Chris Simms' NFL Power Rankings Ahead of Week 14

Chris Simms@@CSimmsQBNFL Lead AnalystDecember 5, 2016

Chris Simms' NFL Power Rankings Ahead of Week 14

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    The NFL’s answer to the referee problem isn’t a politically correct one. 

    But think about it: Would we ask a 65-year-old teacher to chase down world-class athletes? Only in professional football do we routinely put people of retiring age in impossible mental and physical situations.

    You saw that stance backfire yet again on Thursday Night Football. Sam Bradford was 100 percent roughed on the game-deciding two-point try. Referee Tony Corrente reportedly told him his facemask wasn’t interfered with whatsoever. Even the most strident Cowboys fan has to admit that’s not true.

    One of them blew a play dead this season because he couldn't keep up with the no-huddle. A few of them have called games since my dad played quarterback. Another is heading into his third decade of officiating. That’s a lot of experience and a lot more wear and tear.

    A solution exists if the league is bold enough to try it. Grandfather in the Corrente generation for a few more seasons—the guys who call games on a part-time basis before heading back to their law firms or businesses. And actively recruit former athletes to learn their trade on a full-time basis, with emphasis on physical training and film study.

    This game requires its officials to be in the right physical position to make the correct mental interpretation. That doesn’t exist in this league right now.

    Note: I've omitted both Monday Night Football contestants until Week 13 is officially over. Check back Tuesday to find out where the Jets and Colts fit in.

32. Cleveland Browns

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    Current record: 0-12

    Last week: 32 (same)

    I can't drop the Browns any lower than the last stop in these rankings. Cleveland was on a bye in Week 13.

    Looking forward: The good news: For the first time since the Johnny Manziel era, the Browns didn’t lose a football game. The bad news: Cleveland didn't play a game. It’ll try to get in the win column with a home game against the Bengals. If it doesn’t happen then, 0-16 probably is.

31. San Francisco 49ers

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    Current record: 1-11

    Last week: 31 (same)

    Did Chip Kelly forget to pack his winter coat this week?

    It felt like the Niners offense wasn’t ready for a snowstorm in Chicago. That ruined any momentum Colin Kaepernick had built over his last two arrow-up starts.

    Instead, Kaepernick was yanked in favor of former starter-turned-clipboard holder Blaine Gabbert. Neither quarterback was helped by Kelly’s insistence on a sweeping rushing attack. News alert: It’s tough to run laterally in a blizzard, Chip.

    Looking forward: Is Elf on? I'd rather watch Will Ferrell run around than watch the Niners play the Jets in Week 14.

30. New York Jets

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    Current record: 3-9

    Last week: 28 (-2)

    Did you take time out of your Monday night to laugh at the Jets?

    You weren’t alone. I saw enough Colts players crack up in the huddle to drop Gang Green even further in my power rankings. What an absolute dud of a performance.

    Nothing went right. New York’s high-priced secondary couldn’t keep plays in front of it. Tight end Dwayne Allen found the end zone not once, not twice, but three damn times. It was a circus.

    My old coach Jon Gruden said on the telecast that he’s not sure if the quarterback of the future is on this roster. I’ll take it a step further: Besides Leonard Williams, I’m not sure if the Jets’ anything of the future is on this roster.

    Looking forward: Jets-Niners! Winner gets nothing, loser gets Myles Garrett.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Current record: 2-10

    Last week: 30 (+1)

    I applauded Gus Bradley’s decisions to punt with five and two minutes left.

    But I also took it as a referendum on Jacksonville’s offense. Blake Bortles (three turnovers) can’t be trusted to lead this team in any positive direction. He now has more career pick-sixes (11) than wins (10).

    The supporting cast did Bortles no favors. Allen Robinson juggled one of No. 5’s best throws, which led to a pick. And the offensive line broke down at the end, allowing Von Miller to tip another Bortles throw right to his teammate.

    Looking forward: Will the Jaguars reunite with their greatest all-time coach? That's about the only thing to look forward to these days in Duval.

28. Los Angeles Rams

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    Current record: 4-8

    Last week: 27 (-1)

    Jeff Fisher might want to send Bill Belichick a fruit basket or something.

    Belichick’s Patriots have outscored Fisher-coached teams 130-17 over the past three games—including a 26-10 contest in Week 13 that wasn’t even that close.

    Whatever L.A.’s coach did to upset the Patriots patriarch has not paid off. Especially not in the first half Sunday, where Jared Goff’s group was outgained by over 200 yards. Or in the second half, when LeGarrette Blount stomped all over the Rams’ supposedly tough defense.

    Fisher will take his latest contract extension. It comes with a side of another subpar Rams season.

    Looking forward: Fisher really didn't want another 7-9 season on his hands. It looks like he'll clinch one early with the Falcons in town.

27. Chicago Bears

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    Current record: 3-9

    Last week: 29 (+2)

    There’s been a revolving door at quarterback.

    The wideouts can’t catch anything deep (*cough* Josh Bellamy *cough*).

    But at least the Bears found their next franchise running back. Jordan Howard rumbled for 117 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries—reason enough to believe this Bears season isn’t a total loss.

    Want another? Look on the other side of the ball. Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd tallied two sacks apiece. The defense had six quarterback takedowns on the day. That means the Bears had more sacks than the 49ers had completions (five). Impressive.

    Looking forward: Chicago can be one hell of a down-the-stretch spoiler team. The hosting Lions should proceed with caution in Week 14.

26. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Current record: 5-7

    Last week: 23 (-3)

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

    The Eagles once flew as high as No. 5 on these power rankings this year. A three-game losing skid has changed all that.

    So has Carson Wentz’s play. A few weeks back, I noted how Philadelphia’s quarterback tends to throw high with pressure in his face. Cincinnati was the latest team to expose that flaw. Remember: Wentz is still just a rookie figuring things out.

    The defense doesn’t have an excuse. Andy Dalton just carved it up for 332 passing yards and two touchdowns. He opened up a 29-point lead before the Eagles even scored. 

    Looking forward: Fletcher Cox and Co. have been a shell of their former sacking selves. Now they get Kirk Cousins and Washington's big passing offense. Yikes.

25. Carolina Panthers

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    Current record: 4-8

    Last week: 25 (same)

    The surprise of Sunday Night Football had little to do with Cam Newton’s early benching.

    It had more to do with Carolina’s strongest unit. Big, strong defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short struggled to break free from Seattle’s subpar offensive line. Thomas Rawls had 100 yards rushing at the half, for crying out loud. What a lowlight.

    Russell Wilson took full advantage. Save for one forced throw that was picked in the middle of the field, Wilson toyed with Carolina’s weak defense. This is a group that needs Luke Kuechly back and a few extraneous pieces gone.

    Looking forward: Maybe Philip Rivers can lend Cam a bolo tie or two after their Week 14 duel.

24. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Current record: 4-7-1

    Last week: 24 (same)

    Remember the black and orange team that used to plain beat up folks?

    It returned in Week 13—about 13 weeks too late. Cincinnati probably won’t be postseason-bound this winter, but it’ll make life a living hell for whatever team lines up against it.

    That much was evident Sunday. Andy Dalton threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, moved the chains at a 50 percent clip. He didn’t do that with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard handy; without them, it’s eye-popping.

    File future All-22 linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the eye-popping category, too. The inside 'backer hauled in not one but two Carson Wentz interceptions. Oh, and he added 15 tackles.

    Looking forward: Cincinnati built up enough momentum in this game to avoid falling to the Browns...I think.

23. Arizona Cardinals

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    Current record: 5-6-1

    Last week: 26 (+3)

    Bruce Arians’ favorite coaching saying is "no risk it, no biscuit."

    He rolled the dice on 4th-and-1 from the Cardinals’ own 34-yard line. And the longtime coach got the sweet satisfaction of knowing his team could run the clock out.

    It also might be able to run any opponent off the field. David Johnson is transcending the stat sheet; his 175 combined yards and two touchdowns don’t tell the full story of how dominant he was. Expect to see him on my All-22 team.

    More encouraging signs came from Arizona’s defense. One week after surrendering a boatload of Falcons yards, it bounced back on the strength of its stars. Both Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson lifted Arizona back into the playoff race.

    Looking forward: The early under/over on David Johnson catches against Miami's linebacker corps is 7,000. If I were a gambling man, I'd take the over.

22. New Orleans Saints

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    Current record: 5-7

    Last week: 21 (-1)

    There won’t be any big postseason games down in the Big Easy.

    New Orleans all but eliminated itself in Week 13. The main culprit: an uncharacteristic, three-turnover stinker from Sean Payton’s usually explosive offense.

    Consider the downshift one week after a 555-yard game. Drew Brees tossed three interceptions; the first two were enough to make a Saints fan cry. The offensive line in front of him crumbled; New Orleans played only seven snaps in the first quarter.

    Any defense would fold under that kind of pressure. New Orleans finally did when Golden Tate got behind coverage for a 66-yard dream-killer of a touchdown.

    Looking forward: A showdown with the new "it" team in the NFC South. Saints-Bucs should be a scorefest.

21. San Diego Chargers

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    Current record: 5-7

    Last week: 18 (-3)

    Mike McCoy isn’t the coach you want on your team’s sideline in a close contest.

    The Chargers are now 7-15 in games decided by eight points or fewer dating all way the back to…2015. And that number now includes their fifth fourth-quarter loss this season, this time at the hands of the upstart Buccaneers.

    McCoy’s aversion to running the football will spoil San Diego’s season. He goes on long stretches where Melvin Gordon, a workhorse back on any other team, is an afterthought. That lets opponents key on Philip Rivers, who threw a pick-six to Lavonte David in the third quarter of a tight game. 

    Looking forward: Carolina's secondary will have a tough time getting to any of Rivers' throws in Week 14.

20. Minnesota Vikings

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    Current record: 6-6

    Last week: 19 (-1)

    Minnesota’s defensive-minded head coach couldn’t roam the sidelines, so his special teams coach took his place. Yet those two phases—defense and special teams—cost Minnesota a chance to upset the NFC’s current No. 1 seed. It’ll pay the price come playoff time.

    Minnesota’s front seven did a bang-up job containing Ezekiel Elliott. But come crunch time, the secondary couldn’t do the same on two plays: a Dez Bryant catch on a slick double move and a 3rd-and-13 Dak Prescott scramble. Both plays were backbreakers.

    So was Adam Thielen’s muffed punt return. Factor that out, and maybe Sam Bradford doesn’t need to mount a game-tying drive (and a referee’s call) at the end of regulation.

    Looking forward: It'll be tough sledding for the Vikes against Jacksonville's defense. But that secondary? Against Blake Bortles? C'mon.

19. Tennessee Titans

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    Current record: 6-6

    Last week: 17 (-2)

    Tennessee took the week off. It comes back from the bye in a three-way tie for 

    Looking forward: Mike Mularkey can rest when the season is over. The Titans' late bye week was for planning, and his team needs plenty of that in the upcoming weeks. Three of the Titans' next four opponents are squarely in the current playoff picture. They can’t afford a seventh loss, so Week 14’s Broncos-Titans game is much more interesting than anyone ever expected.

18. Buffalo Bills

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    Current record: 6-6

    Last week: 15 (-3)

    Buffalo’s postseason-less streak: now at 17 seasons!

    That’s all but guaranteed after a Week 13 loss that highlighted all of Rex Ryan’s offensive issues. Mainly, when Tyrod Taylor goes cold and defenses slow LeSean McCoy, there’s no one ready to step in.

    Ryan’s defense deserves its share of the blame. Oakland scored 29 unanswered points in the second half. It had nine points midway through the third quarter. You do the math on that one.

    Looking forward: Oakland's passing game lit Buffalo up like a Christmas tree. Expect more of the same against the Steelers this weekend.

17. Houston Texans

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    Current record: 6-6

    Last week: 14 (-3)

    Wave goodbye to that cushion in the AFC South.

    Houston’s division is now up for grabs after a snowy Lambeau loss—the third straight one for Bill O’Brien’s team. Yikes.

    Some factors were out of O’Brien’s control. Jadeveon Clowney was a late scratch in Week 13, meaning the Texans defense had to play without both of its pass-rushing cornerstones. Against Aaron Rodgers? In Green Bay? Good luck with that.

    Others were so easily avoided. Brock Osweiler wasn’t pretty in his deep-ball delivery, but DeAndre Hopkins missed three catchable balls. Ryan Griffin gave up a drive-killing fumble. His teammates on the O-line surrendered five quarterback hits to a defense that rarely gets them.

    Looking forward: Nothing sarcastic here. Just a good old fashioned first-place battle for the AFC South. Texans and Colts should be a fun one.

16. Miami Dolphins

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    Current record: 7-5

    Last week: 10 (-6)

    Talk about a rude awakening.

    Miami killed all the good vibes off a six-game winning streak in one 60-minute outing. It could only hide its defensive back-seven issues for so long.

    Those issues caught up with the 'Phins in a big way in Week 13. Linebackers and safeties weren’t quick enough to keep Dennis Pitta—yes, the Dennis Pitta with a reconstructed hip—from wreaking havoc over the middle. Nor were the cornerbacks quick enough to contain Breshad Perriman on a long touchdown catch-and-run.

    Baltimore didn’t punt until the third quarter. Ryan Tannehill hardly had a chance to keep pace.

    Looking forward: The 'Phins defense is trending in the wrong direction. So it's exactly the right time to try to take on David Johnson.

15. Green Bay Packers

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    Current record: 6-6

    Last week: 22 (+7)

    Trust me: A tweaked hamstring in cold weather is not easy to deal with on game day.

    Aaron Rodgers just made it look that way. He finally broke through the elements and a stingy Texans defense on a 98-yard drive that keeps Green Bay battling for playoff position.

    Rodgers put the exclamation point on that long drive with a 32-yard dime to Jordy Nelson. This Packers offense isn’t running with any success; Nelson’s re-emergence is crucial if Rodgers wants to move the ball down the stretch.

    Looking forward: Can Green Bay get enough heat on Russell Wilson in Week 14? If not, Aaron Rodgers might need to work uphill all afternoon.

14. Indianapolis Colts

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    Current record: 6-6

    Last week: 16 (+2)

    Andrew Luck made a few throws that only he could squeeze in there.

    He also made a few throws a high school quarterback could complete. That’s how wide-open some Colts were—T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, etc.—on Monday Night Football.

    More importantly, Luck’s offensive line held up. The Jets got to No. 12 just one time; in the rest of his starts, Luck has been brought down at least twice. His video game-like stat line (22-of-28 with four touchdowns and no picks) shouldn’t shock anyone. Gang Green didn’t put up a fight.

    Looking forward: Indy melted down when it played Houston last time. The Colts keep it together with the AFC South on the line.

13. Washington Redskins

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    Current record: 6-5-1

    Last week: 9 (-4)

    An offense like Washington’s should have no problem punching easy ones in.

    So what gives? Arizona handed Kirk Cousins and Co. a short field on two early possessions that ended with…two field goals. The Skins currently sit out of the playoff field because of it.

    The offense wasn’t the only unit to come out flat. Its opening three-and-out came after Washington let David Johnson lead a long scoring march out of the gates. It wouldn’t be the last time Johnson caused headaches for Jay Gruden’s club; he had 175 total yards.

    Looking forward: Washington can't trip up this week in Philadelphia if it wants to reclaim its playoff spot.

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Current record: 7-5

    Last week: 20 (+8)

    Jameis Winston is growing up before our eyes.

    He’s now capable of heading into Kansas City or across the country to San Diego and pulling off upset wins. Soon, people won’t call them upsets; Winston and Co. are 5-1 on the road despite a rocky start to Week 13.

    Tampa Bay hung tough through injuries and an interception. It's a second-half team, and Lavonte David’s latest big play—a tip-drill pick-six late in the third quarter—swung momentum in his team’s favor.

    Looking forward: Playoff teams put non-playoff teams away. We'll see which category the Bucs fit into when they host the Saints.

11. New York Giants

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    Current record: 8-4

    Last week: 5 (-6)

    Big Blue got fat off the chewy center that was its midseason schedule.

    Now it has to digest the tough stuff. Six straight wins masked all of New York’s early-season offensive struggles. A team like the Steelers, though, represented a step up in competition and a true test for the offensive line.

    That line failed in Week 13. Left tackle Ereck Flowers held in the end zone for a safety, while backup and interior linemen couldn’t push Pittsburgh off the ball in the run game (Rashad Jennings had 19 rushing yards).

    Eli Manning tossed two interceptions. Big Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell capitalized.

    Looking forward: A giant (no pun intended) home game versus Dallas. They have the horses to stop Big D, but will they?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Current record: 7-5

    Last week: 13 (+3)

    Before the season, NFL defenses feared what Pittsburgh’s wide-open passing attack could do.

    Todd Haley’s offense is even scarier now. The Steelers coordinator now runs an offense through Le’Veon Bell, but he still has plenty of deep-ball capability. Just ask the Giants how hard that is to defend.

    That group only gets scarier with a fully operational Ladarius Green. This guy can stretch defenses down the seam on one play and seal Bell’s edge the next. Both came in handy against a good Big Blue defense.

    Looking forward: Pittsburgh's defense can be beaten through the air. So a showdown against the ground-heavy Bills shouldn't pose that much of a threat.

9. Baltimore Ravens

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    Current record: 7-5

    Last week: 12 (+3)

    At some point, the Ravens decided just to let Joe Flacco throw.

    There was no run game. There was no viable play-action threat. Just one purple-clad former Super Bowl MVP carving up a depleted secondary with every one of his 36 completions. He was surgical in breaking down the Dolphins on Sunday.

    Get that play out of No. 5, and Baltimore might make some noise. Its defense both shut down Jay Ajayi and held Ryan Tannehill to under eight yards per completion. Outside linebacker Matt Judon had an All-22 kind of week.

    Looking forward: Monday night. In New England. There's no better test of how real this Ravens team is.

8. Detroit Lions

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    Current record: 8-4

    Last week: 11 (+3)

    No one’s beating Matthew Stafford in a game of keep-away.

    Detroit is dangerous when it comes to limiting an opponent’s offensive possessions. It kept passers such as Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz sidelined on monster drives this year. It just did the same to Drew Brees.

    That all falls on Stafford’s MVP-caliber outings. Remember: Detroit’s running game is one of the league’s worst. Yet No. 9 out-possessed a dynamic Saints offense by nearly 14 minutes. Then, when opportunity struck, so did Stafford on a 66-yard pass to Golden Tate.

    Three defensive turnovers helped put the squeeze on. Detroit’s peaking at the right time.

    Looking forward: Matthew Stafford should shred the Bears secondary. Key word: should.

7. Atlanta Falcons

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    Current record: 7-5

    Last week: 8 (-1)

    Atlanta opened up its week with a heavy dose of Julio Jones targets.

    But after its first drive, Jones didn’t register another catch until the third quarter—after Kansas City harnessed its star power to open up an 11-point advantage.

    Jones and his offense didn’t make the same big plays the Chiefs did. Kansas City racked up 232 yards on only 24 first-half plays. Young stars such as Vic Beasley and Keanu Neal have some growing up do; the playoffs are no longer a given now that Tampa Bay has come roaring back.

    Looking forward: L.A. is an inferior team with a rookie quarterback. Atlanta needs to take the Rams down.

6. Seattle Seahawks

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    Current record: 8-3-1

    Last week: 8 (+2)

    Who played on this offensive line?

    And what did they do with the Seahawks’ usual starting five?

    Seattle’s blocking was much improved Sunday night. The end result? A Super Bowl-esque combination of rushing and pass protection that helped Russell Wilson roll against a tough Panthers front.

    The run game in particular is encouraging. Thomas Rawls carried the football like he did at the end of last season. The Seahawks will need more of his and Tyler Lockett’s gadget runs—especially with Earl Thomas’ loss leaving the other side of the ball a little more vulnerable.

    Looking forward: Thomas' loss looms large in a game against Aaron Rodgers.

5. Denver Broncos

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    Current record: 8-4

    Last week: 7 (+2)

    I’ve said it once.

    I’ve said it a thousand times.

    The best defense in football makes everything OK. It assumed the burden of a rookie backup quarterback (Paxton Lynch) and a sputtering running game and delivered a vintage 2015 performance in Jacksonville.

    Remember: Denver led by only seven points at the half. Then, Bradley Roby swooped in for a Blake Bortles pick-six that widened the gap. And Von Miller slammed the door home with a classic strip-sack in the fourth quarter.

    Looking forward: Trevor Siemian should be back to play the Titans. If he's rusty, his defense can just take over as it has in weeks past.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Current record: 9-3

    Last week: 4 (same)

    Defense and special teams scores.

    That’s what Kansas City does. And it does them better than any other team in football—even its rival Broncos.

    Coach Andy Reid had the perfect play to spring Albert Wilson on a third-quarter fake punt. Later on, Eric Berry scored the first six of his eight points on a long interception-return touchdown. Alex Smith only needed to play a decent quarterback.

    He did much more than that. Kansas City’s passing game actually tried downfield throws this week. Travis Kelce benefited most; the tight end is unbelievable at finding the hole in zone coverage, then turning upfield.

    Looking forward: Raiders-Chiefs? For the AFC West (maybe)? Thursday Night Football is must-see T.V. 

3. Oakland Raiders

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    Current record: 10-2

    Last week: 3 (same)

    Oakland doesn’t need four quarters to beat you. It can fit all its big plays in only 30 minutes of play.

    Don’t believe me? Look no further than Week 13. The Silver and Black trailed 24-9 at one point, then turned on the afterburners and never looked back.

    MVP candidate Derek Carr deserves most of the credit for the quick turnaround. He orchestrated his 10th fourth-quarter comeback when he hit Amari Cooper on a perfect "sluggo" route—a slant that turned into a go. Of course, big Latavius Murray runs (82 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries) were sprinkled in. So were big, eye-opening Jalen Richard carries. 

    Looking forward: Khalil Mack ends every game with a strip-sack fumble recovery. This guy is magic. Kansas City better bring two blockers at all times.

2. New England Patriots

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    Current record: 10-2

    Last week: 2 (same)

    A nice, easy win is a welcome sight in New England after a few grueling weeks.

    Especially for Bill Belichick’s defense. After a few weeks of tough road trials, it clamped down on rookie Jared Goff and never let go. The Rams gained only 25 yards in the first half. Credit the Pats for doing exactly what they were supposed to Sunday.

    Meanwhile, the Patriots offense did what it always does and adjusted to trying times. Rob Gronkowski is gone, but in his place is a three-headed receiving attack (Julian Edelman-Danny Amendola-Malcolm Mitchell) and a damaging LeGarrette Blount-led ground game. It’s no easier to beat than before.

    Looking forward: The only downside to New England's big win? It had to settle for field goals. With Baltimore in town, that trend could continue.

1. Dallas Cowboys

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    Current record: 11-1

    Last week: 1 (same)

    Dez Bryant knows what playoff football is like.

    Jason Witten knows what playoff football is like.

    But Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott don't. So look at Thursday night’s down-to-the-wire battle in Minnesota as a litmus test. The top team in my power rankings passed it—barely.

    Was it pretty? Hell no. Elliott found little running room against the Vikings front seven. Prescott needed to pull off some late-game heroics just to get the lead. And the refs gave Dallas’ mistake-averse defense a big assist.

    Each obstacle was leapt over. Veteran Cowboys know it’ll be tough sledding come January. Now, Dallas’ biggest stars do too.

    Looking forward: Dallas gets another crack at the only team to hand it a loss this season. And it's for the NFC East crown, too.