NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 13?
A week that started with the traditional gorging on both copious amounts of football and meat ended with some spectacular late-game fireworks and crushing depression.
Those things seemed to come in equal parts. First there were a few one-sided drubbings, though, with two of the three Thanksgiving Day games decided by at least two touchdowns. The Carolina Panthers—now the league's only undefeated team—and Detroit Lions won Thursday by a combined score of 78-28.
Then came the headlining main events. The Seattle Seahawks preserved their season with 19 fourth-quarter points to outlast the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the New England Patriots forced overtime against the Denver Broncos, but still dropped their first game.
And all of that will be overshadowed by injuries to the league's top two tight ends, one far more serious than the other.
Let's try to sort through the many emotions Week 12 threw at us 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 (2-9)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 32
There is no pain quite like Cleveland Browns pain.
A franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2002 often has a way of making you rip your jersey Hulk Hogan style. But what happened Monday night was easily the Browns' most creative imitation of a real, functioning football team.
With under a minute remaining in a tie game, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub threw an interception, because that's what he does. The Browns took possession on Baltimore's 46-yard line with two timeouts left. For most teams that would be a time to feel confident. The Browns aren't most teams.
Backup quarterback Austin Davis was in the game after Josh McCown left with a collarbone injury. He inexplicably slid at the end of a seven-yard scramble, forcing Browns head coach Mike Pettine to burn a timeout. But all was not lost, because with eight seconds left and a final timeout available Cleveland could run one more play.
Every yard was precious, yet Pettine foolishly opted to stay conservative with a run that went nowhere. So his kicker Travis Coons had to line up for a 51-yard attempt, and he hasn't been successful from longer than 44 yards all season.
What came next was the ultimate Browns-ing, though in hindsight it should have pretty predictable: Coons' blocked kick was returned for a touchdown, and Browns fans were given a lasting memory of the Pettine era that will surely end by January.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 31
You may wonder why a four-win team is ranked behind two- and three-win teams. For the answer please consider how the Jacksonville Jaguars have gone about winning their four games.
All of those wins came against teams currently below the .500 mark, and three were well below. Jacksonville has beaten the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, three teams with a combined record of 10-23.
The Jaguars' latest loss is another reason why they fall further among teams occupying the league's sewer system. Sunday they dropped a game to the San Diego Chargers. Yes, the same San Diego Chargers who had lost six straight prior to Week 12.
30. San Francisco 49ers (3-8)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 30
The word "pesky" will now often be used to describe the San Francisco 49ers. That's a backhanded compliment for any team, in any sport. A pesky team is usually horrible, with the record to show for it. But hey, they try hard! And beating them still isn't easy!
In this case, though, the 49ers certainly deserve every pesky label. Sunday they held the Arizona Cardinals to only 13 points and forced them to win on an eight-yard scramble by quarterback Carson Palmer. This is when you should consult Palmer's career rushing numbers and note that he's averaged 2.7 yards on the ground per game.
The Cardinals had won four straight games prior to Week 12 while averaging 33.3 points. But they had to get desperate against the 49ers.
29. Tennessee Titans (2-9)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 29
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota set the franchise record for most passing yards in a season Sunday. Sure, that says plenty about his place as the main building block going forward. But it says a whole lot more about Tennessee's recent history of putrid quarterback play.
It's only Week 12, and Mariota has played just nine games. Yet he's still already compiled the most single-season passing yards in franchise history.
Mariota reminded us that he is, in fact, still a rookie as he etched his name into that storied Titans history book. He sealed a loss to the Oakland Raiders with an apparent "miscommunication" that resulted in the game-ending interception on a ball thrown to pretty much no one.
28. Dallas Cowboys (3-8)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 28
If you ask Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, he'll tell you the re-injury risk that came with quarterback Tony Romo returning to his starting role was worth it because of the potential reward. Even after getting throttled on Thanksgiving Day, the 3-8 Cowboys are still only two games back in the NFC East.
“We felt the risk was worth the potential for having him be the impact he can be and really having a fairytale turnaround and doing something that was special," Jones said during an interview on 105.3 The Fan, via Mickey Spagnola of Cowboys.com.
"And to me, that’s what we’re about, that’s what sports is about. You shouldn’t ever quit trying to do something extraordinary."
Fair enough, Jerry. But after Romo fractured his left clavicle for the second time this year, Dallas now has a physically eroding quarterback who will turn 36 years old before his 2016 season begins, hastening the reality of a forthcoming rebuild. And he was on the field because a team that lost seven straight games without Romo wanted to dream, hope and wish.
27. Baltimore Ravens (4-7)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 27
The Baltimore Ravens won Monday night, but only because every football game has to have a winner. A win hasn't been properly earned when Cleveland Browns backup quarterback Austin Davis can carve up your defense. Davis led a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter that ended with his 42-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Travis Benjamin.
The game was only tied, and the Ravens had plenty of time to change that. But their own backup Matt Schaub did what he was born to do: He threw his second interception of the evening, and the fourth over his last 44 career pass attempts dating back to 2014. Schaub infamously owns the record for consecutive games with a pick six, and the threw one of those Monday, too.
The Browns then did what they're known for, and bungled a win that fell neatly into their lap.
But there was no real winner. Just one team that lost a little less.
26. St. Louis Rams (4-7)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 26
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher would like you to know effort isn't the problem with his team. You can feel free to put your lips on his hind region if you disagree.
Talent certainly seems like it could be an issue, especially at the quarterback position. Case Keenum was never a solution before his concussion, and Nick Foles is now sporting a passer rating of 72.0.
Foles threw three more interceptions during the Rams' fourth straight loss Sunday. His career is floundering and so is Fisher's with the oddly revered head coach well on his way to another sub-.500 season. Fisher hasn't posted a winning record since 2008.
25. San Diego Chargers (3-8)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 24
The San Diego Chargers shuffled up mostly by default this week, as a more offensive smell is coming from teams lower in these rankings.
But even if the lowly Jaguars were their opponent, it was still encouraging to see Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throw four touchdown passes, matching his total over the previous three games. And it was fun watching an injury-ravaged offense grab onto some life for one week, scoring 21 points in the second quarter to nearly match its per-game average this season (22.2 points).
Maybe this will breathe life into a sinking team? Yeah, probably not.
24. Miami Dolphins (4-7)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 24
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is quickly becoming the NFL's most maddening young passer. He shows fleeting flashes of brillance with his athletic gifts, but continually makes bad decisions.
In the first quarter of a loss Sunday to the New York Jets, a combination of poor vision and worse accuracy led to a red-zone interception. That came during a first half when the Dolphins had to punt five times.
To be fair, Tannehill received no support whatsoever from a still-dormant backfield. During a game that didn't truly get out of hand until the second half (the Jets led 14-0 at halftime), Dolphins running backs finished with eight yards (eight!).
23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-7)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 23
Much like the Dallas Cowboys or Jacksonville Jaguars, the Philadelphia Eagles are still clinging to false playoff hope because the sound of flatulence greets you when looking at their division.
The Eagles' reality after they were pummeled on Thanksgiving Day isn't nearly as amusing as the NFC East. They've now lost three straight games, and the most recent two have come by a whopping combined score of 90-31. Their secondary has allowed 10 passing touchdowns over the past two weeks. Worse, on Thursday, the Eagles defense gave up 430 yards to a Detroit Lions offense previously averaging 336.4 yards per game.
Ominous clouds have already started to circle around head coach Chip Kelly. His departure this offseason is beginning to feel inevitable, and potential suitors are lining up, according to a report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
They all want head coach Chip Kelly, though; general manager Chip Kelly can stay home.
22. New Orleans Saints (4-7)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 22
Being an abomination defensively wasn't good enough for the New Orleans Saints. They had to implode offensively, too. Mission accomplished, as during a loss to the Houston Texans, quarterback Drew Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 155 games.
The Saints have scored only 20 points over their last two games. Both were losses, and now an offseason dismantling is a very real possibility.
21. Atlanta Falcons (6-5)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 21
The Atlanta Falcons have cratered, and soon all hope for a relaunch of their once-promising season will be lost.
It's laughable to think of them as an undefeated team into October. But that really did happen, with the Falcons starting out 5-0. Now their secondary is being left exposed by a league-worst pass rush (only 12 sacks), and quarterback Matt Ryan is erasing scoring opportunities with critical mistakes.
Ryan has thrown five interceptions over Atlanta's last two games, with two more coming Sunday in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
20. Detroit Lions (4-7)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 20
The Detroit Lions weren't really acknowledging that running is part of basic offensive football before Week 12 while averaging a league-low 71.1 yards per game. So of course they rumbled for 108 yards on Thanksgiving Day.
Then there's Calvin Johnson, their all-planet wide receiver who had scored a modest three times over his first 10 games this season. So of course he snatched three touchdown passes over just three quarters against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sure, the Eagles' dumpster status helped, especially as their secondary nosedives. But Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has improved throughout a three-game winning streak regardless of the opponent. During that stretch he's averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt, and he tied a career single-game high Thursday with five touchdown passes.
19. Buffalo Bills (5-6)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 19
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins erupted for 158 yards on six receptions just in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs. That's a pretty absurd average of 26.3 yards per reception, and he also scored twice while completely owning Chiefs defensive backs.
So why was he targeted only once during a second half when the Bills were outscored 16-6 and eventually lost for the fourth time in their last six games? That remains a mystery, as does Watkins' general tendency to disappear within the Bills' offense.
Over Buffalo's last four games, he's recorded 150-plus receiving yards twice. And in the other two games during that stretch, he's been held to a grand total of 53 yards.
18. Oakland Raiders (5-6)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 18
Right now Lenny in accounting is placing his fantasy football waiver claim on Oakland Raiders wide receiver Seth Roberts.
Roberts is about to get mighty popular around both fake football circles and among anyone who enjoys watching athletic wide receivers do amazing things. He came into Week 12 with 239 receiving yards this season. Then the undrafted second-year receiver busted out for 113 yards and two touchdowns on six catches during a win over the Titans.
He helped the Raiders to snap a three-game losing streak, keeping them in the muddled AFC wild-card chase.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 17
Eventually the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' true identity in 2015 will emerge from the darkness. For now, though, we're left guessing between two extremes.
Are they a struggling team that beats up on other struggling teams? The Bucs had won three of their last four games heading into Week 12. Their opponents in those wins were two teams that currently have four or fewer wins (Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles), and a six-win team that's lost four straight games (Atlanta Falcons).
Or are they a young team with a young quarterback who's inconsistent, as all inexperienced passers are during their first NFL seasons? The Indianapolis Colts sacked Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston a season-high five times Sunday, which came a week after he threw five touchdown passes.
The Bucs have five games left to figure out exactly what they are this season, and the journey could still continue into January.
16. Houston Texans (6-5)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 16
The Houston Texans have pushed enough tiebreaker buttons to hold a playoff spot for at least one week.
That is why it feels like they should be slotted a little higher, especially after four straight wins; though two came against the lowly Titans and Saints. But forgive me for not trusting Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer much.
It's simply hard to believe any team can stay in contention with Houston's quarterbacks who take more away from the offense than they bring. The Texans are averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt this season, which ranks tied for 30th. They're not a team built to come from behind or win with anything other than a defense-first mentality.
15. Chicago Bears (5-6)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 15
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is known for his interception tossing. It's sort of what he does, as the 32-year-old finished tied for the league lead in that category in 2014, when he threw 18 interceptions, and back in 2009, when he chucked a whopping 26 picks.
But are we witnessing a true shift for Cutler now? Or is he just getting luckier while still trying to shove balls through tight windows? I'll go with a bit of both.
Through Week 12 Cutler still hasn't logged a multi-interception game yet, and he didn't throw one against the Green Bay Packers Thursday despite dealing with driving rain during an upset win at Lambeau Field.
14. New York Giants (5-6)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 14
Eli Manning had mostly been careful this season before Week 12 and had been the sort of quarterback who could be trusted in key moments. Or at the very least, he had been the sort of quarterback who wasn't going to burn his offense with a crushing interception that erased a scoring chance. Manning had thrown only six interceptions this season prior to Week 12 on 384 pass attempts.
Then in a critical division game against the Washington Redskins, he threw two interceptions on his first six attempts. He followed that up with a third in the red zone when his offense was on the Redskins' 4-yard line.
Manning's turnover generosity was the difference in a game decided by six points. It's likely none of this will matter, though, because there will be plenty more face-planting before the NFC East is decided.
13. Washington Redskins (5-6)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 13
The Washington Redskins jump up this week only because they lead a division. I suppose that still means something, even in the NFC East.
Their performance in a win over the Giants was largely bland with a sprinkle of excitement. The latter come from wide receiver DeSean Jackson with his 63-yard touchdown reception, when he beat press coverage before roaming free into the secondary. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was efficient while averaging 10.4 yards per attempt, and at one point the Redskins held a 20-0 lead.
That is why this game's final score (20-14) is so puzzling. Manning handed Washington quality field position with interceptions on back-to-back first-quarter drives. Yet the Redskins turned those opportunities into exactly zero points.
12. New York Jets (6-5)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 12
New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall disappeared for three games prior to Week 12, collecting only 114 yards on 12 catches. But this season there's nothing quite like facing Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes to jump start a sluggish receiver.
Grimes has allowed a passer rating in coverage of 97.3, according to Pro Football Focus, and Marshall roasted him during a Jets win Sunday. Marshall finished with 131 receiving yards on nine catches and was on the other end for two of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's four touchdown passes.
Marshall's hot hand and the deep presence he provides will be important going forward for an offense averaging only 6.8 yards per pass attempt (26th).
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 11
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a battle Sunday. But long term they may have shown their deep offense is capable of winning wars against imposing secondaries.
The Seattle Seahawks mostly shut down Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant or at least sufficiently contained them. So then quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to the next name on his list: Markus Wheaton.
Wheaton came into Sunday with only 273 receiving yards this season over 10 games. Then he went off for 201 yards on nine receptions, including a 69-yard touchdown.
10. Green Bay Packers (7-4)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 10
There are a number of reasons for the Green Bay Packers' spiral.
They've lost four of their last five games because quarterback Aaron Rodgers has often faced relentless pressure, and he's fallen from flawless performances, to outings that are merely good. They've also done a lot of losing because of a rushing offense that was sputtering; though that issue has been mended, as running back Eddie Lacy plowed ahead for 105 yards on 17 carries Thursday against the Chicago Bears.
But often Rodgers has received little support at critical moments from the buttery hands on the other end of his throws. That came to a head on Thanksgiving Day when wideout Davante Adams dropped three passes.
Adams has now turfed five balls over the Packers' last three games, per Pro Football Focus, and seven overall this season. That is an astronomical number considering he missed three games due to injury.
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 9
The Seattle Seahawks' famed Legion of Boom was ripped apart again—this time with the beatdown coming from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He threw for 456 yards, which is a single-game record against the Seahawks.
But Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had plenty of his own ammunition in a thrilling shootout, throwing a career single-game-high five touchdown passes. Three of Wilson's scoring throws went to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, including a game-winning 80-yard heave with just over two minutes remaining.
And now it feels like none of that matters, because one of the league's best tight ends is gone for more than just 2015. He may never be quite the same again.
Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham tore his patellar tendon, a severe knee injury head coach Pete Carroll confirmed after the game (via Rob Rang of CBSSports.com). It's the same devastating injury that's kept New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz out, which means Graham's status is uncertain for 2016.
He's not old, but Graham isn't exactly young for his position anymore either. The 29-year-old's future rests with how well his body responds during the rehab process, as the history of patellar tendon recoveries isn't exactly dotted with success.
8. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 8
I don't care for the quarterback "wins" statistic. It's hollow and meaningless, offering little to gauge the actual on-field performance of a passer.
But Matt Hasselbeck's wizard touch is strange. The Indianapolis Colts have won six games in 2015, and four of those wins have now come with Hasselbeck under center.
He's a backup 40-year-old who understandably has limited arm strength and mobility. But he functions well within the Colts system and led a 19-point second-half surge against the Buccaneers Sunday to secure another win.
Hasselbeck just needed to coast in a weak division until Andrew Luck returned from injury. He's done that and more.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 7
The Kansas City Chiefs could probably go through the phone book dialing random numbers to fill out their running back depth chart. Then they'd still happily go about the business of churning out 100-plus-yard rushers every week.
First Jamaal Charles went down, and since he's one of the league's most versatile running backs, it was assumed Kansas City's season was over. Then Charcandrick West exploded for 412 yards from scrimmage over three games.
When West started to struggle with a hamstring issue, Spencer Ware stepped in seamlessly. He's now rushed for 210 yards over the past two weeks—114 of which came Sunday during the Chiefs' fifth straight win.
6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 6
Adrian Peterson is slowly inserting himself into the MVP race. The Minnesota Vikings running back has averaged 113.1 rushing yards over his last seven games—six of which have ended in wins. He's also scored in four straight games, and during a win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12, Peterson accounted for 51.2 percent of Minnesota's offense.
Right now he's the most valuable player not named Cam Newton. But there's plenty of time for that to change.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (9-2)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 5
For two weeks the Andy Dalton who cracks as the mercury drops seemed to surface again. During back-to-back losses the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback completed only 57.1 percent of his passes, and in Week 10 his per-attempt average dipped to a season-low 5.2 yards.
But the Dalton we saw over the first eight weeks returned Sunday during a blowout win over the Rams, with his completion percentage rebounding to 74.1. The challenge now, of course, is maintaining that level of play to secure a first-round bye.
4. Arizona Cardinals (9-2)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 4
There are no style points in the NFL. Wins accumulate in the left-hand column, while losses are slotted to the right. On the most basic—but important—level, results are all that matter.
But if the league adopted a system where the quality of opponent is factored into any outcome, then the Arizona Cardinals would be set to tumble.
Week 12 was set up to be a trap game for them, if you believe in such things. They were riding high after shootout wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks—two tough opponents who would still be playing if postseason football started today. Then a road trip to visit the struggling San Francisco 49ers was teed up.
Somehow a Cardinals pass defense that's allowed only 235.5 yards per game overall in 2015 gave up 318 yards to 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Cardinals still salvaged their fifth straight win, though, even as San Francisco's offense churned up 6.7 yards per play.
3. Denver Broncos (9-2)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 3
Eventually Sunday could be known as the unofficial beginning of the Denver Broncos' Brock Osweiler era. In just his second NFL start, the 6'8" giraffe that can throw led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to knock off the New England Patriots.
The second one started from Denver's own 17-yard line with 2:31 remaining. Osweiler quickly connected deep on 36- and 39-yard throws to wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanual Sanders. That eventually set up a four-yard touchdown pass to slot receiver Andre Caldwell.
Osweiler looked at ease during high-intensity moments against an undefeated team and didn't have any sort of mental hiccup. He can do much more than manage a game, which is what Peyton Manning has been reduced to as his body breaks down.
Instead, Osweiler can win a game.
2. New England Patriots (10-1)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 2
The New England Patriots' first loss of 2015 could have come in deathblow form. And that might still happen, though a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter fuels optimism that tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't suffer a serious knee injury. The Patriots are already playing without wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back Dion Lewis, so losing Gronkowski too would be crushing.
Hopefully Sunday's overtime loss to the Denver Broncos is just your standard soul-shattering late-November game then.
The Patriots gave up a 14-point lead while getting gashed on the ground, with Broncos running backs totaling 175 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower also suffered a knee injury, and his absence was glaring. The Broncos rushed for 136 yards with Hightower on the sideline.
1. Carolina Panthers (11-0)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 1
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is rightfully generating MVP buzz. But the defense supporting him has done just as much heavy lifting.
The Panthers have won their last two games by a combined score of 77-30, and during that time a defense that's generated eight turnovers has handed the offense quality field position. Overall, Carolina leads the league with a giveaway/takeaway differential of plus-16.