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Chris Simms' NFL Power Rankings Ahead of Week 15

Chris SimmsNFL Lead AnalystDecember 12, 2016

Chris Simms' NFL Power Rankings Ahead of Week 15

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    The 2016 National Football League MVP is…

    Aaron Rodgers. With an asterisk. 

    To recap: I had Derek Carr ahead in the best-player-in-football award race. MVP quarterbacks find a way to beat their rivals no matter what, though. Carr dropped his second contest to the now-AFC West-leading Chiefs.

    You’ll hear big names bandied about to replace Carr as MVP favorite. David Johnson is a monster who still has a chance join the 1,000-yard rushing and receiving club this season. Tom Brady is Tom Brady. Ezekiel Elliott has the added benefit of playing with a star on his helmet. But I’ll take Rodgers.

    Now about that asterisk; Green Bay’s transcendent quarterback needs to make the playoffs to get the trophy. Sunday’s home win over the scary Seahawks was a good start. Should No. 12 drag his team all the way back from the brink of destruction, I say the hardware is his to lose.

         

    Note: I’ve excluded New England and Baltimore from these power rankings for now. Check back Tuesday to see where they fit in.

32. Cleveland Browns

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    Current record: 0-13

    Last week: 32 (same)

    A few resident Browns fans at Bleacher Report confessed they’d forgotten who their starting quarterback was in Week 14.

    Robert Griffin III went and reminded them all. With his combination of unnecessary scrambling and patting the football down far too long, he’s the perfect candidate to lead this team to its 0-16 destiny.

    It’s too bad his horrible return (see: throwing footballs into triple coverage) spoiled a promising day from the defense. Cleveland deserves better.

    Looking forward: The march to 0-16 should trod on with a road game in Buffalo.

31. San Francisco 49ers

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    Current record: 1-12

    Last week: 31 (same)

    No lead is safe when you're standing on Chip Kelly's sideline.

    San Francisco had its best shot to earn a second win. Then, like so many times before, the wheels fell off like a cheap Christmas toy.

    And I don't get it. Colin Kaepernick is limited as a passer (especially on third down, where the 49ers went 2-of-12), but Carlos Hyde (193 rushing yards) had a day. The defense sacked Bryce Petty six times. Running game plus pass rush equals wins in the NFL, right?

    Not in Kelly's world. Petty and Co. stormed back to score 20 unanswered points. A 1-15 record looks like a real possibility.

    Looking forward: A trip to Atlanta might mean the NFL's most lopsided loss of 2016. This defense can't keep up.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Current record: 2-11

    Last week: 29 (-1)

    Tom Coughlin should just book his return flight now.

    These Jaguars aren’t just strapped for talent. They’re lacking in the football smarts department and could use a disciplinarian like the ex-Giants and ex-Jaguars coach to scare them straight.

    Case in point: Jacksonville was flagged for a delay-of-game penalty. On a kickoff. Ol’ Tommy would probably make his team run up-downs if that happened on his watch.

    Looking forward: Spoiler alert! Jacksonville can ruin Houston's season with a Week 15 upset.

29. Los Angeles Rams

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    Current record: 4-9

    Last week: 28 (-1)

    You got the sense it wasn't the Rams' day when the opening kickoff bounced right off Mike Thomas' facemask.

    Things didn't improve. And that meant the Rams needed a rookie quarterback with limited experience to dig them out of a multiple-touchdown hole. Credit Jared Goff for trying. His targets weren't consistent enough to haul in passes with regularity.

    In other news, Los Angeles remains the most head-scratching defense in terms of matchup football. Atlanta always seemed to have a receiver on a linebacker or a running back on a slow safety. That has to be cleaned up if Jeff Fisher is going to stick around.

    Looking forward: An interim head coach. On a short week. Against the Seahawks. Things will get uglier.

28. New York Jets

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    Current record: 4-9

    Last week: 30 (+2)

    Carlos Hyde trampled the Jets to the tune of 141 rushing yards.

    In one half.

    He followed that up with—only—52 yards in half No. 2. Gang Green's defensive effort is too unpredictable to follow. And even when it tries, the talent is a little lacking. That reflects right back on Todd Bowles.

    Meanwhile, Bryce Petty looked lost. Then he looked serviceable. Then he looked athletic. The Jets will ride that roller coaster if it means 404 total yards of offense every week.

    Looking forward: Good news? Saturday football. Bad news? It's Bryce Petty vs. Matt Moore.

27. Chicago Bears

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    Current record: 3-10

    Last week: 27 (same)

    Matt Barkley, quarterback of the future?

    I can’t believe I’m considering the USC product this way—especially with what I saw from his college tape.
    He’s giving me pause; Chicago has its long-term QB2 in place at the very least. At times, Barkley outplayed Matthew Stafford, too.

    The much-maligned Bears secondary (two interceptions, one touchdown) had a hand in evening the two passers out. I haven’t seen Bears defensive backs interrupt routes like that since the Lovie Smith era. They just couldn’t do it when Stafford was driving late in the game.

    Looking forward: Green Bay is playing good football right now. Can Chicago give its rival an end-of-season scare?

26. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Current record: 5-8

    Last week: 26 (same)

    Eagles fans: Please redirect your panic to the offensive line and secondary.

    Carson Wentz made a few throws in Week 14 that proved what I’ve said all along—the kid’s a baller. But he’s playing behind a line without both guards and a right tackle. Eventually, trouble’s bound to find him.

    It feels that way with this defense sometimes, too. Teams look for Leodis McKelvin and fire. Sometimes, the veteran cornerback wins, like he did on a pick-six. More often than not, he’s chasing DeSean Jackson down the field wondering what just happened.

    Looking forward: Where's that Eagles pass rush? It'll take another week off against Baltimore's offensive line.

25. Arizona Cardinals

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    Current record: 5-7-1

    Last week: 23 (-2)

    Bruce Arians’ team played like a storm cloud was hovering over it all season.

    So Week 14’s loss—which all but eliminated Arizona from playoff contention—was almost poetic. It took place in a downpour the Cardinals weren’t ready to handle.

    Offensive linemen slipped and slid, leaving Carson Palmer back behind them as a 36-year-old sitting duck. Special teams spotted the Dolphins six points with a missed extra point, a missed field goal and a blocked PAT returned for two.

    It was a sloppy end to a sloppier year.

    Looking forward: New Orleans does Arizona's offense better than Arizona. See what I mean in Week 15. 

24. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Current record: 5-7-1

    Last week: 24 (same)

    Cincinnati could’ve fallen into a trap-game hole this week.

    It didn’t. That tells me the players in that locker room are still playing for Marvin Lewis.

    Particularly the ones on his defense. Consider Cleveland’s stats at the half: 20 passing yards, three first downs, 72 total yards. Save for a rough patch against the run in the third quarter, Cincinnati’s defense coasted in Week 14.

    Looking forward: I don't care if only one team's truly in it. Steelers-Bengals is always fun.

23. San Diego Chargers

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    Current record: 5-8

    Last week: 21 (-2)

    Want to know how valuable Melvin Gordon is to his team?

    Look at what the Chargers accomplished when he was carted off the field in Week 14. Without balance, San Diego’s offense committed stupid giveaways.

    Most of those—and an avoidable safety—fall on Philip Rivers. The veteran passer cost his team another chance to compete by throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice.

    Then again, the Chargers needed No. 17 to throw and throw just to stay in it. Even a weak secondary like Carolina’s can jump on a few passes when it knows they’re coming.

    Looking forward: Bad luck, Bolts. You get to face an angry Raiders team trying to get back atop the AFC West.

22. New Orleans Saints

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    Current record: 5-8

    Last week: 22 (same)

    This isn’t 2009, Drew Brees.

    The passing windows you could once squeeze footballs through are slammed shut. So New Orleans’ passing game can only thrive if you’re smarter than opposing defenses—and you haven’t been this season.

    Case in point: Brees stared down receivers on two of his three backbreaking interceptions. Both were errors a college quarterback would make, not one making what he does.

    There’s no reason why an offense led by Brees and coach Sean Payton should lose when the opponent scores 16 points. Again: This is not 2009.

    Looking forward: Can Drew Brees and Carson Palmer give us one last fireworks show? 

21. Carolina Panthers

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    Current record: 5-8

    Last week: 25 (+4)

    No late-game collapse for these Panthers. 

    At least, not this week.

    Carolina has dropped five (count 'em) games this season by a field goal or less. But in Week 14, it refused to go down to an equally mistake-prone Chargers team. And the defense showed shades of its former 15-1 form.

    Shaq Thompson (interception) and Mario Addison (sack, safety) closed the deal—and closed any opportunity for Ron Rivera’s club to squander a 23-0 lead.

    Looking forward: Hello, old friend. Cam Newton tries to get the best of Josh Norman on Monday night.

20. Indianapolis Colts

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    Current record: 6-7

    Last week: 14 (-6)

    Indianapolis has been a one-man band all season long.

    And it just got booed off the stage. Andrew Luck (two interceptions) wasn’t a rock star. When that happens, the Colts aren’t competitive.

    The defense let Brock Osweiler shave six critical fourth-quarter minutes off the clock. The offense was plagued by drops—Phillip Dorsett and T.Y. Hilton especially—and couldn’t block the blitz. Even stalwart Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal. Not good all around.

    Looking forward: Luck is not facing cupcake defenses down the stretch. Minnesota is up next.

19. Buffalo Bills

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    Current record: 6-7

    Last week: 18 (-1)

    Have we seen the last of Rex Ryan in Buffalo?

    It’s a fair question after the Bills’ latest debacle. Pittsburgh came into New Era Field—in the snow, in the cold—and threw three boneheaded interceptions. Yet it still ripped apart a defense Ryan promised would improve.

    What happened to Ryan’s ground-and-pound offense? LeSean McCoy (27 yards) couldn’t find room against the Steelers whatsoever.

    It feels like this era is ending out in Western New York. It might be time to circle the wagons around another candidate.

    Looking forward: Buffalo needs to figure out what it has in Tyrod Taylor. These last three games are his proving ground.

18. Minnesota Vikings

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    Current record: 7-6

    Last week: 20 (+2)

    Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur took his sweet time to realize what this Vikings offense can do.

    It finally clicked in Week 14—perhaps in part because of the quality of the opponent. But Sam Bradford wasn’t Captain Checkdown. He nearly doubled Minnesota’s plays of 40-plus yards (four) in a single outing (three).

    Everson Griffen did the rest. Minnesota’s star pass-rusher sacked Blake Bortles twice and could’ve notched six or seven sacks the way he got off the line.

    Looking forward: Andrew Luck represents a bit of a jump in quality from Blake Bortles. Mike Zimmer's secondary has to be ready.

17. Miami Dolphins

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    Current record: 8-5

    Last week: 16 (-1)

    When Ryan Tannehill was carted off in the third quarter, I knew he had hurt his knee.

    When coach Adam Gase confirmed those fears, I knew Miami’s playoff hopes were dashed in a big way.

    For now? These 'Phins are worthy of a positive ranking. Tannehill’s loss looms large, but Gase involved Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry even after No. 17 left. He’ll continue to do so with Matt Moore in command.

    He’ll also need to lean more on this Dolphins defense. Carson Palmer was under far more duress than its three-sack effort suggests.

    Looking forward: Miami's offense got it done in the rain. Up next: A potential snow game in New Jersey.

16. Houston Texans

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    Current record: 7-6

    Last week: 17 (+1)

    Bravo, Bill O’Brien.

    Houston’s head coach finally figured out the best way to circumnavigate his terrible quarterback is to ignore him completely.

    The end result? A 147-yard passing day from ol’ Brock, coupled with a dominant outing from Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. These Texans need to play like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens on offense to win: run it three times, let the defense turn Andrew Luck over (three times) and run it again.

    Looking forward: Can someone say "trap game" with Jacksonville?

15. Washington Redskins

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    Current record: 7-5-1

    Last week: 13 (-2)

    Kirk Cousins isn’t the MVP of Washington’s offense, in case you were wondering.

    That title now belongs to offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who drew up the perfect backing schemes to spring Chris Thompson and Robert Kelley. Those two big runs mean we’re not talking about Cousins’ big pick-six. They also helped seal up a seventh win.

    With Callahan calling the protections and an opportunistic defense, these 'Skins are now back in the thick of things.

    Looking forward: Carolina jettisoned Josh Norman instead of paying him this offseason. Now Norman can get some payback.

14. Tennessee Titans

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    Current record: 7-6

    Last week: 19 (+5)

    Harry Douglas will get some bad press for cheapshotting Chris Harris Jr.

    Here’s the thing: Douglas didn’t need to set the tone for Week 14. It was set the moment Denver stepped foot in Nissan Stadium and realized it was there for a street fight.

    Douglas’ play was the only instance I remember where a Titan didn’t square up to a Bronco and handle his business. That’s what the offensive line did. That’s what Marcus Mariota did on a few scrambles. And that’s what Douglas’ defensive teammates did when they forced two fumbles.

    There’s a difference between being the bad guy and being the tough guy. Denver learned that long ago. Tennessee needs to before it can take its leap.

    Looking forward: The AFC's biggest climbers don't get a break. They're on the road in Arrowhead.

13. Seattle Seahawks

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    Current record: 8-4-1

    Last week: 6 (-7)

    Someone tell me who took Lambeau Field in those white, green and blue uniforms.

    It couldn’t have been the Seahawks. That team committed errors like a bottom-feeder would, not a probable division champion.

    Russell Wilson’s five interceptions are one thing. But the uncharacteristic big pass play right from the get-go? Decidedly un-Seahawks-like. Same goes for the half-assed pass rush (only one sack) and the inability to win in man coverage on either side of the ball.

    The team I saw lacked Pete Carroll’s brand of toughness. Couldn’t have been the Seahawks.

    Looking forward: An early-week game against the reeling Rams should get Seattle's good vibes back. 

12. Baltimore Ravens

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    Current record: 7-6

    Last week: 9 (-3)

    This Ravens team is the quintessential "in it, but never really in it" club.

    Week 14’s finale is a prime example. Coach John Harbaugh’s team crept back up from 20 points down (thanks to major New England special teams errors), but the offense was too checkdown-happy to ever match scores with Tom Brady.

    That was doubly true when Dean Pees’ defense lost Jimmy Smith and Jerraud Powers—and lost a streaking Chris Hogan behind a wall of Matt Elams and Shareece Wrights. This defense might be good enough to earn a playoff berth, but a banged-up secondary will be its undoing.

    Looking forward: Heal up, Ravens DBs. Carson Wentz isn't taking his foot off the gas pedal down the season's stretch.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Current record: 8-5

    Last week: 12 (+1)

    Write this down so you don’t forget.

    Tampa Bay’s defense has been building momentum in past weeks. But we might remember Week 14 as its coming-out party.

    After all, it’s not every day a unit holds a Sean Payton-coached team to 294 yards of total offense. Or baits Drew Brees into not one, not two, but three easy interceptions. Or shuts down Mark Ingram and the running game. Or…you get the idea.

    Jameis Winston wasn’t at the height of his powers. He didn’t need to be; this Bucs defense is legit.

    Looking forward: Time to see how far this team has come. It's a measuring stick game versus Dallas.

10. Green Bay Packers

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    Current record: 7-6

    Last week: 15 (+5)

    In many ways, the Packers we saw in Week 14 were the same old Packers.

    In others, they were totally different. The now-healthy secondary is a force to be reckoned with. Guys like Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins can match up and lock down any kind of receiver. And the pressure Green Bay generated was almost unrecognizable.

    These new developments can mask older ones. Aaron Rodgers still has no running game to speak of. His receivers still aren’t dependable. It was all on him to beat the NFL’s best secondary, and that’s what he did.

    Looking forward: Aaron Rodgers had time to operate against Seattle. But he'll get acquainted with Chicago's Leonard Floyd a few times in Week 15.

9. Denver Broncos

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    Current record: 8-5

    Last week: 5 (-4)

    On offense, a steady ground-and-pound attack is crucial to the Broncos’ plans. It opens up every bootleg and play-action for Trevor Siemian.

    On defense, Denver boasts a 29th-ranked unit against the run. Plug up those running lanes, and opponents have no means to attack the defending champs.

    Neither happened in Week 14. Tennessee both ran the ball (and ran it well) and stopped Denver’s run. That’s the blueprint to beating Gary Kubiak’s team. The secret is out.

    Looking forward: Denver now looks like the odd team out of the three-way AFC West race. Unless...it can beat the Patriots at home.

8. Detroit Lions

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    Current record: 9-4

    Last week: 8 (same)

    When you have Matthew Stafford on the roster, you’ll live with an interception or two—even if one’s returned for a touchdown.

    Because you know the magic is right around the corner. Stafford can throw an opponent back into a game, then march down the field like it never happened. That’s what he did in Week 14.

    It’s even more impressive when you consider No. 9’s hand situation. Stafford played with torn finger ligaments, per ESPN's Adam Schefter; he had to reteach himself a pain-free throwing motion mid-game. Impressive.

    Looking forward: Playoff implications abound when the Giants and Lions knock helmets.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Current record: 8-5

    Last week: 10 (+3)

    The box score tells you Pittsburgh won by a touchdown in Week 14.

    Don’t let it fool you for a second. Big Ben Roethlisberger and his offense were in full command from kickoff to final whistle despite three interceptions that kept Buffalo around.

    Those three picks could’ve been problems for the Steelers that started this season. Now, coordinator Todd Haley doubles down on the run game to give his team a reset. Le’Veon Bell carried the football 38 times.

    Meanwhile, this defense is G-O-O-D. Watch what a healthy Bud Dupree will mean to the Steelers’ pass rush.

    Looking forward: Cincinnati's defense is good, but Le'Veon Bell has been better. Like Offensive Player of the Year better.

6. New York Giants

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    Current record: 9-4

    Last week: 11 (+5)

    Big Blue's offense can be an eyesore at times.

    It doesn't need to be anything more than serviceable. This team will go as far as the defense takes it, and if Sunday night's rematch with the Cowboys is any indication, it can go far.

    Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo received big-time contributions from his big-ticket, free-agent imports, Janoris Jenkins (interception, forced fumble) and Olivier Vernon. He also had no-name guys pitch in. Something tells me we'll see names like defensive end Romeo Okwara on the All-22 team. His play in Jason Pierre-Paul's place was stellar.

    Looking forward: Back up climb the Giants with a huge division win. Up next: A showdown with conference seeding implications.

5. Atlanta Falcons

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    Current record: 8-5

    Last week: 7 (+2)

    Surprise! Julio Jones was a late scratch for Week 14.

    Bigger surprise! Atlanta didn't need him. This offense is more than capable of a complete performance, even without the help of its biggest star.

    Of course, Matt Ryan and Co. didn't need to do all the work. Deion Jones helped out with a 33-yard pick-six. And special teams set Ryan up in point-blank range with a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff. It was as easy a three-phase as I've seen this season.

    Looking forward: Kyle Shanahan gets to strut his stuff for the 49ers. They might need his services in the not-too-distant future.

4. Oakland Raiders

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    Current record: 10-3

    Last week: 3 (-1)

    What a missed opportunity.

    Oakland had a chance to seize control of the AFC West last Thursday night. Instead, it handed division control back to a traditional power.

    How did the Raiders trip up? By failing to assert offensive dominance. Injured pinkie finger or no injured pinkie finger, Derek Carr has to make downfield throws for his offense to work. He failed to find Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper behind Kansas City's big-play-susceptible secondary.

    The defense played as well as it has all season. But Oakland might be kicking itself come postseason play.

    Looking forward: San Diego is no slouch. Oakland has to bring its A-game or we might be talking about a late-season slump for the Silver and Black.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Current record: 10-3

    Last week: 4 (+1)

    I doubted Kansas City's ability to manufacture non-offensive touchdowns.

    And boy was I wrong. The way this team scores points is no fluke. Coach Andy Reid can count on a big Tyreek Hill return or a defensive score. It happens every week.

    In fact, the "conservative" label I once applied to this team no longer fits. Alex Smith might be a game manager at quarterback, but he's surrounded with top-shelf talent like Hill and Travis Kelce. Same goes for all of K.C.'s defensive talent. There's nothing conservative about what's happening with this squad.

    Looking forward: Kansas City goes from one top offensive line to the next. Tennessee's trying to make a playoff push of its own and handled the Broncos.

2. Dallas Cowboys

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    Current record: 11-2

    Last week: 1 (-1)

    Is the book out on how to beat Dallas?

    If so, Minnesota wrote it a few weeks ago in a near-miss loss. And the rival New York Giants read it cover-to-cover before serving America's Team its second loss.

    I'm concerned this team can't win if Dak Prescott is asked to do it all himself. I'm concerned the defense can be in the right place for big plays but not make them. But for now, I'll take Dallas' resume as a whole as a sign that dominant play can return.

    Looking forward: Tampa Bay is one scary draw for the Cowboys right now.

1. New England Patriots

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    Current record: 11-2

    Last week: 2 (+1)

    Don’t call it a comeback.

    Tom Brady has been here for years. The future Hall of Famer refused to let New England do something unPatriotic and fumble away a 20-point lead.

    So Brady answered back-to-back crushing special teams fumbles (another by Cyrus Jones and one by Matthew Slater) with one throw—a 79-yard strike to Chris Hogan in the middle of the fourth quarter.

    That play, plus another over-the-center blocked field goal from Shea McClellin, put Bill Belichick’s team back atop my power rankings. It wasn’t pretty—in fact it was sometimes even careless—but Brady’s will to win separates this group from the pack.

    Looking forward: Denver is desperate to keep pace. And desperate teams are dangerous, even for the Patriots.

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