Look around the AFC and ask this question: Which team has the best chance to take down the New England Patriots in the conference?

On the surface, I can't imagine anybody right now beating the Patriots to get to the Super Bowl. But we know better. Things change. Teams emerge in the final month and get stronger.

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One of those teams might be the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have won three straight games and they've done so in large part because of a rejuvenated defense. The Steelers have given up a total of 30 points the past three weeks. This is a Steelers defense that had major issues early in the season.

When you couple that improvement on defense with an offense that includes Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, it's easy to see how they might be the team nobody wants to play come playoff time -- if they get in.

The Steelers, who are up to the 11th spot in my latest Power Rankings, are tied with the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC North, each with 7-5 records. Those two teams meet Christmas Day in Pittsburgh, which should decide the winner.

Graphic illustration by Mike Meredith

There is a chance the loser is a wild-card team, but that would be a much tougher road to travel, although both have had success in that role in the past. Both teams seem to be getting it right at the most important time.

Can they take down the Patriots? Right now, I am not so sure about that. But the way the Steelers defense is improving, it's not out of the question.

Biggest Movers
3 Ravens
4 Giants
1 Cowboys They won ugly at Minnesota, but it counts the same. Now comes a tough one against the Giants on the road. --
2 Patriots No Gronk, no problem. They will be without Rob Gronkowski the rest of the year, but they were fine without him against the Rams. --
3 Raiders At 10-2, they face a key division game with the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Thursday night. The defense has to be better. --
4 Chiefs Two straight victories have them a game out of first with the Raiders coming to town. If they win that one, they lead the division. 1
5 Broncos It wasn't pretty at Jacksonville, but they found a way without Trevor Siemian. They need more from the offense -- no matter who is at quarterback. 2
6 Seahawks The Panthers proved to be a perfect tonic to get past their bad showing at Tampa Bay. They seemed to right a lot of wrongs. 2
7 Lions They've won four straight to get to 8-4 and have become a viable playoff contender. The defense is getting better. 2
8 Giants Eli Manning had a rough go of it at Pittsburgh. But now they have a tough turnaround against the Cowboys. 4
9 Ravens They head to New England to face the Patriots at 7-5 and atop the division. Are they ready for that challenge? 3
10 Falcons They have a favorable schedule down the stretch, but they are now tied with Tampa Bay for the division lead. 4
11 Steelers They still haven't been as explosive on offense. But you know it's coming. 2
12 Buccaneers They are the biggest surprise of the league so far. Dirk Koetter has done a heck of a job. 2
13 Dolphins That was an embarrassingly bad loss to the Ravens. The six-game streak is dead. 3
14 Commanders By losing two straight road games, they are now 6-5-1 and have to get it turned around quickly. Can they? 3
15 Chargers They've lost so many close games. But that matters none as they are basically playing out the string. --
16 Texans The offense just isn't good enough right now. It has to be frustrating after paying all that money to Brock Osweiler. --
17 Vikings That fast start looks like it was a long time ago. They just don't do enough on offense. --
18 Colts They are 6-6 and tied for the division lead with the Titans and Texans with the Texans coming to Indianapolis this week. They seem to have fixed their problems. --
19 Titans They come out of their bye smack in the middle of the division race. It can be theirs if they continue to play well. --
20 Bills The defense fell apart in the second half against the Raiders and that likely ends their playoff hopes. --
21 Packers At 6-6, they are still in the race. But they have to likely win three of their last four or maybe even four of four. --
22 Saints Losing at home to the Lions pretty much ends their playoff hopes. They looked bad. --
23 Eagles That fast start was a long time ago. They just aren't a good team right now. --
24 Bengals They finally played a game where they looked like the Bengals we expected to see. It just took too long. 1
25 Cardinals They would likely have to win out to have any chance to make the playoffs. It starts this week in Miami. 1
26 Panthers Their season is all but done. It has just been a bad season for the defending NFC champs. 2
27 Jets This season has been a disaster. It's time to sit Ryan Fitzpatrick forever. 1
28 Rams Jeff Fisher is coming back as coach since he got a contract extension. Oh, boy. 1
29 Bears They beat the 49ers in the snow, which isn't a great accomplishment. But they'll take it. --
30 Jaguars The young defense has done a nice job in the second half of the season. The next coach will love that unit. --
31 49ers Their quarterback situation is a disaster. And so, too, is this season. --
32 Browns The good news is they didn't lose last week. Of course, they were on a bye. --