Oliver's NFL rankings

SFI correspondent Oliver Kimokeo ranks the NFL from 1 to 32, with the 49ers taking a leap out of the basement this week after their road upset of the St. Louis Rams.

This Week | Last Week | TEAM (Record)

1 | 1 | SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (13-2):
The Seahawks earned home-field advantage in their conference for the first time ever. Does it seem strange that the Seahawks have an 11-game winning streak? It should, because the Seahawks have surpassed 10 victories in a season (12-4 record in 1984) only once before in the team's 30-year history.

2 | 4 | DENVER BRONCOS (12-3): With yet another win against the Raiders in Week 16, the Broncos wrapped up their first undefeated home campaign since the '96-'98 Denver teams. The Broncos also earned their first AFC West division crown since 1998 – when they won the second of their back-to-back Super Bowls – despite having three playoff appearances since then. In the first 13 years of the Denver Broncos, the team never had a winning season. Since then, the Broncos have had only five losing seasons in a span of 33 seasons, which is the best consistency shown by an AFC West team during that time period.

3 | 6 | CHICAGO BEARS (11-4): "Da Bears" are back. In the 20th anniversary of the "Super Bowl Shuffle" season, the '05 Bears are making a case for their hard-pounding defense to join the renowned '85 unit as one of the best in NFL history. The Chicago defense has allowed only 168 points this season, an average of just 11.2 per game. And with Rex Grossman back in the saddle at quarterback, it looks like the Bears might get a little help from their offense, too.

4 | 8 | JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (11-4): With a 38-20 win over the Texans, the Jaguars have clinched a playoff appearance for the first time since 1999, when they had the NFL's best regular-season record and made it to the AFC Championship Game. Furthermore, the 38-point output is the most for the Jaguars since a 44-10 trouncing of the Cardinals in Week 15 of 2000.

5 | 10 | NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-5): New England has suffered only one losing season in the last 10 years. The Patriots have returned to their winning ways, going 6-1 in their last seven games after a 4-4 start, and they will be one of the NFL's hottest teams entering the playoffs, which can't be good for the rest of the league considering New England's recent success in January. Even though they are two-time defending Super Bowl champions, the slow start helped keep the Patriots below the championship water-cooler talk radar. The Colts likely will be favored to win the Super Bowl, but the logical favorite should be the Patriots because of all their playoff experience. The Lombardi Trophy still is theirs to lose.

6 | 2 | INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (13-2): The Colts' perfect season has evaporated into a two-game losing streak, and there now are other circumstances coming into play that could affect how this team responds the rest of the way. Despite the two-game slide, the Colts have clinched AFC home-field advantage. They are in position to become the first team since the '96 Packers to lead their conference in most points scored and fewest points allowed. To win the Super Bowl, the Colts have to break a couple of home-field advantage trends. Of the past 11 teams to hold AFC home-field advantage, only three teams have even made it to the Super Bowl: the '98 Broncos, '02 Raiders & '03 Patriots. Furthermore, only one dome team in the history of the NFL has used their dome-field advantage to win a Super Bowl: The '99 Rams.

7 | 11 | WASHINGTON REDSKINS (9-6): The Redskins have had a rocky season with a three-game winning streak and a four-game winning streak sandwiched between a 2-6 midseason slump. They have had an impressive repertoire of wins this season: a sweep of Dallas and victories over Seattle, Chicago and the New York Giants. If their Week 8 36-0 embarrassment is taken off the schedule, the Redskins have suffered no loss by more than a touchdown.

8 | 12 | PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-5): By trampling the Browns 41-0, the Steelers earned their first shutout since midway through the 2000 season. The Steelers also have limited their opponents to single-digit point totals in three consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 6-10 of the 2000 season.

9 | 13 | TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (10-5): The Buccaneers have been an inconsistent team this year but not in division play. The Bucs have won four consecutive NFC South games to put themselves in position to make the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl XXXVII win after the 2002 season. The NFL schedule-makers created a plethora of late-season NFC South bouts in the past two seasons and the Buccaneers have taken full advantage of that circumstance this year with a late-season surge.

10 | 5 | NEW YORK GIANTS (10-5): The Giants had an unusual nine-game set of "home" games this season because of the so-called Week 2 "road" game that New Orleans hosted at Giants Stadium. Even if it doesn't seem to be a big deal that the Giants had nine games at Giants Stadium this year because they also played nine at the stadium in the 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2003 seasons, it's taking an away game off the schedule. The Giants have taken advantage of their great home schedule by going 8-1 to help cancel out their 2-4 record away from The Meadowlands.

11 | 14 | MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-7): After the Dolphins were shut out by Cleveland for their seventh loss at Week 11 and were staring at a losing campaign, head coach Nick Saban did a "reverse Herman Edwards" as he stated following that 22-0 loss: "The record doesn't really matter, the result doesn't matter, and the score in the game doesn't really matter." Instead of "playing to win the games," as Edwards would say, Saban essentially took all the pressure off the Dolphins to perform and essentially found a diamond of a team out of a landfill season. How's this for offensive consistency: In the last four weeks, the Dolphins have scored 24 points three times and 23 in the other game.

12 | 17 | DALLAS COWBOYS (9-6): If the Cowboys do not make the playoffs in 2005, it will be the first time that Bill Parcells has missed the playoffs in two consecutive seasons since he coached the 1987-88 Giants. The Cowboys have been involved in a whirlwind of close nail-biters this season, so it's time for the 'Boys to legitimize their opportunity to become a playoff team. The Cowboys haven't had a playoff victory since the 1996 season, which could be considered as the beginning of the end for the Cowboys dynasty that began at the start of the 1990s.

13 | 15 | KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-6): Despite a 20-7 win over the Chargers, the Chiefs' playoff chances are slim. For the Chiefs to join the playoff derby, they need to win against Cincinnati, the Steelers must lose to Detroit at home, and the Chargers must lose to Denver at home as well. In the last 16 seasons dating back to 1990, the Chiefs have been the NFL's most disappointing team in terms of not fulfilling potential. During that span, the Chiefs have had seven seasons of 10 victories or more (with a chance for an eight on Sunday) – including home-field advantage throughout the playoffs two times – and have no Super Bowl appearances to show for it.

14 | 3 | CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-4): The Bengals have had a good season riding the wave to respectability, but this team won't go far in the playoffs. To be a playoff heavyweight, a team must not lose to a 4-10 opponent at home with a first-round bye on the line. The Bengals will likely play either Jacksonville or Pittsburgh to open the playoffs, and those teams both have a win against the Bengals on their resumés this season. Despite their shortcomings, the Bengals, with a 6-1 record on the road this year, have their first winning road campaign in a full season since 1981.

15 | 9 | CAROLINA PANTHERS (10-5): Is the "lose-the-last-game-at-home-to-danger-playoff-chances" theme becoming a recurring issue for the Panthers? Last year, with a playoff berth on the line, the Panthers lost to the Saints at home. The early losses to New Orleans and Miami will endanger their chance for a NFC South crown.

16 | 7 | SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-6): The Chargers have taken on the role of the "NFL Giant Killer" this season. Not only did they knock off the 21-game home winning streak of the Patriots earlier this season, but they also negated the Colts' 13-game winning streak and pursuit of a perfect season. For every win of the Colts, there also is a home loss to the Dolphins, and that ultimately tells the story of the Chargers' 2005 demise from championship contention.

17 | 19 | BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-9): The Ravens have their first multiple-game winning streak since Weeks 9-11 of 2004. The Ravens managed to have a great home record this year as they went 6-2 at M&T Bank Stadium; their home record will be the best in the AFC North. For all the great wins at home, there has been trouble away from Baltimore. The Ravens have lost 10 in a row on the road dating back to the middle of last season. Things might have been different this year if quarterback Kyle Boller hadn't been lost for a long stretch early in the season.

18 | 16 | MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-7): Let's take a journey through the streakiest team in the last three years: In 2003, the Vikings started 6-0, lost four in a row, and concluded with a 3-3 run to finish 9-7. In 2004, the Vikings started 5-1, lost the next three, won the two after and wrapped with a 1-4 record to finish 8-8. This season, the Vikings started 2-5, won the next six, and have now lost the last two. For those of you keeping score, the Vikings had four multiple-win streaks and seven multiple-loss streaks in their last three campaigns.

19 | 18 | ATLANTA FALCONS (8-7): The Falcons didn't belong in the playoffs with a 2-5 run to essentially cancel out an outstanding 6-2 start. The Falcons have no victories this season over a team that currently remains in playoff contention. They get one last chance to do so in their finale at home against the Panthers, who probably need a victory to get in the playoffs.

20 | 23 | ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-10): After starting 2-7, the Cardinals have gone 3-3 in their last six games. Sun Devil Stadium hasn't exactly given them a home-field edge in their 18 seasons there. Hopefully for the Cardinals, their new Cardinals Stadium in Glendale will give them the new stadium boost next season that they have desperately needed for a long time.

21 | 20 | PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-9): The Eagles have gone from a Super Bowl favorite to a last-place team in a three-month span. After starting the season 4-3, the Eagles have gone 2-6 since. Would have anybody imagined before the season started that the Eagles could go winless against NFC East competition? It could happen if the Eagles lose their season finale to Washington at home.

22 | 21 | CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-10): The Browns have not shown much this year. But then again, they weren't expected to. Other NFL teams have had far more disappointing seasons. The past two waves of expansion (1976's Seahawks-Buccaneers, 1995's Panthers-Jaguars) have seen faster results than what the Browns and Texans have assembled in their short time in the league.

23 | 24 | BUFFALO BILLS (5-10): The Bills have had a tough schedule in their last eight games, playing a team that currently has w inning record in each of them. By defeating the Bengals in Cincinnati, they snapped a five-game losing streak and earned their first road victory of the year.

24 | 22 | GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-12): For all of the Packers' struggles this season, they have maintained a level of competitiveness in most of their games. Despite four interceptions and a 44.3 passing rating for quarterback Brett Favre against the Bears, the Packers still had a shot to force overtime at the end of the game.

25 | 28 | NEW YORK JETS (3-12): The Jets have not suffered a season this bad since the Rich Kotite days of 1996. However, the Jets should be encouraged by producing three consecutive games of 20 points or more for the first time since Weeks 9-11 of 2003.

26 | 27 | OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-11): Welcome to the NFL's edition of a retirement home for over-the-hill football players. Graybeards such as Warren Sapp, Kerry Collins and Ted Washington are leaving the prime-time limelight for nap time. For an offense with receivers such as Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, it boggles the mind that the Raiders have not cracked 10 points in a game for the last four weeks. New updated Raider slogans are being passed around the organization for approval for the 2006 season: "Just nap, baby!" and "Commitment to Sleepiness."

27 | 26 | TENNESSEE TITANS (4-11): The Titans have had a stretch of allowing fewer than 30 points in a game for three consecutive weeks for the first time since doing it six consecutive weeks midway through last season. The Titans have been better known for their offense in the last couple of years, but now their defense has something to build on for 2006.

28 | 32 | SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (3-12): Despite having only five wins the past two seasons, the 49ers have swept a division opponent in both years ('04: Cardinals / '05: Rams). It is a feat that the 2003 edition of the 49ers (7-9) did not accomplish.

29 | 25 | ST. LOUIS RAMS (5-10): For the first time since the beginning of 2002, the Rams have suffered a four-game losing streak. If the Cardinals and Rams both lose in Week 17, it will be the first time that a team with five wins or fewer earns a second-place division finish in the NFC West since the 1975 49ers (5-9).

30 | 29 | DETROIT LIONS (5-10): The Lions snapped their five-game losing streak with a 13-12 victory over the hapless Saints last week. The Lions will be grateful to close out this disaster of a season. However, Detroit will be hosting the first extra-large Super Bowl ever. It has been well documented how Detroit fans like to come to the stadium in other teams' colors. Super Bowl XL will be a perfect opportunity for them.

31 | 30 | HOUSTON TEXANS (2-13): In their brief four-year history, the Texans have played every team in the NFL excluding the 49ers. After their New Year's Day contest at San Francisco, it will be the first time that every team in the NFL has played every team in the league at least once in their history since 1994. After showing steady improvement each season since their debut, the Texans are guaranteed their worst record ever after last week's loss to Jacksonville

32 | 31 | NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-12): Is it fair to fault the Saints for a lackluster season because of all the adversity they have had to endure this year? New Orleans has been looking for a playoff season to build on since the breakthrough of the franchise's first postseason victory in 2000. The Saints have gone through four seasons around .500 until this year. Just as New Orleans and the rest of the nation's Southeast region have to rebuild from the damage of their hurricanes, so do the Saints. It's time for the Saints to be reinvented as an actual professional football team.

Oliver Kimokeo is a freelance writer based in San Jose, Calif.

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