NFL Power Rankings: What to Watch for from Contenders in Week 16
Heading into Week 16, several teams are vying for five available playoff spots, each with their various strengths and weaknesses at play.
One team can't stop explosive offenses, another has a young quarterback who clearly isn't ready yet and a couple of squads are sitting pretty with impressive rookie quarterbacks and strong running games.
Here's a look at what to watch for from contenders in Week 16, complete with my power rankings (contenders in italics).
1. Denver Broncos (11-3)
The Broncos haven't exactly had the most intimidating schedule so far. Then again, you can't fault them for winning those games. They've won nine straight and Peyton Manning, combined with an improved defense, has Denver thinking big.
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1)
The 49ers were dangerous enough given their defense and running game. Now you add second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick and you are truly a scary team, especially considering Kaepernick has dual-threat ability.
3. New England Patriots (10-4)
The Patriots lost by one possession to the 49ers despite committing four turnovers in the game. They also erased a 28-point deficit in the second half, only to see the game slip between their fingers. They still have Tom Brady and they still have a strong run defense.
4. Houston Texans (12-2)
The Texans may have gotten shellacked by the Patriots, but the pivotal win over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15 showed they are still dangerous.
5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2)
The Falcons have a run defense that leaves a lot to be desired, but the 34-0 thumping of the New York Giants showed the passing attack can still unload on opponents.
6. Green Bay Packers (10-4)
With Clay Matthews back in action, the Packers have a completely different defense, which complements their explosive offense nicely.
7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
With a vastly improved passing game behind rookie Russell Wilson, a scary running game behind Marshawn Lynch and a strong pass defense, the Seahawks are a force to be reckoned with.
The Seahawks will likely mix it up offensively against the 49ers in Week 16, but San Francisco's rushing attack poses problems for Seattle in the pivotal NFC West matchup.
8. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
The Ravens could lose their next two games and still capture the No. 6 seed in the AFC. I expect them to lose to the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals to close out the season (due to a beatable pass defense and an inconsistent offense), but they should still weasel their way into the postseason.
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
Andrew Luck is a wizard if the Colts are within range in the fourth quarter and he should be a great one for years to come, but his rookie season has been overblown and, facing a strong pass defense against the Texans in Week 15, he struggled.
Nonetheless, the Colts likely only have to beat the Chiefs this week to make the playoffs and I see no way they lose that game.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Winners of five of their last six games, I expect the Bengals to win their next two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens to capture the AFC North. The defense and running game appear to be in sync at just the right time.
11. Washington Redskins (8-6)
Washington's offense continues to roll, no matter who is under center, and there's no reason to believe the team won't defeat the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys to capture the NFC East.
12. New York Giants (8-6)
The Giants' pass defense has hurt them throughout the season, as evidenced in the 34-0 loss to the Falcons, but I don't expect Eli Manning to go down without a fight. I wouldn't be surprised if he leads New York to two straight victories to end the season.
13. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
Whenever the Cowboys' defense faces a high-powered offense, they tend to shrivel up. You saw that against the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins this season. Given the Cowboys face the New Orleans Saints and Redskins to end the season, their postseason prospects don't look good to me.
14. Minnesota Vikings (8-6)
The Minnesota Vikings currently hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC, but they have to face the Texans and Packers to finish off the season. Adrian Peterson is obviously a beast, but Christian Ponder has been hard to watch this season. I think the Vikings slip out of the final playoff spot in the conference.
15. Chicago Bears (8-6)
You wonder how could the Bears could be if they simply had a decent offensive line. But asking for that each and every season is setting yourself up for disappointment. Just ask Jay Cutler.
On the other hand, as crazy as it may seem, I see the Bears making the playoffs. They face the 5-9 Arizona Cardinals and 4-10 Detroit Lions next. If they win out, they have a good shot to capture a wild-card berth.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
The Steelers can't survive with this running game and defense, no matter how good Ben Roethlisberger is down the stretch. Losing to the Bengals and beating the Cleveland Browns won't be enough to send Pittsburgh to the postseason.
17. New Orleans Saints (6-8)
It's no surprise that the Saints need to score a boatload of points to win ball games. The 41-0 destruction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15 was more of an anomaly for the defense than a trend.
18. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)
Given this team's passing game, when the defense collapses like it did against the Vikings in Week 15, it can get ugly.
19. Miami Dolphins (6-8)
Whether it be through the air or on the ground, Miami's offense doesn't scare anyone. Still, the coaching staff is doing the best with what it has and the defense has generally been reliable, which is a start.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
Before Tampa Bay's defense dramatically improves, there is no hope for this team as a playoff contender. When you have one of the worst pass defenses in a pass-happy league, that's generally not a good sign.
21. Carolina Panthers (5-9)
The last two victories over the Falcons and San Diego Chargers were worth noting, as Cam Newton and the running game was dynamic. This team is better than its 5-9 record indicates. Carolina just needs to learn how to eke out victories in close games.
22. San Diego Chargers (5-9)
The Chargers are near the middle of the pack in points per game and points allowed per game. The problem is, they either win by a landslide or find ways to lose ballgames. The inconsistency of this team is unbelievable.
23. Cleveland Browns (5-9)
Cleveland has one of the worst offenses in the league and the defense isn't good enough to clamp down on high-powered attacks. The Browns desperately need a cornerback opposite Joe Haden, as well as various pieces on offense.
24. New York Jets (6-8)
25. Arizona Cardinals (5-9)
This offense is atrocious: behind center, in the backfield and on the line. Couple that with an inconsistent defense and you have trouble.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-9)
The 50-17 loss to the Seahawks must have been tough for the Bills, given there was actually hope that the defense was improving. It's also not a good sign when you've committed 29 turnovers in 14 games.
27. Tennessee Titans (5-9)
The Titans should be thankful they have Chris Johnson, but it's legitimately concerning when your quarterback of the future appears to actually be regressing down the stretch.
28. Detroit Lions (4-10)
When you yearn for the days you held the Jaguars to 14 points, that's when you know you've had a rough stretch. The Falcons will be the next team to pick apart Detroit's defense in Week 16. And what happened to the Matthew Stafford that we used to know?
29. Oakland Raiders (4-10)
A 15-0 victory over the Chiefs is not going to wipe away the ugly season the Raiders have had on both sides of the ball. The Raiders will get back to their losing ways in Week 16 at Carolina.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
The Eagles have the most turnovers in the NFC this season (34). The Lions and Cowboys are tied for the second-most in the conference with 25. That will give you an idea of how much Philadelphia likes to help its opponents.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
The 24-3 loss to the Dolphins in Week 15 was the epitome of the Jaguars: no offense and no defense. Without Maurice Jones-Drew, there is little to like about Jacksonville.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)
When you lose to the Raiders 15-0, you are truly the worst team in the league. Averaging 13.9 points for a season is hard to even fathom. Then again, the Chiefs averaged 13.3 points last season. While Mark Sanchez and the Jets have problems fumbling the snap, the Chiefs don't even snap the ball at times. Hey, at least pigeons enjoy watching this team.
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