There’s some top-five shuffling in the Week 15 NFL power rankings, with the Bills and Rams taking the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) | Last week: 1
Patrick Mahomes had some trouble with the Dolphins defense, but the receiving corps led by Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill was just too much to keep down all game—and nine non-offensive points (a punt return touchdown by Mecole Hardman and a safety by the defense) were huge in the six-point victory. Kelce leading the NFL in receiving yards with three weeks remaining is just insane, and both Kelce and Hill in the top five is an indication of the embarrassment of riches Mahomes has at his disposal on offense.
2. Buffalo Bills (10-3) | Last week: 4 (+2)
No disrespect to Tom Brady (adjusting to a new team) and others, but Mahomes and Josh Allen have been the clear two best players in the league this season in my opinion; and, as I believe I said early this season, I’m not sure it’s not Allen—which may be sacrilegious according to those that assert Mahomes is the best, no questions asked. Also, the Bills defense is looking more like the unit from last season, so Buffalo is getting scary at the right time.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4) | Last week: 5 (+2)
With the Saints’ winning streak coming to an end and the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC wide-open, there is no clear conference favorite as the playoffs approach. But for now, the Rams may be that team if I had to make a pick. This squad as deep postseason experience after going to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, and the rushing attack is heating up led by impressive rookie Cam Akers. Los Angeles completely shut down the Patriots last Thursday night, and they have the talent to contain some of the top offenses in the league.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-3) | Last week: 3 (-1)
I found it funny that people brought up how Alvin Kamara said the Saints would have beaten the Eagles on their Super Bowl run a few years ago when they couldn’t even beat a three-win Philly team this season. Anyway, aside from the two Bucs wins this season in which they had their number, New Orleans has had some trouble winning some highly anticipated games—which I classified last week as with Jalen Hurts starting—over the past few years. It would be huge if they can get a win over the Chiefs this Sunday.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) | Last week: 2 (-3)
Many are making it as if the sky is falling, but the Steelers are just slightly off right now—and the margin for error is smaller with the team unable to get much of a run game going and the receivers continuing to have issues with drops. The defense is still outstanding, and Ben Roethlisberger should be able to get things figured out by January. Pittsburgh remains in the top five despite two consecutive losses following an 11-0 start.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) | Last week: 6
As stated above, Tom Brady is on a new team, so even coming off the bye with extra time to prepare, you can see that he’s just off when he normally wouldn’t be over the past 20 years. The missed potential touchdown to Chris Godwin on a deep in-breaking route was a standout from last week, but Brady also threw a perfect deep ball to Scotty Miller for a 48-yard touchdown in the Bucs’ win over the Vikings. And Todd Bowles’ defense got back on track by getting after Kirk Cousins.
7. Green Bay Packers (10-3) | Last week: 7
Now in control of the top seed in the NFC, the Packers could certainly be a few spots higher than this in the power rankings. The next two weeks should be telling, as they might face two of the best running backs in the league if Christian McCaffrey (quad, shoulder) is able to play this Saturday night (Derrick Henry is on deck when Green Bay faces Tennessee in Week 16). It’s the case for most teams, but the Packers are especially at their best when they are in control of the game—i.e., the defense doesn’t get run all over by the opposition.
8. Seattle Seahawks (9-4) | Last week: 8
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks got back on track last week in their second straight game versus a New York team, beating up on the Jets while safety Jamal Adams had a successful outing against his former team. Seattle will now face Washington in what’ll surely be a tougher test; the emergence of the Seahawks defense in recent weeks will help if Pete Carroll’s squad gets into more of a low-scoring slugfest this weekend.
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-4) | Last week: 10 (+1)
The late-season breakout for rookie running back Jonathan Taylor is in full swing after the Wisconsin product ran for a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against the Raiders—and the re-emergence of veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton (four touchdowns over the past three games) has been a huge difference, too. With Taylor and Hilton playing like they are capable and getting the ball, the Colts are a dangerous offense with Philip Rivers commanding things. Defensively, Indy picked off two passes of Derek Carr and did a nice job of shutting down Josh Jacobs and the Vegas rushing attack.
10. Tennessee Titans (9-4) | Last week: 13 (+3)
Derrick Henry needed to average 170 rushing yards per game over the past four to hit 2,000 rushing yards, and he started the stretch by going for 215 and two touchdowns in the Titans’ rout of the Jaguars. The surprising early struggles by Tennessee in Week 13 led to Henry not being used like he normally would, but the former Heisman Trophy winner is basically impossible to stop at this time of year. The offense playing like it did (A.J. Brown’s spectacular one-handed touchdown also deserves mention) makes things easier on Mike Vrabel’s defense.
11. Baltimore Ravens (8-5) | Last week: 15 (+4)
Lamar Jackson came back and came through late as a passer after doing serious damage as a runner throughout the game, but Trace McSorley deserves a lot of credit for keeping Baltimore in the game at Cleveland—the late third-and-ten throw to Willie Snead was right on the money in a critical situation. The sample size has been small, but it just needs to be stated again that McSorley went way too late in the draft. The Ravens victory keeps them in a decent spot in the crowded AFC.
12. Cleveland Browns (9-4) | Last week: 9 (-3)
They ultimately lost and head coach Kevin Stefanski said they take no moral victories from it, but the Browns had a positive turnaround from getting demolished by the Ravens in Week 1. It’s a testament to the job Stefanski has done getting the most out of Baker Mayfield and the offense this season. Defensively, hopefully top cornerback Denzel Ward is back in the lineup soon.
13. Miami Dolphins (8-5) | Last week: 12 (-1)
Again, the Chiefs scored nine points on special teams and defense against the Dolphins—Brian Flores’ defense, down two starting linebackers, did a very good job against the toughest offense in the league to defend. Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and company have the length and cover ability to match up with anyone, and Miami will likely be a tough out if they can get into the postseason. Tua Tagovailoa had a promising performance, putting his team in position to make it a game despite losing his top three targets—Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, and Jakeem Grant—in an already-undermanned group.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (7-6) | Last week: 11 (-3)
After I thought they’d potentially soon be in the top five, the Raiders have had quite the fall in the power rankings over the past few weeks. They might be on a four-game losing streak if not for Gregg Williams’ zero blitz a couple of weeks ago. Jon Gruden made the decision to fire defensive coordinator Paul Gunther, which felt like a likely scenario from the moment they brought in Rod Marinelli this offseason if the defense did not improve. But the Raiders offense also must improve, and Derek Carr needs to take better care of the football after four consecutive games with an interception. For as good as Carr has looked for much of the season, I won’t be surprised if we see Marcus Mariota over the final two games if Vegas can’t beat the Chargers this Thursday night.
15. Washington Football Team (6-7) | Last week: 17 (+2)
With a calf strain in the leg in which he suffered the terrible injury a couple of years ago, hopefully Alex Smith is OK and can return to the field soon (or not miss any time at all and play this Sunday in a big NFC matchup with the Seahawks). Ron Rivera already has Washington playing defense at a playoff-caliber level, and the offense was playing efficiently with Smith under center. If Smith is out, former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins will get a great opportunity to show what he can do for a team squarely in the playoff picture.
16. Arizona Cardinals (7-6) | Last week: 19 (+3)
I said here in the power rankings last week that I felt the Giants should have been favored over the Cardinals, but Arizona came out on Sunday and totally controlled the game—primarily on the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinals put constant pressure on Daniel Jones, and Haason Reddick recorded five sacks in the win. After many (inaccurately) declared Reddick a bust, it was good to see the former first-round pick have that type of performance.
17. New England Patriots (6-7) | Last week: 14 (-3)
The expectation was that the Patriots would shut down the Rams on the ground and make plays on third downs, but Los Angeles ran at will on Bill Belichick’s defense, which made things very difficult on New England as a team. Cam Newton and the passing attack don’t appear to be in a spot where they can erase big deficits, especially against top defenses. But in what’s been a trying season, I like where the relationship is at—from the outside looking in—between Newton, Belichick, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
18. Minnesota Vikings (6-7) | Last week: 16 (-2)
A loss to the Bucs puts the Vikings in a position where they basically need to win the next three games. They can’t look past this week, but I will: the Christmas Day game between the Vikings and the Saints would be a lot more fun if Minnesota is in playoff contention at 7-6. After a few missed kicks last week, Mike Zimmer has probably more than had it with his special teams units, which have been costly over the years for him.
19. Chicago Bears (6-7) | Last week: 22 (+3)
This Sunday is essentially an elimination game for the Bears and Vikings, and the Chicago offense is in a much better place than it was in the first matchup of the year—second-year running back David Montgomery, who was out of the first game between the NFC North rivals, has delivered a major spark for the group. It won’t get talked about much because people like to pile on him just because he was taken second overall in the draft and hasn’t played to that level consistently, but Mitchell Trubisky is performing—and he’s coming off a win over Deshaun Watson and the Texans.
20. New York Giants (5-8) | Last week: 18 (-2)
Daniel Jones was clearly not himself in his return from a hamstring injury, as he was more of a statue in the pocket than compared to his usual athleticism allowing him to escape pressure and make plays with his legs. The Giants do have the benefit of owning the tiebreaker over Washington, so they remain a game behind of getting back into first place. However, this Sunday night will be a tough matchup versus the Browns.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) | Last week: 27 (+6)
As expected, the Eagles offense looked totally different with Jalen Hurts under center. Of course, Hurts can make more plays on the ground than Carson Wentz and went over 100 yards rushing (mostly on smart scrambles when nothing was open down the field), but he also operated the passing game much more smoothly and confidently than the former starter. Hurts couldn’t have been much more impressive facing a top-tier defense in his first career start in a COVID-impacted offseason that included no preseason games. Philadelphia has more injuries to deal with, but I think they could potentially be a dangerous team if they are able to come back and win the NFC East. Maybe he didn’t want the rookie to get overconfident, but it was a bit odd that Doug Pederson was hesitant to give Hurts much credit for the team’s clear improvement.
22. San Francisco 49ers (5-8) | Last week: 20 (-2)
The Niners were again hit by injury last week, with Deebo Samuel leaving very early in the Week 14 loss to Washington with another hamstring issue and Raheem Mostert apparently dealing with another ankle issue. The good news is All-Pro tight end George Kittle might be back soon, but last week’s defeat was a tough blow to San Francisco’s playoff chances in the NFC.
23. Denver Broncos (5-8) | Last week: 24 (+1)
Drew Lock tossed four touchdowns in Denver’s win against Carolina, and the flashes he’s shown through two seasons have been very promising—he just needs to get more consistent, and he should benefit from another offseason (hopefully a normal one compared to this year) of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme. The Broncos defense gave up 17 fourth-quarter points, but they were able to hold on and get a win following a tough loss to the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago.
24. Detroit Lions (5-8) | Last week: 21 (-3)
The Lions showed fight as they looked to make it two consecutive wins with interim head coach Darrell Bevell, but they couldn’t pull off the upset over the Packers. And now Matthew Stafford (ribs) is injured again, so Bevell unfortunately might have to work without him as he looks to make a case for the full-time job. Detroit’s move of adding Chris Spielman (former three-time All-Pro for the Lions and brother of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman) is a very interesting one as the franchise looks to get on track this century.
25. Carolina Panthers (4-9) | Last week: 25
Coming off the bye and dealing with multiple guys on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Christian McCaffrey still out, the Panthers might have understandably been somewhat sluggish in their return to action. But it’s not surprising that Matt Rhule’s team fought to the end and had a shot after they were down multiple scores in the fourth quarter. All football fans were hoping McCaffrey would be back for Saturday night, but it sounds like he’ll be out again.
26. Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) | Last week: 29 (+3)
Former Coach of the Year Anthony Lynn likely needs a strong finish from his team this season, and it was big to get a win in the battle of similar teams that have found ways to lose games over the years. Making it two straight by winning on a short week against the contending Raiders might give LA some momentum as they look to sweep the final quarter of the season. However, the offense is banged up with Mike Williams (back) and Keenan Allen (hamstring) dealing with injuries heading into tomorrow night.
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-9) | Last week: 23 (-4)
Raheem Morris has made a case for the full-time head coaching job, but losing to the Chargers is a tough blow—though not having Julio Jones in the lineup has been a serious challenge for Atlanta’s offense this season, so hopefully the All-Pro can return and give the entire team a boost over the last three games. The Falcons are allowing just 17.8 points per game over the past four contests.
28. Dallas Cowboys (4-9) | Last week: 28
Cowboys ownership again confirmed this week that Mike McCarthy will be back as the team’s head coach next season, which I completely agree with. Dak Prescott’s injury made it difficult to judge things, and a Super Bowl winning coach like McCarthy should obviously get more than one season to lead a team regardless. Dallas remains just barely in the NFC East mix after beating the Bengals, but they need Washington to start losing games.
29. Houston Texans (4-9) | Last week: 26 (-3)
The Texans were playing decent football in recent weeks, but that fell apart in their blowout loss to the Bears. The defense has struggled to defend the run all year, and the offense was depleted due to injury (and COVID-19 for running back David Johnson) in Week 14. After a costly late fumble a couple of weeks ago, Watson will look to bounce back and get a little redemption against the Colts this Sunday.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1) | Last week: 30
I thought it was odd that Giovani Bernard was basically benched for his first fumble in literally several years (the longest active streak in the NFL), and—while taking care of the football is the most important thing—it doesn’t feel right. It’s also been strange how the Bengals have handled Joe Mixon’s situation, as there hasn’t been much information available on the star running back’s foot injury that’s kept him out for weeks. Cincinnati might have a tough time with a sliding Pittsburgh team this Monday.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) | Last week: 31
Gardner Minshew is back under center for the Jaguars, and the second-year quarterback gets an opportunity to show what he can do for either the next regime in Jacksonville or a team that may be interested in trading for him. The Jaguars haven’t won a game since Week 1, and thankfully they won that game so we aren’t dealing with two potential winless teams in one season.
32. New York Jets (0-13) | Last week: 32
Anything can happen, but last week against the Seahawks, who were not playing great entering the game, might have been the Jets’ best shot to get in the win column this season—and they were totally destroyed. This Sunday versus a Rams team coming off a mini bye could get ugly.