NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 17
The next-to-last week of the 2020 NFL regular season was a lulu.
In some respects, the playoff picture became clearer. The Kansas City Chiefs are the AFC's top seed after holding off the Atlanta Falcons. The NFC South (New Orleans Saints), AFC North (Pittsburgh Steelers) and NFC West (Seattle Seahawks) champions were all crowned in Week 16.
But plenty remains undecided. The No. 1 seed in the NFC remains up for grabs, although the Packers are in the driver's seat after throttling the Tennessee Titans in Green Bay. Of the seven teams fighting for five remaining wild-card spots, more than half lost—including a stunning setback for the Cleveland Browns against a one-win New York Jets team.
Never mind the symphony of suck that is the 2020 NFC East.
As one might expect, the wild week that was sent massive shock waves through the league's pecking order. And just as they have every week this season, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Brent Sobleski, Brad Gagnon and Gary Davenport have come together to bring order to the chaos by slotting the NFL's teams from worst to first.
The No. 32 team and No. 1 team are unchanged. But in the spirit of the holidays, the rest went full snow globe.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14)
Last Week: 32
Week 16 Result: Lost 41-17 vs. Chicago
Let's get this out of the way…the Jacksonville Jaguars are a bad team. Awful, even. Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bears was the franchise's 14th in a row.
But it was also a game that could redefine the Jags for the next decade-plus.
You see, Jacksonville's loss coupled with a win by the Jets in New York settles things where the 2021 draft is concerned. When things get going in Cleveland on April 29, the not-yet-hired general manager for the Jaguars will be on the clock.
And it doesn't take a personnel executive to know the first pick in the '21 draft is going to be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
This isn't Blake Bortles or Blaine Gabbert. Lawrence is a generational prospect under center—the type of player who can become the centerpiece of a franchise from the moment he gets to town.
The Jaguars will have to build a team around him. But landing the first pick in 2021 may legitimately have been the best possible outcome for the 2020 season in Duval County dating all the way back to September.
"The Jaguars actually accomplished more with a 14th straight loss than most squads achieved Sunday," Sobleski said. "Yes, Jacksonville is the league's worst team. But they're positioned better than anyone in the NFL this coming offseason, which makes them the most enticing job for general manager and head coaching candidates. The Jags are now set with the No. 1 overall pick, five total selections among the top 65 overall and more salary-cap space than any other organization. Losing sucks. But if a team is going to do be bad, the Jaguars showed how to do it the 'right' way."
31. New York Jets (2-13)
Last Week: 31
Week 16 Result: Won 23-16 vs. Cleveland
That the Jets waited until Weeks 15 and 16 to put together a winning streak is a very Jets thing to do. And New York's win Sunday (combined with a Jaguars loss in Jacksonville to the Bears) seals the deal on the first overall pick in 2021.
Trevor Lawrence won't be landing in the Big Apple unless the Jets swing a trade.
But still, credit where it is due to the players in New York. Had former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams not gift-wrapped a last-second win for the Raiders in Week 13, the Jets would be sitting on three wins in their last four games—with all three against opponents with at least seven victories.
Two wins aren't going to save Adam Gase's job—nor should they. Sam Darnold's future as quarterback for the team is on the shakiest of ground. There are massive changes coming in this organization in the offseason.
But the Jets have shown some fight of late.
And that offers optimism for the future.
30. Houston Texans (4-11)
Last Week: 28
Week 16 Result: Lost 37-31 vs. Cincinnati
J.J. Watt has had it.
After the Texans gave up a staggering 540 yards of offense to a bad Cincinnati Bengals team, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year went off, criticizing the effort level of his teammates and offering an apology to the Houston fanbase:
"There are people every week that still tweet you, that still come up to you and say, 'Hey, we're still rooting for you; we're still behind you.' They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care and they still want to win and they still want you to be great. That's why. Those people aren't getting paid. We're getting paid handsomely. That's why. And that's ... that's who I feel the most bad for, is our fans and the people who care so deeply and the city and the people who love it and who truly want it to be great. And it's not. And that sucks as a player to know that we're not giving them what they deserve."
He's not wrong. The Houston defense has been hot garbage most of this season. But it was still jarring to see a player who has been a face of the franchise for as long as Watt has just unload on his own team—especially since there's a real chance next week's meaningless finale will be his last game with Houston.
29. Detroit Lions (5-10)
Last Week: 27
Week 16 Result: Lost 47-7 vs. Tampa Bay
The 2020 season in the Motor City has been one low spot after another. There were four separate losing streaks. The firing of general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia. But nothing can hold a candle to the dumpster fire that raged Saturday at Ford Field.
With interim head coach Darrell Bevell sidelined on the COVID-19 list (along with several other coaches), interim head man Robert Prince and a patchwork staff oversaw one of the worst defeats in franchise history—a game that wasn't as close as the final score.
You read that right.
Detroit's offense managed 186 yards—402 less than the defense gave up. Tom Brady torched Detroit for four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, and he didn't play at all in the second half.
Oh, and quarterback Matthew Stafford (ankle) got hurt again—because there wasn't quite enough bad news.
28. Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
Last Week: 29
Week 16 Result: Lost 17-14 at Kansas City
Frankly, a close loss in Kansas City is probably the best-case scenario in Week 16 for the Atlanta Falcons. No team wants to get blown out, but an Atlanta franchise that is staring at a full-on rebuild didn't need a meaningless win that would cost it draft position.
While interim head coach Raheem Morris lauded the team's effort, he was once again dismayed to see the Falcons come up short.
"They put up a great effort," Morris told reporters, "but we didn't come here to get a pat on the back by anybody. We came here to win the football game. That's the only goal you have when you come to play these games."
Sunday's loss (combined with a Bengals win in Houston) actually bumped the Falcons up in the 2021 draft. As things stand, Atlanta would pick fourth, and the third overall pick could be in play in Week 17.
That could mean the ability to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields or North Dakota State signal-caller Trey Lance in April—so expect to see approximately all the articles ever about Matt Ryan's future in Atlanta over the next several months.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)
Last Week: 30
Week 16 Result: Won 37-31 at Houston
What the heck has gotten into the Cincinnati Bengals?
Over the past week, the Bengals have won as many games as the team did over the first 14 weeks of the season. First was a stunner at home against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Then it was an impressive win over the Houston Texans on the road that included 540 total yards of offense.
It was Cincinnati's first win outside the Queen City since 2018, and the performance drew raves from Cincy head coach Zac Taylor.
"It just tells you all you've got to know about the character and the resolve of this football team. ... I just couldn't be prouder of the work that they put in here in Week 16," Taylor told reporters after the game. "We're out of the playoff hunt. It's easy for guys to check out right now, and we haven't had a single player do it."
The recent win streak hasn't hurt Taylor's chances of getting a third year at the helm. But there was a negative impact of sorts—the win dropped Cincinnati past Houston and Atlanta in the 2021 draft order.
That isn't going to help Cincinnati land its dream pick, Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, who has an excellent chance of being the first non-quarterback selected.
26. San Francisco 49ers (6-9)
Last Week: 26
Week 16 Result: Won 20-12 at Arizona
The 2020 San Francisco 49ers have been defined by two words—if only.
If only the defense hadn't lost top edge-rusher Nick Bosa right off the get-go. If only starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hadn't suffered a season-ending injury. If only the skill positions hadn't been eviscerated by injuries as well—including star tight end George Kittle, who has missed half the season. If only the entire team hadn't been forced to relocate because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County.
But all those things happened. And while dealing the rival Cardinals' playoff hopes a major blow with a win in Glendale has to provide a little satisfaction, it's bittersweet. Regardless of what happens next week against the Seahawks, the 2020 season will be over for the defending NFC champions.
A season that was supposed to include redemption for the loss in Super Bowl LIV will instead end with a losing record and missing the postseason.
All because the "if onlys" just kept adding up.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)
Last Week: 20
Week 16 Result: Lost 37-17 at Dallas
The Jalen Hurts hype train blew a tire Sunday in Dallas.
To be fair, it's not entirely (or even mostly) the rookie quarterback's fault that the Eagles were eliminated from contention in the NFC East in blowout fashion. Hurts didn't allow the Cowboys to pile up over 500 yards of offense.
But after staking the Eagles to a 14-3 lead, Hurts couldn't do much of anything offensively. He finished with 342 passing yards and 69 rushing yards, but he also committed three critical turnovers.
Hurts admitted after the game that Sunday's struggles were a learning experience:
"I think it's a big-time learning experience, a lot to learn from this game. It's something I've got to step away from it, evaluate everything, and learn from it. You've got to go out there and make the plays when the opportunity presents itself. It's something that I take complete ownership on. Those guys believe in me to go get it done and I take it very personally in getting it done and today I came up short."
All that's left for Hurts and the Eagles is a chance to do what Dallas did to them Sunday by playing spoiler next week against Washington.
Then comes an offseason that will be dominated by two questions.
Is Hurts "the guy" under center in Philly?
And if he is, what the heck do the Eagles do with Carson Wentz?
24. Denver Broncos (5-10)
Last Week: 22
Week 16 Result: Lost 19-16 at Los Angeles Chargers
From all indications, the Chargers have found their long-term solution at quarterback in Justin Herbert.
The Denver Broncos will have no such certainty in 2021.
Second-year quarterback Drew Lock had another miserable game in Sunday's loss to the Bolts—264 yards, a pair of interceptions and a passer rating barely over 50.
Granted, it wasn't just Lock's fault the Broncos lost. Head coach Vic Fangio indicated after the loss that Denver came up short in numerous areas:
"Can't give up an opening kickoff where they return it deep into our end for a field goal. We got to make our field goals. We got to catch the ball when it's thrown to us. We got to throw the ball more accurately at times. We got to play receivers tighter, no matter who's playing corner and not just play scared. We got to tackle when we have the opportunity to tackle. We got to do all the things that winning teams do.''
But Lock's penchant for turning the ball over cost the Broncos once again. Every time the young quarterback appears to take a step forward, it is followed by two steps back the next week.
The Broncos will reportedly bring back Fangio in 2021. But who his starting quarterback will be is going to be the dominant offseason storyline in the Mile High City.
23. Minnesota Vikings (6-9)
Last Week: 21
Week 16 Result: Lost 52-33 at New Orleans
The Minnesota Vikings came into Week 16 needing a cosmic confluence of events to make the playoffs—the first of which was an upset win over the New Orleans Saints on Christmas.
After the Saints drilled the Vikings in New Orleans, the only thing upset was Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer after Minnesota allowed its most points in a game since 1963 and surrendered a franchise-record 583 yards.
"Yeah, this is a bad defense," Zimmer told reporters after the game. "Worst one I've ever had. ... Really disappointed defensively. You've gotta work really hard to give up 52."
Granted, that Minnesota defense was short-handed and then some Friday night—especially at linebacker. But the Vikings have had issues on that side of the ball most of the season. With Danielle Hunter on the shelf, Minnesota's pass rush has evaporated. The secondary has been roasted with regularity.
It's been a miserable season in the Twin Cities—one that began with Super Bowl aspirations but will end with a meaningless game against the Lions.
And it's fair to wonder what kind of changes could be coming after this faceplant.
22. New York Giants (5-10)
Last Week: 19
Week 16 Result: Lost 27-13 at Baltimore
On this week's episode of "Dear Lord the NFC East Sucks," the New York Giants get pasted on the road by the Baltimore Ravens but are somehow still breathing in the playoff hunt.
No, really. They are.
It's simple. If Washington loses to the Philadelphia Eagles next week, then whichever mess of a football club wins the contest between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys not only gets to play on but will also do so at home.
No, really. They will.
Mind you, this is a Giants team that has two touchdowns and 26 points total over its last three games (all losses). A Giants team that sits at the bottom of the NFC in several offensive categories.
A Giants team that just isn't very good—especially on offense.
This team winning the NFC (L)East in 2020 would be the most NFC East thing about 2020. Or the most 2020 thing about the NFC East.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (6-9)
Last Week: 25
Week 16 Result: Won 19-16 vs. Denver
The Chargers are ending the 2020 season with a head of steam.
For the third straight week, the Chargers were able to eke out a close win, outlasting the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert once again played well, passing for 253 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating just under 100.
That touchdown pass was a big one—it gave Herbert 28 for the season, setting an NFL record for scoring tosses by a rookie. In news that should surprise exactly no one, Bolts head coach Anthony Lynn was talking up his young signal-caller after the game.
"I am glad we have the young man," Lynn said. "He works his tail off. I give him all the credit in the world."
There is no question Herbert will be the Week 1 starter for the Chargers when the 2021 campaign gets underway.
Whether Lynn will still be on the sidelines as head coach is much less certain.
20. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8)
Last Week: 17
Week 16 Result: Lost 26-25 vs. Miami
The way the Las Vegas Raiders lost Saturday night sums up their 2020 season quite nicely.
The Raiders were clinging to slim playoff hopes entering the game and clinging to a slim lead in the closing moments of arguably the wildest game of Week 16. But thanks to a missed PAT from Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson, some "Fitzmagic" from Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a boneheaded facemask penalty by Las Vegas, Jason Sanders booted through a game-winner with one second left that kept Miami headed toward the postseason and denied the Raiders a chance at a winning season.
The loss marked the Raiders' fifth in the last six weeks—and had the Jets not gifted Las Vegas a win back in Week 13, the team would be staring at a six-game skid.
Two years into the Jon Gruden era (2.0) in Oakland and Las Vegas, the Raiders are a better team than when he took over.
But they aren't exactly good either—and it's fair to wonder how long the Vegas honeymoon will last if the 2021 iteration of the team doesn't get off to a good start.
"Mark Davis' decision to sink a massive investment into Gruden just may be the worst return of any deal around the league," Sobleski said. "Las Vegas lost five of its last six on its way to being eliminated from the postseason. To matter matters worse, Gruden didn't play to win during the Raiders' last two losses. He went for a field goal in overtime against the Chargers when he could have secured the victory with a touchdown from the 1-yard line. The coach then had his running back fall down short of the end zone despite needing a score to win and the inability to run out the rest of the clock. Inexcusable decisions."
19. Carolina Panthers (5-10)
Last Week: 23
Week 16 Result: Won 20-13 at Washington
The Carolina Panthers are playing for pride at this point. And some would argue that a win over Washington in Week 16 hurt as much as it helps given the draft slots it cost the team.
But first-year head coach Matt Rhule is trying to mold the Panthers in his image. After a game in which Carolina thoroughly dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball, Rhule told reporters he appreciated his team's physicality.
"That, to me, is how most teams win in December," Rhule said. "Lots of things happen early in the year, but the good teams in December, they run the football, they play defense, they take the ball away."
Were it not for things that happened early in the year, it may have been a much different season in Carolina. The loss of star running back Christian McCaffrey in September took a massive toll on the Panthers offense.
Barring an unlikely win against the Saints in Week 17, the Panthers will have a top-10 pick in April with which to fortify the defense or add talent around McCaffrey and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
18. New England Patriots (6-9)
Last Week: 18
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Buffalo 38-9
Per SportsCenter, Bill Belichick entered the 2020 season with one home loss of 25 or more points as head coach of the New England Patriots.
After his team was blasted by the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, Belichick has two this season alone.
The Patriots dynasty is dead and buried. This edition just isn't good—and there's no quick fix.
Right now, their quarterbacks consist of a has-been in Cam Newton (who was once great and is now most assuredly not) and a never-will-be in Jarrett Stidham. Even if the Patriots did have a capable quarterback, it wouldn't matter because they don't have a wide receiver who would scare an SEC defense. The defense is good on the back end but can't generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Patriots had the greatest dynasty in NFL history. But that's over—and the best thing for the franchise might be a disaster of a season that gets them a top-three pick.
Because while they have multiple holes, the one behind center is much bigger than the rest.
17. Dallas Cowboys (6-9)
Last Week: 24
Week 16 Result: Won 37-17 vs. Philadelphia
When the Dallas Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy as head coach, it was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle—an experienced, successful head coach who would lead a talented roster into the playoffs and all the way to the Super Bowl.
That Super Bowl trip ain't happening in 2020. But after blasting the Eagles for a third consecutive win, if Dallas can beat the Giants next Sunday and Washington loses to Philadelphia, the Cowboys will be "champions" of the league's worst division.
Dallas isn't good, mind you—the defense allowed 477 yards Sunday against the Eagles. But even without Dak Prescott, the offense has warmed up, exploding in Week 16 for 513 yards and 37 points.
"It seems hard to believe," Gagnon said, "but the Cowboys are suddenly positioned better for playoff success than anyone else in the NFC East. Andy Dalton isn't bad, that trio of receivers is superb and Ezekiel Elliott has woken up. I don't think they can beat somebody like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Los Angeles Rams on wild-card weekend, but they could put up more of a fight than Washington or the Giants right now."
16. Washington Football Team (6-9)
Last Week: 15
Week 16 Result: Lost 20-13 vs. Carolina
Welcome to the NFC (L)East, the division no one wants to win!
After the Giants got blasted in Baltimore, all the Washington Football Team had to do to complete an improbable run to the title was beat slumping Carolina at home.
Of course, Washington went into super-slump mode on offense, falling behind 20-0 before losing by a touchdown.
This was a game wherein most of Washington's 386 yards of offense came in garbage time. Washington committed four turnovers. Embattled quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. was abysmal, completing just half his passes for 154 yards with two picks before being benched in favor of Taylor Heinicke.
After the game, Haskins acknowledged to reporters that the tribulations of the last week (he was fined and stripped of his captaincy after violating COVID-19 protocols) had taken a toll on him.
"Definitely the hardest week of my life. I just want to bounce back and move forward and pray and get my life together," Haskins said. "I can't really put into words how I'm feeling right now."
And then Haskins was released Monday. He's probably done as an NFL starter. And if Alex Smith isn't available for Washington's must-win Week 17 game in Philadelphia, the team is done too.
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-7)
Last Week: 14
Week 16 Result: Lost 20-12 vs. San Francisco
The Arizona Cardinals blew it.
If the Redbirds do not advance to the postseason in 2020, their Week 16 loss to the 49ers will go down as the beginning of the end.
The Cardinals entered with their hopes in their hands, a manageable schedule and a clear edict: Win the last two games of the regular season, and it's on to the playoffs.
Now, after a flat outing against San Francisco that included just one offensive touchdown and four conversions in 16 third-down attempts, the Cardinals need a win at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to advance to the postseason.
"I'm not sure it's registering because it's been a slow burn, but the Cardinals have been a tremendous disappointment," Gagnon said. "They might still sneak into the playoffs, but that loss to the 49ers was atrocious, and they haven't had an impressive win since the first half of the season. Remember the hype surrounding this team in the offseason? Without that Hail Mary against the Buffalo Bills, they'd be below .500."
14. Chicago Bears (8-7)
Last Week: 16
Week 16 Result: Won 41-17 at Jacksonville
No team in the NFL has spent more time living in extremes this season than the Chicago Bears. There was the 5-1 start to the season. Then six straight losses. Then three straight victories—including a blowout win over the Jaguars on Sunday that leaves the Bears with a simple mission in Week 17.
Beat the Green Bay Packers, and it's on to the playoffs.
The win marked Chicago's fourth straight game with at least 30 points on offense. Outside of a terrible decision on a red-zone interception, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky played well, throwing for 265 yards and two scores. Running back David Montgomery had another big game, tallying over 120 total yards and finding the end zone. And the Chicago defense once again did its part, allowing just 279 yards of total offense.
"In some ways, it's fitting the Bears have to face the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 17 with a playoff spot on the line," Davenport said. "If Chicago can get past a Green Bay team that has dominated their rivalry in recent years, it will go a long way toward legitimizing the Bears as a team capable of making some noise in the postseason."
13. Los Angeles Rams (9-6)
Last Week: 13
Week 16 Result: Lost 20-9 at Seattle
There have been times when the Los Angeles Rams looked like arguably the best team in the NFC.
Now it looks like the Rams may miss the postseason.
After a lackluster offensive performance against the Seahawks, the NFC West is settled, and the Rams face a must-win game against the rival Cardinals. If Los Angeles loses that contest and Chicago can upset Green Bay, that's it—the Rams will watch the postseason from home.
Sunday's loss was punctuated by a number of unforced errors. There was an awful interception by Jared Goff deep in Seattle territory. A fourth-down stuff at the goal line. And now, as Sobleski pointed out, the Rams could be headed into a must-win game without their starting quarterback.
"The Rams are falling apart at the wrong time," he said. "Losers of their last two games, they face a win-and-you're-in playoff scenario without Goff, who suffered a broken thumb on this throwing hand Sunday. With Alliance of American Football great John Wolford set to start, the Rams will need a lot of help."
12. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Last Week: 11
Week 16 Result: Lost 28-24 at Pittsburgh
It feels like the Indianapolis Colts have spent the entire 2020 season in this spot: good enough to be in playoff contention, but not good enough to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender.
It's not that the Colts haven't beaten anyone—Indy owns victories over the Packers and Tennessee Titans. But most times when the Colts have had a chance to notch a real "statement" win, they have come up short.
It looked like that wouldn't be the case in Pittsburgh on Sunday. With five minutes left in the third quarter, the Colts owned a 24-7 lead and looked to be in control.
But then the Steelers peeled off three unanswered touchdowns, and the Colts offense lapsed into a coma. As things stand, the Colts are on the outside looking in in the AFC.
At first glance, they appear to have the easiest Week 17 game of the 10-win playoff contenders in the AFC—at home against the one-win Jaguars. But the Jags have already beaten the Colts this season and have the Trevor Lawrence pick sewn up.
The Colts also don't control their own fortunes. If the Ravens, Browns, Dolphins and Titans all win, Indy is done regardless of what happens against the Jaguars.
11. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
Last Week: 8
Week 16 Result: Lost 40-14 at Green Bay
After watching the Colts fall in Pittsburgh in Week 16, the Titans were presented with an opportunity—beat the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday night, and the AFC South would be theirs.
Not only did the Titans not beat the Packers, but they were destroyed in every facet of the game in an effort that left Titans head coach Mike Vrabel visibly displeased.
"I don't think you can do that against anybody, with the mistakes that we made and the start that we had," Vrabel told reporters after the game. "[It's] just not going to be good enough and just too inconsistent."
On offense, the Titans managed just 260 yards and turned the ball over twice. On defense, Tennessee was gashed through the air and on the ground to the tune of 448 total yards and 40 points.
With a win in Week 17, Tennessee can still capture the division. But at least one of the analysts here at Bleacher Report saw all he needed to at Lambeau Field.
"Sunday's blowout was Exhibit A as to why the Titans can't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender," Davenport said. "The defense is bad, and the pass rush is nonexistent. Tennessee may have led the league in scoring entering Week 16, but the Titans aren't going to shootout their way to Tampa. It ain't happening."
10. Miami Dolphins (10-5)
Last Week: 12
Week 16 Result: Won 26-25 at Las Vegas
The good news for the Miami Dolphins is they got a wild win Saturday night in Las Vegas that keeps them in the thick of the playoff chase in the AFC.
The not-so-good news is that in doing so, the 'Fins opened a potential can of worms at the quarterback position.
For the second time this season, Miami head coach Brian Flores pulled an ineffective Tua Tagovailoa in the second half in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. All "Fitzmagic" did was lead a comeback that included a long touchdown pass to running back Myles Gaskin and a floater while being facemasked to Mack Hollins that set up the game-winning kick.
Flores indicated that Tagovailoa remains Miami's starting quarterback. But he also told reporters that bringing in Fitzpatrick late again isn't out of the question.
"If we got to go to a relief pitcher in the ninth [inning], that's what we'll do," Flores said.
It's an interesting dynamic for a team that may need a win over the division-rival Bills in Week 17 to move on to the postseason.
"If you have to keep bouncing back and forth between quarterbacks, you're not likely to experience playoff success," Gagnon wrote. "The Dolphins are very clearly a year away. Good thing they're in line for a top-three draft pick."
9. Cleveland Browns (10-5)
Last Week: 5
Week 16 Result: Lost 23-16 at New York Jets
The Cleveland Browns have a history of misfortune that dates back four decades.
"Red Right 88."
And now "The COVID."
One day before the Browns were set to face a one-win Jets team, four of the team's wide receivers (including Jarvis Landry) landed on the COVID-19 list as close contacts of linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive.
Even with a ridiculously depleted WR corps and without the team's best linebacker, the Browns made a game of it. But Cleveland's second turnover late deep in Jets territory sealed the team's fate—and maybe its season.
Now the Browns likely have to beat the Steelers in Cleveland next week to get in the playoffs. Given that Pittsburgh drilled the Browns in Week 6 and Ben Roethlisberger has lost all of twice to Cleveland in his career, the Steelers' resting starters may be the Browns' only chance of erasing the league's longest postseason drought.
"In an 'Only in Cleveland' moment, the Browns lost to a one-win Jets team when everything broke their way to claim a postseason appearance," Sobleski said. "Instead, Kevin Stefanski's squad couldn't overcome multiple factors in what proved to be a brutal team loss. Cleveland is a good squad, but it's not quite good enough yet. Unfortunately, the Browns play in the AFC and could realistically miss the playoffs with another loss Sunday to the Steelers despite 10 wins."
8. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
Last Week: 7
Week 16 Result: Won 27-13 vs. New York Giants
Not long ago, the Baltimore Ravens were reeling. An outbreak of COVID-19 in the locker room had knocked several players out of commission. The Ravens had dropped three straight and were perilously close to being eliminated from postseason consideration.
Now, after peeling off four straight victories, the Ravens are a win over the hapless Bengals away from returning to the playoffs—and arguably the hottest team in the AFC.
Simply put, the Ravens got back to doing what the Ravens do best. Baltimore ran the ball 40 times against the Giants and averaged over six yards a carry. The defense allowed just 269 yards and sacked New York quarterback Daniel Jones six times.
"This Ravens team is the squad no one wants any part of in the Wild Card Round," Davenport said. "You know what they're going to do offensively, but when it's working, Baltimore is next to impossible to stop. Baltimore's excellent corners are also capable of at least slowing down a Tyreek Hill or Stefon Diggs. Assuming they win next week (a safe assumption), the Ravens will enter the playoffs on a five-game win streak as the likeliest wild card to make the Super Bowl on the AFC side."
7. Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
Last Week: 10
Week 16 Result: Won 20-9 vs. Los Angeles Rams
When folks talk about the Seahawks, Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and the offense usually get most of the run. But in Sunday's decisive win over the Rams that gave Seattle the NFC West title, the defense carried the load.
The Seahawks were outgained in the game, 334-292. But every time the Rams put a drive together, Seattle would either clamp down or make a big play to keep Los Angeles out of the end zone.
This defense spent most of the first half of the season on pace to be one of the worst in NFL history. But after the game, Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams told reporters it's time for folks to see that Seahawks defense for what it is—a strength instead of a liability.
"For everybody out there, they got to start putting respect on this defense's name, because this defense is playing lights out," Adams said.
"This isn't the Seattle team that had to outscore opponents in shootouts because the defense couldn't get a stop," Davenport said. "Carlos Dunlap II has added pop to the pass rush, Adams is playing like his hair is on fire and Bobby Wagner is a rock in the middle of the D. These Seahawks are a legitimate threat to rep the NFC in Tampa—and I wouldn't have said that in October."
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5)
Last Week: 9
Week 16 Result: Won 47-7 at Detroit
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not have the best record in the NFC. But after blasting the hapless Lions in Detroit, the Buccaneers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Tampa has a blowout victory over the NFC's (at present) top seed.
And if Tom Brady and Co. hit the postseason playing the way they did in Week 16, it's possible the Buccaneers could become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
The Bucs were dominant in the first half. Offensively, Brady was 22-of-27 for 348 yards and four scores with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Defensively, Tampa allowed less than 100 yards of offense and no points over the first 30 minutes.
Brady sat out the second half of the game, and any number of Buccaneers starters joined him. But even then, the only score a short-handed Lions team could manage was on a punt return.
"I still don't trust the Buccaneers," Davenport said, "because we don't see this team every week. But these were the Bucs that pasted Green Bay back in Week 6, and that Tampa team is legitimately dangerous."
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)
Last Week: 6
Week 16 Result: Won 28-24 vs. Indianapolis
The Pittsburgh Steelers headed into Week 16 barreling in the wrong direction. After setting a franchise record with 11 consecutive victories to open the season, the Steelers had dropped three straight—including a stunning loss to the Bengals in Week 15.
When the Steelers dug a 24-7 hole to open the game, it appeared the slide would continue. That the AFC North title that appeared settled not long ago could come into question.
But then the Steelers woke up.
Granted, Pittsburgh still has problems—the Steelers ran the ball for all of 20 yards on 14 carries. But when Ben Roethlisberger is slinging the ball around and the defense clamps down, the Steelers showed by dropping 21 unanswered points on the Colts in Week 16 that they can hang with anyone.
The Steelers are the AFC North champs and at worst the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. The question is whether the possibility of the No. 2 seed interests Mike Tomlin enough to play his starters next week in Cleveland.
"While it's fair to remain discouraged by the Steelers' play in recent weeks, you have to wonder if they woke up just in time against the Colts and might now be galvanized by that experience," Gagnon said. "This is a veteran team with Super Bowls on its record. They can't be overlooked."
4. New Orleans Saints (11-4)
Last Week: 4
Week 16 Result: Won 52-33 vs. Minnesota
After dropping two straight games for the second time this season, the New Orleans Saints badly needed a statement win—a victory that would remind the rest of the NFC that New Orleans is a top contender to rep the conference in Super Bowl LV.
The Saints got that on Christmas night against the Vikings thanks to a record-setting performance from running back Alvin Kamara.
To say Kamara had himself a game is one whopper of an understatement. The fourth-year pro rolled for a career-high 155 rushing yards and tied an NFL record set all the way back in 1929 with a jaw-dropping six rushing touchdowns.
After the game, he told reporters the team's success Friday meant more than any individual accomplishment.
"It just feels good to have one of those days, just for the team. ... I'm not focused on personal, like, goals and yards and stuff like that," Kamara said. "As long as the team has success, then personal success will come."
With the win, the Saints are NFC South champions for the fourth consecutive season. And with only the Panthers left on the schedule, a third straight campaign with at least 12 wins is well within reach.
3. Buffalo Bills (12-3)
Last Week: 3
Week 16 Result: Won vs. New England 38-9
The Kansas City Chiefs are widely regarded as the favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs are 14-1, the defending champs and own a win over the Bills.
But if Monday's blowout of the New England Patriots is any indication, the Bills aren't far off—at all.
The Bills destroyed an overmatched team at Gillette Stadium. Josh Allen had all day in the pocket and made the most of it with 320 passing yards and four scores in just over three quarters of work. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs set a new franchise record for receiving yards (and helped more than a few folks win fantasy championships) with nine catches for 145 yards and three scores.
The Bills can wrap up the No. 2 seed in the AFC (and knock another division rival out of the playoffs) next week with a win over the Miami Dolphins.
And there isn't a team in the conference that wants to play this one right now—the Chiefs included.
2. Green Bay Packers (12-3)
Last Week: 2
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Tennessee 40-14
The Green Bay Packers sent a message in Week 16. The Pack still need a win over the Bears on Sunday to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. But in blasting a good Titans team Sunday night, Green Bay established itself as the team to beat in the conference.
It was a dominant effort in every sense. Offensively, the team got 218 rushing yards from Aaron Jones and rookie AJ Dillon, 11 catches for 142 yards and three scores from wide receiver Davante Adams and four scoring strikes from Aaron Rodgers. Defensively, the Packers held Derrick Henry under 100 rushing yards, limited Ryan Tannehill to 121 passing yards and gave up just 260 yards of total offense.
It was a beatdown of a playoff-caliber team—one that signals the Packers are the NFC's top dog as the postseason approaches.
"I frankly debated placing the Packers above the Chiefs," Gagnon said. "Ultimately, I couldn't do that to a Kansas City team that has won 23 of its last 24 games, but that was a critical blowout for Green Bay against Tennessee. The Packers needed to hammer a high-quality opponent, which is something they hadn't done all season. They're now just a touchdown back of the Chiefs when it comes to points differential, as they're winning games much more handily."
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)
Last Week: 1
Week 16 Result: Won 17-14 vs. Atlanta
The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will run through Kansas City in the 2020 playoffs.
It's a stunner.
It's not surprising the Chiefs have the best record in the NFL at 14-1. But it is a little surprising they needed a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to get past a bad Falcons team at Arrowhead. However, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told reporters that he wasn't going to look down his nose at the close win.
"I'm proud of the guys—14-1 is nothing to shake your head at," Reid said. "When it's all said and done, you have a bye coming up after your next game. There's only two teams that will have that this year."
Still, while the Chiefs will enter the AFC playoffs as the clear favorite on that side of the bracket, it bears mentioning that Kansas City hasn't won a game by more than six points since blowing out the Jets in Week 8.
Of course, the Chiefs also haven't lost, period, since Week 5.
"The close wins might be cause for concern if there was a team in the AFC I thought could hang with Kansas City even when the Chiefs aren't playing their best," Davenport said. "But we've already seen the Chiefs beat the Bills, and Pittsburgh and whoever wins the AFC South are too up-and-down. It's going to take a major upset to keep Mahomes and Co. from heading back to the Super Bowl."
"Candidly, the Chiefs are only in the No. 1 spot because of their status as reigning Super Bowl champs," Sobleski countered. "The Packers are probably a better team at this very moment, though one can't take away Kansas City's ability to will itself toward victories. The Chiefs should have lost Sunday to the Falcons. Cornerback A.J. Terrell had a game-ending interception in his hands. Patrick Mahomes showed the resiliency that makes him great by delivering the game-winning touchdown on the next snap."