10. Buffalo Bills (7-4):
The Bills feasted on the Saints on Thanksgiving and lost star cornerback Tre’Davious White in the process. We’ll find out if the Bills have righted the ship next Monday against the Patriots. If the Bills are going to win the division, they’re going to have to earn it with a couple of games coming up against the Patriots. The AFC East title will be on the line in two meetings with the Patriots over the next four games, beginning Monday in Buffalo. The season-ending knee injury suffered by CB Tre’Davious White is a major loss.
9. Los Angeles Rams (7-4):
If the Rams can just add a few more big-name players, maybe they can play their way out of the playoffs entirely. The Greatest Show-Offs on Turf may be shown the door early in the 2021 postseason, if they even get there. OBJ’s dad is probably already firing up Final Cut Pro to make another independent film of a QB throwing uncatchable balls to his son. Anyway, their Super Bowl-or-bust season is trending decidedly toward bust.
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-4):
The Cowboys have lost three of their last four games, and Jerry Jones is complaining about the officials.They can complain all they want about the officiating during the Thanksgiving defeat to the Raiders. But if they had played better, it wouldn’t have mattered. Things might be starting to wobble in Big D, but a Thursday night date with the skidding Saints should help them get back on track. Since beating the Vikings with Cooper Rush, the Cowboys are 1-3 but the Cowboys have made the NFC East race at least mildly interesting again
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-3):
Only a great team can overcome four interceptions by its quarterback and win. The Ravens are incredibly flawed, but as long as they have Lamar Jackson they have a chance. They will need Jackson to play better, but they’re right in the mix among the top AFC contenders, and now all that matters is which one of those teams can raise its level most down the stretch.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4):
After an off-week, Cincinnati has cobbled together back-to-back wins and seems to have found its early-season form again. The Bengals may be the best overall team in the AFC North. In a “changing of the guard” moment, the Bengals humiliated the Steelers on Sunday and now can truly set their sights on an AFC North title and a playoff berth. If Mixon can remain a factor to complement the passing-game exploits of QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase, this is a dangerous offensive team. It’s a new day in The Jungle.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4):
They have played much more like themselves lately, with wins in four straight and five of six. The post-bye schedule begins with three straight AFC West games. Can they have the same kind of post-bye surge that the Bucs enjoyed a year ago? The Chiefs exit the bye to face the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers in the span of 11 days. They can put the AFC West away in quick order if they are indeed back.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3):
Another Sunday, another game-winning drive for Tom Brady. Expect anything different? A year after Bruce Arians gave Leonard Fournette an ultimatum, Fournette has given Tampa Bay a critical road win. However, it still doesn’t appear QB Tom Brady and the Buccaneers have kicked it into high gear, at least not the way they did down the stretch last season.
3. New England Patriots (8-4):
The Patriots ran their winning streak to six with Sunday’s convincing triumph over the Titans. The Titans rushed for 270 yards but still left Foxboro with their tail between their legs after getting blown out. It would have seemed inconceivable even just a few weeks ago that the Patriots would be in the mix for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Yeah, I’m thinking Bill Belichick is back. So, who will they play in the Super Bowl?
2. Green Bay Packers (9-3):
At 9-3 heading into their bye, the Packers should only get better from here on out with Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander, and David Bakhtiari all working their way back. Broken toe, COVID toe. None of those are going to slow down Aaron Rodgers. Just keep that toe immunized from the pain. As long as he remains able to play at this level, the Packers’ chances are as good as anyone’s to emerge from the jumble of leading NFC contenders.
1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2):
The Cardinals return from their bye with the prospect of having QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins back in the lineup soon. Their biggest concern during the bye week is whether their coach will bid farewell and return to the Big 12. Lincoln Riley going to USC was a quick and easy way for Kliff Kingsbury’s agent to secure a raise for his client. You don’t actually think the guy with a 9-2 record and a generational QB is going to leave the NFL to go to Norman, do you?