Each week, SiriusXM NFL Radio’s hosts vote on the top six teams in both the NFC and AFC. This week’s voters include James Lofton, Bruce Murray, Alex Marvez, Bill Polian, Gil Brandt, Maurice Jones-Drew, Pat Kirwan, Jim Miller, The Opening Drive, other NFL Radio hosts, Brian Lauvray, Bobby Bonett, and you, the fans! (To participate in the fan vote, visit siriusxm.com/power12poll.)
All channel listings subject to change.
1. Carolina Panthers (12-0)
Week 14 opponent: vs. Atlanta Falcons, Sunday 1:00 pm. (XM 228, Sirius 81, Internet 804)
Despite getting plastered on a number of plays by Saints defenders, Cam Newton delivered five passing touchdowns to lead visiting Carolina in the win against chippy New Orleans at the Superdome. Carolina now faces the withered and shrinking Atlanta Falcons at home in a game that this writer had circled in the preseason as a game that would determine the division and the wild-card fates of both squads. Several months and many games later and Carolina has the division wrapped up, a playoff berth locked and the Falcons are looking for nothing more than answers after their fifth loss in a row. With the way Carolina is humming along, Atlanta could be in for a long afternoon and another loss.
2. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
Week 14 opponent: vs. Minnesota Vikings, Thursday 8:25 pm ET (XM channel 226, Sirius channel 81, Internet 800)
After their easy dispatching of the St Louis Rams, it may be time for all of us to finally consider how good the Arizona Cardinals have been this season. This offense is first in the league in yardage (averaging a shade under 420 yards per game) and scoring (a robust 31.8 points per game), and the defense has been taking their vitamins, too. The Arizona defense ranks fourth in total yards allowed (behind the likes of Denver, Carolina and Seattle) and total points allowed, while only surrendering 89 rushing yards per game. This ferocious team on both sides of the ball has accomplished all of this against one of the toughest schedules. Will Arizona win the Super Bowl? Nobody knows, but this is an incredibly complete team that should be worth your full attention by now and one that, more importantly, no one will want to face in the playoffs.
3. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
Week 14 opponent: @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday 1:00 pm (XM channel 826, Sirius channel 134, Internet 802)
While it’s not fair to label a game against this depleted and injured Baltimore Ravens team a “trap game,” if Seattle has a trap game left on their schedule it’s going to be an East Coast kickoff that will feel like 10 am to Russell Wilson and Co. Seattle vastly improved their wild-card chances by throttling Minnesota last weekend in the Twin Cities, and now needs to stay focused to avoid potentially losing to a Ravens team that while not mailing it in, has definitely lost the season-long war of attrition that is the NFL. It’s no coincidence that while Seattle has quietly won five of its last six, Russell Wilson has been heating up. Wilson, over the past three weeks, has casually tossed for more than 800 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. So, yeah, you could say the Seahawks are rounding into playoff form.
4. Green Bay Packers (8-4)
Week 14 opponent: vs. Dallas Cowboys, Sunday 4:25 pm (XM channel 227, Sirius channel 82, Internet 811)
What a difference a Hail Mary makes, right? Green Bay’s miraculous victory last Thursday in Detroit, while not doing too much for their playoff chances, certainly boosted the team’s morale and the likelihood of a divisional crown. The Packers final four games of the regular season have them squaring off against the Cowboys at Lambeau, at Oakland, at Arizona and at home against Minnesota in what could be the game to decide who gets the the NFC North crown (and likely the three-seed/a home field game), or a wild-card berth and a road game to open the playoffs.
5. Minnesota Vikings (8-4)
Week 14 opponent: @ Arizona Cardinals, Thursday 8:25 pm (XM channel 225, Sirius channel 83, Internet 817)
A week after coming out flat against the Seattle Seahawks and getting shellacked, at home no less, the Vikings now must travel to Arizona and face a Cardinals team that has a playoff berth with a win on Thursday night. To say that the beatdown at the hands of Seattle came at a bad time is a gross understatement. Still, Minnesota remains in the thick of the NFC North title chase and are right there for a wild card. All of which is to say, that thanks to the incredibly weak bottom half of the NFC, Minnesota still will very likely make the postseason – but, good grief, was that game on Sunday uninspiring.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)
Week 14 opponent: vs. New Orleans, Sunday 1:00 pm (XM channel 226, Sirius channel 93, Internet 829
With four games left to play, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already tripled their win total from last season. Jameis Winston, while not yet a megawatt superstar, has completely validated the Bucs faith in making him the overall No. 1 draft pick this past April. Of six “close” games (a game decided by a touchdown or less) so far this season, Tampa has won a remarkable five. Luck likely has something to do with that outcome, so don’t be surprised if Tampa finds itself in some close losses over the final quarter of their season. Luck or not, Tampa’s six wins is a big leap and a tremendous starting point for this young and potent offense. Tampa likely won’t make the playoffs, but that may not matter to a fan base desperate for any good news after the past few forgettable seasons.
NFC fantasy spotlight: Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks
2015 stats: 241-352, 2997 yards, 21 TDs, 7 interceptions; 86 rushes, 450 yards, 1 TD
As mentioned above, Russell Wilson has become a supernova. Don’t ask how his fierce solar energy has not consumed the Earth – too many physics there to consider – simply put him in your starting lineup and watch the points pile up against the crummy Baltimore Ravens pass defense. Look for Doug Baldwin in your waivers if Wilson is already nabbed – Baldwin has been receiving a lot of looks from Russ with Jimmy Graham out.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)
Week 14 opponent: vs. Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 pm (XM channel 82, Sirius channel 82, Internet 806)
After dropping 37 against the Browns and holding Cleveland to a field goal, Cincy now hosts rival Pittsburgh in Week 14. The Week 8 game between these two teams was a very low scoring affair (26 total points) and I do not anticipate that happening again. Both offenses are humming along, and this game could quickly escalate to a shootout. Sitting in Power 12’s catbird seat and with a Week 16 Monday nighter at Denver that could determine home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Bengals would do well to take down Pittsburgh (and win the division outright by doing so). But the Steelers have far, far more to gain (and lose) this coming Sunday.
2. Denver Broncos (10-2)
Week 14 opponent: vs. Oakland, Sunday 4:05 pm (XM channel 228, Sirius channel 81, Internet 809)
With an offense that’s still periodically finding its “sea legs” with Brock Osweiler at the helm, the Broncos rode their suffocating defense to a 17-3 tap out of the San Diego Chargers. While the sensational Derek Carr may lead Oakland’s offense to more than three points this week against Denver, we all should be anticipating another beatdown from this punishing Bronco defense. Already holding the tiebreaker over New England, the Broncos control their home-field destiny with the Bengals up in two weeks, and have to be salivating at the prospect of three of their final four regular season games being in the Mile-High City.
3. New England Patriots (10-2)
Week 14 opponent: @ Houston, Sunday 8:30 pm (XM channel 225, Sirius channel 83, Internet 818)
Engulfed in their first two-game losing streak since September 2012, the defending champs now visit a Houston Texans team that will be fighting for their very playoff lives in the Sunday night game. Barring an unforeseeable collapse of epic proportions, New England’s perfectly safe to make the playoffs and should, with healthy returns of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, be considered the safest AFC bet in terms of Super Bowl odds. That being said, this Houston defense is absolutely destroying opponents in the second half of the 2015 season, and Bill Belichick and crew should do all they can to keep Tom Brady bubble-wrap safe while betting on their own defense to slow down every Houston Texan not named “DeAndre Hopkins.”
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
Week 14 opponent: @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 pm (XM channel 82, Sirius channel 82, Internet 824)
Facing one of the league’s most difficult schedules — @ New England, Arizona, @ Kansas City, @ Seattle, Denver, to say nothing of Cincinnati twice — and crippling injuries to key offensive players — LeVeon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey to season-ending injuries and Ben Roethlisberger for periods, to name a few — the Steelers are still right there for a wild-card berth. Following the two-week pain fest that is a road trip to Cincinnati this week and hosting Denver next week, the Steelers, if they survive intact, will have made it through the woods.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)
Week 14 opponent: vs. San Diego, Sunday 1:00 pm (XM channel 231, Sirius channel 121, Internet 815)
Cruising along with their sixth win in a row, the Chiefs, with their win over Pittsburgh back in Week 7 to start this winning streak, are still improbably in charge of their own playoff destiny as they have sole ownership of the AFC’s first wild-card slot. Now facing a lost and dinged up Chargers squad at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs should make it a seventh win in a row this Sunday.
6. New York Jets (7-5)
Week 14 opponent: vs. Tennessee, Sunday 1:00 pm (XM channel 232, Sirius channel 133, Internet 821)
A week after “being less terrible than an NFC East team and thus winning the game,” the New York Jets host the Tennessee Titans. The Jets hold the tiebreaker currently over the Pittsburgh Steelers and face a marginally easier schedule down the stretch than the Steelers (Hellllooooo, Dallas Cowboys!) A win on Sunday, regardless of the Steelers or Chiefs’ games on Sunday, will obviously help the Jets playoff chances. With Indianapolis, Houston, Kansas City, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and the Jets all still vying for a playoff berth, there’s a lot to consider, so keep it simple, Jets fans: Keep winning and hope for some other teams to lose.
AFC fantasy spotlight: LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
2015 stats: 173 rushes, 792 yards, 4.6 ypc, 3 TDs
Facing his old team in Philadelphia, count on Shady McCoy to embrace the heel turn in front of the Eagles’ famously welcoming fans. More importantly, do not discount the grudge McCoy harbors against Chip Kelly. Maybe most importantly, the Eagles run defense has been erased by Jonathan Stewart, Darren McFadden and Doug Martin in recent weeks. With Buffalo’s o-line finally clicking and with McCoy healthy as he’s been all season, look for LeSean to go off like Pac-Man and gobble yardage like power pellets.