Two weeks to go, yet so much about the 2013 NFL season remains unsettled. Who is the best team in the league? Who are the 12 playoff teams? Who will finish with the worst record and pick first overall in the NFL draft?
Many questions remain, and some of them were answered in Week 15.
Philip Rivers and Co. cast doubt on the Denver Broncos as the top seed in the AFC—and as the best team in the league—with their win. Now everything from standings to the playoff picture is a confused mess of "what-ifs." Other top contenders in New England, New Orleans and Cincinnati were also exposed in a weird week.
What we do know heading into Week 16 is who the best team in the league is right now.
This Week's Rank: 32
Last Week's Rank: 32
With an interim head coach and the NFL's worst record, there is no doubt the Houston Texans belong in the bottom spot in this week's power rankings. Wade Phillips may feel like he has value as the team's head coach moving forward, but the Texans' showing in Week 15 won't do anything to bolster his resume.
The Texans were thoroughly beaten by the Indianapolis Colts, showing the talent disparity in the AFC South.
For now, the best-case scenario in Houston is two more losses. That way the Texans guarantee themselves the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
This Week's Rank: 31
Last Week's Rank: 31
When it's over, it's really over. And for Mike Shanahan, it's over. A loss to the Atlanta Falcons by one point on a failed two-point conversion won't endear Shanahan to owner Daniel Snyder—especially after the head coach walked out of his press conference after the game.
He will, and it's needed. A rebuild in Washington centered on Griffin and Alfred Morris could be fruitful for a new face and a new energy in the locker room. The key is finding the right man, and that's something Snyder hasn't been good at since he took over ownership of the ballclub.
This Week's Rank: 30
Last Week's Rank: 29
An epic beatdown by the hated Kansas City Chiefs at home doesn't help the Oakland Raiders' standing in our power rankings, but it's worth remembering that this season is really about next season.
The Raiders are still trying to build up the talent level of the roster, especially at quarterback, and will find at times that they simply cannot compete with the upper-echelon teams in the league right now. That includes Kansas City, especially when Alex Smith is throwing for five touchdowns and the defense picks off rookie quarterback Matt McGloin four times.
Considering what they have, the Raiders are playing much better than expected. But this is Year 2 of a five-year rebuild for general manager Reggie McKenzie.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 29
A step back in the rankings for Jacksonville this week, but a win for the future of the Jaguars, as a loss helps them when it comes to draft order. With two games left, a pick in the top five is looking good. And it's much needed.
The job Gus Bradley has done warrants a Coach of the Year vote or two. He's unlikely to best Andy Reid in Kansas City, but you can make a strong argument for Bradley as a contender for the award. Winning at least four games with one of the least talented rosters in the league—only Oakland can compete for that honor—is remarkable for a first-year head coach.
Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell have a lot of work ahead of them, but the 2013 season shows they are the men for the job.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 30
If only the Atlanta Falcons could play Washington every week, they might be better than 4-10 heading into Week 16. The good news is that Mike Smith's team looked impressive early on and was able to hold on for a last-second win by stopping a two-point conversion that would have won the game for Washington.
The win by Atlanta, plus losses by Jacksonville and Oakland, moves the team up two spots this week. It will also have NFL draft order ramifications, as the Falcons stay tied with the four other 4-10 teams in the league right now.
This Week's Rank: 27
Last Week's Rank: 26
Another loss by the Cleveland Browns, and another double-digit-loss season. That makes six straight years with at least 10 losses by the Browns, and the future isn't too bright, either.
Despite having an all-star coaching staff, the team isn't all that inspiring on the field. Sure, Rob Chudzinski needs time to get his guys in place before we can accurately grade the team, but compared to the talent levels in Oakland and Jacksonville, the Browns are being outperformed by lesser teams. Their five-game losing streak points to that all the more.
Finding a quarterback is a must this offseason, and that one decision will make or break Chudzinski and the current front office regime. Get a quality passer, and the team's playoff-caliber defense can make things happen.
This Week's Rank: 26
Last Week's Rank: 24
Their 10th loss of the year will be tough to swallow in Tampa, especially considering how well the team has played as of late. For that loss, the Bucs move down two spots in this week's rankings, and it might be time to start talking about Greg Schiano's job security again.
The San Francisco 49ers dominated the Buccaneers, winning comfortably while playing on the road. That a team can out-physical Schiano's team should be a concern because he sold himself on the idea of building a tough football team from top to bottom. That hasn't quite panned out, and on Sunday, it was clear how far the Bucs have to go before they're ready to compete with the big boys of the NFC.
This Week's Rank: 25
Last Week's Rank: 23
The Tennessee Titans drop to nine losses, guaranteeing a losing season after showing so much promise at times this year. The losses will put the future of head coach Mike Munchak in serious question after Michael Silver of NFL.com reported that he was coaching for his job. With two weeks left, the Titans could be headed for another coaching change.
Whoever is coaching this team in 2014 will have talent on both sides of the ball but must focus on ironing out the inconsistencies that have plagued Munchak's tenure, as well as the final year of Jeff Fisher's time with the team.
Until the Titans can get a healthy, consistent Jake Locker at quarterback—or replace him—they'll continue to be a good team, but not quite good enough to do real damage in the AFC South.
This Week's Rank: 24
Last Week's Rank: 27
Beating the Jacksonville Jaguars by a touchdown wouldn't normally be cause for such a big move up the rankings, but thanks to losses by Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, we see a nice jump for the Buffalo Bills.
Doug Marrone's first year as head coach has been rocky, but considering the play he's getting from rookies EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Kiko Alonso and Nickell Robey, the future looks bright.
With what looks like a top-10 draft pick coming its way this year, the team will be in good shape to improve heading into 2014. With a young coach, a ton of young talent and a ton of upside, the Bills are close to contending for a playoff spot.
This Week's Rank: 23
Last Week's Rank: 25
Another win for the Minnesota Vikings—this one without Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart in the backfield—yet it looks like head coach Leslie Frazier will be hunting for a new job after the season ends.
Frazier and quarterback Christian Ponder's days in Minnesota are numbered, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, but one person who has earned a chance to stick around in 2014 is quarterback Matt Cassel. The former Chief and Patriot, Cassel has been the Vikings' most reliable quarterback this season. In Week 15, he played well despite the absence of star running back Adrian Peterson.
With an early pick in the 2014 first round and the three first-rounders from last year's class, the new head coach will inherit a ton of talent. Now the Vikings need someone who can manage and develop it.
This Week's Rank: 22
Last Week's Rank: 21
Eli Manning's five interceptions were the difference in Week 15 as the New York Giants were on the receiving end of an embarrassing 23-0 defeat by the Seattle Seahawks. That loss, and the overall play of the team, accounts for the drop in the rankings.
The Giants have too much talent to play this poorly on a consistent basis, no matter how banged up they are. Manning is better than his 25 interceptions, too. The key will be for head coach Tom Coughlin, assuming he returns next season, to recommit to instilling the discipline in the team, and for his assistants to get back to coaching their tails off to schematically dominate teams the way they did during their last title run.
The talent—both on and off the field—is there. The Giants just need a wake-up call. A losing season should do it.
This Week's Rank: 21
Last Week's Rank: 20
Another week, another loss for the New York Jets. This one, like so many others, showed that while the Jets have some talent, they're not yet a complete enough team to compete with playoff contenders. Stopping Cam Newton is tough enough, but moving the ball on the Panthers defense was just too much to ask. That's why the Jets move down one spot this week.
It's tough to blame Rex Ryan for all of the Jets' problems, but ultimately this is his team and his schemes. And they're coming up short. While it's fun to see Sheldon Richardson running the football, it's a sideshow to take away from the larger fact that this team isn't ready to play consistent ball on a weekly basis. Again, that's on Ryan.
Whether he keeps his job into 2014 is up in the air, at least outside of general manager John Idzik's office. With the way the team has played over the past five weeks (1-4), it's not looking good for the head coach.
This Week's Rank: 20
Last Week's Rank: 22
No one really expected the St. Louis Rams to beat the New Orleans Saints—not after watching Drew Brees and Co. take down the Carolina Panthers one week ago. Yet the Rams did more than give the Saints a tough game; they actually won. And in impressive fashion too.
The 27-16 win moves the Rams up in this week's rankings and keeps them alive for a .500 season. That would be more of an accomplishment than it sounds when you consider the youth of this roster and the loss of quarterback Sam Bradford to injury. Winning without their franchise quarterback solidifies Jeff Fisher's status as head coach, and the move to make Kellen Clemens the backup quarterback looks smarter every week.
This Week's Rank: 19
Last Week's Rank: 15
You might be surprised that a one-point loss to the Green Bay Packers would move the Dallas Cowboys down so far in the rankings. But remember, these are the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers. That's a major difference and gives reason for the Cowboys to take a sizable tumble down the board.
It would be easy to blame Tony Romo here, given his two interceptions thrown in the final three minutes, but the Dallas defense has to be called out for allowing Matt Flynn to throw four touchdowns in the second half. Now the Cowboys sit one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East with two tough games up next—at Washington and vs. Philadelphia to close out the year.
This Week's Rank: 18
Last Week's Rank: 16
The Detroit Lions had the game in the bag, until Jacoby Jones and Justin Tucker happened. A good return and a big catch from Jones set up a 61-yard field goal from Tucker. That's all the Ravens needed to take a two-point lead and win the game.
As has become too common in Detroit, the Lions' inconsistencies cost them. Calvin Johnson's three drops, Matthew Stafford's interceptions—three on the night, including on the last throw of the game—and continued problems in the secondary were too much to overcome. And the Baltimore Ravens deserve credit for their play, too.
Now the Lions are fighting for their playoff lives. Two weeks to go, and anything is possible.
This Week's Rank: 17
Last Week's Rank: 19
A surprise jump to a big lead in Week 15 reminded everyone that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the talent to be very good, but they're too inconsistent from week to week to put together a long winning streak.
If what we saw in the win over the Bengals this week was the effort and execution every week, the Steelers would be leading the AFC North instead of looking at a 6-8 record heading into the final two weeks of the season. But their slow start, a struggle to find an identity on offense and the aging defense kept the team from hitting on all cylinders until it was too late.
That said, a win like this one over a division rival could be the momentum Mike Tomlin's team needs heading into a pivotal offseason.
This Week's Rank: 16
Last Week's Rank: 18
My intention was to move the Miami Dolphins up more than this after they took down the New England Patriots, but wins by San Diego, Chicago, Green Bay and Indianapolis keep them from moving up too far this week. That doesn't matter though. What does matter is that something clicked for Ryan Tannehill Sunday and the Dolphins looked their best against a tough rival.
Tannehill threw three touchdown passes and looked wonderful in the two-minute drill, showing the poise and arm strength that made him a first-round pick in last year's class. Tannehill was in command and flashed brilliance in dueling with Tom Brady's Patriots.
If the Dolphins can keep him running at this level—and keep getting well-timed turnovers from the defense—they'll be tough to beat over the next two weeks and moving into 2014.
This Week's Rank: 15
Last Week's Rank: 17
The San Diego Chargers have reason to be very happy heading into Week 16. Their takedown of the Denver Broncos on Thursday night not only gave head coach Mike McCoy his signature win of the year, but it also kept the team's playoff hopes alive for another week.
McCoy's Chargers have now beaten the Broncos, Chiefs, Eagles, Cowboys and Colts—three of which have clinched a playoff berth, and two others fighting for the NFC East title. Not bad for a first-year head coach. Not much was expected of the Chargers this season, but McCoy has rejuvenated Philip Rivers and brought a toughness to the trenches that was missing under Norv Turner.
The 2013 season may not end with a playoff berth, but the Chargers are a team to be reckoned with moving forward.
This Week's Rank: 14
Last Week's Rank: 14
A win in Week 15 puts the Chicago Bears ahead of the Detroit Lions in the NFC North for the time being. With a healthy Jay Cutler back under center, things are looking up for the Bears.
Cutler struggled early in the team's win over the Cleveland Browns, but once he shook off the rust, he looked like his old self again. That was good enough for the Bears, as Cutler threw three touchdowns in the team's win. Now, with eight wins, the Bears look like a playoff competitor again.
They'll need Cutler and Co. at their best to get into the postseason, though. The next two weeks send the team to Philadelphia before bringing the Packers to Chicago for a game that could decide the division.
This Week's Rank: 13
Last Week's Rank: 13
With the season hanging in the balance and Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, Matt Flynn delivered four second-half touchdowns as the Packers came back to beat the Dallas Cowboys. Flynn, running back Eddie Lacy and the defense were huge factors in the second half. And now, with Rodgers likely to be back in Week 16, the postseason looms.
The Packers are currently behind the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in the NFC North standings. But with a win next week versus Pittsburgh, the Packers would head to Chicago for a Week 17 showdown that could determine the division winner (depending on Lions' results). If Rodgers is back, the next two weeks are must-watch as the division race comes to a close.
This Week's Rank: 12
Last Week's Rank: 12
Here come the Baltimore Ravens.
With two weeks to go, the defending Super Bowl champions are the No. 6 seed in the crowded AFC and just one game back from the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.
The Ravens have not been perfect this year, but there is no denying their talent and resolve. In a Week 15 game that say them down by one point with two minutes left, they found big plays from Jacoby Jones and a sixth field goal from Justin Tucker to win the game. All that was left to seal it was an interception from Matt Elam—the same Matt Elam who called Calvin Johnson old this week—and it was over.
Now the Ravens are playing for playoff positioning. And after seeing them on Monday night, there isn't an AFC team that wants to face them moving forward.
This Week's Rank: 11
Last Week's Rank: 11
The Indianapolis Colts put a beating on the Houston Texans in Week 15, reminding everyone they are the AFC South champions. And they are, with the division and a playoff berth already clinched.
The Colts haven't looked the same since losing wide receiver Reggie Wayne to injury, but this week the offense was more aggressive, and that looser play led to more big plays. Of course, playing the Texans helped, but it was good to see offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton getting Griff Whalen and Trent Richardson involved.
For the Colts to make noise in the playoffs, they'll need Hamilton to get the entire offense rolling. Week 15 gave us a glimpse into what that might look like.
This Week's Rank: 10
Last Week's Rank: 8
A Sunday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers not only hurts the Cincinnati Bengals in the power rankings, but it also keeps the door open for the Baltimore Ravens to steal the AFC North title from them. Now, with two weeks to go, the Bengals need to get serious.
Winners of three straight games heading into Week 15, the Bengals couldn't keep up with the Pittsburgh offense early on, and then they couldn't dig themselves out of a 21-0 hole as the second quarter started. No matter what Andy Dalton did, the Steelers did a great job answering.
Now the Bengals look to a Week 17 matchup against the Ravens that could decide the division. But first they must get past the Minnesota Vikings in a Week 16 game that offers no guarantees.
This Week's Rank: 9
Last Week's Rank: 9
A loss to the Minnesota Vikings does little to hurt the Philadelphia Eagles, as the team still holds a lead in the NFC East. So while the 18-point loss was embarrassing, it's a non-factor for the team's playoff hopes.
With two weeks to go, first-year head coach Chip Kelly has to feel good about his team's chances. Their one-game lead over the Dallas Cowboys will likely come down to the Week 17 matchup between the two, and looking at each team's play this season, it's easy to see the Eagles being the favorite.
So while a loss in Week 15 may have fans feeling poorly, it doesn't affect the big picture within the division.
This Week's Rank: 8
Last Week's Rank: 10
An overtime win for the Arizona Cardinals keeps their slim playoff hopes alive and also pushes them one week closer to a 10-win season. At 9-5, Bruce Arians' team is playing much better than anyone expected. Riding a 4-1 record over the past five weeks, the Cardinals are playing as well as any team outside of Seattle right now.
That may be all for naught, as they sit one game back of the 49ers and Saints or Panthers for a wild-card berth. With the 49ers and whoever finishes No. 2 in the NFC South likely to take the final two seeds in the NFC, the Cardinals could turn in an 11-win season and still miss the postseason.
Fair or not, and I tend to think it unfair considering the lack of talent in the AFC pool, the Cardinals can feel great about what they've accomplished this season. Playoffs or not.
This Week's Rank: 7
Last Week's Rank: 7
It's been a wild, fun ride watching the Kansas City Chiefs rebound from a two-win 2012 to where they are now. But until the last two weeks, I never saw a team that had much chance of advancing in the playoffs. That has changed.
Andy Reid's offense went from doing just enough to get by in the first 13 weeks to a powerful, aggressive juggernaut in Weeks 14 and 15. In the past two games, they've put up 45 and 56 points, respectively. Sure, those totals came against Washington and Oakland, but the execution has been perfect.
You can point to changes along the offensive line—Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson inserted as starters has been huge—or to a more aggressive use of Jamaal Charles, but these Chiefs look an awful lot like the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. No one expected them to be able to do much either, but they surprised folks en route to the NFC Championship Game.
This Week's Rank: 6
Last Week's Rank: 3
The Patriots' penchant for letting teams get ahead and then racing back from behind cost them in Week 15. Now, after losing a divisional game to the Miami Dolphins, they remain in a race for the AFC's top seed when a win would have put them ahead of the Denver Broncos.
The Patriots are still one of the elite teams in a weak AFC, but without Rob Gronkowski and with Tom Brady unable to work his fourth-quarter magic every week, the team looks more vulnerable than it did earlier this season. A playoff team, yes, but not as much of a Super Bowl contender as once thought.
The Patriots have two weeks to get back on track, and then it's off to the playoffs, where a first-round bye and a home game likely await them.
This Week's Rank: 5
Last Week's Rank: 4
The Denver Broncos are a legitimate Super Bowl contender—probably the favorite in the AFC—but they are losing their momentum at the wrong time. With a 3-2 record over the past five weeks, including a loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 15, John Fox's team is stalling when it should be clicking on all cylinders.
It's been a mixture of things—Fox's absence due to health reasons, Peyton Manning's struggles, a tougher schedule—but the reality is that the Broncos aren't close to the unbeatable juggernaut they appeared to be through the first 10 weeks of the year.
As was often the case with Manning's last few years with the Indianapolis Colts, the team is winding down when it should be taking off. That trend is something to watch as the playoffs—and a likely first-round bye—approach.
This Week's Rank: 4
Last Week's Rank: 6
A road win by the San Francisco 49ers, plus losses by the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, opens the door for the team to move back into the top five of this week's rankings. It's well deserved.
The 49ers have looked more like the team we all expected the past two weeks. They're playing more aggressively on offense, thanks in large part to the return of Michael Crabtree. In Week 15's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we even saw Colin Kaepernick making plays with his legs again—something last seen in the NFC Championship Game, it seems.
The 49ers are getting hot at the right time, and with a playoff spot on the line with a win in Week 16, expect to see more of the same from Jim Harbaugh's team.
This Week's Rank: 3
Last Week's Rank: 5
You have to hand it to the Carolina Panthers—they've earned this climb in the rankings. With an 8-1 record over the past nine weeks, no team in the league has played better over the stretch run. Now, with two weeks to go, they're in a fight for the NFC South title and a playoff berth.
Wins like their Week 15 shutdown of the New York Jets will help. If Cam Newton and Co. play as well in the final two weeks as they have over the past two months, they'll be in good shape. It won't be easy, not with the Saints coming to Charlotte for a divisional showdown this coming week, but playing at home will give the team a chance to get revenge for its Week 14 loss. Revenge, and a shot at a division title.
This Week's Rank: 2
Last Week's Rank: 1
The New Orleans Saints' run at the top of the power rankings was short-lived, but a loss to the St. Louis Rams has a way of ending such things. Now, with two weeks to go, they're looking at potentially losing the division to the Carolina Panthers if they can't get a win in Week 16.
The Saints are in a precarious position over the final two weeks of the season. They still have a slim chance at the No. 1 seed in the conference, but they could also lose their hold on the NFC South and back into the playoffs as a wild-card team.
The key here is to simply win. Beat the Panthers, win the division and get ready for the postseason.
This Week's Rank: 1
Last Week's Rank: 2
After one week in the No. 2 spot, the Seattle Seahawks are back where they belong in the power rankings. It's going to take a significant loss to move them out of the top spot heading into the playoffs.
Thanks to a dominant win on the road over the New York Giants, the Seahawks were able to erase the Week 14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers from memories all over the league. Now, with a 12-2 record, the Seahawks have both the league's best record and the scariest roster heading into the final two games.
In this "any given Sunday" league, the Seahawks are the closest thing to a sure thing the NFL has.