Most of the top ten of this week’s power rankings remain the same, but struggling teams are failing to separate themselves at the bottom this late in the season.
1. Baltimore Ravens (12-2) | Last week: 1
It’s been stated multiple times in the power rankings this year, but the Ravens continue to play like a college team facing opponents that are no match for them—it helps that they are running a legit college-style offense with MVP-to-be Lamar Jackson, and no team has figured out a way to slow the group down over the past couple of months. Jackson, who leads the NFL in touchdown passes, has been throwing the ball extremely well, but the best way to beat Baltimore might be to sell out to stop both Jackson and the running backs from running for positive yardage; if defenses give up big plays in the passing game, so be it, as it’s not like anyone is stopping them anyway.
2. New England Patriots (11-3) | Last week: 3 (+1)
The Patriots are back in the No. 2 spot in the power rankings, and the defense is a big reason why following a superb outing after a bit of a slow start against the Bengals. It feels like there is suddenly a wave of talk for All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore as the Defensive Player of the Year, and I agree that he’s the favorite with a couple of games to go in the regular season.
3. Seattle Seahawks (11-3) | Last week: 4 (+1)
The Panthers made it a one-possession game in the end, but the Seahawks were in firm control of their Week 15 victory to improve to 11-3 and take control of the No. 1 seed of the NFC following San Francisco’s loss later in the day. Overall, it was a positive bounce back performance by Seattle after getting rolled by the Rams two Sundays ago, and now Russell Wilson and company get to end the season with a couple of home games starting this weekend against the Cardinals.
4. San Francisco 49ers (11-3) | Last week: 2 (-2)
While the 49ers temporarily gave up control of the NFC’s top seed because of their loss to the Falcons, they still just need to win the final two games (this Sunday at home versus the Rams, then at Seattle) to regain homefield throughout the postseason. George Kittle was exceptional, with 13 receptions for 134 yards in the Week 15 loss, but the next closest player for Kyle Shanahan’s offense had one reception for 29 yards, so more guys are going to have to step up more consistently in the second half of December and into January.
5. Green Bay Packers (11-3) | Last week: 5
The Packers were able to get a huge victory at Lambeau Field while kicking the defending NFC North champion Bears out of the playoff hunt. Green Bay’s secondary gave up some chunk plays to Chicago, but the good news is the run defense looked stout—stopping the run will be critical as they look to clinch the division in Minnesota on Monday night.
6. New Orleans Saints (11-3) | Last week: 6
An amazing performance by Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense was fully expected to happen as the future Hall of Fame quarterback was in position to break Peyton Manning’s record for most regular season touchdown passes in NFL history on Monday Night Football, so I do not think they should be moved up too much based on one outing. However, the performance of the banged-up defense in particular was a major development, and the Saints will look to keep it going against an AFC contending Titans team this weekend.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) | Last week: 7
It’s tough to beat a snow game, and the Chiefs didn’t have much trouble offensively airing it out in the less-than-ideal conditions—Patrick Mahomes was 27/34 for 340 yards, two touchdowns (both to Tyreek Hill), and an interception versus the Broncos. Defensively, the weather probably helped their cause, but Kansas City continues to impress as they look to build momentum heading into the postseason. A first-round bye is within striking distance if the Bills can beat the Patriots this Saturday
8. Buffalo Bills (10-4) | Last week: 8
The Bills earned their primetime flex game last Sunday night, and they earned a great playoff-clinching victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field. Buffalo will likely be locked into the No. 5 seed, but they can give themselves a chance to win the AFC East if they are able to upset the defending champs in Foxboro in a highly anticipated Saturday afternoon matchup. It’s ridiculous how much disrespect Josh Allen gets, but he’s playing well and winning games with clutch moments.
9. Minnesota Vikings (10-4) | Last week: 9
There was some concern about a trip to the west coast with a game against the Packers on deck, but Mike Zimmer’s defense demolished the Chargers in the Vikings’ 29-point win. Thankfully, it appears Dalvin Cook is OK despite leaving early for the second time in the previous three games, and Adam Thielen returned to the lineup from his hamstring injury without any setbacks. Minnesota should have a significant homefield advantage with a crazy crowd on Monday night.
10. Houston Texans (9-5) | Last week: 12 (+2)
The Texans made some key plays defensively, including an interception by Whitney Mercilus off a ball popped up into the air deep in scoring territory, in their big win at Tennessee, and Houston can now clinch the division with a win this Saturday against the Buccaneers. It’s concerning that DeAndre Hopkins was visibly (and reportedly, according to an ESPN reporter at the game in a since-deleted tweet) mad/upset about not getting the ball more despite his team winning, and he looked almost disinterested on some running plays to me—especially for someone that’s normally a solid run blocker.
11. Dallas Cowboys (7-7) | Last week: 16 (+5)
The Cowboys probably had the most dominant performance of Week 15, and they rise a handful of spots in the power rankings ahead of their potential division-clinching matchup at Philadelphia this Sunday. Ezekiel Elliott received 27 touches against the Rams, and you can bet Dallas will keep handing him the ball, especially versus an NFC East foe he’s had a lot of success against throughout his career. Veteran linebacker Sean Lee had a sack and an interception in a throwback type of performance last week.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) | Last week: 15 (+3)
Carson Wentz has been extremely clutch in the last two games, but this weekend against the Cowboys will be a more difficult test than facing two of the bottom teams in the league. The Eagles have lost four consecutive games to the Cowboys, which is their longest losing streak in the rivalry in over 20 years. Not having Jordan Howard (shoulder) in the lineup has been unfortunate, but rookie running back Miles Sanders is doing a great job of filling in as the top runner for Philadelphia.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6) | Last week: 13
The Steelers dropped just their second game since early October, and every loss aside from a Thursday night loss in Cleveland has been to a team that will be in the postseason this year. Pittsburgh’s offense just needs to avoid mistakes, as the top-notch defense should be able to keep them in any game; but getting starting running back James Conner back in the lineup gave the offense some juice on Sunday night. Hopefully JuJu Smith-Schuster can return soon, but James Washington has emerged as a difference-maker on the outside for the Steelers.
14. Tennessee Titans (8-6) | Last week: 10 (-4)
Derrick Henry is clearly at less than 100% while dealing with his hamstring issue, and perhaps the result versus the Texans would have been different if the league’s second-leading rusher this season was able to break a big play or two at full strength. The Titans now need some help to get into the postseason, but they just need to worry about getting to ten wins—which will be a tough task as they host the Saints this Sunday.
15. Los Angeles Rams (8-6) | Last week: 11 (-4)
The Rams were squarely in the NFC wild-card race, but their showing against the Cowboys was flat-out bad. LA’s defense gave up way too many big plays both on the ground and through the air, and it seemed like Dak Prescott had wide-open receivers to throw to every time he dropped back. The good news for the Rams is that Todd Gurley continued to get a heavy workload late in the loss, so it appears the concerns about his knees during the offseason were overblown.
16. Chicago Bears (7-7) | Last week: 14 (-2)
The Bears battled back, but they were unable to win at Lambeau Field to keep their playoff hopes alive following their NFC North title last season. A positive for Chicago recently has been the play of second-year receiver Anthony Miller, who has the talent to be an integral part of Matt Nagy’s attack and form an elite one-two punch with Allen Robinson. The matchup isn’t as anticipated as it was before the season, but this Sunday night against the Chiefs at Soldier Field should be interesting.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7) | Last week: 18 (+1)
Jameis Winston continues to make boneheaded throws early in games, but he’s slinging it around and putting up strong fantasy football numbers in Bruce Arians’ offense. Winston became the first player in NFL history with two consecutive games of 450+ passing yards, and he’ll probably keep putting up big yardage totals over the final two games even without Chris Godwin and Mike Evans in the lineup. Former first-round pick Breshad Perriman looks like he’s found a home in Arians’ offense after following up his recent hot stretch with a three-touchdown performance against the Lions.
18. Atlanta Falcons (5-9) | Last week: 22 (+4)
In their last six games, the Falcons are 4-2 despite a number of injuries and two matchups versus the Saints (1-1) and one versus the 49ers. Julio Jones dominated in the victory against the Niners, with 134 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winning score right at the end of the game. By far averaging the most receiving yards per game in NFL history (granted, he is now playing in a heavily-slanted offensive era), Jones was robbed of a spot on the NFL’s Top 100 team, especially when you consider he’s a rare selfless star receiver that might be the best run blocker in football at his position and does everything at a top-tier level. It probably hurt Julio that he doesn’t bring attention to himself or celebrate after every catch.
19. Oakland Raiders (6-8) | Last week: 17 (-2)
Officiating has been so bad this season in too many key moments that it’s become something that I’ve basically gotten used to at this point. But it irritates me that the officiating straight up cost the Raiders a win in their final game in Oakland. Derek Carr very obviously slid in bounds, and while mistakes happen, it was a call that simply cannot be messed up by the officiating crew. Anyway, these next two weeks could be big for Carr as Jon Gruden decides what he wants to do at quarterback moving forward.
20. Indianapolis Colts (6-8) | Last week: 19 (-1)
Again, the performance by the Saints was pretty much expected on a record-breaking night for Drew Brees at home, but Indianapolis didn’t make things too difficult for New Orleans on Monday night. They’ve had to play three of the last four on the road in a brutal stretch, but the Colts are now 1-6 in their last seven games. Frank Reich and company will be looking for progress from Jacoby Brissett over the final two games.
21. Arizona Cardinals (4-9-1) | Last week: 28 (+7)
As stated in the open, teams having down seasons are failing to separate themselves—these final dozen spots could vary greatly. I’ll give the Cardinals a nice boost after their first victory since October, as they haven’t been playing too poorly. Kliff Kingsbury’s squad has played the 49ers tough twice and the Steelers tough once, and they are coming off a convincing victory over a hyped Browns team. Kyler Murray continues to show major upside as a dual threat, while Kenyan Drake (four touchdowns in Week 15) looks like a perfect fit in Kingsbury’s offense.
22. Denver Broncos (5-9) | Last week: 23 (+1)
Drew Lock cooled off a bit in his third NFL start, but that was not surprising in the snow at an already-challenging Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos will have a chance to get back on track this Sunday against the Lions as they look to end this season with a couple more wins. Look for Denver to try to get the rushing attack with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman going a bit more after it hasn’t popped in recent weeks.
23. Cleveland Browns (6-8) | Last week: 20 (-3)
As you probably should know, not everything you read in the media should be believed, but it seems likely that the reports of Browns players including Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry telling opposing teams to “come get me” (reported by multiple people) are true. OBJ and Landry looked very distraught during last Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, and it’s almost like the team kind of shut down after this season didn’t turn out the way they had hoped.
24. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9) | Last week: 21 (-3)
The only team that arguably had a worse performance than the Rams (and perhaps the Colts) this week was the other Los Angeles team, as the Chargers played a terrible game while getting blown out by the Vikings at home. I have Melvin Gordon and faced Minnesota’s defense in my fantasy semifinal matchup, so there isn’t much good I can share about the Chargers after a whopping seven turnovers. It’s nearly impossible to win at any level when you turn the ball over seven times.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) | Last week: 26 (+1)
We already went over how the officials cost the Raiders their final game in Oakland, but the Jaguars deserve credit for driving down the field for a late go-ahead touchdown after the sliding controversy. Jacksonville’s players sounded pleased to ruin the final game in front of the raucous Oakland crowd, including rookie defensive end Josh Allen, who recorded his tenth sack of the season in the Week 15 win.
26. New York Jets (5-9) | Last week: 25 (-1)
Sam Darnold showed major flashes that has a lot of people excited about his long-term outlook, but hopefully his conversation with head coach Adam Gase was just a usual gameday issue that isn’t a sign of a strained relationship. While the score wasn’t pretty, the Jets continue to play hard every week, which indicates the message from Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (not the least bit surprising) is at least getting through.
27. Carolina Panthers (5-9) | Last week: 24 (-3)
It’s not quite as bad as last year, but the Panthers are on another long losing streak late in the season, as they have lost six games in a row following a 5-3 start. Ahead of a critical offseason for the franchise, Carolina is giving third-round rookie quarterback Will Grier an opportunity to start the final two games, and the Panthers have question marks at head coach and quarterback as things currently stand.
28. New York Giants (3-11) | Last week: 31 (+3)
The Giants rise a few spots in the power rankings after their win against the Dolphins in Eli Manning’s final home start (and potentially his final start ever) for the franchise. Unfortunately, it happened because of an injury to Daniel Jones, but it’s good to see Manning get a nice sendoff at the end of this season. Hopefully Jones is ready to go for Weeks 16 and 17 as he looks to get valuable game reps heading into 2020.
29. Miami Dolphins (3-11) | Last week: 27 (-2)
While the Dolphins traded away Pro Bowlers Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick (because of his trade request), it’s awesome to see a players like DeVante Parker and Eric Rowe get rewarded for their play with nice contract extensions—Brian Flores is identifying players he can have success with in his program moving forward. Parker scored another two touchdowns in Miami’s Week 15 loss, and Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid game despite the Dolphins scoring just 20 points.
30. Washington Redskins (3-11) | Last week: 30
Dwayne Haskins appears to be getting more comfortable with more playing time, and he’s showing the flashes of pinpoint accuracy that made him an intriguing prospect coming out of Ohio State. Despite his appearance at the Redskins game, former Florida and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told FOX News’ Brit Hume that he thinks he’s done coaching—it’s probably unlikely that owner Daniel Snyder would watch the game with Meyer and then hire him to coach the team a few weeks later anyway.
31. Detroit Lions (3-10-1) | Last week: 29 (-2)
The Lions have announced that they are keeping head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn for 2020, and I think it’s a good idea to give the regime you hire at least a few years to turn a team around. However, Detroit looks bad right now, especially on defense, where they gave up way too many big plays to the Buccaneers. But the Lions players are either going to need to buy into Patricia or they’ll waste another season of their careers next year if they aren’t elsewhere.
32. Cincinnati Bengals (1-13) | Last week: 32
The Bengals were able to start hot and move the ball on the Patriots defense, but they couldn’t keep up when New England started to pull away in the second half. At least Joe Mixon has kept up his excellent play as of late, and the talented Oklahoma product looks like a clear centerpiece of Zac Taylor’s offense moving forward.