2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 15?

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 14, 2021

2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 15?

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    Bleacher Report

    Winter is coming.

    For some teams, it is already here. With the bye weeks in the past and four games remaining, many teams are just playing out the string. The Detroit Lions are suffering through another miserable season. The Jacksonville Jaguars are brewing a mixture of terrible play and dysfunction that defies description. Both of the New York teams are awful—again.

    For others, the sun is still shining. The Kansas City Chiefs are on fire, winners of six straight. The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are rolling through their respective divisions. For those teams and some others, the postseason is all but a certainty.

    However, for a slew of teams the only certainty now is nothing is certain. Over a dozen teams are either 7-6 or 6-7 as we move to the season's final month. Peel off some wins, and it's on to the playoffs. Suffer many more losses, and they will be watching the playoffs from home with the fans.

    Given those rising stakes, it's no surprise that this last week's action featured more than a few close finishes, including overtime in Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.

    As the playoff push kicks into high gear, the NFL Analysts here at Bleacher Report have gathered again to rank the league's teams from worst to first.

    Here's how Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport view the league's pecking order, starting with a circus of a team with a ringmaster who appears hell-bent on going down as the worst coaching hire in recent memory.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Last Week: 31

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Tennessee 20-0

    Even by Jacksonville Jaguars standards, this has been a rough week.

    First came a report from Tom Pelissero of NFL Network that the Jaguars had descended into a dysfunctional mess under head coach Urban Meyer, with the first-year coach berating assistant coaches and players to the point that veteran wideout Marvin Jones Jr. stormed out of the team's facility.

    Then came Sunday's game against the first-place Titans—a blowout loss in which a rookie quarterback threw four picks and the Jags rushed for eight yards after Lawrence reportedly clashed with Meyer last week about a lack of carries for James Robinson.

    It gets worse.

    When asked about the turmoil surrounding the team after the game, Meyer handled it about as well as a toddler who just found out he can't have ice cream for dinner.

    "What someone's brother said, or someone said someone said, that will occupy very little of my time," Meyer said. "And if there is a source, that source is unemployed. I mean, within seconds, if there's some source that's doing that."

    The last four games of the season in Jacksonville should be a real hoot.

    "At this point, the Jaguars ownership group must realize its Meyer experiment isn't working," Sobleski said. "He's lost the locker room and alienated his coaching staff without any indication he has the ability to turn the franchise into a winner. Furthermore, Lawrence is being ruined by not placing him in a position to succeed schematically."

31. Houston Texans (2-11)

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Last Week: 32

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Seattle 33-13

    The Houston Texans stink.

    That the team occupied the bottom spot in these Power Rankings entering Week 14 rather speaks to that. And getting pasted at home by a mediocre (on a good day) Seattle Seahawks team does nothing to alter that perception.

    But in the spirit of the power of positive thinking, we'll point out something good about Houston's 2021 season.

    There's only four games left in it.

    OK, that was mean.

    For real, though, Davis Mills actually wasn't terrible at quarterback for Houston against the Seahawks. Mills has had a rocky rookie season, which tends to happen when you're thrown to the wolves behind center for a rotten football team. But he played well Sunday, throwing for 331 yards and Houston's only touchdown.

    That performance isn't going to stop Houston from looking at an elite quarterback prospect with the top-five pick in the 2022 draft the team is barreling toward. Nothing Mills does between now and Week 18 will change that.

    But at the very least, Houston appears to have found a quality backup for years to come.

30. Detroit Lions (1-11-1)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Last Week: 29

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Denver 38-10

    Last week, the Lions stunned the Minnesota Vikings to earn their first victory of 2021.

    In Week 14, Detroit got back to doing what it does best—losing.

    It wasn't exactly unexpected. The Lions rely heavily on the ground game and were short their top two running backs. After losing their top tackler (linebacker Alex Anzalone) to an ankle injury early in the game, the Detroit defense had no answer for Denver's two-headed ground game.

    There's really not that much else left to say about these sad-sack Lions. Detroit has kept quite a few games close, but with a COVID-19 outbreak leaving an already thin roster depleted that much more, the Lions couldn't even do that Sunday. This is maybe the most talent-deficient team in the league, with multiple glaring weaknesses on both sides of the ball.

    Frankly, at this point in the season the last thing the Lions need to do is win another game. Play out the string, finish 1-15-1 and lock up the first overall pick in next April's draft.

29. New York Jets (3-10)

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Last Week: 30

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 30-9

    With another lopsided loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, the New York Jets established once again that they are a bad football team.

    But despite another blowout defeat, Jets head coach Robert Saleh insisted after the game that the Jets are getting better—even if you can't see it on the field yet.

    "It's going to flip," Saleh said. "This crappy part is part of the process, but at the same time it's not discouraging by any sense of the imagination because we've got a lot of young guys getting a lot of good playing time."

    Still, the NFL is a results-based business, and those most assuredly have been few and far between. On Sunday, the Jets' 22nd-ranked offense managed just 256 yards. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson completed just 19 of 42 passes. And the Jets defense allowed 30 points to a Saints team that had lost five in a row.

    The Jets aren't going to fire Saleh after one year. But this franchise had best make good use of their high draft pick in 2022.

    And Saleh had better figure out a way to start producing those results.

28. Carolina Panthers (5-8)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last Week: 26

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Atlanta 29-21

    Over his first stint with the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton enjoyed a great deal of success. He was named MVP of the NFL and led the team to a berth in Super Bowl 50.

    However, that was some time ago. Now, Newton is an aging and limited signal-caller who is winless as a starter in his second stint with the team. However, despite being benched for parts of Sunday's loss to the Falcons, Newton remains Panthers head coach Matt Rhule's starter. 

    "Cam," Rhule told reporters when asked who his quarterback would be moving forward. "Cam did some good things. Cam had those two turnovers, though. Looking for things not to be catastrophic."

    The reality for these Panthers is pretty bleak at present—since starting the season 3-0, the Panthers have lost eight of 10, four of five and three in a row. With the Buffalo Bills and two meetings with Tompa Bay (clever, huh?) still on the schedule, a 10-loss season is looking more likely by the week.

    And this may well be a franchise that is searching for a new head coach in a month or so.

    "Maybe, just maybe, former offensive coordinator Joe Brady wasn't the issue in Carolina," Sobleski said. "The Panthers have now resorted to rotating their quarterbacks while trying to jump-start the offense to little success. A once-promising season has deteriorated to the point where Rhule's effectiveness as an NFL coach can now be called into question."

27. Chicago Bears (4-9)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Last Week: 28

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Green Bay 45-30

    In the opinion of most, we are entering the last month of the Matt Nagy era in Chicago.

    Nagy's Bears stayed in the game against the rival Packers for a half. But after a second-half blitz in which the Pack peeled off 24 straight points, the end result was the same as it has been in seven of the eight meetings between the teams with Nagy as Chicago's coach—a Bears loss.

    For all Chicago's struggles this year, Nagy is still actually three games above .500 in the regular season as the head coach of the Bears. In two of the past three seasons, Nagy's Bears made the playoffs. He was the NFL's Coach of the Year in 2018.

    But the Bears are now 12-17 over the past two seasons. There have been more than a few questionable play-calls and game plans.

    Simply put, the Bears are a mess. And before the team has a chance to ruin another first-round quarterback, it needs to find a coach who can do for Justin Fields what Nagy could not for Mitchell Trubisky.

26. New York Giants (4-9)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Chargers 37-21

    The first two seasons of Joe Judge's tenure as head coach of the New York Giants have mostly been a mess. After 29 games in charge, Judge has won 10 times.

    Despite that lack of success and another lopsided loss Sunday, Judge sounded very much like a man who expects to be the Giants head coach next year while speaking to reporters after the game.

    "We are making lots of progress going forward," Judge insisted. "My scope is always big picture. I look to every week, week to week, but ultimately, my vision goes beyond that. I am looking long-term. ... In terms of the big scope of where we are going, internally we are seeing a lot of pieces being put together. A lot of things are moving in the right direction and are being solidified."

    Granted, it's not Judge's fault that quarterback Daniel Jones is hurt. Or that wide receiver Kenny Golladay has been an $18-million-per-season boondoggle (that's on general manager Dave Gettleman).

    But there has been nothing to indicate that either Judge or Gettleman has what it takes to turn the Giants from punchline to powerhouse in the NFC East.

    Both need to go. 

25. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7)

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Last Week: 20

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Kansas City 48-9

    Before Sunday's battle with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders gathered as a team at the midfield logo for a little metaphorical stomping.

    By the end of the game, it was the Raiders who were stomped—and there wasn't anything metaphorical about it.

    On the first play of the game, Vegas running back Josh Jacobs coughed up a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. As Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia bemoaned to reporters after the game, things just went downhill from there.

    "I don't have a lot of words for it," Raiders coach Rich Bisaccia said. "It started with a fumble the first play of the game. As it went on, we missed more and more tackles. We had more dropped passes. Penalties on defense, gave up explosive plays. Struggled to protect the quarterback. Struggled to run the football. And on top of that, missed a PAT."

    After racing to a 5-2 start that saw them take hold of first place in the AFC West for a brief time, the Raiders have now dropped five of six to drop below .500 for the first time this season. And with their last four games coming against teams with winning records, the Raiders' postseason aspirations are fading quickly.

    "Not only have they lost five of six, but they were embarrassed all around after meeting on the Chiefs' logo Sunday," Gagnon said. "A loss like that to a division rival is deadly, and the remaining schedule is brutal. They're toast."

24. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Last Week: 27

    Week 14 Result: Won at Carolina 29-21

    Sunday's trip to Charlotte marked the seventh road game of the season for the Atlanta Falcons. The team has won five of them while winning just once in six tries at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

    Linebacker Mykal Walker, who logged a pick-six in the team's Week 14 win, told reporters after the game that if the Falcons are going to make a late push for a playoff spot, they have to figure out a way to win at home.

    "For me personally, I don't see any difference between playing on the road or at home," Walker said. "But now we've got to make the home field a home-field advantage. For us, we know what we've got to do now—and that's go 4-0 the rest of the way."

    At 6-7, the Falcons are 10th in the NFC but have the same record as the No. 7 seed Washington Football Team. But winning out and making the playoffs is more dream than reality—the Falcons are a mediocre team that plays two games (49ers in Week 15, Bills in Week 17) against clubs presently in the postseason over the next month.

    At least both of those games are on the road.

23. New Orleans Saints (6-7)

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Last Week: 24

    Week 14 Result: Won at New York Jets 30-9

    After Week 14, there are now five teams fighting for the seventh seed in the NFC at 6-7. Among those, the New Orleans Saints sit last in the pecking order.

    However, after dropping five straight games, any win was a good win, even if it came against the lowly Jets. The Saints won in runaway fashion, as well, piling up 203 yards on the ground while giving up only 256 total yards to the Jets.

    After the game, quarterback Taysom Hill talked up the importance of the game with reporters.

    "This has been a tough stretch for this team," said Hill. "It's been a foreign thing, losing so many games. ... It's nice to get this win."

    However, once the rush from this win wears off, the Saints will find themselves in a precarious position. Next week, they play host to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in a game that's pretty close to a must-win.

    However, if New Orleans can somehow find a way to upset the defending champs for the second time this season, three games (and at least an outside shot at the playoffs) against teams with losing records follow.

    So you're saying there's a chance?

22. Seattle Seahawks (5-8)

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    Last Week: 22

    Week 14 Result: Won at Houston 33-13

    Nothing that happened Sunday in Houston is going to "fix" a wildly disappointing 2021 season for the Seattle Seahawks. But there were at least a few things to smile about in Week 14.

    Russell Wilson had his best outing in weeks, throwing for 260 yards and two scores. Running back Rashaad Penny got the floundering ground game going, rushing for 137 yards and two scores on only 16 carries. Wide receiver Tyler Lockett joined Steve Largent as the only receivers in franchise history to log 1,000 yards in three straight seasons.

    Head coach Pete Carroll praised Lockett's performance while talking to reporters after the game.

    "This was another masterpiece today of just body control, getting open, using the sideline, the balls that Russ threw to him," Carroll said. "Just such a graceful, beautiful athlete. I was thinking about Lance Alworth was the guy back in the day that used to be ... so graceful. Tyler just looked unbelievable on it and did a great job."

    When bright spots have been few and far between, you take them where you can get them. But Gagnon cautioned not to count Seattle out just yet.

    "The NFC might have left the door open just wide enough for the Seahawks to recover from a horrendous start to the season," he said. "They've found a groove of late, and they have a big experience advantage over the rest of the field. I'm expecting them to grab a wild-card spot."

21. Denver Broncos (7-6)

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Last Week: 23

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Detroit 38-10

    The Denver Broncos just won't die.

    Denver has spent only one week below .500 all season long. And after blasting the one-win Lions at Mile High Stadium on Sunday, the Broncos are one of five 7-6 teams fighting for two playoff spots in the AFC.

    The key to Denver's success Sunday was the 184 yards gained on the ground by running backs Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams. As head coach Vic Fangio told reporters afterward, if Denver is going to make a late run, it's going to be on the backs of those ball-carriers.

    "Our two backs are really, really good," said Fangio. "I love them both, I'm glad we have them both. ... We had a good commitment to the run game. And we need to have that, especially this time of year. If you can run it, you can build a lot of things off of it."

    "The Broncos aren't going to the Super Bowl," Davenport said. "They probably won't even make the playoffs. But they can run the ball and play defense, and that makes then a tough out. With playoff hopefuls galore over their last four games, the Broncos may get to play the Grinch and steal Christmas from a team or two." 

20. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Last Week: 21

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Pittsburgh 36-28

    The Minnesota Vikings played arguably their most dominant half of football Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They then turned around and let the Steelers right back into the game, which speaks to the problems they've had this season.

    Running back Dalvin Cook gashed Pittsburgh for over 200 rushing yards, but quarterback Kirk Cousins completed less than half of his passes. The Vikings completely shut down the Steelers offense in the first half, but they allowed touchdowns on three straight drives in the second half.

    Linebacker Anthony Barr told reporters afterward that all of the close games are taking a toll on his psyche, but he's glad to be on the right side of one after last week's crushing loss to Detroit.

    "It is frustrating having to come down to the last second. It's taken a few years of my life this season, but it's good to be on this side of a close one," Barr said.

    The Vikings have a chance to get back to .500 next week against the rival Bears. But with the Rams and Packers on the schedule after that, making a playoff push will be equal parts difficult and unlikely.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    Week 14 Result: Bye Week

    The Philadelphia Eagles have a history of backup quarterbacks taking them on playoff runs, including Nick Foles' magical run to a win in Super Bowl LII.

    But although Gardner Minshew played well in a Week 13 win over the New York Jets, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni made it clear to reporters that his time as the starting quarterback will end as soon as Jalen Hurts is healthy.

    "He's played good football. He's played really good football. There's been times where he's been one of the best in the league with the way he's moved around and made plays. We look at that quarterback rating and what he's had there, so he's played really good football when he's in. So when he's healthy and he's back, he'll be our starter."

    Davenport wholeheartedly believes that Sirianni is making the right call, whether Philly makes the playoffs or not.

    "Minshew's a fun guy—both to play with and write about. And there's no guarantee that Hurts is the Eagles' long-term answer at quarterback," he said. "But we have seen more than enough from Minshew over his time in Jacksonville to know that he is what he is—a backup. Let Hurts play out the final month of the season and then decide whether to commit to building the offense around him or looking for a new starter. 2017 isn't repeating itself anyway."

18. Washington Football Team (6-7)

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Dallas 27-20

    If the season ended today, the Washington Football Team would be in the postseason for the second year in a row.

    However, Washington's winning streak came to a halt Sunday against the rival Cowboys. With Dallas now up three games to go with a head-to-head win, the NFC East race is effectively over.

    It was a costly loss in terms of injuries as well. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin suffered a concussion early in the game. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke (knee) and center Tyler Larsen (Achilles) also exited the game and did not return.

    Those injuries could be an even bigger problem for Washington than Sunday's loss. The WFT has only one game left against a team with a winning record (a rematch with Dallas in two weeks), but they also have two games against an Eagles squad that knows them well.

    At this point, Washington's margin for error is effectively zero.

17. PIttsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Minnesota 36-28

    After Thursday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wasn't shy about his team's performance—especially after getting dominated on both sides of the ball in the first half.

    "We were JV again tonight, and I'm talking up front on both sides," he said. "We've got to be better than we were. We'll turn over every stone to do that. We've got a long week coming up between this and our next one. We'll make good use of that time and assess not only what we're doing, but who we're doing it with."

    The final score of this game doesn't tell the whole story. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook ran through holes big enough that his grandmother would have averaged six yards per carry.

    The Steelers offensive line was just as bad. Ben Roethlisberger was blasted multiple times by blitzers who came though untouched.

    That performance led Davenport to write that it's rebuild time in the Steel City. And he isn't backing down a few days later.

    "Pittsburgh's run defense is terrible," he said. "The offensive line is worse. The Steelers may manage to keep Mike Tomlin's stretch of non-losing seasons intact, but the notion this team can make any kind of noise in the playoffs is laughable."

16. San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Last Week: 17

    Week 14 Result: Won at Cincinnati 26-23 (OT)

    After losing to the Indianapolis Colts on October 24, the San Francisco 49ers were an injury-besieged 2-4 team that looked to be headed nowhere fast. 

    Fast-forward seven weeks, and it's a much different story.

    After roaring back to knock off the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime, the 49ers are 5-2 over their last seven games and have moved into postseason position in the NFC.

    Sunday's hero was tight end George Kittle, who hauled in 13 of a jaw-dropping 15 targets for 151 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk also shined, scoring the game-winner in overtime.

    The Niners' remaining slate is a tale of opposites. They have relatively easy home dates against the Falcons and Texans and challenging road trips to face the Rams and Titans.

    But as head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after Sunday's game, the 49ers are now the captains of their own destiny.

    "If we just keep winning," he said, "we don't have to look at anybody else."

15. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. San Francisco 26-23 (OT)

    It's all falling apart in the Queen City.

    Back in Week 7, the Cincinnati Bengals blasted the rival Ravens to take control of first place in the AFC North. They appeared to be taking a huge step forward in Joe Burrow's second season.

    But since then, the Bengals have struggled. 

    The Bengals blew out the Steelers in Week 12, but that was one of only two wins over their last six games. They forced overtime against the Niners on Sunday with a furious fourth-quarter rally, but they allowed a game-winning touchdown drive and fell to ninth place in the AFC as a result.

    After the heartbreaking loss, defensive end Sam Hubbard said the Bengals have been their own worst enemies as of late.

    "Can't beat yourself," Hubbard said. "Can't make the mistakes we have been making the last few weeks and win games."

    The Bengals are ninth in the AFC, but they're only a game behind the Ravens in a tightly packed division. However, starting with this week's trip to Denver, the Bengals don't play a team with a losing record for the rest of the regular season.

    It won't be easy for them to make the playoffs.

14. Cleveland Browns (7-6)

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    Matt Durisko/Associated Press

    Last Week: 19

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Baltimore 24-22

    The Cleveland Browns have life.

    After losing to the rival Ravens two weeks ago, the Browns had a week off to think about that defeat. If the first half of Sunday's game was any indication, Cleveland didn't care for it at all.

    At halftime of Sunday's rematch, the Browns were cruising at 24-6. However, the second half was another, more unsettling story.

    Although they were facing a Ravens team led by backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, Cleveland let Baltimore back into the game. The Browns didn't score a point after halftime, and they allowed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

    The Browns also lost yet another key contributor, with running back Kareem Hunt now week-to-week after hurting his ankle in the first half.

    "The Browns may be the AFC's No. 8 seed and on the fringe of postseason contention, but I'm not buying this flawed team as a playoff squad," Davenport said. "Playoff teams don't let an offensively challenged opponent led by a backup quarterback to get back in a game in which they have a big lead. Cleveland might well beat the Raiders next week, but when Week 18, ends so will Cleveland's season."

    Sobleski isn't ruling the Browns out, though.

    "The Browns have found a way to stay afloat despite being one of the NFL's most inconsistent squads," he said. "Considering the logjam in the middle of the conference, the Browns could easily go from disappointment to playoff participant if Baker Mayfield and Co. show up over the next four weeks."

13. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

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    Matt Durisko/Associated Press

    Last Week: 12

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Cleveland 24-22

    No team in the NFL has more reason to panic than the Baltimore Ravens.

    It's not because they lost in Cleveland Sunday. Losses happen, and even with the setback, the Ravens remain atop the AFC North. But in the defeat, the Ravens lost star quarterback Lamar Jackson to an ankle injury.

    Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters Monday that he's planning for Jackson to play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. However, he also said that the team is ready to move forward with backup Tyler Huntley under center if necessary.

    "Tyler showed a lot of grit, and I felt like the whole team did that," Harbaugh said. "That's who we are and that's why we have a chance to still win the championship in the AFC North and go on from there. That's what we'll be fighting to do in the next four weeks."

    Huntley played well against the Browns and led the Ravens to a win over the Chicago Bears back in Week 11. But if Jackson is out for an extended time, the Ravens' chances of making a deep playoff run are out the window. Making the postseason at all may be a tall task given their grueling schedule the rest of the way.

    "The Ravens are in big trouble," Gagnon said. "They're just 3-4 in their last seven games, and they have the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers to finish out the year. They've outscored their opponents by only 20 points all season, and now they could be on the verge of blowing the AFC North title."

12. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last Week: 14

    Week 14 Result: Bye Week

    Heading into November, the Miami Dolphins were mired in a seven-game skid. A top-five draft pick (that would belong to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the Jaylen Waddle trade) looked far more likely than a trip to the postseason.

    But the Dolphins didn't fold. After topping the lowly Texans, the Dolphins stunned the Baltimore Ravens, and they followed that up with wins over the Jets, Panthers and Giants. They're now only one game under .500 and are the first team since the 1994 Giants to follow up a seven-game losing streak with five straight wins.

    A Dolphins defense that was awful early in the season has considerably stiffened. Waddle has quickly become Tua Tagovailoa's favorite target in the passing game. And with four games to play, Miami has a shot at a second straight 10-win season.

    Those '94 Giants actually won their final six games of that season to finish 9-7 and entered the final week of the regular season with a chance at the playoffs before coming up short.

    Given how many teams are ahead of them in the AFC, making the playoffs won't be easy for these Dolphins. But Sobleski isn't ruling it out.

    "The Dolphins didn't even take the field this past weekend, but they're looking better by the week," he said. "The AFC's mishmash of mediocrity leaves the door open for one or two squads to rise to the top. Eight teams currently have six or seven wins. No squad has 10 victories yet. With five straight wins and coming off their bye, the Dolphins are positioned for a legit playoff push despite being under .500 at the moment."

11. Buffalo Bills (7-6)

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Last Week: 7

    Week 14 Result: Lost at Tampa Bay 33-27 (OT)

    Not long ago, the Buffalo Bills looked like one of the top contenders to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

    Now, after losing in overtime in Tampa on Sunday, the Bills are 7-6 and in danger of missing the postseason altogether.

    Buffalo gave the defending Super Bowl champions all they could handle in the second half. However, the Bills were blasted 24-3 in the first half.

    Josh Allen became only the fourth quarterback in NFL history to pass for 300 yards and run for over 100 yards in the same game. He also picked up a foot injury, but he told reporters afterward that he was fine.

    "Finished the game. I don't think it's going to be a big deal," Allen said. "It's pretty sore. It's football."

    "The team with the second-best scoring margin in the NFL is just 7-6," Gagnon wrote. "On one hand, that suggests the Bills are much better than their record. On the other hand, they have very few impressive wins over quality opponents. Unless they beat the Patriots in two weeks, this might not be their year."

10. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Last Week: 11

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. New York Giants 37-21

    For well over a month, the Los Angeles Chargers have been pulling a yo-yo act. The team would lose, then win, then lose, then win, then lose, then win.

    For the first time since their bye, the Chargers were able to stack wins in Week 14, taking care of the New York Giants in a game that wasn't as close as the final score.

    Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had an excellent game against the G-Men, throwing for 275 yards and three scores and drawing praise from head coach Brandon Staley.

    "When you see something special, normally it looks easy," Staley said. "That's what he does. He makes the really, really challenging stuff look easy. And that's a pretty good indicator that you're witnessing something rare."

    However, there's not much time for attaboys. This Thursday, the Chargers will play the game that could define their season. Find a way to knock off the Chiefs for the second time in 2021, and the Bolts will assume first place in the AFC West.

    Take a loss, and the Chargers will slide back toward a massive pack of six-loss teams in the AFC.

9. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    Last Week: 10

    Week 14 Result: Bye week

    If the season ended today, the Indianapolis Colts would be the No. 6 seed in the AFC. It's quite the achievement for a team that opened the 2021 season with three consecutive losses.

    Since then, it has been a different story, though. And as we head to Week 15, the Colts are the team no one wants to play.

    With the Titans' Derrick Henry out, Jonathan Taylor has assumed the title of the league's best running back. Quarterback Carson Wentz has rebounded from a sluggish and injury-marred start to his tenure with the team and is playing well. The Colts sport one of the best offensive lines in the game. And an opportunistic defense led by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard entered Week 14 leading the league with 29 takeaways.

    Now it's time to put up or shut up for the Colts. The first post-bye game is a home date against the AFC's No. 1 seed in the New England Patriots. Then it's a trip to Arizona to face the NFC's top seed in the Cardinals.

    It's a brutal two-game span, and a Week 17 tilt with the Raiders isn't exactly a breeze.

    But for the Colts to have a realistic shot at the postseason in the crowded AFC, they probably need to win at least two of those games.

8. Tennessee Titans (9-4)

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Last Week: 8

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville 20-0

    After dropping two straight heading into the bye week (including a loss to the hapless Texans), the Tennessee Titans badly needed a win in Week 14. Fortunately, the team's Week 14 opponent was a Jacksonville Jaguars team embroiled in a bizarre mashup of Varsity Blues and Melrose Place.

    Getting back on the winning track wasn't the only good news for Titans fans. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Titans expect to have star running back Derrick Henry back for the postseason. Given that it took Tennessee 34 carries to gain 102 yards against one of the NFL's worst defenses on Sunday, Henry's return is critical if the Titans are going to make any noise in the postseason.

    With a two-game lead in the AFC South (that is effectively three given their pair of head-to-head wins over the Colts) and just one game left against a team that presently sports a winning record, Tennessee's second consecutive division title is all but locked up.

    The goal now is to get Henry and the team's other injured players healthy and ready for the time of year when your next loss is the last one.

7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Last Week: 9

    Week 14 Result: Won at Washington 27-20

    Leading into Sunday's NFC East showdown with a hot Washington team, Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy made headlines when he guaranteed that his squad would emerge with a victory.

    "We're going to win this game," he said. "I'm confident in that."

    As it happens, the Dallas coach wasn't blowing smoke. The Cowboys raced out to a big lead early before holding on for a seven-point win. While speaking to reporters after the game, quarterback Dak Prescott praised the team's start while making it clear Dallas needs to finish better.

    "We got high standards and high expectations for ourselves," said Prescott, who was 22-of-39 for 211 yards. "Got going pretty early, got a big lead, but we've got to be able to finish it off and not let them back in the game."

    "Granted, the team took their foot off the pedal a bit in the second half, but I'm having an easier time taking these Cowboys seriously as a Super Bowl contender," Davenport said. "We know the Dallas offense can pile up yards and points, but with Micah Parsons and the defense also playing at a high level, these Cowboys can hang with the Buccaneers, Packers and Cardinals."

6. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

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    Jeff Lewis/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    Week 14 Result: Won at Arizona 30-23

    The NFC West is in play again.

    Heading into Monday night's matchup between the Cardinals and Rams in Glendale, some were getting the champagne ready. The Cardinals handled the Rams with relative ease earlier this year, and with another win, Arizona would possess an all but insurmountable lead in the division.

    Apparently, the Rams don't like parties.

    Thanks to a three-touchdown effort from quarterback Matthew Stafford, a three-sack effort from defensive tackle Aaron Donald and 13 grabs from wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the Rams pulled off a seven-point win that narrows Arizona's lead to a single game and gives Los Angeles consecutive wins after a three-game skid raised questions about the team's viability as a Super Bowl contender.

    The win also sets the Rams up for a potential run at a division title given their remaining schedule: two straight against teams with losing records before a matchup with the scuffling Ravens and what could be an all-important Week 18 game against the 49ers in SoFi Stadium.

    Buckle up.

5. Arizona Cardinals (10-3)

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    Week 14 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Rams 30-23

    If the Arizona Cardinals fail to capture the NFC West in 2021, this is the game they will look back on as when things went sideways.

    This isn't to say that the Rams don't deserve credit for how they played against the Cardinals, especially after Arizona beat them by 17 back in Week 4.

    But this was a game filled with self-inflicted wounds.

    There were the two Kyler Murray turnovers. The inability to get the ground game going. The two missed fourth-down conversions, including one with Arizona down 10 when the team was ostensibly in field goal range. And there was terrible clock management at the end, whether it was wasting clock before kicking a field goal (again) down 10 or not clocking the ball to set up a potential Hail Mary.

    It was a sloppy performance that raises real questions about Arizona's viability as a Super Bowl contender.

    It also dropped the team (for now) into the No. 3 seed in the NFC, which could cost them a bye and potentially send them on the road to play outdoors in January.

    We hear it gets cold in Wisconsin.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Last Week: 5

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Buffalo 33-27 (OT)

    In the first half of their game on Sunday, it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to blow out the Buffalo Bills at Raymond James Stadium. Thanks to a long touchdown by running back Leonard Fournette and a couple of Tom Brady scores (one in the air, the other on the ground), Tampa led 24-3 at the break.

    The Bills roared back in the second half to force overtime, but in the end, it was Brady who once again had the last laugh against the Bills, moving to a ridiculous 33-3 against Buffalo with a 58-yard touchdown strike to Breshad Perriman in the extra period.

    "It was a little disconcerting to see the Buccaneers cough up such a big lead in the second half," Davenport said. "But as has been the case a million times over his career, Brady found a way to get the win in the end. Tampa's headed toward another NFC South title and a high seed in the playoffs, and with the secondary getting healthier toward the end of the year, the Bucs have as good a chance of repping the NFC in Super Bowl LVI as anyone. Anyone up for a rematch with the Chiefs?"

3. Green Bay Packers (10-3)

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Last Week: 4

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Chicago 45-30

    For a time Sunday night, it appeared the Green Bay Packers might stumble against their most hated rivals at Lambeau Field. Thanks to a pair of long touchdowns, the Bears held a six-point lead at intermission.

    The second half was another story. The Packers peeled off 24 unanswered points in the second half to cruise to a win that keeps Green Bay in the hunt for the NFC's No. 1 seed.

    As Sobleski wrote, the Packers aren't without flaws, But so long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, Green Bay remains one of the league's most dangerous teams.

    "The Packers are terrible on special teams," he said. "Their offensive line is wracked with injuries. Green Bay's cornerback depth is depleted. Yet the team is still 10-3 because Rodgers is once again playing at an MVP level and keeping everything together. Plus, the possible returns of Jaire Alexander, David Bakhtiari and Za'Darius Smith could push the Packers over the top to become the NFC's best squad."

2. New England Patriots (9-4)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Last Week: 3

    Week 14 Result: Bye week

    When Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals was asked by reporters last week how it felt to be a contender for NFL Coach of the Year, he made it clear that so far as he's concerned, in his profession, it is Bill Belichick's world. Everyone else is just living in it.

    "I mean, they should just name the award 'Bill Belichick,'" Kingsbury said. "And when he retires, like, bring that back. But, yeah, until he retires, I don't think anybody else should get the award, honestly. He should be that every single year that he's coaching."

    Belichick is, in the opinion of just about everyone, the greatest head coach the NFL has ever seen. But the job he has done in 2021 may be the best of his Hall of Fame career. The Patriots entered this season with zero expectations and a rookie quarterback. They enter Week 15 as the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a healthy lead in the AFC East after beating the Buffalo Bills in a game where the Pats attempted all of three passes.

    The Pats have a great defense. Jones appears a perfect fit for Josh McDaniels' offense.

    And Darth Hoodie looks to have his sights set on a seventh Super Bowl win of his own.

    Take that, Tom.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Last Week: 2

    Week 14 Result: Won vs. Las Vegas 48-9

    It wasn't long ago that many were questioning whether Kansas City's long reign of dominance in the AFC West might be coming to an end.

    Over the last month or so, the Chiefs have put considerable effort into dispelling those doubts, and on Sunday at Arrowhead, the team obliterated whatever remnants remained.

    The Chiefs dominated the Raiders in just about every way a game can be dominated. Kansas City's 372 yards of offense wasn't overly impressive, but the team was lethally efficient, converting nine of 13 third downs. Defensively, Kansas City wreaked havoc, allowing just 263 yards of offense and forcing five turnovers.

    It's that defense that has spurred Kansas City's six-game winning streak—and what makes the Chiefs (once again) the team to beat in the AFC.

    "It's hard to believe this is the same Chiefs team that was 3-4 at one point this season," Davenport said. "While most of the rest of the AFC is a muddied mess, the Chiefs have steadily improved and are clearly the best team in the conference. If Kansas City's defense continues to play at this level, the team is going to make a third straight Super Bowl and flirt with dynasty status in the process."

    "The Chiefs defense has surrendered 10.8 points per game during the team's six-game winning streak, and now the offense has found its groove," Gagnon added. "They're peaking at the right time and should be on track to make their third consecutive Super Bowl."