Subtle shifts in the Top 10 enable the Panthers to move up two spots and gain a seat at the front table, while Denver fends off the Chiefs’ overtures.
Philadelphia, forever volatile, makes another sizable jump with eyes on emerging from the pack, and Green Bay slides again while they wait for Rodgers’ return.
A jump up from Tampa Bay opens the door for a new Bottom 5, while Atlanta and Houston march on in their synchronized slides.
Here’s how our analysts see the league after 10 weeks, and the cumulative rank (below) that comes of their ballots.
With the votes tallied, here’s how the list looks after Week 11: (last week’s rank and change in rank in parentheses)
The Top 10
1. Denver Broncos (1, 0)
The Broncos took the first of a home-and-home series with the Chiefs and their talented defense. With the second act coming up in two weeks, and a trip to New England filling the gap between, we’ll see Denver through their last tough stretch before the playoffs. No. 1 since Week 2 and not moving yet.
2. Seattle Seahawks (2, 0)
Handling business against the Vikings on the strength of top performances by Russell Wilson and Red Bryant, Seattle moves to 10-1 and carries a 3.5 game lead in the division into their bye. The Saints and 49ers wait on the other side, so the tests aren’t done. Missed out on a consensus for the No. 2 spot by mixing in a first-place vote.
3. New Orleans Saints (3, 0)
Surviving with a pair of late field goals, New Orleans came out on top of a close one with San Francisco to put together their first back-to-back wins since Weeks 4 and 5. No easy run to the end, they’ve got a four-game stretch looming that holds a pair against Carolina and a trip to Seattle.
4. Carolina Panthers (6, 2)
Pushing into the Top 5, there’s not much more they can do to prove themselves as Carolina’s Monday night win over New England makes it six straight. They’re just a game back of tracking down the Saints in the South with both of their head-to-heads still to come.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (4, -1)
Handed their first loss of the season, Kansas City fell short on answering the primary questions about them. They’ll have another shot at the Broncos in Arrowhead soon, but a warm-up against San Diego is up next and they slide a spot here.
6. New England Patriots (5, -1)
No time to sulk, the Patriots have to rebound from falling short against the Panthers to return home and host Denver in the Week 12 Brady-Manning reunion game. New England joins the Chiefs in stepping aside to let the Panthers move up.
7. San Francsico 49ers (7, 0)
The loss to New Orleans has them dropping consecutive games for the second time this season and the 49ers now find themselves shoulder to shoulder with Arizona as Seattle runs off ahead in the West. The schedule eases, but the once sure-thing playoff spot is now something to fight for.
8. Indianapolis Colts (9, 1)
The Colts erased Tennessee’s early lead to take control and ride out for a Thursday Night win sparked by Luck’s work both through the air and on the ground. The victory puts Indy three games up in the South with a trip to the desert providing their next road challenge. They swap spots with Detroit.
9. Detroit Lions (8, -1)
They battled back early but ultimately lost pace with Pittsburgh in Week 11 to end their brief run of close wins. Still holding a share of the North lead – but failing to move up in the rankings for the first time in six weeks — they’ll get the suddenly surging Bucs at home with one eye on Chicago in St. Louis.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (10, 0)
On the strength of an opportunistic second quarter, Cincinnati rolled past the offense-less Browns to rebound from a pair of overtime losses. Finally hitting their bye, the Bengals can watch comfortably as the rest of the division sits more than two games back. Always slow to move, Cincy holds again at No. 10.
11. Chicago Bears (11, 0)
Taking the game into overtime after an extended weather delay made it a long afternoon, but the Bears walked away with the win. They get back the division footing they lost the week before and grab a share of the North lead but hold steady in the ranks, still No. 11.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (17, 5)
Again big movers in the rankings, the Eagles held on for their third win on the bounce and reach their late-season bye week enjoying the view from atop the East. The rest will do them good as they come back to face Arizona’s inspired defense in Week 13.
13. Dallas Cowboys (13, 0)
Their bye week leads into a road trip to New York to try and set down the rising Giants. With the East still wide open, the Cowboys hope this second run through the division matches the 3-0 record they posted in the first encounters.
14. Green Bay Packers (11, -3)
That’s three straight losses (and three straight slips in the ranks) for the Rodgers-less Packers who are now a game behind the Lions and Bears in the division and falling fast in the wild card race as well. It might be a few weeks still before he can get back—they need to put the brakes on before digging a hole too deep.
15. Baltimore Ravens (15, 0)
Outlasted by Chicago in their weather-worn overtime matchup, Baltimore joins the Steelers and Browns in a trailing stance all looking up at the Bengals in the AFC North. Four losses in their past five see them coming home for three straight to open a tough final stretch.
16. Arizona Cardinals (18, 2)
Again applying their plan of stout defense and offense that avoid implosions, the Cardinals notched win No. 6, pulled even with San Francisco for the NFC’s final playoff spot, and head home to catch the Colts. Sneaking up the list, Arizona is now 13 spots above their season-opening rank of 29.
17. Miami Dolphins (19, 2)
Treading water after the rise and fall in the first six weeks, Miami’s Week 11 win has them on the edge of the AFC playoff picture. Can they catch the Panthers exhaling in Week 12? A win there would lead in to their head-to-head with the Jets well.
18. San Diego Chargers (13, -5)
Their up-and-down season has been firmly down of late, dropping the last three despite being close in each – Week 11’s fall to Miami the most recent example. Heading to Kansas City shouldn’t be the expected cure, but that’s the task ahead. The Chargers slide five spots.
19. New York Giants (23, 4)
Two-thirds of the way toward balancing their 0-6 start with an opposite run, the Giants notched their fourth win in as many weeks, this time taking down the sputtering Packers as they rise four spots. They’ll get to see the teams above them in the East in their next two.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (22, 2)
A fast start and a strong second half gave Pittsburgh their second set of consecutive wins on the season as Antonio Brown once again featured. Moving up again, the Steelers climb for the fifth time in seven weeks.
21. New York Jets (16, -5)
Dragged down by an awful day of quarterbacking, the Jets went out of their way to continue on their up-and-down path and ended their run of four straight weeks of upward moves in the rankings. That makes them due for a ‘W’ in Baltimore as Rex and Reed return home.
22. Tennessee Titans (21, -1)
Putting themselves up early, they couldn’t re-take the game once Indianapolis had claimed the lead and the Titans miss an opportunity to climb to within a single game of the South lead and inch backward in the rankings again.
The Bottom 10
23. Cleveland Browns (20, -3)
Their first-quarter lead washed under by a torrent of Bengals scores in the second, Cleveland had no ability to fight back and fell flat in a game they needed. They lose ground in the rankings for the fifth time in six weeks.
24. Buffalo Bills (28, 4)
Not giving up the fight, the Bills stopped their three-game slide with a win over the Jets. They’ll get a week off to gather themselves and hope to soon take advantage of the combined 5-25 record of their next three opponents. Up four spots, they tied for the week’s second-biggest bump.
25. Washington Redskins (24, -1)
A feverish comeback couldn’t quite take down the Eagles’ 24-point lead and the magic-less Redskins settle alone into the East cellar. A win over a shook-up San Francisco team on Monday Night would be a big boost in a season that is near lost. Washington settles down a spot.
26. St. Louis Rams (26, 0)
Their week off to savor a strong win over the Colts comes to an end and they’ll be back to work hosting the Bears in Week 12 – a game that kicks off a brutal final six games.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31, 4)
Their reward for posting consecutive wins? A two-game road trip to see the Lions and Panthers in Weeks 12 and 13. The Bucs do, however, jump from the 31st spot up to 27 with their recent showings earning some belief.
28. Oakland Raiders (29, 1)
Much like their last visit to Houston, the Raiders held at the goal line to finish off a win. Oakland found their fourth ‘W’ of the season and in the process got their first positive day of passing in over a month. A one-spot climb to make way for those moving below.
29. Houston Texans (25, -4)
A baffling benching of their QB was only part of it as the Texans dropped a disappointing effort to the Raiders in Week 11. Falling for the eighth straight week, Houston keeps the pressure on their division mates in Jacksonville in the race for the draft’s top spot.
30. Atlanta Falcons (26, -4)
Their Week 12 matchup with the Saints was circled on the calendar, but as it turns out, there will be little more than pride on the line. Handed Tampa Bay their second win and continued their hand-in-hand rankings tumble with Houston.
31. Minnesota Vikings (29, -2)
Found lacking behind the performance of Christian Ponder, Minnesota couldn’t keep up with Seattle and, while failing in their bid for consecutive wins, finds their way to the vacated No. 31 spot.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32, 0)
With their offense threatening a big day they couldn’t sustain, the defense found positives in absorbing their ninth loss of the season.