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

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 15, 2020

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

0 of 32

    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The stretch run of the 2020 NFL season is here. And it's a stretch run unlike any other.

    With an extra playoff spot added in each conference, more teams than ever are in the postseason hunt. More games than ever have significance each week.

    Just this past weekend, we saw shakeups galore in both conferences.

    In the AFC, the suddenly reeling Pittsburgh Steelers dropped their second straight game. The Las Vegas Raiders' playoff hopes took a sizable hit with a lopsided loss against the Indianapolis Colts. And Monday night's AFC North battle between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns was a back-and-forth thriller that involved 89 points, some Lamar Jackson heroics and a win Baltimore desperately needed.

    On the NFC side, there was movement at both ends of the bracket. There's a new No. 1 seed after the New Orleans Saints fell in Philadelphia and the Green Bay Packers got past the Lions in Detroit. At the back end, Minnesota's loss in Tampa coupled with an Arizona win in New York thrust the Cardinals into the postseason tournament and put the Vikings on the outside looking in.

    At least the Jets got blown out, so there's some order in the universe.

    As has been the case every week this season, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Gary Davenport. Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered to sort through the week that was and re-rank the NFL's teams from worst to first.

    The bookends have been the same for a while. But the squads in between went through the old snow-globe treatment in Week 14.

32. New York Jets (0-13)

1 of 32

    Lindsey Wasson/Associated Press

    High: 32

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 32

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Seattle 40-3

    Last week, the New York Jets nearly screwed up their winless record against the Las Vegas Raiders before some last-second heroics bailed them out. If they're going to land Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, they can't mess around and start winning games.

    There were no such issues during their 40-3 blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

    These Jets are so bad, they got sympathy after the game from Seattle head coach Pete Carroll.

    "It's a terrible thing to have to endure," Carroll told reporters. "It's heartbreaking to play this game and have to suffer through that kind of a year. I was aware of [their struggles] going in [to the game], but during the game it was obvious it was tough on them, that it was hard make it through."

    On some level, a pity party from opponents just makes everything these pitiful Jets have gone through feel worse.

    "We're witnessing history," Gagnon said. "The Jets have now been outscored by 16.2 points per game this season. They're on pace to become only the eighth team in modern NFL history to be outscored by 16-plus points per game, and they're only a few more blowout losses away from breaking the all-time record for worst points differential since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They're way worse than the 2017 Cleveland Browns or the 2008 Detroit Lions, who are the only teams ever to go 0-16 until now."

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12)

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    High: 31

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 31

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Tennessee 31-10

    It's hardly news that the Jacksonville Jaguars are a bad team. Since beating the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener, they've dropped 12 games in a row.

    At this point in the season, the Jaguars' best-case scenario is a 1-15 finish that would help them lock up the second overall pick in the 2021 draft at worst.

    Bright spots for the Jaguars have been few and far between in 2020. But there has been at least one.

    With 67 yards on 12 carries, James Robinson became only the fourth undrafted rookie in NFL history to amass 1,000 rushing yards in a season. Per Barry Werner of USA Today's Touchdown Wire, Robinson also hit that benchmark in the fewest number of games (13) ever.

    Granted, that isn't much solace for a Jaguars team suffering through another miserable season. But at least running back is one hole they won't have to fill in 2021.

30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    High: 30

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 30

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Dallas 30-7

    It isn't entirely accurate to say that the Cincinnati Bengals hit rock bottom Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. They bottomed out the moment that rookie quarterback Joe Burrow was carted off the field against Washington with a season-ending knee injury.

    But after getting blown out by a bad Dallas Cowboys team, Taylor admitted he's getting tired of loss after loss after loss get the idea.

    "When you lose, it's frustrating. It's hard to get rid of this feeling that we feel at the end of every week. It's frustrating, because we feel good about the position we're about to put ourselves in (for the game). But it's a myriad of reasons for why we lose. It 100 percent falls on me. It's just frustrating. A lot of effort goes into this. Guys are pulling together, and it's still a very close team."

    Taylor may not have lost his players yet, but with a record of 4-24-1 as head coach, he's lost just about everything else.

    And with the Bengals continuing to show little in the way of tangible improvement, it's fair to wonder if his job will be the next thing he loses.

29. Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    High: 26

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 23

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Chargers 20-17

    After another miserable performance in the midst of another miserable season, almost everything is being questioned in Atlanta, including the future of Matt Ryan as the franchise quarterback.

    However, despite throwing three interceptions against the Chargers (the last of which led to a game-winning field goal), Ryan said he feels like he still has what it takes to get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl.

    "My body feels great, I feel like I'm fresh. I just haven't played as well as I've liked," Ryan told reporters. "That sometimes happens. I've got to do my part; I have to be better with the football."

    Ryan actually set a record in the game, passing Peyton Manning for the most passing yards by a player over his first 13 seasons, per Kelsey Conway of the team's website. But there's no denying that since their Super Bowl collapse, the Falcons have been on a steady slide. They've now missed the playoffs for three years running, and they've gone 18-27 since the start of the 2018 season. 

28. Houston Texans (4-9)

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    High: 26

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 22

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Chicago 36-7

    A lot has been said and written about the Chicago Bears' decision to select Mitchell Trubisky rather than Deshaun Watson second overall in the 2017 NFL draft.

    After his Houston Texans got demolished by the Bears in Week 14, Watson might be wondering about it, too. 

    He might be wondering what it's like to play for a team with a serviceable offensive line as opposed to the sieves of varying awfulness that he has endured over the past four years in Houston.

    He might be wondering what it's like to play for a team whose general manager doesn't think first-round picks are best used in ill-conceived trades. Or that dealing his quarterback's No. 1 receiver isn't a swell idea.

    In short, he might be wondering what it's like to play for a team that hasn't done almost everything it can to sabotage its own quarterback.

    Oh well. At least there's no state tax in Texas.

    "At this point, everyone should feel bad for Deshaun Watson," Sobleski said. "The Texans drafted and developed one of the game's best young quarterbacks, only to squander the opportunity by allowing Watson to get beaten mercilessly while simultaneously taking away all of his weapons. The Bears (!) browbeat the Texans on Sunday. To make matters worse, Trubisky looked like an All-Pro. On the other side of the ball, Chicago sacked Watson six times, and Chad Hansen served as Houston's top receiving threat."

27. Dallas Cowboys (4-9)

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    High: 23

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 29

    Week 14 Result: Won at Cincinnati 30-7

    You know it's been a rough season when even a win feels like a loss.

    That's the case for the Dallas Cowboys and their Week 14 domination of the Cincinnati Bengals.

    In a vacuum, it was the Cowboys' best win of the season. Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes and posted a passer rating of 122.6 in his return to Cincinnati. And the beleaguered Dallas defense came up big, holding the Bengals to seven points, forcing three turnovers and scoring a touchdown on a fumble return.

    But blowing out one of the few teams worse than they are won't reverse the Cowboys' fortunes in this catastrophe of a season. They aren't going to the playoffs. They managed only 272 yards of offense against a terrible Bengals defense. All the win effectively accomplishes is costing the Cowboys draft position in 2021.

    So congratulations, Dallas. You waited so long to win that you effectively lost doing it.

26. Los Angeles Chargers (4-9)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    High: 25

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 28

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Atlanta 20-17

    For most of the 2020 season, losing close games has been a way of life for the Los Angeles Chargers. But on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, they found a way to win with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert leading them to a last-second field goal for the first game-winning drive of his career.

    After the game, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn told reporters that it can only help Herbert's confidence to finally get over the hump after so many close calls.

    "I'm sure it's going to do a lot for him," Lynn said. "For him to go down the stand in that pocket and throw the ball down the field the way he did, I'm sure it's going to go a long way for his confidence."

    The Chargers weren't flawless. They cost themselves three points at the end of the first half with some truly terrible clock management. They'll be making some big changes in the offseason.

    But Herbert's heroics Sunday offer at least some optimism that the Chargers will be a bounce-back candidate in 2021.

25. Detroit Lions (5-8)

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    Leon Halip/Associated Press

    High: 25

    Low: 27

    Last Week: 24

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Green Bay 31-24

    There has been plenty of speculation that Matthew Stafford's time with the Detroit Lions may be ending. If that's the case, Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers just about summed up the whole era.

    Stafford went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers, keeping an overmatched Lions team in the game against arguably the best squad in the NFC. But then, as has often been the case over the last 11-plus seasons, the players around Stafford let him down.

    The 32-year-old was forced from the game after getting crumpled by the Green Bay pass rush. His status for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans is now in doubt, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, as is his future with the team.

    "Moving on from Matthew Stafford in the offseason would be a very Lions thing to do, especially since they don't have a high enough pick in 2021 to land one of the elite quarterback prospects," Davenport said. "The Lions have any number of issues as a franchise, but Stafford isn't one of them. Even if it's just as a bridge to the future, keeping him around makes a lot more sense than cutting bait."

24. San Francisco 49ers (5-8)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 27

    Last Week: 21

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Washington 23-15

    The San Francisco 49ers' 2020 season can best be summed up in two words: injuries galore.

    Their Week 14 loss to the Washington Football Team was no exception. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel tweaked his hamstring on the game's first play and didn't return. 

    However, Samuel's quick exit wasn't the only reason that the San Fran offense struggled against Washington.

    With Jimmy Garoppolo out, Nick Mullens has been tasked with filling in under center. He was a mess against Washington, committing a pair of turnovers that were returned for touchdowns.

    At 5-8, the Niners no longer have a real chance of making a return to the playoffs. At this point, the defending NFC champions are doing little more than playing out the string.

    And with games still to go against the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, a sub-.500 season is much more likely than not.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1)

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 27

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. New Orleans 24-21

    Whether they want it or not, the Philadelphia Eagles have a quarterback controversy on their hands after Jalen Hurts won the first start of his career Sunday. 

    This wasn't a win over some NFC East tomato can. This was taking down the 10-2 New Orleans Saints, who were the No. 1 seed in the NFC entering Week 14. 

    After the game, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson lauded Hurts' play against New Orleans, but he went out of his way to not give the young quarterback too much credit:

    "It took everybody in uniform to win this game, not just one guy. And I'm going to repeat myself again that it takes a village to get this stuff done, and Jalen was a part of it, yes. But it took a team effort to win, honestly. Again, I talked about the defense earlier, the plays that they made just time and time again. Again, Jalen was a part of it."

    Pederson initially wouldn't commit to Hurts as his starter for Week 15, but he announced Monday that the rookie will remain under center against the Arizona Cardinals. 

    Philly's massive financial commitment to Carson Wentz makes this the stickiest of wickets. The Eagles realistically can't move on from Wentz until 2022 at the earliest, and even that would result in a massive dead cap hit.

    But while Pederson can hem and haw until the cows come home, he also has to start Hurts the rest of the season. He needs to see what he has in the youngster and give Wentz some time to clear his head and rebuild his shaken confidence.

    It's the only course of action that makes an iota of sense.

22. Carolina Panthers (4-9)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    High: 19

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 20

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Denver 32-27

    After starting the year 3-2, the Carolina Panthers have only one win over their last eight games.

    The Carolina defense is a mess. Facing a quarterback in Drew Lock whom no one will confuse with John Elway any time soon, the Panthers allowed four touchdown passes, including scoring strikes of 37 and 49 yards.

    But the even bigger problem is on offense, and it isn't the absence of running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver DJ Moore.

    Teddy Bridgewater isn't a bad quarterback, but he isn't an especially good one, either. As has been the case for most of the season, Bridgewater either wouldn't test the Broncos defense over the top or couldn't. He didn't throw a touchdown pass against Denver and averaged only 7.1 yards per passing attempt.

    Given Carolina's financial commitment to Bridgewater, he isn't going anywhere. The 28-year-old will all but certainly be the Panthers starter in 2021.

    And the Panthers will likely be then what they are now: an also-ran looking up at the Buccaneers and Saints in the NFC South.

21. Chicago Bears (6-7)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 26

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Houston 36-7

    It's been a while since Chicago Bears fans had something to cheer about. After starting the 2020 campaign 5-1, the Bears completely fell apart in a six-game skid that exposed just how offensively limited they were.

    Blowing out an equally flawed Texans team doesn't fix what ails the Bears. Nor should it necessarily affect Matt Nagy's status as head coach after the season.

    But it had to be fun nonetheless. It was a fleeting glimpse of what could be in Chicago.

    When David Montgomery is running the ball effectively, it opens up passing lanes for Mitchell Trubisky. When Trubisky has a clean pocket and some confidence, he's capable racking up yardage with throws to star wideout Allen Robinson II. And when the offense pulls its weight, Khalil Mack and the defense can get after the opposing quarterback.

    If the Bears could put together an effort like this more than once every few months, they might be on to something.

20. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    High: 17

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 19

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Tampa Bay 26-14

    The Minnesota Vikings came into Week 14 as a playoff team. They did not leave it that way.

    After starting the season 1-5, the Vikings peeled off five wins in six games to turn their season around. But most of those wins came against teams that entered Week 14 with sub-.500 records. In fact, the Vikings have only one win all season long against a team with more wins than losses.

    Minnesota is still sitting on one win against a "good" team following its 26-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. 

    The Vikings outgained the Buccaneers 335-303. But whether it was miscues, penalties or an abysmal day for kicker Dan Bailey, they couldn't take full advantage of the opportunities they were afforded.

    "Sunday's game was a reminder to all who had forgotten that the Vikings are more pretender than contender," Davenport said. "Yes, Minnesota has plenty of offensive firepower with Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. But the offensive line isn't good, and the defense is worse. With a trip to New Orleans still left on the schedule, winning out isn't likely for the Vikings. Neither is the playoffs."

19. Denver Broncos (5-8)

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    High: 16

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 25

    Week 14 Result: Won at Carolina 32-27

    Twenty-one completions on 27 attempts for 280 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 149.5.

    That, folks, is the stat line for a franchise quarterback. It's also what Drew Lock did Sunday in Carolina.

    After the career game, Lock said he had been trying to do too much with the ball.

    "It was just about me coming in and doing my job," Lock told reporters. "Knowing that if I just play my game and let it come to me, then the big ones will come."

    It was important game for a young quarterback who has had an up-and-down second season. The Broncos need to decide upon Lock's future as the starter in the offseason, and games like this don't hurt his chances of keeping his role in 2021. But one of our analysts remains skeptical about Lock's potential.

    "We've seen this movie before," Davenport said. "Nice games in meaningless wins with the Broncos out of contention. And to be fair to Lock, he played pretty well in Week 13 against the Chiefs. But I'm not buying Lock as Denver's long-term quarterback until he strings a few wins together when it matters. Knock off the Bills in Denver next week, and then we'll talk."

18. New York Giants (5-8)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    High: 17

    Low: 19

    Last Week: 14

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Arizona 26-7

    The New York Giants rode into Week 14 on a wave of positive momentum.

    Last week's stunning upset of the Seahawks in Seattle was their fourth consecutive win. The first-place Giants were going to get quarterback Daniel Jones back for Sunday's matchup with the reeling Arizona Cardinals.

    That wave crashed to the ground at MetLife Stadium, burying the Giants in the process.

    Big Blue's defense was leaky. The offense was atrocious. The Giants turned the ball over three times and allowed eight sacks.

    Jones was particularly putrid in his first game back from a hamstring injury. He completed only 11 of his 21 attempts for 127 yards and lost a fumble before the Giants pulled him late in favor of Colt McCoy.

    "The Giants might not be as bad as the team that started the season 1-7," Davenport said. "But that four-game winning streak covered up the reality that this team has little margin for error. Given that Sunday's face-plant was nothing but errors, it's no surprise that the Giants got drilled."

    "Round and round the NFC East goes," Sobleski added. "Where it'll stop, nobody knows. The Giants took their turn at the front of the line before falling off this weekend. At this point, Joe Judge's winning formula is simple: New York's defense must be able to shut down whoever it's playing, because the offense can't generate much, if any, offense. It doesn't matter if Jones or McCoy is behind center. The Giants can compete, but it's only because of their D."

17. New England Patriots (6-7)

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    High: 18

    Low: 18

    Last Week: 17

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Rams 24-3

    It feels like we've said this 10 times in 14 weeks, and that each time we've done so, the New England Patriots have circled the wagons and rebounded.

    But here we go again: The Patriots are done.

    Thursday's lopsided loss in a rematch of Super Bowl LIII reinforced everything that is wrong with the team. Primarily, the Patriots can't throw the ball.

    Some of that falls on Cam Newton, who passed for only 119 yards before getting benched for Jarrett Stidham. But Newton attempted only 16 passes, in large part because the Pats don't have a single wide receiver who scares opposing defenses at all.

    At one point, the Patriots ran a zone read on 4th-and-goal from the Rams' 2-yard line because they have no confidence in their ability to throw the ball.

    And if you can't throw the ball, you aren't going to have much success in the 21st-century NFL.

    "The Patriots dynasty is officially over, and they're probably wondering if they should have fully started their rebuild in the 2020 offseason," Gagnon said. "They now might find themselves in football purgatory as a non-contender without enough draft capital or salary-cap space to turn it around quickly."

16. Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)

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    Jeff Bottari/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 20

    Last Week: 15

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Indianapolis 44-27

    The Las Vegas Raiders have been exposed as pretenders in the AFC. And they know it.

    After the Indianapolis Colts lit them up to the tune of 456 total yards and 44 points, the Raiders parted ways with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Head coach Jon Gruden intimated that the defensive letdowns had reached a breaking point.

    "You get to the point where you second-guess everything you're doing offensively every time you punt," Gruden told reporters. "It's tough right now, but you have to stay confident that your players are going to put it together like they did in Kansas City."

    The Raiders' Week 5 win over the Chiefs was the high point of their season. But they've lost three of their last four games, and the one win was a squeaker in which the winless Jets racked up more than 200 yards on the ground.

    These Raiders might be better. But they still aren't good. Not with that defense.

    "Each week down the stretch, I'm taking a moment to give a special shout-out to fans who littered my screen with fury when I dared to state that their overachieving teams were destined to come back to earth," Gagnon quipped. "This week's honor goes to the Raiders, who fooled a lot of folks into believing their defense wasn't an utter liability and Derek Carr had become a Hall of Famer during another hot start. That they've fallen off another December cliff should surprise nobody. This team was never good."

15. Arizona Cardinals (7-6)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    High: 14

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 16

    Week 14 Result: Won at New York Giants 26-7

    No team in the NFL needed a win more in Week 14 than the Arizona Cardinals. 

    Since beating the Seattle Seahawks in overtime in Week 7, the Cardinals had dropped four of five to fall out of the NFC playoff picture. The only thing standing between them and a five-game skid was a Hail Mary against the Buffalo Bills.

    On Sunday, the Redbirds got that much-needed win in emphatic fashion.

    On offense, quarterback Kyler Murray, running back Kenyan Drake and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins all posted solid stat lines. The Cardinals also clamped down defensively on the Giants, surrendering only 159 yards of total offense and allowing zero points until the game was well in hand.

    The Cardinals are still looking up at the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, but they would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. 

    "After the Vikings' loss to the Buccaneers, the Cardinals slipped into the NFC's final playoff slot," Sobleski said. "But Arizona's hold on the spot is tenuous at best, as Minnesota and the Chicago Bears are only one game behind in the standings. For Kliff Kingsbury's squad to hold both off, Murray must do what he did against the Giants: feed Hopkins. The four-time Pro Bowler didn't produce more than 55 receiving yards during Arizona's three-game losing streak, but he broke through with 136 yards Sunday."

14. Washington Football Team (6-7)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    High: 14

    Low: 15

    Last Week: 18

    Week 14 Result: Won at San Francisco 23-15

    The Washington Football Team offense was anemic against the San Francisco 49ers. Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins went a combined 15-of-32 for 95 yards and an interception, and Washington finished with less than 200 yards of total offense.

    And yet, Washington now sits all alone in first place in the NFC East after notching an eight-point win. It can thank its defense for that. 

    Washington's pass rush made Nick Mullens miserable, sacking him four times and racking up a dozen QB hits. It scored twice on defense, including a scoop-and-score fumble return by second overall pick Chase Young.

    The win was Washington's fourth in a row, a streak that included three road wins and a victory over the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. But there's still one major roadblock standing between Ron Rivera's team and a division title: a Week 15 visit from Russell Wilson and the 9-4 Seattle Seahawks.

    However, Gagnon believes Washington might just be able to pass that test as well.

    "That defense is so good and the team is so well-coached that Washington could certainly put up a fight against the Rams, Seahawks or Bucs on Wild Card Weekend," Gagnon said. "Make that four wins in a row and no losses by more than a field goal since Week 5 for a team that is surrounded by encouraging vibes right now."

13. Miami Dolphins (8-5)

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 13

    Last Week: 11

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Kansas City 33-27

    The NFL doesn't have "Cinderella" stories, per se. For a team to make the playoffs, it has to show it's worthy over a four-month gauntlet of games.

    But among the league's "good" teams, the Miami Dolphins have to be the biggest surprise.

    Sure, the Dolphins were supposed to be better this year than last season's 5-11 squad. But even diehard fans likely didn't expect them to be in contention in the AFC East in the second weekend of December.

    The Dolphins' chances of winning the division took a significant hit after Sunday's loss to the defending Super Bowl champions, a loss in which they built a 10-0 lead before getting buried in a 28-point onslaught. And there are no moral victories in the NFL.

    But the Dolphins hung with the best team in the NFL for four quarters. They didn't quit after falling way behind.

    That goes a long way toward cementing their legitimacy as a playoff team.

    However, the Dolphins have to earn that wild-card spot. Among the AFC's leading wild-card contenders, Miami easily has the hardest remaining schedule: New England, at Las Vegas and at Buffalo.

12. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    High: 9

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 13

    Week 14 Result: Won at Las Vegas 44-27

    The Indianapolis Colts are making their case as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

    As things stand right now, the Colts aren't even in first place in their own division, which speaks to the AFC's ridiculous depth. But after downing the Raiders in Las Vegas on Sunday, the Colts now have victories over three teams with winning records in the past five weeks, including one over the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Green Bay Packers.

    The Colts dispatched the Raiders with relative ease, controlling the game throughout on both sides of the ball. They got a 165-yard, two-score performance from rookie tailback Jonathan Taylor and forced three turnovers on defense.

    With three games to go, the Colts and Tennessee Titans are deadlocked atop the AFC South, although the Titans currently own the tiebreak. Both teams face stiff road challenges in Week 16 against the Steelers and Packers, respectively.

    And how the Colts fare in Pittsburgh and the Titans do in Green Bay will likely determine which one of them will host a playoff game in the Wild Card Round.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 9

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Minnesota 26-14

    Coming out of the bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers badly needed a win after dropping three of their last four games. And while they got off to a sluggish start, they secured a home win over the Minnesota Vikings that strengthened their aspirations for a wild-card berth.

    The Buccaneers didn't light up the scoreboard or the stat sheet in the win. Tom Brady attempted only 23 passes and didn't eclipse 200 passing yards. The Bucs averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry, but they barely cracked the 100-yard mark on the ground.

    However, the Bucs defense limited the Vikings to only 14 points and five third-down conversions on 15 attempts. They also notched a takeaway and sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins a half-dozen times.

    In terms of win-loss record, the Vikings were the Bucs' stiffest remaining rest of the regular season. And with two games against the Atlanta Falcons sandwiched around a trip to Detroit, an 11-win season appears well within reach.

    However, Sobleski wasn't especially impressed by the win.

    "Bruce Arians thinks his team 'can do any damn thing we want.' Coachspeak notwithstanding, the Bucs were three missed field goals and an extra point away from playing a nailbiter Sunday against the Vikings. Their previously ranked No. 1 run defense also surrendered 162 yards and 4.9 yards per carry to Dalvin Cook and Co. Yes, Tampa Bay is talented and a legitimate playoff contender. But Arians' squad is far from good enough to impose its will on a consistent basis."

10. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 12

    Week 14 Result: Won 47-42 at Cleveland

    If the Baltimore Ravens were to have any real chance of a return to the playoffs in 2020, they had to get a win Monday night in Cleveland.

    That's what they did, although it took everything they had.

    The Ravens built a 14-point lead early in the second half, only to see the Browns come roaring back. With Lamar Jackson in the locker room suffering from cramps, Cleveland took a one-point lead. Then Jackson emerged to lead the Ravens on a go-ahead drive, only to see the Browns match it with just over a minute left.

    But thanks to some more Jackson magic and a 55-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, Baltimore emerged with the win in arguably the wildest game of the regular season.

    This one win isn't going to fix all that ails a Ravens team that threw for 154 yards and allowed 493 total yards of offense.

    But Baltimore found a way to win. It found a way to survive. It gutted it out.

    And in that moment, that's all that mattered.

9. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 8

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. New England 24-3

    The Los Angeles Rams have used something of a committee attack in the backfield this season. Malcolm Brown opened the season as lead back. Darrell Henderson Jr. had his moments as well.

    But 14 weeks into the 2020 campaign, this is now Cam Akers' backfield.

    The rookie from Florida State gashed the New England Patriots on Thursday night, piling up a career-high 171 yards on 29 carries. However, Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters afterward that Akers' big day didn't mean that Brown and Henderson had been cast aside.

    "I think what's important for us is capitalizing on all the different playmakers that we do have. Certainly Cam did a great job (Thursday) night, but that doesn't mean that you won't see opportunities for Darrell and Malcolm (Brown) moving forward, because both of those players have done a lot of really good things. ... We're really pleased with Cam, and not surprised."

    Given that Henderson carried the ball only twice and Brown had zero touches against the Patriots, the stat sheet would appear to tell a different story.

8. Seattle Seahawks (9-4)

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 7

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. New York Jets 40-3

    After a disappointing effort in a Week 13 loss to the New York Giants, the Seattle Seahawks needed a dominant effort against an overmatched opponent to get back on track.

    Fortunately, the winless Jets were more than happy to oblige.

    Seattle's blowout win also featured some NFL history. With a sack of Sam Darnold, Seahawks safety Jamal Adams became the single-season sack king among defensive backs with 8.5.

    Prior to the game, Adams said he was hoping to get the record after coming up just short in 2019.

    "Yeah, obviously, that has been on my mind," Adams told reporters Friday. "Breaking the record, I said I was going to do it last year when I failed. I always told myself, whenever I put my mind to something I'm going to get it done. That's just how I'm wired."

    More important than Adams' record was the team's overall defensive effort. After spending most of the first half of the season at the bottom of the NFL, Seattle's defense has markedly improved in recent weeks.

    That can only help the Seahawks' chances of making a deep postseason run.

7. Tennessee Titans (9-4)

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 10

    Last Week: 10

    Week 14 Result: Won at Jacksonville 31-10

    Derrick Henry is a bad man.

    Granted, it isn't especially difficult to gain yards on the ground against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Henry's 26 carries for 215 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's blowout win were still impressive.

    This was Henry's fourth career game with at least 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns, which is the most in NFL history, per ESPN's Turron Davenport. Two of Henry's four 200-yard rushing games have been against Jacksonville.

    Henry also turned in his ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game on the road, the second-longest streak in NFL history, according to Davenport. Only the great Barry Sanders had more during a 10-game run from 1996 to 1997.

    "The Titans are a dangerous offensive football team, whether it's Henry running the ball or Ryan Tannehill playing pitch-and-catch with A.J. Brown and Corey Davis," Davenport said. "But while the defense played relatively well against the woeful Jaguars, it's the same unit that allowed 38 points in the first half against Cleveland last week. That leaky defense keeps me from including the Titans with the AFC's heavyweights."

6. Cleveland Browns (9-4)

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 6

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Baltimore 47-42

    The Cleveland Browns are not quite ready for prime time.

    To be clear, that's not necessarily an indictment. This is the best team the Cleveland Browns have fielded in a long time. It's probably the best Browns team since the franchise rejoined the league in 1999.

    But once again, these Browns came up short in a litmus test against a playoff contender, losing a thriller to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.

    It was admittedly a far cry from the 38-6 beatdown the Ravens put on the Browns back in Week 1. Cleveland piled up 493 yards of offense and traded blows with Baltimore most of the game.

    But there were defensive letdowns, missed kicks and a brutal interception deep in Cleveland territory—the sorts of things that just can't occur against good teams. They're also the sorts of things that took place with regularity for the old Browns.

    "The Browns are absolutely headed in the right direction under Kevin Stefanski," Davenport said. "With the New York Giants and New York Jets next up before the finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland will all but certainly win 10 or 11 games and make the postseason. But this team isn't a serious threat in the AFC. Not yet."

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    High: 4

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 4

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Buffalo 26-15

    It sounds odd to say this about an 11-2 football team, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have problems.

    After peeling off a franchise-record 11 straight wins to open the season, the Steelers have now dropped two in a row. Following their loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger admitted the Steelers are struggling, although the veteran quarterback isn't about to hit the panic button yet.

    "We've lost two. We're facing some adversity. But we're not hitting the panic button. Offensively, we're not very good. We're not playing good football, and it starts with me. I think this is a team that has got a lot of resilience and understands what it takes to win football games and understands what time of year it is, and right now, it's unacceptable."

    The Steelers no longer have to concern themselves only with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With games still left against the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers are in jeopardy of losing the AFC North as well, which was unthinkable two weeks ago.

    "What looked like a possibility a few games ago became obvious in a hurry," Sobleski said. "The Steelers are a flawed team. They're still one of the league's best squads, but they have major concerns throughout the roster. Roethlisberger isn't playing well. The Steelers have no running game to speak of. The wide receivers and tight ends drop too many passes. And injuries have hampered the defense's effectiveness."

4. New Orleans Saints (10-3)

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 3

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Philadelphia 24-21

    Before the New Orleans Saints faced the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported they were in no hurry to rush Drew Brees back into action despite a looming Week 15 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

    By Sunday evening, that position may have changed.

    After Taysom Hill won each of his first three starts, much of the shine came off in Sunday's upset loss in Philadelphia. Hill's 291 passing yards looks OK at a glance, but he turned the ball over twice and racked up most of those numbers in catch-up mode. The Saints had fewer than 100 total yards in the first half. And coupled with Green Bay's victory in Detroit, the loss knocked the Saints from the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

    Afterward, Hill admitted that this one stung.

    "This one does sting a little bit because we knew what was at stake, and we've worked really hard to put ourselves in a situation to be in the driver's seat where we can control our own destiny," he told reporters. "So, yeah, I would say that this feels a little bit different."

    The Saints now have to prepare for the defending champs with their backs against the wall. If they lose another one, any real chance of getting a first-round bye is likely out the window.

3. Buffalo Bills (10-3)

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    Matt Durisko/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 5

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Pittsburgh 26-15

    At 10-3, the Buffalo Bills are on the verge of their first AFC East title in a quarter-century.

    Sunday night's statement win over the Pittsburgh Steelers established the Bills as perhaps the biggest threat to Kansas City in the AFC. The Bills are riding as high as they have since the 1990s.

    It's funny how that coincided with the arrival of Stefon Diggs in western New York.

    With 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, Diggs has already tallied 1,167 receiving yards on 100 catches for the season. After the game, Bills quarterback Josh Allen raved about the impact Diggs has made for the team.

    "All he wants to do is help his team win football games," Allen told reporters. "He's a competitor, and we have very similar mindsets. I love the guy. He goes out there and competes his tail off and I'm just super blessed that we traded for him."

    The tests aren't over yet for the Bills, who face New England and Miami over the final two weeks of the regular season. But in Gagnon's opinion, it's well past time to take the Bills seriously as a Super Bowl threat.

    "For a while, I was afraid to trust the Bills because they lack experience and their so-so scoring margin was concerning," he said. "But they've now won four of their last five games by double-digit margins, and their only loss since Week 7 came on a Hail Mary on the road against a playoff-caliber team. It's time to admit they're a true contender."

2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 2

    Last Week: 2

    Week 14 Result: Won at Detroit 31-24

    The Green Bay Packers are cruising.

    After taking care of the Lions in Detroit, the Packers are sitting at 10-3 and have sewn up another NFC North title. Coupled with the Saints' loss in Philadelphia, the win also vaulted them into the top seed in the NFC.

    However, head coach Matt LaFleur indicated that they aren't letting their attention move farther ahead than the next week's opponent.

    "We know what's in front of us, what's at stake," LaFleur told reporters. But that's not going to change our approach. We're going to still go one game at a time. You just can't take anything for granted in this game. No matter who you're playing. You've got to go out and earn it each and every week."

    After a 290-yard, three-touchdown game, Aaron Rodgers may be the favorite to be named NFL MVP. Wide receiver Davante Adams now has at least one touchdown catch in each of the past eight games. Green Bay's defense allowed fewer than 300 total yards against the Lions.

    Fourteen weeks into the 2020 season, no team in the NFC is playing better football.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1)

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    Last Week: 1

    Week 14 Result: Won at Miami 33-27

    The Kansas City Chiefs are the AFC West champions for the fifth consecutive season. Heading into next week's showdown with the Saints, the Chiefs are occupying the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff bracket.

    All is well in Kansas City...mostly.

    The Chiefs keep racking up wins, but they aren't exactly firing on all cylinders. The six-point win over Miami matched Kansas City's largest margin of victory since Week 8. The Chiefs fell behind the Dolphins 10-0 and turned the ball over four times.

    Now, an optimist will say that Kansas City has won eight straight without playing its best. That suggests a Chiefs team firing on all cylinders would be all but unstoppable. But a pessimist would say the mistakes and miscues that haven't hurt them yet will in January.

    The truth lies in the middle. The Chiefs are the best team in the league. But they aren't so much better than everyone else that they can afford to keep coasting once the postseason starts in a few weeks.


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