NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 15?

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystDecember 14, 2015

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 15?

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The date was Nov. 30, 2014. That's the last time the Carolina Panthers lost a regular-season football game.

    Since then they've won 17 straight because of quarterback Cam Newton's brilliance. If we hone in on a more recent stretch, over his past five games Newton has accounted for 16 touchdowns while throwing just one interception.

    Quarterbacks either rising, falling or breaking was a theme throughout Week 14.

    The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson finished his fourth straight game with a completion percentage above 70.0, a yards-per-attempt average higher than 9.0 and three-plus touchdown passes. Like Newton, he's elevating his team and his offense while peaking at the right time.

    Then there's the Broncos' Brock Osweiler, whose red-zone struggles left some in Denver anxiously waiting for Peyton Manning's return from injury. And Andy Dalton, the Bengals quarterback who fractured his thumb. He could miss the remainder of the regular season, leaving his team to struggle offensively while maintaining its hold on a playoff bye.

    December is a time when quarterbacks either step up or fizzle fast, along with their teams. Let's use the weekly power rankings to sort through Week 14 and see which teams are rising and which are face-planting.

    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. Tennessee Titans (3-10)

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Last Week: 28

    This Week: 32

    Change: -4

    In the not-so distant past, the Tennessee Titans played a stretch of games that produced some victories, just often not the scoreboard kind. They lost by only six points to the also-awful Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11 and then dropped a three-point game to the Oakland Raiders.

    So in Week 13 when Tennessee won a 42-39 shootout it was a sure sign the offense was ready to erupt Sunday against the New York Jets, right?

    Nah, as instead the crushing coldness of having an insufficiently supported rookie quarterback set in again during a 30-8 drubbing.

31. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Last Week: 23

    This Week: 31

    Change: -8

    If you're confused by a 6-7 team ranked this low and among three- and four-win teams, please flip back and consult my standard preamble. You know, the one that says something about these rankings being primarily based on performance, not a team's record.

    When we apply that gauge, the Atlanta Falcons should probably be ranked 33rd. But since there are only 32 teams and the Titans were also abysmal in Week 14, 31st will have to suffice.

    The Falcons have now lost six straight games, tumbling from division contender to being nearly removed from the playoff conversation. During those games an offense that still employs wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman has scored an average of 14.3 points, which was lowlighted by a 38-0 pummeling Sunday.

    The Falcons are in an absolute free fall, and suddenly quarterback Matt Ryan's long-term future is in doubt.

30. Baltimore Ravens (4-9)

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Last Week: 30

    This Week: 30

    Change: None

    Jimmy Clausen has been a starting quarterback twice this season for two different teams. Such is the life of an NFL QB vagabond, but an especially cruel twist of fate came with Clausen's fleeting existence in 2015.

    Both of Clausen's starts have come against the Seattle Seahawks defense. And they both went about as horribly as you'd expect. The Baltimore Ravens' replacement for an injured Matt Schaub in Week 14 still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass against Seattle—or at all this season for that matter.

    In fairness, Clausen was supported by a rushing offense that averaged only 2.0 yards per carry. Combine that with a third-string quarterback's presence and you get two things: a loss and zero touchodwns of any kind.

29. Cleveland Browns (3-10)

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Last Week: 32

    This Week: 29

    Change: +3

    The Cleveland Browns don't occupy the basement in these rankings for at least one week. This will shock you, but any hope the franchise has of climbing up the real standings seems to rest with quarterback Johnny Manziel.

    Or maybe it doesn't, and Manziel won't ever fully mature as an NFL passer. But Sunday we saw a quarterback capable of moving an offense forward while making critical throws when needed, completing three 20-plus yard heaves to ignite a downfield passing attack.

    Manziel's impact in that regard can be seen in the spiking production of Browns wide receiver Brian Hartline. Prior to Week 14 Hartline was averaging 37.8 receiving yards per game. Sunday he caught eight balls for 107 yards.

28. San Francisco 49ers (4-9)

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Last Week: 25

    This Week: 28

    Change: -3

    After Week 13 there was chatter about Blaine Gabbert being a starting quarterback option for the San Francisco 49ers beyond 2015. At worst it was thought he could maybe function as a bridge starter while someone not named Colin Kaepernick is groomed.

    Optimism is a wonderful drug, and Gabbert handed out plenty of it against the Chicago Bears when he uncorked a 71-yard game-winning touchdown pass in overtime. That came after his 44-yard touchdown run.

    So he was a hero one week and then promptly resumed being Blaine Gabbert.

    Known for his complete lack of pocket awareness, Gabbert was sacked nine times Sunday during a loss to the Cleveland Browns. That tied a 49ers single-game franchise record and is the highest total allowed by any team this season.

27. San Diego Chargers (3-10)

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 27

    This Week: 27

    Change: None

    Scoring points in a rain-soaked slog of a game isn't easy for anyone involved. Fair enough and only 13 total were put on the board Sunday between the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.

    But you don't have to look closely to see a pattern developing with a Chargers offense that's devoid of any downfield threat. Note the final scores of San Diego's last three losses including Sunday: 10-3, 17-3 and 33-3.

    In the Chargers' last three losses—which have come over their past four games—they've scored three points each time.

    They're zombie-walking through what's left of a season.

26. Dallas Cowboys (4-9)

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Last Week: 26

    This Week: 26

    Change: None

    Sadly, the Dallas Cowboys aren't eliminated from playoff contention yet because they play in a division led by two 6-7 teams. But they tried really, really hard to fade from the 2015 NFL season forever by allowing 230 rushing yards at 5.2 per carry during a loss to the Green Bay Packers.

    Sunday the Cowboys also doubled down in their efforts to go away by forgetting Dez Bryant plays wide receiver for them. He finished with only one reception for nine yards.

25. St. Louis Rams (5-8)

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Last Week: 29

    This Week: 25

    Change: +4

    The Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams have scoring offenses that rank 23rd and 32nd, respectively. So a game between those two blank-shooting units was going exactly as expected through two quarters.

    The score at halftime? 7-0. And even that's deceiving because the touchdown came on a pick-six and wasn't scored by either offense. Thankfully, Todd Gurley arrived to save the sport of football from being set back many years.

    The stud rookie running back galloped for 127 yards in the second half (140 in total) while scoring twice. He single-handedly secured the Rams' first win since Week 8. 

24. Miami Dolphins (5-8)

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 22

    This Week: 24

    Change: -2

    The Miami Dolphins' pass defense was essentially a collection of pylons Monday night during a loss to the New York Giants. Bright orange pylons that allowed arguably the NFL's best receiver to roam free untouched deep into the secondary during a tie game.

    That happened when Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. scored on an 84-yard torpedo up the middle. No Dolphins defender was within five yards, and he then broke away fast, because that's what Beckham does.

    Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed a franchise single-game record 87.1 percent of his pass attempts. He kept Miami's defense on the field, and as a whole the unit seemed thoroughly gassed during key moments.

    Overall it was the performance we've come to expect from a defense now allowing 261.8 passing yards per game. There was little pressure before the ball was airborne, and little resistance to stop its flight.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8)

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Last Week: 31

    This Week: 23

    Change: +8

    The Jacksonville Jaguars vault way, way up the rankings this week mostly by default. Their overall stench isn't nearly as nauseating as what's coming from teams behind them.

    However, posting 42 points in one half is a bounding step forward. The Jaguars hadn't hit that point total in a game all season, and now at 5-8 they find themselves one game out of a playoff spot.

    Related: Much like the NFC East, all AFC South games should be played on the moon.

22. Detroit Lions (4-9)

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Last Week: 21

    This Week: 22

    Change: -1

    We live in a world where Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson has recorded only one 100-plus-yard receiving game after Week 14. In 2014 he logged five such games, even while missing three weeks due to injury.

    During a loss Sunday his lone catch came with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He was strangely phased out of the Lions' game plan during key moments, which is an odd way to treat a receiver who's accounting for a $26 million cap hit in 2015, according to Spotrac.

21. New Orleans Saints (5-8)

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 24

    This Week: 21

    Change: +3

    For the first time all season, the New Orleans Saints defense held an opponent to less than 20 points. It took 13 games, but, hey, baby steps still count.

    The Saints snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday with their defense that stayed away from complete meltdown mode, and the ageless force that is Drew Brees, who threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns in just the first half.

20. Chicago Bears (5-8)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Week: 19

    This Week: 20

    Change: -1

    A kicker's employment is always fragile. That's an accepted job hazard when you're remembered mostly after something awful happens. And Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould has been followed by awfulness over the past two weeks.

    Gould has missed three field goals during that span, the latest of which came with 1:45 remaining Sunday and Chicago trailing the Washington Redskins by three points. The length of those misses? They've come from 40, 36 and now 50 yards.

    His miss against the Redskins certainly wasn't a gimmie at that distance. But having either the game-winning or game-tying field goal on your foot in two straight games and missing isn't exactly a good look.

19. Indianapolis Colts (6-7)

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    Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 12

    This Week: 19

    Change: -7

    The AFC South is a joke that was never funny. Now it's becoming depressing, because the same lame non-laugher is told every week.

    Here's the punch line this week: The Indianapolis Colts gave up 42 second-half points to the Jacksonville Jaguars and 51 points in total. This is the same Jaguars offense that was averaging 22.9 points per game prior to Week 14. 

    Yet, if the season ended today, Indianapolis would host a playoff game.

18. Buffalo Bills (6-7)

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    Last Week: 14

    This Week: 18

    Change: -4

    Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins has now recorded a 45-plus-yard reception in three straight games. He's also caught four touchdown passes over that span while averaging 24.9 yards per grab.

    His continued growth was the only pleasant takeaway from another mid-December Sunday when the Bills' playoff hopes were dealt a swift left hook to the jaw. That's become nearly an annual event, and now after a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, there are three teams for Buffalo to leapfrog in the AFC wild-card chase.

    They sit two games back of their sacred playoff holy grail that's eluded the franchise since 1999. Winter is coming.

17. Houston Texans (6-7)

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    George Bridges/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    This Week: 17

    Change: -1

    Like the Colts, the Houston Texans could host a playoff game—a possibility that still exists now even after they were walloped 27-6 Sunday night by the New England Patriots.

    How long they would stick around in that hypothetical home playoff game would depend on whether an offense quarterback Brian Hoyer leads is asked to come from behind. Sunday we saw what happens when the other team gets an early lead: As the pocket pressure increases, Hoyer's awareness and completion percentage dramatically decrease.

    Basically, AFC South Winner X will last one game during the playoffs—especially if it's the Texans and they fall behind by any sort of significant margin. 

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Last Week: 13

    This Week: 16

    Change: -3

    The Saints secondary is, in a word, gross. That's why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' lack of offense Sunday was jarring.

    A Saints pass defense that's been regularly carved up entered Week 14 allowing an average of 276 passing yards per game and 8.3 per pass attempt. So an ideal matchup was teed up high for Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, and he couldn't pounce.

    The rookie completed only 56.3 percent of his passes, leading an offense that finished with just 291 yards in a loss.

15. Oakland Raiders (6-7)

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Last Week: 20

    This Week: 15

    Change: +5

    We should probably check to see if Khalil Mack is a cyborg of some kind.

    The Oakland Raiders defensive end recorded five sacks Sunday during a win over the Denver Broncos, including one for a safety. It was the highest sack total in a game since 2012, and amazingly, all five came in the second half.

    The Raiders won and kept their faint playoff heartbeat alive because of Mack and a swarming defense that didn't allow the Broncos to score a touchdown. They settled for four field goals instead, and their quarterback, Brock Osweiler, floundered while under constant pressure.

14. New York Giants (6-7)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    This Week: 14

    Change: +1

    The hot mess that is the NFC East just became hotter and messier thanks to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

    Beckham was his typical self during a Monday night win over the Miami Dolphins. And what's typical for him is extraordinary for everyone else. He sprinted far and fast on an 84-yard touchdown reception, which was incredibly his second 80-plus yard TD catch this season. That stood as the game winner, and his other touchdown came in the red zone after some intricate sideline footwork while stretching with his vacuum hands.

    For the third straight game Beckham finished with 140-plus receiving yards (166 yards on seven receptions). During that sizzling span he's averaging 20.8 yards per reception.

    He's not normal, and he never will be, but his team is still a tick below normal according to its record. The top three teams in the NFC East now have identical 6-7 records with three games remaining. The Giants host an undefeated Carolina Panthers team in Week 15, and a Week 17 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles could function as a play-in game.

13. Washington Redskins (6-7)

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Last Week: 18

    This Week: 13

    Change: +5

    The Washington Redskins offense either fizzles with nearly complete incompetence or shines. The quest to find anything in between has failed and so has the Redskins' mission to separate from the NFC East with anything resembling a win streak.

    As a result they've alternated wins and losses evenly over their last seven games. So after 13 games Washington still hasn't won two straight, which doesn't really matter in their division—a place where consistency is a long-forgotten art.

    In Week 14 the effective Redskins offense appeared, with quarterback Kirk Cousins averaging 9.7 yards per pass attempt while completing 77.4 percent of his throws. In typical Cousins fashion he also threw a potentially crushing late-game interception that led to a touchdown. But thankfully, the Redskins were bailed out by Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould and his wonky aim.

    Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles remain tied atop the NFC East, with a critical game between the two teams coming up in Week 16.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

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    James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 17

    This Week: 12

    Change: +5

    The statement win concept only works if the boost from said win propels a team forward. Although the Philadelphia Eagles' upset win over the New England Patriots in Week 13 was shocking, it also would have been meaningless had they reverted to being the same disorganized team offensively we've seen for much of this season.

    That disaster was avoided, and suddenly the Eagles may be building momentum.

    Outside of wide receiver Nelson Agholor's 53-yard touchdown reception, the Eagles had few offensive fireworks during a 23-20 win over the Bills. That didn't matter, as staying on the field was much more important for an offense that's struggled to sustain drives.

    The Eagles converted 50 percent of their third-down attempts, with tight end Zach Ertz and his five receptions for 98 yards factoring in heavily.

11. Minnesota Vikings (8-5)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last Week: 9

    This Week: 11

    Change: -2

    It's not hard to follow Minneosta Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his offensive coordinator Norv Turner's logic on the final doomed play Thursday night.

    The Vikings didn't have any timeouts left and trailed by a field goal with 13 seconds left. They were on the Arizona Cardinals' 31-yard line, which made every yard precious. Kicker Blair Walsh makes his teammates and coaches involuntarily gnaw on their nails, as he's missed three attempts from 40-plus yards.

    So Zimmer decided to run one more play toward the sideline. The result: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was exposed by an offensive line that's been shaky all season, and his fumble after a sack by Cardinals defensive end Dwight Freeney ended the game.

    A conservative approach and taking the three points would have been the better option, even with Walsh's wayward foot. The path Zimmer chose asked a young quarterback behind a weak offensive line to navigate his collapsing pocket with time ticking down and do all that before finding an open receiver who could get out of bounds.

    The Vikings played at the same level as the Cardinals. But they only did it for 59 minutes and about 47 seconds.

10. New York Jets (8-5)

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 11

    This Week: 10

    Change: +1

    Ryan Fitzpatrick is doing everything in his power to show us that, yes, a team can make the playoffs without tossing massive dollars at its quarterback.

    The New York Jets passer is a journeyman. He's playing on his third team over the past three seasons and will make a base salary of $3.25 million in 2015, which is the equivalent of most quarterbacks' lunch money.

    The Jets are getting great value from the Amish Rifle—especially during a three-game win streak extended Sunday when New York pounded the Tennessee Titans 30-8.

    Fitzpatrick has a passer rating of 111.5 during that stretch while averaging 310.0 passing yards per game. He's also thrown nine touchdowns passes with zero interceptions.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Last Week: 10

    This Week: 9

    Change: +1

    To the surprise of no one, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has risen to another level since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned from an injury for a second time. The Steelers have now won four of their last five games, including a convincing 33-20 victory over the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

    Over that five-game stretch, the Steelers are averaging 35.2 points scored per game.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (10-3)

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Last Week: 4

    This Week: 8

    Change: -4

    Injuries that alter seasons are an accepted reality in a physically brutal sport. But that doesn't make them any less painful.

    The physical pain is obvious, but in this case mental pain and anguish could soon follow for Cincinnati Bengals fans starving to experience playoff success.

    Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton fractured the thumb on his throwing hand during Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dalton has faced scrutiny for flaming out in the playoffs, but he's put together a stellar regular season (25 touchdowns, only seven interceptions and 8.4 yards per pass attempt), and winning in January feels impossible without him.

    Maybe the Bengals still won't need to worry about that, as ESPN's Bob Holtzman reported the best-case scenario is Dalton returning for postseason action.

    The problem now becomes locking up a first-round bye to increase the odds of that best-case scenario. Cincinnati will have to fend off the also-10-3 Denver Broncos while coping with a drastic downgrade at quarterback when backup AJ McCarron makes his first career starts.

7. Green Bay Packers (9-4)

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 8

    This Week: 7

    Change: +1

    It seems the grinding and/or pounding Green Bay Packers offense has returned, at least for one week. The Packers entered Week 14 averaging 111.7 rushing yards per game. So of course they plowed over the Dallas Cowboys for 230 rushing yards in Sunday's win.

    Running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks recorded 20-plus-yard runs, and they each scored once.

    The Packers have now won three of their last four games. Their offense is at its most threatening with a balanced attack.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    This Week: 6

    Change: None

    I write some version of these words every week because, well, this needs to be repeated every week.

    The Kansas City Chiefs lost five straight games at one point this season. They won in Week 1, and then didn't taste sweet victory again until Week 7. During that time they lost running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending ACL tear, and he's one of the most versatile weapons at his position.

    The Chiefs' 2015 season should be swirling the drain. Yet, they've now won seven straight games, advancing into the wild-card fight.

    A once-improbable run to the playoffs now feels very probable after glancing at Kansas City's remaining schedule. The Chiefs are set to play the Ravens, Browns and Raiders—three teams with a combined record of 13-26.

5. Denver Broncos (10-3)

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 3

    This Week: 5

    Change: -2

    The AFC standings could have been different this week if Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Oswelier converted on even one red-zone trip.

    Faltering in the red zone isn't something we've associated with the Broncos in recent years, especially when former tight end Julius Thomas was telling anyone who wanted to listen that football is "easy." But Denver failed on all three of its red-zone trips Sunday during a game the Oakland Raiders eventually won by three points.

    Those failures included Osweiler connecting on only two of his eight red-zone pass attempts.

4. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Last Week: 7

    This Week: 4

    Change: +3

    The surging Seattle Seahawks have now won six of their last seven games. But the latest win offered both joy and tears, even in a lopsided blowout.

    First, the rosy news after a 35-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw five more touchdown passes Sunday, supplied it. Wilson has posted behemoth totals during his team's current four-game win streak, including 16 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, 292.8 passing yards per game, 9.9 yards per attempt and four straight games with a completion percentage above 70.0.

    The sadness, however, comes from Seattle's backfield that was already moving forward without running back and human pinball Marshawn Lynch for the foreseeable future. Lynch's replacement Thomas Rawls suffered a broken ankle Sunday, and his season is over.

    Rawls had piled up a 459 total yards over only his first three starts. Now a traditional strength for Seattle will become a weakness until Lynch returns, with plodding veterans Fred Jackson and Dujuan Harris taking over.

3. New England Patriots (11-2)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 5

    This Week: 3

    Change: +2

    The New England Patriots always seem to identify value each offseason during free agency and pick up discarded scrap they can optimize at an area of need.

    That's why from the moment he was signed, defensive end Jabaal Sheard seemed like the ideal Patriots reclamation project. He'd flourish after being misused by the Cleveland Browns, and do it while playing under a contract that will pay him only $1 million in 2015, per Spotrac.

    Fast-forward to Week 14 and that exact scenario is playing out. Sheard is third on the Patriots with six sacks, which includes two key strip-sacks during Sunday night's win over the Houston Texans.

2. Arizona Cardinals (11-2)

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Last Week: 2

    This Week: 2

    Change: None

    There was concern when Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson was put on injured reserve with a broken leg. He was powering something almost completely absent in 2014: an effective rushing offense in Arizona.

    But normal breathing can be resumed, as another Johnson has taken over.

    David Johnson was the seventh running back selected during the 2015 draft, and now after only two starts he's already produced 243 yards from scrimmage for the Cardinals. He's maintained much-needed stability in a backfield that supports quarterback Carson Palmer and his vertical dart-throwing.

1. Carolina Panthers (13-0)

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Last Week: 1

    This Week: 1

    Change: None

    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is becoming more than just Superman. He's also Mega Man, Aquaman, Batman and [insert several other superheros of your choice here].

    Consider his last five games—all wins for his still-undefeated team, with the latest a 38-0 thumping of the Atlanta Falcons. During that stretch Newton has scored a combined 16 rushing and passing touchdowns while throwing just one interception on 148 pass attempts.

    Sunday he threw for 187 yards in just the first quarter, with much of that coming in large chunks on 48- and 74-yard touchdown passes to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. He's not normal, and he's not fair.