It's easy to overreact to the NFL after every week of games, but heading into Week 16, the league hierarchy has been clearly defined by a season's worth of ups and downs.
The Miami Dolphins took down the New England Patriots in Week 15 at home, and the San Francisco 49ers did the same to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14. But does anyone really think the Dolphins and 49ers are better than the Patriots and Seahawks?
That's a tough argument to sell.
These upcoming NFL power rankings will attempt to dispel the craziness that was Week 15 and instead look at the league through a larger lens.
Taking into account what each team has accomplished throughout the season, this is how the NFL's 32 proud franchises stack up with just two more regular-season games left to play.
1. Seattle Seahawks
A loss to San Francisco at Candlestick Park doesn't mean much to the Seattle Seahawks in the grand scheme of things, and they know it, as Earl Thomas told Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com after Seattle shut out the New York Giants 23-0 in Week 15:
“When we have bad performances like that, of course it hurts. It hurts hard,” Thomas said of last week’s two-point loss to the 49ers in San Francisco. “But that doesn’t define us. And we know that. That’s why we came back and we won like we did today. At any moment in the NFL you can get beat. So we knew this game was one of those set-up games if we’re not on it. And we definitely were focused.”
Speaking of focus, opposing teams will find it difficult to do so in the month of January when the Seahawks will be hosting playoff games through the NFC Championship Game.
This team is stacked on both sides of the ball, and there isn't a better home-field advantage in the NFL.
2. Denver Broncos
Losing to San Diego at home wasn't what the Denver Broncos had in mind heading into the final weeks of the season. The Broncos had some excellent momentum going before that loss. However, Peyton Manning's team is still the best in the AFC.
Denver's defense isn't great, though, meaning Manning will have to be on top of his game throughout the postseason if the Broncos are going to make it through to the Super Bowl.
3. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco is heating up just in time for a Super Bowl run.
The 49ers have won four games in a row, and the team's offense is starting to click with Michael Crabtree's return to the starting lineup.
Combined with the team's dominant defense, San Francisco appears poised to challenge the Seahawks for the NFC title. However, the 49ers have been destroyed in Seattle the past couple of years, as has the rest of the league, and the title goes through CenturyLink Field this year.
4. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are one of the best teams in the league, but bad road losses to Seattle and St. Louis in two out of the last three weeks have shined a spotlight on the team's struggles to shut down the run and take care of the football on the road.
A huge key to both losses was the fact that the Rams and Seahawks were able to effectively shut down tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught just five passes for 67 yards in those games.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
It's been nice to see Kansas City rain down points on poor defenses the past two games. The Chiefs scored 101 points against Washington and Oakland after losing three games in a row to Denver, San Diego and Denver again.
If Justin Houston and Tamba Hali can get healthy for the playoffs, then the Chiefs will do some damage.
6. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers appear locked into the No. 5 seed in the NFC, but this team could vault up into the No. 2 spot after Week 16. A rematch with New Orleans is on the menu, and the Panthers will be looking for revenge after getting humiliated in New Orleans in Week 14.
7. New England Patriots
It's hard to imagine the New England Patriots team we saw in the first half of the season winning more than one playoff game.
Rob Gronkowski's injury threw this team for a loop offensively. Without him in the lineup, it's going to be a lot harder to find big plays deep downfield, as was clearly seen during Week 15's loss to the Miami Dolphins.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts haven't lost two games in a row all year long, and the trend held true when the team easily took down the Houston Texans 25-3 in Week 15 to improve to 9-5 on the season. Andrew Luck gives his team a chance to win most games, and his never-say-die attitude is contagious.
9. Chicago Bears
Rookie head coach Marc Trestman raised more than a few eyebrows when he made the decision to start Jay Cutler over Josh McCown in Week 15. McCown was red hot before Cutler's return, having thrown nine touchdowns and just one interception in the four games he started.
After Cutler threw two early interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown—it appeared the naysayers were going to be justified in their criticism. However, Cutler rebounded nicely, putting together a nearly flawless fourth quarter against Cleveland to lead his team to an impressive 38-31 road win.
Chicago's defense is atrocious, but as long as the Bears continue putting up big numbers on offense, this team has a chance to go far in the playoffs.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
Just when you think Cincinnati is ready to make the leap to elite, the Bengals revert to "Bungles" and blow up in the worst way possible on national television—much like what we saw on Sunday Night Football in Week 15 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, when the Bengals are hot, they're incredibly difficult to beat. Can Cincy get hot for a Super Bowl run? That remains to be seen.
11. Arizona Cardinals
That was close.
Arizona squeaked past the Titans in Tennessee on Sunday, Dec. 15, winning 37-34 in overtime.
But this isn't unexpected of Bruce Arians' Cardinals. This team is learning how to win, and the head coach expressed the reason why after the contest, as Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com noted:
“There was no panic on the sideline," Arians said. "Someone knew they would step up.”
It'll take a lot of stepping up the next two weekends, however, for Arizona to make it into the playoffs. A road game in Seattle will be followed up with a home game against the 49ers in Week 17. Arizona currently sits one game behind the 49ers and Panthers for the final spots in the NFC playoff race.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
After allowing Matt Cassel and Matt Asiata to annihilate his defense for six total touchdowns, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis needs to head back to the drawing board.
Don't let the lapse fool you, though—Philly's defense has been improving of late. One horrid performance on the road isn't going to cause a meltdown, but the Eagles must get back to playing solid defense in Week 16 against Chicago.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are clicking on all cylinders. If Chip Kelly's gang gets into the playoffs, this team could shock one of the heavy hitters in the Wild Card Round.
13. Miami Dolphins
Huge win for Miami against New England in Week 15. Just huge.
Not only did the Dolphins take down their divisional leader, but they improved their chances of making it into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Cameron Wake leads an opportunistic defense, and second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues to look like a great pick. It's probably not Miami's time to win a playoff game, but this is a team on the rise.
14. Detroit Lions
It's hard to be impressed by Detroit this year. On paper, this team should be a 10-game winner, but heading into Week 15 it was barely hovering over the .500 mark. That said, nobody can cover Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush is a spark plug when healthy. The Lions could be dangerous in the postseason—if they get in.
15. Baltimore Ravens
The return of tight end Dennis Pitta arrived like a breath of fresh air for quarterback Joe Flacco, who's struggled in 2013 without his security blanket.
Baltimore's defensive front is dominant again this season, too, and the veteran Ravens can be counted on to give any team a challenge.
16. Green Bay Packers
Thanks to the abominable defense of the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers stayed in the thick of things for the NFC North crown. If Aaron Rodgers can finally make his return for the team's final two games against Pittsburgh and Chicago, then the Packers could sneak into the playoffs.
17. San Diego Chargers
"I'm not dead yet..."
San Diego refused to let its playoff hopes die in Week 15, taking down the mighty Broncos in Denver to stay firmly in the hunt for one of the AFC's wild-card spots.
Defense remains a huge liability for the Chargers, but if the team can execute its game plan in the weeks to come like it did against Denver, then San Diego has a slight chance to reach the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
18. St. Louis Rams
It must be maddening to be a Rams fan these days.
Featuring a record of 6-8, St. Louis is out of the playoff hunt, but every once in a while this team produced a gem of a game like the one we saw in Week 15 at home against New Orleans. The Rams dominated the Saints, just like they dominated the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10.
The potential for greatness is palpable, but Jeff Fisher's team must put it all together in 2014 to avoid another mediocre campaign.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo has gotten a lot of unfair criticism tossed his way for his team's struggles in the months of December and January.
There was plenty of blame to go around for the way the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Packers in Week 15, however. Dallas' defense once again proved it is the worst unit in the NFL, allowing Matt Flynn and Eddie Lacy to have field days.
Romo didn't do his cause any favors, either, tossing two costly second-half interceptions. The Cowboys don't deserve to make it into the playoffs, and after losing at home to the Packers, they likely won't make it in.
20. New York Jets
New York's defensive front is going to be spectacular in 2014, and the pieces are in place for the team to have a dominant defense.
If the franchise brings in some talented offensive playmakers and a new coaching staff that knows how to get the most out of young players, then the Jets could make some noise in the playoffs, sooner, rather than later.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers
It's weird to think that 2013 will mark the second year in a row the Pittsburgh Steelers will miss the playoffs. On both sides of the ball, this team is lacking quality starters. It could be another year or two before the Steelers make it back.
22. Minnesota Vikings
The worst thing that could have happened to the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 was Matt Cassel getting hot. He's played well three weeks in a row, throwing five touchdowns and two interceptions to lead Minnesota to wins in two of the three games.
Unfortunately, this may cause the Vikings to improperly evaluate their desperate need for a true franchise quarterback. It also means the team will pick later in the draft, when a top quarterback may not be available.
23. Buffalo Bills
Though the 2013 season has been unkind to rookie head coach Doug Marrone and his Buffalo Bills, there's more than a glimmer of hope for the future. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel has been impressive when healthy, and he'll be even better with a top-tier tight end and an additional receiver.
24. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee is a stagnant franchise. There are below-average players on both sides of the ball and no apparent means of getting better any time soon. Drafting hasn't been a big strength, and the team's free agents haven't set the world on fire, either.
25. New York Giants
It's difficult to make a compelling argument that head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese deserve to come back in 2014 after the past two failed seasons. New York's roster is a veritable disaster everywhere you look, and it would appear to some that a change is in order.
26. Oakland Raiders
Speaking of head coaches who could be fired, Dennis Allen's strategy of alternating starting quarterbacks has completely backfired on him. Oakland has lost four in a row and six of its last seven—the only win coming against Houston in Week 11.
On a positive note, the Raiders head into the offseason with assured knowledge that their franchise quarterback isn't currently on the roster.
27. Cleveland Browns
It's going to be fascinating to see what general manager Michael Lombardi does to address Cleveland's quarterback situation in 2014. Josh Gordon is clearly one of the top young receivers in the league, and he will flourish when given a dynamic quarterback to get him the ball.
Cleveland's defense has been stellar for the most part this year, too. The Browns have the pieces in place to make a playoff run next season, believe it or not.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Hats off to Gus Bradley for getting his team to sell out all year long, despite the fact that wins were so impossible to come by in the first half of the season. Like Cleveland, the Jaguars must figure out who their franchise quarterback will be, but you have to like the direction this team is headed under Bradley's guidance.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Perhaps Tampa Bay won't be quite so quick to look to free agency next season when it comes to building its roster. After the past two years of big spending, the Buccaneers don't have much to show for it all.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon appears to be the long-term answer at quarterback, though, which is always the hardest part of putting together a championship-caliber club.
30. Atlanta Falcons
After falling a couple of plays short of the Super Bowl last year, Falcons fans didn't expect to be thinking, "Maybe next year," in 2013. Atlanta was brutalized by injuries early, and the team's lack of depth came back to haunt it badly.
31. Washington Redskins
It's been nothing short of a disastrous 2013 campaign for Mike Shanahan in Washington.
With a record of 3-11, Washington will hand over its high first-round pick to St. Louis in the 2014 NFL draft, which burns all the more, considering how much this team gave up to land Robert Griffin III, who was a healthy scratch in Week 15.
Shanahan isn't likely to stick around, and it'll take a special person to come into Washington and fix the mess that's currently plaguing this team.
32. Houston Texans
After winning the first two games of the season in dramatic style, the Houston Texans have lost 12 in a row.
This is the worst team in the league—bar none.
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