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Monday, 10 December, 2018

New England not loosening their championship grip

All 32 NFL teams ranked from best to worst

James Harrison has left Pittsburgh for New England
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Each week, we will rank the 32 NFL teams from the best to worst based on their prospects for the rest of the season, so we can see who is looking stronger as the campaign progresses and who is falling down the ladder.

Last week's rankings

1 New England Patriots (=)
Record: 12-3
Last week: Won 37-16 at home to Buffalo
This week: 15.5-point favourites at home to New York Jets

The defending champions will ensure the AFC's number-one seeding if they beat the Jets and they should do that comfortably. The signing of Steelers linebacker James Harrison also raises plenty of eyebrows. Just as they were in Week One, they look to be the team to beat.

2 Minnesota Vikings (=)
Record: 12-3
Last week: Won 16-0 at Green Bay
This week: 11.5-point favourites at home to Chicago

The Vikings were already assured of the NFC North championship before they enjoyed the delight of shutting out the Packers at Lambeau Field. Only a freak series of results will prevent them from having next week off and a home Super Bowl appearance is a real possibility.

3 Los Angeles Rams (=)
Record: 11-4
Last week: Won 27-23 at Tennessee
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to San Francisco

The Rams continue to be a force on both sides of the ball, but with nothing further to gain, they are ringing the changes for their final regular-season match. That's good news for the 49ers but perhaps bad news for anyone they meet in the NFC playoffs

4 New Orleans Saints (=)
Record: 11-4
Last week: Won 23-13 at home to Atlanta
This week: Seven-point favourites at Tampa Bay

The Saints have been superb since losing their first two matches of the season. They will want to secure the NFC South title though as that would ensure a home playoff game and they can be a much stronger outfit in the Superdome

5 Pittsburgh Steelers (=)
Record: 12-3
Last week: Won 34-6 at Houston
This week: 11-point favourites at home to Cleveland

The news on Antonio Brown's calf injury is optimistic and the Steelers crushed Houston last week, so it is only the form of the teams above them that stops Mike Tomlin's side climbing the list. If the number one seeding is slipping away, they may ease up against the league's worst team, but they have a great shout in the post-season.

6 Philadelphia Eagles (=)
Record: 13-2
Last week: Won 19-10 at Oakland
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Dallas

Their offence may not look that polished under stand-in quarterback Nick Foles but it is hard to ignore the team with the best record in the league. This week's clash is still a good opportunity for Foles to get some extra mileage, even though the NFC's number-one seeding is already in the bag.

7 Jacksonville Jaguars (=)
Record: 10-5
Last week: Lost 44-33 at San Francisco
This week: Three-point underdogs at Tennessee

Their clash with the Titans looked set to be an epic this week but the Jaguars have already secured the AFC South. The number-three seeding is theirs and they should fancy their chances of a deep run.

8 Carolina Panthers (up one)
Record: 11-4
Last week: Won 22-19 at home to Tampa Bay
This week: Four-point underdogs at Atlanta

The Panthers have their spot in the playoffs booked, it just depends whether they will be seeded third, fourth or fifth in the NFC. Either way they deserve their place and should be on the ball just in case the Saints slip up.

9 Kansas City Chiefs (up one)
Record: 9-6
Last week: Won 29-13 at home to Miami
This week: 3.5-point underdogs at Denver

The Chiefs have come good at the right time after their mid-season slump threatened to ruin their campaign. Patrick Mahomes gets his first outing at quarterback this week and other starters may be rested, but they could still end the regular campaign on a winning note.

10 Atlanta Falcons (down two)
Record: 9-6
Last week: Lost 23-13 at New Orleans
This week: Four-point favourites at home to Carolina

In spite of their defeat to the Saints, the Falcons' fate remains in their hands. If they beat the Panthers, they are in and with ten wins they would have merited their place even if they have struggled to reach the heights of last season. They could still be a force if they get in though.

11 Los Angeles Chargers (=)
Record: 8-7
Last week: Won 14-7 at New York Jets
This week: Eight-point favourites at home to Oakland

The Chargers are one of four teams who could be ranked sixth in the AFC seedings and it would be a great achievement if they make it after they lost their opening four matches. They are bigger favourites than Buffalo or Tennessee so they can give themselves a chance.

12 Baltimore Ravens (=)
Record: 9-6
Last week: Won 23-16 at home to Indianapolis
This week: 9.5-point favourites at home to Cincinnati

The Ravens look to have done the hard work and a win over the Bengals will be enough. They should still get in if they lose and they have had an excellent second half of the season, winning six of their last eight matches. Dismiss them at your peril.

13 Seattle Seahawks (=)
Record: 9-6
Last week: Won 21-12 at Dallas
This week: 9.5-point favourites at home to Arizona

The Seahawks need Carolina to do them a favour if a win over the Cardinals is going to be enough to extend their season. But it's not out of the question and they may consider themselves unfortunate - injuries have hit them defensively - if they don't make it. They'll be back anyway.

14 Tennessee Titans (up one)
Record: 8-7
Last week: Lost 27-23 at home to Los Angeles Rams
This week: Three-point favourites at home to Jacksonville

The Titans have made life hard for themselves with three straight defeats. Their battle against the Rams was better than Oakland's effort at Philadelphia, which is why they have risen a place, but they will not be going into the post-season in confident mood, if they make it at all.

15 Oakland Raiders (down one)
Record: 6-9
Last week: Lost 19-10 at Philadelphia
This week: Eight-point underdogs at Los Angeles Chargers

There was great expectation around Oakland this season after their campaign was ruined by quarterback Derek Carr breaking his leg last season. But they just haven't hit the heights offensively this year and, cruel though it may seem, coach Jack Del Rio will be fearing for his job.

16 Dallas Cowboys (=)
Record: 8-7
Last week: Lost 21-12 at home to Seattle
This week: Three-point favourites at Philadelphia

The Cowboys won their final three games without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott but fell to the Seahawks upon his return. There should be enough young talent in Dallas to suggest they can come back stronger next season and they will want to go out on a high against the NFC East champions.

17 Detroit Lions (=)
Record: 8-7
Last week: Lost 26-17 at Cincinnati
This week: 6.5-point favourites at home to Green Bay

There have been highs and lows in the Lions' season as their record suggests and they may view the campaign as a missed opportunity as they were unable to take advantage of Aaron Rodgers's injury at Green Bay. They have the worst rushing statistics in the league, which is nothing new and that has to improve to take the pressure off quarterback Matt Stafford.

18 Washington Redskins (up three)
Record: 7-8
Last week: Won 27-11 at home to Denver
This week: Three-point favourites at New York Giants

The Redskins have won their last two games but just two of their seven victories this season have been against teams with winning records. That sort of sums up where they are. A mid-table outfit.

19 Arizona Cardinals (up three)
Record: 7-8
Last week: Won 23-0 at home to New York Giants
This week: 9.5-point underdogs at Seattle

There must have been some confidence to have been gleaned from shutting out the Giants but their opponents have been so dismal this term that enthusiasm has to be tempered. With doubts about head coach Bruce Arians' future and several aging star players, this could be a summer of change in Phoenix.

20 Green Bay Packers (down two)
Record: 7-8
Last week: Lost 16-0 at home to Minnesota
This week: 6.5-point underdogs at Denver

If Aaron Rodgers's broken collarbone wasn't cause for misery enough, the Cheeseheads would have been fuming to see the straightforward nature of Minnesota's win at Lambeau Field last week. It's impossible to evaluate their season without paying respect to the devastating nature of Rodgers's injury.

21 Denver Broncos (down two)
Record: 5-10
Last week: Lost 27-11 at Washington
This week: 3.5-point favourites at home to Kansas City

Another defeat for the Broncos, who have not got going at all offensively this season and their excellent defence has been unable to bail them out on enough occasions this term. They have been the worst team in the AFC West.

22 Buffalo Bills (down two)
Record: 8-7
Last week: Lost 37-16 at New England
This week: Three-point favourites at Miami

The Bills were put in their place by the Patriots last week and it is quite remarkable that they could still force their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2000, the longest run without an appearance in the league. If they get through, they should be 12th favourites for the Super Bowl.

23 San Francisco 49ers (up one)
Record: 5-10
Last week: Won 44-33 at home to Jacksonville
This week: three-point favourites at Los Angeles Rams

The 49ers are finishing the season on the charge after five wins in their last six games and they are certainly not the embarrassment they threatened to be at the half-way stage. Rightly, there will be a lot of enthusiasm about next season as they look to have turned the corner.

24 Miami Dolphins (down one)
Record: 6-9
Last week: Lost 29-13 at Kansas City
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Buffalo

The Dolphins have proved to be a much tougher proposition on their own patch than they have been on the road. Having beaten New England in Florida in the last few weeks, they could see off the Bills, but they have little to get excited about.

25 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (=)
Record: 4-11
Last week: Lost 22-19 at Carolina
This week: Seven-point underdogs at home to New Orleans

Like Miami, a case could be made that the Bucs have had their season knocked out of sync because they had to postpone their opening game, which has left them to play 16 straight games without a bye. They should fare better next year.

26 Cincinnati Bengals
Record: 6-9
Last week: Won 26-17 at home to Detroit
This week: 9.5-point underdogs at Baltimore

The Bengals got off to a miserable start and have been unable to recover. They have never looked like getting in the playoffs this season and changes are afoot.

27 Chicago Bears (up two)
Record: 5-10
Last week: Won 20-3 at home to Cleveland
This week: 11.5-point underdogs at Minnesota

Yes, it was only the Browns but the Bears will be delighted to have the chance to double the number of wins they chalked up last season, even though the Vikings resting players may represent their best chance of doing that. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has also been able to gain valuable experience.

28 New York Jets (down two)
Record: 5-10
Last week: Lost 14-7 at home to Los Angeles Chargers
This week: 15.5-point underdogs at New England

The Jets haven't been the whipping boys many anticipated and that might be enough to satisfy a few people. There is still plenty of work for them to do as they haven't finished strongly, losing five of their last six matches.

29 Houston Texans (down two)
Record: 4-11
Last week: Lost 34-6 at home to Pittsburgh
This week: 3.5-point underdogs at Indianapolis

All sorts of injuries have left the Texans in a bit of a mess. They just need to regroup and start again and a high place in the draft could be a benefit. They look to have found their quarterback in DeShaun Watson, so long as he recovers well from his knee injury.

30 Indianapolis Colts (=)
Record: 3-12
Last week: Lost 23-16 at Baltimore
This week: 3.5-point favourites at home to Houston

The Colts have not scored more than 20 points in any of their last six matches and lost the lot. Their campaign ended a long time ago and they look certain to head into next year without head coach Chuck Pagano.

31 New York Giants (=)
Record: 2-13
Last week: Lost 23-0 at Arizona
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Washington

Woe, woe and more woe for the Giants. Rows in the locker room are hardly a surprising element of their campaign of gloom. They have been all over the place for most of the season.

32 Cleveland Browns (=)
Record: 0-15
Last week: Lost 20-3 at Chicago
This week: 11-point underdogs at Pittsburgh

The Browns need a great performance against what may be an understrength Steelers to avoid becoming only the second team in the game's history to lose every match of a 16-game campaign. They have covered the handicap in just three matches this season so, frankly, they don't deserve our love.

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Only a freak series of results will prevent them from having next week off and a home Super Bowl appearance is a real possibility
E.W. Terms
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