With an extra week in the 2021 NFL regular season, power shifted once again before the playoffs. Some of the NFC and AFC contenders looked hot in their penultimate tunes and some didn’t. Some of the bottom feeders were built on playing with pride and some weren’t.
There is still a clear division between the best and the worst teams, but since this is the NFL parity party, there is also a tangled mix of disappointing and surprising teams.
The league has made for another wild ride and the roller coaster continues into week 18. This is how Sporting News see all 32 teams that make it into the final against each other:
MORE: Updated NFL table, playoff picture for week 17
NFL power rankings
1. Green Bay Packers 13-3 (previous ranking: 1)
The Packers took a break at home on Sunday night with the staggering Viking defense and took full advantage of it. As # 1 again in the NFC, they look like more complete Super Bowl contenders thanks to an upgraded defense to further bolster Aaron Rodgers and the defense.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12-4 (4)
The Buccaneers had some problems with the Jets given all their defensive injuries, but Tom Brady showed that he could still methodically take a game over if needed. The multiple ways reigning champions can beat an opponent make them so dangerous in finding reps, even now without Antonio Brown.
3. Tennessee Titans 11-5 (6)
The Titans showed with their running game against the Dolphins that they can still be flexible without Derrick Henry, while Ryan Tannehill and the defense played very well against a hot team at the same time. They’re making the AFC # 1 the hard way.
4. Los Angeles Rams 12-4 (5)
The Rams got a real fight from the Ravens and Matthew Stafford continues to make slow starts with big mistakes. But their running game has become a bigger factor and Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. are the ultimate rescue plans at Wide Receiver.
5. Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 (2)
The Chiefs defensive played much better in the second half, but they have been battling major attacks lately with Young Guns, the Chargers and Bengals. Kansas City is still the AFC favorite because of Patrick Mahomes, but keep in mind that it lost in the potential playoff field to Tennessee, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Los Angeles.
6. Arizona Cardinals 11-5 (7)
The Cardinals were on the ropes when they went to the Cowboys match, but Kyler Murray returned, and the running game and defense also took the opportunity to ensure they didn’t lose full grip as they won the NFC West. It was her most impressive road win in a season full of many.
7. Dallas Cowboys 11-5 (3)
The Cowboys saw their level of competition rise again with the Cardinals and they were not up to the task, with another slow start to their offense and not much worthy running game support for Dak Prescott. The defense still plays a lot of big games, but can also give up a lot of small ones.
8. Cincinnati Bengal 10-6 (10)
The Bengals have gone from a feel-good turnaround story in the AFC to a breakthrough as a legitimate new offensive force, led by Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase with their comeback against the Chiefs at home. Their defense is far from perfect, but they can score points with anyone in the AFC playoffs.
9. Buffalo Notes 10-6 (9)
The Bills stumbled against the Falcons for a while before taking over Josh Allen one more game, with welcome support from Devin Singletary in the traditional running game. The defense also recovered when it was necessary to get into the playoffs.
10. New England Patriots 10-6 (11)
The Patriots weren’t challenged at all against the Jaguars as Mac Jones enjoyed winning and playing Trevor Lawrence while the running game and defense did the rest. Now New England has to consistently deliver against much better AFC teams.
11. Los Angeles Chargers 8-7 (12)
The Chargers cleaned up their clutter from the Texans’ disaster with total domination in Denver. As it should be, they fight the Raiders for a playoff spot behind the Chiefs. You’re more dangerous than Las Vegas because of Justin Herbert.
12. Indianapolis Colts 9-7 (8)
The Colts played with Carson Wentz against the Raiders but his missed practice time was costly as he was free and they couldn’t get enough of Jonathan Taylor and the ongoing game and defense to win an expected close matchup. They hope it’s just a mulligan for their playoff chances at the Jaguars.
13. San Francisco 49ers 9-7 (13)
The 49ers formed Trey Lance out of necessity and must have been nervous for a while when the offensive bubbled with him. But then he felt more comfortable running and passing than their starter, making good use of all his fortune, and trusting that his defense would back him up too. San Francisco definitely has a higher cap but a more volatile bottom with Lance on QB.
14. Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 (15)
The Eagles had to find their defensive path against Washington but when they did it was an easy win as Jalen Hurt’s passing and running did a lot. Nick Sirianni did a great job as the rookie trainer, the NFC’s Brandon Staley.
15. Las Vegas Raiders 9-7 (19)
The Raiders show an amazing fight, far from Jon Gruden’s coaching. Derek Carr keeps dragging with Hunter Renfrow and little more in passing and Josh Jacobs is strong on the ground at the right time.
16. Baltimore Ravens 8-8 (14)
The Ravens season was marked by injuries and living / dying in close match. John Harbaugh did one of his best coaching jobs when outnumbered, but the healthy talent just wasn’t enough for Baltimore.
17. New Orleans Saints 8-8 (18)
The Saints brought Taysom Hill back to lead their offensive and this made a huge difference in the confidence of their defenses. Sean Payton has also flexed his senior Super Bowl-winning coach, but that may not be enough because the NFC is so tough.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-7-1 (16)
The Steelers will stay alive until week 18 if they beat the Browns at home on Ben Roethlisberger’s Monday night. For that they have to play a much better run defense.
19. Miami Dolphins 8-8 (17)
The Dolphins went from splash to splash in Nashville, and with it their unlikely late push for an AFC playoff spot fizzled out. For a second straight season, Brian Flores has to think about what’s left on the table.
20. Cleveland Browns 7-8 (20)
The Browns will not make the playoffs again with Baker Mayfield and Kevin Stefanski. But they can still battle their way through an injury-ridden season and finish over .500 to build on a big rebound in 2022.
21. Minnesota Vikings 7-9 (21)
The Vikings never had the defense to be a playoff team in 2022 and have been fortunate to be in so many close games because of their offense. The bottom line is that they need a lot of improvement there, with or without Mike Zimmer.
22. Atlanta Falcons 7-9 (22)
The Falcons excelled under Arthur Smith in season one, showing a competent offensive with Matt Ryan that was non-explosive most of the time without Calvin Ridley. The defense and specialty teams have found a few more answers, but they need a lot more.
23. Denver Broncos 7-9 (23)
The Broncos wasted a hot start based on their strong defense and running game because incompetent quarterback play wasted the potential of a promising passing game. Vic Fangio’s old school approach just didn’t work.
24. Chicago Bears 6-10 (25)
The Bears are on a winning streak of two games with two QBs who aren’t rookie first-rounders Justin Fields, Nick Foles and Andy Dalton. They even flashed something of their old defense and black-and-blue running game. That’s still too little, far too late for Matt Nagy.
25. Seattle Seahawks 6-10 (26)
The Seahawks may disband Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll in some form in 2022, but they should reconsider now as Wilson has rehashed things with DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Rashaad Penny. A tough schedule and a tough split add up to what could have been.
26. Washington soccer team 6-10 (24)
Washington played with Taylor Heinicke at times, which it did again for a while against the Eagles. The football team can’t get a franchise QB fast enough and will also have a lot of defensive fixes for 2022.
27. Carolina Panthers 5-11 (27)
The Panthers went back to Sam Darnold in QB with disastrous results against a good defense on the street in New Orleans. Matt Rhule could survive until 2022, but he needs some big changes to be successful.
28. New York Jets 4-12 (29)
The Jets are getting an inspired and confident game of late from Zach Wilson, which is a nice nugget for 2022 after a tough rebuilding season. Sharing a good game and happy birthday with Brady is cool, but the Jets are hoping that as runner-up he can consistently get more of his odds.
29. Houston Texans 4-12 (28)
The Texans could also have their QB answer in rookie Davis Mills, who could also use a lot more help in 2022, healthy or otherwise. The offensive line and skill positions need to be addressed a lot.
30. New York Giants 4-11 (30)
The Giants waved the white flag against the Bears with no legitimate attack, defense, or special action. Joe Judge seems a little too relaxed about wiping out the season entirely.
31. Detroit Lions 2-13-1 (31)
The Lions had to roll offensively again with Tim Boyle and were completely impaled defensively in Seattle with no answers for the running game or the downfield passing game. After all, Amon-Ra St. Brown played like his namesake on the track and D’Andre Swift is back too.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars 2-14 (32)
Trevor Lawrence threw a touchdown pass. OK, it was an extended handover in the form of a dumpoff to a running back in deep trash time after he couldn’t protect the ball at all. Lawrence has been so shaken and touched that the Jaguars will have to nail their next job or he’ll go completely broke in Year 2.