating loss to sweep the Chiefs? They need that game now.

1. Seattle Seahawks (10-1) ▲1

They go into the bye week with their playoff aspirations all but mathematically assured, which means they get an extra week to prepare to battle the Saints for home field advantage. Everything is going their way this season. I mean that in a “they’re playing really well” kind of way, not a “Fail Mary” kind of way.