NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 16?
There's a common belief in the NFL that games aren't won or lost on a single play. Most of the time, this holds true. Every once in a while, though, one or two plays do indeed decide a game.
This is what happened at the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots matchup. The Steelers appeared to get the go-ahead score on a Jesse James touchdown reception with just under 30 seconds remaining. After replay, however, it was ruled that James didn't complete the act of the catch, and the play was ruled an incompletion. Two plays later, Duron Harmon picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone to seal the game.
This is going to be a tough one for the Steelers to swallow. It's going to be worse once they watch the film. They're going to see that they outplayed New England and controlled the game for most of the day. They lost because of the way the final few plays unfolded. I can tell you, that's the worst kind of loss a player can experience.
When you're a team headed to the postseason, though, games decided by one or two plays can bring positives, regardless of which side of the outcome you're on.
The Steelers know they played well enough—even without Antonio Brown for the second half—to beat New England. The Patriots are going to feel like they didn't play their best. They're going to be motivated to tighten things up before the postseason.
If the Steelers and Patriots meet again in the playoffs, each side is going to believe 100 percent that it is going to win.
We know the Patriots and Steelers are at least heading to the playoffs. So are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles. Here's how I view all 32 teams heading into Week 16. Last week's power rankings can be found here.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last Week's Ranking: 32
Sunday brought your typical Cleveland Browns game. They played tough, and they played physically. Yet, there were those two or three huge mistakes that caused the team to unravel.
DeShone Kizer is a rookie quarterback who has no business being an NFL starter right now. Once again, he put his team in position to lose. He threw two interceptions—one of which was a terrible decision—and had a sack-fumble that was recovered for a Ravens touchdown.
The Browns defense is good, and Cleveland has offensive playmakers in Josh Gordon and Duke Johnson. There is just too little talent and too many weekly mistakes for this team to overcome.
31. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week's Ranking: 30
It might not be a fair shake for coach Chuck Pagano, but I do believe it's time for him and the Colts to part ways. Pagano hasn't had a ton of talented players, so the recent struggles haven't been all his fault. Sometimes, though, things run their course.
The Colts don't have many offensive weapons outside of T.Y. Hilton. They're playing without Andrew Luck, and the defense lacks talent.
Luck's eventual return will help, but this team is going to have to make some big moves in the draft and in free agency to improve.
30. New York Giants
Last Week's Ranking: 31
This is what we thought we'd see from the New York Giants at the start of the year. The defense wasn't perfect against the Philadelphia Eagles, but it did make some big plays. It's a different unit with Olivier Vernon on the field rushing the passer opposite Jason Pierre-Paul.
New York was effective enough on offense too. Eli Manning had one of the best days of his season, and Sterling Shepard made some phenomenal plays after the catch.
It was there for the taking for the Giants. They just made too many key mistakes to pull off the upset against a talented Eagles team.
29. Houston Texans
Last Week's Ranking: 26
The Jaguars completely outclassed the Houston Texans. It was too much to ask of T.J. Yates to beat arguably the greatest defense in NFL history on the road. The Texans couldn't run the ball, and the defense let up way too many big plays.
The fact the Jaguars were without their top receivers and Leonard Fournette and still racked up 45 points should tell you all you need to know about Houston's performance.
I expected Houston to get steamrolled. That's not surprising, considering how banged up this team is. Houston is a capable team when healthy, though. Watch out for the Texans in 2018 when Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus are healthy.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week's Ranking: 29
It was inexcusable for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to not have their field-goal team ready at the end of Monday night's game. The special-teams unit had to rush onto the field, and it may have cost Tampa a chance to win. That stinks because the loss takes away from Tampa's effort.
The Buccaneers played the Atlanta Falcons tough even with a few key players—such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David—out. That was impressive because this is a team that isn't all that talented even when everyone is healthy. So give the Bucs credit for their fight.
Jameis Winston played his best game of the season. Hopefully, this will be something to build upon heading into 2018. The Bucs have a lot of work to do, but Winston is a franchise quarterback. If Tampa decides to make a coaching change, I believe the new regime will feel the same.
27. Chicago Bears
Last Week's Ranking: 27
The big takeaway for the Chicago Bears is that we continue to see quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's talent. Did he make some mistakes against the Detroit Lions? Sure, but you can see the ability is there.
Chicago is not far off. I'm interested to see what the Bears do with the front office in the offseason because they don't have a severe lack of talent, and they aren't a badly coached team. Chicago is just a little short in each area.
The Bears need to add skill players—most notably cornerbacks and wide receivers—in the offseason. With just a few more pieces, Chicago will be able to contend in the NFC North.
26. Denver Broncos
Last Week's Ranking: 28
This is what we saw from the Denver Broncos early in the year when they started 3-1. The Broncos were able to run the ball and play through their defense. While Trevor Siemian did throw an interception that helped lead to an early hole, Denver was lucky to be playing an Indianapolis Colts team that isn't that talented to begin with.
The Broncos were able to get back in the game and ride their winning formula.
Brock Osweiler came in to replace an injured Siemian, and he played well. He made some big throws to Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. With a healthy offensive line, Osweiler had time in the pocket, and the running game was able to dominate.
The Broncos aren't far off. Their defense should remain championship-caliber for a couple more years, and there are weapons on offense. Denver just needs to figure out who its quarterback is going to be in 2018.
25. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week's Ranking: 24
The Cincinnati Bengals are out on their feet. The Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers took a lot out of them, and then they got steamrolled at home by the Bears. There's also talk that coach Marvin Lewis is going to move on when the season is over.
This is a franchise in need of a shakeup. The season is over for Cincinnati. It's time to move forward and figure out what the Bengals are going to look like in 2018.
The Minnesota Vikings dominated the Bengals about as badly as an NFL team can be dominated. I don't expect to see much more fight from this team over the last two weeks.
24. New York Jets
Last Week's Ranking: 22
I'll give the New York Jets credit. Coach Todd Bowles put his foot down and refused to play Muhammad Wilkerson. Yet, the defense still put up a spirited effort against the New Orleans Saints. It caused some big turnovers to keep the Jets in the game, and it bottled up the run game until late.
Bryce Petty made nice throws for the offense, but he's not an experienced quarterback, and he misses too many routine completions.
If I'm the Jets, I'm keeping Bowles and Mike Maccagnan in the front office. Both have done positive things for the franchise and have it heading in the right direction. New York isn't far off; it just needs a few more pieces. Most notably, the Jets need a long-term answer at quarterback.
23. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week's Ranking: 25
It's amazing what having a franchise signal-caller can do for your football team. Jimmy Garoppolo has given the San Francisco 49ers confidence across the team. He's also changed the offense's efficiency.
One thing we know about Kyle Shanahan is that he can dial up big, aggressive pass plays as long as he has a quarterback who can move in the pocket and throw off bootlegs. He can do it better than any play-caller in football, and Garoppolo is exactly the type of quarterback he needs. We saw that as he led San Francisco's comeback drive against the Tennessee Titans.
The 49ers are still missing some pieces, but the ship is heading in the right direction.
22. Oakland Raiders
Last Week's Ranking: 21
What can I say? This was a typical 2017 Oakland Raiders loss.
The Raiders didn't play well all night against the Dallas Cowboys, but they still had a chance to win at the end. In a microcosm of the season, quarterback Derek Carr wasn't able to create the magic we saw in 2016. His fumble into the end zone capped off a loss that easily could have been a win.
The Raiders are one of the most disappointing stories of the year. There's going to be a lot of work to do in the offseason. Coaches and players, Oakland needs help everywhere.
21. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week's Ranking: 20
The Arizona Cardinals' inconsistency is unbelievable. They were in control against the Washington Redskins, yet they kept finding themselves down on the scoreboard because of mistakes and an inability to finish drives.
That's a microcosm of Arizona's season. The Cardinals have talent on both sides of the ball, and they're capable of having some strong outings. They beat the teams they're supposed to beat. However, they keep finding ways to blow it against average to above-average teams.
Arizona is going to need to make significant changes during the offseason or else it's going to be the same conversation next year.
20. Washington Redskins
Last Week's Ranking: 23
Give credit to the Redskins. They were outplayed early but made enough plays and forced some turnovers. Eventually, Kirk Cousins and Co. did enough to pull ahead of the Cardinals.
It wasn't a pretty day, but Washington found a way to win it.
I'll be interested to see what the Redskins do in the offseason. They aren't far off from being a good team. They just need a few pieces on both sides of the ball.
The biggest question, of course, is what Washington will do with pending free agent Cousins. If he's allowed to walk, there will be one more huge piece missing.
19. Miami Dolphins
Last Week's Ranking: 17
We've seen this from the Miami Dolphins all year long. Yeah, they'll make some big plays on offense, they play hard and they'll stay in the game. However, they'll make too many mistakes to win against a team like the Buffalo Bills.
It didn't help that this game was in a cold environment. However, Jay Cutler's three interceptions were more problematic. He turned the ball over, the defense allowed Tyrod Taylor to make plays through the air and on the ground, and the Dolphins were left with too big a deficit to overcome.
Miami isn't a team that can overcome numerous mistakes in the same game.
Look out for the Dolphins once Ryan Tannehill is back next season, though. Adam Gase is a quality coach, there is talent on defense, and Tannehill will have some tremendous weapons at his disposal.
Kenyan Drake is becoming a special running back. With a few more pieces and a healthy young quarterback, the Dolphins will be dangerous.
18. Green Bay Packers
Last Week's Ranking 19
It's amazing the Green Bay Packers were able to keep things close against the Carolina Panthers. I didn't expect Aaron Rodgers to be at his best in his return, and he wasn't. Coming in against the Panthers was a tough task.
Rodgers made a few bad decisions. That was surprising. Still, all the blame cannot land on him. The defense had some busted coverages, and the offensive line allowed a lot of pressure.
The Packers are a middle-of-the-road team that has relied too heavily on Rodgers for far too long. This loss essentially eliminated Green Bay from playoff contention. Now the franchise needs to think about its future and how it can support Rodgers better than it has the past few years.
17. Buffalo Bills
Last Week's Ranking: 18
The Bills ran the ball well, Tyrod Taylor made some good throws, the offense protected the ball, and the defense didn't allow many big plays. This is the formula that has allowed Buffalo to win this year, and it's the one that got the Bills out to such a strong start to the season.
It's never going to be pretty with the Bills, but that's not the kind of game they want to be in. Buffalo wants to be the more efficient and disciplined team in an ugly, physical contest.
I'm not convinced the Bills will make it into the postseason—they'll almost certainly have to beat the Patriots next week. However, this is the kind of formula that can make the Bills a pain in the ass if they do get into the playoffs.
16. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week's Ranking: 11
The Seattle Seahawks' run of playoff football has ended. They're not complete enough, and too much is on Russell Wilson's shoulders. As we saw against the Rams, when they make a few mistakes, they're not like the old Seahawks who could overcome them. Seattle had a few early miscues, and the world fell apart.
It's time for the Seahawks to flip their roster. The Super Bowl run is over. Seattle needs to focus on adding youth and putting better pieces around Wilson.
The challenge for Seattle will be juggling some of its larger contracts while also entering a bit of a rebuilding mode. Some familiar faces may be playing elsewhere in 2018.
15. Tennessee Titans
Last Week's Ranking: 13
The Titans are a good football team, but they don't do anything special.
While the defense has been statistically solid most of the season, it doesn't have many playmakers. It was shredded by Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers on Sunday. The thing the Titans can do well is the run game, but outside of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray, the offense lacks playmakers too.
I don't expect the Titans to be in the playoffs. Losing to the 49ers hurt their postseason chances in a big way because the Jaguars now have a two-game lead in the AFC South. The Titans also have the Los Angeles Rams and the Jaguars upcoming. I have a hard time believing they'll win both games.
14. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week's Ranking: 10
The Los Angeles Chargers did not play their best game. It was shocking to see a run defense that had improved so much in recent weeks play so poorly against the Chiefs. But the biggest mistakes came from quarterback Philip Rivers.
Rivers' first interception was a game-changing moment. It was 17-13 Chiefs, and Kansas City had just put together a long drive. Rivers tried to force a ball downfield when he had another receiver open. The Chiefs quickly scored and changed L.A.'s game plan.
One thing the Chargers had done during their hot streak was protect the football. They didn't do that in Kansas City, and that cost them big. To make the postseason now, the Chargers would need to win out and get some help.
13. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week's Ranking: 16
For the third week in a row, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy has been aggressive with his play-calling. I like it. That's how you end up with a 64-yard touchdown catch by Tyreek Hill on 3rd-and-2.
The offensive line getting healthy and getting more work as a unit is starting to show in the run game, as well. We're seeing more of the Kareem Hunt we saw during Kansas City's hot start to the season.
The Chiefs defense is still below-average, but Kansas City has at least been mixing up coverages and doing some different things. I don't believe the Chiefs are one of the best teams in the AFC, but they have some explosive playmakers who can make Kansas City dangerous in the postseason.
12. Detroit Lions
Last Week's Ranking: 12
It's amazing what Matthew Stafford is able to do. He's one of the greatest one-man shows in this sport. The Lions don't have much defensive talent, and they don't have a consistent running game. They run just enough to keep defenses a little honest.
When you don't have a tremendous pass rush and you give Stafford time, though, he's going to make you pay. Detroit will also win more often than not, as was the case against Chicago.
Detroit isn't out of the playoff picture, but it needs a lot of help. I don't believe the Lions are a playoff team. They just happen to have a special quarterback with weapons such as Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay at his disposal.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week's Ranking: 15
The Ravens did what I thought they would do Sunday: shut down the Browns offense. They gave up a couple of big plays, but not enough to put Baltimore in danger of losing.
What impresses me is how the Ravens offense continues to improve. That's what's going to make this team dangerous in the postseason. More deep passing has opened things up for Alex Collins and the run game. It's adding up to give the Ravens a productive offense.
We know Baltimore is going to play tough defense and won't be afraid of anyone. Now that the team is capable of putting up points, the Ravens can go on a postseason run.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week's Ranking: 14
Sunday's win over Raiders was huge for Dallas. The Cowboys outplayed the Raiders most of the night, but self-inflicted wounds made the game closer than it should have been.
The Cowboys are not perfect, but they are dangerous. The offensive line has been opening holes in the run game, and Dak Prescott is always a threat to make big plays. With Ezekiel Elliott coming back this week, watch out. If you've seen what Elliott has been doing with his time off, it looks like he'll be ready to go.
If Dallas can sneak into the playoffs, other teams should be worried. No one is going to want to see Elliott and this offensive line come to town because they'll be able to control the clock and give the Cowboys chances to win.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week's Ranking: 9
The Falcons had a lot of good moments on Monday night. Several times this year I've had the thought that they are about to break loose and be like the team of 2016. There's regularly been a problem, though. Whether it's been a dropped pass, a missed throw or a poorly timed penalty, the offense has been inconsistent. It relies too much on big plays.
Devonta Freeman looked like his 2016 version on Monday night, but he went against a Buccaneers defense that is far from special.
The Falcons have pieces of their special 2016 campaign, but they aren't the same team. I'll give them credit, though, because they keep winning. Still, they barely escaped the Buccaneers, and they'll need to play better over the next two weeks to make the postseason.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week's Ranking: 6
This is the third week in a row the Eagles defense has allowed a lot of big plays. That's what's concerning to me. Nick Foles played well, and he took care of the ball. He also made some tremendous throws once Philadelphia got down in the red area.
Is he on the same level as Carson Wentz? No, but the Eagles can win with Foles.
The Eagles have to be better in the run game. They need to be more patient with the run, and they need to do more downhill running. This shotgun, side-to-side running has to stop. More importantly, these defensive breakdowns have to stop.
Right now, I'm less concerned with Foles and the Eagles offense and more concerned about this defense breaking down in recent weeks.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week's Ranking: 8
The Jaguars are the best team in the NFL when Blake Bortles is able to make routine throws. That's what he did against Houston, and Jacksonville dominated.
This is one of the greatest defenses I've ever seen. Jacksonville has a chance to lead the league in sacks, turnovers and points allowed. No team has ever done that in the history of the league.
The key to a deep playoff run will be Bortles' ability to hit open receivers downfield. Defenses are going to dare Jacksonville to beat them with the pass until Bortles starts proving people—myself included—wrong about his ability to be a franchise quarterback.
6. Carolina Panthers
Last Week's Ranking: 7
Cam Newton was phenomenal against Green Bay. He got the offense going with some designed runs, and he's the only quarterback in the NFL you could design some of these runs for.
The creativity of the run game has sparked the Carolina offense, and Newton made some big-time throws Sunday. It helped that tight end Greg Olsen looked close to 100 percent for the first time in a while because Olsen is Newton's favorite target.
The Panthers are one of the best teams in the NFC. My concern is that while the defense is impressive, it isn't one that can shut down elite offenses. Carolina has defensive playmakers in Luke Kuechly and Julius Peppers, but it doesn't have one consistent pass-rusher or a shutdown corner.
That could be a problem against teams such as the Saints and Falcons in the postseason.
5. New Orleans Saints
Last Week's Ranking: 5
This wasn't the prettiest game the Saints have had on offense this year. Drew Brees threw an interception, and Brandon Coleman had two fumbles. The Saints didn't run the ball the way you'd expect them to until they broke a few late that made the stat line look better than it should have.
The Saints are still one of the best teams in the NFC, but they haven't played great football the last couple of weeks. They're going to have to play better if they want to beat Atlanta next week and if they want to make a run in the postseason.
New Orleans isn't a perfect team, but it's dangerous. The Saints just need to make fewer mistakes moving forward.
4. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week's Ranking: 4
The main thing that sticks with me about the Rams is the way they pressure opponents in all three phases of the game. Just look at their game against the Seahawks. The L.A. offense got short fields after a fumble, after an interception and after a long punt return. The defense also forced a safety by penalty.
The other thing that stands out is how great Todd Gurley is. If people are going to argue that Antonio Brown should be in the MVP conversation, then I believe Gurley should be in the same conversation. The Rams offense is built around him.
The best pass plays are off play-action because of his running threat. Screen passes to Gurley are also dangerous because of his ability in open space. Of course, we all know what he can do as a runner.
The Rams are dangerous. With Carson Wentz out for the year in Philadelphia, they become one of the teams to beat in the NFC.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week's Ranking: 3
This was a heartbreaking way for the Steelers to lose, and I still don't believe there was enough evidence to overturn the touchdown. Regardless, the Steelers almost won without Antonio Brown (partially torn calf) in the second half.
This can be a confidence-builder for the Steelers. They know if they meet the Patriots again, they'll have the game plan and the weapons needed to win.
A close loss to New England doesn't do much to sour me on the Steelers in the AFC. These are the top two teams in the conference. The only thing Pittsburgh needs to worry about is a slip-up against the Texans or the Browns over the final two weeks. The Steelers are a game ahead of the Jaguars, but Jacksonville holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
I'll be shocked if the Steelers lose to either Houston or Cleveland.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week's Ranking: 2
The Vikings were as dominant as can be against the Bengals. That's exciting, and it shows how dangerous Minnesota can be. The Vikings continue to answer all the questions.
Coming off a big road loss, Minnesota came back and played one of its most efficient games of the year. Quarterback Case Keenum continues to play phenomenally. The running back duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon gives the Vikings the ability to run both inside and outside.
Minnesota can do it all offensively and defensively. It's one of the best teams in football.
1. New England Patriots
Last Week's Ranking: 1
The Patriots did a masterful job of hanging in against the Steelers and executing down the stretch. Yes, they got fortunate in the end, but that doesn't take away from the fact New England survived in a tough environment and in a tough situation.
It helped, of course, that Rob Gronkowski was back in the lineup. He is the greatest tight end in the history of football, and you can see how it changes Tom Brady and the offense when Gronk is in there.
New England isn't a shoo-in for the Super Bowl, but now that the Pats are inching closer to home-field advantage, their chances are looking good. It's going to be tough for a team to come into Foxborough and win in January.