1. Arizona Cardinals: 13-2 (1)

Once again, the Arizona Cardinals established themselves as the NFL’s best team on Sunday after beating the Green Bay Packers 38-8 on Sunday.

The Cardinals seem to show a new strength every week, and this week it was their pass rush. They recorded 11 quarterback hits and eight sacks on Aaron Rodgers. They did this on just 28 passing attempts. They forced three fumbles on those sacks, two returned for touchdowns. This newfound pass rush is scary for any team tasked with playing Arizona.

The Cardinals’ point differential is +206. Only two other teams have finished a season with a plus +200 point differential since 1990; those two teams, the 07 Patriots and the 01 Rams.

Nobody wants to play the Cardinals right now, and rightfully so. This team is nearly flawless. They have studs all over the field. Carson Palmer is my MVP. David Johnson is my rookie of the year. Their receiving trio of Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, and John Brown is the best in the NFL. Their defense is outstanding.

It’s hard to not think the Cardinals will be representing the NFC in Super Bowl 50.

 

  1. New England Patriots: 12-3 (2)

Despite a 26-20 loss on Sunday, the Patriots remain at number two in my power ten. Yes, their offense looked anemic, but just think about it. The Patriots are banged up, their struggling to stay healthy, and they’re waiting for one of their best offensive players to return to the field. I’m not saying they were trying to lose on Sunday, but I don’t think they made winning their number one priority. They tried out various trick plays, something very uncharacteristic of the Patriots. With all that said, I still believe the Patriots are the best team in the AFC.

As I highlighted earlier, the Patriots will be at their best when it matters most. They don’t care about the number one seed, and despite this, they will probably end up with it. Come January, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Dont’a Hightower will all be back on the field. Once that happens, you’ll be hard pressed to find any AFC team that can compete with that team.

 

  1. Carolina Panthers: 14-1 (3)

Whelp it’s finally over. After not losing a regular season game in over a year, the Panthers finally lost one, losing to the Falcons 20-13. Cam Newton played his worst game of the season and they still only lost by seven.

It might sound crazy, but this loss might be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers. No longer will the talk of a perfect season surround this team. That distraction is gone, leaving what happens on the field as the main discussion.

Even though they lost, this Panthers’ team is still one of the best in the NFL. Newton was my MVP up until this past week. The defense is still among the best units in the NFL. The Panthers are fine; in fact, I think they will bounce back next week with a blowout win over the Buccaneers, which will ultimately secure home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

 

  1. Seattle Seahawks: 9-6 (4)

Just when we thought the Seahawks were peeking as the NFL’s best team, they laid an egg at home against the terrible St. Louis Rams.

The Seahawks were coming off of a five game winning streak, in which their quarterback Russell Wilson was playing better than any other quarterback. Whelp, in this one he looked like anything but that, throwing two interceptions and fumbling the football late in the game in the red zone.

This lost might cost the Seahawks the number five seed, which could be costly, as I’m almost positive any NFL team would rather travel to Washington for a playoff game, than travel to Green Bay or Minnesota.

All hope is not lost for the Seahawks though. According to ESPN, Marshawn Lynch is well on his way back, and looks better than he has all season long. If Lynch can regain his 2014 self, the Seahawks could still make a run at Super Bowl 50. I mean you can never count out the two time defending NFC champions.

 

5. Kansas City Chiefs: 10-5 (8)

The Chiefs just keep on rolling. With their win this past Sunday, the Chiefs won their ninth straight game and with a loss by the Steelers, they clinched a playoff birth.

They are the hottest team in the NFL right now. Alex Smith has a mere three interceptions since week three, highlighting just how well the Chiefs are at winning the turnover battle, which in my opinion, is the most underrated aspect of this team.

Charcandrick West seems to have secured the number one running back position, and rightfully so. The offense looks and plays better with him taking the bulk of the carries, rather than Spencer Ware, but Ware as a backup is nothing to complain about.

 

6. Denver Broncos: 11-4 (9)

The Denver Broncos clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth with their 20-17 overtime win last night. After a poor first half, the Broncos’ offense caught fire and outscored the Bengals 20-3 over the last 32 minutes of the football game.

Since taking over as the starter, Brock Osweiler has shown promising signs such as last night on the game winning drive. The Broncos are asking not for Osweiler to win the game, just not to lose it.

Their defense is still ranked number one in all of the NFL, which is something that translates well into the postseason. As long as their defenses can continue to play like the way it has been playing, every game they are involved in will be a close game.

 

7. Cinncinati Bengals: 11-4 (6)

It’s clear to me; the Bengals REALLY miss Andy Dalton. The offense is less efficient in almost every aspect. Their running attack is worse, their passing attack is one dimensional, and their read option is averaging almost 5 yards less per play. If Dalton isn’t ready for the playoffs, the Bengals aspirations for a Super Bowl title will be gone.

With all that said, all hope is not lost, barring the return of Andy Dalton. They’ve already locked up either the number two or three seed, so if Dalton can return for the playoffs, they will be playing their first game in Cincinnati.

 

  1. New York Jets: 10-5 (10)

The Jets got the job done in arguably their most important regular season game since the 2010 season.

The majority of their recent success falls on the shoulders of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has a touchdown to interception ratio of 13-1 during his team’s’ five game winning streak. He has propelled this team into a perfect position to qualify for the playoffs.

In addition to Fitzpatrick, the Jets’ receiving core deserves a ton of credit. All season long, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have performed week in and week out. The two of them set an NFL record of eight games in which both of them score a touchdown.

The Jets’ offensive unit is one of the best in the AFC. They are an exciting team to watch, and could very well make some noise in the AFC playoffs.

 

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-6 (5)

As I outlined in my Five Takeaways article, the Steelers blew their playoff chances. I do not think they will qualify for the playoffs, and they have nobody to blame, but themselves.

This team has looked unstoppable at times, but they’ve also looked atrocious like they did this past Sunday. Two of their six losses have come against the pitiful Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers’ passing attack, arguably the best in the NFL, hasn’t been the same on the road as they are at home. Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown for multiple touchdowns on the road this season.

For the Steelers to qualify for the playoffs, they need to win and the Jets have to lose next Sunday. Their playoff chances look dim, and if they play like they did this past Sunday, they don’t deserve one of those a playoff spot.

 

  1. Green Bay Packers: 10-5 (7)

I never thought I would say it, but something is wrong with Aaron Rodgers. He fumbled the ball three times on Sunday and missed on multiple deep throws. For weeks I have been making excuses for the poor play of Rodgers, but I can’t do it anymore. He just hasn’t played well.

By no means am I saying Rodgers is a bad quarterback, in fact, the majority of the blame should be placed on the rest of the team. The team is clearly flawed. Their running game is inconsistent to say the least. Their defense can’t stop the run or the pass. There among the worst teams in bringing pressure to opposing quarterbacks.

The Packers don’t have to worry about missing the playoffs, but at this time, I find it hard to believe they will be able to make a run to Super Bowl 50.

 

Sean Mason

Spark Sports NFL Analyst

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