Peyton Manning was excellent in frigid conditions, but did he carry the Broncos to the top of the power rankings?
Week 14 saw plenty of drama and crazy endings that made for highly entertaining football. Now that the dust has settled, we can sift through the results and see how each team stacks up in the NFL's big picture.
Without further ado, let's get down to business.
1. Denver Broncos (11-2)
Peyton Manning’s critics will still want to see it in the playoffs, but he sure looked absolutely phenomenal despite a kickoff temperature of just 18 degrees.
No. 18 threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Denver Broncos to a 51-point outing against the Tennessee Titans.
No team is better than the Seattle Seahawks at home, but the Broncos are the best neutral-field team in football.
2. Seattle Seahawks (11-2)
The Seahawks were handed their second loss of the year, but it was still a very close game against a desperate San Francisco 49ers team. The loss makes the race for the NFC’s No. 1 seed a little closer, but Seattle should be able to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs with three very winnable games on the schedule.
Russell Wilson is playing phenomenal football at the moment, and he has the team clicking on all cylinders.
3. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints rebounded in a big way after a shellacking at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 13. They dominated the Carolina Panthers, moving the football with ease against a terrific defense and containing Cam Newton.
The performance showed that they are good enough on both sides of the ball to win it all, but the road to the Super Bowl will still go through Seattle.
4. New England Patriots (10-3)
The Pats came back from a 19-3 deficit late in the third quarter to win against the Cleveland Browns in a game that reminded us never to doubt Tom Brady.
The offense struggled during Gronkowski’s absence, and Brady looks like a different quarterback without his safety valve.
Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury combined with the losses of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo will be too much to overcome. The Pats are poised to fall down these power rankings as the 2013 season comes to a close.
5. San Francisco 49ers (9-4)
With the victory over the Seahawks, the Niners kept their unlikely hopes of winning the NFC West alive, but that’s not why their Week 14 victory was so important.
It was a much-needed win, and it showed that the Niners can still physically go toe-to-toe with the NFL's best. Amid all the criticism of Colin Kaepernick and shocking home losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers (which isn’t so shocking anymore), they’re still a 9-4 team that nobody will want to face in the playoffs.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
The Chiefs blew out the Washington Redskins and ended their three-game losing skid. The win itself isn’t so impressive, considering Washington's ineptitude, but Kansas City’s defense was the story of the game.
It broke out of its slump with six sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles. That pass rush had dropped off during the losing streak, and the Chiefs reminded us how good they can look when their defense is on its game.
7. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
The Panthers were completely outplayed by the Saints in front of a national TV audience, but the loss isn’t too devastating to their standing among the league’s best teams.
New Orleans is excellent in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and plenty of other great teams have succumbed to the powerful force that is Drew Brees.
Carolina still controls its playoff destiny, and the Panthers can restate their dominance with a win over the Saints in Week 16.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4)
Cincinnati put up 42 points against the Colts and rolled to a 14-point victory against a playoff team. Andy Dalton was superb, scoring four touchdowns (one rushing) and spreading the ball around to his plethora of receiving weapons (seven Bengals caught a pass).
This team has all the talent at the skill positions to beat anybody, but the Bengals will only go as far as Andy Dalton can carry them.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5)
It’s safe to say that Chip Kelly is not a gimmicky coach at the NFL level. His offense may have fallen back to Earth after its breathtaking Week 1 performance, but he has his Eagles playing tough football and winning games they wouldn’t have won last year.
Not to mention, Nick Foles has looked superb as Philadelphia’s starting quarterback. The defense still has its fair share of holes, but the offense (led by LeSean McCoy) can score on anybody.
10. Arizona Cardinals (8-5)
Carson Palmer has played well for four straight games, and he isn’t making the brutal mistakes that cost his team wins. The Cardinals defense is good enough to win games by itself, but factor in an improving offense, and Arizona looks like a playoff team.
The Cards still need the Panthers or Niners to slip up for those postseason aspirations to become a reality, but head coach Bruce Arians deserves all the credit in the world for making this team a playoff contender.
11. Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
The Colts clinched their division despite losing to Cincinnati, so they’ll make their second straight playoff appearance. Nevertheless, this team is limping toward the postseason without Reggie Wayne in the fold, going .500 since the injury with wins over bad AFC South teams.
Week 14 saw unexpected contributions from LaVon Brazill and Da’Rick Rogers, but the lack of receivers is a problem for Andrew Luck.
12. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
Before we get to the analysis, you should watch the last two minutes of Baltimore’s Week 14 win, which can be found here.
That was totally worth it, wasn't it?
The Ravens have quietly won three straight games, but they haven’t looked like a very good team. The offense is struggling to find any consistency, and Baltimore fans will be hoping that the return of Dennis Pitta will provide that.
Inconsistency and the lack of a running game have hamstrung the Ravens all year, but they’re still a playoff team.
13. Chicago Bears (7-6)
The Lions loss has gave them an opening, and the Chicago Bears took full advantage of it by thrashing the Dallas Cowboys in sub-zero temperatures at Soldier Field.
Chicago's defense is still a concern (they gave up 146 yards to DeMarco Murray on 8.1 yards per carry), but the offense is phenomenal.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the best wide receiver tandem in the game, and Matt Forte has been a beast. The impact of Jay Cutler's return is unclear, but the Bears are right back in the thick of the division race.
14. Detroit Lions (7-6)
The Detroit Lions completely squandered their chance to run away with the NFC North once Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers went down with injuries, and now they hold a slim half-game lead with three games left on the calendar.
Detroit’s inconsistency and lack of focus have been their undoing, but they still have the chance to hold on and sneak into the playoffs.
The more pressing issue is the injury to Reggie Bush. The Lions look like a different team without him in the lineup.
15. Green Bay Packers (6-6-1)
This ranking inside the top 15 has more to do with the future than what has already happened. Aaron Rodgers’ status for Week 15 is still unclear, but there is a chance that he makes his return against the Dallas Cowboys, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Mike McCarthy said team plans to work out Aaron Rodgers on Tuesday and evaluate him Wednesday. Chance he plays Sunday vs. Dallas.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2013
If Rodgers plays in the last three games of the year, the Packers can win out and give themselves a chance to win the division and make the playoffs. If Matt Flynn has to start again next week, they’re in trouble.
16. Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Everything seemed to be falling apart for Miami after it handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first win of the season, but the Dolphins have shown their mental toughness with three gutsy performances.
They beat the San Diego Chargers, played the Carolina Panthers very close and then went into Heinz Field last week and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Through all the locker-room controversy, they’re right in the hunt for the second AFC wild-card spot and have three division games left on their schedule.
17. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
The Cowboys didn't just lose an important Week 14 game. They got absolutely demolished. Everybody will want to get after Tony Romo for his December struggles, but this loss was all about a defense that looks absolutely dreadful.
They couldn't force the Bears to punt once, and Chicago scored on every drive except for the last one when they took a knee.
18. San Diego Chargers (6-7)
The Chargers have been much better than they were last year, but they are still too inconsistent for their own good.
The win against the New York Giants kept their playoff hopes alive, but Philip Rivers will need to play out of his head to win both of his upcoming matchups against Denver and Kansas City.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
The Steelers came screaming back into the playoff picture, but back-to-back losses against other teams in the AFC playoff race all but closed the book on their playoff ambitions.
Two games back of the second wild-card spot with three games left, the Steelers aren’t completely out of it yet, but they need a lot of games to go their way to have a chance of extending their season.
20. St. Louis Rams (5-8)
The Rams have finally gotten Tavon Austin more involved in the offense, and it’s paying off for them. Their loss to the Cardinals knocked them out of playoff contention, and that’s actually a good thing for the Rams.
With two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, they’ll have the chance to significantly improve next season and make the NFC West the league’s best division.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
These power rankings are supposed to reflect how well each team is playing right now, and the Buccaneers are a tough out for anybody at the moment.
The Bucs blew out the Buffalo Bills thanks to an excellent defensive performance, holding them to just six points in the game. Head coach Greg Schiano’s seat is getting colder by the minute, and the Bucs are doing it without Doug Martin in the fold.
22. New York Jets (6-7)
Geno Smith and the Jets hung 37 points on the Oakland Raiders in a home win, but that says more about the Raiders defense than it does the Jets offense.
After such a hopeful start to the year, serious questions about Smith’s potential have begun to arise, and the overwhelming lack of talent at the skill positions is too much for this team to overcome.
23. Tennessee Titans (5-8)
The Titans got blown out by Denver, but that’s been a common occurrence in the NFL this season. What’s more impressive is that they were able to hang with the Broncos for three quarters.
There are some intriguing pieces on the Titans roster, but change is on the horizon, according to Sports Illustrated:
Titans reportedly ready to make major changes in coaching and personnel http://t.co/l0e3KGVbbT— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 8, 2013
Head coach Mike Munchak is coaching for his job, so the performance against the Broncos was a good thing for him.
24. Cleveland Browns (4-9)
The Browns lost an absolute heartbreaker to the New England Patriots, but it shows just how far they’ve come. Cleveland has come crashing back down to Earth since Brian Hoyer’s injury, but there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Ray Horton’s defense has been excellent and kept the Browns in a number of games. More importantly, the emergence of Jordan Cameron as a legitimate weapon and Josh Gordon as one of the league’s best receivers is incredibly exciting for Cleveland.
With two first-round picks in the 2014 draft, this team is a competent quarterback away from being surprisingly good.
25. New York Giants (5-8)
Quite frankly, both the offense and the defense need to show serious improvement over the last few weeks of the season. There is a lot of talent on this New York roster, but the Giants haven’t been able to put it all together.
Is this finally the year that head coach Tom Coughlin loses his job?
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
Even though two of their wins came against the league’s worst team, the Jaguars somehow aren’t quite mathematically eliminated from the playoff race in the AFC (which shows just how bad the AFC has been).
The roster needs to be overhauled, but head coach Gus Bradley’s job should be safe. Unfortunately, the more Jacksonville wins, the further away from the No. 1 pick it becomes.
27. Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Matt Cassel has actually played fairly well for the Vikings, and they lost a crazy game to the Ravens in Week 14 after giving up three touchdowns in the last 125 seconds of the game.
That they played so well without Adrian Peterson for most of the game is a testament to the rest of the team, but there is a lot of work to be done on this roster.
On the plus side, Cordarrelle Patterson is coming into his own and is electric with the ball in his hands.
28. Atlanta Falcons (3-10)
The Falcons gave Green Bay its first Rodgers-less victory, but there were some signs of life. Roddy White finally looks close to 100 percent, and the defense played better. Furthermore, first-round pick Desmond Trufant is playing really well, and it looks like he will turn into a top-notch corner.
Despite the incredibly disappointing season, this team will bounce back in 2014 thanks to Matt Ryan and a healthy receiving corps.
29. Oakland Raiders (4-9)
The Raiders got trounced by the New York Jets and allowed Geno Smith to put up 37 points. That’s all you need to know about their Week 14 performance.
Oakland has surprisingly managed to win four games, but has the combination of Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin shown enough flashes of potential to make the Raiders pass on a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft?
30. Buffalo Bills (4-9)
EJ Manuel looked fantastic to start the year, but he’s really struggled since coming back from injury. Those struggles, combined with the woes of the rushing attack and the injury problems of C.J. Spiller, have led to a very disappointing first season under new head coach Doug Marrone.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and the front office put together a spectacular 2013 draft. If Buffalo can repeat that performance in 2014, this team will be interesting.
31. Washington Redskins (3-10)
If you had told Washington fans that their record would be the opposite of Kansas City’s record at this point of the season, chances are they would have been happy with that.
Well, that is the case, and Washington fans are certainly not happy about it.
There are problems behind every curtain in Washington, including the latest media circus surrounding head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to potentially bench Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season.
At least the Redskins have a high draft pick. Oh wait, they traded it away.
Things aren’t looking so great in the nation’s capital.
32. Houston Texans (2-11)
How far the mighty have fallen. The Texans have lost 11 straight games, and their head coach, Gary Kubiak, was fired after Week 14’s loss to the Jaguars (the second time they’ve lost to Jacksonville this year).
Considering all the talent on the roster, maybe the shock of a new head coach will be what it takes to get the Texans back in contention, but they’ll need a new quarterback to take them there. Whether that QB is Case Keenum remains to be seen.