It’s the eve of Week 16 and six total playoff berths remain vacant, while the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots already know they’ll get one extra week of rest.
Each has secured a first-round bye and can lockdown home-field advantage throughout the postseason with another victory, and as a result they sit atop our NFL Power Rankings.
From there, the Arizona Cardinals remain Carolina’s main competition in the NFC, while it appears quite unclear just who can challenge New England for the AFC’s Super Bowl berth.
The Bengals, Steelers, Broncos, and Chiefs can all make a strong case for why they should be considered the Patriots main rival, and after Week 16’s games we might have an answer.
Here’s our full power rankings of all 32 teams as we head into the second-to-last week of the 2015 NFL season.
1.Carolina Panthers 14-0
Cam Newton is without a doubt the MVP and the Panthers league-high 10 Pro Bowl nods solidify their stance as the most complete and largely healthy team with two games left.
2.New England Patriots 12-2
At this point we have to ask if the Patriots would also be perfect through 14 games if Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, and LeGarrette Blount hadn’t suffered injuries. Still, New England and Tom Brady remain as cool under pressure as ever.
3.Arizona Cardinals 12-2
In most any other season Carson Palmer would be the toast of the league with his career year and his ability to drag one of the NFL’s historically poor teams to the top. A win over Green Bay this week sews up a bye week, but the loss of Tyrann Mathieu will have far-reaching implications.
4.Cincinnati Bengals 11-3
Andy Dalton’s cracked thumb was the only thing that could’ve derailed the Bengals special season. But their defense has developed some solid playmakers and could prove quite pesky in the playoffs. Not to mention A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard all mostly healthy and very dangerous.
5.Pittsburgh Steelers 9-5
If not for the Chiefs' incredible rise from the ashes, we might be giving the Steelers the same credit as we give the Patriots for how well they’ve overcome injuries all season.
6.Denver Broncos 10-4
Pummeling or just plain beating Cincinnati will cancel out any more talk of a Peyton Manning return, and we have to remember this is just one of two teams to beat New England all season.
7.Seattle Seahawks 9-5
Another squad that was hampered by injuries but stuck together and made a late season push, the Seahawks will go as far as Russell Wilson and the pesky secondary can take them.
8.Kansas City Chiefs 9-5
What’s most amazing about the Chiefs is that Justin Houston’s injury hasn’t slowed them down one bit, which should be scary for any team they may face in the postseason. If anything, should Houston be even close to full strength, watch out.
9.Green Bay Packers 10-4
Swatting away the Cardinals will be the biggest test for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers all season, and it might just be the signal to the rest of the league that Green Bay has finally found its form before the postseason.
10.Minnesota Vikings 9-5
One more performance like Teddy Bridgewater put on in Week 15, and the Vikings have to be considered a playoff threat this year and in seasons to come. But Minnesota’s defense all needs to get healthy in a pinch.
11.New York Jets 9-5
This is the best Jets squad since the first days of Rex Ryan, and it’s a shame they sit on the outside looking in of the playoff picture. But this Todd Bowles defense can receive a huge boost if they manage to topple Brady and the Pats this week like they nearly did in Week 7.
12.Houston Texans 7-7
A defense featuring J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, and Johnathan Joseph should be ranked this low, but it’s difficult to put Houston any higher now that Brandon Weeden’s next up on the QB depth chart. However, Houston gets props for overcoming that dreadful 1-4 start to the season and for beating the Colts last week just like they were supposed to.
13.Washington Redskins 7-7
Maybe the biggest surprise playoff contender of the season, the Redskins need to double-up their road-win total in Week 16 in order to join the league’s top 12.
14.Oakland Raiders 6-8
The playoffs are now out of the question, but Oakland and head coach Jack Del Rio deserve heaps of credit for developing one of the most talented young squads in the league.
15.Buffalo Bills 6-8
Their defense should’ve been better overall, though injuries of course played a factor, but Ryan will also have to justify how one of last year’s top units floundered late.
16.Indianapolis Colts 6-8
Even if Andrew Luck was healthy all season, do the pieces around him on offense really seem like a group that could make any noise in the playoffs?
17.Jacksonville Jaguars 5-9
Joining the Raiders as one of the on-the-rise squads, the Jags still have a shot at the postseason but maybe packing it in and working out the kinks now will go a long way towards next year.
18.Atlanta Falcons 7-7
Other than the 0-4 division mark and the six-game losing streak, the Falcons should feel especially awful about the losses to San Francisco and Indy. This season is even more disappointing since we won’t see Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman in the postseason.
19.St. Louis Rams 6-8
Head coach Jeff Fisher didn’t let this squad give up even after the postseason was ruled out, and sweeping Seattle will go a long way in the NFC West next season.
20.Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If not for the Rams Todd Gurley, Jameis Winston would be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. And maybe he can improve his stock for the award by thwarting Carolina’s perfect season in Week 17.
21.Philadelphia Eagles 6-8
Chip Kelly and company still have a shot at the division and the postseason, but why are they ranked so low? Because only one of their six victories came against a team that’s currently in the playoffs and when Philly loses it loses bad.
22.New York Giants 6-8
The fourth-quarter meltdowns aside, it’s fair to ask if Tom Coughlin’s lost control of the locker room. He flat out said Odell Beckham Jr. was still in Week 15’s loss to Carolina because he wanted to wanted win the game, a clear sign he knows his job is on the line.
23.Miami Dolphins 5-9
You look at some of the special pieces they on offense in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Rishard Matthews and Lamar Miller, and wonder what the heck happened?
24.Detroit Lions 5-9
Repeat of Miami only its much colder in Detroit. The Lions should have contended for the NFC North and now may just be one offseason away from a total rebuild yet again.
25.New Orleans Saints 5-9
The futures of both head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees are very murky in New Orleans, and with Carolina only getting stronger it’s easy to see New Orleans hitting the reset button.
26.Chicago Bears 5-9
Lump Chicago with Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans as this year’s major disappointments, though their defense deserves credit for exceeding expectations. Another year and John Fox can get this team to the postseason.
27.Dallas Cowboys 4-10
The offensive line is fantastic, Darren McFadden’s rejuvenated his career, but is head coach Jason Garrett still in charge if Dallas loses its last two?
28.San Francisco 49ers 4-10
The future of this team isn’t on Blaine Gabbert’s shoulders, but whoever they take in next year’s draft. The 49ers were already starting to rebuild before the season started, we just didn’t know until halfway through the year.
29.Baltimore Ravens 4-10
The Ravens just need to get through this injury-plagued season and inject some new blood into the roster. Ravens rank No. 14 in both total offense and defense, but that means little for a team that lost eight close games.
30.San Diego Chargers 4-10
Will a move to Los Angeles help mend their offensive line, or even get the most out of rookie running back Melvin Gordon? Probably not, but Philip Rivers didn’t have Keenan Allen for most of the year and San Diego’s main issue was health all year.
31.Cleveland Browns 3-11
Firing Mike Pettine and cutting Johnny Manziel seem to be the rallying cry, but it’s the defense’s regression in Pettine’s second year that seems the most troubling.
32.Tennessee Titans 3-11
Marcus Mariota is the Titans quarterback of the future, but this squad needs a complete overhaul on defense and for coaching changes.