In a sport where perception can change every single week, it is important to look at the big picture when it comes to rating NFL teams against each other.
Top contenders like the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers dropped road games in Week 14, but neither defeat should change how we think about their chances going forward. Considering there are no undefeated squads in football, every loss has to be examined carefully.
Although momentum and recent play is important, it is also vital to not forget about past performances.
With this in mind, here is a look at the power rankings for the best teams in the NFL heading into Week 15.
1. Seattle Seahawks (11-2)
While the Seahawks did lose a close game to the rival 49ers, there is no reason to panic in Seattle. The squad is still in line to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which will give it home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Considering the Seahawks have not lost at CenturyLink Field since 2011, they should have a lot of confidence going forward.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
The dominant win over the Panthers reassured the idea that the Saints are the team to beat in the NFC South. Not only is Drew Brees still capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but the pass defense continues to impress against quality opponents.
Of course, the narrative remains that the Saints cannot win on the road. However, ESPN's Mike Sando pointed out that this is simply not true:
And the best regular-season road record in the NFL since 2009 belongs to ... you guessed it, the Saints. 24-14 (.632).— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) December 12, 2013
Obviously, the squad is much better at the Superdome, averaging 32.9 points per game compared to just 18.8 on the road. Still, the veteran squad knows how to come away with tough wins away from home.
This factor makes the team one of the top contenders in the NFL.
3. Denver Broncos (11-2)
Although Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense is clearly the best in the NFL, there should be real concern regarding the defense. The unit allows 26.5 points per game and is among the worst at defending the pass.
Denver remains the favorite to win the AFC title, but a good passing attack could end up causing problems.
4. New England Patriots (10-3)
The loss of Rob Gronkowski is going to be a big deal for the Patriots. The tight end was a big-time target in the red zone, and he required a lot of defensive attention every time he stepped on the field.
Without him, Tom Brady could start to struggle once again as the pressure shifts back to the young receiving corps.
Which is the best team in the NFC?
5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
The loss to the Saints ended the Panthers' eight-game winning streak, which will hurt their confidence more than anything else. Still, this defense is as good as any in the league, and it will take Carolina far into the playoffs.
Also, do not be surprised to see a very different result when the two NFC South rivals battle in Week 16.
6. San Francisco 49ers (9-4)
The win over the Seahawks was by far the biggest of the season for the 49ers. Not only were they able to stay ahead in the wild-card race, but they proved to themselves that they can still beat Seattle, something that will play a role if these squads face off in the postseason.
After struggling all year against projected playoff teams, getting this one big win will do wonders for Colin Kaepernick's confidence and development.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
The blowout win in Week 14 said more about the Washington Redskins' struggles than it did about the Chiefs. Still, the defense was able to get back to its dominant self while Alex Smith also performed well when needed.
It is difficult to imagine Kansas City topping Denver in the standings after losing both head-to-head matchups, but the squad can use the rest of the year to prepare as much as possible for the playoffs.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4)
The Bengals have been overlooked as an elite team recently due to the questionable play of Andy Dalton. However, they have won seven of their last nine games, with the only two losses coming in overtime.
After Dalton's three-touchdown, zero-interception performance in a win over the Indianapolis Colts, there is little reason to doubt this squad.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5)
Remember when we were worried about the Eagles' defense? During their 1-3 start, the squad allowed an average of 34.5 points per game.
However, the unit has since turned things around and has kept opponents to 21 points or less in the last nine games. It doesn't matter that the team gives up yards when points are kept off the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, the offense features the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL and a red-hot Nick Foles spreading the field through the air.
This all adds up to having the league's longest active winning streak of five games, and Philadelphia is now a legitimate contender in the NFC.
10. Arizona Cardinals (8-5)
Although the Cardinals have played their way up to No. 10 in these power rankings, they would still not make the playoffs if the season ended today. In the toughest division in football, this will be difficult to change.
Of course, Arizona will first have to overcome the loss of Tyrann Mathieu, who tore his ACL and LCL, according to Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports. The rookie was the team's second-leading tackler, and his absence will be a significant blow to the defense.
11. Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
When things are going well, the Colts have the talent to beat anyone in football. They have proven this with wins over the Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers.
The problem is inconsistency, which tends to happen with a young team. Still, Indianapolis will have to grow up quickly if it wants to contend in a competitive AFC.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Few have noticed, but the Dolphins have been playing extremely well over the past month. With their backs against the wall, they have won three of four games, with the only loss coming on a last-minute comeback by the Panthers.
Miami is among the top five in the league in sacks, interceptions and opponent passer rating. This ability to slow down the pass will make the squad a tough team to beat for the remainder of the year.
13. Detroit Lions (7-6)
For the past few years, the Lions have had enough talent to compete with the best in the NFC. However, dumb mistakes continue to hold them back.
Detroit fumbled seven times (lost three) against the Eagles in the snow in Week 14 while committing nine penalties. Things can be turned around to make a playoff run, but the mental aspect is important as well.
14. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
The Ravens have a lot of momentum with three wins in a row, especially after the amazing finish to their Week 14 game against the Minnesota Vikings. ESPN Stats and Info provided a look at the win probability for each side during the fourth quarter:
A visual look at the changes in win probability during the 4th qtr of the Vikings-Ravens game (note final 2:07) pic.twitter.com/QsahmQPzIB— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 9, 2013
Coming away with a win in this thrilling contest is usually enough to fuel a team to more wins.
However, each of the last three games have taken place at home, where the squad has been much better this season. Conversely, the Ravens are only 1-5 on the road, where they will try to defeat the Lions on Monday night.
With the last two games against the Patriots and Bengals, Baltimore will have a tough time qualifying for the playoffs.
15. Chicago Bears (7-6)
Even though there might be a quarterback controversy brewing in Chicago based on the recent play of Josh McCown, head coach Marc Trestman ended that this week, according to Fox Sports:
UPDATE: Marc Trestman announces Jay Cutler will start Sunday against the Browns.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 12, 2013
Now the pressure is on Jay Cutler to lead the Bears to the playoffs. Otherwise, the pending free agent could be looking for a new job next season.
16. Green Bay Packers (6-6-1)
The Packers finally won a game without Aaron Rodgers, but it is hard to imagine too much continued success as long as the former MVP remains on the sidelines.
Fortunately, the rest of the NFC North has struggled as well, giving the team a shot at staying in the playoff hunt. If Rodgers can return before the end of the year, a late-season run is certainly possible.
17. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
You can blame whoever you want, but the fact remains that the Cowboys defense is terrible. The unit is the worst in the NFL against the pass, and it is not much better against the run.
Tony Romo has kept Dallas competitive with one of the best years of his career, but it is the defense that will hold the team back from reaching the postseason.
18. San Diego Chargers (6-7)
As far as teams with losing records go, the Chargers have the best chance of earning a playoff spot, entering the week with a one-game deficit. However, they must first find a way to beat the Broncos on the road on Thursday night.
As well as Philip Rivers has played this year, the defense has not performed consistently enough to slow down Peyton Manning and get this done.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
Two close losses have likely knocked the Steelers out of the playoff hunt. To make matters worse, the aging roster is unlikely to be too much more successful a year from now.
The front office has made some good draft picks of late, but it might be time to start a complete rebuild in Pittsburgh.
20. Tennessee Titans (5-8)
There is no shame in allowing 51 points to the Broncos, especially considering the Titans have displayed a quality pass defense throughout the season.
With a lot of young talent on the roster, Tennessee is doing a good job of building toward the future. Either way, things will certainly be better when Ryan Fitzpatrick is no longer the starting quarterback.
21. New York Jets (6-7)
There might not be a tougher team to get a read on this season than the Jets. Pretty much every time you think they will win, they lose, and vice versa.
Most recently, Geno Smith responded well from his recent benching and led the squad to a 37-27 win over the Oakland Raiders. This ended a three-game losing streak, and it kept the Jets as outside contenders for the postseason.
Still, these next few weeks are more important than just wins and losses. The front office has to use this time to truly evaluate Smith to see if he can be the franchise quarterback going forward.
Otherwise, the squad has to start looking at other options to fill the position in the offseason.
22. St. Louis Rams (5-8)
A tough Cardinals run defense completely shut down Zac Stacy, which led to an almost non-existent Rams offense. This likely puts the postseason out of reach for St. Louis, but the future is bright with a pair of first-round picks in April.
23. New York Giants (5-8)
In the Giants' five wins, Eli Manning has thrown only three interceptions. In the eight losses, the quarterback has thrown 17. There are problems all over the field, but Manning's struggles have devastated the squad all year.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
A few weeks ago, it seemed like head coach Greg Schiano was on his way out of town after leading the Buccaneers to an 0-8 start. All of a sudden, Tampa Bay has won four of its last five and it is a team no one wants to play.
Even with Mike Glennon's recent struggles, he should be part of a bright future in Florida.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
From an outside perspective, the Jaguars recent success only seems to be ruining the team's chances of getting an early draft pick.
However, it is important to note that no professional athlete likes losing. There is a lot of pride on this roster, and head coach Gus Bradley has been doing a great job of instilling a winning attitude on a team that was considered a joke a few months ago.
All of a sudden, Jacksonville appears to be building for the future, as noted by NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
The #Jaguars have won 4 of their last 5. Impressive improvement for Gus Bradley and this young, rebuilding team. Foundation being built.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 6, 2013
With some good drafting next offseason, the Jaguars could be a playoff contender in 2014.
26. Cleveland Browns (4-9)
Even though the Browns played well against the Patriots, there comes a point where moral victories do not mean as much. That point is likely after a 1-7 stretch to drop the squad to 4-9 on the year.
At least fans can take solace in the fact that Josh Gordon was not traded during the season.
27. Buffalo Bills (4-9)
EJ Manuel appears to be going backwards with four interceptions in his last game against the Buccaneers. The rookie now ranks 32nd of 36 qualified quarterbacks in completion percentage, 31st in quarterback rating and 33rd in QBR.
Even if the rest of the roster performs well, Manuel still has a lot to prove for the future.
28. Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Adrian Peterson is not only the biggest thing making the Vikings competitive this season, but he is one of the only reasons the squad is even watchable. If he is unable to play in Week 15 due to his injured foot, Minnesota will struggle immensely against the Eagles.
29. Oakland Raiders (4-9)
Even if the Raiders showed some glimmer of hope earlier in the season, they are just as bad as projected back in August. There are few pieces that are certain to be part of the future, and there is a lot of question marks all over the roster.
With a remaining game against each member of the division still to go, losing out seems very likely.
30. Atlanta Falcons (3-10)
Atlanta deserves a lot of credit for playing hard in the last two games on the road after the season was clearly over. However, the injury-filled year will end with disappointment regardless.
Fortunately, the team has a chance for one more win against the Washington Redskins, which seem to be in even worse shape at this point of the year.
31. Washington Redskins (3-10)
Whether this is meant to keep Griffin injury-free heading into next season, showcase Cousins to other teams or simply allow Mike Shanahan to get fired, the fact remains that it hurts the team's ability to compete the rest of the year.
Considering the Rams owned the Redskins' first-round draft pick, it is clear that the situation in Washington is a mess.
32. Houston Texans (2-11)
The Texans started the year 2-0 and had high expectations. That was the last time anything positive was said about Houston.
Since then, this group has lost 11 in a row and somehow look worse every week. There is enough talent to turn things around in the future, but this season is nothing more than a lost cause.
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