NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 16?
There's a certain inevitability to the playoff grappling of late December. Oh sure, the NFL is a league filled with parity, but often when the dust settles we're left with many familiar teams atop their respective divisions and conferences.
For example, look at the New England Patriots. They clinched a first-round bye for the sixth consecutive season Sunday. On the same day, the Cincinnati Bengals secured a postseason berth for the fifth straight year.
Sometimes, however, a newcomer adds an unexpected flavor to the postseason party. The Arizona Cardinals could be that team after clinching their first NFC West title since 2009 on the strength of running back David Johnson's 229 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.
The Cardinals are rising fast, and peaking at the right time. Meanwhile, the opposite is true for the Denver Broncos, with lingering uncertainty for them at the quarterback position.
Let's use the weekly power rankings to sort through the others rising and falling from Week 15.
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 (3-11)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 32
Because the Tennessee Titans need more awfulness during a season filled with it, quarterback Marcus Mariota left early Sunday after suffering what's being reported as an MCL injury, per ProFootballTalk.
The Titans have now been thoroughly whipped over their last two games, losing by a combined score of 63-24. So the smart move would be to shut Mariota down now and ride out the remainder of a lost season.
But since the Titans and smart moves don't really go together, he'll likely return too soon in a meaningless game.
31. Baltimore Ravens (4-10)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 31
I almost boycotted writing anything about the Baltimore Ravens for one week because of how much our eyes were insulted by their pants. Please know that in the future, "Dijon mustard" is not an acceptable alternate pants color.
Baltimore also made bad decisions on the field Sunday that led to a deep, dark hole. The Kansas City Chiefs scored on a 73-yard fumble return, and then later converted a turnover into six points immediately with a 90-yard pick-six by cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Ravens have now thrown 19 interceptions as a team, which is tied for second-worst in the league.
30. Cleveland Browns (3-11)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 30
Johnny Manziel may not be posting numbers that pop, but he keeps steadily improving despite mounting losses for the Cleveland Browns.
The highlight of his afternoon Sunday came on the opening drive against the Seattle Seahawks. Manziel threw for 65 yards during a drive that ended with his touchdown toss to tight end Gary Barnidge. The always-improvising quarterback sprinted up the middle to draw in defenders, then had the vision to spot Barnidge off to his left.
At the very least, Manziel has earned the right to compete for a starting job next summer in training camp. Which means Cleveland should use its high first-round pick to address another core need.
29. San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 29
Yawn. That's the automatic response whenever you're watching the San Francisco 49ers offense.
In the five games since their Week 10 bye the 49ers have scored an average of 15.2 points. A season of floundering needs to end fast so an offseason of rebuilding can begin.
28. Atlanta Falcons (7-7)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 28
Well isn't that neat, the Atlanta Falcons won a game. They hadn't done that since Week 7, long before a once promising season was crushed under the weight of quarterback Matt Ryan's regression.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones recorded his seventh 100-plus yard outing this season. And Ryan at least wasn't a total liability during a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, though he did throw his standard interception. Ryan hasn't had an interception-free game since Week 9, and he's second in the league with 15 picks thrown overall.
An only semi-related observation: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning still leads the league with 17 interceptions. He hasn't played in five weeks.
27. Dallas Cowboys (4-10)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 27
The Dallas Cowboys were officially, and mercifully, eliminated from playoff contention Saturday night.
A team that was shattered immediately when quarterback Tony Romo suffered his first injury back in Week 2 went out fighting, and lost by only three to the possibly playoff-bound New York Jets. But like much of the 2015 season, Dallas will look back and wonder what could have been if it had even a league-average backup quarterback.
Cowboys quarterbacks threw four interceptions Saturday, and two of them killed drives that would have at worst resulted in short field-goal attempts.
26. New Orleans Saints (5-9)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 26
The New Orleans Saints will have the ammunition to stick around in a shootout until the day they no longer call Drew Brees their quarterback. But there are some mountains even he can't climb, and asking him to overcome a 25-point deficit isn't exactly a recipe for success.
Brees made Monday night's loss to the Detroit Lions far more interesting than it probably should have been. He torched the Lions defense during a 24-point second half, and overall Brees threw for 341 yards with three touchdowns.
But as has been the case throughout this season, his real opponent wasn't the Lions. No, instead Brees is battling his own defense, a unit that gave up an average of 7.8 yards per play and 6.5 yards per carry.
The Saints have been insulting the very concept of defense for a long, long time now. An offseason dismantling is coming.
25. Miami Dolphins (5-9)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 25
The Miami Dolphins are already firmly in offseason mode. The problem, of course, is the season isn't actually over yet.
They played the San Diego Chargers Sunday, a team decimated by injuries that had won only three games prior to Week 15. It was a chance for the Dolphins to feel good about themselves for at least one week.
Then their offense went out and converted only two of its 14 opportunities on third down, and a dormant backfield averaged 2.3 yards per carry. End the misery now.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 24
Six of the Jacksonville Jaguars' nine losses this season have been decided by a touchdown or less. The NFL offers little room for error, and a young offense is still making plenty of fundamental mistakes.
Or more specifically, the Jaguars' young quarterback is still making plenty of fundamental mistakes. Like the goal-line interception Blake Bortles threw to end the second quarter Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. That led to three points going the other way in a game decided by six.
23. San Diego Chargers (4-10)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 23
The mere thought of a sports franchise leaving its current city is always bitterly depressing. As a fan who has lived through the wins and heartache, you can identify with those who are about to lose their team. Suddenly everything is gone, and there are only memories left, along with an empty building.
So if Sunday marks the final time NFL football is played in San Diego, the send-off was fitting. Ageless tight end Antonio Gates strung together his fourth straight 50-plus yard receiving game during the win, as his Chargers coasted past the Miami Dolphins after taking a 23-0 lead to halftime.
22. Chicago Bears (5-9)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 22
The Chicago Bears defense has been getting pulverized throughout a three-game losing streak. The unit gave up five touchdowns Sunday during a 21-point loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and two of them came at the end of 80-plus yard drives.
The wild inconsistencies of Chicago's defense can be seen in the contrast between two recent stretches. Between Weeks 9 and 12 the Bears didn't allow 20-plus points once. Over the past three games they've given up an average of 29.3 points.
21. St. Louis Rams (6-8)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 21
Hooray! A Jeff Fisher-coached team kept hope alive, and the St. Louis Rams can still finish 8-8 this season. Fisher is forever the vanilla ice cream of NFL head coaches. He's mostly tasteless, but still tolerable with the right toppings.
When everything works as it should for the Rams, you wonder why 8-8 is their ceiling. Offensively, that happened during a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night, and the continued growth of all-purpose wide receiver Tavon Austin was a critical element. Austin finished with 73 total yards and two touchdowns, all while repeatedly showing why he's a dynamic weapon in space.
20. Detroit Lions (5-9)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 20
Once again, the Detroit Lions tried really, really hard to lose a game that should have been an insomnia-curing affair filled with garbage time.
The latest near collapse came after Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford gashed the New Orleans Saints defense, which has become as easy as walking. Detroit built up a 25-point lead, yet its own defense was then thrashed while allowing two Saints pass-catchers to finish with 10 receptions. The Lions' red-zone defense was especially feeble, giving up five touchdowns and holding the Saints to a field goal only once.
The end result was a win, and an ugly one as a lost season winds down.
19. Indianapolis Colts (6-8)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 19
The Indianapolis Colts could only piece together 190 yards of offense in a game that will likely determine the fate of their season.
That result is less than shocking given the circumstances. Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be handed many lunch-bucket awards for gutting it out through his various injuries. But a 40-year-old whose football body has reached its end carried his offense as far as normal human limitations would allow.
He didn't stand a chance against the Houston Texans pass rush Sunday, and averaged only 4.9 yards per pass attempt. The Colts are still only one game behind Houston in the AFC South and could get Andrew Luck back in Week 16. But it feels like a lost year will still reach an inevitable conclusion without continuing deep into January.
Indianapolis could be spending that month hiring a new coaching staff instead.
18. Buffalo Bills (6-8)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 18
The marriage between Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills was supposed to be simple. The new head coach is a defensive mastermind, and he took over a unit brimming with talent.
So far that union has failed spectacularly.
The Bills defense entered Week 15 allowing 23.2 points and 358.8 yards per game. By the 8:47 mark of the second quarter they had already given up 21 points and 206 yards. An afternoon of getting gashed by the Washington Redskins ended with 35 points allowed.
It was the fifth time Buffalo has given up 30-plus points in a game this season. How many times did that happen in 2014? Once.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston hasn't posted a passer rating above 90.0 since Week 11. Both that rating and his completion percentage suffered again Thursday night as Winston failed to navigate a crumbling pocket against the ferocious Rams pass rush.
Winston wasn't sacked, but he was under constant duress and didn't function well in that environment. Consequently, the Buccaneers scored only three first-half points. Then something suddenly clicked in the fourth quarter, and Winston began connecting deep repeatedly while leading two 80-plus yard touchdown drives.
Had that Winston been present all game, a 17-point fourth quarter wouldn't have fallen short.
16. Oakland Raiders (6-8)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 16
It's hard, I know, but let's focus on rosy thoughts here even though the Oakland Raiders were officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday after a loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Happy thoughts feel appropriate, because even if the sting is still fresh for Raiders fans, it's been a long time since "officially eliminated from playoff contention" couldn't be said about Oakland until late December.
Warm Raiders thoughts are tied to a few young building blocks. But I'll focus on one here: wide receiver Amari Cooper.
He finished with 120 yards and two touchdowns on six catches against Green Bay, becoming the first Raiders receiver since Randy Moss in 2005 to top the 1,000-yard mark during a single season. Cooper did that with five 100-plus yard games.
Watching quarterback Derek Carr connect with him is going to be fun for a long, long time.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (6-8)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 15
One more loss is all it will take to officially end a disastrous season for the Philadelphia Eagles. One more loss, and Chip Kelly's grand experiment will be over.
Then he'll either be cast aside, or the roster tinkering will begin again. The first spare part jettisoned will surely be running back DeMarco Murray, who played only eight snaps Sunday night, logging a meager three yards on two carries.
The Eagles defense needs to be imploded, too. That unit gave up 40-plus points for the third time this season.
It feels like the state of the Eagles will get worse before improving, and Kelly may not be around to see the end of his failed masterpiece.
14. New York Giants (6-8)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 14
A nightmare scenario played out Sunday. Long after he should have been ejected for being an unhinged lunatic with intent to cause injury, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught the game-tying pass against the Carolina Panthers, completing a 28-point comeback.
Thankfully, karma prevailed and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton marched downfield to set up the game-winning field goal. Beckham, meanwhile, showed he still lacks maturity when he mentally removed himself from the game for a long period of time.
As for his team, the loss combined with a Washington Redskins win was a swift gut shot, especially when it came in excruciating last-second fashion again. The Giants have now lost five games by a field goal or less.
13. Houston Texans (7-7)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 13
For the first time since 2008, the Houston Texans committed turnovers on their first two drives in a game. Thankfully they were playing the Indianapolis Colts, though, and it didn't matter.
It took until Week 16, but a team finally sort of, kind of controls the AFC South. With a win over Indy the Texans hold a one-game advantage, and they have a powder-puff remaining schedule (Tennessee Titans in Week 16 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17).
That's the swell news, along with the Texans' rushing offense coming alive to post 155 yards Sunday. The not-so encouraging news? Houston's quest to field even somewhat mediocre quarterback play took another death blow when T.J. Yates reportedly suffered a torn ACL, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Now the Texans' playoff push will likely rest with Brandon Weeden, who sports a career completion percentage of 57.8.
12. Washington Redskins (7-7)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 12
The Washington Redskins can clinch the NFC East with a win over the Eagles in Week 16, which is pretty remarkable for a team that waited until the week of Christmas to win two games in a row for the first time.
The Redskins' latest win was a loud offensive roar. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw four touchdown passes against the Buffalo Bills, all during an afternoon when he tied the Redskins franchise record with at least one TD toss in 14 straight games to start a season.
As Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan noted, Cousins has been especially comfortable at home. Over eight games at FedEx Field in 2015 he's thrown 16 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.
11. New York Jets (9-5)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 11
The New York Jets fall slightly even after a win because they struggled against a Dallas Cowboys team that was determined to lose.
The Cowboys committed four turnovers, and prime field position often came with those generous gifts. How many points did the Jets score directly off Dallas' four interceptions? Three. Just three points in a game that was eventually decided by, well, three points.
They were given ample opportunities to eliminate that razor-thin margin for error, and feel more comfortable about a secure win.
10. Minnesota Vikings (9-5)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 10
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater came into Week 15 with only nine touchdown passes over 13 games. So his offense was destined to fizzle fast after running back Adrian Peterson left with an ankle injury then, right?
Bridgewater threw four touchdown passes during a win Sunday over the Chicago Bears, nearly reaching half of his previous total. He connected deep often while completing 85 percent of his attempts, three of which went for 30-plus yards.
He became the first quarterback since 1964 to complete 85-plus percent of his passes in a game with four-plus passing touchdowns, zero interceptions and a rushing touchdown, according to director of NFC football communications Randall Liu.
9. Denver Broncos (10-4)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 9
The Denver Broncos are sliding, and in Week 15 they slid in an unexpected way.
A swarming and stonewalling Broncos defense has allowed an average of only 18.5 points per game overall in 2015. But Sunday during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that same unit was throttled for 35 points.
We can consider that a blip, and the greater concern is the plateaued play of quarterback Brock Osweiler. He led an offense that punted on six straight drives to begin a second half Sunday when Denver was outscored 27-14.
The Broncos are vulnerable in the AFC West now, with the Kansas City Chiefs still charging hard.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 8
When we watch Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, we're often watching history.
The Steelers offense went into white-hot mode fast during the second half of a win over the Denver Broncos. They scored 24 consecutive points, and Brown roasted the league's top-ranked defense. He finished with 16 receptions for 189 yards with two touchdowns.
He's the first receiver with multiple 16-plus reception games in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats and Information). During the Steelers' current three-game win streak, Brown is averaging 131.3 receiving yards per game.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (11-3)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 7
Being a backup quarterback sounds terrifying. And being a backup quarterback for the second-seeded Cincinnati Bengals means pushing to secure a much-needed bye while getting your first starting experience.
That's what faced AJ McCarron Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and he looked at ease despite the pressure-packed moment. McCarron may not have dazzled statistically while the Bengals clinched a playoff berth, but he showed an ability to move his offense while utilizing Cincinnati's many deep options.
McCarron throws an impressively accurate deep ball, and showed it as three of his 15 completions went for 20-plus yards. That skill alone is critical because it will enable the Bengals to still maximize wide receiver A.J. Green's talents even while Andy Dalton is healing from his thumb injury.
6. Green Bay Packers (10-4)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 6
The Green Bay Packers will have a spot when the music stops and the scrambling for playoff berths ends. That much we know, but how they're seeded will be decided in the coming weeks.
The first step of securing a playoff spot was checked off with Green Bay's third straight win. The latest came against the Oakland Raiders during a game when wide receiver James Jones finished with 82 yards and a touchdown on six receptions.
That's right, a wideout who was cut by two teams prior to 2015 still leads the Packers in receiving touchdowns with eight while averaging 18.1 yards per reception.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 5
The Kansas City Chiefs' surge has now made a division title possible.
Is it likely? That depends on the Denver Broncos and their quarterback situation over the final two weeks. But taking the AFC West is now well within reach after the Chiefs won their eighth straight game.
They're one game back of Denver, with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders teed up as Kansas City's final opponents. Those two teams have won a combined nine games.
4. Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 4
Just when you think Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is running out of new ways to be astoundingly impressive, he goes out and does something historic.
The Seahawks won their fifth straight game Sunday to lock up a playoff berth. Wilson has posted a completion percentage of 70-plus percent during every game in that stretch.
He's also thrown three-plus touchdown passes in five straight weeks without chucking an interception. And according to the NFL (via ProFootballTalk), he's the first quarterback in league history with a touchdown-to-interception ratio sizzling on that level over a five-week period.
3. New England Patriots (12-2)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 3
The New England Patriots needed a first-round bye with wide receiver Julian Edelman still getting nursed back to full health and other key offensive weapons playing while battling through injures of their own (most notably tight end Rob Gronkowski).
Now they have one after beating the Tennessee Titans, securing a weekend to chill out after the Denver Broncos lost.
Just how damn good have the Patriots been for a really, really absurdly long time? They've won their division seven straight years, and have now held a first-round bye in six of those seasons.
2. Arizona Cardinals (12-2)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 2
The Arizona Cardinals desperately needed a reliable power runner as the final piece of their offense. They drafted David Johnson in the third round, and now the rookie has arrived.
Johnson stomped the Philadelphia Eagles with 229 yards from scrimmage Sunday night (187 rushing yards and 42 receiving yards) during a division-clinching win. He also scored three times, all while galloping for 6.7 yards per carry.
His 12 all-purpose touchdowns are the most by a rookie in Cardinals history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via SportsCenter). He's added another dimension to a frighteningly deep offense.
1. Carolina Panthers (14-0)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 1
The Carolina Panthers had a 35-7 third-quarter lead over the New York Giants Sunday. So needing a game-winning drive from quarterback Cam Newton to win zaps a bit of the glory away from remaining undefeated.
But about Newton: He's still doing completely bonkers things on a weekly basis.
Newton has thrown five touchdown passes in a game three times this season. Two of those high-volume outings have come over the past three weeks, including Sunday when he threw for 340 yards. He also ran for 100 yards in Week 15.
Oh, and there's this too: Newton became the first quarterback in league history to record 300-plus passing yards in a game with five touchdowns and 100-plus rushing yards. He's still your leading MVP candidate.