Does any team want to claim its division in the AFC? How much more unpredictable can the NFC be with three potential playoff teams losing?
Week 15 in the NFL was one that saw several unexpected outcomes and shifted the NFL rankings dramatically. With a new leader in the NFC North rankings, two teams now controlling their own destiny in the AFC North and another dramatic loss by the Cowboys, this was a weekend that proved there is parity in the league.
With just two weeks remaining in the season, here are the power rankings before Week 16 officially starts in the NFL.
32. Houston Texans (2-12)
Just when it appeared the Texans couldn't fall any further, they dropped a road game against the division-rival Colts by a final of 25-3. While it's tough to say that any team would simply give up in the NFL, it is clear that this team just doesn't have anything left in the tank. It will face the Broncos and Titans to close out the season.
31. Washington Redskins (3-11)
Thank God for the Texans, right Redskins fans? After winning the NFC East last season, Washington couldn't muster up enough offense to take down the Falcons and was picked apart defensively by another 3-10 team. The Redskins basically packed their bags with the decision to start Kirk Cousins and will need the signal-caller to play well to not get swept by the Cowboys.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-10)
Want to give little kids nightmares in Oakland? Just mention the name Jamaal Charles, or, well, you could just take them to a Raiders game. Oakland's defense was eviscerated by Charles and allowed 56 points to the division-rival Chiefs. As if it couldn't get any worse, the Raiders now have to face Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning in the final two weeks of the season.
29. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
Here's the good news: The Falcons finally won their fourth game of the season. Here's the bad news: It came in Week 15 against an equally putrid Redskins team playing with a backup quarterback. Luckily, the Falcons were able to avoid getting beaten by a second straight backup signal-caller but are still not a very good team.
Atlanta will now try to play spoiler to both the 49ers and Panthers, but the likelihood of it finishing with five wins this season is extremely slim. That's pretty sad for a team that only lost three games last season and won the NFC South.
28. Cleveland Browns (4-10)
While the Browns have played in several close games against superior opponents like the Patriots and Bears as of late, their inability to close out those contests has led them to the basement of the AFC North yet again.
If there is one good omen for Cleveland, it's that it finishes with two winnable games against the New York Jets and rival Pittsburgh Steelers. But after blowing leads lately, will any fans care to watch this team finish out the season?
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)
After an 0-8 start to the season, it appeared the Jaguars might have turned a corner with wins in three of four games. But after experiencing a setback against the Bills, this team looks like it is returning to its once woeful ways.
One of the main reasons why the Jags didn't drop very far this week is due to the fact that it played without leading running back Maurice Jones-Drew and leading receiver Cecil Shorts. While it appears Shorts could miss the rest of the season with a groin injury, according to the Associated Press, the status of Jones-Drew looks better, as Jessica Blaylock of CW 17 in Jacksonville reported:
Maurice Jones-Drew improved with rehab so they'll see how he progresses through the week in regards to a status for Sunday. #Jaguars— Jessica Blaylock (@JessBlaylock) December 16, 2013
26. Buffalo Bills (5-9)
The Bills were the benefactors of facing a depleted Jacksonville team that was without two of its best playmakers and still won by only a touchdown. To say that the Bills are a better team now is not true, but they might not end up being the worst team in their division if the Jets continue to falter.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10)
The Buccaneers ran into a buzzsaw when the 49ers came to town and got stomped by a final score of 33-14. Tampa Bay was riding high after winning three out of its last four but will now go on the road in its last two games to face the St. Louis Rams (4-3 at home) and Saints (7-0 at home). Needless to say, the end might look a lot like the beginning for the Bucs.
24. Tennessee Titans (5-9)
Tennessee has lost five out its last six games and is now finding interesting ways to lose games. Without Jake Locker, the Titans have had to depend on Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. While he's thrown six touchdowns in the last three games, he's also thrown six interceptions, including one in overtime that cost the Titans a chance to score.
Along with Fitzpatrick faltering on offense, the Tennessee rushing defense can't stop anyone and was torched by Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall, who finished with a combined 140 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15.
23. New York Giants (5-9)
Simply put, the Redskins are bailing out the Giants in the NFC East. The Giants are embarrassingly bad as of late, and Eli Manning is completing nearly as many passes to the other team as he is to his receivers.
While his brother Peyton is pursuing the touchdown record for a season, it appears Eli could set the interception record for a season:
Well, it turns out Eli Manning is a 25-interception QB. ... And he now his the first five-interception game of his career. #NYG— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) December 15, 2013
This is still a team with a lot of talented pieces, but getting shut out at home against the Seahawks is not the way to prove that the Giants have righted the ship.
22. Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1)
The Vikings proved a lot during Week 15 with a win over the Eagles, but they are still not a top-20 team. Without Adrian Peterson, Minnesota routed Philadelphia, 48-30, and has at least found a quarterback to finish the year with in Matt Cassel.
But with two games against the Bengals and Lions remaining on the schedule, the Vikings will square off with two tough defenses. If this team finishes with five wins this season, it can consider that an accomplishment.
21. New York Jets (6-8)
The Jets are on the verge of yet another losing season and are lucky to have the Giants and Bills still playing in New York. With another struggling young quarterback on their hands, the Jets will be lucky to get to .500 this season with the Browns and Dolphins remaining on their schedule.
20. St. Louis Rams (6-8)
While many fans wrote the Rams off after losing quarterback Sam Bradford for the season, it appears St. Louis is still a strong team in the NFC West. But despite pulling out wins in their last two home games, the Rams are still in the cellar of their division. That's what happens when you have three teams that will all finish with winning records in the same division.
19. Dallas Cowboys (7-7)
Another week, another defensive blunder and another Tony Romo interception to lose a close game. Watching this team continue to struggle with so much talent on the roster is hard to imagine. But while many pundits will put the loss on Romo, and maybe he deserves it, the defense has been one of the worst in history.
In fact, as ESPN points out, the Cowboys defense is on track to match the 2012 Saints for the worst in history:
With two games remaining and a Week 17 showdown against the Eagles, likely for the NFC East title, the Cowboys still have hope. But if Dallas loses this weekend to the rival Redskins, the 2013 season could be just the third straight season at 8-8.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
Pittsburgh proved it can still be a force in the AFC North after a beatdown against Cincinnati on Sunday night. But with just two games remaining, this is a team that is only hanging on to a shred of hope for making the playoffs and faces the Packers this weekend.
With players like Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown emerging as young leaders for this team, the outlook for the future is looking brighter. But time has nearly run out for this team to turn the 2013 season around.
17. Detroit Lions (7-7)
The Lions have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL with the likes of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and others. But turnovers and lack of discipline have led this team to a .500 record and third in the NFC North.
Without control of their own destiny at this point, the Lions need help from either the Packers or the Bears. The only problem with that equation is that Chicago and Green Bay are both playing better-than-expected football while the Lions continue to drop fourth-quarter leads.
16. San Diego Chargers (7-7)
The Chargers knocked off one of the best teams in the NFL and are still not in the top 15 of the NFL rankings. Most of that is due to what they did before beating the Broncos, winning only two of their previous six games.
San Diego certainly looks like a team that is capable of playing its way into the playoffs behind Philip Rivers, but the up-and-down play of this team will likely leave it sitting at home in January.
15. Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
A huge comeback against the Cowboys kept the Packers firmly in the playoff hunt. And with offensive weapons like Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy paired with a defense that is shutting down teams at the right time, Green Bay is a dark-horse team for the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
If Aaron Rodgers can return to this team, Green Bay has a great shot of winning against the Steelers and Bears to write its own ticket. But while Packers fans hope to see No. 12 back on the field, word on his return likely won't come until Wednesday, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
14. Chicago Bears (8-6)
With the return of Jay Cutler, it seemed as though the Bears were finally at full strength and were ready to contend in the NFC North. The only problem was the fact that the defense was torched by the Browns offense. That wasn't supposed to happen.
Luckily, the Bears survived thanks to 21 fourth-quarter points and are now sharing the driver's seat with the Packers for the division. With the two teams facing one another in the season finale, Cutler might just so happen to be the difference if the Bears find themselves down late:
Jay Cutler had a 99.9 Total QBR in 4th quarter. His Total QBR in the 4th quarter this season is 95.2, tops in NFL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2013
13. Miami Dolphins (8-6)
A huge win over the Patriots has the Dolphins firmly in the playoff picture with just the Bills and Jets in their way. Thanks to great quarterback play from Ryan Tannehill and a defense that has held opponents to an average of just 17 points over the last three games, the Dolphins could be looking at a very realistic 10-win season.
If the Dolphins can take care of business against two woeful teams from New York, they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
Philadelphia was on the cusp of greatness and, instead of dominating an inferior team, lost to the Minnesota Vikings by 18 points. But thanks to a five-game winning streak prior to the loss and a terrible Cowboys team losing yet another game, it appears the Eagles are still the team to beat in the NFC East.
11. Arizona Cardinals (9-5)
The Cardinals barely escaped a game against the Tennessee Titans that they should have dominated to remain in the AFC playoff picture. Arizona still needs some help from the surging 49ers in order to get to the playoffs but will play San Francisco in the final week of the season after facing the daunting task of playing the Seahawks in Seattle.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Andy Dalton wasn't awful, but he once again failed to truly show up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Subsequently, the Bengals lost in Pittsburgh and failed to move further ahead in the AFC North. This is something Bengals fans are used to seeing from Dalton, as NBC's Sunday Night Football pointed out on Twitter:
In order for the Bengals to turn their season back around, Dalton will need to prove himself against the other team listed in that graphic when they play the Ravens in the season finale.
9. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
The Ravens are once again playing their best football at the end of the season. After winning the Super Bowl last season, the Ravens look like a playoff team yet again. Thanks to the leg of Justin Tucker and six field goals to defeat the Lions, the Ravens have a shot at overtaking the Bengals for the AFC North crown and a trip to the playoffs.
But with a tough task against the Patriots this weekend followed by the aforementioned meeting with the Bengals, the Ravens will need to continue their current four-game winning streak just to play in January.
8. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
Andrew Luck looked spectacular in Week 15 for the Colts. So did Trent Richardson. The two combined for three total touchdowns, and the Colts looked like the same team that beat the Seahawks and Broncos earlier in the season.
ESPN tweeted about their final stats in the win over the Texans:
FINAL: IND 25 - HOU 3 -Andrew Luck 180 yds 2 TD -Trent Richardson 102 total yds, TD -Houston 12 straight losses. pic.twitter.com/S7KSHdSASq— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 15, 2013
The only issue with all of this praise: Those numbers came against the worst team in the NFL that has lost 12 straight games and can't seem to stop anyone from getting in the end zone. The Colts are already a playoff team, but they still have a long way to go before they'll be considered a favorite to advance out of the first round, likely against the Chiefs—their Week 16 opponent.
7. New England Patriots (10-4)
Patriots fans who were outraged that the media had already written off the Patriots after the loss of Rob Gronkowski for the season had an eye-opening experience in Week 15. While the loss to the Dolphins doesn't mean the Patriots are out of the playoffs, the final play revealed what they could look like once they get there.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
Jamaal Charles single-handedly led the Chiefs to a victory with five touchdowns and 195 receiving yards. Yes, a running back finished with nearly 200 yards through the air. To put the performance into perspective, here is a stat from Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com:
Jamaal Charles receiving yards today (195) > Giants total yards today (181)— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 15, 2013
Kansas City has shored up a playoff spot and still has a chance at winning its division, but the three straight losses the Chiefs suffered earlier in the season still make their chances at advancing far into the playoffs questionable. But with Charles on their side, anything might be possible.
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Carolina still needs to prove it can contend for the NFC South crown before thinking about contending for a Super Bowl. But after a 30-20 win over the Jets and a Saints loss on the road, the Panthers have another shot at claiming the division this weekend at home.
With a 6-1 record this season at Bank of America Stadium and a six-game winning streak since losing the first game against the Seahawks, the Panthers could very well be ahead of the Saints in the next edition of power rankings.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
A loss to the Rams on the road speaks volumes about this team's inability to play well away from New Orleans. After looking like the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a lock to play only one game on the road before getting to the Super Bowl, the Saints will now have to beat a great Panthers team to avoid falling to the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
Quarterback Drew Brees even admitted to Mike Nabors of The Naborhood that the Saints need to improve on the road:
Brees on #Saints road record "we're kind of proving you guys right, right now. The record doesn't lie, we have to play better on the road."— Mike Nabors (@MikeNabors) December 16, 2013
Oh, and they have to win that game on the road.
3. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
The 49ers now look like the team to beat in the NFC after rattling off their fourth straight win behind great play from Colin Kaepernick and one of the best defenses in the conference. But despite their record, the 49ers still need to take care of business against the Falcons and Cardinals in order to just get to the playoffs.
Then there's the daunting task of playing the Seahawks on the road, which didn't turn out very well for San Francisco the first time.
2. Denver Broncos (11-3)
Peyton Manning didn't have one of his best games of the season, and the Broncos lost against the Chargers. But while the play of Manning will always be examined closely, it's Denver's defense that is becoming questionable.
The Broncos defense has allowed 27 or more points in the last four games and has gone 2-2 over that stretch. If Denver is going to make it to the Super Bowl this season, it will need the defense to take steps toward returning to its form from last season.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
In the strongest division in the NFL, the Seahawks are the strongest team. The Seahawks didn't just beat the woeful Giants; they crushed them. With just two games remaining on the schedule, Seattle has a playoff berth secured but still needs one more win to secure the NFC West and No. 1 seed in the conference.
The Seahawks have gone 6-0 at home and won by a total of 113 points, including victories over the 49ers and Saints. That's how important home-field advantage will be in the NFC this season and the No. 1 seed will be for Seattle.