NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 16

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 17, 2018

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 16

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    It's getting late in the 2018 season. The playoffs are just around the corner. And with 15 weeks of action in the books, those of us who analyze and write about the game for a living like to think we have a pretty good bead on what's what. Who's good and who's bad. The contenders and pretenders.

    Week 15 was a reminder that knowledge can get turned on its head in the blink of an eye.

    The week began with a huge AFC West matchup that sent one of the top-five teams in these power rankings a week ago down to defeat. Two more joined them by the time the dust settled on a big upset on Sunday night.

    That's not to say that nothing went according to plan. The Chicago Bears are still good. The Arizona Cardinals are still…not.

    Now that one of the wildest weeks of the season has shaken the NFL like a snowglobe, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have once again gathered to rank the league's teams from worst to first.

    The bookends may be the same, but a ton has changed in-between.


32. Arizona Cardinals (3-11)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    High: 32

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 32

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Atlanta 40-14

    If Week 15 was any indication, it's going to be awfully hard to dislodge the Arizona Cardinals from the No. 32 spot in these power rankings.

    In a season that's been just about all lows, the Redbirds hit a new one, getting flattened by an Atlanta Falcons team that had lost its last five games. Quarterback Josh Rosen was a disaster, throwing his fourth pick-six of the season before getting benched. The defense was scorched for well over 400 yards and 40 points.

    And next week, this dumpster fire of a team has to play the Rams.

    "You know," Davenport said, "I'm usually not the 'fire a coach after one year' knee-jerk type. But the Cardinals have too much talent on both sides of the ball to be this God-awful. That's on Steve Wilks, and the Cards have to ask themselves how much they believe next year would be any different."

    The Arizona Cardinals are on the clock.

31. Oakland Raiders (3-11)

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    High: 31

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 27

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Cincinnati 30-16

    Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders appeared to have found their stride in an upset win. The Raiders had figured a couple of things out and had a little momentum entering the stretch run.

    In Week 15, the team remembered it was the Raiders and that said Raiders are terrible.

    The Raiders lost by two touchdowns in Cincinnati in a very Raiders way: The team outgained the Bengals but was done in by eight penalties and two turnovers.

    The Raiders have a ton of draft capital next year, and they are going to need every bit of it. The skill-position talent is among the worst in the league. The offensive line has regressed massively relative to last year. And the defense is…

    Does Oakland have a defense?

    At this point, the best thing for the Raiders would probably be to lose out and shoot for the first overall pick.

    Given how Oakland plays and how the team is playing, that's absolutely doable.

30. New York Jets (4-10)

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    High: 29

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 28

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. Houston Texans 29-22

    If you're the type who likes to look at the glass as half-full, you might see Saturday's loss to the Texans as room for at least a little optimism. After all, the Jets hung with the AFC South-leading Texans for most of the contest.

    However, if you're a cold, hard realist, you're much more likely to see this as a microcosm of New York's entire miserable season—just one more opportunity squandered.

    New York outplayed Houston in any number of statistical categories, completely shut down the Houston running game and sacked Deshaun Watson six times. But thanks in large part to nine penalties and a turnover, the Jets just weren't able to seal the deal.

    With the loss, the Jets have now lost double-digit games in each of the last three seasons. And while Todd Bowles is a better coach than his record, it's hard to imagine him surviving another miserable season for Gang Green.

29. Buffalo Bills (5-9)

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    High: 26

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 30

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Detroit 14-13

    In some ways, the coaching job Buffalo's Sean McDermott has done this year has been among the most impressive in the NFL. Despite an offense that's borderline offensive, the Bills have now scratched out five wins on the season after squeaking past the Lions on Sunday.

    Without top tailback LeSean McCoy and backup Chris Ivory, the Bills managed just 3.2 yards per carry against the Lions. Josh Allen struggled again throwing the football, connecting on exactly half of his 26 pass attempts.

    But a Buffalo defense that came into the week leading the NFL in yards allowed per game rose to the occasion yet again, allowing 313 yards and just 13 points.

    The Bills aren't a good team. But they also aren't that far off.

    "I'm not sold on Josh Allen as an NFL starter," Davenport said, "but it's not exactly fair to grade the kid when his skill-position weapons are nonexistent. That defense is keeping Buffalo in games. If it can get better at receiver in the offseason and Allen improves in Year 2, this rebound in Buffalo could be a quick one."

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    High: 25

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 24

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. Washington 16-13

    Per Fansided's David Levin, over the summer Tony Romo of CBS Sports offered up an early Super Bowl prediction that the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars would meet in Atlanta.

    Yeah, that pick hasn't aged well.

    The Jaguars cemented their claim to the title of the NFL's biggest disappointment in 2018 in Week 15 by losing in ugly fashion to a Washington team half a step this side of taking out an ad for quarterback help on Craigslist.

    This was a game in which the Jaguars failed to amass even 200 yards of total offense. One in which Cody Kessler threw for 57 yards and tossed a late pick that led to the game-winning kick.

    Fifty-seven yards.

    "There's just no way in my mind that Doug Marrone can survive this season," Davenport said. "The effort level from this team over the last month has been embarrassing. If there's a silver lining, at least the Jags are tracking toward a high draft pick (and a new quarterback) next year."

    Sobleski felt Jacksonville had a sense of entitlement:

    "Ego destroyed the Jaguars' season. Too many on the team ran their mouths and thought they'd be just as good as last year. But everything in the NFL is earned. If a team tries to rely on its reputation and doesn't show up, it'll lose more times than not. Jacksonville has lost nine of its last 10 games, and the downfall can be attributed to straight arrogance."

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    High: 25

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 21

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Baltimore 20-12

    At this point in the 2018 season, the playoffs are no longer a consideration for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These last few games of the season are all about making decisions regarding the futures of head coach Dirk Koetter and quarterback Jameis Winston.

    Neither did much to help his case Sunday in Baltimore.

    It was most assuredly bad Jameis who showed up against the Ravens. Yes, it came against one of the NFL's best defenses, but Winston's 13-of-25 passing for 157 yards with a pick is not the sort of stat line that inspires a ton of confidence.

    Winston's a talented young quarterback capable of making jaw-dropping throws. Unfortunately, he's also capable of making migraine-inducing mistakes with the football, and the only consistent element of his four NFL seasons has been inconsistency.

    That's not going to change during his option year in 2019—a year in which he'll make almost $21 million.

    Sobleski doesn't think Koetter can turn things around, either:

    "Head coach Dirk Koetter is as good as gone. The Buccaneers are imploding, and the players are now going out there for themselves. This is the point of no return, and Tampa Bay's brass has plenty of crucial decisions to make starting with the head coach's status and deciding whether Jameis Winston should be its franchise signal-caller."

26. Cincinnati Bengals (6-8)

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    John Grieshop/Getty Images

    High: 25

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 31

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Oakland 30-16

    After a promising start, the 2018 season for the Cincinnati Bengals crumbled. The team suffered a litany of injuries to stars like quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green and dropped seven of eight games heading into a Week 15 date at home against the Raiders.

    The season may have fallen apart, but amid the rubble, the Bengals appear to have found something to build on. Running back Joe Mixon topped 100 yards on the ground for the second week in a row and third time this season, and the second-year pro needs just five yards next week against the Browns to hit 1,000 for the season.

    With the Bengals on the brink of missing the playoffs for the third year in a row, the statuses of Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis are hot topics of conversation in the Queen City.

    But whoever is under center and on the sideline for the team in 2019, they will have a talented young tailback to lean on.

25. San Francisco 49ers (4-10)

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 29

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Seattle 26-23 (OT)

    There's nothing more frustrating than an NFL team that loses focus and can't get the job done.

    Take the San Francisco 49ers, for example. Coming into Week 15, the 49ers were very much in the mix to acquire the No. 1 pick in next April's NFL draft. But rather than striving to achieve that goal, the Niners messed around and won a game, stunning the red-hot Seahawks in overtime.

    Kidding aside, the win was a testament to Kyle Shanahan's coaching acumen and the team's resiliency. Despite major injuries on both sides of the ball that have wrecked a season that began with hopes of a playoff trip, San Francisco has consistently been a tough out for opponents.

    However, the Niners should probably enjoy this victory while they still can; with the Bears and Rams on the schedule to close things out, the team's probably done with the whole winning thing.

24. Detroit Lions (5-9)

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    High: 20

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 23

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Buffalo 14-13

    Losing on the road to a bad (but scrappy) Bills team isn't necessarily the lowest point of the 2018 season for the Detroit Lions. But it won't be making it onto the season highlights DVD, either.

    That film will be about three minutes long and contain nothing but Detroit's win over the Patriots.

    There have been numerous disappointments from the 2018 Lions, but none have been bigger than the play of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford's 208 yards and a score actually amounted to one of his better efforts in some time, but heading into this game, Stafford's passer rating was his lowest since 2014, and his yards per game are his lowest since 2010.

    For years, Stafford's been a bright spot for some bad Lions teams, but this year, he's struggled right along with everyone else...and the results have been highly Detroit-ish.

23. Atlanta Falcons (5-9)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    High: 22

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 26

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Arizona 40-14

    The good news is the Atlanta Falcons played their most complete game of the 2018 season in dismantling the Arizona Cardinals 40-14 in Week 15. It was a dominant effort in every phase of the game.

    The bad news is that dominant effort came against arguably the NFL's worst team in a meaningless Week 15 game at the tail end of a wildly disappointing 2018 campaign.

    The same Atlanta offense that piled up 435 total yards and 40 points Sunday failed to score even 21 points in a game over the Falcons' five-game losing streak. The same Atlanta defense that gave up just 14 points to Arizona allowed more than twice that in the 13 preceding games.

    It was good that the Falcons snapped that long skid. And good that fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium finally had something to cheer for.

    But this win does not make the Falcons a good team by any measure.

22. Washington Redskins (7-7)

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    High: 21

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 24

    Week 15 Result: Won at Jacksonville 16-13

    OK, just to get this out of the way—the Washington Redskins aren't making the playoffs. And if by some small miracle they do, it's going to be a quick, ugly trip.

    That's not a knock on Washington. For the most part, it's not the Redskins' fault that a once-promising campaign has come off the rails.

    When Josh Johnson took the field Sunday in Jacksonville, he became the fourth starting quarterback for the team this season. The first two (Alex Smith and Colt McCoy) broke their legs. The third was Mark Sanchez, who broke fans' hearts.

    That the Redskins were able to gut out a win on the road Sunday speaks well to the team's toughness. But this win says more about how bad the Jaguars are than how good Washington is. This was a game in which the two teams didn't have 450 yards of total offense combined.

    Gagnon gave the team some credit, though:

    "Just a few weeks ago, Josh Johnson was the first pick in the inaugural AAF quarterback draft. Now, you wonder if he'll be on an NFL roster this offseason instead. Washington's fourth starting quarterback this season has posted a solid 98.2 passer rating while rushing for 94 yards on 16 carries in a game-and-a-half with the Redskins, and he led them to an out-of-nowhere Week 15 victory. They're still alive in the playoff picture, and Johnson deserves credit. He's a big reason this depleted team won't die."

21. Miami Dolphins (7-7)

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    High: 19

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 17

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Minnesota 41-17

    There isn't a team in the league that has ping-ponged around these rankings more than the Miami Dolphins. It's not surprising, given that Miami is impossible to figure out.

    Last week, the Dolphins were ranked outside the top 20, but after pulling off an upset of the Patriots, the team shot up a handful of spots.

    Spots they've lost after getting blasted in Minnesota in Week 15.

    Actually, blasted may not totally cover it. This was a game that wasn't as close as the score, which isn't close. The Dolphins allowed well over 200 yards rushing, which was more than Miami's total offense for the game. The Vikings outgained the Dolphins by a margin of more than two to one.

    The Dolphins had 37 net passing yards in the game. Thirty-seven.

    In theory, the Dolphins are still alive for a playoff spot in the AFC at 7-7, with a pair of winnable games left against the Jaguars and Bills.

    In reality, Miami will lose one of those games and finish 8-8, because it's the perfect record for this mediocre bunch.

20. New York Giants (5-9)

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 20

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. Tennessee 17-0

    We owe you all an apology.

    Somehow, we got it in our collective heads that the New York Giants weren't as bad as their record after winning four of their last five games.

    Apparently, we were mistaken.

    Yes, the Giants didn't have wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the game. And the Titans are a pretty formidable opponent. But to get shut out at home, manage just 260 total yards, rush for 47 yards, commit 10 penalties and turn the ball over twice is not a good look.

    The reality is the Giants will more likely than not finish the season 5-11. Their last two games are both against teams fighting for playoff spots in Indianapolis and Dallas. That's a record that's bad enough to make fans plenty antsy and good enough that the Giants would have to trade up to land the quarterback of their choice in the 2019 draft.

    Granted, there's always free agency, but swapping out Eli Manning for Joe Flacco is a move that would be both lateral and incredibly depressing.

19. Carolina Panthers (6-8)

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 22

    Last Week: 21

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 12-9

    It's time to shut Cam Newton down.

    The death spiral for the Carolina Panthers has now hit an even half-dozen. Once a 6-2 Super Bowl contender, the Panthers are now a 6-8 also-ran. There won't be any postseason trip in 2018.

    Newton, who has been battling a sore shoulder, was terrible Monday night against the Saints with 131 passing yards, an interception (his ninth during the tailspin) and a passer rating of 52.5. Over the last month, Newton has four touchdown passes and seven picks, and he hasn't posted a passer rating of over 70 since Week 12.

    When the Panthers still had hopes of getting to the postseason, an argument could be made that even a limited Newton gave the Panthers a better chance to win than a healthy Taylor Heinicke—whoever that is.

    But it's over. Maybe not mathematically, but in reality, it's over.

    Risking the team's MVP quarterback for nothing makes no sense, and if he does, Ron Rivera will be lending credence to the growing sentiment that perhaps a change at head coach would be wise.

18. Green Bay Packers (5-8-1)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 20

    Last Week: 18

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Chicago 24-17

    To say Aaron Rodgers has had his way with the Chicago Bears is an understatement. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Rodgers and the Pack entered Week 15 winners of nine of 11 meetings with the Bears—including all five in Chicago.

    However, much like just about everything else with the Packers in 2018, Sunday's matchup with the Bears didn't work out.

    The game followed the theme of Green Bay's season, in that everything that could go wrong did. Tailback Aaron Jones got hurt early. The pass protection for the Packers was awful. And Rodgers' second interception of the year came at the worst possible time, killing a comeback attempt.

    This mess of a season has already claimed head coach Mike McCarthy. With a new regime coming in 2019, there will no doubt be many more changes come the offseason.

    And make no mistake, the offseason's coming soon; the Packers will miss the playoffs this year for the second straight season.

    It's the first time that's happened since Rodgers took the reins in Titletown.

17. Denver Broncos (6-8)

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    High: 17

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 15

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. Cleveland 17-16

    The Denver Broncos entered Week 15 in desperation mode at 6-7. Luckily, the Cleveland Browns were coming to town—a team with a 5-23 career record against the Broncos that hadn't beaten Denver since 1990.

    Now, after an ugly 17-16 loss, the Broncos are toast. And something's becoming more and more apparent with each passing week.

    Case Keenum ain't the guy.

    The Broncos knew there was risk involved in bringing in Keenum as the starting quarterback. The veteran journeyman was great last year in Minnesota but had been mediocre most of his career before that.

    The Keenum who threw two backbreaking interceptions against the Browns looked like that latter guy.

    Granted, it wasn't solely Keenum's fault Denver lost—the Broncos were completely shut down on the ground to the tune of 32 yards on 20 carries.

    But when thrust into a position where he has to carry the offense, Keenum made it abundantly clear that he can't.

    And the Broncos are back to the drawing board at the NFL's most important position.

16. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    High: 15

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 19

    Week 15 Result: Won at Los Angeles Rams 30-23

    The Philadelphia Eagles just won't die.

    The reigning Super Bowl champions headed to Los Angeles a game under .500 and with Carson Wentz sidelined by a back injury. That meant Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles taking over at quarterback once again.

    And just like last year, Foles had some magic in him Sunday night.

    It's not that his numbers were great, mind you—270 passing yards, no touchdowns and an interception. But the whole team appeared infused with new life. The running game piled up 111 yards. The defense forced three turnovers and played one of its best games of the season.

    The team looked like the Eagles we expected in 2018, instead of the ones we got.

    At 7-7, Philly's only half a game out of the playoff race as it prepares to host the rolling Houston Texans in Week 16.

    If Foles gets a win there and somehow leads this team to the postseason again, it's going to be a wild offseason in Philly.

15. Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    High: 15

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 16

    Week 15 Result: Won at Denver 17-16

    Had the Cleveland Browns started out the 2018 season with Gregg Williams as the head coach, they would be a playoff team.

    For reals.

    Williams has now won more games in six weeks than Hue Jackson won in two-and-a-half years as Cleveland's head coach. The Browns have a chance next week against the Cincinnati Bengals to be a .500 team in December for the first time in a dawg's age.

    Get it? Dawg?

    The difference in culture between this team and the Browns from the last few years is staggering. The offense has rallied around rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb. The Cleveland defense has taken on the personality of its coordinator—equal parts aggressive and salty.

    Over the last 20 years, Cleveland was the job head coaches took if it was the only one they could get. Now? With the young talent on this team? Coaches are going to be lining up to take the gig.

    However, you can make the argument that the wisest course of action for the Browns is simply removing the interim label from Williams.

    Don't fix what isn't broken.

    Sobleski thinks Browns fans should temper their expectations but that there's a lot to be excited about:

    "The Browns are playing meaningful games in December. Granted, Cleveland's chances of actually making the playoffs at 6-7-1 are basically nonexistent, but the slightest glimmer of hope has the organization and its fanbase in a tizzy. Baker Mayfield is developing into a franchise quarterback in front of everyone's eyes. Running back Nick Chubb is a hammer. These aren't the same old Browns, and the league is far better because of it."

14. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    High: 13

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 9

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Indianapolis 23-0

    Heading into Week 15, there wasn't a hotter team in the NFL than the Dallas Cowboys, who had peeled off five straight wins to take a firm grip on first place in the NFC East.

    However, all the positive momentum the Cowboys had built up over the past month-plus came to a screeching halt Sunday in Indianapolis, courtesy of a resounding thud of a performance against the Colts.

    The Cowboys just couldn't get out of their own way. Dallas was 4-of-12 on third down, which is bad. But the team was also 1-of-5 on fourth down, which is much, much worse.

    Two turnovers. Nine penalties. Zero sacks. One hundred and seventy-eight rushing yards allowed. It's a laundry list of one bad number after another that added up to a shutout loss.

    It was an ugly performance from a team trying to prove it should be mentioned alongside the Rams, Saints and Bears as one of the NFC's best.

    Dallas isn't fooling Gagnon:

    "I wasn't completely buying into this Cowboys team as it beat mediocre opponents by small margins the last five weeks, and Sunday's dud in Indianapolis was an important reminder that these guys probably don't have what it takes to win on the road in January. I don't trust Dak Prescott one bit, and neither should you."

13. Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1)

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    High: 12

    Low: 13

    Last Week: 12

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Miami 41-17

    On Sunday, it was put up or shut up for the Minnesota Vikings. After losing back-to-back road games to the Patriots and Seahawks, a third straight defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins would drop the Vikings below .500 and potentially out of the playoff picture.

    However, for once, the Vikings actually looked the part of the Super Bowl contender they were painted as entering the season.

    The Vikings throttled a Miami team coming off an upset of the New England Patriots, propelled to a 24-point win by a ground game that gouged the Dolphins for 220 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings also limited the Dolphins to a paltry 193 yards of total offense and 37 net passing yards while piling up nine sacks and surrendering only two third-down conversions in 12 attempts.

    Much of Minnesota's problems this season have been the result of a one-dimensional offense that couldn't run the ball, and in that regard, Sunday's success is a welcome sight.

    However, Minnesota's still very much in must-win mode, with a trip to Detroit and a home tilt with the NFC North champion Bears remaining on the slate.

12. Tennessee Titans (8-6)

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    High: 9

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 13

    Week 15 Result: Won at New York Giants 17-0

    The Tennessee Titans appear to have happened upon a plan for success.

    Operation: Bowling Ball.

    Over their last two games, the Titans have ridden the power running of tailback Derrick Henry to blowout wins. After setting a franchise record with 238 yards against the Jaguars, Henry followed that up with 170 yards on 33 carries with two touchdowns against the Giants. It set a team record for rushing yards in back-to-back games and helped propel the Titans to their first shutout win since 2000.

    Davenport is convinced this team is for real:

    "Don't look now, but the Titans are in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt by playing old-school football—much like the Ravens. Run the ball, play defense, control tempo and just wear opponents down. With what's left of Washington coming to town next week, the Titans and Colts may be playing for a spot in the tournament in Week 17, especially if Baltimore loses to the Chargers next week."

    And its defense has had as much to do with its dominance as the running game, per Gagnon:

    "In the last nine quarters, the Tennessee defense has surrendered a total of seven points. Jurrell Casey and Kevin Byard are studs, Malcolm Butler has rebounded from a slow start, rookie Rashaan Evans has emerged and they've got plenty of depth on that side of the ball. If Marcus Mariota can get rolling and Derrick Henry can keep rolling, the Titans could do damage in January."

11. Seattle Seahawks (8-6)

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 8

    Week 15 Result: Lost at San Francisco 26-23 (OT)

    With the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town in Week 16, Sunday's trip to San Francisco had the makings of a "trap" game for the sizzling Seattle Seahawks.

    Sure enough, the Seahawks were flat at Levi's Stadium, committing 14 penalties for 148 yards, allowing a 97-yard kick return score and a long touchdown on busted coverage. And as Robbie Gould's kick sailed through the uprights in overtime, Seattle's chance to solidify its status as a playoff team had gone by the wayside.

    So had a 10-game winning streak against the 49ers. And any hope (in Davenport's mind) of the team doing any real damage in the postseason.

    "After it took it to Minnesota," he said, "I almost started believing this team might have the potential to stun one of the NFC's big dogs. It's a lot harder to buy into that after watching the Seahawks sleepwalk their way to a loss against the JV 49ers."

10. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    High: 9

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 11

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Dallas 23-0

    Back on October 14, the Indianapolis Colts fell 42-34 to the hapless New York Jets—a game that dropped the team to 1-5.

    The Colts were done. Finished. Donesville.

    Since then, however, the Colts have peeled off seven wins in eight games, with the latest being a shutout victory over the surging Dallas Cowboys that was Week 15's most impressive win.

    The Colts absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage offensively, paving the way for a huge game (27/139/2) from tailback Marlon Mack. The defense showed up as well, making a handful of big plays in crucial moments to keep the Cowboys off the scoreboard.

    As things stand right now, the Colts remain on the outside looking in in the AFC bracket. But while Indy's schedule to close things out is manageable (New York Giants, at Tennessee), the Baltimore Ravens travel to L.A. to face the Chargers and then host a red-hot Cleveland Browns team.

    If the Colts can play over the next two weeks like they have over the last two, the playoffs are a real possibility.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 14

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. New England 17-10

    If the Pittsburgh Steelers go on a deep playoff run in 2018, we'll look back at this game as the beginning of that run. The game that got it started.

    For just the third time in 14 tries, the Steelers defeated Tom Brady on Sunday, getting a badly needed win that snapped a three-game skid and enabled Pittsburgh to stay atop the AFC North.

    With James Conner still on the shelf, rookie tailback Jaylen Samuels exploded for 142 yards on just 19 carries. Rookie James Washington led the team with 65 receiving yards. And for once, the Pittsburgh defense was able to finish the game without Brady pulling a rabbit out of his hat.

    It was a massive win for a Steelers team that had been wobbling, and it sets up an equally important game next week in New Orleans. With the Ravens also battling the Los Angeles Chargers next weekend, we'll have a much better idea who will be crowned champions of the AFC North soon enough.

    Sobleski still likes the Steelers' chances:

    "Despite losing three of their last four games, the Steelers should still be counted among the NFL's best teams. Why? Pittsburgh finally exorcised some demons by defeating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. A regular-season loss to the hapless Oakland Raiders a week earlier means next to nothing if Pittsburgh still wins an AFC North title and plays to its potential in the playoffs."

8. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

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    Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

    High: 8

    Low: 10

    Last Week: 10

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Tampa Bay 20-12

    Sunday dawned with Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reporting (via colleague Kevin Patra) that the Joe Flacco era in Baltimore is finished after this season.

    Then, Lamar Jackson hit the field at M&T Bank Stadium and reminded everyone that it's already finished.

    The Ravens won for the fourth time in five games to maintain their hold on the AFC's last playoff spot with the same recipe they've used every week since Jackson took over. The team ran the ball a staggering 49 times, gaining 242 yards. The Ravens were great defensively, holding Tampa's prolific offense to just 241 yards.

    Now, however, things get really interesting.

    In Week 16, the Ravens head west to take on a Los Angeles Chargers team that may be the AFC's best. Then, it's home to face the Cleveland Browns, who are still mathematically alive for the playoffs themselves.

    And with a pair of teams waiting for the Ravens to slip up, there's precious little margin for error.

7. Houston Texans (10-4)

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    High: 6

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 7

    Week 15 Result: Won at New York Jets 29-22

    The Houston Texans didn't exactly pile up the style points Saturday at MetLife Stadium. This was a game that was close throughout, and with tailback Lamar Miller on the shelf with an ankle injury, Houston was completely unable to run the ball—just 47 yards on 17 carries.

    But despite being outperformed in most statistical categories by a bad Jets team, the Texans did what good teams do—find a way to get the W in a game when the team didn't exactly put forth its best effort.

    At 10-4, the Texans have all but locked up the AFC South title. But there are other important goals to attain, namely chasing a first-round bye or at the very least nailing down the AFC's No. 3 seed.

    No one wants to spend Wild Card Weekend hosting either the Chargers or Chiefs.

    That's a recipe for a quick exit from the tournament.

6. New England Patriots (9-5)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 4

    Week 15 Result: Lost at Pittsburgh 17-10

    If there's one team in the NFL that isn't going to panic, it's the New England Patriots. The roster is stacked with players who have been there and done that, who have overcome adversity and climbed the proverbial mountain.

    But after the Pats lost back-to-back games in December for the first time since 2002, it's fair to wonder if some worry is in order. Perhaps some fretting.

    You see, over the last couple of games, the Patriots just haven't looked like the Patriots. The run defense has been leaky. The receivers aren't getting open with regularity. Tight end Rob Gronkowski pulled his second vanishing act in three weeks in Pittsburgh, managing just two grabs for 21 yards. And against the Steelers, Tom Brady killed a scoring drive with a terribly thrown interception.

    The Patriots will still win the AFC East if they win either of their last two games, and New England will more likely than not win both. But now, unless Houston falters in one of its last two contests, the Pats will be doing something this year that hasn't happened since 2009.

    Playing on Wild Card Weekend—and that year, they were smoked in Round 1 by the Ravens.

    "The Pats have never gone to the Super Bowl in the Brady/Belichick era when they've had to play on Wild Card Weekend," Gagnon said. "It's beginning to look as though that might happen, and I don't believe this old, banged-up, out-of-gas Pats team has what it takes to win January games on the road. This isn't New England's year."

5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 5

    Last Week: 2

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Chargers 29-28

    For most of this season, the Kansas City Chiefs have compensated for a leaky defense with a dominant offense. It's worked quite well.

    That defense finally came back to bite the Chiefs on Thursday. On a night when the Chiefs were held to just 294 total yards, Kansas City couldn't hold a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and fell at home for the first time this season.

    It's hardly panic-button time. If the Chiefs win their last two games, Kansas City will win the AFC West and secure a first-round bye. K.C.'s schedule over its last two (at Seattle, Oakland) is more favorable than L.A.'s (Baltimore, at Denver).

    But Thursday's setback was a disquieting reminder that Kansas City isn't a flawless team.

    "That bad Chiefs defense has gnawed at me all season long," Davenport said. "Kansas City's a really good football team, but I can't shake the notion that fans of the team are headed toward another disappointing playoff loss at home."

4. Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    High: 4

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 3

    Week 15 Result: Lost vs. Philadelphia 30-23

    On one hand, it seems a little Chicken Little to be worried about an 11-3 football team that has already wrapped up a division title.

    On the other hand, something ain't right in La La Land.

    For the second consecutive game, a Rams team that has looked nigh unstoppable much of the season lost—this time to a flawed Eagles team that came into the week a game under .500. The offense was out of sync and committed three turnovers. The defense allowed 381 yards of offense and had a number of head-shaking lapses in coverage.

    It's starting to look like opponents have figured out areas to exploit with the Rams. Take away Jared Goff's deep passes with two deep safeties. Double Aaron Donald constantly and dare another defender to beat you.

    And it's working.

    Maybe this will be a wake-up call that causes the Rams to rally and become an even better team.

    It could also be that this team isn't quite the unstoppable juggernaut we thought.

3. Chicago Bears (10-4)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 5

    Week 15 Result: Won vs. Green Bay 24-17

    Week 15 was immensely important to the Chicago Bears. A win over the rival Packers would net Chicago its first NFC North title since 2010. It was also an opportunity for the Bears to strengthen their case as a legitimate Super Bowl contender by downing a team that has consistently been a thorn in Chicago's side during the Aaron Rodgers era.

    Done and done.

    Chicago was carried in the game by a defense that has been among the NFL's best for most of the season. The Bears sacked Rodgers five times and racked up nine QB hits, and a red-zone interception by Eddie Jackson put the kibosh on a late Green Bay comeback attempt.

    The Bears will likely still be playing on Wild Card Weekend, but Chicago's win, coupled with a Dallas loss in Indianapolis, gives the Bears a stranglehold on the NFC's No. 3 seed.

    Sobleski (who ranked the Bears No. 2) pointed out that defense-oriented teams can still thrive in an era of high-octane offense:

    "Offensive-driven teams have resided near the top of the power rankings all season, but it's time to take notice of a less flashy option. The Bears take a different approach. They're not any less effective, though. Chicago's defense is possibly the league's best. It finds ways to win games, even when Mitchell Trubisky isn't throwing the ball all over the yard. In fact, Chicago won seven of its last eight games when its starting quarterback threw for 235 or fewer yards."

2. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 6

    Week 15 Result: Won at Kansas City 29-28

    Maybe it was the 1-2 start to the season. Or the fact the Chargers have spent 2018 toiling in the shadow of the Rams in L.A. in a soccer stadium that holds 17 people. But whatever the reason, the Bolts have spent most of this year as the NFL's best team that no one was talking about.

    After rallying from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to stun the Chiefs at Arrowhead with a successful two-point conversion that won the game and pulled the Chargers into a tie with Kansas City atop the AFC West, plenty of people are talking about the Chargers now.

    As a matter of fact, after the win, Davenport called the Chargers the most dangerous team in the AFC. He backed that up in these rankings, slotting Los Angeles higher than any other team in the conference.

    "Los Angeles has balance on offense and defense that the AFC's other top contenders just can't match," he said. "The Chargers may not be able to beat out the Chiefs for the division title, but playing on the road is no big deal for a team that doesn't really have a home right now anyway.

    Gagnon is a believer, too:

    "It's not just that the Chargers finally got over their allergy to the Chiefs with a clutch road win on short rest, but it's also that nobody else in the AFC is looking good. The Patriots have lost three of their last five, the Texans had to fight to beat the Jets, the Chiefs are down a lot of key players and nobody in the AFC North looks like a prime contender. Could this actually finally be the Bolts' year in that wide-open conference?"

1. New Orleans Saints (12-2)

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    Last Week: 1

    Week 15 Result: Won at Carolina 12-9

    The good news for the New Orleans Saints is that Monday night's ugly win over the Carolina Panthers leaves the Black and Gold one win from locking up the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Saints were able to avoid stubbing their toes like the Chiefs, Rams and Patriots in a bizarre week across the NFL.

    But Week 15 didn't spare the Saints.

    For five of the last six halves of football, the New Orleans offense has looked nothing like its usually formidable self. New Orleans had a two-point conversion try returned for a score against Carolina and fumbled a ball through the end zone for a touchback on its final drive.

    It's hard to get excited about the Saints' first win while scoring 12 or fewer points since 1998, per ESPN's telecast of the game.

    By virtue of being the only two-loss team left, the Saints deserve the top spot in these rankings, just as the New Orleans defense deserves a ton of credit for putting the clamps on the Panthers.

    But Monday's game (and the two that came before it) demonstrated just how vital it is that the Saints procure that No. 1 seed.

    This team just isn't the same away from home.


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