Oliver's NFL rankings
This week | Last week | Team (Final record) 1 | 2 | DENVER BRONCOS (13-3): The Broncos have had an outstanding season; one that exceeded all their expectations. They earned their first division title since 1998, which is also the season of their last playoff win (and Super Bowl victory), and seem poised to make a deep run in the AFC playoffs. Of their 13 victories, seven came against teams that finished with winning records. The Broncos are the only AFC team to have an undefeated home campaign in 2005. 2 | 4 | JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (12-4): The Jaguars have been in the shadow of the Colts all season but they have the NFL's fourth-best record and the AFC's third-best record. They currently are on an 8-1 run as they enter the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. It's unusual that a team with a 12-4 record has to go on the road to play a 10-6 team (Patriots) in the playoffs, but that's what the Jags must do to being their playoff run. People will start taking them much more seriously if they can knock off the two-time defending Super Bowl champions. 3 | 6 | WASHINGTON REDSKINS (10-6): So, which type of Redskins team is going to show up in their clash with the Buccaneers on Wild Card Weekend? Will it be the team that started the season 3-0 and finished 5-0, or will it be the team that struggled with a 2-6 record in the middle of the season? 4 | 1 | SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (13-3): The Seahawks earned their best regular-season record and their first conference crown ever. For the first time in their 30-season history, the 'Hawks are the favorites to reach a Super Bowl. For a region of the nation that's the most under-represented in today's NFL, it could be the only opportunity for the Northwest to experience the Lombardi Trophy. 5 | 7 | INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (14-2): The Colts may have had the best regular season, and they may have the best coaching staff and best offensive system. But they absolutely do not have the best three-game finish, particularly with the tragic death of coach Tony Dungy's son taking place during that span. It remains to be seen how much recent events – including last week's escape of a win against doormat Arizona to prevent a three-game slide to end the season – will affect a team viewed by many as a Super Bowl favorite. Those final three games may have been meaningless for postseason positioning, but the Colts cannot afford to take the deep AFC playoff field lightly by killing their momentum before the whole shebang begins. 6 | 8 | PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-5): The Steelers took advantage of a nice concluding quartet of games against easily-beatable opponents. They took care of their business and are now able to extend their season. Pittsburgh may have had moments where it struggled (the late-November losing streak, for example) but the Steelers kept their composure and managed to finish with a fine December. 7 | 9 | TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (11-5): The Buccaneers' NFC South crown is a big surprise, considering the level of competition they faced in a division that includes Carolina and Atlanta. Division wins are vital to playoff success and the Buccaneers took advantage of a schedule that provided them with all their division after October. After losing their first NFC South game against Carolina, the Buccaneers won their final five. 8 | 10 | NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5): The Giants have a really good offense going for them and it might be enough to overcome Carolina on Wild Card weekend. They have proven their status as a playoff team by not losing a single game to a team with a losing record this season. The team has come a long way from the struggling 2003 and 2004 seasons where they suffered an eight-game losing streak both years. Kudos to the Giants for a gigantic turnaround. 9 | 11 | MIAMI DOLPHINS (9-7): There are two ways one can look upon the Dolphins season. It could be viewed as a turnaround from the 7-19 slump the 'Fins went through in 2004 and the first 10 games of 2005. The other viewpoint is that 2004 was really an aberration from Miami's normal winning ways and 2005 is yet another season of Dolphin disappointment. But after an awesome finish under first-year coach Nick Saban, most observers no doubt lean toward the first view. 10 | 13 | KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-6): Is there a possibility that the Chiefs can petition to take the Bengals' spot in the playoffs? It's an injustice Kansas City misses out after a 37-3 dumping of Cincinnati in the season finale and the Bengals go on to host a first-round game. Of course, there's 15 other games on the schedule and the Chiefs didn't play well away from Arrowhead Stadium. Still, it would've been excellent to see Dick Vermeil get one more shot at a championship. 11 | 15 | CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-5): What was the ultimate divisional demise of a Panther team that seemed ready to take the NFC South crown throughout the entire season? Let's try two home losses in December and add an opening-game upset against the Saints. Even though the Panthers and Giants have been regular preseason rivals since John Fox came to Carolina after a stint as defensive coordinator in New York, the wild card match will be the second time that Fox will face his former team in a "real" game. Think of the perfect marketing: Fox Bowl II on FOX this Sunday. 12 | 7 | NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-6): Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Well, not really. If anything, the Patriots still have the longest active postseason winning streak and until they lose, they are still the NFL champions. Maybe it's a good thing for the Patriots to feel like an underdog – they rode that doggie all the way to a Super Bowl title in 2001. They won't be overlooked by anybody this year, and are a surprisingly big betting favorite this weekend. And, let's cheer Bill Belichick's decision to allow Doug Flutie's drop-kick PAT in the season finale – outside-the-box thinking that was a nice treat for New England fans, not to mention football fans everywhere. 13 | 18 | MINNESOTA VIKINGS (9-7): Even though the Vikings finished one game better than in 2004, this season still feels like an utter disaster and disappointment. All the scandals and injuries didn't help their case, but they did turn around a lifeless 2-5 start into a respectable 9-7 finish. It's time for the Vikings to have a fresh start and a new captain at the helm. 14 | 3 | CHICAGO BEARS (11-5): Even though the Bears weren't expected to do much this year, they proved all the doubters wrong. Sometimes it's not about the star power of Brett Favre's Packers or Daunte Culpepper's Vikings but about a work ethic and a mentality to prove yourself and your team in the NFL. That's what the Bears proved this season and their defense is excellent. Don't be surprised if this team ends up in the Super Bowl. 15 | 14 | CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-5): It's tough to judge this team fairly. Sure, it's exciting to see a new generation of Bengals finally clawing their way back to respectability, but the last two losses leave a bad taste in the mouth. It was an excellent season for the offense but the defense could use some improvement. A commendable effort of a season but it's not their time yet. It's not a matter of giving up on them yet, but a playoff team shouldn't allow 74 points in the final two games before the playoffs. 16 | 12 | DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7): The Cowboys couldn't take advantage of a 7-3 start to catapult themselves into a playoff-worthy season. A 2-4 finish won't often propel a team into the playoffs and the Cowboys didn't deserve to join the postseason dance. They were close plenty of times, but that wasn't good enough. 17 | 16 | SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7): A lousy finish canceled the playoff ticket for which the Chargers seemed destined this year. San Diego entered the year with plenty of respect from football "experts" who continued to insist the Chargers would break through and dominate their season even after starts of 0-2 and 3-4. They started to catch their groove with a 5-game winning streak that made them look like one of the league's most dangerous teams, but they flopped at the finish when it counted. 18 | 22 | CLEVELAND BROWNS (6-10): Something unique about the Browns in 2005: The propelled two other 2004 losers to success. In Week 5, they defeated the Bears – leaving Chicago with a 1-3 record – and the Bears then embarked on an eight-game winning streak en route to a NFC North title. Later in the season, Cleveland shut out the Dolphins – leaving Miami at 3-7 – the last time the Dolphins would taste defeat as they finished on a six-game winning roll. 19 | 17 | BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-10): How can a team be explained when it goes 6-2 at home but winless on the road? No team scored more than 24 points in Baltimore this year, but the Ravens scored more than 19 points on the road this season only once. 20 | 19 | ATLANTA FALCONS (8-8): What happened to the Falcons this season? After starting 6-2, the Falcons floundered to a 2-6 abyss of a second half. So much potential for an excellent season, but a wasted effort for the Falcons as they once again failed in their quest for back-to-back winning seasons. The Falcons have the honor of being the sole team to claim a .500 season – but it will still feel like a losing season because they missed an opportunity to take control over their playoff destiny. 21 | 20 | ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11): At least the Cardinals have dominated the field-goal circuit this year. If the NFL was the international version of football with a "no-hands" rule, the Cardinals would dominate the league. Hands were a big issue for the Cardinals this year as they lost 16 fumbles and 21 interceptions. A Cardinals fan's ever-so-present diatribe can still be heard at the end of yet another shattered season: "Maybe next year." 22 | 21 | PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-10): It was bound to happen to the Eagles at one time or another. Winning doesn't continue forever and there will be down seasons. It's not fair to blame the whole season on Terrell Owens because he's just one player of a team of 53. The Eagles got to keep their team pride, but was it worth the cost of a closed Super Bowl championship door? The rest of the NFC, and especially the East division, has caught up and even surpassed the Eagles. For a team that looked ready for another deep playoff run after a 4-2 start, the Eagles finished the season with a 2-8 slide. 23 | 24 | GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-12): The Packers were uncharacteristically bad this year – the worst Brett Favre campaign ever. The offseason question will be clinging to a past of great glories or gearing toward a new future that will begin rocky but may flourish into another era of Packers prosperity. The Packers captured the nation's imagination in the 1990s – it's time for the Packers to prepare for a return to glory. 24 | 28 | SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (4-12): Was it worth it, San Francisco? Will two close wins at the end of the season help heal a double dose of horrible years? For a team that looked primed to get a top 3 draft pick all year long, a No. 6 or 7 pick is quite a surprise. The 49ers have suffered enough lately to shake off all the bandwagon fans from the1980s and 1990s. Let's put into the history books all the successes that the Montana and Young eras brought the 49ers and build a team that's ready to become a NFL powerhouse once again. 25 | 25 | NEW YORK JETS (4-12): Injuries struck a Jets team that ran out of game fuel to power its competitive engines in 2005. Herm Edwards challenged his naysayers by demonstrating the logic of karma at his final press conference of the season Monday. The Jets need a lot of improvement in several areas but they have the potential to come back in 2006. 26 | 29 | ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-10): "The Greatest Show on Turf" has just closed its curtain. For a team that had the fastest doormat-to-championship turnaround ever, the Rams may have experienced success too fast and they got too lackadaisical when it came to winning all the games they needed. There have been too many times this decade where the Rams seemed ready to win a game but blow the opportunity in the final moments. It's been a fun ride but it's time for something new in St. Louis. 27 | 23 | BUFFALO BILLS (5-11): For a team that had so much season-ending momentum in 2004, this season has been a very disappointing effort for the Bills. The Bills seemed ready to make the next step with a solid running game and an exciting young quarterback, but things fell apart instead and there will be changes coming this offseason. The team hasn't figured out how to get it all together ever since coach Marv Levy left in the mid-1990s. 28 | 26 | OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12): The Raiders sure put on a dud of a season by losing their final six games and eight of their last nine. For a team that was once the epitome of NFL success and still refers to itself incorrectly as "The Team of the Decades," it's time to reinvent the organization. And we mean from the top to bottom. 29 | 27 | TENNESSEE TITANS (4-12): The Titans weren't a very good football this year. Only the woeful Texans kept them out of the AFC South cellar. There are a lot of personnel problems to fix, but it looks like Jeff Fisher will get a chance to turn around the franchise again. There's only one request that will make Tennessee fans happy: let's not remember the 2005 Titans. 30 | 30 | DETROIT LIONS (5-11): Did this team actually win five games this year? It seems as though there were a whole lot fewer victories this year. The Lions couldn't beat a team that didn't record double-digit losses this season and they left the whole city with a "Fire Millen" vibe. One knows it's bad when your own fans are wearing the other team's colors to the final home game. 31 | 31 | HOUSTON TEXANS (2-14): Let's give the Texans credit for rising to the challenge of finishing with the NFL's worst record this year. There was a lot of competition for the Worst of the Worst title, but Houston persevered and now owns the rights to the No. 1 overall draft pick. The Texans took a step back this year and have a lot of work to do before they can even think about enjoying the postseason derby for the first time in franchise history. 32 | 32 | NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-13): The 2005 Saints deserve a lot of sympathy and compassion. The Saints might not be as bas as their record would indicate, but it was as though the whole world was against them at times. The Saints were mostly treated like a high school team all season, never having a facility they could call home and playing through a schedule that featured 10 different playing fields. (For those counting, that's four in Baton Rouge, three in San Antonio, seven away games, and two at Giants Stadium.) There will be a time when the Saints will indeed march again into a victorious season, but it will be with a new coach after Jim Haslett was fired Monday, and it also may be in a new city sometime in the near future. Oliver Kimokeo is a freelance writer based in San Jose, Calif.
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