NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 14December 3, 2018
NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 14
Over the past several weeks, there's been plenty of movement in the Bleacher Report NFL power rankings. But there hasn't been much at the top.
However, from the first game of this week's slate, we knew that lucky Week 13 would be different.
Last week's No. 1 team lost. So did another team in the top five—to a three-win tomato can. Yet another top-five squad released a star player before taking the field in a division battle Sunday.
The pecking order in the NFL got quite the jolt in Week 13—from top to bottom.
As they have every week this season, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport have gathered to sift through the rubble of what we thought we knew and examine what we think we know now.
And in doing so, that trio has again slotted every team in the league from worst to first—there's a new team at both ends of that spectrum.
32. San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
Last Week: 29
Week 13 Result: Lost at Seattle, 43-16
If the 2018 season ended today, the San Francisco 49ers would get the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
That's just about the nicest thing we can say about the 49ers after they were waylayed by the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday afternoon.
The game was just a continuation of a season for the 49ers in which everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. The injuries that have ravaged the team continued to mount, with tailback Matt Breida aggravating his balky ankle. Undrafted rookie quarterback Nick Mullens had his best game as a pro, but many of those numbers were piled up in garbage time.
There were at least a couple of bright spots. Young wide receiver Dante Pettis gouged the Seahawks for 129 yards and two scores on five grabs, and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner continued to shine up front with a pair of sacks.
With the kind of year the Niners have had, you take good news anywhere you can find it.
31. New York Jets (3-9)
Last Week: 30
Week 13 Result: Lost at Tennessee, 26-22
Here's hoping that Jets head coach Todd Bowles rented instead of buying.
His days in New York may be numbered.
As Rich Cimini reported for ESPN.com, the Jets have indicated they won't be making any changes in-season. But in a season of frustration, Sunday's blown lead and sloppy loss to the Titans may have been a new low point, and Bowles didn't even try to hide his anger afterward.
"I don't know how many [penalties] we had, but it felt like we had one every play," he said. "It cost us, and it's disgusting."
In case you were wondering, the Jets had 11 penalties for 96 yards in the game, which contributed to the team frittering away a 16-0 lead.
It was the same old problems for the Jets. The offense sputtered, managing just 280 total yards and three third-down conversions in 14 tries. And just as they have all season long, the Jets made too many mistakes, whether it was penalties, blown assignments or a turnover.
30. Oakland Raiders (2-10)
Last Week: 31
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Kansas City, 40-33
Only in Oakland could a seven-point loss be the best possible outcome for a game.
It's been that kind of year for the Raiders.
It's true, though. Sure, upsetting the mighty Chiefs in Week 13 would have been a big morale boost for the last-place Raiders. But it wouldn't change anything; the obituary for this mess of a season was written weeks ago.
But hanging with the Chiefs for most of Sunday's game gives the team a shot in the arm without lousing up the Raiders' chances of securing the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. Right now, the only thing standing between the Raiders and that pick is the 49ers.
It's been quite the year for Bay Area football.
There were things the team can hang its hat on as well, including Derek Carr's 285 passing yards and three scores and Jared Cook's 100-yard receiving day with a TD.
The Raiders need difference-makers on both sides of the ball a lot more than a meaningless win in December.
It's cynical. Maybe even a little macabre. But it's true.
29. Arizona Cardinals (3-9)
Last Week: 32
Week 13 Result: Won at Green Bay, 20-17
Yes, you read that right. It's not a typo, either. The Arizona Cardinals—a tomato can of a team with two wins entering Week 13 and an offense that's absolutely offensive—went into Lambeau Field and beat the Green Bay Packers for the first time since (and we kid you not) 1949.
Despite an 11-of-26 passing performance from Josh Rosen, the Redbirds put up 315 yards of total offense—only the second time this year that Arizona has topped 300 total yards in a game.
It no doubt felt good to get a win over a team that isn't the San Francisco 49ers, but it's hard to get too excited about what the Cardinals did in Week 13. They're still a bad team—especially on offense.
Never mind that all this win really accomplished was costing the Redbirds slots in next year's draft.
Well, that and getting Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy fired.
Who knew the Cardinals would get a coach axed not named Steve Wilks?
The Cardinals' resolve left Sobleski impressed:
"Kudos to the Cardinals for not giving up on the season. Despite everything that's gone wrong with the team this season, Arizona went to Green Bay and beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in December. The victory proved to be so embarrassing for the Packers the organization fired head coach Mike McCarthy shortly after the contest. Schadenfreude is very real, and the Cardinals can revel in their victory and the ramifications it caused."
28. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)
Last Week: 26
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Denver, 24-10
There was—allegedly—a time when the Cincinnati Bengals were a 4-1 team in first place in the AFC North.
We're going to need some video evidence of this. Because all the evidence we've seen of late indicates the only thing the Bengals might be first in is picking in next year's draft.
To be fair, part of Cincy's struggles are because of injuries. Quarterback Andy Dalton is out for the year. Wide receiver A.J. Green may be, too, after being carted off the field upon reaggravating his toe injury. The linebacker corps has been chewed to pieces.
But the Bengals defense wasn't especially good at full strength, and it's only gotten worse since head coach Marvin Lewis took over play-calling duties on that side of the ball.
The Bengals aren't going to the playoffs this year, which means it's time for an annual rite of passage in the Queen City.
It's "Will Marvin Lewis be back for another mediocre season?" time!
"Take a cue from the Packers," Davenport said. "Marvin Lewis should have been fired after the last time he lost in the playoffs. That was in 2015."
27. Buffalo Bills (4-8)
Last Week: 28
Week 13 Result: Lost at Miami, 21-17
In Week 13, the Buffalo Bills gained 415 yards of total offense—and lost.
The Bills allowed just 175 yards and 15 first downs—and lost.
Buffalo surrendered just 3.5 yards per play and limited the Dolphins to 2-of-9 on third down while averaging 6.3 yards per play—and lost.
The Bills racked up 198 yards on the ground and averaged over six yards a carry—and lost.
Those are staggering numbers. The Bills didn't just outplay Miami in Week 13. They dominated nearly every facet of the game. But thanks to three turnovers, 13 penalties for 120 yards and third-down struggles of their own, the Bills lost a game they should have won.
That's the hallmark of a bad football team. Whereas the good ones find ways to pull out wins in games when they get outplayed, bad ones do the opposite: Find a way to lose even when they play better than their opponent.
26. Atlanta Falcons (4-8)
Last Week: 21
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Baltimore, 26-16
The Atlanta Falcons are toast.
Actually, the Falcons had been toast for some time. Week 13 was just the final nail in the coffin. The fork stuck in Atlanta's done-ness.
Atlanta's defense has been awful for most of the 2018 season, due in no small part to a slew of injuries. That was no different in Week 13, when the Falcons gave up 366 total yards and 26 points to Baltimore.
But this week, Atlanta's high-octane offense also fell completely apart. The Falcons came into Week 13 seventh in the NFL in total offense, averaging an even 400 yards a game.
Sunday against the Ravens, the Falcons had 131.
For the game.
"Yes, the injuries that hit the Falcons this year were unfortunate," Davenport said. "But they aren't solely to blame for the Falcons being this bad. The offense is equal parts one-dimensional and predictable. The defense is a dumpster fire. And Atlanta's got a lot of work to do this offseason if it wants to contend in the NFC South next year."
25. Detroit Lions (4-8)
Last Week: 24
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Rams, 30-16
If you believe in moral victories, then the Detroit Lions accomplished something Sunday in hanging with the Los Angeles Rams for most of what wound up being a 14-point loss.
Of course, teams that rack up "moral victories" usually have rotten records—they wouldn't need the moral ones otherwise.
The Lions aren't necessarily a bad team, mind you. Between injuries to the likes of Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson and the trade of Golden Tate, the skill-position talent at Matthew Stafford's disposal right now consists of Kenny Golladay, Theo Riddick and…that's about it.
But the grumbles have already begun—the belief that for this team to take the next step, the Lions need a new quarterback.
Davenport isn't buying it.
"Is Stafford Tom Brady? No," Davenport said, answering his own question because he's weird. "But he's not Case Keenum or Andy Dalton, either. People who think franchise quarterbacks are easy to find have never actually tried to find them. Reloading around Stafford makes a lot more sense than blowing up the offense completely."
24. New York Giants (4-8)
Last Week: 27
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Chicago, 30-27 (OT)
Last week, against the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants raced out to an early lead and couldn't hold on.
When the Chicago Bears used some trickery to score a game-tying TD on the final play of regulation in Week 13, it looked like the G-Men were again going to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Instead, spurred on by another 100-yard performance on the ground from rookie tailback Saquon Barkley, the Giants drove down for a field goal on the opening drive of overtime and made it stand up.
It was easily the high point of a 2018 season that's been sorely lacking them.
Even with three wins in four games, the Giants aren't a good team. The offensive line is a mess. And the future of Eli Manning is a storyline that's going to dominate Big Blue's offseason.
But for one week at least, the Giants are smiling, and Sobleski sees room for optimism:
"Three victories in the last four games have given the Giants renewed life even with a 4-8 record. The team is no longer an utter disaster with everyone questioning every move it's made over the last eight months. Saquon Barkley is a star. Odell Beckham Jr. seems to be happy. Eli Manning, meanwhile, still seems to have something left. The Giants' success may be making it more difficult to land a top quarterback prospect in April's draft, but they're building positive momentum during the season's final leg."
23. Miami Dolphins (6-6)
Last Week: 22
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Buffalo, 21-17
The Miami Dolphins are the zen masters of winning ugly. They are artists at putting lipstick on a pig and managing to win games in which they don't really play well enough to win.
Sunday's four-point win over the Buffalo Bills is a prime example. The Dolphins were outgained by the Bills, 415 to 175.
Yes, you read that right. The Bills had well over twice as many yards.
Miami gained 3.5 yards per play against the Bills. The team was a terrible 2-of-9 on third down. But thanks in large part to three Bills turnovers, the Dolphins won the game and got back to .500 on the season.
Miami's offense is bad. The defense is worse, entering Week 13 29th in the NFL.
And yet somehow, some way, the Dolphins have won as many games as they have lost in 2018 and remain on the fringes of wild-card contention.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)
Last Week: 25
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Indianapolis, 6-0
Well, what do you know—the Jaguars have a pulse.
A 6-0 win isn't exactly an emphatic victory. As you might expect, the Jaguars didn't exactly tear it up offensively. The team had just 211 yards of total offense and 11 first downs in the game.
But the Jacksonville defense played like we expected the Jaguars defense to play this season. The Jaguars held Indy's high-flying offense to 265 total yards. The Colts had just 41 yards on the ground. Indianapolis turned it over twice and allowed three sacks after giving up just 11 in its first 11 games.
One rather ugly win isn't going to make up for a disappointing Jaguars season that included a seven-game skid. Cody Kessler isn't the long-term answer for the Jaguars at quarterback any more than Blake Bortles is.
But at least the Jaguars were able to deal a blow to their division rival's playoff hopes.
Misery loves company.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Last Week: 23
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Carolina, 24-17
As head coaches who still have a job go, there aren't many sitting in a warmer chair than Tampa Bay's Dirk Koetter. There's been no shortage of speculation about Koetter's future after another disappointing season in Tampa.
Downing the Carolina Panthers in Week 13 may not have saved Koetter's job.
But it certainly didn't hurt.
"Whether it's a good thing or not, Dirk Koetter just might be saving his job," Gagnon said. "Jameis Winston has been impressive in back-to-back turnover-free performances, and the Tampa Bay defense has somehow surrendered 17 or fewer points in three of the last four games. This team has talent, and it is playing hard for Koetter."
The Buccaneers got the win despite being outgained, 444 to 315. That latter number is one of the worst games of the season for a Buccaneers team that entered Week 13 leading the NFL in total offense.
But for once, the Buccaneers capitalized on mistakes instead of making them, picking off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton four times.
Jameis Winston played another clean game, too—249 yards, two scores and no picks. That may have been the best news of all for the team.
The game was something of a reminder that the Buccaneers have talent—just not enough to overcome the hits (both self-inflicted and otherwise) that have plagued Tampa in 2018.
20. Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)
Last Week: 16
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Arizona, 20-17
It's a pretty safe bet you won't be hearing Aaron Rodgers insist the Packers can still make the playoffs this year.
Not after this.
Not after losing at home to a two-win Cardinals team that hadn't won a game at Lambeau Field for almost 70 years.
This, folks, is what rock bottom looks like for the Pack.
It's also the end of the line for embattled head coach Mike McCarthy. As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reported, Green Bay fired McCarthy after the game. Joe Philbin will take over and coach out the string for the Packers.
"The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately," Packers president Mark Murphy said in a statement.
That's the understatement-statement of the year right there.
19. Cleveland Browns (4-7-1)
Last Week: 20
Week 13 Result: Lost at Houston, 29-13
If wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals in their last two games were an indication of how far the Cleveland Browns have come in 2018, Sunday's trip to Houston was a reminder the Browns still have a way to go.
Even in the loss, there were a few bright spots, including a career-high 397 passing yards from Baker Mayfield. But Mayfield also threw three first-half interceptions, and four turnovers doomed the Browns against a red-hot Texans team.
The Browns aren't the laughingstock that they have been the past couple of years, but it's a young team that still has a lot of growing to do.
The question that looms over the team is whom general manager John Dorsey and the Browns will tab to lead the team through its growing pains. Has Cleveland's competitiveness of late given Gregg Williams a legitimate chance at the head coaching job, or will the Browns look to an outsider in 2019?
18. Washington Redskins (6-6)
Last Week: 18
Week 13 Result: at Philadelphia (Monday Night Football)
In Washington, things have gone from bad to worse to you have to be kidding me.
Not that long ago, the Redskins were up two games in the NFC East. Then came a season-ending broken leg for quarterback Alex Smith. Smith was replaced by Colt McCoy, who struggled on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys.
Now McCoy's season is over as well because of—wait for it—a broken leg.
With McCoy out against the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington was forced to turn to a player who wasn't even on the team three weeks ago at the NFL's most important position.
That player is Mark Sanchez, which tells you just about everything you need to know about a game in which Washington had fewer than 40 yards of offense in the second half.
Washington has now lost four of five after a 5-2 start. Dreams of a division championship have been replaced by the waking nightmare that is Sanchez starting the final four games of the season.
Sometimes the NFL can truly be cruel.
17. Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Last Week: 17
Week 13 Result: Won vs. New York Jets, 26-22
On one hand, the Titans rallied from a big deficit to stun the New York Jets on Sunday in Nashville in a win that resurrected Tennessee's fading playoff hopes.
On the other hand, the Titans needed to rally because they fell behind, 16-0, to a bad Jets team at home.
That's not so good.
That's the 2018 Titans in a nutshell—Tennessee might be the most Jekyll-and-Hyde team in the NFL. It looked great against New England and Dallas. Terrible against Buffalo and Baltimore.
And both against the Jets on Sunday.
Even with a relatively favorable schedule the rest of the way (Jacksonville, at the Giants, Washington, Indianapolis), it's hard to envision this up-and-down team peeling off the kind of run that it would take for the Titans to make the playoffs.
Tennessee isn't bad. Or especially good.
And in some respects, that's the worst a team can be—middling.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
Last Week: 19
Week 13 Result: Won 28-13 vs. Washington (Monday Night Football)
The champions have life.
Heading into Week 13, any hope the Philadelphia Eagles had of making it to the postseason tournament and defending their Super Bowl title was hanging by a thread. Lose to the Washington Redskins on Monday night, and that thread would have severed.
The Eagles didn't exactly pile up the style points, but in dominating the second half against the Redskins, Philly got the win it so badly needed.
There were reasons for optimism moving forward, including 130 rushing yards and Golden Tate's best game since he joined the team.
However, there were also causes for concern, including a late injury to offensive tackle Jason Peters and a bad red-zone turnover.
The Eagles have now won consecutive games for the first time this season, but there's precious little time for attaboys.
Next up is a matchup with the surging Cowboys in Dallas, with first place in the NFC East on the line.
15. Carolina Panthers (6-6)
Last Week: 13
Week 13 Result: Lost at Tampa Bay, 24-17
A month ago, the Carolina Panthers were a 6-2 Super Bowl contender.
Well, we thought Carolina was a Super Bowl contender. After dropping their fourth straight in Tampa on Sunday to fall to .500, the Panthers don't so much look the part anymore.
They're finding new ways to lose every week. In Week 13, it was the old classic—turnovers. Cam Newton threw four interceptions, which goes a long way toward explaining how Carolina lost a game in which it piled up almost 450 yards of offense and held Tampa to 139 yards under its season average.
It gets better. Per Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com, veteran tight end Greg Olsen is done for the year after injuring his foot again.
The Panthers have picked a bad time to go into a tailspin. Not only has Carolina free-fallen all the way to eighth in the NFC playoff standings, but two of its remaining four games are against the New Orleans Saints.
There's a real chance the Panthers miss the playoffs altogether after that 6-2 start. Gagnon is not surprised:
"We should have seen this coming. It's the Curse of Even-Numbered Years. The Panthers won just seven games in 2012, 12 in 2013, just seven in 2014, 15 in 2015, just six in 2016, 11 in 2017, and now they're 6-6 and mired in a four-game skid. To boot, tight end Greg Olsen is out for the remainder of the season and they still have to play New Orleans twice, as well as the Browns on the road (that's a challenge these days). Carolina is toast, but history indicates it'll be really good next year."
14. Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
Last Week: 12
Week 13 Result: Lost at Jacksonville, 6-0
The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars entered Week 13 hurtling in opposite directions. The Colts had won five in a row to get back in the playoff hunt, while the Jaguars had dropped seven straight to fall out of it.
You wouldn't know that from the final score of this game, though.
Indy's winning streak ended with a thud Sunday in Jacksonville. Despite allowing just 211 yards and 11 first downs, the Colts came up short on the scoreboard.
It's hard to win games without scoring points. And Davenport pointed out the drought couldn't have come at a worse time:
"Getting shut out by a reeling Jaguars team isn't a good look for a Colts team that has its sights set on a playoff spot. The Jags played well offensively, but Indy's offensive execution was awful in this game. This wasn't great timing to lay an egg, to be sure, given that Indy's next two games are against teams leading their respective divisions."
With Houston next on the slate and now three games up on the Colts in the AFC South, Indianapolis is right back in desperation mode again.
13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
Last Week: 15
Week 13 Result: Won at Atlanta, 26-16
If Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons is any indication, the key to success for the Baltimore Ravens has a lot less to do with a change at quarterback than something all too familiar in Baltimore.
A stifling defense.
The Ravens D was lights-out in Week 13 against a Falcons offense that's loaded with talent. Baltimore held Matt Ryan to 131 passing yards and completely shut down an Atlanta ground attack that managed just 34 yards for the game.
As a team, the Falcons had 131 yards—total. That's a jaw-dropper.
This isn't to say Lamar Jackson hasn't added explosiveness to the Ravens offense, especially on the ground. He has, even if the rookie remains a work in progress throwing the football after completing just 12 of 21 passes for 125 yards Sunday.
But when that defense plays at that level, Baltimore's going to hang around regardless of the quarterback.
Next week's game in Kansas City should be outstanding. A classic matchup of offense vs. defense. And with a bunch of teams nipping at the Ravens' heels, they need all hands on deck for the game that could define their 2018 season.
12. Denver Broncos (6-6)
Last Week: 14
Week 13 Result: Won at Cincinnati, 24-10
Don't look now, but the Denver Broncos are back in it.
By virtue of the team's win over the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Broncos are back at the .500 mark and in the hunt for a wild-card spot in the AFC. The Broncos have now peeled off three wins in a row, including over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sunday's star, just like against the Steelers, was rookie tailback Phillip Lindsay. The undrafted free agent torched the Bengals for 157 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries, further cementing his status as one of 2018's biggest steals.
The Denver defense isn't quite as good as the Super Bowl team of a few years back, but it's still a force on that side of the ball. We hear good things about Von Miller.
And when you can play defense and run the ball, you're going to be in a lot of games, according to Gagnon:.
"If not for a missed 51-yard field goal from Brandon McManus with time expiring against the Houston Texans, the Broncos would be riding a four-game winning streak. That tough loss or their fiasco against the Jets could make it hard for Denver to sneak into the playoffs, but this is a playoff-caliber team. The defense makes plays, and Phillip Lindsay is already a star in the offensive backfield. The Broncos have endured a really tough schedule but have hung with division leaders like the Rams, Chiefs (twice) and Steelers (whom they beat). They deserve a lot of credit."
11. Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
Last Week: 9
Week 13 Result: Lost at New England, 24-10
It's tightrope time for the Minnesota Vikings after the team lost by two scores in New England in Week 13.
If the Washington Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, a Vikings team that entered the season a Super Bowl front-runner will find itself on the outside looking in where the NFC playoffs are concerned.
Frankly, Minnesota has no one to blame but itself. Every time in 2018 this team has been tested, it has failed. There was the seven-point Week 4 loss to the Rams. The 10-point defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints in Week 8. Another loss in Chicago in Week 11. And Sunday's second-half collapse against the Patriots.
The Vikings are 0-4 against teams with a winning record this season—a number that doesn't bode well given a Week 14 trip to Seattle to face the 7-5 Seahawks.
"On paper," Davenport said, "this looks like a loaded roster—a team that should absolutely make the playoffs. But in reality, something's missing. Something intangible. It's simple at this point; if the Vikings lose in Seattle next week, they aren't making the playoffs. And I have little faith they won't."
10. Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Last Week: 12
Week 13 Result: Won vs. New Orleans, 13-10
For every NFL team, in every NFL season, there are moments that define a season—for better or worse.
The Dallas Cowboys had such a moment in Week 13.
Against the hottest team in the NFL, the Cowboys played their best game of the season—especially on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas held one of the NFL's most prolific offenses to just 176 total yards and a single touchdown.
The 2018 Cowboys have found their recipe for success. Ride Ezekiel Elliott (who had 136 total yards and the Cowboys' only touchdown) and play ferocious defense.
The latter was especially impressive against the Saints. Drew Brees had just 127 passing yards against the Cowboys. He was sacked twice and harassed on innumerable other occasions.
Not that long ago, the Cowboys were 3-5 and looked to be dead in the water. One month later, those same Cowboys are 7-5 and look like the class of the NFC East.
9. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
Last Week: 10
Week 13 Result: Won vs. San Francisco, 43-16
The Seattle Seahawks are officially rolling.
Sunday's blowout of the San Francisco 49ers was Seattle's third straight victory. At 7-5, the Seahawks have gotten themselves back into the thick of the postseason hunt. If the season ended today, Seattle would be the No. 5 seed in the NFC.
Seattle won Sunday the same way it's peeled off most of its recent victories—running the football. Led by Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, the Seahawks rolled up 168 yards on 29 carries Sunday—an average of 5.8 yards a carry.
At almost 150 yards per game on the ground, the Seahawks are now pacing the league in rushing—and it's working.
Gagnon is convinced a lot of that success is owed to the reinvigorated offensive line:
"Russell Wilson had to throw just 17 passes in a blowout victory over the 49ers because the Seahawks legitimately have one of the best running games in the league right now. It's also refreshing to see the dude operate with a blue-chip left tackle. The Legion of Boom might be gone, but the Seahawks remain a very good team because they have become much stronger elsewhere."
However, that ground-and-pound offense is going to be put to the test in a critical matchup with the Vikings next week. Minnesota entered Week 13 allowing just 93.6 rushing yards per game—fifth-best in the NFL.
8. Chicago Bears (8-4)
Last Week: 5
Week 13 Result: Lost at New York Giants, 30-27 (OT)
In Week 12, the Chicago Bears were able to get past a bad Detroit Lions team on the road without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
It didn't take long in New York to realize Week 13 was going to be different.
From the moment Chase Daniel's first pass attempt was picked off and returned for a score, the Bears were forced to play catch-up against the Giants. And while Chicago tied the game on the final play of regulation to force overtime, eventually the Bears came up short.
Even more alarming than the loss was the performance of Chicago's defense against a Giants offense that has sputtered much of the season. The Bears surrendered 338 total yards of offense in the game, including 141 yards on the ground on 29 carries.
The Bears won't have much time to remedy the defensive backslide. Chicago returns to Soldier Field next week to host the NFC's No. 1 seed in the Los Angeles Rams.
The impetus to get Trubisky back on the field for that one just got magnified exponentially.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1)
Last Week: 7
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 33-30
Not long ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were in cruise control. Winners of five straight, the Steelers were playing as well as any team in the AFC.
Then came a miserable first half against Jacksonville. The Steelers were able to overcome that and notch a sixth straight win, but an error-filled performance against Denver the following week ended the streak.
Over the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers, it appeared the Steelers had shaken that loss off. Pittsburgh dominated at the point of attack on both sides of the ball and led, 23-7, at the break.
However, the Steelers were outscored 26-7 in the second half, losing for the second straight game on a field goal as time expired.
The Steelers remain a dangerous team with an offense loaded with skill-position talent. But this skid has dropped Pittsburgh to No. 4 in the AFC and seriously damaged the team's chances of earning a first-round playoff bye.
6. Houston Texans (9-3)
Last Week: 8
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Cleveland, 29-13
When the best teams in the AFC are discussed, the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots are usually the first two teams that come up. Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers or Los Angeles Chargers.
The Houston Texans need to be in that discussion after winning their ninth consecutive game in Week 13.
There's very little the Texans aren't doing well right now. Tailback Lamar Miller had another 100-yard game on the ground, averaging over five yards a carry. Deshaun Watson was efficient throwing the football, posting a passer rating over 100. And Houston's defense gave Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield fits, picking the rookie off three times in the first half.
The well-rounded effort left Davenport impressed:
"There isn't a team in the AFC playing better than the Texans right now. The offense is balanced and efficient. The defense is creating pressure, stuffing the run and forcing turnovers. The Texans also have a favorable schedule down the stretch, and given how this team is playing, a 13-game winning streak is looking like a real possibility."
Sobleski's a bit more skeptical...sort of:
"It's very hard to believe in the Texans with their issues along the offensive line and red-zone inefficiencies on both sides of the ball. Yet, they continue to win. Nine straight victories are impressive no matter whom Houston is playing. Despite those concerns, the Texans have stars at nearly every level of the team, starting with quarterback Deshaun Watson through safety Tyrann Mathieu."
5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)
Last Week: 6
Week 13 Result: Won at Pittsburgh, 33-30
The Los Angeles Chargers were already having a very good season. But the Chargers were missing something—something that might garner the team a bit more respect as not just a good team but also a Super Bowl contender.
A marquee win over a quality opponent.
The Chargers played the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs early in the season, and while the Bolts kept it close, they came up short in both contests.
Over the first half of Sunday night's showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh, it appeared the Chargers were again going to fail when it mattered most. But after trailing 23-7 at intermission, the Chargers flipped the script on the Steelers, peeling off a 26-7 run that culminated in a 33-30 win.
The win did much more than just earn the Chargers some respect as a legitimate contender. It also kept the heat on the Chiefs, who remain just a game up in the AFC West...with a head-to-head matchup in Kansas City looming in Week 15.
If L.A. takes care of business against the reeling Bengals next week, that game could have huge implications.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-2)
Last Week: 1
Week 13 Result: Lost at Dallas, 13-10
Entering Week 13, the New Orleans Saints were the hottest team in the NFL—winners of 10 straight. The Saints hadn't lost since falling at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all the way back in Week 1.
That streak ended in resounding fashion Thursday night.
The final score of this game doesn't fully indicate how soundly the Saints were outplayed by the Cowboys. New Orleans was outgained by 132 yards and managed just 176 yards of total offense in the game.
Most weeks, that's a so-so half for Drew Brees and Co.
Davenport wondered how the Saints will respond after such a lackluster display:
"Maybe this will turn out to be a good thing. A wake-up call of sorts that spurs another string of victories, just as that home loss to the Buccaneers in the season opener did. But the aura of invincibility the Saints had built up over the last 10 games was shattered at Jerry World, and it's hard to view a team that was held under 200 total yards as the best in the NFC, let alone the NFL. So, out of the top spot they fall."
According to Sobleski, the Cowboys may have uncovered the secret to stifling their potent attack:
"The Saints (to the surprise of many) stumbled against the Dallas Cowboys after three straight dominant performances against inferior teams. The Cowboys may have provided the rest of the league with a template to attack Drew Brees and Co.: Drop seven into zone coverage and create pressure through multiple stunts and defensive line movement. Fundamentally sound defense won the day."
3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)
Last Week: 3
Week 13 Result: Won at Oakland, 40-33
It's been one heck of a week for the Kansas City Chiefs.
What started as just another week of preparation for the team with the AFC's best record exploded into a firestorm of controversy when video of tailback Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in February was made public. Hunt quickly found himself first on the NFL's Commissioner Exempt List and then released by the team.
The Chiefs, minus one of their most dynamic offensive weapons, traveled to Oakland for an AFC West showdown with the Raiders and proceeded to put up 40 points.
New lead back Spencer Ware was quiet in the game (14 carries for 47 yards and a score), and that gaudy score carries a caveat given that it was put up on one of the league's worst teams. But if Week 13 was any indication, the Chiefs offense will be fine.
And the defense is still a hot mess—so much so that it's one of the reasons Davenport dropped the Chiefs behind New England:
"Maybe I'm overreacting. But Ware isn't Hunt. And if the Chiefs can't run the ball and can't stop anyone, that's going to put immense pressure on Patrick Mahomes and the passing game. Being that one-dimensional won't stop the Chiefs from making the playoffs, but it could easily stop them from getting to Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII."
2. New England Patriots (9-3)
Last Week: 4
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Minnesota, 24-10
There are a couple of constants about the New England Patriots late in the season.
The first is they don't lose much.
The second is that even when they do, it certainly isn't at Gillette Stadium.
Sure enough, both were on display in Week 13, as the Patriots dominated the second half to pull away from the Minnesota Vikings and inch closer to winning their umpteenth straight AFC East title.
The game was classic Patriots—methodical, efficient offense and an opportunistic, bend-but-don't-break defense. Death by a thousand cuts.
To Gagnon, the Patriots are doing what they always do—peaking at the right time:
"New England always starts slow, gets hot, suffers a weird aberrational loss just before the home stretch and then becomes unbeatable. Seriously, it's happened in each of their last three Super Bowl seasons, and it looks as though that's happening right now. The Pats are so well-coached, they're balanced and they're benefiting from a lot of depth up front and at the skill positions. That keeps snap counts low, which is why they're getting healthier just as everyone else in football is running out of gas."
Of course, the Patriots have little interest in just winning the division. Anything less than a trip to Super Bowl LIII would be considered a failure in Beantown. And that means that the next step after winning the East is sewing up one of the top two seeds in the AFC bracket and a first-round bye.
The biggest obstacle to that goal comes in two weeks, when the Patriots travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.
1. Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
Last Week: 2
Week 13 Result: Won at Detroit, 30-16
By virtue of a 14-point win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams became the first team in the NFL to sew up a division title in 2018.
They also did something that was much more important and prestigious—reclaim the No. 1 spot in the Bleacher Report NFL power rankings.
That they did so with one of their less impressive showings of the season speaks to the unpredictability of today's NFL. This was a one-score game most of the way before the Rams sealed the deal with a late touchdown.
But it was also a game in which no one really doubted that the Rams would pull away at the end. L.A. is simply on another level than the Lions.
Thanks to the Saints' loss Thursday night, the Rams are back in the driver's seat for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs.
The offense is nigh unstoppable. Aaron Donald (who is up to 16.5 sacks after piling up two more Sunday) leads a defense that also saw the return of veteran corner Aqib Talib in Week 13.
This is one scary football team.