Week 15 showed there’s probably more parity than ever in the NFL, and over half the league is still alive for the postseason. There is no clear favorite in either conference as we enter the final two weeks of the regular season, but there is a lot of movement and a new No. 1 in the power rankings.
1. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3) | Last week: 5 (+4)
The top spot was the most difficult it’s been this season, but the Chargers get the nod. I’ve liked the “other” team in LA because they have a very talented roster with as much balance as anyone between offense, defense, and special teams, and they have one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL with a couple of former head coaches as the offensive (Ken Whisenhunt) and defensive (Gus Bradley) coordinators. Philip Rivers started the game a little shaky, but to bounce back and lead the offense without two star players in Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen was extremely impressive. Mike Williams (three touchdowns, game-winning two-point conversion) was huge in the win, as he’s showing why the Chargers selected him seventh overall in last year’s draft. And defensively, the team made stops against perhaps the league’s best offense so that their own offense had an opportunity to put up 15 points late in the fourth quarter of the victory.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) | Last week: 1 (-2)
While the Chiefs drop a spot in the power rankings, they are still in control of the AFC West and the top seed in the AFC. Remember, All-Pro safety Eric Berry didn’t play in the second half of his return to the field, as he’s being worked back into the lineup. Despite giving up the 15 fourth-quarter points in the home loss to the Chargers, the defense has been making plays and is one of the most underrated units in the NFL. While the Chargers didn’t have Melvin Gordon and then Keenan Allen after his injury, the Chiefs were without Spencer Ware and Sammy Watkins, so neither team was at full strength—their progress, particularly for the postseason, is a big key for them. Kansas City might need a win in Seattle this Sunday night to remain in control for homefield advantage for the AFC playoffs.
3. New Orleans Saints (12-2) | Last week: 2 (-1)
I considered putting the Saints back at No. 1 in the Week 16 power rankings, but the recent struggles of the offense have them down at No. 3. However, returning home for the final two games of the regular season could be what’s needed to get the offense back on track, and Drew Brees and company might not need to play anywhere else until February if they’re able to take care of business and win one of the last two games for homefield advantage in the NFC. It’s not as flashy as the offense lighting up the scoreboard, but the Saints defense has been outstanding lately, with the fewest points allowed (12.3) and the most sacks per game since Week 10. Former first-round cornerback Eli Apple has found his groove after his trade from the Giants, and he’s given his new team a major boost.
4. Los Angeles Rams (11-3) | Last week: 3 (-1)
The Rams are in a funk, and it starts with the struggles of the offensive line not playing well. Running lanes aren’t being opened for Todd Gurley; and more importantly, teams are pressuring Jared Goff, making it difficult for him to stand back there and throw with his usual elite timing and accuracy. Not having Cooper Kupp in the lineup has hurt, as he’s probably Goff’s most trusted target; aside from the back-and-forth Monday night shootout against the Chiefs, the offense hasn’t been the same since Kupp’s season-ending injury. Look for Sean McVay to take advantage of a couple of good matchups to end the season against Arizona and San Francisco as he looks to get things clicking heading into January. Defensively, the Rams can be run on, but they made some key stops to give the offense a chance in their loss to the Eagles.
5. Chicago Bears (10-4) | Last week: 6 (+1)
Chicago’s Week 15 win versus Green Bay had to feel pretty good, as it was the franchise’s first win over the Packers at Soldier Field since 2010, and their first NFC North title since that season. The running game appears to be heating up a bit with Jordan Howard getting a decent workload the last three weeks, and Mitchell Trubisky’s shoulder issue is far in the rear-view mirror. The Bears give up the fewest first downs per game in the NFL (17.9) and the second fewest yards per play (4.8), which makes things easier on the team, with Matt Nagy’s offense getting the ball back often.
6. New England Patriots (9-5) | Last week: 4 (-2)
Despite the talk of the Patriots “dynasty” coming to an end, there’s no reason to panic. It’s surprising that they lost back-to-back games in December (for the first time since 2002), but they both came on the road, and one was the “Miami Miracle”. Penalties were a big surprise in their loss to Pittsburgh, but Bill Belichick is going to get his guys on track in that regard. New England will be in better shape if they get some help and can get back to a top-two seed in the AFC, but it’s not like there’s a dominant team they can’t go on the road to beat in January. The Patriots end the regular season with a couple of home games against the Bills and Jets, so they should get rolling a bit heading into the postseason.
7. Houston Texans (10-4) | Last week: 8 (+1)
A 10-1 stretch in the last 11 games has gotten the Texans in position for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs despite an 0-3 start. The team is strong in all three phases, and they have a quarterback that shows up when the lights are brightest; however, I’m not completely sold on them as a top team yet. A win is a win in the NFL, but the schedule hasn’t been very imposing. The run defense is stout, but the pass defense has struggled at times and will likely have trouble with top passing attacks—especially those with a lot of speed—like Kansas City.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) | Last week: 11 (+3)
A big reason I don’t usually feel the Steelers are as strong Super Bowl contenders as most people is because the Patriots typically have their number. So defending homefield while basically shutting down Tom Brady and New England’s offense is a major positive sign, especially because Pittsburgh stepped up when a loss would have put them on the outside-looking-in for a playoff spot. The offense, which will get James Conner back but had Jaylen Samuels play exceptionally well in Sunday’s win, had a fine game, but the defense was very impressive—holding on to the lead against Brady should be a huge confidence boost after the unit gave up some leads in previous weeks.
9. Indianapolis Colts (8-6) | Last week: 12 (+3)
Frank Reich told the FOX broadcast team calling the Colts’ game that he wanted to get the run game going, and his offense did exactly that in a convincing 23-0 shutout victory against the Cowboys. After a relatively quiet few weeks, Marlon Mack led Indy’s offense with 149 total yards and two touchdowns, while Andrew Luck kept the chains moving moving to keep Dallas off the field. When the Cowboys did possess the ball, the Colts did a good job of executing a point of emphasis: not allowing Ezekiel Elliott to run wild. The effort from defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense has been great all season, but the run defense in particular has really come on in recent weeks.
10. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) | Last week: 7 (-3)
Bad games like that happen, and now it’ll be about how the Cowboys bounce back as they return home to face a Buccaneers team they should beat. While Dallas clearly has one of the NFL’s best defenses, there should be some slight concern about the run defense. They’ve been very good against the run all season, but no team in recent weeks has tried to run on them like the Colts did. The Cowboys faced 18 carries or fewer from opposing running backs in the previous five games before Indy ran 33 times against them, so they might not have been quite ready for that. It’s something that can be corrected and improved moving forward so that it doesn’t happen in a likely playoff appearance.
11. Seattle Seahawks (8-6) | Last week: 9 (-2)
The Seahawks had to lose to the Niners at some point after beating them the last ten games, and it came at a bad time for them with the Vikings Eagles, and Redskins winning to all get within a game (or half-game in Minnesota’s case) for the top wild-card spot in the NFC. And now they must face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs coming off a loss, but the good news is the game is at home. Barring two wins by Washington, Seattle just needs one win to assure a postseason spot, but they’d love to defend homefield and get it on Sunday night.
12. Baltimore Ravens (8-6) | Last week: 10 (-2)
This is the first set of power rankings since it was announced that Lamar Jackson would remain the starting quarterback for the Ravens, and it’s a pretty surprising move in my opinion, and I don’t really agree with it despite the team’s 4-1 record with Jackson as the starter. This isn’t a knock on Jackson, who I thought was worth a first-round pick in the draft, but Joe Flacco has been there and done that in the postseason; I’m not sure Jackson will be able to win four consecutive games against the best teams in the NFL yet. Flacco is handling the situation with class, though, and he’ll be ready if called upon. This Saturday night should be a fun game and a tough test against the Chargers.
13. Tennessee Titans (8-6) | Last week: 13
I was hoping Derrick Henry’s monstrous performance a couple of Thursdays ago would lead to the Titans finally featuring him as a workhorse running back, and that’s what happened when he was given a season-high 33 carries in a hard-nosed 17-0 win over the Giants. Henry went for 170 yards and another two touchdowns, bringing his total from the last two games to 408 yards and six touchdowns. With a strong defense, a dominant run game, and a clutch quarterback, the Titans can beat anyone. Cornerback Logan Ryan is a tough loss, so LeShaun Sims must step up as the third guy behind Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson.
14. Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) | Last week: 15 (+1)
I don’t want to overreact too much to one game, but the Vikings could arguably be up in the top ten of this week’s power rankings after the offense completely changed in its first with Kevin Stefanski as the offensive coordinator. Minnesota gave Dalvin Cook (19 carries, 136 yards, two touchdowns) and Latavius Murray (15 carries, 68 yards, touchdown) plenty of opportunities against a Dolphins run defense that had played well the past couple of weeks, which is exactly what head coach Mike Zimmer wanted from that side of the ball. If Kirk Cousins plays, well the Vikings could be a team no one wants to see in January.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) | Last week: 16 (+1)
The numbers weren’t spectacular, so you can’t just look at them and form an opinion, but Philadelphia’s offense looked to be in a great rhythm with Nick Foles back under-center for an injured Carson Wentz. While ignoring talk of a potential quarterback controversy, it should be acknowledged that the Eagles are in good hands with Foles at quarterback, and the decision to keep the Super Bowl LII MVP has kept them squarely in the playoff race with a chance for another championship run with a little bit of help. The defense was much better against a high-flying Rams offense than they were against the Cowboys the week before, and they’ll look to keep that going when they take on a strong offense led by Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins this Sunday.
16. Washington Redskins (7-7) | Last week: 24 (+8)
The Redskins looked to be done, but Jay Gruden deserves credit for getting his team to bounce back after an embarrassing loss to the Giants a couple of weeks ago. Josh Johnson has been quite the story after just recently getting signed by the team, as he’s avoided mistakes and used his athleticism to get out of danger while making plays as a scrambler. This bunch could have some confidence and swagger with everyone counting them out, and it’d be a fitting cap to a crazy regular season if they won two more games and made the postseason.
17. Miami Dolphins (7-7) | Last week: 14 (-3)
The Dolphins might not have expected the Vikings to actually pound the ball like they did, and the team quickly fell behind 21-0 in the ugly loss to fall behind in the AFC playoff race. The performance started with the major struggles by the defense, but Ryan Tannehill was sacked nine times behind an offensive line that couldn’t keep one of the league’s best pass rushes off him—though he should’ve just gotten rid of the ball at least a few times. Things must quickly improve, as the team is still alive to make the postseason with two games to go.
18. Cleveland Browns (6-7-1) | Last week: 20 (-2)
The Browns are also alive, but they need a bunch of help including a Week 17 tie between the Colts and Titans—“so you’re telling me there’s a chance?”—along with other stuff, which is about one-in-a-million. Despite likely not making the postseason, Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens should be considered heavy favorites to lead the franchise moving forward (though Mike McCarthy would obviously be a great hire if not), and that win in a tough Denver environment was no easy task. Baker Mayfield wasn’t great, but he found a way to help his team get another victory as they look to get back to .500 this Sunday when they face the Bengals.
19. Carolina Panthers (6-8) | Last week: 17 (-2)
There’s also a chance for the Panthers to make the postseason with help, but their play during this six-game losing streak makes it look unlikely they’ll even get another win themselves to end the season. The defense has struggled at times, but they certainly did their part in last night’s loss to the Saints. Cam Newton simply isn’t playing well, and he must not be at 100% while dealing with shoulder issues—if not, there should be major concern about his play moving forward. With a new team owner, Ron Rivera is on the hot seat, so hopefully his team comes out strong for him this weekend against the Falcons.
20. Denver Broncos (6-8) | Last week: 18 (-2)
On paper, things looked promising for the Broncos as a potential wild-card team in the AFC, but they’ve dropped two straight to the Niners and Browns after playing about as well as anyone against some tough teams the previous several weeks. Offensively, an issue the last two games has been the inability of the running game to get going and take pressure off Case Keenum. Phillip Lindsay has a combined 28 carries for 54 yards the last two weeks, and it’s pretty tough for the Broncos to win if they can’t run the ball. The multiple reports of John Elway being set to hire Mike Shanahan last year (before apparently getting vetoed) is pretty interesting, so unfortunately for Vance Joseph, it doesn’t look like he’ll be back in 2019.
21. Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) | Last week: 19 (-2)
To be honest, it’s fitting that the Packers have been eliminated from the postseason with two weeks to go after they fired Mike McCarthy during the season. Perhaps this below-.500 season has been humbling for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after also losing at Soldier Field for the first time since 2010. Again, despite the numbers, Rodgers hasn’t played as well as usual this season, and a lot of the team’s success is reliant upon him performing like one of the league’s best players.
22. Atlanta Falcons (5-9) | Last week: 22
As stated before, Dan Quinn should and will be safe after one of the most disappointing seasons of any team, but it was still a major positive that his team dominated a bad Cardinals squad like they should have done. Deion Jones (pick-six) showed how much he’s been missed as he continues to round into form after returning from injured reserve. Matt Ryan built his great individual campaign with three more touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in the win, and the team will look to finish second in the division with a 7-9 record as they go on the road versus Carolina and Tampa Bay to finish up the year.
23. Buffalo Bills (5-9) | Last week: 26 (+3)
Overall, the Lions did a solid job of containing Josh Allen on the ground, but the rookie quarterback was able to get into the end zone for another score while also hitting fellow rookie Robert Foster for another deep touchdown. Foster, an undrafted free agent from Alabama, has been a great find for Buffalo, and he’s already matching his college career receiving totals at the next level. Allen, who was injured in the first matchup against the Patriots this season, plays a Bill Belichick defense for the first time this Sunday.
24. Detroit Lions (5-9) | Last week: 21 (-3)
Matt Patricia’s defense had another strong outing, but they weren’t able to pick up a second consecutive victory and have now been officially eliminated from playoff contention. If he’s not 100%, they obviously won’t rush him, but hopefully we see rookie Kerryon Johnson back in the lineup this week or the next. Matthew Stafford isn’t in an ideal situation with a shortage of weapons, but I’d like to see offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter get the offense rolling a bit this weekend with an opportunity to play spoiler against the Vikings.
25. New York Giants (5-9) | Last week: 23 (-2)
The Titans did an exceptional job of limiting star rookie running back Saquon Barkley, which made it tough for the Giants to get in favorable positions and keep drives going in their shutout loss. Odell Beckham Jr.’s situation with his quad injury remains up in the air, but it seems like the Giants don’t have any intention of putting him out there if he’s not at 100% health. Eli Manning and the team will look to upset his older brother’s old Colts team to put a dent in Indy’s playoff chances this weekend.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) | Last week: 27 (+1)
The Bengals have been hit by injuries pretty hard this season, and now they’ll probably be without No. 2 receiver Tyler Boyd, who has enjoyed a breakout year with 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns, for the final two games. It was good to see the losing streak come to an end in what could be Marvin Lewis’ final home game as the team’s head coach, and the squad will look to finish things out strong with road divisional matchups versus Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) | Last week: 25 (-2)
Jameis Winston went without an interception in back-to-back games a few weeks ago, but he’s now gone two straight games with a pick, making it an interception in seven-of-nine games this season for the former No. 1 pick. Those two occasions Winston did not throw an interception were the Bucs’ only two wins the last eight games. Winston has a chance to help his former favorite team, the Eagles, when he plays the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
28. New York Jets (4-10) | Last week: 28
They weren’t able to pull off the upset win at home, but the Jets played well against the Texans. The defense put some pressure on Deshaun Watson and got the ball back for the offense, but the secondary and linebackers just didn’t hold up on a few key plays in the seven-point loss. Sam Darnold continues to impress and had one of his better games in the Saturday loss, and it’s good to see him play well with one of the NFL’s weaker rosters around him.
29. Oakland Raiders (3-11) | Last week: 29
Negative sports media levies a ton of criticism at Jon Gruden because of jealousy or whatever, but everyone should respect his passion and respect for history and tradition.
A passionate Jon Gruden reminisces about the Oakland Coliseum. With the Raiders lease expiring after this season, Christmas Eve may be the final NFL game ever played at The Coliseum: "I get excited. You know—going to start crying about a stadium."#Raiders #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/iZBwh9f8Rj
— Chris Booker (@Bookerc94) December 17, 2018
No one can say he’s just in it for a big contract and doesn’t care deeply about football and winning. Hopefully the Raiders play their best game of the year in what could be the final game at the Coliseum on Christmas Eve. It’d help to get Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson back to protect Derek Carr.
30. San Francisco 49ers (4-10) | Last week: 31 (+1)
Kyle Shanahan is now 7-1 in December, as he helped end Seattle’s dominant run against them over the last few years. Big-time early-season Niners struggles have made the late-season success not mean a lot, but it’s still probably a good sign that he can get his team to play its best football late in seasons. It was good to see Matt Breida, A.K.A. Wolverine, back on the field after missing just one game with another re-aggravation of his ankle injury.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) | Last week: 30 (-1)
The Jaguars failed to bounce back with a win after their very poor Thursday night loss to the Titans in Week 14, which is another sign this roster probably needs to be completely blown up in the offseason. You’d still likely to see the team play hard and get another win or two for a head coach that helped lead them to a game from the Super Bowl last season.
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-11) | Last week: 32
There’s a lot of smoke about first-year head coach Steve Wilks being fired after one season as the Cardinals head coach, which I never understand because you’d think you hire someone that there’d be more patience with; but Arizona has been pretty bad this season despite some star power on the roster. We’ll see if the group can finish the season strong, but they might run into the wrong team when the potentially-ready-to-explode Rams come to town this weekend.