Week 14 of the NFL season offered big games that helped define which teams belong atop the power rankings and which are in the bottom and middle tiers. What we know for sure is that the worst team is already looking for a new head coach and that at the top of the pecking order, things are less defined.
The Houston Texans have fired Gary Kubiak, getting a jump-start on the interview process with three weeks to go in the regular season. They won't be the only team firing their head coach, as performances in Minnesota and Washington could also lead to changes at the helm.
The teams on the bottom of the standings are looking ahead to the offseason, but teams like San Francisco, Denver and Kansas City are getting in playoff form as we head into Week 15.
This Week's Rank: 32
Last Week's Rank: 32
The Houston Texans have lost 11 straight games, and they'll begin Week 15 by looking for a new head coach. Gary Kubiak is out, with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips taking over in the interim, and general manager Rick Smith is already focusing on next year.
The Texans aren't the least-talented team in the NFL, but the chemistry and coaching this year never lived up to expectations. And the decision to bench quarterback Matt Schaub—one generally believed to have been issued by the front office—pointed to an outlook centered on building for the future. That future will be without Kubiak and likely without Schaub.
This Week's Rank: 31
Last Week's Rank: 28
If you have ever wanted to see a team completely give up, watch Washington's performance versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14. In every phase of the game, Kansas City dominated Washington despite playing on the road and in inclement weather.
Mike Shanahan's days as the head coach of this team are numbered—and that may be what he wants if you believe reports in the media, like this one from Mark Maske of The Washington Post, that Shanahan is leaking negative information about quarterback Robert Griffin III and owner Daniel Snyder.
Whether he's the leak or not, the team's play one year after winning the NFC East would be reason enough for a change at head coach in Washington.
This Week's Rank: 30
Last Week's Rank: 30
The Atlanta Falcons are ready for 2014.
With their 10th loss of the season, the Falcons have to be ready to move on from this season. That means focusing on player development, self-scouting and serious meetings designed at fixing what went wrong this year. Some of those fixes will come once players get healthy, but improvements are needed, too.
The Falcons have a good front office and a strong coaching staff, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see changes made among position coaches or coordinators. Just don't expect head coach Mike Smith to go anywhere. One season doesn't define Smith's performance with the Falcons.
This Week's Rank: 29
Last Week's Rank: 25
The Oakland Raiders are not a very good football team right now. A Week 14 loss to the New York Jets has them falling in the rankings but also improving their NFL draft-pick projection. And that's much more important than a win at this stage in the season.
The Raiders want to believe they have the future of the team on the roster now, but the reality is that this roster is very bad. Reggie McKenzie inherited a mess as general manager and has been working to rid the roster of overpaid draft busts and free-agent misses. That's resulted in a housecleaning that caused the Raiders to get worse before they could get better.
The future is bright, though, as long as ownership will allow McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen to do their thing. The fact that the Raiders have won even four games is a testament to the work the two have done in turning this team around.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 29
Three months ago, we were all expecting the Jacksonville Jaguars to hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Now they've won four games, including three straight and four of five heading into the final three weeks of the year.
I've written all year that head coach Gus Bradley is the right man to get the Jaguars turned around, and we're starting to see that. Even without their most talented player, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, they're winning games and playing with incredible toughness. Bradley's game-day coaching and the way he's preparing the team before kickoff is paying off in big ways.
This Week's Rank: 27
Last Week's Rank: 26
In a game dominated by turnovers, the Buffalo Bills suffered their ninth loss of the year, falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-6. With the playoffs out of reach and first-year head coach Doug Marrone safe in his job, it's time for the Bills to really focus on their young players.
With rookies EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Kiko Alonso and Nickell Roby all making big contributions already this season, the smart move for Buffalo would be to let the youngsters loose even more down the stretch.
When looking to the future, the front office and coaching staff needs to see what they have in Manuel, Woods and Goodwin on offense. Let's see what the trio can do down the stretch in a more aggressive game plan.
This Week's Rank: 26
Last Week's Rank: 31
Why do the Cleveland Browns move up five spots this week?
Through the first 58 minutes of the game, it looked like the Browns were set to defeat the New England Patriots. Wide receiver Josh Gordon was dominant as the Browns held a comfortable lead. And then it fell apart.
It's tough to blame the Browns for allowing the Patriots to come from behind and win, but this is the line on the Browns right now. They're a good team with a lot of young talent, but they're not yet able to close out games.
This is a blessing in disguise for the Browns, though. While no one wants to lose, better positioning in the 2014 NFL draft is more important than one more win in a non-playoff season.
This Week's Rank: 25
Last Week's Rank: 27
The Minnesota Vikings took part in the most exciting two minutes of football I've seen this year as they went back and forth with the Baltimore Ravens in a close loss. If you missed the two teams breaking off big plays in the snow, it's worth catching on NFL Replay this week.
For the Vikings, it's another loss, but they also got great production form budding stars like Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson's play continues to be a bright spot, and they may be leaning on him more and more if Adrian Peterson's injury is serious. Peterson left the game early with a lower-leg injury and will need tests this week to determine the extent of the injury.
A loss hurts, but the Vikings are playing for next year right now. Playing well and helping their draft positioning isn't a bad thing.
This Week's Rank: 24
Last Week's Rank: 24
It seems like so long ago when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 0-8, and we were all ready to fire Greg Schiano. But since then, the Bucs are 4-1, and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has proven to be a smart gamble for the coaching staff.
That move has paid off for Tampa, and down the stretch, we're seeing a glimpse of what this team can become. Now that the players have bought into Schiano and the offense has a solid quarterback, good things are happening.
Winning in Week 14 won't help Tampa's draft positioning, but the momentum they are building is invaluable.
This Week's Rank: 23
Last Week's Rank: 23
The end may be in sight for Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak. Amid reports that he is coaching for his job, per NFL Media columnist Michael Silver (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com), Munchak's team squandered a 21-10 lead. That won't sit well with ownership that's allegedly ready to make changes.
The Titans have shown promise at times, but they've also had to deal with an injury to quarterback Jake Locker and frustrating play on both sides of the ball. Even with young players like Jurrell Casey and Kendall Wright stepping into bigger roles, the overall performances have been too flat. And that's on Munchak.
There are three games left and a chance at an 8-8 record. But even that might not be enough to prevent a coaching change here.
This Week's Rank: 22
Last Week's Rank: 21
A loss within the division hurts, but for the St. Louis Rams, it was a blessing.
How could a loss be a good thing? The Rams are out of playoff contention in the NFC, and with two first-round picks and a stack of holes needing to be filled on the roster, the better draft pick they get the better off the team will be.
As of Sunday night, the Rams would have picks No. 2 (from Washington) and No. 13 (their own). With the chance to bolster an already strong roster in a non-playoff year, the Rams can afford to lose a few more games.
This Week's Rank: 21
Last Week's Rank: 20
Another week, another Eli Manning interception, another New York Giants loss. This one knocks them out of the playoff race officially and puts the focus on where the team goes from here.
Manning, who threw his 20th interception of the year in Week 14, is the team's identity, but they must build up the talent around him. That could come in the form of a left tackle or defensive end in the early parts of the first round, but with five wins, the team has likely played its way out of a top-five pick and a blue-chip prospect.
Tom Coughlin turns 68 next summer, and the Giants have to find out if he has the energy to commit to a rebuilding project. If not, it might be time to get a successor in place.
This Week's Rank: 20
Last Week's Rank: 22
Good Geno Smith showed up in Week 14, and the New York Jets won impressively over a tough Oakland Raiders team. The recipe of efficient passing and a suffocating defense has a way of winning ballgames, and that's what Rex Ryan's crew served up this week.
The Jets are maddening at times, but there is no doubting their potential. When Smith is good, the offense rolls even though the Jets have little established talent at receiver, running back and along the offensive line. Smith has had his low points—and they've been pretty low—but his upside is encouraging if New York can get a system and talent around him.
The next three weeks will be about winning and establishing momentum. A 9-7 season would be a nice surprise for the Jets.
This Week's Rank: 19
Last Week's Rank: 17
A loss at home in Week 14 is likely to be the nail in the Pittsburgh Steelers' coffin. At 5-8, the playoffs are very unlikely. In a season that started terribly but saw the team rebound well, finishing without a winning record and out of the playoffs is a major disappointment.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert have a tall task ahead of them. The Steelers are no longer the bullies of the AFC North. In fact, one could argue they have the fourth-best roster in the division right now. They do have talent at key positions—quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker—but they're old in the secondary and overrated on the offensive line.
Fixing the Steelers will take a home-run draft class, and Colbert's proven in the past he can pull that off.
This Week's Rank: 18
Last Week's Rank: 19
Winning ugly isn't always good for the hearts of fans, but at the end of the day, it's all that matters. And by going to Pittsburgh and winning a close game in the snow, the Dolphins proved themselves in Week 14.
Their toughness could be questioned after several weeks of bad play on both sides of the ball, but when pushed and in a position to be run over, they responded. The game plan wasn't perfect, nor was the execution, but the result was as good as anyone could have hoped for. No matter how they won or how close the final score was, the Dolphins won on the road.
With a 7-6 record, the Dolphins are in position to finish with a winning record, but they're also still alive for a wild-card berth.
This Week's Rank: 17
Last Week's Rank: 18
A definitive win over Manning and the New York Giants had to feel good for fans of the San Diego Chargers—especially with Manning famously rejecting the Chargers before the 2004 NFL draft. The people of San Diego got their revenge in Week 14.
Now the Chargers are looking to catch the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC wild-card race, but to do so, they'll need to beat both Denver and Kansas City over the next three weeks. It's an unlikely scenario, but anything is possible in December.
Win or lose, fans have to be optimistic about the job Mike McCoy has done in his first year as head coach.
This Week's Rank: 16
Last Week's Rank: 14
With a chance to extend their lead in the NFC North, the Detroit Lions fell victim to brutal snow and the Philadelphia Eagles' running game.
The Lions remain an incredibly talented team but also a very inconsistent one. Detroit should have walked away with the division once Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers were hurt, but they've squandered that chance with uneven play.
Three games to go and the Lions need to get serious. They host Baltimore and the Giants before traveling to Minnesota to end the year in what could be a make-or-break game.
This Week's Rank: 15
Last Week's Rank: 11
The Dallas Cowboys did not look like a playoff team on Monday night.
Playing in the brutal Chicago cold against a banged-up Bears team, the Cowboys stumbled and struggled throughout. That leaves them one game back of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. That's bad news considering how hot the Eagles are right now.
The Cowboys are—as always—talented but inconsistent. Dropped interceptions by the secondary, interior offensive line struggles and a failure to stop the big Chicago receivers left them short on the scoreboard. That's a theme fans in Dallas are all too familiar with.
This Week's Rank: 14
Last Week's Rank: 15
Hosting the Dallas Cowboys—a team tied for the NFC East lead—and beating them with ease proves that the Chicago Bears are still alive as a playoff contender.
Going toe-to-toe with the Dallas offense and coming out ahead says a lot about the talent in Chicago, the coaching job Mark Trestman has done and the resilient play of quarterback Josh McCown in relief of the injured Jay Cutler.
The Bears have to move up this week after an impressive win. And they're not only moving up here, but also in the NFC North standings with three weeks to go.
This Week's Rank: 13
Last Week's Rank: 16
Don't count the Green Bay Packers out yet. With three weeks to go, the team is a half-game out of the NFC North race. And thanks to a loss by the Detroit Lions, anything is possible for the Packers. Send your thank you cards to Matt Flynn for helping the team win a crucial Week 14 game.
With Aaron Rodgers possibly coming back in Week 15, the Packers have three weeks to get into first place in the North. They can win out with Rodgers as the schedule isn't brutal—at Dallas, vs. Pittsburgh and at Chicago.
If they can win those three games, you have to like their chances. They'll need Detroit to drop one of their remaining games (vs. Baltimore, vs. Giants and at Minnesota), but that's possible given Detroit's inconsistency.
The season hinges on Rodgers, though. If he's back, things will get very interesting in the NFC North.
This Week's Rank: 12
Last Week's Rank: 13
Someone forgot to tell the Baltimore Ravens that their season was over a month ago. Or at least it was supposed to be. Now they've fought their way into the No. 6 seed in the AFC and look like a tough out for whomever they're matched up against.
With three games to go, the Ravens control their own destiny. Keep winning and they'll be a wild-card team with a game against Indianapolis or Cincinnati in the first round. Both are winnable.
You have to credit head coach John Harbaugh for coaching the heck out of this team. It would have been easy for the Ravens to become complacent and roll over once the losses started piling up, but they've clawed their way through a tough schedule and a tough division and are three wins away from the postseason.
The wins might not always be pretty—like Week 14's "Snow Bowl"—but they are wins.
This Week's Rank: 11
Last Week's Rank: 8
As the weeks go by, it's becoming painfully obvious that the Indianapolis Colts need more talent around quarterback Andrew Luck. The team that beat the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers no longer exists. Instead, the Colts look poised to back into the playoffs and won't be favored to win a home playoff game in the Wild Card Round.
The loss of Reggie Wayne has been devastating to the Indianapolis offense, and that's led to Luck pressing and forcing plays that aren't there. It doesn't help that the interior of the offensive line has been very poor, which puts Luck under pressure on nearly every down.
For the Colts to make noise in the postseason, they have to protect Luck better and scheme ways for him to get the ball to T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener early in games.
This Week's Rank: 10
Last Week's Rank: 12
Another week, another win for Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals as they continue to build a case for the NFC's No. 6 seed. With three games to go, the Cardinals look to be playoff-caliber but have to keep winning and need help to get in.
Carson Palmer and the offense did work on the St. Louis Rams defense, giving the team a comfortable 30-10 win over an NFC West rival. That's good enough to keep Arizona just one game back from the 49ers for a wild-card berth in a crowded division and conference.
It would be a shame to see this team miss the playoffs, but that's a possibility unless either San Francisco or Carolina stumbles down the stretch.
This Week's Rank: 9
Last Week's Rank: 10
The Philadelphia Eagles keep on moving up.
In Chip Kelly's first season, the Eagles are guaranteed to not have a losing record and are leading the NFC East with three games to go. No one saw that coming when he was hired last offseason, but Kelly's fingerprints are all over this team. And the Week 14 win—dominated by a strong run game in heavy snow—is classic Kelly ball.
Thanks to LeSean McCoy's 214 yards rushing, the Eagles were able to make plays in what looked to be several feet of snow on the ground and in conditions that were near irresponsible to play in at times. This isn't a game the Eagles would have won last year, but under Kelly, the team has clamped down and played tough football.
Kelly might not get Coach of the Year, but he'll be high on my ballot.
This Week's Rank: 8
Last Week's Rank: 9
The Cincinnati Bengals put a statement win on the board in Week 14, smashing the Indianapolis Colts 42-28 and moving into the No. 3 seed in the AFC. With a 9-4 record, Marvin Lewis' team looks to be in position to make the playoffs for a third straight season, too. The Bengals are deserving of a move up this week.
Even in a week when their play wasn't perfect, the Bengals took down a playoff-caliber Colts team and proved to many doubters how good they can be. And with a home playoff game likely, the Bengals have to enter the conversation as a potential surprise team this year.
If they play like they did in Week 14, anything is possible.
This Week's Rank: 7
Last Week's Rank: 7
The Kansas City Chiefs had a nice bounce back after three straight losses, putting an epic beating on Washington in a game plagued with sleet and snow. The weather couldn't stop the Kansas City run game or special teams. A 45-10 victory later, the Chiefs look like they have their swagger back.
On a day when Washington could do nothing to stop the Chiefs any time they had the football, Andy Reid got win No. 10. That's eight more than the Chiefs had all last season. If Reid isn't the Coach of the Year award winner, I don't know who is.
The Chiefs will likely be on the road for the first week of the playoffs, but if they play like they did in Week 14, that won't matter.
This Week's Rank: 6
Last Week's Rank: 5
One week after looking like a sure-fire top five team, the Carolina Panthers were reminded on national TV that they're not quite ready to take the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints quieted the Panthers offense and carved up their defense en route to an easy win.
Now the Panthers, who are still in control of their own playoff destiny, must get back on track. Over the next three weeks, they face the Jets, Saints again and then the Falcons. Two of those games are very winnable—the first and last—if the Panthers are on their game. Two wins would keep them in the playoff race, but the Arizona Cardinals are just one game back and playing well themselves.
The Panthers can't let the Sunday night loss linger, or it will doom what's been an amazing season.
This Week's Rank: 5
Last Week's Rank: 6
The San Francisco 49ers got their revenge in Week 14, beating the Seattle Seahawks and reminding folks that they'll be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs. Are the 49ers back among the league's elite teams?
They are very good—they proved that with a physical win over Seattle—but their road through the playoffs will be well-traveled as they are likely to be a wild-card team. Jim Harbaugh's team has always been good on the road, which would make the 49ers a favorite in the Wild Card Round, but for San Francisco to get back to the Super Bowl, it needs an unleashed Colin Kaepernick.
The third-year quarterback continues to make big plays, but otherwise he plays timid and hesitant with his arm and legs. The dual-threat star from last season is nowhere to be seen, and for the 49ers to make a run, they'll need Kaepernick at his best.
This Week's Rank: 4
Last Week's Rank: 4
Facing a 21-10 deficit at home, the Denver Broncos seemed to come alive. They went on a 41-7 run after that, putting the Tennessee Titans away and answering critics who thought Peyton Manning couldn't win in the cold.
Beating the Titans at home was expected, but the manner in which Denver decimated the team was impressive. Manning and his trio of wide receivers dominated, and the Denver defense stepped in to keep the Titans from challenging in a shootout.
With three weeks to go, the Broncos are in control of the AFC, and the No. 1 seed looks to be theirs.
This Week's Rank: 3
Last Week's Rank: 3
What did we learn in Week 14? Never bet against Tom Brady.
The Patriots looked to be dead late in the game against the Cleveland Browns, but on-point passing from Brady and mistakes by the Browns led to another New England comeback. You can say the refs handed the game to New England—and many in Cleveland will—but Brady and Co. still had to execute. And they did.
Winning ugly is becoming a habit for New England, but they are winning. And right now, that's all that matters as they hold on to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
This Week's Rank: 2
Last Week's Rank: 1
The Seattle Seahawks dominated the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2, but everyone knew Week 14 would be different. With the game in San Francisco, and with Michael Crabtree back healthy for the 49ers, it would be anyone's game.
The Seahawks were beat at their own game, though. And while they may be the more talented roster or the better playoff bet, they were not the better team on Sunday. The 49ers ran the ball, pressured the quarterback and made stops on third down throughout the entire game. The difference was just two points but could have huge ramifications.
The Seahawks haven't secured the No. 1 seed yet, though they would have to lose twice in their final three games for New Orleans or San Francisco to have a shot at taking it from them.
This Week's Rank: 1
Last Week's Rank: 2
Know this: The NFL is weird.
One week after being beaten handily by the Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints move into the No. 1 overall spot. Thanks to a loss by Seattle and the Saints' win over the fifth-ranked Carolina Panthers, they're actually deserving of the spot. One week ago, who would have thought this possible?
The Saints didn't just win on Sunday night, they dominated a very good Carolina team. Drew Brees was magical against the Panthers defense. Not only that, but the rag-tag Rob Ryan defense in New Orleans also kept Cam Newton quiet all night long. This was a defining moment for the Saints and proof that they're a legitimate Super Bowl threat if the road to the NFC Championship runs through the Superdome.