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NFL Holiday Rankings: Chief Contenders

Raiders and Chiefs about to provide old-school, late-season drama.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta Falcons
Kelce does it
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

For ten minutes, it’s nice to focus on other teams’ problems.

Lies of the past week: You were told the Ravens and Bengals were cooked. Hint: do not cook raven. You were told the Dolphins were hot. Hint: do not make out with dolphins. And apparently don’t mess with Bengals. Just Panthers. Those are harmless.

Truths of the past week: You were told the Lions were legit but the Eagles were overrated.

Editorial reminder: the Holiday Rankings look ahead four weeks in the league calendar. That’s through the final game of the season, which takes place the weekend of the New Year. The final game of the season. The end of the road, already, somehow, someway. Well, for most teams.

The Best

The elite. The contenders. The crème de la crème. The possibly Superb.

1. PATRIOTS (13-3), no change

Now 10-2, vs. Ravens, at Broncos, vs. Jets, at Dolphins

Here, YOU predict how those two road games are going to shake out. I went with the safe split.

No Gronk and no pass rush mean the Pats aren’t quite as huge of a favorite anymore.

2. RAIDERS (12-4), no change

Now 10-2, at Chiefs, at Chargers, vs. Colts, at Broncos

Yes, the Raiders really do all have all three of their division road games left. Anyone know if division road games are typically cakewalks, or no? What if the three division foes are a combined 22-14 in their non-division games? What then?

3. CHIEFS (12-4), up one

Now 9-3, vs. Raiders, vs. Titans, vs. Broncos, at Chargers

You know the fun begins now. Specifically, Thursday at Arrowhead. Chiefs just became my new dark horse for non-football reasons.

2016 NBA Finals: Cavaliers are first-time winners of the title.

2016 World Series: Cubs end title drought after 108 years.

2016 MLS Cup: Neither Toronto or Seattle has ever won the title.

2016/17 NFL: KC hasn’t even been in a Super Bowl since IV.

(That’s it for the North American sports leagues, I am not aware of any others in existence. Please don’t try and argue by inventing a sport played with sticks, or some mutant variety of football that lacks downs or a playoff system.)

The Bourgeoisie

Playoff level teams whose station in life is comfortable enough. But they’re unlikely to rule the empire anytime soon.

4. STEELERS (10-6), up two

Now 7-5, at Bills, at Bengals, vs. Ravens, vs. Browns

Back to crowning Pittsburgh “the team nobody wants to play in January.” Steelers have scored 24 points in all their games but three — the ones Landry Jones filled in for Ben Roethlisberger.

The Blinded by Parity

Because they’ve been deluded into thinking that 2016 could be their year.

5. DOLPHINS (9-7), down one

Now 7-5, vs. Cardinals, at Jets, at Bills, vs. Patriots

Losing 38-6 to Baltimore counts as only one loss but should hurt triple. Miami’s playoff chances now hinge on New England not showing up Week 17 because they’ve somehow already clinched the 1 seed. Unlikely.

6. BRONCOS (9-7), down one

Now 8-4, at Titans, vs. Patriots, at Chiefs, vs. Raiders

If I had to guess the lines: Broncos -2, Broncos +3, Broncos +2, pick’em.

If I had to guess the results (I have to): L, L, L, W

If had to guess the playoff status: not happening

7. BILLS (9-7), no change

Now 7-5, vs. Steelers, vs. Browns, vs. Dolphins, at Jets

Conceivably, half a dozen AFC teams could collide at 9-7. Week 17 is going to be intense.

8. COLTS (8-8), up one

Now 6-6, vs. Texans, at Vikings, at Raiders, vs. Jaguars

Monday night, Colts beat the Jets, who managed to post a single-game -110% DVOA, the worst of the year for all teams. The Week 14 matchup against the Texans is probably for the division title and the right to lose to the Raiders or Chiefs in the wild-card round. With home wins vs. Texans and Jaguars, the Colts would finish 4-2 in the AFC South, best among any 8-8 teams.

That’s worth at least two banners, right?

9. TITANS (8-8), up two

Now 6-6, Bye, vs. Broncos, at Chiefs, at Jaguars, vs. Texans.

Speaking of ANY/A... Marcus Mariota is sixth in the league, .02 behind Dereky Carr.

In three years, when Brady, Big Ben and Philip Rivers are gone, the elite AFC quarterbacks are gonna be Carr, Mariota, maybe Luck, and some random dude out of nowhere. Nobody said Joe Flacco.

10. RAVENS (7-9), up two

Now 7-5, vs. at Patriots, vs. Eagles, at Steelers, at Bengals

Last week: “It was fun while it lasted.”

This week: It was fun while it lasted.

11. TEXANS (8-8), down three

Now 6-6, at Colts, vs. Jaguars, vs. Bengals, at Titans

Osweiler, we have a problem. I’m sure Brock-o is a very nice person, but his passer rating has been above 90 in only two games all year. His ANY/A is 4.45. (Sam Bradford’s is 6.14, Colin Kaepernick’s is 5.82, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s is 5.16. For reference.) It’s 32nd among starting quarterbacks, 10 percent lower than No. 31 Blake Bortles.

12. CHARGERS (7-9), down two

Now 5-7, at Panthers, vs. Raiders, at Browns, vs. Chiefs

Spoiler time commences. A) Retribution vs. division foes B) Look, a chance to mar the Browns’ perfect record, because the Chargers will beat anyone and lose to anyone.

The Beggars

All they’ll be choosing high in, is the 2017 draft.

13. BENGALS (5-10-1), up one

Now 4-7-1, at Browns, vs. Steelers, at Texans

Last week: “Legitimately the third-worst team in the league by season’s end. Their only win since September is against the Browns. So of course, they’ll beat the Eagles, then lose out. Have you met the National Football League?”

If the Browns loss comes true, I rest my Holiday Rankings case. FYI, the Bengals have outscored the Browns 99-30 in their last three meetings, all wins of course.

14. JETS (4-12), down one

Now 3-9, at 49ers, vs. Dolphins, at Patriots, vs. Bills

15. JAGUARS (3-13), no change

Now 2-10, vs. Vikings, at Texans, vs. Titans, at Colts

I was really hoping this would be the year the Jags rose up and forced a four-way tie atop the AFC South, with all teams at 7-9. Alas.

Instead, please put your hands together in advance for YOUR 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, Darrell Wayne Bevell. “Hey, the defensive guy from Seattle didn’t work, let’s try the offensive mind!”

16. BROWNS (1-15), no change

Now 0-12, vs. Bengals, at Bills, vs. Chargers, at Steelers

Speaking of popular Seahawk coaches, did you know “Cleveland Browns” is an anagram for “Can Bevells Drown?”


The Best

The elite. The contenders. The crème de la crème. The possibly Superb.

1. COWBOYS (14-2), no change

Now 11-1, at Giants, vs. Buccaneers, vs. Lions, at Eagles

There’s not an easy game in the bunch. It’s possible the the NY, TB and Detroit games will be the Cowboys’ three toughest of the year. The best team Dallas has beat so far is 7-5. But they’ll still win enough to take the 1 seed.

2. SEAHAWKS (11-4-1), no change

Now 8-3-1, at Packers, vs. Rams, vs. Cardinals, at 49ers

The Seahawks went 3-1 in the season’s first quarter, 2-1-1 in the second, and 3-1 in the third. I see no reason to expect any worse, or any better, than 3-1 again.

Forecast for Green Bay on Sunday: snow, high of 29. At least that will be fun to watch?

The Bourgeoisie

Playoff level teams whose station in life is comfortable. But they’re unlikely to rule the empire anytime soon.

3. LIONS (10-6), up three

Now 8-4, vs. Bears, at Giants, at Cowboys, vs. Packers

In this scenario, which we’ll call “the truth,” the Lions would edge out the Falcons for the 3 seed by virtue of conference record (8-4 to 7-5).

4. FALCONS (10-6), up one

Now 7-5, at Rams, vs. 49ers, at Panthers, vs. Saints

Schedule eases up a bit. So they’ll hold off the pesky Bucs for the NFC’s 4 seed. Would have to clear Giants-Cowboys-Seahawks to reach the Super Bowl. Anyone see that happening?

5. GIANTS (10-6), down two

Now 8-4, vs. Cowboys, vs. Lions, at Eagles, at Redskns

A brutal end to the year. PIT, DAL, DET, PHI, WAS. They’ll be battle tested. They’ll also be the 5 seed.

The Blinded by Parity

Because they’ve been deluded into thinking that 2016 is their year.

6. BUCCANEERS (9-7), up five

Now 7-5, vs. Saints, at Cowboys, at Saints, vs. Panthers

They just won in KC, beat Seattle, and won in SD. They’re 5-1 on the road, winners of four straight. They’ve allowed 53 points in their last four games combined and Mike Evans is the most dominant receiver in the league.

9-7 is probably gonna be good enough to get that last NFC spot, unless the Packers catch fire.

7. REDSKNS (8-7-1), down three

Now 6-5-1, at Eagles, vs. Panthers, at Bears, vs. Giants

Their playoff dreams started to slip away with that 31-23 loss in Arizona last week.

8. PACKERS (8-8), up one

Now 6-6, vs. Seahawks, at Bears, vs. Vikings, at Lions

Too little, too late. Better than too little, too early?

9. VIKINGS (8-8), up one because the Saints and Eagles folded

Now 6-6, at Jaguars, vs. Colts, at Packers, vs. Bears

Gifted the Cowboys a Thursday night win with some pretty horrid special teams play. It’s almost like Pete Carroll values the third phase for a reason.

10. SAINTS (7-9), down one

Now 5-7, at Buccaneers, at Cardinals, vs. Buccaneers, at Falcons

They went from interesting to uninteresting almost as fast as the Chargers. But their meetings with TB will help frame the playoff picture. Just without them in the actual picture.

11. EAGLES (7-9), down four

Now 5-7, at Bengals, vs. Redskns, at Ravens, vs. Giants

Once the top team by DVOA, now third. In part because Carson Wentz is showing his rookie colors. Yes, those colors are green. It is a joke on the colors of his team, which include green.

Wentz, last 5 games: Three teeders, eight picks. No surprise they’re 1-4 during that time.

The Beggars

All they’ll be choosing high in, is the 2017 draft.

12. CARDINALS (6-9-1), no change

Now 5-6-1, at Dolphins, vs. Saints, at Seahawks, at Rams

Not mathematically eliminated! See, there was something nice to say about them. Thanks, Mom, for steering me straight.

(Next week: a fun David Johnson statistical feast. He is -- spoiler! -- real good.)

13. RAMS (6-10), no change

Now 4-8, vs. Falcons, at Seahawks, vs. 49ers, vs. Cardinals

Jeff Fisher lives. Where did I put the 7.9 ABV beer I was saving for this occasion?

14. PANTHERS (5-11), no change

Now 4-8, vs. Chargers, at Redskns, vs. Falcons, at Buccaneers

Derek Anderson, who took one kinda crucial snap Sunday night, has a ton of family in Mill Creek, according to John Clayton. Imagine attending that game to see him.

15. BEARS (3-13), no change

Now 3-9, at Lions, vs. Packers, vs. Redskns, at Vikings

They’ll draft at least one Husky and one Cougar, to give you a reason to watch them in 2017.

16. 49ERS (1-15), no change anytime soon

Now 1-11, vs. Jets, at Falcons, at Rams, vs. Seahawks (good job schedule-makers)

The’re seriously going to go 1-15. They’re actually going to do it.


Projected AFC Seeds

(1) Raiders, (2) Patriots, (3) Steelers, (4) Colts, (5) Chiefs, (6) Team w/tie-breaker

First time all year I haven’t put the Pats in the top spot. Though I think they’re still the AFC favorite. Dolphins, Bills, Broncos, Ravens all fighting for that final spot. BAL 7-2, DEN 5-3, MIA 5-4, BUF 3-5 in conference. May the least bad team win.

Projected NFC Seeds

(1) Cowboys, (2) Seahawks, (3) Lions, (4) Falcons, (5) Giants, (6) Buccaneers

Seriously, though, can you imagine Raiders-Seahawks?

Those 12, ranked by chance to reach Super Bowl LI

  1. Patriots, 38 percent
  2. Cowboys, 34 percent
  3. Seahawks, 33 percent
  4. Raiders, 28 percent
  5. Steelers, 15 percent
  6. Lions, 14 percent
  7. Chiefs, 10 percent
  8. Giants, 9 percent
  9. Falcons, 7 percent
  10. Colts, 5 percent
  11. AFC tie-break winner, 4 percent
  12. Buccaneers, 3 percent