With most of the best teams winning this past week, there wasn’t a lot of movement among the top. But the mid tier teams fighting for playoff position were all over the place this week. The Titans got a huge win in Kansas City while the Vikings laid an egg against the Colts. With the postseason just two weeks away, many spots are still up for grabs. Here are the latest rankings:
- New England Patriots [12-2] Movement: No Change
The Patriots are the best team in football right now, and it’s not even close. Coming in to Sunday’s game against the Broncos, it was all about Tom Brady’s lackluster 2-7 record in Denver. New England quickly quieted all of the doubters by physically dominating the Broncos 16-3. In Brady’s nine career games in Denver, the Patriot’s defense has allowed an average of 25.6 points per game. I think Tom was happy to not only see his defense hold the Broncos to just 3 points, but dominate the line of scrimmage and make a critical interception in the 1st quarter that changed the entire game. New England stuffed the running game and forced Siemian to air it out 40 times. While Siemian didn’t have a terrible game, he was sacked four times and pressured on almost every play.
- Dallas Cowboys [12-2] Movement: Up 1
I am not sure I have ever seen a team outgain an opponent by nearly 200 yards, complete 89% of its passes, have its lead running back rush for over 150 yards at 6.1 Y/A, win the turnover margin 4:1, and nearly lose! As well as the Cowboys played on both sides of the ball, they were one Jameis Winston touchdown drive from falling to 11-3. The Cowboys are a great team, but they have to start putting away opponents earlier. In the playoffs, teams scratch and claw their way for all 60 minutes, and if the Cowboys take their foot off the gas midgame, I could see them falling to a wild card team in a huge upset. The Cowboys offensive line is the best that I have ever seen; pound the rock with Zeke.
- Oakland Raiders [11-3] Movement: Up 1
It wasn’t pretty, but with Kansas City losing to Tennessee, the win in San Diego was huge for the Raiders. Their running game was refreshing, with Latavius Murray churning out 81 yards on just 13 carries. But Carr still worries me heading into the playoffs. If he played lefty it would have been better than the Thursday Night performance against the Chiefs, but he still wasn’t his normal self. Kansas City’s loss has propelled the Raiders back to the #2 seed in the AFC, but that week 17 game in Denver looms on the schedule.
- Seattle Seahawks [9-4-1] Movement: Up 1
Dear Pete Carroll, don’t run a fake punt midway through the 4th quarter with a 24-3 lead. You’re gonna kill your punter. Maybe the fake was designed specifically for Rams’ special teams tendencies, but couldn’t you have tried to save it for… let’s see… a matchup with Dallas or Atlanta in the playoffs? Unfortunately, the injury to Jon Ryan clouded the overall result of the game: a dominant victory over a Rams team that was somehow 4-1 in its last 5 games against the Seahawks. The Rams had some chances to keep this game close, as Goff missed a wide open Brian Quick and Russell Wilson nearly threw a red zone pick, but the final score was 24-3. The Seahawks win the NFC West again. This looks like a familiar story.
- Kansas City Chiefs [10-4] Movement: Down 3
One week, the Chiefs are celebrating a dominating win over a divisional rival, the next, they are falling to 2nd in the AFC West and facing the possibility of traveling on the road to start the postseason. That’s football. The Chiefs were throttling the Titans in the first half. With a 17-7 lead, pro-football reference actually gave Kansas City a 97.7% chance of winning the game. They didn’t, and the clutch defense that has come up with play after play to win games (Ahem Eric Berry in Atlanta) allowed Marcus Mariota to drive 40 yards in 1:02 to win the game. P.S. Give the ball to Tyreek Hill. The ONE time he touched the ball, he flew for a 68 yard TD.
- Pittsburgh Steelers [9-5] Movement: No Change
Losing to the Bengals and giving up their AFC North lead would have been a huge letdown for the Steelers, but they pulled off a valiant comeback in week 15. The defense smothered the Bengals in the second half and Big Ben threw a frozen rope to Eli Rogers for the touchdown to win the game. Rogers has been the key to the Steelers’ offense the last couple of weeks. Although his numbers aren’t flashy, he has been huge on third down and in every game that he has scored a touchdown, Pittsburgh has won.
- Atlanta Falcons [9-5] Movement: No Change
Over the last two weeks, the falcons have cruised to 28 point wins over the Rams and 49ers, who are a combined 5-23. So the falcons aren’t going anywhere. They have proven that if they can run the football with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, they will buy more time for Matt Ryan and win football games. In the three games where they have been held to fewer than 55 yards rushing, they’ve lost. The Falcons got some breathing room with the Bucs’ loss to Dallas, so they can win the division with wins over New Orleans and Carolina to finish the season. However, unlike years past, they have actually lost fewer games on the road. This is a good sign for a team that likely will have to travel to Dallas or Seattle if they advance past the first round.
- New York Giants [10-4] Movement: No Change
Wasn’t able to move the Giants up despite an impressive win over Detroit. The running game and pass protection was better, but the offense put up only 3 points in the middle 50 minutes of the game and couldn’t put the lions away. But the defense was stellar, holding the lions to just 6 points and coming up with 2 takeaways in the redzone. In order for the Giants to take the next step, they need to get in an offensive rhythm early and maintain it for the course of a game. That all starts with the ground game and I think it’s time to give Paul Perkins the bulk of the carries. Perkins was a beast on Sunday, averaging over 5 yards per carry while Rashad Jennings barely got 2 yards a pop. Give Perkins the ball.
- Green Bay Packers [8-6] Movement: No Change
No one else can drop a dime 60 yards downfield in the final 30 seconds of a frigid game in Chicago to win. No one. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time because of his unrelenting competitiveness and career achievements, but Rodgers is the best in the business right now. With A-rod at the helm, the Packers have a chance to do serious damage in February. The win over the bears was hardly impressive; they nearly blew a 17 point four quarter lead, but their momentum is only building. Look out lions, the AFC North will likely be decided in Week 17 in your building, so be ready. If the Packers can keep converted WR Ty Montgomery hot, the Lions are toast.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [8-6] Movement: Up 1
The Buccaneers had no business being in that game Sunday Night, but they held a 4th quarter lead and almost won the game. Tampa Bay didn’t play very good football, allowing Dak to complete an insane 89% of his passes and Zeke to rush for 159 yards, but they hung around. This Tampa team isn’t going to blow you out, but they can grind out wins. Their undersized defensive line matched up poorly with Dallas’ mammoth O-line, but the Bucs have proven they can take down high powered offenses. They’ve already beaten the Chargers, Saints, and Falcons, but in order to even make the playoffs, they are going to have to win out. Two divisional games against Carolina and New Orleans are not going to be easy.
- Baltimore Ravens [8-6] Movement: Up 2
Take a deep breath Ravens fans, your team is still alive. They got the W against the Eagles, but almost gave away the game and their season. A dropback pass with a first down in the redzone, a 10 point lead with 6 minutes to go, and the clock winding is a foolish decision. But despite the up and down 2016 for Baltimore, they can win the AFC North by winning at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Last time they played the Steelers, they held Le’Veon to 70 yards from scrimmage, nearly 100 fewer than his season average. They’ll have to do it again against a Pittsburgh team that has won five in a row. Flacco continues to improve week to week, completing 16 passes vs. Philadelphia to 7 different receivers.
12. Detroit Lions [9-5] Movement: Down 2
Remember when the Lions were on pace to have a division title and a first round bye? Those were the days. The Lions have to feel awfully nervous now, with a one game NFC North lead and a surging Packers team on their heels. The Lions really can’t run the football, and while their short passing game has been successful overall, when they face great secondaries like the Giants, they struggle. Stafford made a few nice throws downfield, but his yardage numbers were inflated by a 65 yard pass to Golden Tate on a blown coverage and a garbage time drive that ended in an interception. Stafford has already led Detroit to eight 4th quarter comebacks, it’s time for the defense to step up. They hover around the top 10, but they haven’t been the ones to seal a win. With Dallas and Green Bay coming up, it’s time.
13. Tennessee Titans [8-6] Movement: Up 3
I said last week that the Titans were best team in the AFC South, and they proved me right in Kansas City. Marcus Mariota didn’t have a great statistical day, but he bailed out his coach by leading a stunning game winning drive in the final 1:05. Ryan Succop deserves some credit too, 53 yards is a long way and the ball must have been as hard as a rock. What was overshadowed in the win, however, was the Titans ground game. Demarco Murray continues to run downhill and crank out great performances, but Derrick Henry is starting to come alive. He has 160 yards and 3 TDs in his last three games while still assuming a backup role. The Titans can claim the division with wins over Jacksonville and Houston to close out the year.
14. Denver Broncos [8-6] Movement: Down 2
Since when does a team hold Tom Brady to 0 TDs, less than 180 yards, and 16 points, and not only lose, but get crushed? Well it happened on Sunday in Denver. At 7-3 and holding a touchdown lead over Kansas City in the final minute at home in week 10, the dreams of a 6th straight AFC West crown were well in sight. But then it all came crashing down. The Broncos have lost three of their last four, something they haven’t done since 2012, and they will need to win out against Oakland and Kansas City (yikes) as well as get some help to earn a wild card spot. The Broncos defense continues to shut down quarterbacks (they still haven’t allowed a 300 yard passer) but they struggle against the run and have no ability to protect Trevor Siemian. Watching him get clobbered against New England looked reminiscent of last years AFC Championship game, except last time it was Brady who was taking the hits.
15. Miami Dolphins [9-5] Movement: Up 2
“If you really want Moore, scream it out louder!” I wonder if Usher expected the Dolphins backup QB to throw for 4 TDs at 12 yards per attempt in New York on Saturday. Regardless, Matt Moore didn’t need any motivation. After a slow start, Miami came out on fire in second half and lit up the Jets with big plays on special teams and an aggressive passing game. The Dolphins are now in sole possession of a wild card spot, but with a week 17 matchup with New England looming, they may need some help to get in. For now, the ‘Fins have to focus on themselves, and continue to lean on Jay Ajayi to take the pressure off Matt Moore, who hadn’t started a game since 2011.
- Carolina Panthers [6-8] Movement: Up 2
Cam Newton and the Panthers dealt a devastating blow to former teammate Josh Norman’s Washington Redskins and looked good doing it. The Panthers defense that was gashed for 240 yards rushing in Seattle shut down Robert Kelley and forced Kirk Cousins to make a lot of contested throws. The Panthers won’t make the playoffs in 2016, but with games against Atlanta and Tampa Bay coming up, they have the opportunity to throw a wrench in the NFC playoff picture.
17. Washington Redskins [7-6-1] Movement: Down 3
Monday Night was exactly what the Redskins didn’t need to happen. They lost control of their playoff destiny and have now lost three of four. The Redskins losses have all been to teams who can put up a lot of points (Dallas, Detroit, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Carolina) and Washington doesn’t seem to look like a strong team if their defense doesn’t play at least average. The talk this season has all been about Kirk Cousins’ big numbers and the emerging running game, but it’s been the defense that has actually come up clutch. They may be allowing 24 points per game, but they help pull out key wins in the fourth quarter by forcing turnovers. Against Carolina, they didn’t generate any and are now barely above .500.
18. Indianapolis Colts [7-7] Movement: Up 3
Where has this Colts team been? The Colts spoiled Adrian Peterson’s return by playing their most complete game of the year in Minnesota. The colts ground out just their second 150 yard rushing game of the season and Andrew Luck spread the ball around to other receivers not named TY Hilton. In order to win the AFC South they will need the Texans to lose out and the Titans to win one of two. The Colts still aren’t a very good team, but with Luck at QB, anything could happen if they manage to win the division.
19. Houston Texans [8-6] Movement: Up 1
Brock Osweiler shouldn’t play another snap in Houston this year or any year after unless it’s during a kneeldown. Tom Savage saved Houston’s season with a remarkable 260 yard performance in less than 3 quarters of action. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be the starter going forward when Brock Osweiler has the worst Y/A (5.8) for a season since Derek Carr in his rookie year (2014). Somehow, with a win against the Titans in week 17 they can clinch the AFC South. The Titans defense is much better than the Jaguars, however, so give the ball to Lamar Miller and set up some easy one on one situations for Deandre Hopkins to make Savage’s day as easy as possible.
20. Cincinnati Bengals [5-8-1] Movement: Up 3
The Bengals disappointing season became downright sad against Pittsburgh. The Bengals came out fired up and ready to pull off the upset in the first half, and then played the most conservative half of football possible after intermission. Cincinnati needs a complete overhaul, starting with Jeremy Hill. 11 of his 20 carries were for one yard or less, and he is not a viable receiver out of the backfield. Andy Dalton needs some help. He has no running game and although he manages to put up decent numbers, he gets sacked 6th most in the league. But despite their problems, they move up in the rankings because they continue to play teams tough. They are 0-3 against Baltimore and Pittsburgh this year but have lost those games by an average of 5 points.
21. Arizona Cardinals [5-8-1] Movement: Down 2
The Cardinals pass defense entered week 15 as the top rated in the league, but got decimated by Drew Brees and co. Carson Palmer had his first good game in a while, but Arizona is 1-4 in its last five games. David Johnson does his best to keep them afloat from week to week, but even his (soon to be) 2000+ scrimmage yard season and Bruce Arians’ fiery style haven’t been able rescue this team.
22. Buffalo Bills [7-7] Movement: No Change
Congrats, you beat the Browns. If Jeremy Hill can average 8.3 Y/A against Cleveland, you better win. The Bills are technically still alive in the playoff hunt, but their season is over. Lesean McCoy is quietly putting together an all-pro season (5.5 yards per rushing attempt!?) but they weren’t able to overcome a 2-5 midseason slump. Fans in Buffalo had high hopes for the defense in Rex Ryan’s second year, but they are allowing the exact same number of ppg as last year at 22.4.
23. Minnesota Vikings [7-7] Movement: Down 8
Adrian Peterson returned early in an effort to lead the Vikings back to the playoffs. Changing your entire offensive scheme to cater to the style of a running back just getting back into his rhythm after being injured for 10 weeks is not a good strategy. Teddy Bridgewater is nowhere near an elite quarterback, but boy are Vikings fans wishing they had him now. Minnesota continues to flounder after an 5-0 start and this team simply has no identity. Even its defense is up and down.
24. New Orleans Saints [6-8] Movement: Up 1
Nice win for the Saints in Arizona, but New Orleans needed this version of Drew Brees against the Lions and Buccaneers. If the Saints had won those games, the Saints would be sitting pretty in wild card position and we would be having a completely different conversation. If the Saints want to be relevant in 2017, they need to get back to what they did in the Saints golden years, which was forcing turnovers and running the football. In 2011, when New Orleans had the 6th highest scoring offense of all time, the three headed monster of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas ran for over 2000 yards at 4.9 Y/A. With a mediocre offensive line, New Orleans has to find a way to being more balanced.
25. Chicago Bears [3-11] Movement: Up 2
That’s a tough pill to swallow for the Bears. Chicago managed to claw from a 17 point deficit in the 4th quarter only to end up on Aaron Rodgers’ highlight tape. But the bears move up because, like the Bengals, even though they are struggling to pull out wins, they play teams close and are genuinely improving week to week. Jay Cutler’s days are over in the windy city and Matt Barkley deserves the chance to compete for the starting job in 2017.
26. San Diego Chargers [5-9] Movement: Down 2
Mike McCoy straight up gave up on his team against the Raiders. After a Phillip Rivers interception in the final 2 minutes, the Chargers could have called a timeout and forced a Raiders punt with about 17 seconds left. Instead, McCoy smiled and walked onto the field to shake Jack Del Rio’s hand. It was rather indicative of the Chargers’ season, which has been filled with missed opportunities and narrow defeats. San Diego has ironed out a weekly game plan of scoring an opening drive touchdown, maintaining a slim lead until the final quarter, and then watching the opposing team march down for the go ahead score. Unfortunately, that makes you a 5-9 football team.
27. Philadelphia Eagles [5-9] Movement: Down 1
The Eagles should have never had an opportunity to beat the Ravens in Baltimore, but they came damn close. Wentz had a terrible statistical day (170 yards and 0 TDs on 42 passes) but he rallied the Eagles in the fourth and was a two point conversion away from being the hero. The touchdown scramble with 4 seconds to go took a lot of guts, but Wentz still showed us he is a rookie quarterback. Wentz threw off his back foot to a blanketed receiver during the two point conversion and the ball was easily knocked down. Ryan Matthews is continuing his very solid 2016; 128 yards against the Ravens defense is no easy task.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars [2-12] Movement: Up 1
The Jaguars have lost nine in a row, and they couldn’t even beat Tom Savage with a 12 point cushion. The Jaguars are pretty much terrible at every aspect of the game. The only bright spot was the 100 yard kickoff return by Marquise Lee.
29. New York Jets [4-10] Movement: Down 1
The Jets started off the game like they were going to knock off Miami and spoil their playoff hopes. Then the dolphins scored 3 TDs in 4 minutes. Bryce Petty has improved every week, but he has a long way to go if he is going to lead the Jets back to their first playoff berth since 2010.
30. Los Angeles Rams [4-10] Movement: No Change
John Fassel literally had no chance to win his first NFL game. Jared Goff had a couple nice throws in the first half but was mostly silent. All they can hope for is that Todd Gurley finds his old self next year.
31. San Francisco 49ers [1-13] Movement: No Change
In both 2015 and 2016, the 49ers started off their season with a dominant win and then promptly fell off the map. Apparently, Chip Kelly’s job is safe but it shouldn’t be. No coach should be able to lose 13 straight games and keep his job. Gus Bradley was fired after a lengthy losing streak, so Kelly should suffer a similar fate. When the 49ers got Torrey Smith in 2015, they expected the big play wide receiver who excelled in Baltimore. He has just 20 catches this season.
32. Browns [0-14] Movement: No Change
The Browns still haven’t won a game. I have no idea why RG3 is continuing to start for Cleveland and it is amazing how bad the team is overall. The Browns best offensive weapon is a converted quarterback and the defense has not yet held a team to fewer than 23 points in a game.