NFL Power Rankings Week 12: Reaction and Standings After Thursday Night FootballNovember 23, 2018
By design, the NFL's Thanksgiving slate had big ramifications on the long-term outlook of the league.
To start things off, the Chicago Bears kept pace in the NFC playoff race with a win over the Detroit Lions. The Dallas Cowboys then turned around and regained top spot in the NFC East by taking down a Washington Redskins team now without starting quarterback Alex Smith.
To finish it all off, the New Orleans Saints tore through another team in entertaining fashion. Drew Brees casually threw another four touchdowns to names like Dan Arnold and Tommylee Lewis while dissecting the Atlanta Falcons, 31-17.
Here's how the power rankings shake out as the league next turns its attention to the weekend slate.
2018 NFL Power Rankings
|1||New Orleans Saints|
|2||Kansas City Chiefs|
|3||Los Angeles Rams|
|4||New England Patriots|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers|
|16||Green Bay Packers|
|26||San Francisco 49ers|
|27||New York Giants|
|28||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|30||New York Jets|
It's trap-game time—and season—for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers look great at 7-2-1 and winners of six in a row, including takedowns of Carolina and Jacksonville. But the schedule isn't letting up anytime soon, with the dangerous Denver Broncos up next.
The road contest for the Steelers means a date against a four-win team more battle-tested than it seems thanks to close games against Kansas City twice, a two-point loss to Houston and a three-point loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin put it best, according to STATS LLC (via ESPN.com): "I know we come into the game on a win streak and all of that, but they've gotten comfortable in those environments. Last week they are coming off of a game where they finally broke through and won versus a streaking team."
And it doesn't get any easier from there, not with the Los Angeles Chargers, New England and New Orleans on the schedule.
On paper, the Steelers should still win the AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger is in business-as-usual mode with 23 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and the team lucked out with James Conner making Le'Veon Bell an afterthought thanks to his 796 yards and 10 touchdowns on a 4.6 yards-per-carry average.
Feel free to sprinkle in an improving defense featuring 10-sack man T.J. Watt and the Steelers should at least be competitive in every game the rest of the way. The fact some interesting trap games and massive showdowns await simply makes them one of the top teams to keep under a magnifying glass.
Those Houston Texans got a mention above alongside powerhouses like the Chiefs and Rams for good reason.
The Texans have now won seven games in a row, impressively taking down Denver and Washington on the road in back-to-back weeks.
Regardless, it's no conincidence J.J. Watt has 10 sacks of his own while leading a defense that only allows 20.5 points per game and since Week 5 has only permitted north of the 20-point mark twice, both times in a win anyway.
One advanced metric explains why Watt's defense continues to perform so well:
It helps the complementary offense is so explosive.
Deshaun Watson has started to hit his stride and is completing 65 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Lamar Miller is playing well out the backfield too with 611 yards and two scores while averaging north of five yards per carry.
Through the air, outside of DeAndre Hopkins' 950 yards and eight touchdowns, a breakout like Keke Coutee has helped mask the loss of Will Fuller.
First in the AFC South by a wide margin, the Texans still get to play Cleveland, the New York Jets and two divisional opponents they have defeated once already while continuing the march to the postseason.
The Minnesota Vikings are in danger.
Second in the NFC North behind the Chicago Bears, the Vikings have lost two of three and don't have a guarantee at 5-4-1 to even hold off the Green Bay Packers in the division.
The Vikings host the Packers in Week 12 after tying with them in Week 2.
Everything needs to go right for the Vikings to win and stay alive. The once-proud defense led by defensive mastermind Mike Zimmer is struggling in an offensive-minded league, having allowed 25 or more points in two of its last three. Also of note is the 29-all tie against Green Bay, a 27-6 loss to Buffalo and a 38-point allowance to the Rams.
The new-look offense hasn't been able to compensate. Kirk Cousins is completing 70.7 percent of his passes but has just 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His ground game's leading rusher is Latavius Murray, not Dalvin Cook, and the combo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs has helped the unit post more than 30 points just twice this season.
And when it matters, Cousins is having some problems:
Now would be a bad time to mention the game against the Packers is an 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff, right?
After that, the Vikings travel to New England, then Seattle, making for one of the cruelest winter stretches for any team.
If the Vikings can come out looking good, they could be a dangerous playoff squad. If not, it's almost hard to blame them.