NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 12?
With their win Monday night the New England Patriots treated us to a rare sight atop the league standings.
For only the fourth time in NFL history there are two 10-0 teams. As NFL Network's Gil Brandt noted, that happened in the somewhat recent past (2009), but the other two instances of dual perfection this deep into the season came decades ago (1934 and 1990).
The Carolina Panthers are the second undefeated team, and their quarterback, Cam Newton, was one of two passers to throw for five touchdowns in Week 11. The other guy? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston, who had thrown only four touchdown passes over his previous five games.
Winston took a bounding leap forward, while Newton maintained his grip over the MVP discussion. Then there's the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, who balanced out those quarterback extremes by just, well, being nearly himself for the first time in three weeks.
Let's try to sort through the scattered quarterback play and so much more in our weekly power rankings.
These rankings aren't the standings, and 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 (2-8)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 32
The Cleveland Browns spent their Week 11 bye thinking about a bleak future that will likely be filled with more losing this season, possibly followed by a fired coach or two.
So they made the only sensible decision at this point: The Browns handed Johnny Manziel the keys to their offense.
The second-year quarterback is still flawed as a passer, often making poor reads or simply not seeing open receivers while leaning on his athleticism too heavily. But he did much, much more than enough against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10 with his 8.2 yards per attempt and completion percentage of 73.3, and it's far past time to give him an opportunity to develop in game situations.
If he can't do that, the Browns will find themselves in a familiar situation next spring. They'll have a high draft pick and no direction at the most important offensive position.
31. San Francisco 49ers (3-7)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 31
The San Francisco 49ers' manure-filled season keeps plunging to new depths.
Exactly no one was shocked when a team now willfully riding Blaine Gabbert as its starting quarterback was thumped by the Seattle Seahawks, losing 29-13. But it takes a special offensive stench to average 9.75 points over a four-game stretch, regardless of who's under center.
That's what the 49ers offense has done since Week 7, or rather, what it hasn't done. At minus-113, San Francisco has the league's worst point differential. And it's not remotely close, with the Browns 31st at minus-91.
30. San Diego Chargers (2-8)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 30
Being Philip Rivers doesn't seem like much fun right now.
The San Diego Chargers quarterback has to move forward this season without his top wide receiver, Keenan Allen, and Malcom Floyd will be a shell of himself whenever (or if) he returns from a torn labrum. Rivers is also playing behind a feeble offensive line, and in front of a backfield that's averaging only 3.5 yards per carry.
The result of all that most weeks will be horrible football, and horrible television. I recommend you do pretty much anything else other than watch the Chargers.
Channels were changed quickly Sunday when Rivers was swarmed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Their tenacious defensive front sacked him three times while holding San Diego's offense to a mere three points and 3.5 yards per play.
29. Baltimore Ravens (3-7)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 29
If we're ranking unwatchable teams, the Chargers still take that title. But damn, the Baltimore Ravens are sure going to make it close down the stretch.
A team ravaged by injuries prior to Week 11 received its final death blows. Quarterback Joe Flacco (torn ACL) and running back Justin Forsett (broken arm) were both lost for the remainder of the season Sunday, according to the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
The Ravens still managed to edge out the also reeling St. Louis Rams with a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter, though the victory feels hollow now. The injury cost was far too steep, leaving a Ravens offense already without wide receivers Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith to be led at quarterback by Matt Schaub for six games.
Reminder: Schaub once threw a pick-six in four straight games and has the ball protection skills of a wiener dog minion.
28. Tennessee Titans (2-8)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 28
What do you get when a promising but still developing quarterback's top two receivers are out due to injury? You get what we saw from Tennessee Titans rookie passer Marcus Mariota Thursday night.
The vicious combination of little talent and little chemistry ended with all Titans wide receivers combining for 56 yards on five catches. The Titans' downfield push through the air was nearly nonexistent, and sadly, that may be a weekly problem until Dorial Green-Beckham is truly unleashed.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 27
Sure, there was a winner on the scoreboard Thursday night, with the Jacksonville Jaguars prevailing in an evening of ineptitude that featured six field goals and only one offensive touchdown.
And yes, somehow those same Jaguars are still only one game behind the AFC South division leaders, and therefore one game away from hosting playoff football.
But really, everyone involved in Thursday night's imitation of football lost. Especially you, the innocent fan at home who is exposed to vomit-themed uniforms every week.
26. Dallas Cowboys (3-7)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 26
Hey, look, the Dallas Cowboys are alive and well after quarterback Tony Romo's triumphant return! Not really, but at least the feeling of absolute dread has lifted for a few hours. No team that's lost seven in a row has ever advanced to the postseason.
It's not at all a coincidence that Romo has been healthy for all three of Dallas' wins this season, the latest coming over the still-mediocre Miami Dolphins. Romo stepped back in and looked very Romo-ish after missing seven games. He reignited a long-dormant deep passing game while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt and led an offense that could muster only six points in Week 10 to a 24-14 win.
The NFC East is still a flaming tire fire, but even in a weak division the Cowboys will need to get sizzling fast.
They're two games back of the New York Giants. That sounds encouraging, but they also need to hop over two other teams, and the Cowboys only have two divisional games left. The only grasping hope lies in going 5-1 to finish the season.
25. Detroit Lions (3-7)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 25
Have you had your fill of quirky and completely meaningless stats from Week 11 yet? No? Alright then, give this a spin: The Detroit Lions became the first team to win two straight games while scoring exactly 18 points each week, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Dianna Marie Russini of ESPN).
Although they'll take the wins in a season otherwise filled with darkness, scoring 36 points over a two-game stretch still isn't on par with the amount of offensive talent Detroit trots out every week. But there's encouragement to be found on the other side of the ball.
Overall, the Lions have allowed 31 touchdowns, the league's fourth-worst total. Only one of those touchdowns came Sunday, however, even in a tough matchup against the Oakland Raiders and their fast-rising offense that's averaging 24 points per game.
24. St. Louis Rams (4-6)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 24
The St. Louis Rams are marching toward a typical Jeff Fisher season, which means some promise followed by utter nothingness, and then a record that defines average. Fisher is in his fourth season as head coach of the Rams, and hasn't finished with more than seven wins in any of the previous three years.
His downfall in St. Louis will be a continued inability to identify league-average quarterback play. He couldn't do it when trading for Nick Foles, an experiment that ended quickly when the struggling starter became a backup, finding his bench seat in favor of Case Keenum.
The problem with Keenum, though, is that he's a journeyman placeholder who's completed only 54.5 of his career pass attempts. If Foles wasn't a solution, then Keenum certainly isn't one either.
Still, the Rams came agonizingly close to actually winning a football game Sunday with Keenum as their quarterback. Had he not fumbled in his own territory with under a minute remaining and the game tied, maybe a different fate awaited St. Louis in overtime.
Instead the Rams lost their third straight, and they've fallen to 10th in the NFC.
23. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 23
Those gleeful times when Dan Campbell first started quite literally mashing heads while winning are only a memory now. The interim Miami Dolphins head coach has watched his team drop three of its last four games.
Much of that floundering can be tied to an offense that either does little or does nothing. The Dolphins have scored an average of only 14.5 points per game over the last four weeks. Worse, the unit produced just 210 yards during a Week 11 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
22. Oakland Raiders (4-6)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 22
After Week 8, it felt like the Oakland Raiders were finally preparing to shed their Raider-ness and jump to a higher tier. That's when they cruised past the New York Jets and their often physically overpowering defense, winning with ease 34-20.
Now the Raiders have lost three straight, with the latest disappointment coming against the Lions, a team that had won only two games prior to Week 11. The average margin of victory in those three losses? A maddening eight points.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 21
The Philadelphia Eagles defense was quietly adequate before Week 11, and ranked among the top 10 while allowing 20.4 points per game.
But we're talking about the Eagles here, and meeting expectations isn't in their 2015 mission statement. So of course they allowed 35 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the end of the third quarter Sunday, eventually getting whacked 45-17.
20. Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 20
The Atlanta Falcons are still clinging to a playoff spot as the NFC's sixth seed, only because it's not possible to lose more than one game in a day.
The Falcons would definitely give it the ol' college try if they could. They keep finding creative ways to break hearts, and quarterback Matt Ryan's pick-six during the fourth quarter Sunday thrown from his own end zone was new and not fun at all.
That allowed an Indianapolis Colts offense led by 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck to eventually set up the game-winning field goal. To review then, the Falcons have lost four of their last five games, with three of those losses coming against teams quarterbacked by Hasselbeck, rookie Jameis Winston and Blaine Gabbert.
19. New Orleans Saints (4-6)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 19
Much like the Browns, the New Orleans Saints had one logical decision to make during a Week 11 bye: Fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
The Saints have allowed four-plus touchdown passes in three straight games without recording a single interception. Their secondary is especially leaky, and has given up a league-worst 28 passing touchdowns. That's still seven more than any other team even though the Saints were idle for a week.
The bottom of the NFC remains muddled, and New Orleans still has at least a reaching, clawing chance to keep playing in January. But to do that, a new defensive direction was desperately needed.
18. Houston Texans (5-5)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 18
It's still bizarre that the Houston Texans—a team that went 1-4 to start 2015—are now leading their division after three straight wins. So bizarre, in fact, that I'm still refusing to believe it's true by slotting them much lower than the Indianapolis Colts.
The Texans and Colts may share the same record in the AFC South, but Indianapolis simply has a far deeper offense, even with quarterback Andrew Luck out.
Then again, Houston has a defense that's still powered by all-universe defensive end J.J. Watt, whose pass rushing and lame jokes held the Cincinnati Bengals to only six points in Week 10. That defense and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins—who's still unfair, and averaged 23.6 yards per catch with two touchdowns during a win Sunday over the New York Jets—could be all the Texans need to maintain their hold on a playoff spot.
Either way, the AFC South should probably be relegated to a different league that plays its games in the ocean.
17. Washington Redskins (4-6)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 17
It seems we all may have overrated a little after Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins torched the New Orleans Saints in Week 10. You know, the same New Orleans Saints who fired their defensive coordinator the next day.
That includes Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, who hinted at Cousins being a long-term option by saying the pending free agent is someone "we'd like to keep around," via Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic.
Cousins turned the ball over three times Sunday, bringing his turnover total to 13 after 10 games. Those gifts were painful against the undefeated Carolina Panthers, who scored 24 points directly off turnovers.
16. Chicago Bears (4-6)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 16
The Chicago Bears didn't have running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery Sunday due to injuries. So although it doesn't count as an actual win, there's an inner victory and pride in still staying with the Denver Broncos and losing by only two points.
Maybe you don't believe in such things because this is football, and human emotions other than anger aren't permitted. Fine, but at least take note of the fact that Marquess Wilson might just be a legitimate talent.
The Bears wide receiver slid into a primary role with Jeffery sidelined and recorded his first career 100-plus yard receiving game, doing it while averaging 25.5 yards per catch.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 15
Both the present and the future are suddenly bright for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is why they vault way up this week's rankings.
The present features a quickly maturing young quarterback after Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, tying a rookie single-game record. The present is also a wonderful place because of running back Doug Martin, who keeps playing like the 2012 version of himself.
Only 22 players in league history have run for 235-plus yards in a game, and Martin has now done it twice. The latest came Sunday when he ran for 235 yards on only 27 carries (8.7 yards per carry), with much of his production coming on a career long 84-yard run.
And the future? Gaze at the schedule and notice that after winning three of their last four games the Bucs are only one game out of a playoff spot. They play the Indianapolis Colts without quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 12, followed by soft landings against the spiraling Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
14. New York Jets (5-5)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 14
When you're calling Ryan Fitzpatrick the starting quarterback of your football team, you have to be prepared for sudden bouts with inaccuracy.
Right now Fitzpatrick is like the kid with the baseball bat who's hitting everything but the pinata (look out grandma!). The quarterback who can double as Yukon Cornelius during the upcoming holiday season has now completed only 46.6 percent of his passes over the Jets' last two games. That's resulted in an average of just 5.6 yards per attempt.
An inconsistent offense and a defense that's suddenly looking vulnerable too is an easy death recipe for any season. The Jets have dropped two straight, and four of their last five games.
13. Buffalo Bills (5-5)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 13
Remember that time when Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins finished a game with 168 yards on eight catches?
That seems like a distant memory now, but it happened in Week 9. Yes, only a few weeks ago, and yet here we are wondering why there wasn't a more dedicated effort to get Watkins the ball so he could be the difference maker against an undefeated team Monday night.
Watkins didn't see a single target throughout the entire first half of a loss to the New England Patriots. He was eventually targeted six times, with three coming on the Bills' final drive.
Sure, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was pressured heavily. But giving Watkins few opportunities zapped the Bills of any downfield threat whatsoever during a game when they were starved for offense.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (5-5)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 12
The Kansas City Chiefs have won four straight games, and you may be tempted to put at least a tiny asterisk beside some of those victories.
One of them came against the Pittsburgh Steelers when they were gimping along without quarterback Landry Jones. And two others were over the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions, teams that have combined for a grand total of five wins.
But please remember this is the same Chiefs team that lost five straight games early in the season. And the same Chiefs team playing without Jamaal Charles, who's arguably the NFL's most versatile running back when healthy.
So no, you can't shrug off what the Chiefs have done over their last four games, especially when focusing on their dominant defense. Throughout the win streak Kansas City is averaging only 9.75 points allowed per game.
11. Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 11
Ahmad Bradshaw's late-career revival as a pass-catcher is still regularly giving us some statistical weirdness.
The 29-year-old running back recently re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts after recovering from a broken leg in 2014. He's in his ninth NFL season, and although he had a pass-catching presence for many of those years, Bradshaw rarely found the end zone as a receiver. He scored only three receiving touchdowns over his first seven seasons.
Now he's become a red-zone behemoth with the Colts and has nine touchdown receptions over the past two years, two of which came Sunday in a win over the Atlanta Falcons.
10. New York Giants (5-5)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 10
The New York Giants still lead the NFC East after a week of not playing. In perhaps the most NFC East thing ever, the two teams chasing New York—the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles—lost Sunday by a combined scored of 89-33.
There will be no winner in that division. Just a team that losses slightly less than the others.
9. Seattle Seahawks (5-5)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 9
The Seattle Seahawks moved up only slightly this week mostly because assigning too much credit for a win over the 49ers doesn't feel particularly intelligent.
Beating any team still isn't easy when Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks' human bowling ball, has to sit out with an abdominal injury. But the Seahawks learned once again that whenever the Lynch era ends—which could be pretty soon if his body keeps crumbling—they'll still be just fine in the hands and powerful legs of Thomas Rawls.
The undrafted rookie churned out 255 yards from scrimmage Sunday. That brings his season total to an incredible 658 yards on only 107 touches.
Lynch is due to be paid $9 million in 2016, when he'll be a heavily used 30-year-old running back. The decision to release him won't be a popular one among the Seahawks fanbase, but it may become fundamental salary-cap math.
8. Minnesota Vikings (7-3)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 8
The Vikings fell from their top-tier perch because they had an opportunity to justify that status at home against a struggling though still lethal Green Bay Packers offense, and they ultimately failed.
The Packers scored 11 fourth-quarter points to pull away, and the Vikings weren't able to keep pace with running back Adrian Peterson getting stuffed repeatedly. Peterson came into Week 11 averaging 143.7 rushing yards over his previous three games. Then Green Bay held him to just 45 yards on 13 carries.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 7
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a different and far more frightening team when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. And they'll have to be with the gauntlet that awaits after a Week 11 bye.
At 6-4 the Steelers currently hold the AFC's fifth seed. But four teams with five wins linger close behind, and Pittsburgh travels to CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12.
Then in Week 14 the Cincinnati Bengals are teed up, followed by the Denver Broncos in Week 15. Those two teams have currently combined for four losses.
6. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 7
We might still be waiting at least one more week for the real Aaron Rodgers to return, as the Green Bay Packers quarterback still battled some inaccuracy throughout a win over the Minnesota Vikings.
But Rodgers has an established history of success, and the Packers can feel confident he'll bounce back to being one of this planet's best quarterbacks. Their running back, Eddie Lacy, however, doesn't quite have the same long history, which is why it was encouraging to see him plowing ahead with power while finding open cutback lanes.
Lacy has been struggling through a groin injury and hadn't cracked the 100-yard mark as a runner yet this season. That streak ended in Week 11 when he finished with 100 yards while averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (8-2)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 5
The Cincinnati Bengals defense just needed to stop Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer once Sunday night to force overtime. Under the circumstances it seemed possible: Palmer had only one timeout to work with while lined up on his own 16-yard line with 58 seconds remaining.
But then the same script that had been playing out all night followed, with Palmer picking apart a 15th-ranked Bengals secondary. He connected on passes for 19, 18 and 20 yards, setting up the game-winning field goal.
In an instant, the Bengals defense folded. And now over the past two weeks Cincinnati has done the same as a team, losing two games by a combined seven points.
4. Denver Broncos (8-2)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 4
Now the fun begins for the Denver Broncos. Has the future at quarterback arrived in the form of Brock Osweiler? Or will the status quo stay in place, with Peyton Manning eventually returning to resume being a liability once he's healthy?
Those questions and the delicate conversations around them lie ahead now after Osweiler was effective in relief of an injured Manning during a win over the Chicago Bears, throwing only seven incompletions on his 27 pass attempts. He finished with 250 passing yards at 9.3 per attempt, and connected on two touchdowns without throwing an interception.
The Broncos wanted a mistake-free game from their quarterback because those have been in short supply when Manning is under center. Osweiler was much more mobile than Manning, which is expected from a 25-year-old. Most importantly, Osweiler can be trusted right now, and Manning provides only a white-knuckle ride to a defense-first win.
Head coach Gary Kubiak danced around the long-term quarterback question during his postgame press conference. Like any coach, though, he's in the business of winning, and eventually he'll choose the player who gives him the best chance to achieve that goal.
Right now at quarterback, that's Osweiler.
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-2)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 3
Maybe one day what we watched Sunday night will be known in Arizona Cardinals history as the J.J. Nelson game. Or maybe someone will come up with a much better name than that while putting a time stamp on what the rookie wide receiver did during a thrilling win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Nelson received more snaps with fellow wideout Michael Floyd sidelined, and capitalized on the opportunity. The burner who posted the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.28) at his scouting combine appearance broke free for a 64-yard touchdown, and also caught two other deep balls for 24 and 36 yards.
Nelson will return to a situational deep-threat role once Floyd is healthy. But now the Cardinals are fully aware of the impact he can have when given the chance to contribute more.
2. Carolina Panthers (10-0)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 2
The 2015 MVP award is quickly becoming Cam Newton's to lose. The Carolina Panthers quarterback threw five touchdown passes during a trouncing of the Washington Redskins. Of those scoring tosses, four came during the first half, and prior to Week 11 he had been averaging 1.6 touchdown passes per game.
But we didn't just see a sporadic outburst from Newton. No, instead we witnessed the fourth game in which he's scored three-plus combined rushing and passing touchdowns. His 26 touchdowns slot him behind only the Cardinals' Carson Palmer in total scoring, and Newton has now strung together two straight interception-free games.
He's doing all of that for a team that lost its top wide receiver in training camp (Kelvin Benjamin), and is relying on both inexperience at the position in the form of Devin Funchess, along with journeymen like Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery.
Newton has been dominant, and able to elevate a talent-starved offense.
1. New England Patriots (9-0)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 1
It wasn't pretty early for the New England Patriots Monday night. An offense that uncharacteristically lacked rhythm punted on three straight possessions at one point in the first half, unable to control the chaos created by the Buffalo Bills' blitz packages.
But the Patriots hung around, because that's what they do by repeatedly pouncing on mistakes. Handing New England its first loss will require a nearly flawless game, and the Bills were far from that plateau.
They gave Brady quality field position late in the first half after a missed field goal, and he turned that into a touchdown even with only 46 seconds to work with. And in the third quarter a fumble by Bills punt returner Leodis McKelvin led to three more gifted Patriots points.
The Patriots don't need help to win games. But the Bills were happy to provide plenty.