The top two spots in the power rankings are clear for me, but there’s a lot of shuffling around for the rest of the top ten ahead of Week 16.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-1) | Last week: 1
The defense tends to step up in big games, and there’s plenty of help on offense, but Patrick Mahomes is 9-0 in his career when the Chiefs face top-five defenses. As usual, Mahomes comfortably scrambled around and hit his playmakers on the run to keep drives moving and get points on the board in Kansas City’s road win at New Orleans. The Chiefs have a ton of confidence every single week no matter who they are facing, but they can’t take the Falcons lightly this Sunday.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3) | Last week: 2
There’s little debate that the one-loss Chiefs should be the team atop the Week 16 power rankings, but the Bills would be my Super Bowl pick right now. AFC East champions for the first time since 1995, Buffalo just looks like a special team that has a ton of fun—and they’ve been demolishing their opponents for much of the year. The Bills tied the 2016 Falcons for the single-season record for most players with a touchdown reception (13), and the offense feels similar to that Atlanta squad (not in terms of style, but in terms of everything just working) that went to the Super Bowl and built a 28-3 lead over New England.
3. Green Bay Packers (11-3) | Last week: 7 (+4)
The Packers didn’t play amazing on Saturday night (particularly in the second half), but they got win over tough Panthers squad and remain in a prime position for the top seed in the NFC while moving all the way up to No. 3 in the power rankings. My main concern with Green Bay has been the run defense, and that’ll certainly be tested this Sunday night when they host Derrick Henry and the Titans at Lambeau Field. Look for the Packers to get Davante Adams going after he had a quiet outing last weekend.
4. Seattle Seahawks (10-4) | Last week: 8 (+4)
Following the Rams’ stunning loss to the Jets, the Seahawks suddenly have a chance to clinch the NFC West with a win over the Rams this Sunday. Last week, the Seattle defense make key plays to hold Washington to 15 points, and Jamal Adams built on his single-season record for sacks by defensive back (9.5) while making it four consecutive games with a sack. Russell Wilson did not play well in the first matchup with LA this season, and D.K. Metcalf struggled to get much going against cornerback Jalen Ramsey; so, the play of those two will be something to watch.
5. New Orleans Saints (10-4) | Last week: 4 (-1)
Drew Brees, who is still not at full health but wanted to push through and play anyway, was probably a little rusty in his return to the lineup from 11 broken ribs. The good news is he was able to get going and bring the Saints back against the Chiefs; with one look at the Kansas City defense already, Brees could be dangerous in a potential rematch in the Super Bowl—but we have a long way to go for that scenario.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) | Last week: 6
The Buccaneers were my Super Bowl pick from the NFC, and I still feel good about them being the team to come out of a wide-open conference, but I was concerned after their very slow start against the Falcons last week. The 31-point second half could be the switch that flips for Tom Brady and company moving forward through the rest of December and into the postseason. Devin White was a beast in the comeback win over Atlanta, recording three sacks in the second half to help spark and finish the victory.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) | Last week: 5 (-2)
The Steelers have lost three consecutive games following an 11-0 start, but so did the 2009 Saints before going on to win the Super Bowl just over a decade ago. I believe the Bills and Chiefs are on a collision course in the AFC, but the Steelers should not be counted out, and their 11-0 run should not be considered some type of fluke. There’s just not a lot of confidence on the offensive side of the ball right now, and the body language was not great a couple of nights ago in particular. I expect Mike Tomlin to be able to light a fire soon. Also, I’m a fan of JuJu Smith-Schuster and the fun that he has, but I definitely think he needs to stop dancing on opposing teams’ logos during pregame warmups; it might help his social media following, but it doesn’t help his team. Tomlin is going to discuss the situation with JuJu in the next few days.
8. Los Angeles Rams (9-5) | Last week: 3 (-5)
Nearly three-touchdown favorites heading into a home matchup with the Jets last Sunday, the Rams may have felt they were just going to roll over the then-winless team. Los Angeles is very good and well coached, but no team can be taken lightly in the NFL—and maybe that’s not what happened (the Jets deserve credit for playing perhaps their best game of the season), but it’s the logical explanation. On the positive side, the Rams must snap back quickly if they want to stop the Seahawks from clinching the division title this week.
9. Tennessee Titans (10-4) | Last week: 10 (+1)
As stated, I believe the Chiefs and the Bills are the clear top two teams, but don’t get it twisted: the Titans can beat anyone in January. Titans legend Eddie George said that no team can stop the team’s offense when it’s on and Derrick Henry is running the ball, and Adrian Peterson said ahead of last week’s matchup that he didn’t want to pass the torch among great running backs but that Henry has given him no choice with the way he’s played. I’m excited to see how Tennessee fares this Sunday night at Green Bay.
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-4) | Last week: 9 (-1)
The Colts are 7-2 over their past nine games, with wins over the Packers and Titans and the two losses coming to the Ravens and Titans; their No. 10 ranking is an indication of how deep the NFL (especially the AFC) is this season. Indianapolis needs to go to Heinz Field this week as they attempt to make it four consecutive losses for Pittsburgh, so it won’t be an easy task as the team looks to stay hot and push for the AFC South title.
11. Baltimore Ravens (9-5) | Last week: 11
Mark Ingram was a surprise healthy scratch for the Ravens in Week 15, and it shows the team is not getting sentimental and doing whatever they think it takes to win games. It’s difficult to take too much from a win over the Jaguars, but the Ravens took care of business and made it a rout, with Lamar Jackson doing damage both through the air and on the ground. The defense will get a boost if they can get healthier for this weekend versus the Giants.
12. Cleveland Browns (10-4) | Last week: 12
These next two teams at No. 12 and No. 13 are yet another strong signal for the depth around the NFL in 2020. Especially with a limited offseason due to COVID-19, first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski has done an exceptional job of building this offense around the run game and play-action passes to get the most out of former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. After beating the Giants, Cleveland will now face the other New York team; it’ll be a good sign if the Browns defense can put together another complete performance against a team they’re favored against.
13. Miami Dolphins (9-5) | Last week: 13
The growth of Brian Flores’ Dolphins has been amazing to watch over the past couple of seasons. The Patriots have been undermanned all season, but it was still impressive for the apprentice Flores to beat the master Belichick (keeping him out of the postseason) and put his team in ideal spot in the AFC playoff race. Star cornerback Xavien Howard had yet another notable outing, and I think he should perhaps be the Defensive Player of the Year favorite with two weeks to go.
14. Arizona Cardinals (8-6) | Last week: 16 (+2)
The Cardinals defense and special teams unit helped build a lead, and the Kyler Murray-DeAndre Hopkins connection was working in the win over the Eagles (not to mention, as is apparently required in Cardinals-Eagles games, another huge grab by future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald in the corner of the end zone). There’s still work to be done, and the final two games will be a challenge, but Kliff Kingsbury has his team in prime playoff position in his second year leading the team.
15. Washington Football Team (6-8) | Last week: 15
A close loss to the Seahawks doesn’t drop Washington in the power rankings, and the Football Team still has a chance to clinch the NFC East this week. Dwayne Haskins tried to do too much at times in his return to the starting lineup, but his worst decision by far was going to a strip club (without a mask, not that that’s the biggest problem with the situation) after the game. I would send a message and cut Haskins, who has already broken COVID protocols earlier this season, on the spot. There are no excuses for his actions, and perhaps cutting him would help the person in the long haul to give him a wake-up call. It’s a shame, because Haskins showed signs of being a good teammate when Alex Smith took over.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7) | Last week: 14 (-2)
They might have lost anyway, but last Thursday night’s Chargers-Raiders game may have been the worst officiated game I’ve seen this season—and all the poor calls seemed to go against the Raiders. Jon Gruden’s team now has a major uphill climb to get into the postseason in his third year of his second stint coaching in Oakland/Vegas. My thoughts on Marcus Mariota are well documented, and he showed what he can do coming off the bench for Derek Carr (groin). The Gruden/Mariota combo can be scary, and it’s insane that other teams seemingly didn’t go harder after the former No. 2 overall pick when he was a free agent last offseason.
17. Chicago Bears (7-7) | Last week: 19 (+2)
I believe I said before that Mitchell Trubisky will get virtually no credit if he gets back into the starting lineup and plays well for the Bears, and that’s basically what’s happened in recent weeks. Trubisky isn’t lighting it up or playing perfect, but he’s doing his job, with running back David Montgomery and the run game getting red hot to take pressure off Trubisky and the Chicago defense. Trubisky should be proud of the way he’s bounced back from poor play and a benching over the past couple of years.
18. Minnesota Vikings (6-8) | Last week: 18
This Christmas game between the Saints and Viking should have a playoff feel to it given the rivalry that’s built over the past few years between the teams, and Minnesota remains in the wild-card race; but it would have been really nice if they were able to get to 7-7 with a win over the Bears last week. We’ll see what Mike Zimmer has planned for Friday, but I would think it involves trying to take away Alvin Kamara and forcing someone else from New Orleans to beat his defense.
19. New York Giants (5-9) | Last week: 20 (+1)
Colt McCoy obviously knows what he’s doing and operates the offense how the coaches want, but the Giants offense becomes more limited when the scrambling and rushing ability of Daniel Jones is out of the equation. Also, the Giants had to deal with play-caller Jason Garrett missing last week because of COVID-19. With or without Jones and Garrett this Sunday, things will be tough again for New York when they take on Baltimore.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1) | Last week: 21 (+1)
The entire Eagles team came out somewhat sluggish and gave up an early 16-0 lead to the Cardinals, but it says a lot that Jalen Hurts played a remarkable game and helped lead the team back from adversity. I know it’s only been two games, but Hurts has shown enough—including throughout his very successful college career—that you can project forward and feel optimistic about him as a franchise quarterback. The big question is would Philadelphia’s season be different right now if Hurts was inserted as the starter earlier.
21. Dallas Cowboys (5-9) | Last week: 28 (+7)
A stellar win over the Niners and the Cowboys are right back in the NFC East race despite a 4-9 record entering last week. With Ezekiel Elliott (calf) surprisingly inactive, Tony Pollard was the star for Dallas, giving a glimpse of what he can do with more touches—Zeke and Pollard could be a devastating running back duo into the future. It was funny to hear that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is openly pondering whether the general manager (himself) might be an issue.
22. New England Patriots (6-8) | Last week: 17 (-5)
I don’t think the Patriots are the 22nd-best team in the league, but they are mathematically eliminated from the postseason and should be behind the NFC East teams that have a realistic shot. Cam Newton has pointed to COVID’s disruption as a reason for the team struggling this season, and I do buy that argument, especially because Newton said the teammates feel more like associates than friends given the distancing and everything that must occur within the NFL’s protocols. New England got off to a promising start this year before Newton got COVID-19. Jarrett Stidham getting more time and a start or two over the final two games wouldn’t be a surprise.
23. San Francisco 49ers (5-9) | Last week: 22 (-1)
Nick Mullens will undergo elbow surgery, and Raheem Mostert is done for the year with a high-ankle sprain. It’s been quite the season for the 49ers from an injury standpoint, making it a mighty task to overcome a Super Bowl hangover on top of that. Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) will return to practice this week at least, but he might not get back on the field for games. All-Pro tight end George Kittle (foot) does have a chance to return for the first time since midseason.
24. Carolina Panthers (4-10) | Last week: 25 (+1)
They’ve had trouble getting in the win column over the past few months, but the calling card for Matt Rhule’s first season has been that the Panthers play hard and don’t make things easy for their opponents. Last Saturday night, Rhule made the right decision late to kick the field goal early on the front side of the two-minute warning to give his team a shot—and they got it before being unable to come through. I’m not sure why Rhule’s decision was questioned by so many—it’s about winning a football game not putting up stats and fantasy points.
25. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9) | Last week: 26 (+1)
There are typically a bunch of comical moments throughout a full NFL week, but the funniest was probably Justin Herbert yelling “I was in!” after his game-winning quarterback sneak in overtime against the Raiders. The moment matches the jokes some have made about Herbert’s recent haircut making him look like a teenager—but the rookie’s game is no joke. He’s leading the NFL in passing attempts per game, and he can more than handle it.
26. Denver Broncos (5-9) | Last week: 23 (-3)
Getting blown out at home for a quasi-primetime game might seem like a referendum of sorts to some when it comes to Vic Fangio’s status, but the Bills are playing like a buzzsaw right now, so I don’t think that’s really fair. Fangio is in just his second season of his first opportunity as a head coach, and the team dealt with multiple key injuries (including Von Miller) and had to play a game with a practice squad receiver at quarterback. That said, Fangio must get his guys to play well versus the Chargers this week.
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-10) | Last week: 27
There have been some questions about Matt Ryan, and the Falcons will be in position to potentially draft a quarterback this spring, but Matty Ice showed he still has it in the close loss to the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has a stout defense, and Atlanta was down Julio Jones (hamstring) again, but Ryan had a fantastic showing. The top priority for the Falcons this offseason should be getting some type of rushing attack going, which will help set up play-action for Ryan to his weapons. Just to note, I feel Calvin Ridley, who has the most 100-yard receiving games of anyone this year, was easily the biggest Pro Bowl snub.
28. Detroit Lions (5-9) | Last week: 24 (-4)
Perhaps it was a little drastic of a decision, but Darrell Bevell admits it was an “agonizing” move to fire special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs for attempting a fake punt apparently without permission last Sunday against the Titans. Detroit was eventually blown out by Tennessee, and they’ll look to get on track and finish the season on a high note starting this Saturday versus the Bucs.
29. Houston Texans (4-10) | Last week: 29
Unbelievably, the Texans lost both games (in a stretch of three weeks) against the Colts with fumbles deep in the red zone with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. The costly mistakes are indicative of the type of season Houston has endured after such high hopes entering the year. The Texans will finish 2020 by hosting the Bengals and Titans, with a chance to potentially play spoiler in the finale.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1) | Last week: 30
Credit to Zac Taylor for getting his team to come out fired up in their upset win over the Steelers. Playing with his third starting quarterback of the year in Ryan Finley, Taylor put together a gameplan that was smoothly executed and included some surprising zone-read plays where Finley kept the ball. Cincinnati can play themselves out of a top-three pick with a win this Sunday, but the players and coaches rightfully do not care about draft position.
31. New York Jets (1-13) | Last week: 32 (+1)
Missing out on Trevor Lawrence would be tough if that’s what comes to be, but you have to be happy for Jets players and coaches for getting a victory and avoiding an 0-16 season. In what may be his final NFL season, it was perfect that future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore found the end zone and then made a first-down reception to clinch the game. I like Trevor Lawrence as much as anyone, but I am totally against the idea that you should take a winless season over not having the top pick in the draft. How could you not be happy for Jets players after seeing the joy and relief on their faces following their first victory?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13) | Last week: 31 (-1)
The Jaguars should also be trying to win games (and they are), but overall, the team ownership has to be pretty happy about their situation, all things considered. They were able to start the year with a win to avoid a potential unshakeable 0-16 mark, and now they are in position to get Lawrence this spring. But it’s the NFL, and anything can happen; don’t be shocked if the Jags get their second win in Week 16 or Week 17.