NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank After Week 17?
The 2015 NFL regular season ended mercifully for some and triumphantly for others. Or in a few cases already, it ended in unemployment.
For the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown it ended in history. Prior to this season only one wide receiver had recorded 135-plus receptions. Both Jones and Brown joined that club during the same year with 136 catches apiece.
And for the New York Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick the season ended in sheer misery when he threw three interceptions in a game his team needed to win for a playoff berth. Fitzpatrick had tossed just one interception over his previous five games.
The end varies from individual to individual and from team to team. Let's use the weekly power rankings to sort through all the endings from Week 17.
These rankings aren't the standings. Instead, what follows is an analysis of how each team stacks up based on performance, regardless of what its record says. It's subjective, sure, but agreeing on everything (or anything) isn't fun, right?
And remember, I probably hate your favorite team.
32. Cleveland Browns (3-13)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 32
The Cleveland Browns began 2015 as a hopeless and quarterback-less mess. That is exactly how the season ended too.
At this point, it would be shocking to see Johnny Manziel on the team's roster in 2016 given his constant misbehavior and absences. And now after the Browns announced the firing of head coach Mike Pettine on Sunday, they will begin yet another hiring process.
That's a familiar part of the January rituals in Cleveland—as routine this time of the year as New Year's resolutions and sadly taking down Christmas decorations. Since 2009, the Browns have hired four new head coaches, and as NFL.com's Conor Orr noted, they haven't had a coach last more than 65 games since Bill Belichick.
Reminder: Belichick left Cleveland in 1995.
31. Tennessee Titans (3-13)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 31
The Tennessee Titans get shuffled up one slot by default because there's a more offensive smell coming from the Browns.
Week 17 was a time to simply drift through the motions and end another disastrous season with quarterback Marcus Mariota sitting out. The Titans won by losing, as they secured the top overall pick.
The 2016 draft is already intriguing, then, because Mariota is aboard in Tennessee as the hopeful franchise arm for many years. The Titans could get a massive trade bounty for the top pick if other teams are hungry to jump up and grab their own franchise quarterback.
That is why soon there might be a strange feeling in Tennessee: optimism. But first the Titans need a head coach.
30. Dallas Cowboys (4-12)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 30
The Dallas Cowboys spent an entire season trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered team, and now they'll do the same throughout the offseason.
They still have an abundance of talent, especially on offense when all the necessary pieces are healthy. But those times have become rare, and Tony Romo, the quarterback and foundation of the Dallas offense, has broken his collarbone three times.
He'll turn 36 years old in April, meaning this has to be the offseason when owner Jerry Jones finally thinks about tomorrow a little more than today and finds his quarterback of the future.
29. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 29
There's a special brand of delusion in the San Francisco 49ers' front office. A power struggle to end 2014 led to the firing of Jim Harbaugh, who had guided the team to three straight NFC Championship Game appearances as head coach. His personality may have been prickly, but there was little doubting Harbaugh's teaching and leadership skills.
But CEO Jed York craved power, so he replaced Harbaugh with a completely unqualified Jim Tomsula, who could be controlled because he had been with the organization since 2007.
Fast forward a year then, and Tomsula's inevitable firing that the team announced on Sunday after one failed season doesn't at all reflect on him.
He was overmatched in an unwinnable situation because of mass retirements, free-agency departures, injuries, a regressing quarterback and, most importantly, meddling ownership—the same ownership that's now keeping general manager Trent Baalke despite his poor decisions with far too many draft picks.
In the not-so-distant past, San Francisco fell just shy of the NFL mountaintop, losing Super Bowl XLVII by three points. Now the 49ers are rudderless.
28. Baltimore Ravens (5-11)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 28
A season decimated by injuries finally ended for the Baltimore Ravens. Here's how much agony they dealt with: Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Mallett and Matt Schaub all started at quarterback for a team that was already spiraling before many of the key breaks and/or muscle tears it suffered.
The Ravens were 2-6 at midseason but can find hope after six of their losses came by five points or fewer.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 27
Quarterback Blake Bortles ended a maddeningly inconsistent—and often inaccurate—second season in appropriate fashion when he was repeatedly pancaked by the Houston Texans.
Bortles has splashed plenty of encouraging play in with his overall erratic development. But now he enters the offseason on the sourest note after being sacked eight times and finishing with a passer rating of 51.4 against Houston.
Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was given a fourth season with the Jaguars. Like any coach, Bradley's fate is attached to his quarterback, and he won't see a fifth season if Bortles keeps trending toward bust status.
26. New York Giants (6-10)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 26
The New York Giants took a swift, right-angled downturn in these rankings to end the season. Why? Because that's what happens when a team can't even compete in the NFC East and loses six of its last seven games.
But hey, there was pleasant Giants news to end an otherwise forgettable season. Running back Rashad Jennings came alive to post 170 rushing yards during a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Over the final three games of 2015 he went off for 419 yards from scrimmage, all while averaging 6.8 yards per touch.
25. San Diego Chargers (4-12)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 25
Coach Mike McCoy has compiled a 22-25 record over three seasons as the Chargers' head coach, which is very Jeff Fisher of him. But the Chargers were among a short list of teams wrecked by injuries in 2015, especially at the wide receiver position.
Then there are also the tight losses, a factor that could have gone either way for McCoy. Of the Chargers' 12 losses in 2015, eight came by a touchdown or less.
Ultimately, per Michael Gehlkin of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the coach will get one more shot to right ship as he will retain his duties in 2016 as the team looks to complete a move to Los Angeles.
24. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 24
Thinking too deeply about the Atlanta Falcons' season of woe is hazardous to your mental health. It's hard to compute a team starting out 5-0 and then winning only three more times to be removed from the playoff conversation.
So let's stop there and focus on happier Falcons thoughts. Doing that always comes back to one rather talented individual: wide receiver Julio Jones.
Jones finished 2015 with 1,871 receiving yards, the second-highest single-season total in league history. He did that while hauling in 136 receptions, which means he was only eight catches shy of tying Marvin Harrison's single-season record.
He recorded 130-plus receiving yards in eight games this season. Yet sadly, Jones now fades away into his offseason as another reminder that even spectacular, often game-altering play from a receiver can be erased by a regressing quarterback (Matt Ryan).
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 23
Last is a common finish for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They've rounded out the bottom of the NFC South in four of the past five seasons now, including both of Lovie Smith's first two years as head coach.
Optimism this season was initially fueled by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. But his play plateaued during the second half, and he finished in Week 17 with a passer rating of only 64.6 while throwing two interceptions.
Smith's future is tied to the development of a young quarterback. And as we've seen so many times, relying on that maturation can become a stressful way to live.
22. Chicago Bears (6-10)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 22
You have to squint, but there are positives to extract from another year without a postseason appearance for the Chicago Bears, their fifth straight.
The most notable source of happiness comes from their quarterback, Jay Cutler, who usually operates a thriving turnover production plant. But during his first season under offensive coordinator Adam Gase, the 32-year-old chucked only 11 interceptions, his lowest single-season total during a year when he started at least 15 games.
Gase is about to become a sizzling name as the head coach hiring carousel starts spinning at warp speed. Should the Bears fear a quick regression from Cutler if Gase departs? History could become a powerful enemy fast.
21. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 21
Remember when there was so much joy and promise after Dan Campbell was named the Miami Dolphins' interim head coach? He won his first two games, and we all thought the NFL's version of PC Principal would be the rare interim head coach to experience some shred of success.
Yeah, about that. The Dolphins went 3-7 starting in Week 8 and continued to suffer from the same tired issues: A quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who makes poor decisions, a secondary that was picked apart while giving up 31 passing touchdowns and a lack of dedication offensively to the run.
Another head coach search will begin. Anyone who can redirect Tannehill to his 2014 form should be the top priority, which is why Miami will interview Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
20. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 20
Drew Brees refuses to act his age.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback will turn 37 years old later in January. He should be declining or at least showing a hint of his forthcoming tumble from the high perch he has occupied for so many years.
But here are his totals over the Saints' final four games, three of which were wins: 1,388 passing yards (347 per game), nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Oh, and he played most of that time with a torn plantar fascia. Any still-lingering speculation about him leaving New Orleans should die fast. The Saints will find a way to fit his contract in a little more comfortably under the salary cap, likely with a contract extension.
19. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 19
A Jeff Fisher team has now finished at or below the .500 mark during 14 of his 20 full seasons as an NFL head coach. That includes three seven-win years during his four seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
Yet because of a strange and inexplicable aura that surrounds him, Fisher's job still feels like it's among the league's safest.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 18
Just how much did former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly misuse running back DeMarco Murray? On his first carry after Kelly's firing Murray exploded for a 54-yard touchdown run. During Kelly's final two games, Murray recorded 30 yards.
Murray still has life left in his legs, especially after Kelly rejuvenated them with a season in the doghouse. As his mileage ticks higher, he may never duplicate his 2014 season in Dallas. But it wouldn't at all be surprising to see a new head coach trust him to lead a backfield platoon.
He's due to be paid $7 million in 2016, all of which is guaranteed. So Murray will be back and hopefully under a head coach who can better utilize his downhill running style.
17. Oakland Raiders (7-9)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 17
The Oakland Raiders finished their regular season with a putrid offensive showing, accumulating only 205 yards during a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
They enter an offseason now with a young foundation in place through quarterback Derek Carr, running back Latavius Murray, wide receiver Amari Cooper and defensive end Khalil Mack. The next step is hopefully just a matter of watching and waiting as that youth develops.
16. Detroit Lions (7-9)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 16
The end is often a maddening experience as a team looks back and wonders what could have been. The Detroit Lions are now wishing the Matthew Stafford who showed up over the final three games (all wins) could have been present all year.
During that stretch Stafford averaged 283.3 passing yards per game while completing a whopping 78.2 percent of his attempts. He also threw eight touchdown passes without an interception.
Stafford was effective overall in the second half of this season, throwing just one pick over his final seven games. The 27-year-old's future looks brighter now after a step back in 2014.
The Lions' most pressing offseason question shifts from Stafford to whether they should keep paying wide receiver Calvin Johnson at his astronomical 2016 cap hit of $24 million.
15. Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 15
In hindsight, the Indianapolis Colts' 2015 season ended long before quarterback Andrew Luck suffered his first of two injuries that limited his year to only seven starts.
It ended when general manager Ryan Grigson decided the wise decision was to invest both draft and free-agent capital into aging offensive pieces, such as 32-year-old running back Frank Gore and 34-year-old receiver Andre Johnson, instead of bolstering a weak defense.
Luck's lost season clearly didn't help matters, and neither did Grigson's reliance on 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck to be his primary backup. But ultimately, the Colts couldn't keep pace even in the laughingstock AFC South because of a 26th-ranked defense that allowed 379.1 yards per game.
14. New York Jets (10-6)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 14
So many painful numbers stick out from the New York Jets' complete meltdown when they had an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth.
There are the 21 yards of offense in the first quarter and the 135 receiving yards Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins posted while roasting Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.
But here's the number that really glows: 232.
That's how many pass attempts Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had logged over his previous five games while throwing just one interception. Then with the Jets' playoff destiny in his hands, there was no more pixie dust left for Fitzmagic, as he threw three interceptions Sunday on just 37 attempts.
13. Buffalo Bills (8-8)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 13
The Buffalo Bills' first season under Rex Ryan derailed primarily because core defensive pieces were slow while adapting to the new head coach's system.
The defensive personnel will be tinkered with to better suit what Ryan wants to accomplish. Ryan's mind on that side of the ball is too advanced to have another season of lackluster play in 2016. That is why the Bills' offensive progress is so encouraging.
Buffalo went from fielding a 26th-ranked offense in 2014 to finishing 13th in 2015. That leap was fueled by the emergence of both quarterback Tyrod Taylor and his top receiver, Sammy Watkins, who recorded four 100-plus-yard games over the final six weeks.
The defense will develop under Ryan, and the offense is already making significant strides.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 12
The playoffs just wouldn't have felt complete without the Pittsburgh Steelers. We should all be thankful the Buffalo Bills graciously helped by beating the New York Jets on Sunday. Because for at least one more week, we get to watch Antonio Brown be amazing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver already had seven receptions for 114 yards by just the 13:51 mark of the second quarter Sunday. He finished with 13 receptions for 187 yards, becoming the first player in league history to record 175-plus receiving yards during four games in a single season, according to Elias Stats Bureau (h/t ESPN Stats & Info).
Even better, Brown's 265 combined receptions during the 2014 and 2015 seasons are the most during any two-year span in league history, per AFC director of communications Jon Zimmer.
So yes, any week when we get to watch Brown is a good week.
11. Houston Texans (9-7)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 11
If the Houston Texans win a playoff game and manage to knock off the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, they'll do it because of perfect harmony between two core elements: a daunting defense and all-planet wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Houston surged past the Indianapolis Colts, taking the AFC South with three straight wins to end the season. During that stretch, the Texans defense allowed just 22 points, and overall in 2015, Houston logged six games when it held the opposition to single-digit points.
Then there's Hopkins, who finished the regular season with 1,521 receiving yards even while stretching for passes from a stable of quarterbacks who completed just 57.8 percent of their attempts (30th).
10. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 10
The Green Bay Packers lost Sunday night even when the opposing offense finished with only 99 passing yards. That takes true skill—or in this case an inability to capitalize on opportunities.
The most notable missed scoring chance started with just over five minutes left and Green Bay trailing by a touchdown. The Packers had just been gifted a fumble by Minnesota Vikings kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers promptly drove down the field to set up 1st-and-goal from the 10-yard line.
Instead of going for the jugular as we've come to expect from a Packers offense, it sputtered, lost yards after a sack and then faced 4th-and-13. That is when Rodgers was forced to heave up a frantic pop fly toward the end zone that was intercepted.
Now Green Bay has to win a playoff game on the road against a white-hot Washington Redskins team.
9. Washington Redskins (9-7)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 9
The Washington Redskins opted to balance rust and rest in Week 17 by removing quarterback Kirk Cousins at halftime. That is all the time he needed to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys while averaging 14.7 yards per attempt.
Incredibly, he's tossed three-plus touchdown passes in three straight games.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 8
There will be carnage when the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers meet in the divisional round on Saturday, clashing for the third time this season. But for the Bengals a critical question remains unanswered: Will they have the services of quarterback Andy Dalton?
The Bengals have now won the AFC North four times under head coach Marvin Lewis and advanced into the playoffs five straight years. But they've infamously exited each time with a whimper, failing to win a single playoff game throughout Lewis' tenure. With Dalton under center, Cincinnati has been outscored 103-43 during the playoffs.
Yet if he's not healthy enough to play against the Steelers once more, shaking that oversized playoff monkey could become exceedingly difficult.
But Dalton was optimistic when speaking to Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. He'll see a specialist Monday and hopes to have his cast removed.
7. New England Patriots (12-4)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 7
We haven't quite reached five-alarm status yet for the New England Patriots offense, but there's real reason to wonder if injuries have finally left them too battered for a deep January run.
Sure, the Patriots have an extra week to rest. And sure, they'll get wide receiver Julian Edelman back. He's a core offensive weapon who piles up yards after the catch.
But Edelman isn't an offensive lineman, so he can't block for his quarterback, Tom Brady, who's been pressured relentlessly. Brady was under constant duress Sunday during a loss to the Miami Dolphins. He finished with only 134 passing yards and logged his only regular-season game in 2015 without a touchdown pass.
Edelman also can't bolster a rushing offense that's averaged just 2.7 yards per carry over New England's last two games.
6. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 6
Long ago we all realized Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is capable of spectacular things regularly. But now he's redefined regularly while making history.
Wilson became the first player to record 4,000-plus passing yards, 30-plus passing touchdowns and 500-plus rushing yards in one season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And Sunday he capped off his year while supported by a defense that held the Arizona Cardinals' league-best offense to only six points and 232 yards.
5. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 5
Offense wasn't really the Minnesota Vikings' thing Sunday night, just as it hasn't been all season. A 29th-ranked unit produced just 242 yards.
But lately that sort of yardage has been more than enough, with the Vikings defense holding opposing offenses to an average of 15.7 points over their last three games. A similar defensive shutdown in the divisional round feels laughable against the Seahawks given the historic run Wilson is on right now.
4. Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 4
The Arizona Cardinals were absolutely pummeled Sunday, losing by 30 points to the Seahawks. It was an alarming game in which quarterback Carson Palmer completed only 48.0 percent of his passes, well below his overall completion percentage of 63.7 this season.
Often, however, this is when panic buttons are mashed prematurely just prior to the playoffs. Is scoring only six points a sign the league's top offense is becoming unraveled? And will Arizona have an early postseason exit again after showing so much promise?
To answer both questions, please recall that a nine-game Cardinals win streak was snapped Sunday, and as part of said streak, they pumped the Seahawks defense for 39 points back in Week 10. The Cardinals will be just fine.
3. Denver Broncos (12-4)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 3
Peyton Manning is going to start another playoff game now. Or at least he should and not because he's the significantly better quarterback on the Denver Broncos' roster. No, because he's become the significantly safer quarterback on the Broncos' roster.
Brock Osweiler was a mistake-prone mess in a critical game to leapfrog the Patriots for top spot in the AFC. He committed three turnovers on only 23 dropbacks, all while leading his offense to just seven points.
Manning simply has more experience, and his mental savvy will allow him to function more effectively in key moments, even with any lingering physical issues.
The concern, of course, is those physical problems and how much they led to turnovers previously. Manning started nine games during the regular season, yet he still finished second in interceptions with 17.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 2
The Kansas City Chiefs' winning streak has stretched to double digits, and it's being pushed by a simple formula: run hard then hit and/or pounce on everything.
Offensively, the Chiefs are averaging 127.8 rushing yards per game, and they finished tied for the regular-season league lead with 19 rushing touchdowns. Sunday that weekly steamrolling continued with 189 yards on the ground during a win over the Raiders.
Defensively, Kansas City had the third-most takeaways in the AFC (29) and the fourth-most sacks overall (47).
Both of those elements—a power-rushing offense and a swarming defense—could keep the Chiefs playing well into January and maybe even the start of February.
1. Carolina Panthers (15-1)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 1
So how would the Carolina Panthers bounce back after having their bid to go undefeated snapped? By lighting up the Buccaneers for 38 points.
The Panthers sealed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by scoring 35-plus points for the seventh time in 2015. Anything short of a Super Bowl berth is starting to feel like a disappointment for a team that's been so consistently dominant.