Two weeks to go in the NFL Season, and desperation time is setting in for many clubs. For many football fans, it’s also the week of the fantasy football championships (I somehow stumbled my way into the final despite an ugly, injury-filled season). Here’s what Sports 2.0 has for our NFL Power Rankings.
Here’s where things stand in my book entering Week 16.
NFL Power Rankings Tier 3
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13), Last Week’s Ranking: 31
Losing 13 straight games sinks you to the bottom. Despite losing on the scoreboard, Jacksonville may have won big last week thanks to the Jets’ victory. Jacksonville has the inside route to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, where they would presumably take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
31. New York Jets (1-13), Last Week’s Ranking: 32
A win that many Jets fans were hoping wouldn’t come, for the reason listed above, means New York climbs up the power rankings for Week 16. They’re still, for my money, the worst team in football. But again, power rankings don’t necessarily follow the standings order, as you’ll see further down the list.
30. Houston Texans (4-10), Last Week’s Ranking: 26
Houston’s league-worst ranking in rushing attack (86 yards per game) and abysmal defense (second-most yards allowed per game) have made this year even worse. They’re limping to the finish line, and having already traded their first round pick to Miami, Houston is likely to stay on the bottom end of this list for the foreseeable future.
29. Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1), Last Week’s Ranking: 30
The Bengals knocked off the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers last week without starting quarterback Joe Burrow or starting running back Joe Mixon. Winning the turnover battle was critical in that regard. To clarify a comment I made about Cincinnati last week, I said the Bengals would have a strong season in 2020. While I don’t anticipate Cincinnati being a playoff team, I do believe they will show strong improvement. I think they’re two years out from making the playoffs.
28. Carolina Panthers (4-10), Last Week’s Ranking: 28
When the Panthers have Christian McCaffrey healthy, they run a Top 10 offense in the league. Without him, it’s a bottom-of-the-barrel unit. Teams have figured out Mike Davis, who hasn’t hit 70 rushing yards in a game since Week 4. Teddy Bridgewater continues to rack up yards and completions but hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in the past two games. This team needs more help than what McCaffrey alone can provide. We’ll see how they approach the draft, but this team could go in a ton of different directions.
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-10), Last Week’s Ranking: 29
Atlanta fans have got to be absolutely miserable. This season alone, the Falcons have blown three fourth-quarter leads of 15 points or more. They had a 95+% chance of winning in all three. Close those games out, and the Falcons are at least 7-7. It’s been one collapse after another, and the end of the season will bring a sigh of relief as the Falcons regroup for next year.
26. Detroit Lions (5-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 23
The Lions fired special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs this week after defying interim head coach Darrell Bevell’s decision to punt by calling a fake punt, which failed. An extreme measure? Perhaps. A sign of organizational dissonance and turmoil? Absolutely.
25. Denver Broncos (5-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 24
Denver was blown out at home by the Buffalo Bills Saturday night. Running back Melvin Gordon found the end zone twice, and Noah Fant accounted for half the team’s receiving yards. However, the passing woes and defensive injuries are too much for the Broncos to weather. Like with Atlanta, the end of the season can’t come soon enough.
24. New England Patriots (6-8), Last Week’s Ranking: 21
Two weeks ago, the Patriots were on a four-game winning streak, sitting at 6-6 and hoping to make a push for the playoffs. Since then, New England lost twice, scoring 15 points in their last two games, and seeing that dream come to an end. The Patriots will sit at home for the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
23. New York Giants (5-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 17
The Giants suckered me into believing they were better than their record indicated. But similar to New England, the Giants have lost two straight, scoring 13 points combined over their last two outings. And yet, they’re only a game out of a playoff spot. 2020 is a weird time to be alive.
22. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 27
An overtime road win over the division rival Las Vegas Raiders showed a lot of promise for the future of the franchise. Justin Herbert tightened up the race for NFL Rookie of the Year and looks like the frontrunner to win the award.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1), Last Week’s Ranking: 20
Rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts is going to give Philadelphia’s front office plenty to think about over the next few weeks and into the offseason. He’s effectively taken over the starting job from Carson Wentz, but Wentz’s nearly-immovable contract means he’s likely to start next year under center for the Eagles. Could Hurts be traded for help? It’s entirely possible.
NFL Power Rankings Tier 2
20. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 15
The Raiders have lost four of their last five games, and their only win was a three-point escape against the New York Jets. Quarterback Derek Carr also suffered a groin injury last week, forcing Marcus Mariota into action. A loss in either of their final two games would eliminate the Raiders from playoff contention.
19. San Francisco 49ers (5-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 19
The 49ers lost a 41-33 shootout with the Dallas Cowboys last week, and perhaps even worse, they lost quarterback Nick Mullens to an injury. C.J. Beatherd is likely to be the starter the rest of the season, but if there’s a bright spot in the Bay area, it’s that tight end George Kittle is healthy and expected to play during the last two weeks of the season.
18. Washington Football Team (6-8), Last Week’s Ranking: 14
Washington is clinging to the top spot in the NFC East, but the division race is still far from over and may come down to Week 17 against the Eagles. Alex Smith is still injured, and Dwayne Haskins was photographed maskless while attending an event with strippers just hours after the end of the game. According to Ian Rapoport, Haskins was stripped of his captaincy as a result of his behavior. Based on COVID-19 protocols, Haskins could also be fined or suspended by the league. For a quarterback who was already on thin ice, Haskins could already have one foot out the door.
Source: Washington Football Team QB Dwayne Haskins’ captainship was taken away following his COVID-19 violation that included being photographed at a strip club without a mask. His teammates had voted him a captain in camp. This is part of the internal punishment for Haskins.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 23, 2020
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-8), Last Week’s Ranking: 18
The Vikings are the best of the lousiest and the lousiest of the best. The offense has been excellent behind the strong rushing attack of Dalvin Cook and the receiving tandem of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, but the offensive line has made the unit terribly inconsistent. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue recorded five sacks in five games before being traded to the Baltimore Ravens ahead of Week 6. Ngakoue still leads Minnesota in sacks this season. However, six of the Vikings’ eight losses have come to playoff teams (potentially seven of eight, depending on what happens with the Dallas Cowboys). They’re not a bad football team, but they aren’t a good football team either.
16. Dallas Cowboys, (5-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 25
This one is likely to turn some heads. I’m aware that the Cowboys defense has been putrid this season. I’ve already written about Ezekiel Elliott’s struggles to find the end zone and that his injury may keep him out in Week 16. BUT, the Cowboys are finding ways to win anyway. They racked up 41 points against a still-solid 49ers defense without Elliott or quarterback Dak Prescott. Tony Pollard looks like he could take over the starting job if Elliott isn’t good to go, or be a potential trade piece. CeeDee Lamb is going to be a star in Dallas for a long time. Right now, I’d take the Cowboys to win head-to-head against any team on this list so far.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 5
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in free fall. After starting the year 11-0, the Steelers have lost three straight, and things are going from bad to worse after a loss to two-win Cincinnati. Pittsburgh has the league’s second-worst rushing attack, the defense is falling apart due to injuries, and Ben Roethlisberger looks worse each week. Fortunately, they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Unfortunately, they’re on a collision course with the seven seed if they can’t turn things around in a hurry.
14. Chicago Bears (7-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 22
In nine of the 10 games where Matt Nagy called plays, David Montgomery couldn’t hit 90 rushing yards. However, in the four games since Nagy gave up playcalling, Montgomery has rushed for 100+ in three of them. Mitch Trubisky has looked like a serviceable starting quarterback again (imagine typing that sentence two months ago!), and the Bears can still make the playoffs if they win out and get some help along the way.
13. Los Angeles Rams (9-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Losing at home to the winless New York Jets has consequences in the power rankings. The Rams still have the league’s best defense (fewest yards against per game, third-fewest points per game). Offensively, the biggest problem is the turnovers. Los Angeles has the fifth-most in the NFL.
12. Arizona Cardinals (8-6), Last Week’s Ranking: 16
Arizona is getting healthy at the right time. Kyler Murray threw for a career-best 406 yards last week against Philadelphia, and while they’ll have their backs to the wall against San Francisco and Los Angeles to close out the season, they look ready for a playoff push.
11. Miami Dolphins (9-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 11
The Dolphins’ defense did not allow a touchdown last week, and Tua Tagovailoa rushed for a pair of touchdowns. However, Tua has thrown for three touchdowns and two interceptions over the past three games. Miami will go as far as their passing game can carry them.
NFL Power Rankings Tier 1
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-4), Last Week’s Ranking: 10
The Colts needed a late surge to take the lead against the lowly Texans, and the defense recovered a fumble in the end zone to seal the 27-20 win. Indianapolis has a lot of good pieces in place, especially the offensive line, but I don’t see the Colts making a run this year.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 8
Tampa Bay is a team that I’m still not quite sold on, and I’m waiting for the implosion. The Bucs have snuck by teams they should be blowing out (Atlanta, New York Giants, Chargers), and with only one win against a playoff team (the win over Green Bay), Tampa Bay seems more like a pretender than a contender this year. They won’t see a real test again until the playoffs, as they close out the season against Detroit and Atlanta.
8. Cleveland Browns (10-4), Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Cleveland currently holds the No. 5 seed in the AFC, holding a tiebreaker over the Indianapolis Colts, and should win in Week 16 against the Jets (“should” being the operative word), and will have massive playoff implications in Week 17 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland has a chance to win the division for the first time since 1989. I try to remain unbiased in these writings, but I would absolutely love to see the Browns run the table and take the AFC North crown.
7. Seattle Seahawks (10-4), Last Week’s Ranking: 13
Seattle picked up a clutch win over the Washington Football Team, but struggled to produce great numbers against one of the league’s best teams against the pass. The Seahawks’ secondary is still struggling, allowing the seventh-most passing yards per game. But getting Chris Carson back and healthy has done wonders for the offense. If Seattle can continue to move the ball effectively, it may not matter what happens with the defense.
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 12
We’re finally seeing the Baltimore Ravens offense we’ve been expecting all season. Lamar Jackson is finding his rhythm once again, with four passing and three rushing touchdowns in the past two games. The defense has the second-most fumble recoveries (12) in the NFL. Baltimore is trending in the right direction at the right time.
NFL Power Rankings Tier 1A
5. Tennessee Titans (10-4), Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Another December day, another dominant performance from Derrick Henry. Last week, the two-time Pro Bowler rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Tannehill impressed as well, throwing for 273 yards and three scores. If their middle-of-the-road defense can tighten up, the Titans are built for a long playoff run.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-4), Last Week’s Ranking: 2
New Orleans came up just short against the Chiefs on Sunday, with a late touchdown cutting the score to 32-29, the eventual final. Drew Brees returned for the game, but the Saints have now lost two in a row and are seeing their hopes of a first-round bye slipping away. They’ll get a chance to bounce back against the Vikings on Christmas Day.
3. Green Bay Packers (11-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 4
The Packers nearly choked away a double-digit lead against the Carolina Panthers but clinched the NFC North for the second year in a row and the seventh time since 2011. Rodgers doesn’t have the same talent around him as fellow MVP-candidate Patrick Mahomes, but is doing just as much, leading the league with 40 touchdowns against four interceptions. He looks like a man on a mission and may singlehandedly carry the Packers to a Super Bowl.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 3
If Mahomes and Rodgers are the two favorites to win NFL MVP, Josh Allen is likely the third man on the list. With 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, to go with eight rushing touchdowns, Allen is bursting onto the scene as a star. Stefon Diggs made his first Pro Bowl, the defense has the fourth-most takeaways in the league, and look like the biggest threat to Kansas City in the AFC.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-1), Last Week’s Ranking: 1
No change here. The Chiefs continue to roll, beating a very good New Orleans team last week. A win at home against Atlanta will lock up the No. 1 seed. They certainly should do it.