This is where we’re going to find out just how good the Carolina Panthers really are.
For much of the season, the Panthers’ success has been met with some skepticism. Many wondered how long the Panthers could keep winning football games. Well, it’s now December, and Cam Newton’s bunch is the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated team.
They’ve flown under the radar, as much as an undefeated team can, but now the microscope is about to be focused squarely on Charlotte. With the New England Patriots’ loss Sunday night in Denver, much of the NFL’s conversation now will center around the Panthers, and specifically on whether they can finish off the undefeated season. What they’re able to do when that sort of pressure is on could give us a better idea of what this team is made of moving forward.
On to the Week 13 power rankings.
1. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 2): The Panthers now are the NFL’s lone undefeated team, and they look like they’re getting better. Some weeks, it’s Cam Newton stepping up to win games and others, like this week, it’s the defense winning.
2. New England Patriots (Last week: 1): Wrestled with keeping the Patriots at the top spot because the team that lost Sunday night isn’t the team they’ll be in January. The injuries are taking a toll, but if and when they get healthy, they’re back to being Super Bowl favorites.
3. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 3): The Cardinals struggled like hell with the 49ers on Sunday, but they found a way to win even when they didn’t have their best stuff. That’s sometimes just as impressive as winning big.
4. Denver Broncos (Last week: 6): The Broncos were aided in a big way by the Patriots’ injuries and the officiating. That said, Brock Osweiler went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and put his team in position to win — despite trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter. Sup, Peyton Manning?
5. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 4): The Bengals’ drop, despite winning, has more to do with what other teams did this week than what they did. They systematically picked apart the Rams in a game they needed in order to right the ship after two losses.
6. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 7): The Vikings had the advantage of playing a sliding Falcons team, but Minnesota took full advantage. Adrian Peterson’s re-emergence has made them a legitimate force.
7. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 9): Russell Wilson is on fire. In his last two weeks, he’s completed 76 percent of his passes for 605 yards and eight touchdowns — with no interceptions.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 8): I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mike Tomlin makes some dumb decisions. More often than not, he’s bailed out by Ben Roethlisberger, but on Sunday, he wasn’t.
9. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 5): Losing to the Bears at home on Thanksgiving on a night when Brett Favre and Bart Starr are in attendance? That’s inexcusable.
10. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 11): I, like everyone, have made fun of the Colts in the past for some of the things they’ve done. But full credit to them for winning football games — on the road — with their starting quarterback on the sideline.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 14): This is worth bringing back this week, too: The Chiefs haven’t turned it over since Oct. 18, and they’re now plus-14 in turnovers after Sunday’s win over Buffalo.
12. New York Jets (Last week: 13): The Jets needed Sunday’s win in the worst way to keep pace in the AFC. They’re technically on the outside, but four of their final five games are against teams currently with losing records.
13. Houston Texans (Last week: 17): J.J. Watt is still a beast and has 9 1/2 sacks in his last five games, during which Houston has gone 4-1. The Texans are so hot right now, in fact, that NBC flexed Houston’s game against the Patriots in two weeks into the Sunday night slot.
14. Washington Redskins (Last week: 20): The Redskins just need to play every game at home, where they’re 5-1 as opposed to 0-5 on the road.
15. New York Giants (Last week: 11): The Giants might be in big trouble. They’re still tied for first place in the NFC East, but they’ve got a pretty brutal schedule the rest of the way with a game against Carolina and a trip to Minnesota in there.
16. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 12): The irony here is that a Rex Ryan team is getting good quarterback play — Tyrod Taylor’s passer rating is over 100 — but can’t get nearly enough stops from its middle-of-the-pack defense.
17. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 13): The Falcons have dropped out of the playoff picture for now, as it’s becoming tough to deny their early-season success was a bit of a mirage.
18. Chicago Bears (Last week: 22): At 5-6, the Bears are technically still alive, but who isn’t in the NFC? Going into Green Bay and beating them on Thursday night was impressive, though.
19. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 17): Derek Carr on Sunday completed 24 of 37 passes for 330 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Stat lines like this, more than anything, should be the reason Raiders fans can have hope for the near future.
20, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 16): As ESPN.com pointed out, the Bucs this past Sunday had a holding call that negated a touchdown, a missed field and a dropped pass that might have been a touchdown. So it’s not entirely surprising they lost by 12 points.
21. St. Louis Rams (Last week: 18): Nick Foles made maybe the worst pass in NFL history on Sunday. To say the Rams need a quarterback is a gigantic understatement.
22. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 27): The Ravens spent much of the season losing close games, and now they’ve won won their last two games on a walk-off kick and a walk-off blocked kick return for a touchdown. They’re a weird team.
23. Detroit Lions (Last week: 28): The Lions turned the ball over 20 times in their first eight weeks and went 1-7. They’ve turned it over just once in the last three games and have won all three.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 21): The Eagles are going to New England to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots’ JV and still are nine-point underdogs, which come to think of it, still seems a little low.
25. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 23): The Cowboys should go into full tank mode, right? They stink, and Tony Romo is a 35-year-old guy with a bad back who’s made of glass. Probably need a new QB, eh?
26. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 24): Feels like not enough people are talking about how bad the Dolphins’ defense has been since the coaching change. They’re allowing 26.5 points per game and allowed the Jets to score 38 on Sunday for the first time since Week 1 of the 2012 season.
27. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 25): The Saints fired their defensive coordinator entering the bye week and still gave up 24 points and nearly 400 yards to Brian Hoyer and the Texans. Woof.
28. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 30): Of all the Chargers’ problems this season, Philip Rivers is way down the list. The guy is a gamer. Fresh off a 30-point butt-kicking at home, Rivers shredded the Jags’ defense for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Get him out of San Diego.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 26): Getting beat at home by a two-win team isn’t a good way to get people to take you seriously, Jaguars.
30. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 29): The Titans actually are in a great spot, if you think about it. Their record stinks, so they’ll get a good draft pick, but they’re not getting blown out very much, so they have positives to build on moving forward. And maybe Chip Kelly … ?
31. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 32): Maybe Blaine Gabbert isn’t as bad as we all thought. He’s completed 65 percent of his passes since taking over, and the 49ers have been fairly competititve in all three games. So, that’s something.
32. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 31): The Browns aren’t good at much, but they are the masters at finding new ways to rip out the hearts of their fans. Gotta be worth something, right?
Thumbnail photo via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images