2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 18?

NFL StaffContributor IJanuary 4, 2022

2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 18?

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    Bleacher Report

    We're in uncharted waters in the NFL.

    Normally, Week 17 means the end of the line—the conclusion of the regular season. But with the addition of a 17th game, there's one more week to go—and much to be decided.

    We know that the Green Bay Packers are NFC North champions and that conference's top seed. The NFC South (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), AFC South (Tennessee Titans), AFC West (Kansas City Chiefs), NFC East (Dallas Cowboys) and AFC North (Cincinnati Bengals) have all been settled.

    But we don't yet know who the champions of the AFC East and NFC West are. There are still wild-card spots up for grabs. And the AFC's top seed is yet to be determined,

    We're in uncharted waters with these power rankings as well. As NFL analysts Gary Davenport and Brent Sobleski come together to make sense of a weekend that included big wins in Cincy and Arlington and a bizarre game at Met Life Stadium, they are joined by a new colleague in Maurice Moton.

    We also have a new No. 1 team, although No. 32 is absolutely Gorilla-Glued into the last spot.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Last Week: 32

    Week 17 Result: Lost at New England 50-10

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are a terrible football team. And with each passing week, it's becoming fairer and fairer to question whether the terrible is starting to rub off on Trevor Lawrence.

    Sunday against the Patriots, the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft put forth another dreadful performance—17 completions in 27 attempts with one score and three interceptions. The youngster didn't sugarcoat things while speaking to reporters afterward.

    "Obviously, it wasn't a good day," Lawrence said. "Didn't play well, all phases of the game. It sucks. You prepare for the game and to go out there and not perform, it's disappointing. Got to flip the page. ... It's definitely frustrating."

    The problem is that it was hardly the first bad day. Lawrence's touchdown pass was just his second since Week 8. The interceptions bring his season total to 17.

    If the Jaguars lose in Week 18, they will once again have the first overall pick in 2022. There will be a new head coach next season. But the Jaguars have to make better use of those resources next year than they did in 2021.

    Otherwise, Lawrence will get wrecked for sure.

31. New York GIants (4-12)

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    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    Last Week: 31

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Chicago 29-3

    The New York Giants are an absolute dumpster fire.

    Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants set a season low with 192 total yards. That looked like the good old days after Sunday's clunker against the Bears—Mike Glennon threw for 24 yards and Giants tallied 151 yards as a team. 

    The quarterback position has been a revolving door of revolting. Running back Saquon Barkley finally had his first 100-yard outing of the season—in Week 17. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who New York gave a four-year, $72 million contract in free agency, has yet to score a touchdown for his new team and didn't have a catch against the Bears.

    To his credit, Giants head coach Joe Judge accepted responsibility for his team's pathetic performance after the game.

    "Everything comes under my umbrella, so I am not going to deflect something or say I'm not responsible for something," Judge told reporters. "I am responsible for everything. Let's make that clear."

    That rather sounds like a man who knows that in a week or so he's going to be looking for work.

30. Houston Texans (4-12)

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Last Week: 28

    Week 17 Result: Lost at San Francisco 23-7

    The Houston Texans headed into Week 17 riding high after their biggest win of the 2021 season—a 41-29 victory over the Chargers.

    There would be no win No. 5 Sunday in San Francisco.

    The Texans were thoroughly outclassed by rookie quarterback Trey Lance and the 49ers. Offensively, the run game that helped the Texans knock off Los Angeles never got untracked, managing just 86 yards. Defensively, the Texans had no answer for San Francisco's ground game, surrendering 4.7 yards per carry and 175 rushing yards total.

    Frankly, head coach David Culley deserves credit for keeping one of the least talented teams in the league in as many games as he has. But the focus now needs to be on the future. If the season ended today, the Texans would pick third in April's draft, and if Deshaun Watson's legal situation is resolved and a trade partner can be found, Houston could find itself with as much draft capital as any team in the league.

    That's a good thing—because the Texans also have as many holes on the roster as any team in the league.

29. Carolina Panthers (5-11)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Last Week: 29

    Week 17 Result: Lost at New Orleans 18-10

    Since starting the 2021 season 3-0 against a trio of tomato cans, the Carolina Panthers have won all of twice in 13 games. And as Joseph Person wrote for The Athletic, as the losses have mounted so has the criticism of head coach Matt Rhule.

    "The proof's in the pudding," said one veteran personnel official. "The product on the field is bad."

    A scout said that the defense has all the ferocity of a house cat.

    "(Rhule) can say toughness in his mind, but they're not oozing toughness on the field," the scout said. "They're soft. They're a really soft football team. I don't see the defense stopping anybody where it's a 14-13 score. That's tough football."


    According to Person, Panthers owner David Tepper doesn't plan to fire Rhule, despite the team's collapse.

    But there has been little to indicate, whether it's from Rhule or quarterback Sam Darnold, that this team will take a big step forward and challenge the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season.

    The Panthers are bad. And from all indications, bad is how they will stay.

28. New York Jets (4-12)

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 30

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Tampa Bay 28-24

    For a time Sunday, it looked like the New York Jets were on the verge of pulling off arguably the biggest upset of the 2021 season. With just over two minutes to play, the Jets had a four-point lead over the defending Super Bowl champions, who took over from their own 7-yard line with no timeouts. 

    But New York proceeded to let Tom Brady drive the length of the field with little resistance to pull out the win. That drive came after a miscommunication on a fourth-down play led to a turnover on downs, and while speaking to reporters after the game, head coach Robert Saleh accepted responsibility for the gaffe.

    "It's unfortunate that we're going to be talking about the last sequence of events there," Saleh said, "but I thought our guys were outstanding today. They deserved better."

    It was a rough end to the game to be sure. But Saleh and the Jets can at least take some solace in giving the Buccaneers all they could handle.

    It would appear to show that at least some progress is being made.

    "The Jets have gone through a year with a lot of growing pains," Moton said. "They have a first-year head coach in Saleh and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson under center. With that said, they have scored 24-plus points in each of their last three games and nearly pulled off an upset against the Buccaneers this past week. The Jets have allowed the most points and yards in the league, but they're at least showing signs of improvement on offense."

27. Detroit Lions (2-13-1)

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Last Week: 27

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Seattle 51-29

    The wins have been few and far between for the Lions this year, but for the most part they have at least been a tough out.

    That was not the case Sunday in Seattle.

    Frankly, that Detroit's offense had the success it did with Tim Boyle under center is something of an achievement. And rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown continued to shine, tallying 134 total yards and two touchdowns.

    But Detroit's defense had no answer for Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense, surrendering 51 points and almost 500 total yards.

    It's possible that the Lions will notch win No. 3 Sunday against the Packers—with the NFC's No. 1 seed sewn up, Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Green Bay's other stars could wind up taking Week 18 off.

    But regardless of whether the Lions end the year 2-14-1 or 3-13-1, there's a ton of work to do and questions to be answered once the offseason begins, including whether the team views Jared Goff as a long-term solution under center. 

26. Washington Football Team (6-10)

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    Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

    Last Week: 26

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Philadelphia 20-16

    It has been a rotten season in Washington for the most part. Injuries have hit the team hard on both sides of the ball. Washington's Week 17 loss to the rival Eagles was its 10th of the year. The offense has been erratic. The defense has been a major disappointment. After four consecutive losses, head coach Ron Rivera is in full cliche mode.

    "Hopefully we're developing character," Rivera told reporters after the game. "The important thing is how we finish. We have one more game to go. We go from there."

    Once that last game against the New York Giants is over, Washington will enter an offseason sure to be dominated by one issue. The Ryan Fitzpatrick era ended before it started. Taylor Heinicke is OK, but he's not much more than that.

    If Washington is going to go anywhere in 2022, the team has to get better at quarterback.

    And that is easier said than done.

25. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

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    Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

    Last Week: 22

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Buffalo 29-15

    After losing to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons were officially eliminated from playoff consideration. And that means the focus for this team needs to shift toward the future. Toward addressing the shortcomings that have caused the Falcons to miss the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.

    It's not an especially short list.

    The first decision the Falcons need to make regards quarterback Matt Ryan, who at 36 is a lot closer to the end of the line than the beginning. Ryan may not be an MVP candidate anymore, but he's still a capable veteran quarterback who would carry a sizable dead cap hit if Atlanta moved on.

    The more likely plan of action is improving the team around Ryan. But that's not going to be especially easy either. This team is in need of help on the offensive line. And at edge-rusher. And in the secondary. And at wide receiver.

    That's a lot of holes to fill, and with the ninth-least cap space in 2022, per Over the Cap, the Falcons don't have a ton of resources available to affect repairs.

24. Denver Broncos (7-9)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Last Week: 24

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Chargers 34-13

    A few weeks ago, the Denver Broncos were a 7-6 team with at least some chance of making a run at a wild-card spot.

    Fast forward three weeks, and after being blown out by the Chargers, the Broncos are out of the playoffs and ensured of a losing record for a fifth consecutive year.

    Kicker Brandon McManus, who is the lone remaining player from the team that won Super Bowl 50, admitted that another losing season is frustrating.

    "Obviously it's disappointing," McManus told reporters. "It's what, six years now of missing the playoffs? When you lose a lot of division games, it doesn't help. That's what we've done the last few years. We gave ourselves a chance. We sat at 7-6. Obviously we didn't do enough to win enough games down the stretch here."

    Given that long playoff drought, it's likely that some big changes are coming in the offseason. Vic Fangio's future as head coach is anything but certain, and neither Teddy Bridgewater nor Drew Lock has inspired any confidence as a long-term solution at quarterback.

    "Denver couldn't compete with the rest of the league this season for one simple reason: The Broncos aren't good enough at the quarterback position," Sobleski said. "With their playoff lives hanging in the balance, they lost their last three games. During that span, the offense didn't score more than 13 points. Yes, the Broncos are a run-based offense with a talented backfield. At the same time, the team's quarterbacks don't do enough to threaten the opposition."

23. Chicago Bears (6-10)

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    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    Last Week: 23

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. New York Giants 29-3

    By most measurements, it has been a miserable season in Chicago. One meaningless win over a terrible Giants team isn't going to change that. It also isn't going to save the job of embattled head coach Matt Nagy, who is expected to be fired following next week's season finale against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Still, the win was Chicago's second in a row, and some history was set in the game. Not only did the Bears join the Green Bay Packers as the only NFL teams with 800 victories (including the postseason), but when edge-rusher Robert Quinn sacked Giants quarterback Mike Glennon in the fourth quarter, he broke Richard Dent's franchise record of 17.5 set in 1984.

    The new record is a rare bright spot in a dark season. But soon enough that season (and the Nagy era) will be over. Then comes the hard part—finding a head coach who can develop young quarterback Justin Fields and filling the holes on the roster without the help of a first-round pick in the 2022 draft.

22. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Detroit 51-29

    For the most part, it has been a wildly disappointing season for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks—especially offensively.

    But Sunday at least, that offense got rolling.

    Facing the Detroit Lions, Seattle topped 50 points and piled up almost 500 yards of offense. Running back Rashaad Penny had 170 rushing yards and two scores on 25 carries. Wilson threw four touchdown passes, including three to wide receiver DK Metcalf.

    It was no doubt a welcome sight for fans of the Seahawks not used to the struggles they have endured this season. But as Moton wrote, one big game doesn't erase the uncertainty facing the team's future.

    "Last week, we saw vintage Russell Wilson against the Detroit Lions," he said. "For the first time since the Seattle Seahawks' season-opening matchup with the Colts, he threw for four touchdowns. At the tail end of a disappointing campaign, the seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback may want out of Seattle's disjointed offense. He's at a career crossroads with a team that massively underachieved and needs an offseason makeover."

21. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

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    Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

    Last Week: 21

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Green Bay 37-10

    The Minnesota Vikings are officially done.

    To be fair, these Vikings have been done for a while now. Sure, Minnesota hung around the fringes of postseason contention much of the season. But the Vikings made losing close games an art form this season. In games the defense played well, the offense sputtered. When the offense was firing, the defense couldn't get stops.

    Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson admitted as much while talking to reporters postgame.

    "Offense can be on one game and the defense's not playing well, defense can play well one game and the offense is not playing well," Peterson said. "We can't have that back and forth throughout the season. We have to be able to play complementary football. We did that at times and we didn't do that at times. When we didn't do it, it hurt us."

    Of course, there are also games like Sunday night—when neither side played well.

    "Yes, Kirk Cousins wasn't out there against the Packers," Davenport said. "But Sunday night was where the Vikings are in a nutshell. When mediocrity is your ceiling and the floor is awful, it's time for changes. Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman both need to go, and if I could find a taker for Cousins he'd be out the door too."

    "When do the Vikings consider a clean sweep to restart the franchise? Since Kirk Cousins joined the team, Minnesota owns a 32-31-1 record," Sobleski agreed. "Obviously, the team's overall mediocrity doesn't fall solely on the quarterback, but an inability to be anything more than middling with Cousins, Zimmer and Spielman should have Vikings ownership questioning the franchise's current direction. Right now, the Vikings are stuck in limbo with no clear way toward high-end performance with the same people leading the way."

20. Cleveland Browns (7-9)

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Last Week  17

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Pittsburgh 26-14

    For the second time in three years, the Cleveland Browns entered the regular season riding a wave of hype.

    And for the second time in three years, as the calendar turns to January that hype has given way to a losing season and the team missing the playoffs.

    And now, the Browns face an offseason filled with uncertainty and one massive question—what to do about Baker Mayfield?

    Yes, part of Mayfield's struggles in 2021 can be attributed to the injuries he has suffered this year and a lack of passing game talent around him. But Odell Beckham appears to be doing fine in Los Angeles. Mayfield has one of the league's best offensive lines in front of him and maybe the best one-two punch in the backfield in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind him. But while Joe Burrow is racking up division titles down I-71 in Cincinnati, Mayfield is racking up interceptions and questions about his viability as the long-term solution under center.

    "I won't sit here and say definitively that Mayfield isn't 'the guy' in Cleveland," Davenport said. "But if the Browns extend him after this mess of a season it will either be at a steep discount or the most Browns thing ever. Every time you think this team is shaking off the decades of dysfunction and dread, Cleveland happens."

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Cleveland 26-14

    If Monday night really was Ben Roethlisberger's final game at Heinz Field, then at least he went out a winner.

    Mind you, it wasn't an especially impressive performance—certainly not as impressive as T.J. Watt's four-sack onslaught that gives him a legitimate chance to breaking the sack record next week. And Pittsburgh's chances of making the postseason remain remote. In addition to a win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers need the Jacksonville Jaguars to upset the Indianapolis Colts and for there to be a winning team in the Los Angeles Chargers -Las Vegas Raiders game.

    But after 18 seasons and a pair of Super Bowl wins, at least Roethlisberger got to leave the field a winner.

    Of course, that also begs the question of what's next for Pittsburgh at quarterback. Try to pull a Mac Jones out of the first round? Trade up? Take a hard run at Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson.

    If Monday was the end of an era in Pittsburgh, then the offseason that is about to follow is going to be fascinating.

18. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Last Week: 19

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Rams 20-19

    Eleven games into the 2021 season, the Baltimore Ravens were 8-3 and the top seed in the AFC.

    They haven't won since. And now the Ravens are in very real danger of missing the playoffs altogether for the first time 2017.

    It's not difficult to pinpoint the reasons for Baltimore's skid. The team has been decimated by injuries. Quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn't played since injuring his ankle in Week 14. The secondary and running back positions have been riddled with absences.

    The Ravens haven't been eliminated yet. But in addition to needing a win over the rival Steelers next week, Baltimore needs the Raiders to beat the Chargers. And the Patriots to beat the Dolphins. And the Jaguars to beat the Colts.

    It's that last one that is least likely to happen. Most likely, the Ravens will be watching the playoffs on TV a week from now—and lamenting a season lost from injuries. 

17. Miami Dolphins (8-8)

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    Silas Walker/Getty Images

    Last Week: 8

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Tennessee 34-3

    The Miami Dolphins entered Week 17 arguably the hottest team in the entire NFL.

    They left Week 17 wiping Tennessee's footprints off their forehead—and with their postseason hopes gone thanks to the Los Angeles Chargers' victory later Sunday afternoon.

    That Miami lost is understandable. The winning streak had to end sometime. And the Titans are a two-time defending division champion.

    But the 'Fins didn't just lose. They were annihilated. Dominated in every facet of the game. They couldn't generate offense. Couldn't stop the run. Couldn't do much of anything. Tua Tagovailoa had an atrocious day passing the ball, completing just 18 of 38 passes.

    It was an effort that will add fuel for those who doubt Tagovailoa's long-term viability. But at least one of our analysts doesn't think the southpaw is the problem.

    "The Dolphins have flaws," Davenport said, "but mortgaging the future for Deshaun Watson or whoever isn't going to fix them. Use your draft capital and cap space to shore up a leaky offensive line. Find a decent running back. Add some help on defense. This team can compete with Tua and some improvements, but blow everything on a trade for a quarterback, and you'll have the same problems with a new face under center."

16. New Orleans Saints (8-8)

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Last Week: 20

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Carolina 18-10

    The New Orleans Saints just won't die.

    The Saints most assuredly did not win pretty Sunday. New Orleans managed just 73 yards on the ground and averaged just 2.6 yards per carry. Over their last three games, the Saints are averaging all of 10 points per game.

    But the Saints figured out a way to win a game they had to, drawing praise from head coach Sean Payton in the process.

    "When we hear people say must-win games, today was a must-win game," Payton told reporters, crediting his players' sense of urgency. "These guys understood it."

    Mind you, the Saints still face an uphill battle to make the postseason. In addition to beating the Atlanta Falcons next week, the Saints need the Rams to defeat the San Francisco 49ers. Neither scenario is especially unlikely.

    Will the Saints make any noise in the postseason? No. But if this team can make the postseason tournament after starting no fewer than four quarterbacks this season (Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill and Ian Book), it may well be the best coaching job of Payton's career.

    And given another season sweep of Tampa, the last thing the fighting Tom Bradys want is to have to take on New Orleans in the Wild Card Round. 

15. Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Last Week: 16

    Week 17 Result: Won at Indianapolis 23-20

    To say that it has been a tumultuous season for the Las Vegas Raiders is an understatement. There was the dismissal of head coach Jon Gruden. The fatal crash that led to the release of wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. The disturbing social media post that led to the release of cornerback Damon Arnette. Never mind the injuries and COVID-19-related absences on both sides of the ball.

    But through it all the Raiders have managed to keep the train on the tracks. And after downing the Colts in Indianapolis, the Raiders have a real chance at making the postseason. All they have to do is beat the Chargers in Week 18.

    "Frankly, the Raiders have a real shot at ending the season on a four-game winning streak and making the postseason," Davenport said. "Los Angeles is vulnerable against the run, and Josh Jacobs has the ability to take advantage of that vulnerability. The question will be whether the Raiders defense can hold up after a two-touchdown loss to the Bolts in Week 4. At any rate, the scene at Allegiant Stadium next Sunday night should be rocking, and interim head coach Rich Bisaccia deserves a ton of credit (and consideration for removal of that "interim" tag) after the way he has navigated the season in Vegas."

    "Somehow, the Raiders keep pulling out victories, though the statistics suggest they're a subpar team," Moton added. "With a minus-68 point differential, the Silver and Black has turned the ball over seven times since Week 15, but they have gone 3-0 in that stretch. Following a win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Raiders should be taken seriously. They are stifling opponents with a stout defense, giving up 20 points or fewer in each of the last three outings."

14. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

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    Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

    Last Week: 14

    Week 17 Result: Won at Washington 20-16

    The Philadelphia Eagles are back in the postseason.

    Sunday's victory in D.C. more or less followed the same script the Eagles have used to turn their season around. They ran the ball 34 times in Week 17, and while they gained just 3.5 yards per carry, the Eagles controlled the flow of the game and won the time-of-possession battle.

    After the game, quarterback Jalen Hurts told reporters that the team's success has been about comitting to their smashmouth mentality.

    "We just bought in to who we are, bought in to what we could be and trusted in the grind in approaching every day the way we do," Hurts said. "I couldn't be more proud of this team."

    With a postseason berth assured, the Eagles can breathe a little easier about next week's visit from the Dallas Cowboys. It's also possible that the team sits Hurts to allow his injured ankle to heal.

    But knocking off Dallas would also go a long way toward establishing that the Eagles can have success in the postseason.

    "Over the past month, the Eagles have beat up on bottom-tier squads such as the New York Jets, New York Giants and Washington Football Team, but that doesn't take away from their dominant performances," Moton said. "Philadelphia has won three of its last four contests by at least 10 points. When quarterback Jalen Hurts doesn't turn the ball over, the Eagles control games with their No. 1-ranked ground attack, which has fueled the club's recent surge in the standings."

    "Kudos to Nick Sirianni for adjusting to the talent available to him, as the Eagles found their way into the postseason as a run-based squad built around their fantastic offensive line and dual-threat quarterback, Jalen Hurts," Sobleski added. "The first-year head coach leaned on arguably the best offensive front in football, which helped turn the Eagles into a winner. That group will make the Eagles dangerous in the postseason even if they lack the overall talent compared to others." 

13. San Francisco 48ers (9-7)

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    John Hefti/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Houston 23-7

    The San Francisco 49ers had a problem in Week 17. Fresh off a loss in Tennessee, the Niners were in jeopardy of falling out of the playoff chase in the NFC. The team was also short-handed (so to speak) with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo nursing a hand injury.

    Thanks to the return of running back Elijah Mitchell and a solid performance by rookie signal-caller Trey Lance, the Niners got the win they needed to maintain control of their own destiny. Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the win that San Francisco approached this game as if the postseason had already started.

    "It's pretty simple for us," Shanahan said. "I think our playoffs, I kind of thought going into this game that they started today because I had a feeling that was going to go like that and it did. I'm just glad we took care of business. So we got our second playoff game next week."

    The 49ers passed this test. But there's an even bigger one looming on the horizon. Sunday afternoon, the 49ers travel to face the West-leading Rams. And if San Francisco loses that game and the New Orleans Saints win, the 49ers would miss the playoffs. 

12. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Denver 34-13

    Win and in. That's the edict for the Los Angeles Chargers now.

    After walloping the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Chargers are 9-7 and control their destiny. Notch a win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18, and it's on to the playoffs.

    After losing in stunning fashion to the Houston Texans the week before, head coach Brandon Staley told reporters that the Bolts got back on track by treating the Denver game as a season unto itself.

    "Each week has a life of its own in the NFL. It's having a life of its own since the beginning, and that's the way we need to treat things around here," Staley said. "And the more, the longer that we're here, the more people will realize that every week is going to feel like this coming week."

    The game also featured some history for Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert became the fastest player to reach 800 career completions (31 games) and at 23 years, 298 days became the second-youngest player in league history to get to 65 TD passes. He also set a new Chargers single-season record with 35 touchdown passes.

    But none of that will matter if the Chargers can't get past their AFC West rivals next week and into the playoffs.

11. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Las Vegas 23-20

    Entering Week 17, there wasn't a hotter team in the NFL than the Indianapolis Colts. The team had won seven of eight to get back in the playoff hunt. Running back Jonathan Cooper was garnering MVP buzz. An opportunistic defense was making big plays week after week.

    Everything was falling into place…until Sunday.

    Now, it isn't all doom and gloom for the Colts after Sunday's loss to the Raiders. If Indy beats the lowly Jaguars next week, it is in the postseason tournament.

    But head coach Frank Reich admitted that he was taken a bit aback by his team's lackluster effort at home against Las Vegas in a game where the Colts could have clinched a postseason spot.

    "We're like anyone else. If you don't come and just lose a little bit of an edge, if you just let your guard down just a little bit, you can get beat in this league," Reich told reporters. "So I didn't think that was going to happen today. I thought we'd come out and have the edge that was needed to finish it out this week and to go in with a ton of momentum next week, but we'll have to prepare this week. No givens next week."

    And lest you think that next week is a "gimme," consider this: The Colts have lost five straight to the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

    For reals.

10. New England Patriots (10-6)

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    Boston Globe/Getty Images

    Last Week: 8

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville 50-10

    The New England Patriots apparently aren't big on long rebuilds.

    After missing the postseason last year, the post-Brady Patriots are back in the postseason in 2021 after spanking the Jaguars on Sunday, albeit likely as a wild card. The victory also gave Bill Belichick his 20th 10-win season, tying Don Shula for the all-time mark in that regard.

    It was a game the Patriots dominated in every facet, whether it was by gaining 181 yards on the ground or holding the Jaguars to just 253 total yards. But as quarterback Mac Jones told reporters after the game, the Pats are well aware that their main goal this season still lies ahead of them.

    "We're trying to play as long as we can and get as deep as we can in the playoffs," Jones said. "I realize what we're playing for. ... All the stuff that happens in the future, we'll deal with that when it comes."

    "These Patriots might not be good enough to knock off the Chiefs in Kansas City or Bills in Buffalo in January," Davenport said. "Not yet. Not with a rookie quarterback. But this is a team that runs the ball and plays defense, and those are the sorts of teams that can be a tough out in the postseason."

9. Tenneessee Titans (11-5)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: 10

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Miami 34-3

    The Tennessee Titans made a statement Sunday.

    With Kansas City falling in Cincinnati, the No. 1 seed in the AFC was back in play in Week 17. But to recapture it, the Titans would have to beat a Miami Dolphins team that had peeled off seven consecutive victories.

    No problem. In fact, the Titans flattened Miami, rumbling for almost 200 yards on the ground while holding the Dolphins to just 258 yards of offense.

    Mind you, this is a Titans team that lost running back Derrick Henry in Week 8. A team that has been without star wideouts A.J. Brown and Julio Jones for big parts of the season. A team that has used more players (88) than any team in a non-strike season ever has.

    Despite that adversity, the Titans are AFC South champions and can lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win in Houston.

    "I will freely admit to being skeptical about the Titans," Davenport said. "And I still am—Ryan Tannehill hasn't played especially well this year. But Tennessee finds a way to win. They beat Miami. Outlasted San Francisco. Downed the Rams. Beat the Bills and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks. And provided they don’t stumble next week, the Titans won't be traveling in the playoffs. You have to take that seriously."

    "Too many probably jumped to the conclusion that the Titans' season, at least as legitimate contenders, was over when Derrick Henry suffered a Jones fracture in his foot," Sobleski said. "Not so fast, my friends. Tennessee still maintains the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed, and it's still just as productive on the ground. In fact, the combination of D'Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, Jeremy McNichols and Adrian Peterson has run for slightly more yards in eight games than Henry did during the first half of the regular season." 

8. Arizona Cardinals (11-5)

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Last Week: 12

    Week 17 Result: Won at Dallas 25-22

    After dropping three straight to fall out of first place in the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals badly needed a bounce-back performance—a game to show that they remain a real threat in the NFC.

    Sunday in Dallas, the Cardinals got that performance.

    After struggling a bit of late, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray had his best game in weeks. He had 263 passing yards and two scores without an interception and 44 more yards on the ground. The Arizona defense stepped up as well, allowing just 301 yards to one of the NFL's most potent offenses.

    While speaking to reporters after the game, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury talked up his team's moxie in overcoming its recent struggles to take down a potential Super Bowl contender.

    "They've been resilient this entire time, no matter what's been said, or thought, outside of our building," Kingsbury said. "Those guys have worked their tails off and understand what we can be, and we've just got to keep fighting."

    The Cardinals can't earn the NFC's No. 1 seed. But if the Rams fall against San Francisco next week and Arizona defeats the Seahawks, the Cardinals will earn their first NFC West title since 2015.

7. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Last Week: 3

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Arizona 25-22

    Sunday in Arizona, the Dallas Cowboys had a chance to send a message to the rest of the NFC. To announce that they are a front-runner to represent the conference in Super Bowl LVI.

    Dallas came up short in that regard.

    Granted, there's no shame in losing a close game to a very talented Arizona Cardinals team. But the defeat showed that Dallas isn't a team without issues. A defense that had tallied big plays in droves was unable to do so against Arizona. The Dallas offense came in over 100 yards under its season average.

    "It's going to be interesting to see what the Cowboys decide to do next week against an Eagles team that has similarly clinched a playoff spot," Davenport said. "As things stand now, the Cowboys would be staring at a rematch against Arizona. But depending on what the Buccaneers and Rams do, Dallas could move as high as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Given what just happened in Glendale, If I'm Mike McCarthy, my starters are playing against Philly."

6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Last Week: 9

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Kansas City 34-31

    The Cincinnati Bengals have arrived.

    The Bengals had already had their best season in years. But Sunday brought with it the biggest test of the season in a visit from the two-time defending AFC champions. Taking on the Kansas City Chiefs was a litmus test, an opportunity for the Bengals to show that they can not only make the playoffs but do some damage once they get there.

    Cincinnati passed that test, thanks to another big game from quarterback Joe Burrow and a ridiculous outing from rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

    Burrow completed 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and a passer rating of 148. As gaudy as those numbers were, Chase's were that much more so—11 catches, 266 yards and three scores. It was the most receiving yards in a game in NFL history by a first-year player.

    By virtue of the win, the Bengals are the champions of the AFC North for the first time since 2015. And given what the Bengals accomplished in Week 17, we need to start considering them as a legitimate threat to make some noise in the postseason.

    "The Bengals beat the Chiefs, who came into Week 17 as the hottest team in the AFC," Moton wrote. "Over the past two weeks, quarterback Joe Burrow has looked unstoppable, throwing for 971 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's torching defenses with Chase, who's clearly the Offensive Rookie of the Year. They've put the rest of the league on notice."

5. Buffalo Bills (10-6)

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    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    Last Week: 7

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Atlanta 29-15

    The Buffalo Bills are in the postseason again. And with a win next week over the New York Jets, the Bills can claim a second consecutive AFC East title.

    Those are causes for celebration. Buffalo's play in Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons? Not so much.

    The Bills did get the ground game going Sunday—Devin Singletary piled up 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, while quarterback Josh Allen added another 81 yards and two scores of his own on the ground.

    But Allen's day passing the ball was one best forgotten—just 11 completions in 26 attempts for 120 yards and three interceptions. Allen himself admitted after the win that his teammates picked up his slack in Week 17.

    "Not every game you win is going to be pretty, and that was the case today," Allen told reporters. "I'm just fortunate to have teammates that step up in big situations like this."

    Against a mediocre Falcons team, Buffalo's mistakes didn't cost them. They may not next week against the Jets, either.

    But the Bills have things to clean up before the playoffs start because if they play in the postseason the way they did in Week 17, their playoff trip won't be a long one.

4. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Last Week: 4

    Week 17 Result: Won at Baltimore 20-19

    In Week 17, quarterback Matthew Stafford was both the cause of and the solution to all of the Los Angeles Rams' problems.

    It was Stafford turnovers that put the Rams in a hole Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens—he lost a fumble and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. But it was also Stafford who engineered a comeback victory, finding Odell Beckham Jr. from seven yards out with just under a minute left to give the Rams the lead for good.

    While speaking to reporters after the game, Rams head coach Sean McVay lauded the grit his quarterback showed in overcoming his earlier mistakes to find a way to win.

    "I thought he was at his best when his best was required," McVay said. "He's a mentally tough guy, and that's what you want from your quarterback. When we had to have it, he made big throw after big throw in a clutch situation. That's what great players do."

    The next step for the Rams is simple—the San Francisco 49ers come to SoFi Stadium next week, and with a victory the NFC West will be theirs.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Last Week: 5

    Week 17 Result: Won at New York Jets 28-24

    The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that thanks to some Tom Brady magic, they engineered a late comeback to down the hapless Jets in New York.

    The bad news was that Tampa needed a late comeback to get past a bad Jets team to begin with. And while the Buccaneers got the win, their already depleted wide receiver corps suffered another loss.

    In one of the more bizarre happenings of the 2021 season, Antonio Brown left the team in the third quarter. Just left. Brown took off his pads, took off his undershirt, threw said undershirt into the stands, waved to fans from the end zone and walked into the tunnel.

    The reason for Brown's departure isn't known. What is known is that it didn't sit well with Tampa head coach Bruce Arians, who didn't mince words when asked by reporters about Brown after the game.

    "He is no longer a Buc," Arians said. "That's the end of the story. Let's talk about the guys that went out there and won the game."

    With Chris Godwin out for the season and Brown now gone, the Buccaneers need to get Mike Evans healthy posthaste.

    "Tampa Bay has endured multiple injuries, a prominent player quitting on the team and leaving midgame and even digging itself a big hole against the hapless Jets," Sobleski said. "Yet the Buccaneers have persevered with six wins in their last seven games. They certainly aren't the smooth operating machine they were a year ago, but Tom Brady and Co. know how to win and continue to do so."

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Last Week: 1

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Cincinnati 34-31

    For most of the past two months, the Kansas City Chiefs have looked like the best team in the NFL. The last time the Chiefs had tasted defeat before Sunday was on October 24 against the Tennessee Titans.

    Kansas City's eight-game winning streak is over now, compliments of the Cincinnati Bengals. And a Chiefs team that looked all but unbeatable of late suddenly seems a little vulnerable.

    A big part of that winning streak was vastly improved defensive play relative to early in the season. But that defense was carved up by Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the Bengals. The Bengals piled up 475 yards of offense, and Chase set a rookie record for receiving yards in a game with 266.

    "It's certainly not time to panic in Kansas City," Davenport said. "The Chiefs had won eight straight and still have to be viewed as the favorites in the AFC. But in blowing a 14-0 lead in Cincinnati, Kansas City's defense looked more like the unit that struggled during the Chiefs' 3-4 start than the defense that played so well over the winning streak. And that may have cost the Chiefs a week off and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs."

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Last Week: 2

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Minnesota 37-10

    The road to Los Angeles goes through Wisconsin in 2021.

    After jackstomping a short-handed Minnesota Vikings team Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have sewn up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye. It's likely that Rodgers and many of Green Bay's starters will take Week 18 off. Maybe Rodgers can spend the off time shopping for a suit for the NFL Honors.

    He's going to be MVP—again.

    After the game, Rodgers made it clear that for him, that top seed is about more than just some time off.

    "Last year we didn't get that good Green Bay weather," Rodgers told reporters. "Tonight was one of those nights. We haven't had a game like this in a while temperature-wise. This was different. It is different, the whole feel of it. I feel like teams can break a little bit easier when it is this cold because there's an excuse—the weather."

    "I don't know that Green Bay is really that much better than Tampa, the Rams or Dallas," Davenport said. "But if it's 15 degrees and windy in the Divisional Round or NFC Championship Game, that's s big-time edge. Add in a QB who just does not make mistakes, and the Packers have the look of a pretty clear favorite in the NFC."