NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 15

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 10, 2018

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 15

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Week 14 was a reminder of just how topsy-turvy the NFL can be.

    On the West Coast, one of the league's bottom feeders upset a team many consider a Super Bowl contender. In the Midwest, two marquee matchups between high-flying offenses and smash-mouth defenses were split down the middle. And in Florida, an AFC heavyweight was stunned on a final play straight out of a Hollywood movie.

    The madness across the league did quite the number on the Bleacher Report NFL power rankings. The bottom three teams from last week? All winners. The top two teams one week ago? Lost and lost.

    As they have every week this season, analysts Brent Sobleski, Brad Gagnon and Gary Davenport have gathered to sift through the rubble of what they thought they knew about the league's teams and compare it to what they know now.

    There's new teams at both ends—and plenty of changes in between.

32. Arizona Cardinals (3-10)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    High: 32

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 29

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Detroit 17-3

    We would like to tip our caps to the Arizona Cardinals. In a week where terrible teams in New York, San Francisco and Oakland went and won, the Redbirds kept their eyes on the prize.

    The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.

    It wasn't easy. The Lions tried hard to lose this game. But Arizona wanted it more.

    When Detroit managed a lousy 218 yards of offense, the Cardinals let them make just enough plays to score the game's only offensive touchdown.

    When Detroit turned it over, the Cardinals did so as well—allowing the only defensive touchdown of the game in the process.

    If there was any question as to who the worst team in the NFL is in this topsy-turvy week, the Cardinals settled it.

    The call to be awful came, and the Cardinals answered…emphatically.

31. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    High: 30

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 28

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Chargers 26-21

    Do you remember when the Cincinnati Bengals were 4-1 and we thought they were good?

    Neither do we. Blocked that nonsense right out of our heads.

    Cincy's slide continued Sunday in Los Angeles when the Bengals allowed 165 yards in the first quarter. In fairness, they have been blasted on both sides of the ball by injuries. The team's quarterback, best receiver and best linebacker all sat out. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are on injured reserve. And the Bengals did show some fight against one of the AFC's better teams.

    But this was Cincy's fifth straight loss and seventh in eight games. The defense is so bad that it would have to improve to be terrible. And it's hard to imagine things changing much so long as Marvin Lewis remains the head coach.

    This is the Bengals. OK on a good day. Awful on a bad one. Mired in mediocrity.

    It's hard to see there being some big shakeup in the offseason. That's just not owner Mike Brown's style.

30. Buffalo Bills (4-9)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    High: 27

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 27

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. New York Jets 27-23

    In recent weeks, Josh Allen's ability to hurt opponents with his running ability has captured the imagination of Bills Mafia. Buffalo has tailored the offense around its rookie quarterback, freeing him up to improvise more.

    That's both good and bad.

    The good was a jaw-dropping 101 yards and a score on nine carries. The bad was a 50 percent completion rate and three turnovers, numbers that allowed the Jets to win a game the Bills dominated statistically.

    The Bills have had their moments this year. So has Allen. But there's no way to win consistently in the NFL completing half your passes and turning it over three times a game.

    "To be fair, Allen's played better this year than I expected," Davenport said, "but the same inaccuracy that plagued him at Wyoming remains an issue. It's not going to be long before teams scheme out the scrambles and dare Allen to throw, and I haven't seen anything yet to indicate he'll be able to make them pay for that with any consistency."

29. San Francisco 49ers (3-10)

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    High: 29

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 32

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Denver 20-14

    It's been a long season in San Francisco. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong—twice. The Niners have been decimated by injuries at the offensive skill positions.

    But in Week 14, the folks in the red and gold gave all 11 fans who bothered to show up a reason to cheer, racing out to a 20-0 lead before holding on to deal a major blow to the playoff hopes of a Denver team coming off wins against playoff contenders.

    Don't ask us how they did it. We don't know.

    Tailback Jeff Wilson Jr. was effective running the ball for the second week in a row. Tight end George Kittle was even better, picking up 210 receiving yards on seven catches—including an 85-yard score.

    The 49ers need Jimmy Garoppolo back. Better wideouts would be nice. But there's some talent there.

    San Fran could add more if it would stop messing up its draft slot by winning. You'll discover that's a theme in Week 14.

28. New York Jets (4-9)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    High: 28

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 31

    Week 14 Result: Won at Buffalo 27-23

    Sunday's AFC East tilt between the Bills and Jets featured a pair of teams playing for little besides getting their rookie quarterbacks some reps. A few weeks ago, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen both watched from the sideline as the Bills pasted the Jets in New York.

    Week 14 brought a measure of revenge for Darnold and Gang Green.

    Darnold didn't light it up against a stout Bills defense—170 yards on 16-of-24 passing with a score and a pick. In fact, the Jets had only 248 yards of offense. 

    But the Bills turned the ball over three times, including a game-sealing interception by Allen late. Those takeaways allowed the Jets to steal the game.

    Todd Bowles' future with the Jets is shaky at best after another downer of a season, but to his credit, his team hasn't quit.

27. Oakland Raiders (3-10)

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    High: 27

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 30

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Pittsburgh 24-21

    Over the last couple of weeks, the Oakland Raiders have shown something that was sorely lacking earlier in the year.

    A pulse.

    As a matter of fact, the Raiders showed more than a pulse against the Pittsburgh Steelers. One of the NFL's worst teams drove the length of the field in the game's last minute to stun the Steelers—sealing the deal with a blocked field goal on the game's last play (thanks to a slip).

    "The Raiders have been performing well on offense for about a month now, the defense was also suddenly sound against Pittsburgh in Week 14, and they seem to be playing hard for Jon Gruden," Gagnon said. "That's gotta be a relief, because it's suboptimal when your team is giving up on a coach in the first season of a 10-year, $100 million contract."

    Quarterback Derek Carr had arguably his best game of the season in the upset, throwing for 322 yards and two scores without an interception. Like Carr, the rest of the Raiders avoided the sorts of mistakes that have doomed them in so many games this year.

    All told, it was reason to smile in a season short on those. The Raiders fought hard. The quarterback the team shouldn't want to replace played well.

    Now stop winning! You're ruining your draft position!

26. Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    High: 25

    Low: 25

    Last Week: 26

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Green Bay 34-20

    We'd say that the Falcons have bottomed out. But given Atlanta's penchant for putrid in 2018, there's an chance that the NFC South's most disappointing team will find lower depths.

    Sunday's loss in a game that wasn't as close as the score would indicate was the perfect microcosm for Atlanta's miserable season. The Falcons outgained the Packers but were never close because of a terrible third-down conversion rate (3-of-12) and a pair of turnovers. The 300 yards allowed by the defense looks OK until you notice that Green Bay was over 50 percent on third down. Atlanta committed 13 penalties for 101 yards.

    Inefficient. Undisciplined. Sloppy. All have been a theme for a Falcons team that has now dropped five in row.

    When Atlanta next takes the field, it will be against a 3-9 Arizona Cardinals team.

    Someone has to win that game—we think.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    High: 23

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 22

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Tennessee 30-9

    The only thing missing from the 2018 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars is Freddy Krueger.

    Lord knows it's been a nightmare.

    Thursday's trip to Nashville brought a new nadir—a 21-point loss to the Titans in which tailback Derrick Henry set a franchise record for rushing yards with 238, scored four touchdowns (including a 54-yarder and 99-yarder) and averaged 14 yards a carry.

    It was a humiliating night for the Jaguars' supposedly stout defense. Saying that the team missed a boatload of tackles would infer that Jacksonville actually tried to make tackles.

    "Whatever glimmer of hope beating the Colts in Week 13 may have offered the Jags was crushed under the weight of the defense quitting against the Titans," Davenport said. "The Jaguars came into the season a Super Bowl contender in the eyes of some. They'll leave it like they have so many more before it—a last-place team in the opening stages of a full-on rebuild."

24. Washington Redskins (6-7)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    High: 23

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 18

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. New York 40-16

    Washington needs a hug.

    The Redskins continued their death spiral Sunday against the New York Giants. In fact, the team accelerated it.

    It's not all bad news after the team was blown out by New York. At least Washington fans won't have to try to convince themselves that maybe Mark Sanchez won't be terrible at quarterback. After a disastrous performance against the G-Men, Sanchez was replaced by Josh Johnson, who was less awful.

    After that? All bad news. Washington, which led the NFC East a month ago, is falling apart. The defense can't stop anyone. The run game averaged 3.8 yards a carry in Week 14, and Johnson was the team's leading rusher. Next week in Jacksonville, Johnson will become the team's fourth starting quarterback of the year.

    "Washington's season is screeching to a halt with Josh Johnson now leading the way," Sobleski said. "That's correct. A quarterback who hadn't previously thrown a pass since the 2012 campaign will be Washington's fourth starter behind center. What once looked like a promising season is basically over after a four-game losing streak due to a roster decimated by injuries."

    Oh, and starting QB Alex Smith has an infection in his broken leg after multiple surgeries and may never play again, according to ESPN's Dianna Russini.

    A once-promising year has devolved into a catastrophe.

23. Detroit Lions (5-8)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 25

    Week 14 Result: Won at Arizona 17-3

    If an NFL game happens in the desert and no one cares, does that game still count?

    That was the existential question we faced in Week 14, when a bad Detroit Lions team traveled west to face an even worse Arizona Cardinals team in a game that meant a lot more for next April's draft than it did for playoff position.

    The postseason is not something either of these teams need be concerned with.

    The Lions got the win, but there's little to be happy about. They averaged under four yards per carry against a bad Cardinals run defense. Matthew Stafford threw for all of 101 yards. Detroit was outgained by over 60 yards by the worst offense in the NFC.

    If it's possible to lose a game while winning it, Detroit did that Sunday.

    Come to think of it, that would be a wildly Lions thing to do.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8)

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    Will Vragovic/Getty Images

    High: 21

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 21

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 28-14

    For 30 minutes Sunday, it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were fixing to play spoiler for the second week in a row. But a 14-3 lead at the half became a 28-14 loss—Tampa's eighth.

    Perhaps even more concerning than the loss itself was the re-appearance of the last player the Buccaneers want to see on the field at Raymond James Stadium.

    Bad Jameis.

    Jameis Winston had been playing pretty well of late—well enough to make the Buccaneers feel a bit better about his future with the team. But that came to a stop against the Saints, as Winston completed less than half of his 38 pass attempts.

    OK, he hit 50 percent on the nose if you count his interception.

    Winston is hardly the only player for the Bucs who struggles with consistency, though. Tampa's defense was great in the first half but allowed touchdowns on three straight drives in the second.

    It's that yo-yo act that may well cost head coach Dirk Koetter his job.

21. Carolina Panthers (6-7)

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 22

    Last Week: 15

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Cleveland 26-20

    Back in Week 10, the Carolina Panthers were 6-2 and made it all the way to sixth in the Bleacher Report NFL power rankings.

    We mention this only because it's becoming harder and harder to believe it ever happened.

    The week after that season-high ranking, the Panthers were blasted on a Thursday night by the Pittsburgh Steelers. That waxing began a losing streak for the Panthers that reached five games on Sunday in Cleveland.

    This was a Panthers team that was nipping on the heels of the Saints in the NFC South. But nipping has turned into napping, and Carolina could miss the playoffs altogether.

    Cam Newton's carelessness with the football was a huge factor for the second week in a row. In Week 13, it was four interceptions against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There was just one against the Browns, but it sealed the game late.

    "Cam Newton isn't quite right with an ailing shoulder," Sobleski said. "Christian McCaffrey can only do so much. The Panthers defense, meanwhile, has allowed 365.2 yards per game during the team's five-game losing streak. Otherwise, everything is just fine."

20. New York Giants (5-8)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 22

    Last Week: 24

    Week 14 Result: Won at Washington 40-16

    The New York Giants haven't had the season they hoped for in 2018. But of late at least there's cause for some optimism about the franchise's future.

    Sunday's blowout win over the collapsing Washington Redskins is New York's fourth win in its last five games. Had the Giants been able to hold a lead against the Eagles in Week 12, it would be five straight victories.

    "Imagine if the Giants had held on against the Eagles in Week 12? Imagine if they weren't taken down by a 63-yard Graham Gano buzzer-beater in Week 5? They'd be right in the thick of the damn playoff race and would be getting plenty of hype for their winning streak," Gagnon said. "This team has plenty of talent, and it keeps winning despite some key injuries. Wouldn't want to run into them right now."

    Even without top wideout Odell Beckham Jr., the New York offense was efficient and effective—in no small part because tailback Saquon Barkley racked up 197 total yards. The Giants defense allowed just 288 total yards, piled up five sacks and forced three turnovers.

    In some ways, this win is both a blessing and a curse. The Giants are no doubt glad to be winning after a 1-7 first half, but at this point all those wins are accomplishing is knocking the Giants further down the board in next year's draft.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 19

    Last Week: 16

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Dallas 29-23 (OT)

    Turn out the lights. The party is over.

    When a tipped pass found Amari Cooper for the game-winning score in overtime, any real hope the Philadelphia Eagles had of defending their championship went down the tubes. They aren't mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it's an uphill climb.

    For starters, the Eagles would have to win three straight to close the season. Philly has won two straight all of once in 2018. That would include beating the Rams next week in L.A. and the Texans after that.

    With the way the Eagles are playing defensively, that ain't happening.

    That the Eagles were even in the game in Dallas was a miracle, as the team was outgained 576-256. You read that right. There's no way to win consistently in the NFL with a defense that bad.

18. Green Bay Packers (5-7-1)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    High: 15

    Low: 20

    Last Week: 20

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Atlanta 34-20

    Maybe the Green Bay Packers should have fired Mike McCarthy a month ago.

    With Joe "Regis" Philbin serving as the team's interim head coach after McCarthy was let go following last week's shocking home loss to Arizona, the Packers played their best game in a long while, handling the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field.

    It's not that Green Bay dominated statistically—Atlanta actually had more total yards. But the Packers were both much more efficient with the ball and made more plays when they didn't have it, forcing two Falcons turnovers (including a pick-six).

    The win isn't going to save Green Bay's season or keep the Packers from missing the playoffs for the second year in a row for the first time in the Aaron Rodgers era.

    But if nothing else, Rodgers and the Packers salvaged some pride from this disappointing campaign.

17. Miami Dolphins (7-6)

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    High: 15

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 23

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. New England 34-33

    Occasionally, a game ends in a fashion that defies description. There's a play that just has to be seen to be believed.

    The miraculous 69-yarder that the Miami Dolphins used to stun the New England Patriots in Week 14 certainly qualifies.

    We're not even going to try to explain what happened. Just watch.

    Frankly, it's not any easier to describe how this Dolphins team is 7-6. Or how it has continued to dominate the Patriots in Miami in recent years.

    But here we are. The Dolphins are squarely in the hunt for a wild-card spot. Miami will have to play another good game a week from now to keep it that way, though—after notching their biggest win of the season at home, the Dolphins will head to Minnesota to face a Vikings team in a similar dogfight for a playoff spot.

16. Cleveland Browns (5-7-1)

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    High: 17

    Low: 18

    Last Week: 19

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Carolina 26-20

    The Cleveland Browns are turning into a team contenders want no part of over the last month of the season.

    The Browns made it clear to the reeling Carolina Panthers on Sunday that they wanted no part of letting the Panthers get back on track. After allowing a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, Cleveland's first play from scrimmage was a 66-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to Breshad Perriman.

    It was Mayfield who again stole the show against the Panthers. The first overall pick in the 2018 draft was outstanding, buying time with his scrambling ability and consistently making accurate throws into tight windows. Just four of Mayfield's 22 pass attempts were incomplete.

    The Browns remain a work in progress. But the team appears to have accomplished a goal that has eluded it since the franchise was reincarnated in 1999.

    The Browns have a quarterback. And he's feeling dangerous.

    "If not for a tough first half against Houston," Gagnon wrote, "the Browns would be riding a four-game winning streak and would be in the playoff picture. That playoff drought won't end this year, but Cleveland is finishing so strong with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett that I might seriously consider picking the Browns to win the AFC North in 2019."

15. Denver Broncos (6-7)

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    Robert Reiners/Getty Images

    High: 15

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 12

    Week 14 Result: Lost at San Francisco 20-14

    In hindsight, it appears we overrated the Denver Broncos. It was at least somewhat understandable—the Broncos had won three straight heading into Week 14—including victories over the Chargers and Steelers.

    But any talk of Denver as a possible wild-card team died in Week 14. Playoff teams don't lose must-win games to tomato cans.

    Actually, Denver's playoff hopes may have died earlier in the week, when top receiver Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles. Or in last week's win, when cornerback Chris Harris broke his leg. Injuries happen all the time, but losing your best receiver and cornerback in the span of a few days is a killer.

    The Broncos have a big question facing them in the offseason: Do they believe this team is close enough that the roster just needs polishing, or is the best course of action a full-on rebuild?

    GM John Elway will probably pick the former, whether it's the best course of action or not.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    High: 12

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 7

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Oakland 24-21

    The Pittsburgh Steelers had a golden opportunity. Not only was a matchup with a two-win Raiders team a great place to put the brakes on a two-game skid, but the Patriots, Texans and Ravens had all lost earlier in the day. The Steelers could pick up a game both in the AFC seeding and the division. All they had to do was beat the Raiders.

    That has not been hard this year…at least for most teams.

    Somehow, the Steelers squandered that opportunity, losing a stunner late. Yes, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined much of the second half, but he came back to lead the Steelers to a score that made it 21-17. Just get one stop, and Pittsburgh could leave town with a win.

    The Steelers couldn't do that either.

    Now they have to get ready to face the Patriots while staring the possibility of a four-game skid in the face up just half a game on the Ravens.

    Of all the top-10 teams that lost in Week 14, the Steelers have the most reason to be worried.

    "Mike Tomlin is not a smart coach," Gagnon said, "and he reminds us of that on a weekly basis. Bad game management combined with untimely injuries and terrible placekicking is killing the Steelers, who are going to have to pull a rabbit out of their hat to make the playoffs. This is the opposite of peaking at the right time." 

13. Tennessee Titans (7-6)

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 17

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville 30-9

    The Tennessee Titans are one of the hardest teams in the NFL to figure out. One week, the Titans look capable of beating any team in the league. Tennessee has wins over both teams that participated in last year's Super Bowl.

    The problem is that the next week the Titans will look like a deeply flawed also-ran.

    They didn't look like an also-ran Thursday night. Buoyed by a record-setting game from tailback Derrick Henry that included a 99-yard scoring scamper, the Titans blasted the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars to stay in the wild-card hunt in the AFC.

    With a less-than-daunting stretch run that includes the floundering Redskins, disappointing Giants and up-and-down Colts, Titans could end the season with a five-game winning streak that gets them in the tournament.

    If, that is, the Titans can finally achieve some measure of consistency in their performance from week to week.

12. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 13

    Last Week: 11

    Week 14 Result: Lost 21-7 at Seattle

    The Minnesota Vikings were a fairly desperate team heading into their Week 14 showdown with the Seahawks in Seattle.

    The Vikings didn't play like a team that was desperate. They certainly didn't play like the Super Bowl favorite they entered this season as.

    Minnesota played like a team that isn't going to make the playoffs at all.

    The Vikings were defeated 21-7 in a game that wasn't as close as score would indicate. Minnesota's allegedly talent-laden offense didn't cross midfield until less than five minutes were left in the third quarter.

    Even then the Vikings were afforded opportunity after opportunity to stay in this game. To steal it. And the team just couldn't do it. Minnesota was turned away on 4th-and-goal and had a field goal blocked.

    As things stand today, the Vikings are still in the postseason.

    But that says a lot more about how bad a week it was for the NFC's wild-card pretenders than it does about how good these Vikings are. 

11. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    High: 10

    Low: 13

    Last Week: 14

    Week 14 Result: Won at Houston 24-21

    After getting shut out by the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, the Indianapolis Colts' chances of winning the AFC South were effectively toast. Lose to the division-leading Texans on the road in Week 14, and chances of a wild-card berth could follow.

    Bust just as the Colts did in rebounding from an atrocious start to the season, Indianapolis was able to rally and get a win that puts the team squarely in the AFC's 7-6 logjam.

    Andrew Luck was outstanding in the win, passing for 399 yards against the red-hot Houston defense. Indy's defense made plays when it had to as well, keeping Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins in check.

    It was Indy's best win of the season, but if the Colts are going to stay in the hunt next week, it's going to take a similarly impressive effort at home against the Dallas Cowboys.

    The Colts' season finale in Tennessee may well become an elimination game.

10. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    High: 10

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 13

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Kansas City 27-24 (OT)

    The Ravens had it. On the road. Against the best team (by virtue of record) in the AFC.

    With just over four minutes to play, the Ravens scored to take a seven-point lead. If Baltimore's elite defense could hold, the Ravens would score both their fourth straight win and send a message to the rest of the AFC.

    But the defense didn't hold, allowing the touchdown that sent the Ravens into overtime and eventually down to defeat.

    Now, they have found themselves amid a pack of AFC teams sitting at 7-6 with a remaining schedule that includes a trip to L.A. to face the Chargers and a finale at home against a scrappy Browns team.

    However, Sobleski warned that the Ravens are still a team to be feared, especially with the Steelers also losing in Week 14.

    "More was learned about the Ravens in an overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs than any of their previous three victories," he said. "Baltimore is only a half-game behind the Steelers for the AFC North lead. Lamar Jackson has provided a spark and makes the Ravens offense difficult to defend. The defense did let Baltimore down against the Chiefs, but it's still one of the league's better units."

    Baltimore also got a scare late when Jackson was forced from the game in OT by an ankle injury. But X-rays on his ankle were negative, and per Ryan Mink of the team's website, Jackson insisted after the game that he's "fine."

9. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 8

    Last Week: 10

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Philadelphia 29-23 (OT)

    Back in early November, after getting thumped at home by the Tennessee Titans, the Dallas Cowboys looked done. Finished. Kaput.

    Now, the Cowboys look like a team nobody is going to want any part of in the NFC playoffs—a red-hot club with a stranglehold on the NFC East after winning their fifth straight and sweeping the season series with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    The impetus for this turnaround is wide receiver Amari Cooper, who the Cowboys traded for just before the deadline. To say that Cooper has revitalized the passing game in Dallas is an understatement. Against the Eagles, Cooper exploded for 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns—including the game-winner in OT.

    "Five straight victories and an evolving offense places the Cowboys in the NFC East's driver's seat," Sobleski said. "The Amari Cooper trade has been a godsend, and his 217-yard performance against the Eagles shows the Cowboys have a true WR1 again. Cooper has 642 receiving yards in six games with his new team."

    Of course, against the Eagles, the entire Dallas offense went nuts. Dak Prescott threw for 455 yards, Ezekiel Elliott had almost 200 yards of total offense on 40 touches.

    Given how well the defense has played of late, if the Dallas offense surges past 500 total yards, it's a safe bet the Cowboys are going to win the game.

8. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 9

    Week 14 Result: Won 21-7 vs. Minnesota

    Don't look now, but here come the Seahawks.

    After a disappointing 2017 season, this looked like a rebuilding year in the Pacific Northwest—a transition from Marshawn Lynch and the Legion of Boom to Russell Wilson and…something.

    Just one month ago this team was 4-5.

    Now, four wins in a row later, the Seahawks have a firm grip on the No. 5 seed in the NFC. It hasn't been Wilson carrying the team, either. Seattle's ground game is chewing up yardage and clock—the Seahawks rushed for 214 yards and possessed the ball for about 32 minutes against the Vikings. Linebacker Bobby Wagner and the defense were dominant against Minnesota.

    The Seahawks are good—really good.

    "This has the look of a team that could pull off an upset in the playoffs," Davenport said. "The Seahawks make you play their game by controlling tempo, and it's hard to believe an O-line that was so bad one year ago can be this good now. The Bears and Cowboys can't afford to take their foot off the gas now—gotta get that No. 3 seed and face whatever flawed team limps in as the No. 6 seed."

    Just please, guys. We beg you. No more day-glo.

7. Houston Texans (9-4)

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    High: 6

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 6

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Indianapolis 24-21

    Generally speaking, NFL teams like to get a first-round bye in the playoffs. But given how Week 14 went down in Houston and Miami, it appeared that both the Texans and New England Patriots had their hearts set on playing in the Wild Card round.

    To be fair, the Texans weren't going to win 13 straight after losing their first three games. But it was still a bit disheartening to see a Houston team that had played so well for so long put forth such a choppy effort at home.

    Houston was outgained by over 120 yards, allowed a huge game to Andrew Luck and converted just five of 15 third downs. The Texans looked a lot more like their September selves than the team that peeled off nine straight wins over the last couple of months.

    Houston remains in good shape to win at least 11 games and capture a division title.

    But Week 14 knocked some of the shine off the notion of the Texans as a Super Bowl contender, though.

6. Los Angeles Chargers (10-3)

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    High: 4

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 5

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Cincinnati 26-21

    If you're the cynical type, you could look at an unimpressive win over the Cincinnati Bengals as yet another example of "Chargering," the Bolts' tendency over the past several years to play down to their opposition.

    To an extent, that may be true. But there's at least one difference between the 2018 Chargers and earlier iterations: They keep winning.

    It's happened with little fanfare, but the Chargers now have the second-best record in the AFC after beating the Bungles (yes, that nickname is back). They have more wins than the Patriots. And the Steelers. And the Texans.

    "I don't know that the Chargers will beat the Chiefs on Thursday," Davenport said. "As we saw in Week 14, that's hard to do in Arrowhead. But I do know they can beat the Chiefs—especially if they get Melvin Gordon back. Even if they don't, you can bet teams will be trying like heck to not be the No. 4 seed that draws L.A. in the wild-card round."

5. Chicago Bears (9-4)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 8

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Los Angeles Rams 15-6

    There's no question who had the most impressive win of Week 14. That honor goes to the Chicago Bears, who shut down the high-flying Los Angeles Rams.

    The Bears limited Jared Goff to 180 passing yards and picked him off four times. Todd Gurley, who entered the game leading the NFL in rushing, had all of 28 yards on the ground. A Rams team that averaged 440 yards per game before Sunday night had just 214 against Chicago.

    The Bears put the NFC's No. 1 team over their knee and spanked them.

    "The Bears should have beaten the Packers in Week 1," Gagnon said, "and they should have beaten the Patriots when they gave up two special teams touchdowns in a one-score loss in Week 7. Their other two losses came in overtime.

    "What I'm saying is Chicago could be 13-0 instead of 9-4 right now. Seriously. And yeah, close losses are still losses, but these are power rankings, not standings. The Bears are one of the best all-around teams in the NFL, and if Mitchell Trubisky can avoid big mistakes (a massive "if"), they could go on a Super Bowl run."

4. New England Patriots (9-4)

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    High: 3

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 2

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Miami 34-33

    For the fifth time in six years, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. But it wasn't just that the Dolphins shocked the Pats again. It was how they did it, on a wild, 69-yard catch-and-lateral that would look more at home on a playground than an NFL field.

    In the short term, the loss isn't a huge deal. It's not going to prevent the Patriots from winning their 10th straight AFC East title. It will only delay it.

    And because of Houston's loss to the Colts, the Patriots still hold the No. 2 seed in the AFC heading into next week's showdown with the Steelers.

    However, in the long term, it may be another story.

    "The Patriots just lost a game in which Tom Brady threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns without a pick," Davenport said. "The New England defense gave up 34 points and over 400 yards of offense to a Dolphins team that entered the game 29th in total offense. Play defense like that at Arrowhead in the playoffs, and it's going to get ugly quickly."

3. Los Angeles Rams (11-2)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 1

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Chicago 15-6

    On Sunday night in Chicago, something stunning happened.

    The Rams were handled.

    That L.A. lost isn't all that surprising. The Bears are a division leader, and the Rams were on the road. It happens.

    But the Rams weren't just beaten. This game was nowhere near as close as the final score. At no point were the Rams, who set the pace in just about every game they play, dictating the tempo.

    The offense was an out-of-sync mess for the second week in a row. Last week, the Rams overcame it against a bad Lions team. Against the Bears? Less than half their season average in yardage and six points.

    Defensively, L.A.'s problems stopping the run were on display again. The Bears piled up 194 yards on the ground, averaging 5.5 a pop.

    Oh, and Jared Goff turned it over four times.

    This loss didn't just potentially cost the Rams the No. 1 seed in the NFC. It demonstrated that these Rams may be quite a bit more vulnerable than we thought.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-2)

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    High: 1

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 3

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Baltimore 27-24 (OT)

    The marquee game of the early slate of games in Week 14 was a classic duel of offense vs. defense—the high-octane Chiefs locking horns with the stifling Ravens.

    The game lived up to the billing, too: a back-and-forth affair that went to overtime.

    If the Chiefs are able to make it all the way to Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII, this may well be one of the seminal moments of that journey. The Chiefs trailed by seven with just over four minutes left, but second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes was able to lead K.C. to a game-tying touchdown and eventually the win.

    "Sunday's win went a long way in my mind toward settling the matter of who is the NFL's MVP," Davenport, who ranked the Chiefs No. 1, said. "Mahomes didn't have his best game of the year, but it was his most impressive outing. After early struggles against a very good defense, Mahomes settled down and did what he needed to to get his team a win. If the road to Atlanta goes through Arrowhead, this team's going to be nigh impossible to knock off."

1. New Orleans Saints (11-2)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    High: 1

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 4

    Week 14 Result: Won at Tampa Bay 28-14

    Sunday's game in Tampa was a tale of two halves for the New Orleans Saints.

    The first half was un-Saints-like. New Orleans made mistakes, couldn't get the offense going and trailed 14-3 at intermission.

    Then New Orleans apparently remembered it's one of the best teams in the league. The Saints didn't allow a second-half point, peeled off touchdowns on three straight drives and by game's end, had secured their second consecutive NFC South title.

    Still, at least one of our analysts remains a bit worried about the Saints.

    "The Saints got the win today," Davenport said, "but it wasn't an impressive one. Drew Brees didn't play especially well, and the team managed just 3.3 yards per carry on the ground. They just aren't the same team away from the Superdome, so winning out and trying to secure home field is important. I don't know that these Saints can beat the Rams again if the game's in LA."