NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Standings Heading into Week 17

Brent SobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 29, 2015

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Standings Heading into Week 17

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    A major shakeup occurred in Bleacher Report's Power Rankings prior to the final week of the regular season. 

    An undefeated campaign simply wasn't in the cards for the Carolina Panthers. The Arizona Cardinals, meanwhile, continued to make their case as the NFL's best team. 

    Only three franchises held the top spot through the first 16 weeks. A fourth finally crashed the party.

    The Cardinals' dominant 38-8 victory over the Green Bay Packers coupled with the Panthers' 20-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons allowed Arizona to surpass the previously undefeated squad. Bruce Arians' team is now in the driver's seat. 

    With the NFC playoff picture practically set, multiple AFC franchises—the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts—have plenty to play for with two postseason slots still available. 

    But which of these teams are better than the others?

    To make sense of it all, eight Bleacher Report NFL writers—Gary Davenport, Mike Freeman, Brad Gagnon, Matt Miller, Ty Schalter, Mike Tanier, Sean Tomlinson and yours truly—ranked the teams.

    To build a consensus for these power rankings, each squad's ranking from each writer was added to the others. The lowest totals indicated the best teams, while the highest totals marked the other end of the spectrum. If there was a tie, the club with the single-highest vote got the nod as the better squad.

    With fates tied to several teams' overall fortunes, many coaches will be antsy this weekend. Black Monday looms, and multiple coaching staffs won't remain intact. 

    Plus, the No. 1 overall pick for the 2016 NFL draft has yet to be determined. Draft positioning is always a big part of the season's final week. 

    Click through the slideshow to find out where all the teams landed in Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Standings.

32. San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    Current Record: 4-11

    Highest Ranking: 28 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (three voters)

    What's Good?: Nose tackles rarely get the recognition they deserve. Nose tackles on bad teams get even less. The Baltimore Ravens' Brandon Williams and New York Jets' Damon Harrison are generally considered the game's two best nose tackles.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Ian Williams has been every bit as good this season. The San Francisco 49ers nose tackle ranks fourth among all defensive tackles with 37 stops. Despite ranking 28th overall in total defense, the 49ers have a promising young core of talent on that side of the ball.

    What's Bad?: There may be talent on San Francisco's defense, but the unit lacks discipline. The group was called for being offsides or in the neutral zone seven times Sunday. That is unacceptable at any level of play. 

    "That's shooting ourselves in the foot," defensive end Arik Armstead said, per ESPN.com. "We beat ourselves."

    Anytime a team plays that undisciplined, it directly reflects on the coaching staff. Head coach Jim Tomsula is in just his first year at the helm, but his job isn't secure. 

    What's Next?: There was a point in the middle of the season when the 49ers played competitive football. In a four-game stretch, they won two games and played hard against their rivals—the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. Since then, San Francisco has lost three straight contests by a combined 39 points. Sunday's matchup against the St. Louis Rams will mercifully put this year's hectic campaign to an end. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 31

31. Cleveland Browns

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Current Record: 3-12

    Highest Ranking: 28 (Schalter, Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 31 (Miller, Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: It took most of the season, but the Cleveland Browns finally found the running game the coaching staff talked about all offseason. Against a quality Kansas City Chiefs defense, the Browns ran for a season-high 232 yards.

    Granted, quarterback Johnny Manziel led the team with 108 rushing yards, but the offensive line opened holes with two backup guards, and starting running back Isaiah Crowell averaged 5.5 yards per carry. However, Manziel couldn't provide any consistency in the passing game to take advantage of the team's improved ground game. 

    What's Bad?: The only constant in Cleveland is change. Owner Jimmy Haslam once again has a major decision or two to make. After such a disappointing season, it's highly unlikely the organization retains both its general manager, Ray Farmer, and head coach, Mike Pettine. This means the team will once again experience some type of major offseason change within its leadership structure.

    Conflicting reports surfaced Monday about Haslam potentially hiring recent Hall of Fame inductee Ron Wolf as a consultant. Wolf admitted he talked with Haslam, but he hasn't been asked to serve as a consultant, according to ESPN.com's Jason Wilde. Either way, the Browns owner is considering all of his options, including cleaning house for the third time since he bought the franchise in 2012. 

    What's Next?: Black Monday will once again play a prominent role in the Browns' future. What happens on that day will be far more important than a meaningless game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns are still in play for the No. 1 overall pick, too. A loss coupled with a Tennessee Titans win this weekend will give Cleveland the top selection for the first time since 2000. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 30

30. Tennessee Titans

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Current Record: 3-12

    Highest Ranking: 21 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Schalter, Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: Delanie Walker has been one of the Tennessee Titans' few consistently bright spots this season. The 31-year-old tight end leads the team with 85 receptions for 994 yards and six touchdowns. Those stats place Walker among the league's best at his position. The 10-year veteran leads all tight ends in receptions. He also ranks third in yardage behind the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen. Sadly, Walker's performance wasn't enough for him to be named to his first Pro Bowl. 

    What's Bad?: The end of a promising season for this year's No. 2 overall pick, quarterback Marcus Mariota, could be derailed by his current knee injury. Of course, the Titans want the Oregon product on the field to gain as much experience as possible. However, the team won't play him unless he's 100 percent healthy. 

    "His health is the No. 1 for us," interim head coach Mike Mularkey said, per TitansOnline.com's Jim Wyatt. "He has such a great future ahead of us; he has lots of games to go. We won’t expose him [at] all if there’s anything there. ...

    "Any bit of doubt and he will not play."

    What's Next?: Two things are on the line for the Titans on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. First, the organization wants to see its young quarterback on the field and improving if he's healthy enough to play. Second, the team would own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft if the season ended today. A loss Sunday will guarantee the Titans get that pick.   

    Last Week's Ranking: 29

29. Miami Dolphins

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Current Record: 5-10

    Highest Ranking: 26 (Miller, Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Gagnon, Sobleski)

    What's Good?: Everyone is finally getting to see the type of player Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker really is. It took some time before this year's first-round pick was healthy enough and ready to contribute. His performance over the last five weeks showed why the organization spent the 14th overall pick on the Louisville product.

    In that time, the rookie caught 17 passes for 339 yards. More importantly, he averaged 19.9 yards per catch. Parker's ability to stretch the field vertically makes him a perfect complement to the team's leading receiver— Jarvis Landry. 

    What's Bad?: Clearly, there are issues within the Dolphins locker room, and cornerback Brent Grimes' wife is airing them publicly. Miko Grimes ripped the local media, team and quarterback Ryan Tannehill on (Warning: NSFW languageTwitter. Some might not like the tone she took, but she's not necessarily wrong in anything she said. 

    "According to a source I talked to, they expect there will be a huge rift in the locker room as a result of this rant," Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported

    It's just another issue the organization's leadership must address in the coming weeks. 

    What's Next?: The Dolphins are way beyond the point of trying to salvage the season. Miami is a 10-loss team with numerous issues within the franchise. However, an upset victory at home against the New England Patriots would be a positive heading into the offseason. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 28

28. Dallas Cowboys

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Current Record: 4-11

    Highest Ranking: 25 (Miller) 

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Tanier)

    What's Good?: The Dallas Cowboys traded for wide receiver Brice Butler on Sept. 15. The team saw very little return in its investment over the following two months. However, Butler finally experienced a breakthrough performance Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. The former seventh-round pick filled in for an injured Dez Bryant and led the team with four receptions for 74 yards.  

    "We told Brice that it was his time with where we were with Dez not being out there and him finally being healthy to be a guy we can look to," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, per DallasCowboys.com's Rob Phillips. "And I thought he did some really good things."

    What's Bad?: Tight end Jason Witten surpassed 1,000 career catches recently, but he hasn't been used extensively. Of course, this is a byproduct of the Cowboys' quarterback woes, but any signal-caller should be smart enough to recognize Witten's value as a reliable option in the passing game.

    Even so, Kellen Moore only connected with the veteran tight end once for 12 yards during the Week 16 loss to the Bills. The quarterback only targeted him twice. Witten hasn't even eclipsed 50 receiving yards since Week 7 and will likely finish this year with the second-lowest receiving-yardage total of his career. 

    What's Next?: How bad has this season been in Dallas? Even the team's owner, Jerry Jones, didn't want to be the center of attention after the Cowboys' most recent loss. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill Jr., Jones "didn't make himself available" to the media after the game like he usually does. Last year, the Cowboys clinched an NFC East title, while the Washington Redskins sat in the division's basement. The roles will reverse this season when the two meet each other in Week 17. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 27

27. San Diego Chargers

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 4-11

    Highest Ranking: 23 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 29 (Gagnon)

    What's Good?: Even in a lost season, something productive can come out of meaningless games. For example, San Diego Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman displayed his value with his performance Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Inman led the team with eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown during the Chargers' overtime loss. Since the team only dressed four defensive backs, Inman also played some snaps in the secondary. 

    "The last time I played defense was high school in a game," Inman said, per Chargers.com's Ricky Henne. "This is one where you’re just going on the fly. When guys go down, someone needs to step up. They said, ‘We need somebody.' And I said, 'I'm ready to go. Just let me know what you need me to do.'"

    What's Bad?: Eric Weddle and the Chargers organization may be well on their way to a messy divorce. Weddle is a free agent after this season, and the franchise's recent treatment of the All-Pro safety hasn't given him any reason to return. 

    Weddle's agent, David Canter, revealed on Twitter the Chargers fined his client $10,000 for watching his daughter perform during a halftime show instead of going into the locker room. The team then placed the veteran on injured reserve after the Oakland Raiders contest.

    At this point, it appears neither side wants to continue the relationship. 

    What's Next?: The Chargers can't even act as spoilers since this weekend's opponent, the Denver Broncos, already secured a playoff spot. With another loss, the Chargers can't pick any lower than third overall in next year's draft and could move to the second slot if the Cleveland Browns win. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 26

26. Baltimore Ravens

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Current Record: 5-10

    Highest Ranking: 23 (Schalter)

    Lowest Ranking: 30 (Miller)

    What's Good?: If anyone questioned how good of a coach John Harbaugh is during the Baltimore Ravens' trying season, they won't any longer. Even during a 10-loss campaign, Harbaugh and his coaching staff had the Ravens prepared for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore found a way to secure a 20-17 victory even with so many key pieces missing from the lineup due to injuries. The strong effort is a testament to Harbaugh and the team's preparation. 

    For conformation, no one needs to look any further than Ryan Mallett's performance. Twelve days after signing with the organization, the former Houston Texans starting quarterback completed 68.3 percent of his passes and threw for a career-high 274 yards

    What's Bad?Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw actually played well and gave Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva fits. The fourth-year defender registered five total tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack and two more quarterback hits. 

    But a mental mistake made Sunday's contest much closer than it should have been. Cornerback Jimmy Smith picked off a tipped Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the play was called back because Upshaw lined up in the neutral zone. 

    The linebacker's stellar performance was nearly negated by one mistake. 

    What's Next?: After shocking the Steelers, the Ravens can set their sights on upsetting the Cincinnati Bengals. This might not be as difficult of a task as it appears since the Bengals could be starting their third quarterback this season, which is old hat for Baltimore at this point. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 32

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Current Record: 5-10

    Highest Ranking: 20 (Miller)

    Lowest Ranking: 28 (Davenport)

    What's Good?: When an organization selects a quarterback with a first-round pick, the expectations are to see progress and development over time, particularly in the signal-caller's second year. No quarterback comes into the league and completely dominates, but the game should start to slow down after a year or so. Last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars spent the third overall pick on Blake Bortles.

    He's not a perfect quarterback, but he certainly improved in his second season. The UCF product surpassed 4,100 passing yards compared to last year's 2,908 yards. His touchdown numbers increased dramatically as well. Only Tom Brady's 36 touchdown passes surpass Bortles' 35 this season. The second-year quarterback's completion percentage still needs to improve, but the raw stats are much better. 

    What's Bad?: Jaguars owner Shad Khan hired head coach Gus Bradley for two reasons: his infectious personality and expertise in coaching defenses. Neither of these things helped translate into a significant improvement in the win column.

    The team's defensive problems are especially troubling. The New Orleans Saints racked up 537 yards of offense and 38 points Sunday. This year's defense is actually surrendering a few more yards per game than last year's effort. The team lacks in multiple key areas, particularly in its pass rush. Some type of change is needed to improve on that side of the ball. 

    What's Next?: A final contest against the Houston Texans should serve as a litmus test for Jacksonville after losing to its rival 31-20 in October. The 8-7 Texans appear to be on their way to an AFC South title, while the Jaguars can still show some improvement by potentially upsetting them this weekend. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 22

24. New Orleans Saints

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-9

    Highest Ranking: 18 (Davenport)

    Lowest Ranking: 27 (Miller, Schalter)

    What's Good?: Tim Hightower's career revival has been nothing short of phenomenal. After Hightower was out of the league for more than three years with a quick appearance in the FXFL as a member of the Florida Blacktips, the New Orleans Saints signed him three different times this year to provide depth at running back.

    Once Mark Ingram went down with a shoulder injury, Hightower took over, and he hasn't looked back. Since becoming the starter three weeks ago, the 29-year-old running back ran for 261 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, he posted the second-highest rushing total of his career Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars with 122 yards and a couple of scores. 

    "I think the world of him and certainly respect the fight he has [gone through] to get back on the field," head coach Sean Payton said, per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett

    What's Bad?: When does a team say enough is enough as it pertains to an overpaid, underwhelming veteran? Cornerback Brandon Browner has been simply awful this season. He already set an unofficial record for the most penalties on a single player during one season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the worst cornerback in the NFL by a wide margin.

    Browner gave up a 90-yard touchdown to the Jaguars' Allen Robinson on Sunday, and Saints fans cascaded the defensive back with boos. The organization can actually save nearly a million dollars next year by releasing him, according to Spotrac

    What's Next?: There is still plenty to be decided for the Saints in the coming week. The potential return of Payton and quarterback Drew Brees in 2016 certainly resides at the forefront. A victory against the Atlanta Falcons this weekend will give New Orleans three wins in the last four weeks and make a much stronger case for both. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 25

23. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-9

    Highest Ranking: 19 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 26 (Tanier)

    What's Good?: Tight end Zach Ertz has been a tremendous weapon in the Philadelphia Eagles' passing game over the last three weeks. The Stanford product caught 26 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown during the stretch. His also set a new career high in Saturday's contest against the Washington Redskins with 122 receiving yards on 13 catches.

    Ertz became the fourth tight end in NFL history with two career games of 13 or more catches and 100 yards, according to CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank. The tight end is second on the team with 66 receptions for 701 yards. 

    What's Bad?: The Eagles organization decided not to wait a few more days before getting rid of head coach Chip Kelly. Instead, Black Monday turned into Black Tuesday. After an offseason power struggle, Kelly emerged as the organization's primary decision-maker, but his decisions directly led to a massively disappointing 6-9 record.  

    The dismissal, which NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal reported, comes days after Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins torched Kelly's defense for 365 yards and four touchdowns. In fact, the Eagles defense gave up 38 or more points in four of its last six games. Considering the team's regression in almost every area, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided now was the time to make a move. 

    What's Next?: Can interim head coach Pat Shurmur pull this team out of its recent tailspin? Both the Redskins and Arizona Cardinals easily handled Philadelphia. A final contest against the fellow 6-9 New York Giants will be all about pride and individuals playing for their jobs. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 18

22. St. Louis Rams

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 7-8

    Highest Ranking: 16 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 23 (Miller)

    What's Good?: William Hayes isn't a name often discussed when it comes to all of the talent along the St. Louis Rams' defensive line. Aaron Donald is a dominant force at defensive tackle. Defensive end Chris Long is a former second overall pick with two 10-plus-sack seasons. Fellow defensive end Robert Quinn is one of the league's most fluid pass-rushers. And 1-technique Michael Brockers is a bear against the run and is another former first-round pick.

    So, where does Hayes fit?

    The Winston-Salem State product has been a solid rotation player for several years, but injuries forced the 30-year-old pass-rusher into the starting lineup this season. The veteran played well as a starter, too. His best game came this past weekend when Hayes sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson three times. 

    "He's super important, and people don't give him enough creditpeople kind of think he's dopey at times," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner. "All the goofy things he does and he's always got a smile on his face. He's constantly keeping things stirred up."

    What's Bad?: The Rams' final game isn't important. The team didn't earn a playoff spot, and fans have a much bigger issue on their minds. Will the Rams officially leave St. Louis this offseason and move to Los Angeles? It's been the overriding question all year. One game this Sunday on the road doesn't mean anything if the team is ready to leave. 

    While owner Stan Kroenke appears dead set on leaving, the city of St. Louis submitted its stadium proposal before the NFL's deadline. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's David Hunn, the proposal is a 400-page document detailing the plans to build a $1.1 billion open-air stadium on the Mississippi riverfront.

    Will it be enough? It's entirely in the hands of NFL owners. 

    What's Next?: Before anything official comes out of the league about a potential move, the Rams must play one more game. Coincidentally, Kroenke's team will be in California this weekend to face the San Francisco 49ers. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 24

21. Detroit Lions

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 6-9

    Highest Ranking: 14 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 29 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Owner Martha Ford made significant changes to the Detroit Lions' organizational structure during the season. Is she done? No one knows for sure, but the team certainly seemed to be heading in the right direction during the campaign's second half. 

    Maybe the biggest change came when head coach Jim Caldwell dismissed former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and promoted Jim Bob Cooter into the role of primary play-caller. Since the change, quarterback Matthew Stafford has played very well. Stafford threw 17 touchdowns compared to only four interceptions during that time. Over the last two games, Stafford completed 82.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no turnovers. 

    Stafford and Cooter work well together, which gives credence to the idea of keeping the current coaching staff in place. 

    "Jim Bob and I are on the same page the majority of the time, if not all the time," Stafford said, per DetroitLions.com's Tim Twentyman.

    What's Bad?: Detroit's recent success came far too late. Even with winning five of their last seven games, the Lions are still 6-9 overall due to their 1-7 start. 

    "It's a sick feeling because we understood how good we were back in training camp, but we took too long to show it," defensive end Darryl Tapp said, per ESPN.com.

    However, the team's play over the second half could be enough to save jobs and build toward something positive next year. It simply wasn't enough to turn around this year's campaign. 

    What's Next?: The Lions could end their season on a strong note by traveling to the Windy City and beating the rival Chicago Bears. In doing so, Detroit would enter the offseason on a three-game winning streak and out of the NFC North basement. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 23

20. Chicago Bears

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 6-9

    Highest Ranking: 14 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 27 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Prior to signing a five-year, $38.75 million contract with the Chicago Bears in free agency, Pernell McPhee never served as a full-time starter in the NFL. In his first season with the Bears, he proved himself worthy of the massive contract as one of the game's best outside linebackers. Pro Football Focus grades him as the fifth-best player at his position, which is an accomplishment when Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Justin Houston continue to dominate.

    McPhee hasn't posted huge sack numbers—he registered six so far—but he's a consistently disruptive player as both a pass-rusher and run defender. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Mississippi State product registered four total tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two more quarterback hits. 

    What's Bad?: Cornerback Tracy Porter became a valuable addition to the Bears secondary this season as its veteran presence. The 29-year-old defensive back has been relatively consistent after being called upon to start in Week 4. However, his performance against the Buccaneers was easily one of his worst of the season.

    In particular, Porter took a horrible angle toward running back Charles Sims on a broken play that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown. The Bears eventually won, but the Buccaneers took the lead in the third quarter because of the mistake.   

    What's Next?: Sunday's matchup against the Detroit Lions is an important one. The winner stays out of the NFC North basement. Plus, the Bears lost five straight games to end last season. This year, John Fox's squad could enter the offseason on a two-game winning streak. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 20

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-9

    Highest Ranking: 14 (Freeman) 

    Lowest Ranking: 24 (Davenport, Schalter)

    What's Good?: In the midst of Doug Martin's revival, Charles Sims' emergence as a legitimate playmaker in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense has been overlooked. Sims is second on the team with 514 rushing yards. Like Martin, he averages 5.0 yards per carry.

    The running back is also second on the team with 42 receptions and third with 487 receiving yards. Against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Sims led the team with 72 receiving yards and added a 50-yard touchdown reception, which tied him for the team lead with four scores as a receiver. 

    What's Bad?: While Sims served as an instrumental part of Sunday's contest, Martin didn't run as well. The league's second-leading rusher only managed 2.9 yards per carry. He finished the contest with 17 carries for 49 yards. However, Martin still has an outside shot to lead the league in rushing this season with a standout performance this weekend. The Buccaneers running back is currently 64 yards behind the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson

    What's Next?: At one point, the Buccaneers owned a 6-6 record. The team lost its next three games. It's a disappointing stretch, but Tampa could end on a positive note if it can find a way to hand the Carolina Panthers a second straight loss. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 16

18. Indianapolis Colts

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Current Record: 7-8

    Highest Ranking: 15 (Miller)

    Lowest Ranking: 28 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Indianapolis running back Frank Gore still has a little left in the tank. Either that or the Miami Dolphins defense is truly terrible. Even if Gore is experiencing one of his worst statistical seasons, he can still slice and dice his way through a poor-tackling defense.

    The 32-year-old running back averaged 5.7 yards per carry Sunday and scored twice. Gore still has a chance to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season, but he needs to end Indianapolis' 54-game streak (including playoffs) without a 100-yard rusher to do so. He's 109 yards away from the goal. 

    What's Bad?: The Colts are just pulling guys off the street at this point to play quarterback. The team placed its third-string signal-caller, Charlie Whitehurst, on injured reserve Monday due to a hamstring injury, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. In response, per Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com, the team signed both Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley. No one knows exactly who will start behind center this weekend.  

    What's Next?: A lot needs to happen for the Colts to make the playoffs, but the possibility still exists. It won't matter unless the team handles its business against the Tennessee Titans. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 19

17. New York Giants

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-9

    Highest Ranking: 15 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 20 (Davenport, Sobleski)

    What's Good?: Jason Pierre-Paul's return to the team benefited Robert Ayers the most. In his last four games, Ayers registered six sacks, including 1.5 against the Minnesota Vikings last week. He leads the team with eight this season. 

    Consider for a moment: The Giants were one of the league's worst pass-rushing teams prior to Pierre-Paul's inclusion. His value as a player, even with an injured hand, can't be denied. 

    Ayers certainly wasn't the same player without JPP in the lineup. 

    What's Bad?: Head coach Tom Coughlin made it easy for the organization to move on from him if it wants to do so. After another playoff-less season, Coughlin's status remains uncertain. 

    "If you want to break it all down, blame it all on me," Coughlin said Monday, per NJ.com's Jordan Raanan. "I'm the head coach. I'm responsible. We lose, I lose the game for our players. Put it that way. Leave it that way."

    After missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the four years since the team's last Super Bowl victory, it might finally be the right time for coach and franchise to part ways.

    What's Next?: With Coughlin's uncertain future, how the Giants respond against the rival Philadelphia Eagles this weekend could be a telling sign of whether or not the team should make a move or whether he decides to step down as head coach. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 14

16. Atlanta Falcons

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Current Record: 8-7

    Highest Ranking: 14 (Davenport)

    Lowest Ranking: 23 (Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: With a standout performance Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones could break the NFL's single-season receptions record. Jones is 16 catches behind Marvin Harrison's record of 143 grabs in 2002. Can Jones do it? It's unlikely since he's never caught more than 13 passes in one game, but it'll be fun to watch him try. The Falcons receiver still leads the league with 127 receptions and 1,722 yards. 

    What's Bad?: It's difficult to knock the Falcons for anything after they beat the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately, injuries can put a damper on any situation. Veteran defensive tackle Paul Soliai left the field twice during the contest while he dealt with a nagging calf injury. The team officially placed its starting 1-technique on injured reserve this week, according to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure.

    With Soliai out of the lineup for the final game, Grady Jarrett could get the start if he's recovered from a shoulder injury. 

    What's Next?: The Falcons season can be divided into three acts. The team started 5-0. It then lost seven of its next eight games. Atlanta has now won two straight contests, including a huge victory against the rival Panthers. This season might not have gone as planned, but the team could still improve to 9-7 overall with a win Sunday. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 21

15. Buffalo Bills

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Current Record: 7-8

    Highest Ranking: 14 (Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 21 (Miller)

    What's Good?: Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman is as good as any other coach in the league when it comes to devising the best run-game plans. It doesn't matter if it's LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams or even Mike Gillislee receiving the handoffs. All of them have been productive this season. Gillislee is merely the latest. The Florida product led the team with 93 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. The third-year running back also scored a touchdown in three straight games. 

    "It was a matter of opportunity," Gillislee said, per the Buffalo News' Tyler Dunne. "The Bills gave me a hell of an opportunity. I am taking advantage of it."

    What's Bad?: Kickers usually don't receive the spotlight unless they've affected a game negatively. Unfortunately, the Bills' Dan Carpenter continues to disappoint this season. In his eighth campaign, the kicker is experiencing his worst year. He's already missed four field goals and five extra points. Head coach Rex Ryan wasn't exactly willing to commit to his kicker for another year when asked. 

    "Dan [Carpenter] has had a history being successful kicking here, so that is something you can’t ignore also," Ryan said, per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak. "Has he struggled this year? Yes, he has. ...

    "We will see what happens."

    What's Next?: A showdown against the New York Jets looms. Running back Boobie Dixon has already called this game the Bills' "Super Bowl," per CBS New York.

    Last Week's Ranking: 17

14. Houston Texans

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Current Record: 8-7

    Highest Ranking: 12 (Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 24 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Houston Texans quarterback Brandon Weeden figured it out pretty quickly: Throw it up to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and good things will happen. Hopkins caught seven of Weeden's 15 completions for 117 yards, which was more than half of his total passing yardage.

    The quarterback's performance impressed Hopkins, despite Weeden's status as the team's fourth starter this season. 

    "He did a great job, coming out with a lot of confidence," Hopkins said, per the Houston Texans' Twitter feed. "That's how he practiced. Not surprised."

    What's Bad?: The Texans absolutely dominated the Tennessee Titans during a 34-6 victory. As a whole, the team performed well. One little nitpick would ask Houston's offensive line to perform better in the run game. Running backs Alfred Blue and Chris Polk carried the ball 26 times for only 83 yards. 

    What's Next?: Houston has an AFC South title all but clinched. Just to make sure, a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars will seal the deal. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 15

13. Oakland Raiders

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Current Record: 7-8

    Highest Ranking: 13 (four voters)

    Lowest Ranking: 16 (Gagnon)

    What's Good?: Malcolm Smith played his best game Thursday as a member of the Oakland Raiders. Smith signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the organization during free agency. His performance against the San Diego Chargers showed why defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. valued his presence. Smith led the team with 14 total tackles. It was the fifth time this season Smith registered 10 or more tackles in a game. The outside linebacker leads the team with 117 tackles. He also forced a fumble Sunday. 

    What's Bad?: As the Raiders strive to reach .500, they'll do so without their stalwart fullback. The NFL suspended Marcel Reece four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Obviously, his suspension will stretch into next season unless overturned on appeal. 

    The former Pro Bowl fullback released a statement through Pro Football Talk, via to Mike Florio, defending his innocence: 

    I have NEVER, and would NEVER, ingest any banned substance that would result in a failed drug test. What I did consume was a natural plant root extract by the name of ‘Umcka,’ which is a completely safe substance that is clearly legal by NFL policy, in terms of being acceptable to consume. What I didn’t know is that this plant root, once ingested in the human body, converts to the substance ‘metylhexanamine,’ which is a banned substance by NFL standards.

    What's Next?: In order to reach the 8-8 plateau, the Raiders must upset the scorching-hot Kansas City Chiefs. This could be determined by how much Kansas City wants to play its starters. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 13

12. Washington Redskins

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 8-7

    Highest Ranking: 10 (Miller, Schalter)

    Lowest Ranking: 12 (four voters)

    What's Good?: The Washington Redskins' Jordan Reed is absolutely dynamic, and he needs to be recognized as one of the game's premier tight ends. In the last three weeks, Reed caught 25 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns. 

    “I feel I say it every week: He’s one of the best,” left tackle Trent Williams said, per ESPN.com's John Keim. “Definitely one of the bestand he proves it every time.”

    What's Bad?: The Redskins took control of this past weekend's contest against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter and never looked back. But not everyone performed at a top level. Cornerback Will Blackmon struggled in coverage. Officials called Blackmon for pass interference in the end zone, and the cornerback also surrendered a deep pass. Plus, he dealt with an injury during the contest.  

    What's Next?: After reeling off three straight wins, the Redskins clinched an NFC East title. Now, their only decision this weekend is who will and won't play against the Dallas Cowboys. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 12

11. Green Bay Packers

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Current Record: 10-5

    Highest Ranking: 7 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 11 (Schalter, Sobleski)

    What's Good?: Mike Daniels is already living up to the $42 million contract extension he signed with the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago. In the following two games, the defensive lineman has already registered a couple of stuffs at the line of scrimmage and has even intercepted Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer on an attempted screen pass. The turnover ended Palmer's interception-less streak at 187 passes. Unfortunately, Daniels couldn't turn the interception into points. 

    "I should’ve scored," Daniels said, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "I should’ve scored. I should’ve scored. That’s all I’m going to say about itI should’ve scored."

    What's Bad?: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers never faced anything like the Arizona Cardinals' pass rush. Due to a patchwork offensive line, the Packers couldn't slow Arizona's talented defense. The group sacked Rodgers eight times before head coach Mike McCarthy decided to pull his starting quarterback. Backup offensive tackles Don Barclay and Josh Walker were completely overwhelmed. 

    How bad did it get Sunday? 

    "Cardinals are the first team with nine sacks and two fumble recoveries for touchdowns in a game since at least 1963 (first year team sacks were recorded)," the NFL's Director of NFC Football Communications Randall Liu tweeted

    What's Next?: Despite the embarrassing 38-8 loss to the Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers can still claim an NFC North title on Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 8

10. New York Jets

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 10-5

    Highest Ranking: 7 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 12 (Gagnon)

    What's Good?: New York Jets wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are already forming one of the league's deadliest duos. In fact, they've been historically good this season. Both receivers caught a touchdown pass Sunday against the New England Patriots. It's the eighth time this season both scored, which is a new NFL record. Marshall also became the first wide receiver in NFL history to record six 100-catch seasons. The two have combined for 2,353 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns through 15 games. 

    What's Bad?: An overtime win against the New England Patriots with the playoffs on the line can be described as magical for the Jets. Fitz-magical? However, not everyone played well during the team's critical victory.

    Right tackle Breno Giacomini struggled against the Patriots' edge-rushers. Giacomini is what he is as a player: a physical strong-side tackle who lacks athleticism in pass protection. Thus, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise when he surrenders a sack, another quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus

    What's Next?: A win and the Jets are in the playoffs. They'll be too busy with a blood feud against the Buffalo Bills to worry about what anyone else is doing. Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to Buffalo. Rex Ryan wants to punish the Jets. New York simply needs to win and not worry about what the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 10

9. Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 10-5

    Highest Ranking: 5 (Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 12 (Freeman, Schalter)

    What's Good?: Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith missed the last two games before returning to the lineup against the New York Giants. The previous knee injury didn't hold back the talented defensive back at all. Smith registered four solo tackles, a deflected pass and intercepted a pass, which he returned 35 yards for a touchdown. 

    "To come out in his first game back with a pick-six, he’s a warrior," running back Adrian Peterson said, per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling. "He’s a guy that if I’m starting a team, he’s my first pick. So I got to take my hat off to him. He’s the ultimate competitor, and he's a great talent."

    What's Bad?: The Vikings' starting offensive tackles, Matt Kalil and T.J. Clemmings, had a tough time against the New York Giants' pass-rushers. Robert Ayers registered 1.5 sacks. He and Jason Pierre-Paul also hit quarterback Teddy Bridgewater four more times. 

    To make matters worse, Kalil suffered a lower leg injury. He's not expected to miss any time, but his head coach expects more from the left tackle. 

    "I just want him to be more consistent all the time," Mike Zimmer told the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson. 

    What's Next?: Sunday's showdown with the Green Bay Packers will determine which team claims this year's NFL North title. With a win, the Vikings will play the Seattle Seahawks in the fist round of the playoffs. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 11

8. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Current Record: 9-6

    Highest Ranking: 4 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 13 (Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: Almost everything went wrong Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Veteran running back DeAngelo Williams emerged as the team's lone bright spot. Williams ran the ball 17 times for 100 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.

    It's the fourth time this season the 32-year-old running back ran for 100 or more yards. In fact, he's only 101 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards this season—not too bad for a 10-year veteran who signed with the Steelers to serve as the team's backup to Le'Veon Bell. 

    What's Bad?: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's worst game of the season couldn't have come at a worse time. Roethlisberger seemed out of sorts against the Ravens. He still completed over 70 percent of his passes. But he threw a pair of interceptions, and a thirdwhich cornerback Jimmy Smith returned 101 yards for a touchdown—was called back when outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw lined up in the neutral zone. The Steelers offense can be dynamic, but it can't overcome poor play from its quarterback. 

    "We’re capable of beating anyone, but we’re also capable of losing to anyone," head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. “We didn’t handle the business in the stadium today, so we’re left to look around at other stadiums. Such is life this time of year when you don’t do what you’re supposed to do.”

    What's Next?: The Steelers need help. First, Pittsburgh must defeat the Cleveland Browns, which shouldn't be too hard, and hope the New York Jets lose to the Buffalo Bills to claim a playoff spot. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 5

7. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Current Record: 11-4

    Highest Ranking: 4 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 11 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap absolutely mauled the Denver Broncos' offensive line on Monday Night Football. Dunlap finished the contest with three sacks. With his third and final sack, the 26-year-old pass-rusher entered the Bengals' record book with the most sacks in a season in team history. His 13.5 sacks are also tied for the third-most in the league. 

    What's Bad?: AJ McCarron played relatively well against the Broncos' No. 1-ranked defense. However, he suffered a sprained left wrist during the contest. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, McCarron could play this weekend, but the team will prepare third-string quarterback Keith Wenning to possibly start. 

    What's Next?: Even without McCarron, the Bengals will have an opportunity to finish their season with a win. After all, the Bengals' next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, is currently on its fourth starting quarterback this year. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 6

6. Seattle Seahawks

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 9-6

    Highest Ranking: 4 (Miller)

    Lowest Ranking: 8 (Schalter)

    What's Good?: After a tough 23-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Seattle Seahawks could receive good news this week. Running back Marshawn Lynch might return this weekend after missing the previous six games due to a hernia and subsequent surgery. 

    "From what I understand, he has a chance if those days go back-to-back, and he does well, that he might be in here Wednesday," head coach Pete Carroll said, per ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia. "We’ll see."

    Wilson led the team Sunday with 39 rushing yards. Lynch's potential addition to the lineup will certainly take pressure off the quarterback and improve the entire offense. 

    What's Bad?: The Rams' defensive front besieged Wilson throughout the contest. St. Louis sacked Seattle's quarterback four times and hit him on 13 more occasions.

    Patrick Lewis' inclusion into the starting offensive line became part of the reason behind the Seahawks' improvement in recent weeks. Lewis, however, took a step back this past weekend, and due to issues with the snap, Lemuel Jeanpierre eventually replaced him. 

    "I take full responsibility," Lewis said after the game, per the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta and Jayson Jenks

    What's Next?: Seattle is set to go to the playoffs once again, but the team can still jockey for its preferred slotting this weekend against the Arizona Cardinals. Win or lose, the Seahawks will still be playing during Wild Card Weekend. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 4

5. Denver Broncos

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    Associated Press

    Current Record: 11-4

    Highest Ranking: 3 (Schalter)

    Lowest Ranking: 8 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Whether or not Peyton Manning can return this season quickly became a moot point due to Brock Osweiler's play as the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback. In the team's overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, Osweiler completed 27 of 39 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown.

    More importantly, he performed far better when under pressure and continues to grow into the position. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak noted the biggest difference in the fourth-year quarterback from his first start until now. 

    "His input," Kubiak said, per the Denver Post's Troy Renck. "He talks during game a lot more than did first two. He expresses opinion."

    What's Bad?: Osweiler handled the Bengals' pressure much better because he needed to do so. Cincinnati's defensive front sacked the quarterback three times and hit him on four more occasions. According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line also surrendered nine quarterback hurries. Osweiler responded well, but his blockers need to play much better for the Broncos to have any chance in the playoffs. 

    What's Next?: Denver earned its playoff spot with Monday's victory, but the team can still obtain a first-round bye with a win this weekend against the San Diego Chargers. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 9

4. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    Current Record: 10-5

    Highest Ranking: 3 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 9 (Gagnon)

    What's Good?: Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters may be well on his way to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The Washington product gets better every week, and he was simply toying with the Cleveland Browns' wide receivers and quarterback Johnny Manziel at points Sunday. 

    "Peters gave up just two receptions for 20 yards against the Browns, despite being targeted nine times. Passer rating of zero," Pro Football Focus tweeted

    Peters even baited Manziel into throwing his way on one occasion and undercut the pass for his eighth interception of the season, which is tied for the league lead. The rookie also deflected two passes, which gives him 25 and also leads the league. 

    What's Bad?: The Chiefs defense played as well as any other unit in the league over the season's second half, but the Browns established a strong ground game. Cleveland racked up a season-high 232 rushing yards. Manziel provided 108 of those yards, but his mobility presented a challenge the Chiefs will have to counter if they face another mobile quarterback in the playoffs. Overall, Kansas City didn't appear as aggressive or as stout at the point of attack against one of the league's lower-ranked offenses. 

    What's Next?: Kansas City is on the verge of winning 10 straight games to end the season. It's quite a remarkable run considering the team started 1-5. In order to achieve the feat, the Oakland Raiders stand in the Chiefs' way. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 7

3. New England Patriots

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    Peter Morgan/Associated Press

    Current Record: 12-3

    Highest Ranking: 2 (Miller, Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 5 (Schalter)

    What's Good?: Seemingly every week, the New England Patriots must turn to another wide receiver to become a top target in the offense. Granted, tight end Rob Gronkowski is a constant in the passing game, but the Patriots didn't have Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola this past weekend against the New York Jets.

    Instead, quarterback Tom Brady turned to Keshawn Martin as his No. 1 wide receiver. The Patriots acquired Martin in a trade with Houston Texans after the start of the season. Three months later, he posted career highs with seven receptions for 68 yards. 

    What's Bad?: So much has already been written about the Patriots' decision to defer in overtime, which allowed the Jets to drive the ball 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Arguments will be made regarding whether head coach Bill Belichick made the right decision due to field conditions. However, the end result is the same: The Patriots lost when they had an opportunity to take the ball. No matter how it's slanted, New England suffered its third loss because it never got the ball in overtime. 

    What's Next?: For the Patriots, one loss doesn't matter even if it occurred under strange circumstances. Another Super Bowl victory is the ultimate goal. New England has already earned a bye in the playoffs, and this weekend's contest against the Miami Dolphins doesn't hold much significance. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 2

2. Carolina Panthers

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Current Record: 14-1

    Highest Ranking: 1 (three voters)

    Lowest Ranking: 2 (five voters)

    What's Good?: Days after being named to their first Pro Bowl, Carolina Panthers guard Trai Turner and defensive tackle Kawann Short played well against the Atlanta Falcons. Short's performance became far more noticeable since he made three tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks. The Purdue product is tied with the St. Louis Rams' Aaron Donald for the most sacks by a defensive tackle this season with 11.

    Turner's dominance isn't as obvious since he plays along the interior of the offensive line, but he's an absolute bull of a blocker. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league's fifth-best guard as he continues to grow in only his second season. 

    What's Bad?: Obviously, the Panthers' first season loss hit the team hard. Some took it harder than others. It's still only one loss, but there were issues, particularly within the offense, which need to be corrected.

    Drops again plagued the team. The difference this week compared to any other week is two of those drops came from the usually reliable Greg Olsen and Philly Brown at crucial times. As a result, quarterback Cam Newton didn't complete a third-down pass in a game for the first time in his career. The drops and inefficiency were bound to bite the Panthers sooner or later. It's better it happened in Week 16 against the Falcons than a playoff game.

    What's Next?: With the team's first loss out of the way, the Panthers can now refocus on what's important: a Super Bowl run. First, Carolina needs to remain healthy in its final game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before going into its playoff bye week. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 1

1. Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 13-2

    Highest Ranking: 1 (5 voters)

    Lowest Ranking: 3 (Miller, Tanier)

    What's Good?: Even without Pro Bowl defender Tyrann Mathieu in the lineup, the Arizona Cardinals defense dominated the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. 

    "We can dominate anyone," cornerback Patrick Peterson said after the team's performance without Mathieu, per ESPN

    In Sunday's 38-8 rout, Green Bay managed 178 yards of total offense. The Cardinals sacked the Packers' quarterbacks nine times, including three from veteran Dwight Freeney and 2.5 from Calais Campbell. The defense also forced three fumbles and intercepted Rodgers in the end zone for good measure. 

    Mathieu is a special player and fun to watch, but the Cardinals' depth at all three levels of the defense is even more impressive. 

    What's Bad?: The worst thing to happen Sunday to any of the Cardinals occurred before the game when quarterback Carson Palmer looked like a post-apocalyptic hula dancer as he warmed up for the contest. Everyone lost, not just Palmer, when the quarterback lived up to his side of a bet. 

    Also, Palmer's interception-less streak ended at 187 passes when the Packers' Mike Daniels read a screen and snatched the ball. 

    What's Next?: The Cardinals' primary goal in Week 17 is to stay as healthy as possible before entering their postseason bye week. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn't want to interrupt the team's rhythm, though. He plans to play all of his starters against the rival Seattle Seahawks, according to ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss

    Last Week's Ranking: 3