I've typically written my full rankings after every three weeks of the season, though with a week 12 overlap between my rankings and my end of season predictions, I had to push back the former to this week. The next time I rank all the NFL teams from top to bottom will be after the final game of the season in week 17. While some teams have stayed consistent from the first nine weeks to now, some have surged and others have taken turns for the worse. There has been a lot of movement from some of the teams since my last rankings due to signs of significant improvements or deteriorations. As before, I'll be ranking each team based on their overall performances, not based on their potential or how I think they will play going forward. Among other things, my rankings take into account opponent strengths, head-to-head matchups, flukes, and competitiveness throughout games for each team rather than a basis centered solely around win-loss records.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) - UP 1
Week 12 Result: W, 22-16 vs. Broncos
While most rankings still held the formerly unbeaten Steelers ahead of the Chiefs simply as a formality, it can now be officially stated the Kansas City is the best team in the league. They've won 20 of their last 21 games and play more or less to their level of competition, meaning Patrick Mahomes and Co. should be able to turn it on in the postseason when the games start to really matter. Until proven otherwise, I won't bet on anyone to beat the Chiefs outright probably for the next 10 years or so.
Up Next: at Dolphins
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2) - UP 2
Week 12 Result: W, 21-16 at Falcons
No Drew Brees, no problem in New Orleans. It doesn't seem to matter who Sean Payton plays at quarterback, but Taysom Hill has looked very suitable to run the offense. Fortunately for the Saints, Brees is expected to return as early as next week, which boosts their chances of winning even further. Their defense is playing as good, if not better, than any other team in the league, which is why I would pick them to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl if I were a betting man (which I am).
Up Next: at Eagles
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) - DN 2
Week 12 Result: L, 17-23 vs. Washington
After an ugly loss to Washington in a game in which they led 14-0 in the first half, questions have risen surrounding the legitimacy of the Steelers. They have benefitted from a relatively easy schedule and haven't had many decisive victories, but I still think Pittsburgh is one of the league's top contenders. I'm not going to penalize a team for who they go up against throughout the course of a season, and other than their week 13 slip up, they've been perfect otherwise. Their upcoming game against the Bills will show us more about Pittsburgh's actual strength.
Up Next: at Bills
4. Green Bay Packers (9-3) - UP 5
Week 12 Result: W, 30-16 vs. Eagles
It's getting to the point in the season where Aaron Rodgers takes control and guides his team to the regular finish line. His connection with Davante Adams is one of the most dominant duos I think I've ever seen on a football field in my lifetime, and Rodgers has several other weapons to utilize in the event a defense can contain Adams, which is a rarity. The Packers have a great chance at finishing 13-3 and finding themselves back in the NFC Championship game, where they will hope for a better result this time around.
Up Next: at Lions
5. Buffalo Bills (9-3) - No Change (NC)
Week 12 Result: W, 34-24 at 49ers
Buffalo goes as Josh Allen goes, and he has been as prolific as any quarterback in their last several games. This has resulted in five wins in their last six, with the blemish coming from being on the wrong end of a successful Hail Mary in week 10. At 9-3, the Bills remain in control of the AFC East and can make a push for an even better seed in the playoffs if they can beat the Steelers next week and get a little help thereafter.
Up Next: at Steelers
6. Los Angeles Rams (8-4) - UP 7
Week 12 Result: W, 38-28 at Cardinals
The Rams have sneakily earned themselves a tie for first in the NFC West, owning the tiebreaker at the moment with the Seahawks. They have typically won their games this season off the back of their defense, though they have proven they can outscore opponents as well as displayed in their most recent victory. If Jared Goff has time in the pocket to throw, he can dismantle a defense, which, in conjunction with a stellar defensive unit, is a recipe for success for Sean McVay's club.
Up Next: vs. Patriots
7. Cleveland Browns (9-3) - UP 9
Week 12 Result: W, 41-35 at Titans
Until last week, Cleveland only had one decent win, which came against the Colts in week 5. However, they absolutely destroyed the Titans in a game that wasn't as close as the score showed, demonstrating that maybe we should start taking Baker Mayfield and the Browns seriously now. Of course, they are the Browns, so no one would be surprised if they go on to prove that game against Tennessee was merely an anomaly. They can prove themselves when they take on Baltimore at home next week, to whom they lost by what felt like about 70 in week 1.
Up Next: vs. Ravens
8. Seattle Seahawks (8-4) - DN 2
Week 12 Result: L, 12-17 vs. Giants
I thought about dropping the Seahawks even further after becoming the first team with a winning record to lose to an NFC East team, but I still believe in Russell Wilson and Seattle's offense. I don't know what the problem was on Sunday, but Wilson seemed to be under a lot pressure all game and his receivers couldn't get open for most of the day. To give credit where it's due, the Giants have been playing surprisingly well this season after losing Saquon Barkley and could wind up in the playoffs, so Seattle's loss isn't really as bad as some people are saying. Still, the Seahawks can't afford any more set backs down the stretch if they are to finish atop the NFC West, and they'll get a nice bounce-back game against the other New York team, who are evidently trying to lose.
Up Next: vs. Jets
9. Tennessee Titans (8-4) - DN 1
Week 12 Result: L, 35-41 vs. Browns
While they only ended up losing by 6, Tennessee got obliterated from the start last week at home against the Browns. Despite their lack of a pass rush and their mediocrity at times on defense as a whole, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Corey Davis consistently create problems for opposing defenses. Their offense will keep them in games as long as they start strong and can let Henry work. Now tied with the Colts for first in the AFC South but owning the tie breaker, they may have to win their last four to clinch the division.
Up Next: at Jaguars
10. Baltimore Ravens (7-5) - DN 7
Week 12 Result: W, 34-17 vs. Cowboys
The Ravens had a rough stretch for a while as they battled injuries and COVID positives and struggled offensively. Lamar Jackson was unstoppable on Tuesday night against the Cowboys, which isn't saying too much of course. They finish with a rather easy slate of games and I think they'll sweep those to end at 11-5 and in the playoffs as a wild card team, where with Jackson and a tough defense, they could find some success.
Up Next: at Browns
11. Indianapolis Colts (8-4) - UP 4
Week 12 Result: W, 26-20 at Texans
The Colts have been neck and neck with the Titans all season and are still in a good place to win the division at season's end. They played well against the Texans last week for most of the game but were extremely fortunate to win after Deshaun Watson fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line when they could've nearly run the clock out after a game-winning touchdown. Nonetheless, a win is a win in the NFL, but they likely can't afford any more slip-ups the rest of the way.
Up Next: at Raiders
12. Miami Dolphins (8-4) - DN 2
Week 12 Result: W, 19-7 vs. Bengals
Miami was red hot up until a few weeks ago, though they are still in great shape and have vastly exceeded expectations for the season. We'll have to see if they can take care of business as they finish with four playoff contenders, including the 11-1 Chiefs and two of their division rivals. I personally believe Ryan Fitzpatrick would put them in a better place to win right now, but Tua Tagovailoa is clearly the future they're building around.
Up Next: vs. Chiefs
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) - DN 6
Week 12 Result: Bye
We didn't see Tampa play this past week, and hopefully for Bucs fans they used their bye week to get things right on offense. As of now, they're safely in the playoffs and I think it will ultimately stay that way. Their next game against the Vikings is enormous, as a loss to them could jeopardize their chances as Minnesota is only one game back on them.
Up Next: vs. Vikings
14. New England Patriots (6-6) - UP 9
Week 12 Result: W, 45-0 at Chargers
We all though the Patriots were dead just a few weeks ago, but now they have somehow found themselves in the playoff hunt. It's still a long shot as they have to make up two games in four weeks, but they are in a better position than anyone thought they would be about a month ago. The interesting story is that neither Bill Belichick nor Tom Brady is thriving apart from each other this season, which maybe shows that they needed each other more than one needed the other.
Up Next: at Rams
15. Las Vegas Raiders (7-5) - DN 3
Week 12 Result: W, 31-28 at Jets
Man, the Raiders got extremely fortunate last week when the Jets blitzed seven guys while up four with about 30 seconds remaining and Vegas just inside their territory. Had New York played a prevent defense like any other team would, the Raiders would be sitting at 6-6 with three straight losses, one of which a massacre against the Falcons. However, thanks to that victory, they're only one game out of the wild card and could make up that ground this week when they take on the Colts, who are one game ahead of them.
Up Next: vs. Colts
16. Arizona Cardinals (6-6) - DN 5
Week 12 Result: L, 28-38 vs. Rams
I thought the Cardinals were going to make a push for the division title, but now they're fighting to stay in the postseason race. They've struggled on both sides of the ball in recent games and their lone win in their past five affairs came off a Hail Mary in the closing seconds against Buffalo. The next two are must wins, and they'll likely need to at least split against the Rams and 49ers to claim a wild card spot.
Up Next: at Giants
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-6) - UP 4
Week 12 Result: W, 27-24 vs. Jaguars
It's impossible to omit the Vikings when mentioning the teams who have show the most improvement over the course of the season. Dalvin Cook has been phenomenal and they've found Stefon Diggs' replacement alongside Adam Thielen in rookie Justin Jefferson. They suffered a bad loss to the Cowboys two weeks ago and have won their games by narrow margins, but they now as the seventh seed if the season ended today. They have two tough games against the Bucs and Saints remaining, so they may need some additional help from other teams if they can't win at least one of those.
Up Next: at Buccaneers
18. New York Giants (5-7) - UP 10
Week 12 Result: W, 17-12 at Seahawks
Speaking of improved teams, the Giants may be the most surprising of all. I had them ranked ahead of only the Jets for most of the season, but they somehow started to play good football after losing Saquon Barkley for the season. The games they've lost have been close and they finally got an impressive win last week when Colt McCoy led them to a victory in Seattle. They are in a solid position to claim the final division spot if they can fend off the also surging Washington club.
Up Next: vs. Cardinals
19. Washington Football Team (5-7) - UP 10
Week 12 Result: W, 23-17 at Steelers
Washington also grabbed an impressive win on Monday night when they slayed the undefeated Steelers in Pittsburgh. Alex Smith will likely be the comeback player of the year and their defense has been playing nearly lights out recently. They'll need to win one more than the Giants from here on to clinch the NFC East.
Up Next: at 49ers
20. San Francisco 49ers (5-7) - DN 2
Week 12 Result: L, 24-34 vs. Bills
The 49ers were bitten by the injury bug early in the season, and while they've remained competitive, they haven't had the firepower to find true success this year. They'll look to regroup next season and make another push for the Super Bowl in what will probably be the best division in the league for the second year in a row.
Up Next: vs. Washington
21. Houston Texans (4-8) - UP 6
Week 12 Result: L, 20-26 vs. Colts
The Texans had an untimely fumble late against Indy that cost them the game. Houston had a brutal stretch of games to open the season that left them with a 1-6 record and a fired head coach. They unfortunately haven't been able to recover from that and have taken some rough losses along the way. You have to feel bad for J.J. Watt, who needs to go somewhere where he has a chance to win in what would probably be the final stages of his legendary career. Things will only get better in Houston after this tumultuous season finally ends.
Up Next: at Bears
22. Atlanta Falcons (4-8) - DN 3
Week 12 Result: L, 16-21 vs. Saints
The Falcons similarly got off to a horrible start and have somewhat kicked it into gear in recent weeks. They had two prime opportunities to knock off the Saints without Drew Brees, but never really came that close in either matchup. The offense hasn't been the problem for much of the season, other than their battles with injuries. Matt Ryan has proven he can still sling the ball if Atlanta can fix their issues on defense in the offseason.
Up Next: at Chargers
23. Denver Broncos (4-8) - DN 3
Week 12 Result: L, 16-22 at Chiefs
Following a blowout loss when the Broncos were forced to play a practice squad receiver at quarterback against the Saints, they held their own in Kansas City on Sunday night in a game I admittedly didn't watch until I saw that it wasn't a blowout in the third quarter. I like Denver's long term potential with Drew Lock, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and others, but this season seemed like it was over before it started when Von Miller went down prior to the first game. They've had some positives to build upon going into next season.
Up Next: at Panthers
24. Carolina Panthers (4-8) - UP 1
Week 12 Result: Bye
It's always tough when your best player gets injured, and Carolina's best player, Christian McCaffrey, has been out almost all season. Teddy Bridgewater has been solid at quarterback, but expectations are fairly low when you have a first-year head coach and QB in an organization. I think the Panthers will show a lot of improvement in 2021 when key players get settled in and the team can build itself through the draft and free agency.
Up Next: vs. Broncos
25. Detroit Lions (5-7) - DN 1
Week 12 Result: W, 34-30 at Bears
The Lions are as mediocre as ever, winning every now and then against bad teams but losing more often than not. They're only consolation this season would be if they could beat out the Bears for third place in the NFC North. They could technically even catch the Vikings who lead them by just one game, but I don't think that'll happen. Detroit did find a potential future workhorse back in D'Andre Swift, who has unfortunately missed the last three games in the concussion protocol. Matthew Stafford should try his hardest to get himself to a winning organization before his days in the NFL are done.
Up Next: vs. Packers
26. Los Angeles Chargers (3-9) - DN 4
Week 12 Result: L, 0-45 vs. Patriots
I was spot on in my betting article last week when I said Bill Belichick would confuse Justin Herbert and force him into his worst game as a professional. I didn't expect it to be THAT bad though. The Chargers got humiliated and the offense couldn't get anything going all day. Herbert is going to have a great career, though, and he has some special weapons around him that could turn L.A. into a contender fast. They need a new guy at the head coaching position before that will happen in my opinion.
Up Next: vs. Falcons
27. Chicago Bears (5-7) - DN 12
Week 12 Result: L, 30-34 vs. Lions
For the second year in a row, the Bears have squandered an elite defense by being abysmal on the offensive end. Are quarterbacks in Chicago cursed? It doesn't matter who they put in there, no one seems to have success. After starting 5-1, they've now dropped six in a row and could very well end up last in their division. Matt Nagy clearly isn't the guy, but he's just the tip of the iceberg when looking at Chicago's deficiencies.
Up Next: vs. Texans
28. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1) - DN 11
Week 12 Result: L, 16-30 at Packers
Carson Wentz has been the biggest disappointment so far, and the Eagles have decided to bench him in favor of Jalen Hurts for the time being. Philadelphia is in a terrible predicament now, as they just gave Wentz a four-year $128 million deal that lasts through 2024. That's an outrageously expensive backup quarterback. No one knows where they should go from here, least of all their front office. Maybe they can convince someone to take Wentz off their hands in exchange for some draft picks and commence a rebuilding effort.
Up Next: vs. Saints
29. Dallas Cowboys (3-9) - UP 1
Week 12 Result: L, 17-34 at Ravens
Dallas wasn't very good before Dak Prescott went down, and they're atrocious without him. They're in sole possession of last place in the worst division in the NFL, and they might not win another game. It's a shame that they're letting the talents of their elite offensive skill players go to waste. There's a chance Jerry Jones makes a play for Trevor Lawrence in the upcoming draft (assuming Lawrence leaves Clemson). That would be phenomenal to see next year and provides just about the only positive thing for Cowboys fans to think about right now.
Up Next: at Bengals
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1) - DN 4
Week 12 Result: L, 7-19 at Dolphins
The Bengals were competitive with Joe Burrow. That is no longer the case. The good news is that they'll be receiving another high draft pick this season. I would bet a lot of money they'll use that on an offensive lineman. They should maybe use all of their picks to build an o-line that can protect their franchise quarterback so he doesn't get killed trying to drop back to throw. Cincinnati unquestionably has a talented, young core to build around now.
Up Next: vs. Cowboys
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11) - NC
Week 12 Result: L, 24-27 at Vikings
After a couple seasons of moderate success a few years ago, the Jags are now back to the team we all know and love. Especially fans of teams in the AFC South, because we get to play them twice each season. Jacksonville traded away all of their good players in the offseason, so it's a miracle that they have even one win. They should have a multitude of picks, which they will need to fill their needs at pretty much every position.
Up Next: vs. Titans
32. New York Jets (0-12) - NC
Week 12 Result: L, 28-31 vs. Raiders
Last but not least... I mean, last and least, the New York Jets. They were oh so close to getting their first victory of the season until Gregg Williams made the dumbest play call you can make to allow the Raiders to complete a bomb for a touchdown with almost no time remaining. That will probably be their best chance of winning for the remainder of the season, and they're the clear favorites to land Trevor Lawrence if they want him.
Up Next: at Seahawks
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.