NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 17?
It's strange seeing a team not named the Carolina Panthers sitting atop these rankings. That was their perch, and it felt like a permanent home. Now it belongs to another team that made a louder statement.
The Arizona Cardinals stomped the Green Bay Packers, winning by 20-plus points for the third time in their last four games. They're winning with a defense that sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times, and an offense that's receiving 149.8 total yards per game from running back David Johnson during his four starts.
Week 16 was a mix of screaming statements from playoff-bound (or likely playoff-bound) teams, and whimpers from others. The Minnesota Vikings won by 32 points, while the Houston Texans won by 28. Then there was the Panthers losing their undefeated record, and the Seattle Seahawks getting upset by the seven-win St. Louis Rams.
Let's use the weekly power rankings to sort through all the Week 16 chaos as postseason slots get settled.
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 (3-12)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 32
Here's all you really need to know about the Tennessee Titans, and the latest loss by a team now forced to call Zach Mettenberger its quarterback. After a second-quarter fumble Sunday by Houston Texans quarterback Brandon Weeden, the Titans took possession in opposing territory on the 25-yard line.
And they punted on that possession. Repeated for emphasis: They were driven back and forced to punt on a drive that started five yards short of the red zone.
The Titans should play all their games in the middle of the ocean.
31. Cleveland Browns (3-12)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 31
Late December is a time for playoff-clinching scenarios that require algebra. But here's an easier scenario on the other end of the standings: If the Cleveland Browns lose in Week 17 and Tennessee wins, the team with Johnny Manziel currently as its quarterback will hold the first overall draft pick in 2016.
So the evaluation of Manziel's time as a starter is about to reach another gear. Sunday we saw the expected athletic flare from him, and plenty of wobbly footballs.
Basically, we saw something that's become familiar: a developing quarterback who's still very raw.
Manziel ran for 108 yards, and led an offense that rushed for a season-high 232 yards. That was the athletic Manziel at work. Then the still-inaccurate Manziel completed only five of his 18 pass attempts during the fourth quarter of a game Cleveland lost to the Kansas City Chiefs by four points.
He's a work in progress, and the Browns have to decide if that work will continue under their watch.
30. Dallas Cowboys (4-11)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 30
Which would you rather watch right now: Dallas Cowboys football or a Roomba-chasing rabbit?
The rabbit, of course, because it can provide endless entertainment, while the Cowboys are a production line of misery.
Kellen Moore made his debut as a starting NFL quarterback Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. It was less than shocking to see an undersized and weak-armed passer struggle mightily over the course of an entire game, completing just 41.9 percent of his pass attempts.
The Cowboys haven't scored 20-plus points since Week 11. Trust me, stick with the rabbit.
29. San Francisco 49ers (4-11)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 29
There was some hope and promise from the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, two things they haven't exactly supplied in abundance this season. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw for 154 yards with two touchdowns by halftime, leading his team to within three points of the Detroit Lions.
The problem, of course, was the lack of scoring that followed. The 49ers didn't score another point in the second half, which isn't surprising from a 32nd-ranked offense averaging 14.6 points per game.
The important part of the football calendar when teams are reshaped is now just one game away. It can't come soon enough in San Francisco.
28. Baltimore Ravens (5-10)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 28
For the first time ever I can write this sentence: Ryan Mallett might have an NFL future.
As a backup, of course, and never, ever as a starter. The journeyman quarterback began his audition to be Joe Flacco's backup in 2016, and he did it by looking surprisingly competent in an upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mallett threw for a career single-game-high 274 yards and didn't cough up a single interception, Sure, it's true that "please don't screw up" is a pretty low bar to clear, but Mallett soldiering through an interception-free game is an accomplishment. He had thrown four of them over just five game appearances this season prior to Week 16.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 27
When the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars hooked up in Week 16, so did the 29th- and 32nd-ranked pass defenses, respectively. So it was a battle to see which secondary could outpathetic the other.
It's hard to determine a clear winner in that regard, as the two teams allowed a combined 780 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the air. But I'll give the nod to the Jaguars' effort, as they tried to be awful immediately.
Jacksonville gave up a 71-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and trailed 21-0 just over four minutes into the second quarter. The Jaguars were also kind enough to give Saints quarterback Drew Brees his 95th career game with 300-plus passing yards.
The Saints won, though the true winner was anyone who enjoys points and gets bored when any defense whatsoever is in their football diet.
26. Miami Dolphins (5-10)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 26
There have been many, many low moments for the Miami Dolphins in 2015, but no play quite captured the essence of Dolphins football until the final seconds of Week 16.
The Dolphins were down by six points and had a 1st-and-goal with 40 seconds left against the Indianapolis Colts. Three incompletions later, 27 seconds remained on fourth down. Then everything unraveled with the game on the line, a win just several yards away, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill in shotgun. The ball was snapped prematurely, and Tannehill went down for a nine-yard loss.
In one play it was all there: miscommunication, disorganization and general disarray. Dolphins football in 2015.
25. San Diego Chargers (4-11)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 25
If the San Diego Chargers are indeed playing their final games as, well, the San Diego Chargers, the final memories left behind will be of a team grasping while devoid of offensive talent due to injuries.
Thursday night produced another fine but painful example. The Chargers averaged just 2.9 yards per carry during a loss to the Oakland Raiders, and 31.5 percent of San Diego's offense went through running back Danny Woodhead. That's not necessarily a bad thing until you realize quarterback Philip Rivers posted a season-low 5.7 yards per pass attempt.
The season can't end fast enough for the mending to begin. Where exactly that happens, however, remains to be seen.
24. New Orleans Saints (6-9)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 24
Remember three slides ago when I described the absence of pass defense in New Orleans Sunday? Of note to add here: the Saints backfield gashed Jacksonville too.
Running back Tim Hightower ran for 122 yards while scoring twice. His contributions pushed the Saints to 537 yards of total offense, meaning they finally met a defense worse than their own.
23. Atlanta Falcons (8-7)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 23
We've now reached the point in our regularly scheduled programming when it's time to acknowledge that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones isn't from Earth.
Jones recorded 178 receiving yards during an upset win that robbed the Carolina Panthers of their shot at a perfect season. All other Falcons pass-catchers finished with 128 yards combined.
Much of Jones' yardage came when quarterback Matt Ryan heaved a prayer to him in the third quarter. Jones leaped and snatched the ball above Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly’s head, then sprinted for a 70-yard touchdown.
It was a shining example of how top-tier talents can still alter the course of a game, even though wide receivers ultimately depend on getting at least serviceable quarterback play.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 22
Rookie quarterbacks will have their moments of brilliance, and stretches when you wonder if they've plateaued. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is definitely going through the latter right now.
The Bucs have dropped three straight games to fall out of playoff contention, and during that period of woe Winston has completed only 55.9 percent of his pass attempts.
21. Chicago Bears (6-9)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 21
Matt Forte will likely play his final game for the Chicago Bears in Week 17. Those who make decisions and sign paychecks generally don't look kindly on 30-year-old running backs.
So as Forte prepares to become a free agent and the running back carousel in Chicago keeps turning, it's encouraging to see Jeremy Langford ready to shoulder a larger load. He accounted for a career single-game-high 83 rushing yards Sunday during an afternoon when the Bears posted 174 total yards on the ground.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (6-9)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 20
So, where were you when head coach Chip Kelly officially lost all respect in his Philadelphia Eagles locker room?
The exact moment when that happened came during the fourth quarter of another double-digit loss. That's when Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters reportedly pulled himself out of the game, according to a report from 94 WIP's Howard Eskin, and said, "I'm not going to get hurt for this."
Peters' frustration is understandable in what was at that point a lost game, and a lost season. But a certain amount of pride is required to field a competitive football team. The Eagles are severely lacking in that area.
19. Detroit Lions (6-9)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 19
The main problem with winning only one game during the first half of a season? A team's year is fried so fast. But the second, and arguably worse, problem? If the capsized ship is later righted, the depression is darker and you're left to wonder what could have been.
The Detroit Lions have now arrived at the latter stage of football tear shedding. They've won five of their last seven games, and during that stretch quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown only two interceptions, along with 16 touchdowns.
During Sunday's win over the 49ers, he fired just eight incompletions, which came after he completed 88.0 percent of his attempts in Week 15. Suddenly there's hope and optimism surrounding a quarterback who's still in his prime. Too bad the season is ending.
18. St. Louis Rams (7-8)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 18
A still-scary St. Louis Rams pass rush sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson four times Sunday. Even more impressively, the Seahawks were held to only 13 points after winning by at least two touchdowns in three straight games.
Rams running back Todd Gurley also showed why he'll be named Offensive Rookie of the Year while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. So it was a typical game for the Rams, complete with pass-rush mashing, hard running and little passing.
The Rams won a real football game when they finished with 103 passing yards. Getting a respectable passing offense is still the next frontier in St. Louis.
17. New York Giants (6-9)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 17
The New York Giants were thoroughly thrashed Sunday night during a 49-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. It was the kind of performance that makes you wonder whether head coach Tom Coughlin can summon any pride from a group wandering through the late-December motions.
That was especially evident during a 68-yard touchdown run by Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon. He nearly came to a full stop after sprinting up the middle and not finding any room. Then McKinnon casually sauntered to the outside and kept running until he found the end zone.
The Giants won't be playing postseason football for the fourth straight year. If 2015 is Coughlin's final season, he'll leave behind an odd Giants legacy that includes those four consecutive seasons without the playoffs alongside two championships.
16. Indianapolis Colts (7-8)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 16
Matt Hasselbeck's body is gradually deteriorating, which tends to happen when you're a 40-year-old still trying to play quarterback in the NFL—especially when the intensity is cranked up during a playoff push.
For the fourth straight game Hasselbeck couldn't finish, this time leaving in the second quarter. So for the fourth straight game we had a Charlie Whitehurst sighting. And somehow everyone's favorite clipboard Jesus did just enough for his team to win.
Running back Frank Gore actually did most of the heavy lifting, with 72 rushing yards and two touchdowns on his first six carries. Now dim playoff hopes will likely rest with Whitehurst again in Week 17, meaning a frustrating year for the Colts will finally reach its merciful conclusion.
15. Oakland Raiders (7-8)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 15
The Oakland Raiders won a game that started at 8:30 p.m. ET on Christmas Eve, and still managed to end in the early hours of Christmas Day when Santa was beginning his rounds.
Their win over the San Diego Chargers in a slop-filled affair was forgettable in every way, aside from safety Charles Woodson's moment when he spoke to the crowd following his final home game.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr led a drive to open overtime that required 15 plays before Oakland finally settled for a field goal. He did that after passing for only 131 yards throughout the first four quarters.
14. Buffalo Bills (7-8)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 14
The Buffalo Bills will be among the most talented non-playoff teams, a title that comes with even more bitter disappointment over what could have been had the defense been able to adjust and maintain its high level of performance during head coach Rex Ryan's first season.
But alas, we're left to gaze longingly at the only source of meaning during Buffalo's final games of 2015: Sammy Watkins, and how much he can grow in his sophomore NFL year.
Over the past five weeks Watkins has averaged 22.6 yards per reception, and he has a 35-plus-yard catch in each of those games.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 13
First, there was denial while watching the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, and then disbelief.
We all assumed an offense that entered Week 15 averaging 302.9 yards per game would eventually wake from its slumber. And we didn't believe a unit loaded with so much offensive talent could lose to the Baltimore Ravens in Ryan Mallett's debut as their quarterback.
Yet the stumbling continued after a first half in which Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for just 58 yards. Pittsburgh had averaged 35.5 points over its previous four games. However, only 17 points glowed on the scoreboard after Sunday's trap-game loss to a Ravens offense playing without wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman and running back Justin Forsett.
Now the Steelers have lost control of their own fate in 2015. They could win 10 games and still be watching playoff football like the rest of us.
12. Houston Texans (8-7)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 12
The Houston Texans can now take the AFC South with a win in Week 17. Much like the NFC East, claiming victory in that division is still sort of like winning a race through toxic sludge. No one really wins.
But regardless, the Texans are one win away from being a playoff team led at quarterback by either Brian Hoyer or Brandon Weeden. Yet they will still be somewhat terrifying as an opponent merely due to DeAndre Hopkins' presence.
The wide receiver who's a consistent deep threat has recorded six 100-plus-yard games with 104 catches overall, even while getting those passes from the league's worst stable of quarterbacks.
11. Washington Redskins (8-7)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 11
Sure, the Washington Redskins are only in the playoffs because they officially won the league's black-hole division Saturday night. But it's time to give a nod of respect to quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Redskins have won three straight games to clinch their playoff berth. During that time, Cousins has thrown nine touchdown passes with only one interception, all while averaging 328 passing yards per game.
There's still an element of dinking and/or dunking with him, as during that stretch he's also averaging a modest 6.5 yards per attempt. But he's maturing in head coach Jay Gruden's system and is a fit for what the Redskins want to accomplish offensively.
Now Cousins just has to make sure the nightmare version of himself (four multiple-interception games over the first six weeks of 2015) doesn't resurface.
10. Green Bay Packers (10-5)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 10
Here are a few numbers we don't normally associate with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: 56.4 and 53.6.
Those are his completion percentages in each of the Packers' last two games, respectively. His supporting cast has been lacking since the moment wide receiver Jordy Nelson tore an ACL during training camp. But Rodgers has been making poor reads and decisions, as he did Sunday during a blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals, so he isn't blameless.
Here are two more numbers we don't usually associate with Rodgers: 5.4 and 5.2, his yards-per-attempt averages over the past two games. He threw an end-zone interception Sunday while also taking eight sacks and losing two fumbles.
Rodgers is part of the larger offensive problem in Green Bay on a team now one loss away from giving the NFC North title away, along with a chance to ensure at least one playoff game is played at frozen Lambeau Field.
9. New York Jets (10-5)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 9
New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall's wingspan hasn't been fair for a long time. So long that Sunday he became the first player in NFL history with six 100-plus catch seasons.
Marshall made that history during an afternoon when the Jets won their fifth straight game, and took control of their playoff fate in the AFC. During his team's win streak, Marshall has averaged 115.2 yards and 7.8 catches per game.
The Jets can clinch a playoff berth by winning in Week 17. Their opponent? The Rex Ryan-led Buffalo Bills.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 8
There are many job hazards that come with being an NFL quarterback. Chief among them: Only being remembered for your last play, which is problematic when said play is a fumbled shotgun snap.
Such is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron's existence for the next week after he was less than spectacular against the Denver Broncos. But he still did more than enough Monday night considering the former Alabama standout was an inexperienced backup trying to beat the league's best defense on the road.
He was done in by a sputtering second half. After leading two touchdown drives in the first half McCarron couldn't find any rythm while battling constant pressure. As a result, the Bengals punted on four straight drives to begin the second half, and McCarron had just six passing yards in the third quarter.
7. Denver Broncos (11-4)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 7
Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler essentially led two game-winning drives Monday night during a playoff-berth clinching victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. One that failed as regulation time expired only because kicker Brandon McManus did his best imitation of me golfing, and another that eventually won the game in overtime.
Looking closer at those two drives reveals a key discovery. The Broncos have found their future franchise arm.
Both drives began on Denver's own 20-yard line. Osweiler drove his offense downfield fast each time while completing seven total pass attempts for 92 yards. That included two third-down conversions.
He was calm in the pocket, and showed pinpoint accuracy up the middle while weaving passes through traffic to find holes in coverage. He was exactly the quarterback needed to support the league's best defense, which is a scary sight for potential Broncos playoffs opponents.
6. Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 6
A problem resurfaced for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16: their inability to protect quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't quite gone away yet.
The Seahawks hadn't surrendered four-plus sacks since way back in Week 7, with their offensive line improving after a horrendous start. But during Sunday's upset loss to the St. Louis Rams, Wilson often faced a crumbling pocket while going down four times.
Seattle had been averaging 34.2 points during a five-game win streak, but mustered only 13 points Sunday.
5. Minnesota Vikings (10-5)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 5
The Minnesota Vikings went full bloodbath Sunday night, scoring five touchdowns while suffocating the New York Giants defensively. They intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times, and at one point scored points on seven straight drives.
The Vikings have now won their last two games by a combined score of 87-34. They're sizzling while heading into what has become the NFC North championship game against the Packers in Week 17.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 4
When a defense allows the opposing quarterback to run for 108 yards, there's a troubling odor to the game, even if it still ended in a win.
The Kansas City Chiefs have to digest Manziel's scampering, and the fact that he was within 18 yards of tying the game as time expired. Adjustments will be coming, but there's little reason for deep fear after the Chiefs won their franchise-record tying ninth straight game. Over the past three weeks they've allowed only 30 points.
3. New England Patriots (12-3)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 3
Head coach Bill Belichick does everything for a reason, and has prepared for every conceivable scenario in a football game. So in his mind he made the correct call Sunday by deferring in overtime and handing over first possession to the Jets.
For the rest of us mere humanoids the decision is still baffling. There were no inclement weather conditions, which is typically the only reason deferring in overtime is a wise choice. The Patriots offense had just converted two fourth-down attempts during a game-tying drive, yet Belichick preferred to trot out his defense first.
Of course, the head coach's unorthodox decision wouldn't be a subject of debate for the next week if New England, you know, prevented an 80-yard drive from happening.
2. Carolina Panthers (14-1)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 2
It's time for our weekly edition of "football is unpredictable and weird."
The Carolina Panthers were marching toward an undefeated season. In Week 15, it seemed as though that march would instead be a gentle jog, as only the Atlanta Falcons stood in their way. The same Atlanta Falcons that Carolina walloped 38-0 in Week 14.
So of course an offense that had averaged 38.8 points over the Panthers' previous five games scored only 13 Sunday, and quarterback Cam Newton posted a season-low passer rating of 69.0.
Just like that an 18-game regular-season win streak was snapped. And just like that all the immense pressure of pursuing an undefeated season is gone, leaving the Panthers to focus on the real prize: winning the franchise's first Super Bowl.
1. Arizona Cardinals (13-2)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 1
The Cardinals do more than just win games. They crush souls and dreams.
They've won nine straight games to first clinch their division, and now a first-round bye after a 38-8 throttling of the Packers Sunday afternoon. Three of their last four wins during that stretch have come by 20-plus points.
The Cardinals' only real perceived weakness was an inability to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Any concern there was answered thunderously with eight sacks on Rodgers.