There aren’t big changes in the Week 13 NFL power rankings, as the top teams have seemingly separated themselves heading into December.
1. New Orleans Saints (10-1) | Last week: 1
The pass defense was carved up a bit by Matt Ryan and company on Thanksgiving, but the unit forced timely turnovers and stuffed Atlanta’s running game. Drew Brees tossed four touchdowns (to four former undrafted players) on a night Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Michael Thomas didn’t need to make a huge box-score impact for their team to put up 31 points. New Orleans has scored 30+ points in each of the last five games while allowing 20 or fewer points in six of the last eight games. They are the most complete team in the league, with arguably the best offense and a quarterback playing as well as anyone.
2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1) | Last week: 2
The Rams return from their late-as-possible bye still tied atop the NFC with the Saints, who own the tiebreaker over LA because of their win against them earlier this season. Cornerback Aqib Talib looks set to return this week after he was officially designated to return from injured reserve yesterday, and he’ll hopefully give the secondary a needed boost and take pressure off a struggling Marcus Peters. Offensively, we’ll see what Sean McVay drew up with the extra time off; he might utilize second-year tight end Gerald Everett more after three big touchdowns in the last two games.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) | Last week: 3
The Chiefs also had their late Week 12 bye after the epic Monday night game from a couple weeks ago. A big focus is on the injury situations of safety Eric Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Berry, who has missed all season with a heel injury after tearing his Achilles last season, reportedly might start practicing this week, but I’m expecting the team to take things slow with him. They’ll also probably take things slow with Watkins, who tried to give it a go last week but could only play a few plays while dealing with a foot issue. Kansas City is a different team if those two key playmakers are healthy.
4. New England Patriots (8-3) | Last week: 4
It was great to see Rob Gronkowski back on the field and looking like his usual self after nearly a month off while dealing with ankle and back injuries. If Gronk is healthy for the final stretch and into the postseason, he’ll obviously be a major difference-maker in a stacked offense. The return of running back Rex Burkhead, who was on injured reserve with a neck injury, is an underappreciated strengthening of the roster, as he’s a versatile player that will contribute on both offense and special teams. The Patriots remain a team that’s somehow being slept on despite being a dynasty that’s always in it at the end.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) | Last week: 6 (+1)
Philip Rivers was on-fire against the Cardinals, setting records for completions to start a game (25) and completion percentage in a game (96.6%). It wasn’t like he was throwing a bunch of passes to wide-open receivers, either, as he made accurate throws into tight coverage and allowed his receivers to make plays—including Mike Williams (twice) and Keenan Allen making nice touchdown receptions. The record-setting performance was a team effort and accomplishment, and it shows the Chargers are clicking despite a Week 10 loss to Denver. The knee injury to Melvin Gordon is crushing, but thankfully he should be back ahead of a likely postseason run. The Chargers sit at 8-3, and they are 36-18 in December with Rivers at quarterback.
6. Chicago Bears (8-3) | Last week: 7 (+1)
Chase Daniel stepped into the starting lineup for Mitchell Trubisky and played well, helping lead the Bears to a Thanksgiving win against the Lions. Now we just have to hope Trubisky’s shoulder injury isn’t something that will linger if it doesn’t heal as anticipated—Chicago has a lot more upside with their athletic second-year quarterback under-center. The run defense versus Detroit was a slight concern, as LeGarrette Blount rumbled for 88 yards and two touchdowns; this Sunday against Saquon Barkley will be a big test. The Bears cannot look past the Giants with a matchup against the Rams on deck.
7. Houston Texans (8-3) | Last week: 8 (+1)
After their big win last night against the Titans, they’ve become the first team in NFL history to win eight games in a row after an 0-3 start to the season. The win also gave them a two-game lead in the AFC South, so they are in control with a favorable schedule (on paper): vs. Cleveland, vs. Indianapolis, @ the Jets, @ Philadelphia, and vs. Jacksonville. Houston shouldn’t be counted out for the top overall seed in the AFC, which would be a lot better for them than going to Kansas City or New England in January. The offensive line needs to keep Deshaun Watson upright, but the run blocking against the Titans gives reason for a ton of optimism. Lamar Miller became the first player in NFL history with two 97-yard touchdown runs in a career during his big performance.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1) | Last week: 5 (-3)
JuJu Smith-Schuster set a similar record to the one Miller did about 24 hours later, as the second-year receiver caught the second 97-yard touchdown of his career, making him the only player in NFL history with two such plays. It came in a losing effort, though, as four turnovers plagued the Steelers in a seven-point loss at Denver. The final interception by Ben Roethlisberger simply cannot happen, as he tried to force the ball to Antonio Brown on a run-pass option that was not there. I partly wonder whether the team tries to force AB the ball to appease him, especially when Smith-Schuster has big performances. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh needs to put it behind them quickly as they host the Chargers on Sunday night.
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-5) | Last week: 9
The Seahawks needed a road win in Carolina to get control of a wild-card spot in the NFC, and they got it with another big late-game performance from Russell Wilson. Matchups against the Vikings and Chiefs are still on the horizon, but both games come in Seattle, and their other three games are against the Niners (twice) and the Cardinals. Overall, things look very good for Pete Carroll’s squad, and the coaching job has been one of the best in the league this season. Also, not to look too far ahead, but the fact that Seattle runs the ball so well could be huge in January.
10. Indianapolis Colts (6-5) | Last week: 10
While the Texans have an eight-game winning streak, the Colts remain on their heels with a five-game winning streak. Andrew Luck extended his streak of consecutive games with three-plus touchdowns to nine, and he’s completed at least 71% of his passes in every game during this 5-0 stretch. Indy is fourth in the league in scoring at 29.5 points per game, the defense plays tough and doesn’t make things easy on opposing offenses, and there just seems to be a good vibe around the team. Losing tight end Jack Doyle (kidney) for the season is a big loss, but multiple Colts tight ends—including Eric Ebron (12 touchdowns)—have stepped up this season.
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-5) | Last week: 11
While many people questioned trading a first-round pick for Amari Cooper—despite him being just 24 years old with established production in the league, albeit with inconsistency—it looks to have turned the Cowboys’ season around. Dallas is now in control of the NFC East, but there’s a decent chance they have to play for first-place again in a couple of weeks if they fall to the Saints on Thursday night (which is probably likely) while the Eagles beat the Redskins on Monday. Still, the Cowboys have a confident offense that’s clicking along with the league’s No. 3 scoring defense.
12. Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1) | Last week: 12
I thought about moving the Vikings up a few spots in the power rankings considering they picked up a big primetime win against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but Minnesota is 0-3 against teams with winning records this season. So I’m really looking forward to this Sunday afternoon to see how they fare when they head to Foxboro to face the Patriots. Kirk Cousins and the ultra-talented passing offense is clicking, but I’d still like to see the Vikings be able to run the ball better.
13. Baltimore Ravens (6-5) | Last week: 15 (+2)
The games have come against the Bengals and the Raiders, but Lamar Jackson is now 2-0 as the starting quarterback for the Ravens, doing his job when called upon. He’s struggled a bit as a passer (and should get better with experience), so I expect Baltimore will go back to Joe Flacco if he’s healthy. However, Jackson might have earned more playing time as a situational quarterback that can do a lot of damage with his legs—at the very least, defensive coordinators have to think about how to defend him more moving forward. The league’s No. 1 scoring defense has a couple of big tests at Atlanta and at Kansas City the next two weeks.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) | Last week: 19 (+5)
The Eagles aren’t playing all that well, but they move up five spots in the power rankings because they are in a good position in the subpar NFC East. With the Cowboys facing the Saints, a win this Monday night in Lincoln Financial Field could set up a first-place matchup in Week 14. I think Corey Clement needs to get the ball more than he is, but it’s good to see the Eagles at least committing to the run game with Josh Adams after it was a big part of their Super Bowl run last season. The defense must improve if they are going to compete with the NFL’s top teams, though.
15. Carolina Panthers (6-5) | Last week: 14 (-1)
I know the Panthers beat the Eagles head-to-head, but they play in a division they have almost no chance of winning, and they’ve dropped their last three games. Also, they still must face the Saints twice and the Falcons (who already beat them), which is about as tough as it gets. Cam Newton continues to complete passes at an efficient rate, but he has an interception in each of the last three games during the losing skid; he needs to take care of the ball with the defense struggling. Christian McCaffrey (239 yards from scrimmage in the Week 12 loss) simply needs to be fed the ball, as he’s a great player that makes positive things happen.
16. Tennessee Titans (5-6) | Last week: 13 (-3)
I have no idea what’s happened to the Titans defense the last two weeks, but last night’s performance against the Texans—and Lamar Miller, who ran for 162 yards—was shocking. It squandered a strong showing for Marcus Mariota (22/23, 303 yards, two touchdowns), who nearly broke Philip Rivers’ completion percentage record a day after Rivers set it. If Mariota is on and the defense plays like it did earlier this season, the Titans can beat just about anyone. A favorable schedule is coming up, but Mike Vrabel needs to get things figured out quickly.
17. Green Bay Packers (4-6-1) | Last week: 16 (-1)
After a fast start in Minnesota, the Packers just couldn’t get much going offensively. Despite battling injuries, the defense did a relatively good job aside from not bringing down Dalvin Cook on the early screen touchdown and the lapse in coverage on the Stefon Diggs score on a wheel route. Green Bay has yet to win on the road this season, which doesn’t bode well for a potential postseason run if they make it that far. But 9-6-1 might be good enough to make it in the NFC, so the Packers must get out of this funk as they return home to face the Cardinals in a game they better win.
18. Washington Redskins (6-5) | Last week: 17 (-1)
You can’t just ignore turnovers, but Colt McCoy played well aside from his three interceptions against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. If he can avoid mistakes moving forward, he’s shown he can move Jay Gruden’s offense and help keep them in games. Defensively, it’s tough to win a close game with turnovers on offense when you give up a couple of long touchdowns like they did to Amari Cooper. There’s plenty of time left in the season, but a win against the Eagles to get two games up on them would be huge heading into the final quarter of the year.
19. Atlanta Falcons (4-7) | Last week: 18 (-1)
If not for a few costly turnovers deep in New Orleans territory, the Falcons would’ve really made that a game on Thanksgiving Night. Many people are writing the Falcons off at 4-7, but I would not count them out in a crowded NFC wild-card race. They’ll need some help, but they get a crack at the Panthers in Week 16 to help themselves, and it’s sandwiched by good matchups against the Cardinals and Buccaneers in Weeks 15 and 17. But none of that matters if they can’t take care of business at home against the Ravens this Sunday before going to Lambeau Field in a couple of Sundays. Getting star linebacker Deion Jones back in the lineup would obviously be a big boost for Atlanta down the stretch.
20. Denver Broncos (5-6) | Last week: 23 (+3)
In their last six games, the Broncos are 3-3 with the losses coming against the 10-1 Rams (by three), the 9-2 Chiefs (by seven), and the 8-3 Texans (by two, with a chance at a game-winning field goal at the end). Vance Joseph has gotten his team and his defense to play well after things didn’t look good, and I like offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave running that side of the ball. Considering the favorable schedule coming up for Denver and the way they’re playing, this ranking might be too low. They could easily be in the top 15, and they’ll continue to rise if they keep winning games that they’ll likely be favored in the next few weeks.
21. Miami Dolphins (5-6) | Last week: 20 (-1)
Ryan Tannehill’s return to the lineup went well, as he didn’t show any effects of the shoulder issue, and he put the ball on the money to his receivers to help keep the Dolphins in the game at Indy. Xavien Howard picked off Andrew Luck a couple of times, and Kiko Alonso made plays as usual, but the defense still gave up too much yardage in the loss. That wasn’t a must-win for Miami, but it’s going to be extremely tough to make the playoffs if they aren’t able to defend homefield against Buffalo this Sunday.
22. Cleveland Browns (4-6-1) | Last week: 24 (+2)
The Browns are now 2-1 under Gregg Williams, and both sides of the ball are clicking as the team gets back into the AFC playoff race. Baker Mayfield followed up his first-career three-touchdown performance in Week 10 with his first-career four-touchdown performance coming off the bye. This Sunday on the road against the Texans could determine whether the Browns are going to have a good shot at the postseason in December. Either way, Williams has earned strong and serious consideration for the full-time head coach job.
23. Detroit Lions (4-7) | Last week: 21 (-2)
They put up a good effort against the Bears to start Thanksgiving, but the Lions are now at 4-7 with basically a must-win against one of the toughest opponents imaginable as they face the Rams off the bye. Matthew Stafford has put up big performances to carry his team in the past, but he’s without former top receivers Golden Tate (in Philadelphia) and Marvin Jones (on injured reserve); and running back Kerryon Johnson might still be out with his knee injury. Ideally, Detroit will play LA tough and hope it’s good enough for a chance to win at the end.
24. Buffalo Bills (4-7) | Last week: 26 (+2)
They might play against each other more over the years, but rookie quarterback Josh Allen got the last laugh this season on trash-talking cornerback Jalen Ramsey. In the win, Allen flashed the major talent that has the Bills extremely excited about him, and he continued to make enough plays to put his team in a position to win. It was a promising performance in his first game back after missing the last four with an elbow injury. Buffalo is playing quite well for a team a lot of people insisted would be the worst in the league this season and set to select a quarterback with the first pick in 2019.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) | Last week: 22 (-3)
Unfortunately, Andy Dalton is done for the year with his thumb injury, but I’m excited to see how Jeff Driskel fares over the final five games of the season. Driskel is a very athletic quarterback that has a lot of potential, and it would not be surprising if he plays well and makes a push for the starting job next season. He’s probably going to need to play well for the Bengals to remain in the playoff race, as the defense is playing very poorly.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) | Last week: 29 (+3)
Jameis Winston finally did not throw an interception in a game, and he had one of the better performances of his career in the Bucs’ 27-9 victory against the Niners. Winston is attempting to show he can limit the turnovers and be a franchise quarterback, and he has a good opportunity over the final five games with tough matchups against the Panthers, Saints, Ravens, Cowboys, and Falcons. Tampa Bay leads the NFL in yards per game, and there’s plenty of talent on the offense to compete.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) | Last week: 25 (-2)
With the playoffs almost certainly out of the question, the Jaguars made big changes by firing offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benching quarterback Blake Bortles. I think there were bigger issues than the two of them, as it really felt like the Jags had their Super Bowl earlier this season when they beat the Patriots. However, I am looking forward to seeing Cody Kessler under-center for Jacksonville; I don’t think he got a fair shot in Cleveland last season after playing well as a rookie in 2016, and he might be able to lead this team moving forward. Leonard Fournette needs to mature, as his actions during Sunday’s loss were unacceptable—but at least he took responsibility for them.
28. New York Giants (3-8) | Last week: 27 (-1)
The Eagles played a lot better defensively in the second half, but it was still surprising that Saquon Barkley received just five touches over the final 30 minutes after dominating the first 30 minutes—especially with the season basically on the line. A win would have given the Giants a decent shot in the NFC East, but they don’t have a realistic chance to make the postseason after the loss. The good news is their losses the last five weeks have all been by one possession.
29. New York Jets (3-8) | Last week: 28 (-1)
That was a better effort coming off the bye for the Jets, which is a good sign for head coach Todd Bowles. The running game isn’t there right now, which is making things tough on both the passing game and the defense, so we’ll see if they commit to the run more starting this week against the Titans. Wins might be hard to come by, but hopefully the team plays hard over the final five games. And hopefully Sam Darnold (foot) is able to get back in the lineup soon as he looks to gain more experience.
30. Oakland Raiders (2-9) | Last week: 30
The Raiders were in the game against the Ravens for a while, but two non-offensive touchdowns for Baltimore made it difficult for Oakland to get their third win of the season. Jon Gruden is dealing with a decimated group right now, so you just want to see the team put in the effort as the franchise determined who will be a part of this thing as they build for 2019 and beyond. Things could have gotten worse after all the negativity in the media, but the Raiders have seemingly stayed together in a trying season.
31. Arizona Cardinals (2-9) | Last week: 31
The Cardinals got off to a hot start with a 10-0 lead against the Chargers, but they then gave up 45 unanswered points in the blowout loss. The team cut starting right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Bene Benwikere, but I seriously doubt that solves the issues they’re having. There’s not much to get optimistic about for Arizona, but rookie quarterback Josh Rosen must show progress.
32. San Francisco 49ers (2-9) | Last week: 32
Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch, and Jimmy Garoppolo give the Niners hope, but the on-field results (yes Garoppolo is out) aren’t any better than when Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly were there. In fact, given the talent levels, things have arguably gotten worse. However, it’s good that owner Jed York is finally giving a regime time to build, so the Niners will hopefully show progress down the stretch of a disappointing season.