1. Houston Texans (10-1) Last week: 1 The Texans benefited from some shoddy officiating (Justin Forsett was clearly down on an 81-yard touchdown run) and a soon-to-be changed NFL rule (review of the play was negated when Lions head coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag on a scoring play) in their 34-31 overtime win over the Lions last Thursday. Still, at 10-1, the Texans remain the league’s top team, even with a special teams unit that ranks 32nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric . Houston can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Titans or a combination of losses or ties by the Dolphins, Steelers and/or Bengals on Sunday 2. Atlanta Falcons (10-1) Last week: 2 It wasn’t pretty, but the Falcons improved to 10-1 with a 24-23 win on the road against the upstart Buccaneers last Sunday. One key to the win was the healthy return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who had missed the three previous games with a sprained ankle. During Weatherspoon’s absence, the Falcons allowed 117 rushing yards per game. Weatherspoon and Co. limited Doug Martin and the Bucs to just 50 rushing yards on 21 attempts. The Falcons can clinch the NFC South this week with a win and loss or tie by the Buccaneers. 3. New England Patriots (8-3) Last week: 3 New England scored on offense, defense and special teams in a 52-second stretch of last Thursday night’s 49-19 thumping of the Jets. The Patriots are now No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ team DVOA and have one of the 12 best DVOAs in the history of the metric, which looks as far back as 1991. The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday. 4. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) Last week: 4 All Colin Kaepernick has done in his first two NFL starts is go 32-of-48 for 474 yards with three touchdowns and one interception with 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground in helping the 49ers beat the Bears (and their opportunistic defense) on Monday Night Football before going on the road and leading the team to a win over the red-hot Saints. Jim Harbaugh has been coy about who his starting quarterback is, but we all know that it’s Kaepenick. 5. Denver Broncos (8-3) Last week: 5 Denver scored a season-low 17 points in Week 12, but that was enough to beat the lowly Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos defense doesn’t get enough credit for the team’s 8-3 mark, but that unit ranks fifth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric and leads the NFL with 37 sacks. Denver can clinch the AFC West with a win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
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