It may surprise most of you in fantasy football land, but this week is not the last week of the regular season. There’s one more week after this one. However, this is a crucial week as more teams will clinch a playoff berth, even though it’ll seem like the playoff pictures will get more confusing.
Something that’s not hard to figure out is which five teams are the best five teams in the league right now. Here they are.
1. New England Patriots (11-3)
Next game: at New York Jets (3-11)
Last week the Patriots clinched the AFC East championship for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Each year since 2009, New England has won at least 12 games.
Their defense is playing very well (8th in points allowed), their running game is effective when it needs to be, and Rob Gronkowski is healthy. The Patriots are on pace to be playing at home for the duration of their playoff run (except if they reach the Super Bowl).
Bill Belichick is one of four coaches in NFL history to have won 100 or more games than he’s lost (+102). The other three: Don Shula (+172), George Halas (+170), and Paul Brown (+109). That is distinct company.
Considering I didn’t even have to mention Tom Brady, I’d say New England is set up really well for a Super Bowl run.
2. Green Bay Packers (10-4)
Next game: at Tampa Bay (2-12)
The loss at Buffalo didn’t make the Packers look good, but the Bills are a good team with a very good defense. There’s nothing to apologize for. Still, you would like to see a team score more than 6 points no matter who their opponent is. An elite quarterback, an excellent head coach, a truck at running back, a dynamic duo at wide receiver, and a handful of defensive playmakers makes the Packers a very formidable opponent for any team.
Furthermore, Green Bay leads the NFL in turnover margin (+15). They will be fine.
3. Seattle Seahawks (10-4)
Next game: at Arizona (11-3)
Ranking 2nd in scoring defense (17.3 ppg) and 11th in scoring offense (24.2 ppg) shows the Seahawks are playing their best football at the most important time. They rolled the 49ers again last week and allowed just 10 points in two games against their rivals in 2014.
It seems by now that the loss of Percy Harvin would’ve caught up to Seattle’s offense, but it is doing very well without him. That’s good, because they’re going to need every yard and every point this week as they travel to Arizona for what is a de facto NFC West championship game.
4. Denver Broncos (11-3)
Next game: at Cincinnati (9-4-1)
When the Broncos can win on the road against their toughest rival while basically only throwing to one receiver, you know they’re really good. Last week Peyton Manning chose Demaryius Thomas, and this week he could look to Julius Thomas…or Emanuel Sanders. Or, they have this guy named Wes Welker they have who’s not bad, either.
With regards to Denver’s running game, C.J. Anderson is a dynamic back that plays with vigor, and, in my eyes, has been more than what the Broncos needed him to be. Denver’s offensive line, in addition to paving the way for Anderson, has allowed the fewest sacks in football this season (14).
As you see, the Broncos’ offense is as versatile, unpredictable, and potent as there is. Their defense is average (16th in scoring), but when factoring in what the offense brings, the defense can afford to be average.
5. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
Next game: vs. Indianapolis (10-4)
When Dez Bryant wants to be, he is the best wide receiver in the NFL. He doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t care who you are, how you’re covering him or where he’s playing. Bryant is going to get his.
Given the fact that he’s in a contract year, expect to see more of the same inconsiderate athleticism this week that he displayed last week at Philadelphia.
As many expected, the tremendous workload placed upon DeMarco Murray has finally caught up to him. He leads the league in carries by far (351, 76 more than the next player), and on Monday, he had surgery on his left hand. How he plays when he comes back will very much affect Dallas’ playoff progression (or lack thereof).
Game of the week
Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
Sunday, December 21 at 4:25 P.M. ET on CBS
Vegas line: Dallas -3
Ravens current playoff position: No. 6 seed in the AFC. With a first-round bye now out of the question, the Ravens still have a shot at the No. 3 seed in the AFC, which is currently held by the Colts. Of the teams currently ranked No. 3-No. 6, the Ravens have the easiest remaining schedule (according to opponent winning percentage).