2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 14?
The Week 13 schedule in the NFL wasn't exactly a barnburner. There were all of two games that involved a pair of teams inside the playoffs: Sunday's tilt between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium and Monday night's showdown in the AFC East between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium.
Those games stirred up the top 10 a bit, but they weren't the only impactful contests. The Miami Dolphins and Washington Football Team continued making a push for a wild-card spot. The New York teams continued to send fans scrambling to turn on the Knicks and Nets. The latest chapter in one of the league's most heated rivalries ended in wild fashion.
And in what may be a sign of the end times, the Detroit Lions won.
As the dust settles on another week in the NFL, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have once again come together to rank the teams from worst to first.
The No. 1 slot remains the same. But there's a new team bringing up the rear.
32. Houston Texans (2-10)
Last Week: 31
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Indianapolis 31-0
It seems redundant to say about a two-win football team, but the Houston Texans hit rock-bottom in Week 13.
Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts was about as ugly as defeats get. For the second time in three weeks, the Texans failed to amass even 200 yards of offense. After a miserable 5-of-13 passing effort, Tyrod Taylor was benched in favor of rookie David Mills. He didn't do any better, completing six of 14 passes for 49 yards.
Overall, the quarterbacks completed 11 of 27 passes for just 57 yards.
Taylor was pulled in part because of a wrist injury, but after his team was embarrassed at home by an AFC South rival, head coach David Culley admitted that Taylor wouldn't necessarily get his job back next week against the Seattle Seahawks.
"When you don't score any points during a game, you evaluate everything," Culley said.
Of course, given how pitiful the team looked in every facet Sunday, who is under center may not make much of a difference.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Last Week: 32
Week 13 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Rams 37-7
If there was any doubt about the Jacksonville Jaguars' lowly status in these power rankings, the team eliminated it Sunday in Los Angeles.
The Jags were in over their heads at SoFi Stadium. Offensively, they failed to amass even 200 yards, recording just 2.4 yards per carry and quarterback Trevor Lawrence passing for just 145 yards. Defensively, the Jags were gouged for 418 yards and 37 points.
"I don't mean to be redundant and go into coachspeak, but there's nothing else I can tell you," Meyer said. "Is it frustrating for everybody involved? Absolutely. Are we better than that? Absolutely. We have better players and coaches than that. So now it's time to go produce."
"There's no doubt at this point that the worst two teams in the NFL reside in the AFC South," Gagnon said. "Yes, the Lions still have the worst record, but they keep battling hard, while the Jags and Texans have been outscored by a combined average of 24.9 points over 12 games. They aren't remotely competitive in the most competitive season ever. It's horrendous."
30. New York Jets (3-9)
Last Week: 29
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Philadelphia 33-18
After the New York Jets were handled by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13 to fall to 3-9 on the season, veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley told reporters that he feels he and his teammates are being disrespected:
"[The disrespect] was all over the field. I saw it. On the coin toss, no handshake. Cox was laughing at Coach Saleh when he was fighting for us trying to get a play call. You see that stuff and you feel that stuff. As a competitor, as a warrior, when you fight with your brothers, that pisses you off. That's been going on for a long time ... but things change and they're going to change quick. I come to work every day, I wake up every day with that mindset that the next day will be that change. Will it happen? When will it happen? I don't know, but when it does happen, we're going to be ready for it. That's my mindset."
On some level, Mosley's frustration is understandable. Losing isn't fun, and the Jets have become experts at it. But respect has to be earned, and as things stand, the Jets rank 26th in scoring offense and dead last in scoring defense. This is a bad team that has glaring needs at multiple positions on both sides of the ball.
And that's not apt to change anytime soon.
29. Detroit Lions (1-10-1)
Last Week: 30
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Minnesota 29-27
Yes. You read that right. The Detroit Lions won.
We know. We're frightened too.
Kidding aside, the Lions have come close a number of times this year. And when they bizarrely went for it on fourth down while nursing a two-point lead late, they fumbled, and the Vikings recovered the ball and punched it in for the go-ahead touchdown.
However, this time Detroit rallied instead of wilting. Jared Goff led the team on a 14-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
"Getting your first win in the 13th week of the regular season isn't a good thing," Davenport wrote. "And the Lions roster remains arguably the worst in the NFL. But while Detroit might be awful, it has fought hard week in and week out, and it's good to see the team finally reap some rewards from that effort."
"Kudos to Dan Campbell and his coaching staff because no quit exists in these Lions," Sobleski wrote. "Despite entering the weekend with a winless record, Detroit battled every single week and finally found a way to win with a miraculous last-second touchdown pass. The Lions earned a victory instead of just deserving to win in previous weeks only to come up short."
28. Chicago Bears (4-8)
Last Week: 28
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Arizona 33-22
After falling to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13 in a game in which veteran quarterback Andy Dalton was atrocious, the 2021 Chicago Bears' 2021 campaign is done. The tenure of head coach Matt Nagy will all but certainly be over after the season. But while speaking to reporters after the game, running back David Montgomery insisted that there's no quit in this team.
"The entire season has kind of been frustrating with the losses we've taken," Montgomery said. "But I'm a fighter. I'm never gonna stop fighting. I'm not gonna stop giving it everything I've got, along with the guys in this locker room as well. We've just got to keep churning."
With that said, this team is headed for massive changes in the offseason.
The Bears need to find a new coach who can develop rookie quarterback Justin Fields. After an injury-marred 2021 (hamstring), wide receiver Allen Robinson II—who was playing on the franchise tag—is almost certainly a goner. High-priced edge-rusher Khalil Mack (foot, potential out in contract) could be as well. The team will have contract decisions to make on a number of players, Montgomery included as he heads into the final year of his rookie deal.
Frankly, about the only thing wins will accomplish at this point is costing Chicago draft slots.
27. Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
Last Week: 26
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Tampa Bay 30-17
Somehow, the Atlanta Falcons entered Week 13 in the periphery of the NFC playoff chase.
Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a reminder of something that's not that hard to see when you look: The Falcons aren't very good.
While they did gash one of the NFL's best run defenses for 5.3 yards per carry and running back Mike Davis finally looked like the player the Falcons thought they were signing in free agency, the defense was abused by Tom Brady and Co., with the unit allowing 425 total yards and eight third-down conversions in 13 attempts.
It's still possible that the Falcons will lurk around the fringes of the wild-card chase for the rest of the season. The Buffalo Bills are the only team left on the schedule with more wins than losses. But even if Atlanta were somehow able to get back into the postseason tournament, all that's going to follow is a quick exit.
It's far more likely than when Week 18 concludes, so will the Falcons' season.
26. Carolina Panthers (5-7)
Last Week: 25
Week 13 Result: Bye Week
It has been a tale of ups and downs for the Carolina Panthers.
Things started off with a bang in 2021, with the Panthers peeling off three straight wins. But as it turned out, those wins had more to do with Carolina's opponents being bad than the team being good. Those three victories were followed by four losses.
Since then, things have gotten that much bumpier. An injured Sam Darnold gave way to P.J. Walker and then Cam Newton under center, and while Newton's return to Charlotte was a fun story, his limitations as a passer became painfully evident. Newton was benched in Week 12 for Walker, but head coach Matt Rhule insisted that Newton will remain the team's starter.
"I'm not making any changes," the coach told reporters. "We were not protecting the quarterback worthwhile, at all. It didn't seem fair to keep Cam in there to keep getting hit. It gave P.J. a chance to play and at the same time Cam just hasn't had a lot of experience in that part of the game."
If that's the case, it's easy to see where the Panthers are headed over the final five weeks of the season.
25. New York Giants (4-8)
Last Week: 24
Week 13 Result: Lost at Miami 20-9
Things just keep getting harder for head coach Joe Judge and the New York Giants.
With Daniel Jones sidelined by a neck injury, it fell to veteran backup Mike Glennon to start at quarterback. Glennon was ineffective, completing just 23 of 44 passes for 187 yards with a pick and a passer rating of less than 55. At 4-8, the team's chances of making the playoffs even in the NFC are essentially done.
The game was a one-score affair most of the way, but Judge made a number of conservative play calls and decisions, including three punts on 4th-and-short around midfield. Judge defended his lack of aggressiveness after the game.
"We had [forced] three straight three-and-outs at that point, and the defense was really playing well," Judge told reporters. "Points were really at a premium in that game. We don't want to give them a short field."
Given the thin ice Judge is standing on, one would think he would take more chances.
At this point, the team doesn't have anything to lose.
24. New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Last Week: 23
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Dallas 27-17
A couple of weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints shocked many by inking quarterback Taysom Hill to a four-year, $40 million extension that could be worth a whopping $94 million if he meets incentives.
If Hill's first start under center in New Orleans this season was any indication, there's zero chance he'll hit those incentives. And the $40 million was a massive overpay.
Yes, Hill topped 100 rushing yards in Thursday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, he played through a finger injury suffered in the game. But he was atrocious throwing the football, completing less than half of his passes and tossing four interceptions.
Still, despite that performance, head coach Sean Payton stuck up for his quarterback.
"I thought he played with a lot of heart, a lot of guts. We didn't help him any in the first half," Payton told reporters after the game.
Here's the reality of the situation. Hill couldn't beat out Jameis Winston before the season. He's limited (at best) as a passer. The Saints are 0-5 since Winston suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8, .
The 2021 season is over. If Payton thinks Hill is a long-term solution at quarterback, 2022 won't be far behind.
23. Denver Broncos (6-6)
Last Week: 21
Week 13 Result: Lost at Kansas City 22-9
The Denver Broncos entered Sunday night's showdown with the Chiefs with the opportunity to do something most would have thought unthinkable not that long ago: Beat Kansas City, and Denver would be tied for first place in the AFC West.
The bad news is that didn't happen as the Broncos didn't convert two or their three red-zone opportunities. But a star may have been born in Broncos blue.
With veteran running back Melvin Gordon III on the shelf with a hip injury, rookie Javonte Williams assumed lead back duties. And the former North Carolina standout made the most of the opportunity, gashing the Chiefs for 178 total yards on 29 touches.
The defeat dropped the Broncos all the way to 12th in the conference, and with multiple teams that own the head-to-head tiebreaker ahead of them, Denver's postseason hopes are fading more quickly than Chase Rice's music career.
If you have no idea who that is, it makes our point.
22. Seattle Seahawks (4-8)
Last Week: 27
Week 13 Result: Won vs. San Francisco 30-23
For most of the 2021 season, the Seattle Seahawks have been dead ducks. The offense had completely fallen apart. Seattle had lost three straight after the bye headed into Sunday's tilt with the rival 49ers.
But for a brief moment Sunday, the sun shined in the Pacific Northwest.
This game wasn't especially well-played. Both the Niners and Seahawks turned the ball over three times. The Seahawks were also outgained 365-327. But Russell Wilson and Co. made the plays they needed to to stop their skid and deal a blow to San Francisco's playoff hopes.
Even so, Davenport sees this as just a temporary reprieve before Seattle faces an offseason of massive questions.
"Seattle has been one of the NFC's most successful franchises over Wilson's decade under center," he said. "But from all indications, that run is over. It's not outside the realm of possibility that head coach Pete Carroll could retire in the offseason and that Wilson could be looking for fresh start with another team. That leaves the Seahawks staring at a ground-up rebuild, and one meaningless December win isn't going to change that."
On the other hand, Gagnon thinks Seattle could put together a late run.
"Just when you think they're dead, they win a typical wacky Seahawks game against a key competitor," he wrote. "And now you wonder if Russell Wilson and Co. are going to take advantage of the fact the NFC playoff race is soft and make a sudden run. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Seattle in the postseason."
21. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
Last Week: 16
Week 13 Result: Lost at Detroit 29-27
The Minnesota Vikings entered Week 13 with a clear goal: beat the winless Lions, keep the pressure on Washington for the seventh seed in the NFC playoffs and show that they remain a legitimate contender.
Instead, the Vikings handed the Lions their first win of the season on a last-second touchdown pass. In doing so, they dealt a crippling blow to their lagging postseason aspirations.
The Vikings piled up 426 yards of offense, and quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns. They held the lead with less than two minutes left and the Lions out of timeouts.
But while the Vikings played relatively well offensively, the same cannot be said for the defense. Facing a Lions team that ranks in the bottom five leaguewide in both yards and points per game, Minnesota allowed 372 yards, 29 points and a 14-play drive that decided the game.
For the team, it was deflating. For Minnesota's fans, it was infuriating. And for the team's playoff chances, it was absolutely debilitating.
20. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6)
Last Week: 17
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Washington 17-15
Good luck figuring out the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders hit the bye week at 5-2 and in the thick of the AFC playoff push. But after the off week, they dropped three straight to fall back to .500 on the season.
The Raiders then notched their best win of the season on Thanksgiving Day, scoring a season-high 36 points in a road upset over the Dallas Cowboys in overtime. The following week, Vegas naturally managed only a single touchdown against Washington.
While addressing the media after the game, quarterback Derek Carr made it clear that settling for field goals is not something the team can get used to.
"It's very frustrating," Carr said. "Field goals aren't going to win you games. You have to get touchdowns, especially with the teams we have coming up. We will need touchdowns to win these games."
Carr isn't kidding about that upcoming schedule. Beginning with next week's trip to Arrowhead to face the surging Chiefs, the Raiders don't play a team with a losing record the rest of the way.
Three of those games are on the road, too.
19. Cleveland Browns (6-6)
Last Week: 19
Week 13 Result: Bye Week
The Cleveland Browns are like Lucy. Their beleaguered fanbase is like Charlie Brown.
Every year, the Browns tease that they're poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. Every year, their fans come running.
And every year, those fans wind up flat on their backs.
After entering the season amid a whirlwind of hype for the second time in three seasons, the Browns are a .500 team with a floundering offense and a banged-up quarterback. And with a playoff trip looking increasing unlikely, an enormous question hangs over the team: Is Baker Mayfield the long-term answer under center?
To be fair, Mayfield's struggles this year are due at least in part to a litany of injuries, including a torn labrum in his left shoulder. But four seasons into his NFL career, Mayfield hasn't exactly lived up to his status as the first overall pick in 2018.
"There's no way I'm giving Mayfield $40 million a season, or even close to it," Davenport said. "In fact, unless it's a short-term extension, the smart play for the Browns is to let Mayfield play out his option year in 2022. Because right now, he's an average NFL starter at best."
18. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
Last Week: 22
Week 13 Result: Won at New York Jets 33-18
Minshew Mania is back, baby!
With Jalen Hurts nursing a sore ankle, the Philadelphia Eagles turned to Gardner Minshew as their starting quarterback against the New York Jets on Sunday. And just as he did during his debut with the Jaguars, Minshew played well, finishing 20-of-25 with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 133.7 in a 15-point win.
But as well as Minshew played, Ben Solak of The Ringer still expects Hurts to remain the Eagles' starter when they return to action in Week 15:
"Minshew might be able to better execute the passing game now, but the Eagles know what Minshew is: a really good backup and solid spot starter, akin to a Taylor Heinicke or Teddy Bridgewater. Hurts very well might end up in the same bucket, but he has far better physical tools, and the Eagles would rather see if they can cash on that potential in future years than make a quarterback change and win now."
"Minshew-mania is about to overtake the City of Brotherly Love, but he should be treated as what he really is: a competent backup and spot-starter who still has limitations as a long-term option," he said. "Eagles fans should be excited about Minshew in the short term. But Hurts is the future at the quarterback position, and his dual-threat capabilities are what set Philadelphia on a positive path once the team discovered its identity as a ground-and-pound offense. A win over a bad Jets team doesn't change the franchise's trajectory."
Sunday's win didn't come without a cost, though. Starting running back Miles Sanders and cornerback Steven Nelson both left with injuries.
At least they'll have the team's Week 14 bye to try to get healthy.
17. San Francisco 49ers (6-6)
Last Week: 13
Week 13 Result: Lost at Seattle 30-23
The San Francisco 49ers entered Week 13 as one of the hotter teams in the league. They had won three straight and four of five to climb back into the thick of the wild-card picture in the AFC. All they had to do to keep rolling was down the reeling Seahawks.
But as Niners linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair told reporters after his team lost by seven in Seattle, that's easier said than done when it comes to these rivalry games.
"Seattle could be literally 0-16, going into Week 17, playing us, and I think it's always going to be like this. Every time you play Seattle, every time they play us, we know it's going to be a fight to the very, very last play. I think every game that we're lost in the last two or three years has been like that. And the games that we won have been the same thing. It's always coming down to those last plays."
As things stand now, the Niners would still be in the postseason as the No. 7 seed in the NFC. But with three of five games remaining against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today—all on the road, no less—San Francisco is fresh out of margin for error.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)
Last Week: 15
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Baltimore 20-19
The Pittsburgh Steelers still have life.
It wasn't the prettiest of victories, but in outlasting the rival Baltimore Ravens and stopping a game-winning two-point try, the Steelers are still alive in the AFC North. It capped a tumultuous week in which reports circulated that the 2021 season would be Ben Roethlisberger's last.
"Ben doesn't allow it to become an issue. Ben has been pretty solid in terms of his expressions that he's singularly focused on what we're doing now. He'll deal with those things on the other side of his journey, and I'm with him on it. So it's not a distraction. I thought it was funny that it was seemingly a story this weekend, to be honest with you."
Since turnabout is fair play, Sobleski downplayed the Steelers.
"Maybe we should just accept the fact the entire AFC North is hopelessly mediocre," he said. "The Steelers managed a win over the Ravens on Sunday only because quarterback Lamar Jackson didn't execute on what should have been the game-winning two-point conversion. The Steelers can hang around, but they have holes throughout the roster, starting behind center."
15. Washington Football Team (6-6)
Last Week: 20
Week 13 Result: Won at Las Vegas 17-15
Back on Halloween, Washington was fresh off a seven-point loss to the Denver Broncos. The team had just dropped its fourth straight contest to fall to 2-6 on the season.
Fast-forward a month, and after squeaking past the Raiders in Las Vegas, Washington has peeled off four straight wins to get back to .500 and in the playoff conversation in the NFC.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen told reporters after the win that while Washington may lack in star power, the team makes up for it by playing hard and as a unit.
"We're not a star-studded roster," Allen said. "We don't have those big celebrities. We're not an L.A. or whatever the case may be, and we just don't care what anybody says. We believe in ourselves. We went out there and played hard."
A second straight NFC East title isn't completely out of the question, either. The division will be decided in the next month or so, as Washington and Dallas meet twice in three weeks, including this Sunday in the nation's capital.
"They're not winning pretty, but that isn't really their M.O.," Gagnon said. "The fact is, they haven't lost a game since Halloween, and they're right in the thick of the NFC wild-card picture with a manageable closing schedule. I expect to see them in the playoffs."
14. Miami Dolphins (6-7)
Last Week: 18
Week 13 Result: Won vs. New York Giants 20-9
Eight games into the 2021 season, the Miami Dolphins looked like they were toast.
After a one-point victory over the New England Patriots in Week 1, Miami dropped seven straight games. The notion that this team had any chance of making the playoffs was laughable.
Fast-forward five contests, and no one is laughing now.
After taking care of the New York Giants on Sunday, the Dolphins have won five straight and sit only one game under .500. The defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points since October. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has looked the part of a quality NFL starter. And rookie wideout Jaylen Waddle has quickly emerged as Tagovailoa's top option in the passing game.
"The playoffs are still a tall ask for the Dolphins, who would essentially have to win out to ensure a spot," Davenport said. "But with games against the Jets and Saints coming after the bye, Miami could easily be above .500 heading into a critical two-game stretch run against Tennessee and the rival Patriots. After that seven-game skid, even a 9-8 finish would be a considerable achievement."
13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
Last Week: 11
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Chargers 41-22
Turnovers are the kiss of death in the NFL. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals.
Turnovers helped propel the Los Angeles Chargers to a 24-0 lead Sunday over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. After Cincinnati scored 22 points to get right back into the game, a Joe Mixon fumble returned for a touchdown put a screeching halt to that comeback.
While speaking to reporters after the game, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor admitted his team didn't deserve to win Sunday.
"That was a sloppy game all around," Taylor said. "To get in a hole the way we did and the things that I did were unacceptable. We didn't deserve to win."
It gets worse. During the loss quarterback, Joe Burrow dislocated the pinky finger on his throwing hand. However, he finished the game and said he intends to play through the injury.
"I can't imagine it getting any worse," he said. "If it doesn't get worse, I'll play next week."
That finger will be a hot topic of conversation in the Queen City this week.
12. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
Last Week: 8
Week 13 Result: Lost at Pittsburgh 20-19
After leading most of Sunday's rivalry game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves down seven late. They drove the length of the field to score with just seconds left in the game, and then head coach John Harbaugh went for the game-winning two-point conversion.
The Ravens didn't get it.
While talking to the press after the game, head coach John Harbaugh defended the decision.
"We tried to win the game right there," Harbaugh said. "We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time. It was an opportunity for us to win the game right there."
So did linebacker Josh Bynes:
"Honestly, if we would've converted the two-point conversion, we would've been having a different conversation right now. We'd be talking about how we found a way to win. At the end of the day, they found a way to make one play and we didn't. That's what it came down to. They made one extra play. They got one extra point than us and they came out victorious."
It's also worth noting that the Ravens were motivated to go for two by an injury-ravaged secondary that has now lost Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the season.
Now the Ravens are only one game up on the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North, the secondary is all kinds of banged up, and Gagnon sees storm clouds on the horizon.
"Lamar Jackson has eight touchdown passes to 10 interceptions in his last six games, and the out-of-sync Ravens are just 3-3 in those outings," he said. "He isn't right, and the Ravens are frankly lucky to be 8-4 considering how close they've cut it in other games. They finally got bit by the Steelers, and now they're in trouble."
11. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)
Last Week: 14
Week 13 Result: Won at Cincinnati 41-22
The Los Angeles Chargers are becoming quite the yo-yo.
Since their Week 7 bye, the Chargers have alternated losses and wins. There was a home loss to the Patriots, then a win in Philly over the Eagles. Then another loss at home to the Vikings. Then a wild win over the Steelers. Then a lopsided road loss to the Broncos. And now a decisive win on the road over a good Cincinnati Bengals team.
The Chargers peeled off the first 24 points of the game against the Bengals. They also sacked Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow six times and forced four turnovers, including a Joe Mixon fumble returned for a score that all but ended the Bengals' comeback effort.
While speaking to CBS Sports' Evan Washburn after the game, Chargers safety Derwin James said the team needs to play at this level more consistently.
"Everybody's seen the type of team we have today," James said. "... We just have to be consistent with it. All four quarters, not two quarters."
"The Chargers are easily one of the NFL's most intriguing teams," Sobleski said. "Justin Herbert is truly special with his playmaking ability and natural arm talent. Along with a strong supporting cast, the Chargers can score on anyone. The defense is well-coached by Brandon Staley, too. They can face any opponent and beat them. They just need to be more consistent."
10. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
Last Week: 12
Week 13 Result: Won at Houston 31-0
Last week, the Indianapolis Colts suffered through a frustrating loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which they blew a double-digit halftime lead.
They had no such issue in Week 13 against the hapless Texans.
The Colts dominated this game in every way a game can be dominated. Running back Jonathan Taylor continued his rampage across the NFL, piling up 143 rushing yards and two scores on 32 carries. Indy's defense absolutely shut down the Houston offense, surrendering only 141 total yards.
While speaking to reporters after the game, head coach Frank Reich lauded the defense's dominant showing.
"The defense was unreal," Reich said. "That's an epic defensive performance from really start to finish."
The Colts remain 1.5 games back of the idle Titans in the AFC South, and with two head-to-head losses, it'll be hard for them to win the AFC South. But they still look like they can make some noise in the playoffs.
"Taylor is the best running back in the league—or is at least playing that way," Davenport said. "Carson Wentz has rebounded nicely from a slow start to his first year in Indy. And the defense showed Sunday how stout it is capable of being. At this point in the season, these Colts are better than the Titans."
9. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
Last Week: 10
Week 13 Result: Won vs. New Orleans 27-17
The focus on the Dallas Cowboys has largely centered on the team's explosive offense, and with good reason. Dallas paces the league in yards per game and ranks third in scoring.
But with head coach Mike McCarthy out on the COVID-19 list and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn calling the shots in Week 13, the Dallas defense carried the team against the Saints.
The Cowboys intercepted four of Taysom Hill's passes, with cornerback Trevon Diggs notching his league-leading ninth pick of the season. Micah Parsons logged his 10th sack of the season, becoming the first player with 70 tackles and 10 sacks through 12 games since James Harrison in 2010, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Mind you, Parsons is a rookie.
That defense holds the key to this being a special season for the Cowboys, No one questions that Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense will pile up yards and points.
But if the Cowboys are going to knock off the Packers, Cardinals or Buccaneers in the playoffs and make a run at Super Bowl LVI, that defense will have to come up with big stops, too.
8. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
Last Week: 9
Week 13 Result: Bye Week
The Titans hold a 1.5-game lead on the Colts in the AFC South and have a pair of head-to-head wins against Indy. They're 7-0 this season against teams that made the playoffs in 2020, including victories over the Kansas City Chiefs, Colts and Los Angeles Rams.
However, the Titans are also reeling as they leave their bye week. Injuries have devastated their offense, including the loss of running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown.
The Titans dropped two straight entering the bye—a stunning defeat at the hands of the lowly Texans in Nashville and a blowout loss to the Patriots in New England. However, head coach Mike Vrabel expects his team to rally down the stretch.
"When the adversity hits, you have a base, a place to be grounded and a focus that the players can all come together," Vrabel told reporters last week. "Coaches can figure out what the situation is and try to lead everybody in the right direction."
The schedule sets up well for Tennessee to win the division. The Titans don't play another team with a winning record the rest of the way.
But unless they can get some of their injured firepower back, it'll be difficult for them to make any kind of deep playoff run.
7. Buffalo Bills (7-5)
Last Week: 6
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. New England 14-10
It's getting harder and harder to figure out if the Buffalo Bills are a Super Bowl contender or not.
Granted, part of the blame for Monday's loss to the rival Patriots can be blamed on ridiculous weather conditions. But the Bills bear their share as well. Despite knowing full well it was coming, the Bills had no answer for New England's run game. Twice in the fourth quarter of a four-point game, Buffalo traveled into the red zone and came away empty.
Yes, these Bills went into Arrowhead and thumped the Chiefs back in Week 5. But ever since that game, Buffalo has alternated losses and wins. And since that win over the Chiefs, the Bills have lost to two teams (New England and Tennessee) who are inside the AFC bracket, and got blasted by a Colts team that's just outside of it.
Never mind the Week 9 loss at Jacksonville.
Now, Buffalo's backs are against the wall a bit—lose in Week 14, and the Bills will fall two back of the Patriots with a head-to-head loss.
And next up on the schedule is a trip to Tampa Bay to face the defending Super Bowl champions.
6. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
Last Week: 7
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville 37-7
The Los Angeles Rams entered Week 13 on a three-game losing streak. Luckily, they faced the team that fixes all that ails opponents this season: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Rams dominated every facet of Sunday's win over the Jags. With running back Darrell Henderson Jr. sidelined with a calf injury, Sony Michel gashed the Jaguars for 121 yards and a score on 24 carries. Matthew Stafford lit up Jacksonville for 295 passing yards and three scores. And the Rams defense gave up only 197 yards of offense.
It was the most emphatic of blowout victories. But as Sobleski pointed out, the Rams' schedule tightens up quite a bit from here out.
"Sean McVay and Co. finally got back on track Sunday, but a 37-7 drubbing of the Jaguars don't immediately catapult the Rams back among the league's elite," he said. "The next three weeks will be far more telling with the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings on the docket. Monday's meeting with the Cards will be a litmus test for where Los Angeles actually stands after losing to them by 17 points in Week 4."
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)
Last Week: 5
Week 13 Result: Won at Atlanta 30-17
After two-plus decades in the NFL, seven Super Bowl wins and three MVP awards, it has become pretty clear that Tom Brady is pretty good at football.
Just in case anyone had forgotten, the 44-year-old decided to remind them Sunday in Atlanta.
Brady carved up the Falcons secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey, strengthening his case for a fourth MVP award by throwing for 368 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 112.2.
Brady wasn't the only Tampa player that had a day against the Falcons. Wide receiver Chris Godwin caught 15 passes for 143 yards. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh notched a pair of sacks.
It sent a clear message to the rest of the NFC that the reigning Super Bowl champs are playing at a high level.
"The Buccaneers might not have the NFC's best record," Davenport said. "But there's no team in the conference whom opponents want to play less. Tampa is battle-tested. The team is getting healthier by the week. And they have that Brady fella. Next week's visit from the Buffalo Bills is about as close to a Super Bowl preview as you're going to see."
4. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
Last Week: 4
Week 13 Result: Bye Week
At 9-3, the Green Bay Packers are only one game out of the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have a stranglehold on the NFC North. By most measures, it has been a successful season.
But as head coach Matt Lafleur told reporters Monday, it hasn't been easy.
"I don't know if I've ever been around a team that's suffered this many injuries," LaFleur said. “It is encouraging that we're sitting where we are right now at 9-3 and having to battle through so much adversity."
In that respect, the bye came at a perfect time for the Packers. It'll give key players like running back Aaron Jones and edge-rusher Rashan Gary a chance to get healthy.
There is optimism that offensive tackle David Bakhtiari could return soon. When the Packers face the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field next week, they could be as healthy as they have been all season.
If that's the case, the NFC's No. 1 seed could be well within reach. Of Green Bay's last five games, only one comes against a team with a winning record—a potential Super Bowl preview in Baltimore in Week 15.
3. New England Patriots (9-4)
Last Week: 3
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Buffalo 14-10
It's been a little while since we saw an NFL team win a game in which it attempted three passes.
In fact, our oldest analyst was two years old at the time.
Davenport asked that we not say who that analyst is.
With snow falling and a ferocious wind whipping through the stadium in Buffalo, the New England Patriots rocked it like it was 1974 in Monday's win over the Bills. New England ran the ball a staggering 46 times for 222 yards, with Damien Harris peeling off a career-long 64-yarder in the first quarter for the team's only touchdown of the game.
New England now heads into the bye on a seven-game win streak and as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and our resident geezer thinks Darth Hoodie could be headed toward another Coach of the Year award.
"Bill Belichick took all of one year to rebuild a team that lost the greatest quarterback of all time, and now he's guiding a team with a rookie quarterback that could wind up facing Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. It's settled—he's a sorcerer."
2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)
Last Week: 2
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Denver 22-9
The Kansas City Chiefs are back.
Mind you, they never really have "left." But seven games into the season, the up-and-down Chiefs were 3-4. The defense was struggling. The offense was turning the ball over far too much.
Then the team flipped the butt-kicking switch, especially on defense.
After dispatching the rival Broncos at Arrowhead on Sunday, the Chiefs have peeled off five straight wins. Over that span, they haven't allowed more than 17 points in a game. They held three of those opponents to under 10 points, and four of those wins came against teams that are currently .500 or above.
Kansas City's last five opponents are all .500 or better as well. But given how well the Chiefs are playing, Patrick Mahomes and Co. appear on a collision course with a sixth straight AFC West title.
"The Chiefs may not have the AFC's best record, but they're as hot as any team in the conference and have two things that the other contenders don't—loads of experience in these situations and the NFL's best quarterback," Davenport said. "They are going to win their division, and I wouldn't bet against a third straight Super Bowl trip."
"The Chiefs' defensive turnaround this season might be one of the most underrated stories of the year," Gagnon added. "This unit was historically awful to start the season, but now they've surrendered only 11.2 points per game over the course of a five-game winning streak. The defense has saved the Chiefs' season, almost on its own. If it keeps up and Mahomes can get fully back on track, watch out."
1. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
Last Week: 1
Week 13 Result: Won at Chicago 33-22
The Arizona Cardinals play indoors in a city where a change in weather is the temperature going from 102 to 112.
You never would have known it watching them play in the wind and rain in Chicago on Sunday.
With quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins back in action, the Redbirds had little trouble with an overmatched Bears team. While Murray threw for only 123 yards, he tossed a pair of touchdown passes and ran for two more. Hopkins caught one of those scores, while James Conner reeled in the other and tallied 111 total yards.
At 10-2, Arizona has the league's best record. While that surprises some people, Murray isn't one of them.
"A couple of months before the season, if you'd say 'if you had this opportunity,' yeah, we'd definitely take it," Murray told reporters after the game. "This is all the hard work we've put in. We understand what kind of guys we have in the locker room. We understood what we had before the season started. It was just about going and doing it and executing."
Next week, the Cardinals host the second-place Los Angeles Rams. Win that game, and it's just about all over in the NFC West.