It's typically an eventful weekend when one or two title contenders lose. In Week 16, six top teams suffered defeats, turning the NFL on its head before the final weekend.
Entering Week 17, the league resembles the cast of Love Actually. There are a ton of characters, but none of them are particularly interesting. Between injuries and regression, most title hopefuls will limp into the postseason after revealing their vulnerabilities.
Was Week 16 just a one-off fluke, or did it foreshadow problems ahead? Let's see how the cards now align in the latest NFL power rankings before inspecting last weekend's damage.
|3||New England Patriots||12-3|
|4||Kansas City Chiefs||10-5|
|8||New York Jets||10-5|
|11||Green Bay Packers||10-5|
|16||St. Louis Rams||7-8|
|20||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6-9|
|21||New York Giants||6-9|
|25||New Orleans Saints||6-9|
|27||San Diego Chargers||4-11|
|31||San Francisco 49ers||4-11|
The Cincinnati Bengals hardly suffered a meltdown on Monday night. Against the Denver Broncos, also jostling for a first-round bye, the Bengals dropped a 20-17 overtime loss with AJ McCarron under center.
In a pivotal game versus the NFL's premier defense, Andy Dalton's replacement handled himself well, posting 200 passing yards, a touchdown and no picks. The 25-year-old quarterback has completed 67.4 percent of his passes and averaged 7.54 yards per pass attempt.
"He's had a tough go to get to where he is," head coach Marvin Lewis told ESPN.com's Coley Harvey. "But you know what? He kept working at it, and it's not too big for him and he keeps handling it."
Another weakness boiled to the surface against Denver. While the Bengals have relinquished an NFL-low 17.5 points per game, their defense is not beyond reproach. The Broncos compiled 113 rushing yards, 73 from C.J. Anderson.
Although the Bengals rank No. 7 in rushing defense, they allow 4.4 yards per rush. The Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, possible Round 1 opponents, also boast strong ground games.
Because of Monday night's loss, Cincinnati now may not avoid Wild Card Weekend, where its past four playoff runs have ended. Whether it's Dalton or McCarron taking the field, quarterback won't prove a big weakness.
On the bright side, the St. Louis Rams can't hurt the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.
Despite losing to their NFC West cohabitants to open the season, the Seahawks seemed like safe bets to return the favor last weekend. They strutted into the bout winners of five straight, a stretch during which they outscored the opposition by 18.4 points per game.
That abruptly ended with a 23-17 loss. A common factor in both upsets? No Kam Chancellor. The star safety, who held out to start the season, has missed the last two games with a tailbone injury.
Offensive lineman Russell Okung also sat out against St. Louis, robbing quarterback Russell Wilson of his most trustworthy protector. Earlier in the week, head coach Pete Carroll kept the door open for both studs to return, per the team's Twitter account:
Carroll says there is a chance SS Kam Chancellor, tackle Russell Okung, and DT Jordan Hill will play this week.— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 28, 2015
They didn't miss running back Marshawn Lynch when Thomas Rawls ran wild, but they could use the veteran now. Only the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills have handed the ball off more than Seattle, who must transition into a pass-first team with Beast Mode deactivated.
In spite of their streak-halting loss, the Seahawks rate No. 2 behind the Arizona Cardinals (their Week 17 opponent) in Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). The Week 16 loss, however, will especially sting if Seattle stays stuck in the No. 6 seed instead of facing Washington in the No. 5 slot.
Green Bay Packers
By now, most Green Bay Packers fans have probably forgotten how to spell "relax."
The team's slide continued with a 38-8 trouncing by Arizona. Losing to arguably the NFL's best team is one thing, but the Packers looked like an XFL club by comparison. They registered 178 offensive yards and were responsible for four turnovers and nine sacks.
As noted by NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, the offensive line eroded before last weekend's debacle:
Since Week 4, Aaron Rodgers has been sacked more times (38) than any other QB.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) December 31, 2015
Since their 6-0 start, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is averaging a putrid 5.89 yards per pass attempt. The team rates a concerning No. 24 in total offense, and its No. 19 defensive rank won't inspire much more confidence.
Football Outsiders' weighted DVOA, which places an added emphasis on recent results, depicts Green Bay as a below-average squad, ranked No. 18. After losing at home to the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, it's getting harder to argue.
All their struggles aside, the Packers will capture the NFC North and No. 3 seed by beating the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night. Yet after getting completely outclassed by the Cardinals, they're not a strong bet to last long through January.