15 teams are alive for the postseason heading into the final week of the regular season, and Week 17 should deliver plenty of non-stop action all day on Sunday. The Week 17 power rankings include a now-clear No. 1 team, along with the Ravens and Eagles making a jump after they both picked up huge wins last week.
1. New Orleans Saints (13-2) | Last week: 3 (+2)
I thought the Steelers had a good chance to beat the Saints, but a New Orleans victory helps get them to the clear top spot in the power rankings. The Saints probably won’t fall from the spot next week, either, as the road to the Super Bowl runs through them—including last Sunday and this Sunday the Saints will be playing all of their games in the Superdome, where they are incredibly difficult to beat. Drew Brees and Sean Payton are 5-0 at home in the postseason, and the future Hall of Fame quarterback basically plays perfect in the comfortable, controlled environment. Pittsburgh isn’t an easy offense to contain, and the Saints had been playing excellent defense prior to Ben Roethlisberger and company torching them.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) | Last week: 2
Seattle is no easy place to win, but the Chiefs haven’t really won a big primetime game yet, with a Monday night victory over the Broncos back in Week 4 acting as their biggest night win this season. The defense is obviously a concern, as the unit is much better when the offense can jump to a lead and allow the other side of the ball to get after the quarterback with a group led by Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones. But remember, Eric Berry is still working his way back into the swing of things and could be a real difference-maker in the postseason, while Sammy Watkins and Spencer Ware could help the offense jump to leads when they get back into the lineup. Clinching the No. 1 seed this week is critical, as a first-round bye to prepare for the Divisional Round before potentially hosting the conference championship instead of going on the road would be huge.
3. Los Angeles Rams (12-3) | Last week: 4 (+1)
C.J. Anderson looks like quite the pickup for the Rams this late in the season, as he did a great job of filling in as the primary ball-carrier with Todd Gurley missing his first game of the season with knee inflammation. The offensive line was better than it’s been in recent weeks, as Jared Goff had more opportunities to sit back in the pocket and deliver strikes to his receivers. Defensively, the Rams didn’t give up much, as the only touchdown for the Cardinals was a trick play passing touchdown from Larry Fitzgerald. A win this week over the Niners to clinch a first-round bye would give Sean McVay more time to get a great gameplan together for his team’s first postseason game.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) | Last week: 1 (-3)
The Chargers could have remained in the top-two of the power rankings, but they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity over the weekend, losing at home to the Ravens on Saturday before the Chiefs lost at Seattle the next night. They’re still alive for the No. 1 seed with a win and another Chiefs loss, but Week 16 was probably their shot at making a jump to the top of the AFC and AFC West standings. Despite the loss in a game they couldn’t get much going, it was good to see Melvin Gordon back on the field after missing the previous three games with an MCL injury. Look for the Chargers to at least build some momentum heading into the postseason as they take on a Broncos team they lost to earlier this season.
5. New England Patriots (10-5) | Last week: 6 (+1)
In a big turn from last February, thanks to Nick Foles and the Eagles, the Patriots are now back in position for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. New England even thanked Foles for helping lead the Eagles to a win over the Texans, who would have gotten at least the No. 2 seed if they won their final two games. The passing attack of the Patriots is a slight concern, but there probably isn’t a player to be more confident in during January than Tom Brady; also, the running game got on track against the Bills, as the team rushed for 273 yards—the franchise’s most since 2008. Ideally, we’ll see Rob Gronkowski and, after the Josh Gordon suspension, some of the other receivers (aside from Julian Edelman) like Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett get going heading into the postseason.
6. Chicago Bears (11-4) | Last week: 5 (-1)
The Bears had a hard-fought win over the Niners, but the main reason they drop one spot in the power rankings is because the Patriots are back in position for a bye. Chicago does have a chance at the No. 2 seed in their own conference, but it’ll take a Rams loss to the Niners. If the Bears lose to the Vikings this Sunday, they’ll likely play them the next week in the Wild Card Round, so there’s a chance Matt Nagy doesn’t go all-out to win their game, especially if they check the scoreboard and see LA is blowing out San Francisco. Also, the Bears frankly might not want to run into an on-fire Nick Foles and the defending Super Bowl champions in the first round of the playoffs. Personally, I believe most teams should try to win games in almost any situation—perhaps the exception being if you’re locked into a particular seed without a first-round bye.
7. Houston Texans (10-5) | Last week: 7
They ultimately fell in Philadelphia, but you have the love the comeback effort from Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Watson has five game-winning drives this season, and it easily could’ve been six if his defense held up at the end against the Eagles. Demaryius Thomas (Achilles) is a tough loss after Houston made him their target at the trade deadline, but Watson is still the type of quarterback that can carry an offense—and he shows up in the biggest moments. I remain concerned about the secondary, especially against fast, explosive offenses, but look for the entire team to build some momentum this weekend against the Jaguars.
8. Seattle Seahawks (9-6) | Last week: 11 (+3)
Second-year running back Chris Carson (116 yards, two touchdowns against the Chiefs) is one of the most underrated players in the league, as he’s simply a beast of a runner that teams won’t have fun tackling in January. With former Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson leading the passing attack, the Seahawks are not a squad that’ll be an easy out as they get back into the postseason after missing out last year. Seattle still has a seed to play for, so expect them to treat this Week 17 matchup with the Cardinals like any other game; they probably don’t care who they play between Chicago and Dallas (or potentially LA) in the first round, but it’s not their style to ease up ahead of the playoffs.
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-6) | Last week: 9
Things looked uneasy for the Colts as they looked to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race, but Andrew Luck led the team to 21 second-half points in their Week 16 win over the Giants as a big momentum-builder toward this Sunday night’s win-or-go-home matchup with the Titans. Injuries to center Ryan Kelly and tight end Eric Ebron will be watched closely leading up to the de facto playoff game, and Kelly’s status in particular is huge for the rushing attack led by Marlon Mack. The Colts dominated the first matchup versus the Titans earlier this season while Marcus Mariota was dealing with elbow issues and then left the game early, and it looks like they might avoid facing a healthy Mariota again after he was injured last Saturday.
10. Baltimore Ravens (9-6) | Last week: 12 (+2)
Lamar Jackson is now 5-1 as Baltimore’s starting quarterback, and last Saturday night was his biggest win yet, as he avoided big mistakes and threw for 200+ yards for the first time in his career against a strong Chargers team. The schedule hasn’t been imposing, but a win on the road against the Chargers is big for the confidence of the rookie quarterback—and the defense behind him allows him to play without pressing for gamebreaking plays. That defense will need to contain another rookie-led offense when they face Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and the Browns this Sunday. A win gives them an AFC North title and a home playoff game—potentially against the Chargers team they just beat.
11. Dallas Cowboys (9-6) | Last week: 10 (-1)
That was a solid bounce back for the Cowboys after they were shut out by the Colts in Week 15. The run defense was much stronger against Tampa Bay than it was against Indy, while the unit was able to get a defensive score by forcing a Jameis Winston fumble that was recovered and taken to the house by linebacker Jaylon Smith. Dak Prescott didn’t try to do too much and played an efficient game where he made some perfect throws. Dallas now had three NFC East titles in the last five seasons, and they are locked into the No. 4 seed in this year’s playoffs; but it still sounds like they are going to try to win the regular-season finale against the Giants, which I agree is the right move. A 10-6 record going into the postseason just feels better than getting in at 9-7 in what some might declare a weak division this season.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) | Last week: 15 (+3)
It might not even be a discussion because of the back injury, but there’s no way the Eagles can put Carson Wentz back into the lineup over Nick Foles this season. Philadelphia needs some help (a Vikings loss to the Bears) to get into the postseason, but Foles and the defending champs are a team no one would want to run into during January. Foles continues to give his receivers opportunities to make plays, and it was great to see Nelson Agholor—who I believe should be getting at least several quality targets per week given his awesome ability—come up big including with his 83-yard touchdown reception on a beautiful deep ball. Defensively, the thin cornerback group has been playing a lot better in recent weeks, but the front four must get more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
13. Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1) | Last week: 14 (+1)
The Vikings are in control of their playoff fate, but it’s not going to be easy to beat the Bears. The good news is Minnesota is 5-2 at home this season, and the change in offensive coordinator from John DeFilippo to Kevin Stefansky is certainly working out through two games—Kirk Cousins isn’t being asked to do too much, and he’s been more efficient with fewer pass attempts. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has been quiet most of this season, but he fittingly exploded for 122 yards and two touchdowns—including a Hail Mary at the end of the first half—a couple of days before Christmas.
14. Tennessee Titans (9-6) | Last week: 13 (-1)
If Marcus Mariota’s status was clearer in the positive direction, I’d probably have the Titans a few spots higher in the power rankings ahead of their win-and-in matchup with the Colts this Sunday night. The game is at home, and Tennessee has found a recipe for success with Derrick Henry pounding the ball the last three weeks (71 carries, 492 yards, seven touchdowns) to compliment a solid defense, so the team definitely has the ability to overcome no Mariota. However, Mariota is one the NFL’s most clutch players, and not having a guy like that leading the team could be a huge blow to the Titans’ playoff chances. Blaine Gabbert gets too much criticism and has the athleticism and ability to make plays, but the game would be a lot more fun with Mariota on the field.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1) | Last week: 8 (-7)
Normally I don’t get too much into bad officiating impacting a game, especially in a year like this where it seems like there are more noticeable bad calls than ever, but the Steelers were essentially given a seven-point hole after the phantom pass interference call against Joe Haden on a fourth-down attempt that would’ve given them the ball in great field position; instead, the Saints scored a touchdown on the drive in the very-close three-point game. Pittsburgh did have their chances, though, including on a potential game-tying or game-winning drive that ended on a JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble. Now, Mike Tomlin’s squad is looking for some help from the Browns to get into the playoffs.
16. Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) | Last week: 18 (+2)
A major positive for the Steelers is that the Browns are playing very well right now, with a 5-2 record since Gregg Williams took over as the interim head coach. The Browns have said they are going to treat this Sunday’s matchup with the Ravens like a playoff game, and a win would make it very tough for owner Jimmy Haslam and GM John Dorsey to go with someone other than Williams as their head coach moving forward (even with Mike McCarthy being an outstanding option that’s already available). It’s hard to build momentum from one season to the next with them months apart, but Cleveland’s confidence would be ultra-high if they can knock Baltimore out of the playoffs.
17. Washington Redskins (7-8) | Last week: 16 (-1)
They couldn’t pull off the road win against the Titans last Saturday, but you have to admire the fight the Redskins have shown the last couple of weeks. Getting a win over the Eagles to ensure the defending champs do not make the playoffs would certainly help, but I fully believe the Redskins should keep Jay Gruden as the head coach in 2019. There are some pieces on the roster, but overall not many people would argue it’s a top-ten team in terms of talent; and things might be a lot different if Alex Smith didn’t suffer his unfortunate broken leg in Week 11.
18. Green Bay Packers (6-8-1) | Last week: 21 (+3)
There hasn’t been a lot of Aaron Rodgers dominating in a below-.500 season for the Packers, but he carried the team to victory over the Jets, putting up over 400 passing yards with two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Jamaal Williams was also a big contributor, with 156 total yards and a touchdown—along with great work as a pass protector that doesn’t show up in the box score. Getting to 7-8-1 (0.5 game below .500) to end the season would probably feel a lot better than going 6-9-1 (2.5 games below .500) for Green Bay.
19. Atlanta Falcons (6-9) | Last week: 22 (+3)
Dan Quinn’s squad is ending the season on a high note, and they’ll look to keep it going this Sunday against the Buccaneers to finish the year on a three-game winning streak. It’s been a disappointing few months for the Falcons, but they have the pieces in place and could be in a much different position if the ball bounced their way a couple times throughout the season. Both sides of the ball have battled injuries, but both units have found a groove the last couple of games.
20. Miami Dolphins (7-8) | Last week: 17 (-3)
Adam Gase is expected to return to the Dolphins in 2019, and I think he should, but he probably can’t afford his team getting blown out against the Bills in the season finale. After Ryan Tannehill and the offense played very well in the “Miami Miracle” game against the Patriots a couple weeks ago, the group has struggled against the Vikings and Jaguars the last two weeks, as the offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback.
21. Carolina Panthers (6-9) | Last week: 19 (-2)
I feel for Taylor Heinicke getting injured in his first NFL start, and you have to love the toughness he showed returning to the game; but the left elbow injury suffered is bad enough that he won’t be able to play in Week 17. Undrafted rookie quarterback Kyle Allen, who was deemed the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, looks set to make his first career start, and I am pretty excited to see how he fares. Allen is very talented and seemingly wasn’t in great situations in college (though he did make the decision to transfer schools), so he could be one of those guys that’s better as a pro. Christian McCaffrey is basically carrying Carolina’s offense, and he just set the mark for most receptions in a season for a running back.
22. Denver Broncos (6-9) | Last week: 20 (-2)
As stated before, the Broncos were playing about as well as anyone during a seven-game mid-season stretch in which their only losses were to the Rams, Chiefs, and Texans (with wins over the Chargers and Steelers in back-to-back weeks). I have no idea why the wheels fell off for Vance Joseph’s team, but it looks like Sunday could be the end of his tenure in Denver. Hopefully the players come out and play hard for their head coach on the hot seat.
23. Buffalo Bills (5-10) | Last week: 23
Sean McDermott is nowhere near the hot seat, so he’s just going to look to get his guys to play tough football like they have all season. It’s a great sign that McDermott was able to bench LeSean McCoy, with the veteran running back accepting the punishment—McCoy hasn’t been great this season, but it sets the tone for the entire roster when you bench one of the team’s best players. Josh Allen had some struggles in his first game against Bill Belichick’s defense, but he’ll continue to learn and get better with experience.
24. New York Giants (5-10) | Last week: 25 (+1)
They couldn’t quite hold on against the Colts, but the Giants had a nice bounce-back effort after losing 17-0 to the Titans the week before. Saquon Barkley couldn’t get much going versus Indy, but Eli Manning had a solid outing and showed he can still get the ball down the field for deep shots. Don’t count out two-time Super Bowl winner entering next season as the starter, especially with how well the team has played to end the season. A victory over the NFC East champion Cowboys this Sunday would be good news for Eli. Also keep in mind that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert officially announced he will be returning for his senior season, which has been the expectation all along despite the media trying to push that he’d be entering the draft, so the 2019 draft class is thinner at quarterback.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) | Last week: 26 (+1)
The Bengals battled back and made it relatively close at the end, but they weren’t able to beat a hot Browns team in Cleveland. This week, Marvin Lewis could be coaching his final game with the Bengals, as it’s probably time to go in another direction. The team is shorthanded, though, so who knows what’ll happen after most thought Lewis was going to be done after last season. Either way, Cincinnati should play hard in what could be his final game as head coach—and they probably will, considering they can ensure their heated rivals (the Steelers) remain out of the postseason.
26. Detroit Lions (5-10) | Last week: 24 (-2)
It looked like the Lions were going to limit the Vikings offense and knock their division foe out of playoff position after jumping to a 9-0 lead, but Matt Patricia’s defense couldn’t contain Minnesota the entire game. Offensively, Detroit is dealing with injuries and departures, and they haven’t scored over 22 points in a game since October 21, so I’d like to see them put up some points against the Packers heading into the offseason.
27. Oakland Raiders (4-11) | Last week: 29 (+2)
Especially on Christmas Eve, it was good to see the Raiders get a win over the Broncos in what’ll likely be their final game in Oakland. Jon Gruden got emotional about the Coliseum leading up to the game, and Derek Carr was caught embracing the fans after the win. All three phases played well for the Raiders in the victory, including special teams with an alert 99-yard punt return touchdown by Dwayne Harris after he took advantage of the Broncos touching but not downing the ball at the one-yard line. The team will now look to knock the Chiefs down a notch in the AFC playoffs.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10) | Last week: 27 (-1)
Jameis Winston avoided throwing any interceptions against the Cowboys, but he was careless with the ball and lost it while getting hit on a scramble that turned into a defensive score for Dallas. Against a Falcons defense that’s been playing well lately, this will actually be a pretty good test for Winston and the offense in the final game of the season. This could be the former No. 1 pick’s last game with the Bucs depending on how the offseason goes, so he’ll look to put some good things on tape.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) | Last week: 31 (+2)
Blake Bortles is getting another crack at the starting job to close out the regular season for Jacksonville, and perhaps it won’t be his final start considering the team can’t get out of the contract this offseason without owing a lot of money (unless they trade him). Bortles will look to show the time on the bench allowed him to reset. Defensively, the talented unit has allowed point totals of 0, 16, and 7 in three of the last four weeks (the other game they allowed 30 points to the Titans), so they’re flashing that elite ability to end the year.
30. New York Jets (4-11) | Last week: 28 (-2)
I like that Jets CEO Christopher Johnson came out and supported Todd Bowles heading into Week 17, but mostly everyone believes this is the last game for Bowles as the team’s head coach. Given the statement of support, I wouldn’t be as sure as everyone else is, but we should find out relatively quickly next week. The roster just isn’t quite there, but it’s been great to see Sam Darnold show very promising signs since the return from his foot injury, as he’s been accurate and decisive with his throws. This Sunday he’ll play his first game at Foxoboro against Bill Belichick’s defense, so it’ll be a good test in the final game of his rookie season.
31. San Francisco 49ers (4-11) | Last week: 30 (-1)
Fortunately, Dante Pettis’ knee injury isn’t something that’ll require surgery and keep him out into next season, as he showed signs of a potential No. 1 receiver toward the end of his first NFL season. The Niners have players to build upon moving forward, and they just need to stay healthy and learn to win games, which hasn’t been easy. Kyle Shanahan and his offense will probably pull out all the stops as they look to knock the Rams out of the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-12) | Last week: 32
Four of the last five games for the Cardinals have been losses by at least two touchdowns (and an average margin of 24.3). There isn’t much question they are the NFL’s worst team heading into Week 17, and the situation with both their front office and coaching staff is one of the more intriguing for immediately after the regular season. By all accounts, Steve Wilks is a leader that has the support of his players, and I believe you should certainly give someone more than one year if you hired them (unless it’s a total disaster with major issues including off the field with accountability etc., obviously) so we’ll see how the Cardinals handle this.