A few playoff contenders in the AFC were able to make things tighter, while NFC teams are struggling to separate themselves for the second wild-card spot in a crazy week of games. Where does each team stand in the Week 15 NFL power rankings?
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-2) | Last week: 3 (+2)
It took a big-time effort from Patrick Mahomes and the offense along with some timely plays from the defense to get a close overtime win at home against the Ravens. While it was a game the Chiefs were expected to win with the homefield advantage in Arrowhead, coming through in a close contest over a tough defense like that is an extremely positive sign for them with intense January games coming up. Kansas City is banged up with Sammy Watkins still out with a foot injury and now Tyreek Hill (heel) and Spencer Ware (hamstring) both injured and uncertain on a short week, but All-Pro safety Eric Berry could be set to play for the first time this season on an underrated defense.
2. New Orleans Saints (11-2) | Last week: 2
Things were looking shaky in unideal Tampa Bay weather, but the Saints broke out with 17 fourth-quarter points in a two-touchdown victory over the Bucs. Now back in position for the NFC’s top seed after the Rams’ loss, the Saints head to Carolina for their third straight road game before heading home to end the season in the Superdome against Pittsburgh and Carolina again. Drew Brees and company should be laser-focused knowing three wins means a trip to the Super Bowl runs through them with homefield advantage.
3. Los Angeles Rams (11-2) | Last week: 1 (-2)
Bad games just happen sometimes, but that was a surprising showing from the Rams in Chicago. Jared Goff obviously didn’t play well, but he was under constant pressure throughout the night—basically no one on LA’s offense played well, including the normally-excellent offensive line. The good news is the defense seems to be much better with Aqib Talib back in the lineup the last two games, as his return is taking pressure off of Marcus Peters, who has struggled mightily for most of the season. While they are no longer in control for homefield advantage in the NFC, the Rams just need to take care of their own business—starting this week against a defending champion Eagles team that can be put out of their misery.
4. New England Patriots (9-4) | Last week: 4
I considered dropping the Patriots down to No. 5 in the power rankings, but they are still in a great spot for a top-two seed in the AFC playoffs with the Chiefs and Chargers playing in the same division. Also, New England owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Houston thanks to their win against them in Week 1. The “Miami Miracle” obviously was one of the worst plays you’ll see from Bill Belichick’s squad, but the Dolphins deserve credit for having a play designed to get the ball into the hands of one of the league’s most explosive players. The Patriots are a team you can bet will learn from this, and the loss could give them an extra edge as they head into Heinz Field against a Steelers team Tom Brady has dominated throughout his career: 11-3 record, 30 touchdowns, four interceptions (including playoffs).
5. Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) | Last week: 5
They would still need some help because the Chiefs have a better division record, but the Chargers have a realistic shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win this Thursday night in Arrowhead. A win would arguably get them as high as No. 1 or No. 2 in the power rankings, as they’d be tied for the best record in a tough conference while showing they can beat any team anywhere in January—remember, they just beat the Steelers in Heinz Field, too. Especially with Austin Ekeler now dealing with an injury of his own, hopefully Melvin Gordon is able to get back in the lineup for one of the biggest games for the franchise in the last decade—though at this point it’s looking unlikely that the star runner can get out there.
6. Chicago Bears (9-4) | Last week: 7 (+1)
With the way things are today and the love for offense, some people might have gotten bored with the Bears riding an elite defensive showing to a big primetime victory against a superb Rams offense; but as I’ve stated before, it’s refreshing to see defenses can still play like this amid an offensive-slanted NFL. Mitchell Trubisky didn’t play particularly well in his return after missing two games with a shoulder injury, but it was good to see him back on the field and able to sling the ball around without any issue. Chicago remains home for a matchup against Green Bay, and they can clinch the NFC North for the first time since 2010 with a win.
7. Dallas Cowboys (8-5) | Last week: 8 (+1)
While the Raiders are probably fine with having another first-round pick in a rebuild, the Cowboys really look like geniuses for making the move to acquire Amari Cooper. There’s no question Cooper has had a tremendous impact on Dallas turning its season around, and I seriously doubt they would be 8-5 without him considering how many big plays he’s made. We’ll see what happens in a likely postseason appearance, but it looks like the Cowboys are going to take the NFC East with a two-game lead that basically amounts to a three-game lead because they own a season sweep over the Eagles.
8. Houston Texans (9-4) | Last week: 6 (-2)
The Texans drop a couple of spots in this week’s power rankings, but they certainly could have remained up at the No. 6 spot after their first loss since Week 3. They pretty much had to lose at some point after a nine-game winning streak, and now they need to put the loss behind them and get a win against a Jets team they should beat to get to ten wins. The Colts did a good job of limiting the Texans running game, which had been a key during the winning streak, so look for them to establish Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue over the final three games of the season heading into a likely playoff appearance.
9. Seattle Seahawks (8-5) | Last week: 10 (+1)
The success of the Seahawks in a supposed rebuild should not be a surprise to anyone. The team jettisoned some of the players causing apparent issues in the locker room and with the coaching staff, and this new wave of players is a young and hungry group that’s looking to make a name for themselves. Seattle’s culture of competitiveness—their first-round running back is a member of a committee backfield, and no one is handed any jobs—leads to strong play on game days. And of course, they have Russell Wilson (despite some questionable decisions last night) at quarterback, which keeps them in almost every game.
10. Baltimore Ravens (7-6) | Last week: 11 (+1)
Despite a loss against the Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Ravens rise one spot in the power rankings. Remember, they were still without Joe Flacco, using a rookie quarterback making his fourth career start, and they played Kansas City about as tough as you can play them. Patrick Mahomes and the offense of the Chiefs basically deserve a tip-of-the-cap for making some remarkable plays down the stretch, as it’s hard to play them much better than Baltimore did. Personally, I would now start Flacco considering his success in big games, but both he and Jackson seem likely to get time in an interesting situation moving forward.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1) | Last week: 9 (-2)
The Steelers have dropped three straight games and now have the tough task of facing the Patriots off a loss before heading to New Orleans to play the Saints. I don’t think they’ll win either game, but I certainly don’t think they should be counted out of anything at this point. Future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberer still leads a very talented offense headlined by star receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown (and James Conner, if healthy), while the defense (NFL-leading 45 sacks) can get after the quarterback as well as any team in the league. Hosting New England this Sunday is about as big as it gets for Pittsburgh.
12. Indianapolis Colts (7-6) | Last week: 13 (+1)
After getting shut out by the Jaguars a couple weeks ago, the Colts bounced back with a nice road win over the division-leading Texans. It was just a three-point win, but it was a game Indy was pretty much in control of after 17 second-quarter points. Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards in the game, with 199 of them to T.Y. Hilton, who has torched the Texans throughout his career. Frank Reich’s team now returns home to take on the Cowboys, and they’ll look to end their second five-plus-game winning streak in as many weeks.
13. Tennessee Titans (7-6) | Last week: 15 (+2)
Derrick Henry’s franchise-record 238-yard outburst with four rushing touchdowns—including the insane record-tying 99-yard run—displayed why we’ve been clamoring for the Titans to use him as their feature back. He still only had 17 carries in a game (for a whopping 14.0 yards per carry) and he didn’t even line up as the starting running back, but hopefully the performance makes the Titans realize they have a legitimate monster in the backfield that should be fed the ball 20-25 times per game with the weather now getting cold. It’s surprising the Titans haven’t fed Henry to this point, especially considering they have a defensive-minded head coach in Mike Vrabel, but they are in a good spot at 7-6 in the AFC.
14. Miami Dolphins (7-6) | Last week: 18 (+4)
On the “Miami Miracle”, Kenyan Drake showed why many believe he should be getting the ball a lot more than he is, too. I don’t like questioning professional coaches, but Adam Gase himself has said how Drake can pop big plays with enough opportunities. Obviously, Frank Gore is one of the league’s most underrated players at age 35, though, and he picks up positive yardage to keep the offense ahead of the chains, which many people don’t understand is part of why he’s their leading ball-carrier; but it’s surprising Drake isn’t more consistently involved as a receiver if he’s not going to get ten-plus carries per game. Anyway, the Dolphins are right in the mix for a playoff spot, and it was a great sign to see the run defense step up—they’ll look to keep it going this week against Minnesota.
15. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) | Last week: 14 (-1)
I’m not going to make hot-take characterizations on Kirk Cousins based on one game in a very difficult place to play in Seattle, but I’ve long maintained the Vikings should have kept a combination of Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Case Keenum as their quarterback instead of spending big-money on someone the Redskins clearly weren’t too worried about letting go. When things aren’t going well with the highest-paid player not playing very well, it’s possible teammates start pointing fingers—and, from what you can glean from television, the body language and communication did not look good in a poor showing last night. The Vikings benefit from playing in an NFC where no second wild-card team has separated yet, and perhaps the firing of offensive coordinator John DeFillipo, who clearly wasn’t a fit with run-based, defensive-minded Mike Zimmer, will spark things.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) | Last week: 12 (-4)
As is the case with a few quarterbacks this season, Carson Wentz is putting up fine numbers, but he doesn’t seem to be playing as well as the numbers indicate. He’s been inaccurate on too many throws and has not looked as decisive as he did during his exceptional 2017 season, so maybe he’s just still not at 100% after last year’s knee injury, or maybe not having a full offseason is affecting his play. Perhaps it’s an effect of the losing, but this team doesn’t feel like it has the same close-knit vibe it did last year—which I think was a big reason they were able to win the Super Bowl. It’s hard to see the Eagles making the playoffs if they don’t beat the Rams on Sunday night.
17. Carolina Panthers (6-7) | Last week: 17
This has been the most stunning collapse of the season, as the Panthers have now lost five straight games after a 6-2 start. People are pointing to head coach Ron Rivera as the issue, but Cam Newton’s play has quickly declined during this losing skid, with an interception in every loss (and eight total, including four in their seven-point Week 13 loss to Tampa Bay). Newton’s shoulder appears to be an issue, as it looks to be worse than it was earlier in the season—his usual zip isn’t there, and he struggles to connect on deep balls he used to excel at. Look for Newton to run a lot these final three games as he looks to help his team get into the postseason.
18. Denver Broncos (6-7) | Last week: 16 (-2)
The Broncos had a promising final quarter of the season on-paper, but they didn’t care of business in the first leg of the final stretch, putting a big dent into their playoff chances while Indy, Tennessee, and Miami all won to improve to 7-6. It was a very disappointing showing for Denver, who will look to get a lot of energy from the home crowd this Saturday night against Baker Mayfield and the Browns. After two sacks, rookie Bradley Chubb is up to a Broncos rookie-record 12.0 on the season, and he’ll look to do damage against a team that passed him up in the draft—he and Von Miller disrupting quarterbacks these last three games will be key.
19. Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) | Last week: 22 (+3)
This week at Chicago will be difficult, but the Packers have a chance to rattle off three straight wins and perhaps get in a position for the second wild-card spot if the Vikings can lose two more games (along with more help). It probably won’t happen, though, which feels right considering the classless way the franchise handled firing with head coach Mike McCarthy. Bashaud Breeland, who just had a pick-six in Green Bay’s win over Atlanta, has been one of a number of good moves the Packers made during the offseason.
20. Cleveland Browns (5-7-1) | Last week: 23 (+3)
Baker Mayfield didn’t have huge numbers against the Panthers, but he was slinging the ball around with great precision and accuracy to all areas of the field—particularly on throws down the field he put on the money. Aside from a bad first-half in Week 13 against the Texans, Mayfield has played very well the last several weeks, and he has a completion percentage of over 81% in two of his last four games; it’ll be fun to see Mayfield play in Mile High in a primetime Saturday game. At 3-2, Gregg Williams (and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens) continues to make a strong case to get the interim tag removed.
21. Detroit Lions (5-8) | Last week: 24 (+3)
In a season that hasn’t gone the way a talented roster—that has since suffered injuries and traded Golden Tate—expected, it was a positive sign that Matt Patricia’s defense did its job against a league-worst Cardinals offense. Matthew Stafford was listed as questionable with a back injury heading into the game, so it was good to see him out there for his 125th consecutive start—not bad for a guy everyone said was injury prone at the start of his career. Hopefully the Lions are able to get rookie running back Kerryon Johnson back from his knee injury this week against the Bills.
22. Atlanta Falcons (4-9) | Last week: 20 (-2)
Crazy things happen in the NFL, but I think Dan Quinn should undoubtedly be safe after he led the only back-to-back playoff team in the NFC the previous two seasons; but I’d certainly like to see his team end this five-game losing streak against a Cardinals team they should beat at home. The good news is the Falcons have seemingly remained strong together in what’s been a trying season, and they have the pieces to get this turned around moving forward—including Julio Jones, who became the first player in NFL history with 1,400 receiving yards in five straight seasons.
23. New York Giants (5-8) | Last week: 28 (+5)
With a 4-1 record their last five games, the Giants are playing about as well as any team in the league right now. Three of the wins have come against the struggling Niners, Bucs, and Redskins, but they just put up 30 points on the Bears (though one score was a defensive touchdown). We’ll see what happens, and it was only one game, but perhaps a 40-point outburst without Odell Beckham Jr. (thigh) gives the team confidence that they can move the talented receiver for draft picks this offseason if they feel he’s not a culture fit even after handing him a huge contract extension.
24. Washington Redskins (6-7) | Last week: 19 (-5)
People predictably make quick jokes at Mark Sanchez’s expense, but he didn’t have any chance against an offensive line that played very poorly against the Giants. I feel for Jay Gruden, who’s had about as bad luck as any coach in the league with injuries. And I feel even worse for Alex Smith, who hopefully will be able to make a full recovery—and hopefully his privacy can be respected during this difficult time. On a light note, new quarterback Josh Johnson learned the names of his new teammates from playing Madden.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) | Last week: 21 (-4)
Jameis Winston’s interception-less streak ended at two games, but perhaps more importantly he struggled with accuracy against the Saints. Without good decision-making and accuracy as a thrower, it’s hard to be trusted consistently as a starting quarterback; it’ll be interesting to see how Winston fares in two very tough matchups at Baltimore and at Dallas the next two weeks. The defense has been better the last three weeks, with just point totals of 9, 17, and 28 (to the Saints) allowed, so hopefully they can keep that going to help make it a game against the Ravens in Week 14.
26. Buffalo Bills (4-9) | Last week: 25 (-1)
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen has had some struggles with decision-making (as he showed with his first interception against the Jets on Sunday when he tried to do too much on a scramble play) and sometimes with accuracy, but he’s much less experienced than Winston and does not have close to the number of weapons as Winston does in Tampa Bay. And as a playmaker, Allen continues to be exceptional, setting the record for most rushing yards in a three-game span (335) by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Buffalo’s last two losses have come by four points in crushers, but it’s a good sign that they are in games.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) | Last week: 26 (-1)
They weren’t able to pull out a win as their losing streak dropped to five games, but I liked the way the Bengals played against the Chargers in their Week 14 loss. The defensive held up relatively well against Philip Rivers and a talented offense, while the offense ran through second-year running back Joe Mixon with Jeff Driskel playing a solid mistake-free game to keep Cincinnati in it. The Bengals now face the Raiders in what could be Marvin Lewis’ last home game as the team’s head coach, so hopefully the fans give him a good ovation and the team plays another solid 60 minutes.
28. New York Jets (4-9) | Last week: 29 (+1)
Especially after they were destroyed by the Bills a few weeks ago, the Jets are coming off a win that has to feel good considering they hadn’t won a game since October. Sam Darnold played well in his return to the lineup from the foot injury that sidelined him three games, and he showed his toughness when he returned after an apparent aggravation of the injury in the win. Darnold will look to show progress this weekend on a day the first two quarterbacks taken in the draft will hit the field in the NFL’s first two Saturday games of the season.
29. Oakland Raiders (3-10) | Last week: 30 (+1)
It’s encouraging to see how happy the Raiders get when they win games, and it’s a testament to the amount of work NFL teams put in every week. Jon Gruden celebrating with the fans in the Black Hole is pretty funny, and the franchise hopes it’s something that becomes a common occurrence in future years. Derek Carr has been playing very well, and he’s at times played his best late in games throughout his career. Oakland needs to continue taking it one game at a time, but they have a decent chance to end the season on a four-game winning streak with matchups against Cincinnati, Denver, and Kansas City (potentially resting their starters). Gruden is likely to be the top decision-maker for the Raiders, but I think top personnel people should be looking to join the on-the-rise franchise with GM Reggie McKenzie’s departure leaving a hole in the front office. There’s plenty of draft capital to work with, and Gruden seems to have a great idea of the type of players he wants to be Oakland Raiders.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) | Last week: 27 (-3)
I think the Jaguars might be in a spot where they need to completely blow their roster up. Again, it was like the win against the Patriots earlier this season was their Super Bowl, and it seems like a lot of their players just don’t get it. For example, after Derrick Henry rumbled for over 230 yards and four touchdowns against them, the defense got all pumped up and showboated because they prevented Henry from getting into and end zone for a fifth time. Keep in mind, the game was a blowout and the situation came toward the end, so it’s not like the stop was a big key that would spark a comeback. It’s not a good look.
31. San Francisco 49ers (3-10) | Last week: 32 (+1)
The Niners have not had a successful season, but they got off to a good start for their final four games as they look to play spoiler. To end the season, they get three matchups against likely playoff teams in the Seahawks, Bears, and Rams, so they can mess with seeding in the NFC at least. A massive bright spot for San Francisco has been second-year tight end George Kittle, who had 210 yards and a touchdown in the first half against the Broncos and is averaging a stellar 16.0 yards per reception this season. He’s quickly emerged as one of the best players in the league at his position.
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-10) | Last week: 31 (-1)
The Cardinals have an unideal situation for a rookie quarterback, but Josh Rosen simply is not playing well right now. He was said to be the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft, but he’s struggled with inaccuracy even when he gets a clean pocket and open receivers. Rosen has too often set David Johnson up to get killed on check downs, and he’s been so inaccurate at times that even Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t even have a chance to get a hand on his targets despite a massive catch radius to bring in off-target passes. Rosen must show progress for the franchise and its fans to have optimism heading into next season.