Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Keith Tandy (37) reacts after an interception during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Take a look at the 2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 14 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continuing to stay hot.
The 2016 NFL Power Rankings for Week 14 just became more exciting thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continuing to rise up the list after another key win over the San Diego Chargers. With the victory along with some help, the Buccaneers are currently tied for first place with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South with a 7-5 record.
When Tampa Bay started off the year with a 1-3 record, all hope seemed lost for this team as they seemed to be heading towards another season of disappointment. Instead, the Buccaneers have found a way to turn their season around with four-straight wins and have even won six of their last eight games.
They may be tied with Atlanta at the moment, but if the season ended today, Tampa Bay would currently hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture. With key wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks during their recent win streak, the Buccaneers seem like the last team anyone in the NFC is going to want to play once January rolls around.
How high did Tampa Bay climb on this week’s list? Well, let’s jump right into the NFL Power Rankings for Week 14, starting off with the winless Cleveland Browns.
The good news for the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 is there is no way they could possibly lose since they were on a much needed bye week. Unfortunately, the only word to describe this season for the Browns is disaster as this team hasn’t been able to catch a break when it comes to their quarterback issues.
Expectations were high at the beginning of the season with Robert Griffin III coming on board to take over the starting role, but unfortunately the quarterback hasn’t played since Week 1 after suffering an injury against the Philadelphia Eagles. The argument can be made the Browns most likely would have won a few games with a healthy Griffin under center, but the main focus moving forward is doing whatever it takes to avoid ending up on the wrong side of NFL history.
With four more losses, Cleveland could join the Detroit Lions in becoming the second team to go an entire season without winning a single game, which would be absolutely embarrassing for Hue Jackson during his first season as head coach. It’s not going to be easy, but let’s hope the Browns will find a way to play with a little extra motivation to help Jackson earn at least one win this year.
Otherwise, Cleveland is going to continue being one of the laughingstocks of the NFL.
Dec 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) drops back to pass against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
31. San Francisco 49ers (31)
The San Francisco 49ers have displayed some pretty pathetic performances throughout the 2016 season, but the argument can be made they hit a whole new level against the Chicago Bears in Week 13. Bad weather or not, it’s never a good sign when a team like the 49ers only manages to put up six points against a defense like the Bears as Chip Kelly should be embarrassed for how bad this team truly is.
San Francisco may have one win on the season, unlike the Cleveland Browns, but that lone win came opening weekend against the Los Angeles Rams, meaning this team has officially lost 11 games in a row with no end in sight. At this point, it’s tough to even get excited about the 49ers earning a high draft pick as this team seems to have too many areas in need of improvement before they can have a chance of being contenders again.
Despite all of the low points from this loss to the Bears, nothing tops Colin Kaepernick being benched by Kelly after three disappointing quarters in which he completed just 4 of 10 passes for 35 yards. Here’s to hoping this is a sign that Kelly and the 49ers are finally done with Kaepernick being their quarterback as it seems pointless to keep him around beyond the 2016 season.
Dec 4, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos at EverBank Field. The Broncos won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (30)
Everybody was wondering if the Jacksonville Jaguars would be a team to keep an eye on for possibly pulling off an upset in Week 13 with Gus Bradley fighting for his job. Believe it or not, the Jaguars found a way to keep Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos close as Blake Bortles simply made too many mistakes on offense.
Not only did Bortles finish with three turnovers on the afternoon, but one of his interceptions ended up being costly as Bradley Roby went 51 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. For the most part, Jacksonville’s defense deserves a little credit for containing Denver on offense for most of the game as they received an extra advantage squaring off against an inexperienced rookie quarterback in Paxton Lynch.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, it was the offense that failed to do their job once again as it’s becoming tougher each week to defend Bortles’ poor play. With the team most likely parting ways with Bradley at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Bortles as the quarterback has taken a step back this year, which is a shame when looking at his strong 2015 season.
Nov 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) prepares to throw the ball against the New England Patriots during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
29. New York Jets (26) — Play Monday Night
After a surprise 10-6 finish in 2015, expectations were high for the New York Jets at the beginning of the season, as many believed they were capable of making a run at the postseason. With a 3-8 record heading into Monday’s showdown against the Indianapolis Colts, that’s obviously not going to happen as the Jets have nothing to play for other than spoiling playoff chances for other teams.
Signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a ridiculous one-year deal may turn out to be one of the worst moves by an NFL team in the offseason as the veteran quarterback has been nothing but a bust this year for the Jets. Even if New York was down an extra receiver after losing Eric Decker, there’s no excuse for Fitzpatrick to look this bad when considering some of the other weapons he’s been able to work with.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Jets fans as this base felt confident enough in their team giving the New England Patriots a run for their money in competing for the division title. Instead, this season has been filled with nothing but frustration for New York and their fans as they could have their hands full against Indianapolis while playing in the national spotlight.
Dec 4, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) throws the ball during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
28. Los Angeles Rams (28)
Nothing against the Los Angeles Rams, but nobody had high expectations for Jeff Fisher‘s team heading into Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. Speaking of Fisher, it’s amazing to think how much of a disappointment he’s been over the last five years—and he still manages to receive a two-year extension from the organization.
Whether the team believes Fisher deserves the benefit of the doubt for the hand he was dealt this year, the fact is the Rams have been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2016 season as the offense ranks near the bottom of the league. Just look at how it took them until the final minutes against the Patriots to finally score their first touchdown of the game as it’s becoming clearer this team is still another year or two away from being contenders.
As for Jared Goff and his third career start, it’s difficult to put up decent numbers without a strong supporting cast, as the Rams’ receiving corps didn’t do much to help their rookie quarterback. With seven losses in eight games, it’s easy to see why Los Angeles continues to remain near the bottom of this list each week.
Dec 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) reacts with Chicago Bears tight end Daniel Brown after rushing for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
27. Chicago Bears (29)
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season, it would be rookie Jordan Howard that would end up being the fantasy football star for the Chicago Bears during the 2016 season? In a game that was difficult to play in due to weather, Howard stepped it up for the Bears on offense against the San Francisco 49ers after finding the end zone three times while rushing for 117 yards on 32 carries.
Playoffs may be out of reach for Chicago, but at least the production from Howard makes the team feel better about the future, especially after parting ways with Matt Forte in the offseason. When considering this was the first time the Bears won since Halloween, it would be nice to see this team put together a few more wins with Howard and Matt Barkley leading the offense in the final month of play.
With Jay Cutler‘s future with the organization uncertain, Barkley is receiving an unexpected opportunity to show what he brings to the table at quarterback. Barkley may not seem like the team’s best option for the future, but the former USC star has been dying for a chance like this in the NFL after failed stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
Dec 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) catches a touchdown pass during the second quarter in a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
26. Carolina Panthers (24)
How bizarre was that opening play on offense for the Carolina Panthers in which Derek Anderson threw an interception while Cam Newton was being punished by watching from the sidelines? Sadly, this seemed to set a negative tone for the Panthers as they ended up being embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks in the national spotlight.
One year after finishing 15-1 during the regular season, Carolina is ready for this year to be over as Sunday’s loss dropped Ron Rivera‘s squad to 4-8 heading into Week 14. Not only did the Panthers find the end zone just once the entire game, but the defense was horrendous once again after surrendering 40 points to the Seahawks.
They may never want to admit it, but it’s clear how much Carolina misses Josh Norman on defense as they certainly could have used him against Seattle. With only four games remaining, it will be interesting to see what sort of adjustments the Panthers make during the offseason.
Clearly, improving the defense is going to be an area to focus on for Carolina with the way this season is turning out as it’s a shame to see this team go from representing the NFC in the Super Bowl to finishing with a .500 record at best the following year.
Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) carries the ball on a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
25. Buffalo Bills (18)
When looking back at games they let slip away, the Buffalo Bills are going to be frustrated over their blown lead against the Oakland Raiders as their playoff chances took a crushing blow in Week 13. Nobody expected the Bills to be up 24-9 in the second half against the red-hot Raiders, but the team unfortunately collapsed after allowing Oakland to score the final 29 points of the game.
The Raiders deserve all of the credit in the world for turning this game around, but there’s no way to defend the Bills for losing this one. With the loss, Buffalo now trails the Denver Broncos by two games for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, which almost seems impossible to reach this late in the season.
After starting off the year with an 0-2 record, the Bills emerged as one of the hottest teams in football by winning each of their next four games. Since then, Buffalo has only won two of their last six games as it’s becoming clearer this team doesn’t seem ready to make the jump of being seen as contenders in the AFC, even if they have pulled off some impressive wins this year.
Dec 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) reacts during a stop in play against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 32-14. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
24. Philadelphia Eagles (13)
When looking at how the Philadelphia Eagles gave up a future first-round pick to select Carson Wentz, the team better realize they’re going to need to provide their quarterback with some effective weapons if the move is going to pay off. Just look at what Wentz had to deal with against the Cincinnati Bengals, as there’s only so much the rookie can do on his own.
This may have been one of the roughest games of Wentz’s short career after the rookie was forced to complete 36-of-60 passes for 308 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Philadelphia’s receiving corps has ranked near the bottom of the league for a majority of the 2016 season and, with Jordan Matthews out of the lineup, the offense struggled even more against the Bengals.
On a positive note, at least the Eagles were finally able to receive some sort of production from Zach Ertz in the passing game as the tight end caught nine passes for 79 yards with a touchdown. If only Wentz could have received this type of production earlier on in the season, his rookie year would have been a much different experience.
Instead, Wentz will just have to use this experience as a rookie to help him take his game to the next level as a sophomore.
Nov 20, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Andrew Luck (12) in the first half of the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
23. Indianapolis Colts (22) — Play Monday Night
Thanks to some help from the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves in better position when it comes to the race for the AFC South title if they can pull off the win on the road against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. With a healthy Andrew Luck under center, there’s every reason in the world the former No. 1 pick is going to come out firing as the Colts look to bounce back from their Thanksgiving loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unfortunately, Luck was forced to watch that game from the sidelines after suffering a concussion the previous week as the Steelers cruised to an easy 28-7 win. Prior to that game, Indianapolis had displayed back-to-back impressive wins against the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans, which is another reason why they should feel confident heading into Monday’s game.
When looking at how this season has been going for the Jets, it’s safe to say the only motivation they have is to play the role of spoiler in the AFC playoff picture. Plus, if the Colts manage to win against the Jets, it will give them the same record as the Texans heading into next weekend’s divisional showdown, which all of a sudden becomes even more important for both teams.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) reacts after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (kneeling) during the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. Tampa Bay won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
22. San Diego Chargers (21)
Any slim chances of the San Diego Chargers making a late run at the postseason seemed to vanish on Sunday after the team suffered another single digit loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that seemed to go back and fourth all afternoon. The frustrating factor behind this loss is the Chargers seemed to have every opportunity in the world to win this one, only to end up falling just short after the Buccaneers outscored them 11-0 in the final quarter.
For the fourth time this year, Philip Rivers threw multiple interceptions as the quarterback completed 15-of-26 passes for 225 yards with two touchdowns and to go along with the two costly turnovers. Rivers has always been considered one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league, but this year is turning into a season to forget for the veteran as he and the rest of his teammates are on the path of finishing last in the division for the second year in a row.
On another note, at least the future continues to look bright for Melvin Gordon as the running back found the end zone for the 10th time this season on the ground, which is even more amazing since he failed to score a single touchdown as a rookie in 2015.
Dec 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks to pass against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
21. Cincinnati Bengals (27)
After recording just one win over their previous seven games, the Cincinnati Bengals finally looked like the dominant team many expected them to be at the beginning of the season after an impressive 32-14 win at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, it’s hard not to wonder if this is one of those situations where it’s already too late for the Bengals when looking at the deep hole they find themselves in heading into Week 14.
In a game where A.J. Green was forced to sit and watch from the sidelines again, Andy Dalton saw other key playmakers like Brandon Lafell and Tyler Boyd step it up in the passing game as Cincinnati shredded Philadelphia’s defense for the entire game. Now, the challenge becomes figuring out a way to make these players consistent in the passing game in order to make life easier for Dalton.
If only the Bengals had figured out a way to be playing at this kind of level a few weeks ago, they would be in much better shape to make a playoff run as a miracle would simply need to take place at this point. As for Marvin Lewis, at least the head coach will see his hot seat cool down for at least one week thanks to Sunday’s win over the Eagles.
Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) passes against the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cowboys win 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
20. Minnesota Vikings (16)
Is it safe to say the Minnesota Vikings regret their decision to acquire Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles at the beginning of the season? Bradford seemed to be a good fit for the Vikings after winning their first five games of the season, but it’s clear he’s far from the answer as this team will need plenty of help over the final four weeks just to even make the playoffs.
While the argument can be made Minnesota would have a few more wins if it wasn’t for so many injuries, the main factor has been the disappointing play behind Bradford on offense. Not only have the Vikings lost six of their last seven games, but Bradford only has one game all season in which he’s thrown for more than 300 yards.
And if that statistic wasn’t already frustrating enough, keep in mind that Bradford has multiple touchdown passes in only three games on the year. Imagine being a team like Minnesota and sacrificing a first-round pick in order to acquire Bradford, only to be left with these type of results on offense.
Let’s see if a road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14 is just what Bradford and the Vikings need to get back on the winning track.
Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs for a fourth quarter touchdown against the Washington Redskins at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
19. Arizona Cardinals (25)
Where was this play from the Arizona Cardinals at the beginning of the regular season? For a team that has been one of the biggest disappointments from the 2016 season, the Cardinals played like the dominant team everybody expected to see at the beginning of the season in Week 13 during their 31-23 win over the Washington Redskins.
David Johnson continues to make a strong case for being the league’s top running back after recording 175 yards from the line of scrimmage to go along with two touchdowns in the key victory. As unbelievable as it seems, Arizona is still within playoff reach with a 5-6-1 record heading into their Week 14 game against the Miami Dolphins.
The race for the two Wild Card spots is turning out to be intense as it’s safe to assume it’s unlikely the Cardinals will catch the Seattle Seahawks for the division title. But the Cardinals seem to have just as much of a chance as the other NFC teams in the hunt. With that being said, Arizona may be at a disadvantage when compared to the other teams with three of their final four games on the road, including next weekend’s game against the Dolphins.
Dec 4, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the fourth quarter of a game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Lions defeated the Saints 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
18. New Orleans Saints (20)
It’s not everyday Drew Brees is going to throw multiple interceptions without a single touchdown pass, but that was the case in Week 13 after the New Orleans suffered a crushing loss at home to the Detroit Lions to put them in a tougher position when it comes to the NFC South. The toughest part about Sunday’s loss to the Lions is the Saints would have been in better shape to possibly overtake the Atlanta Falcons, who suffered a home loss as well to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13, in the division.
Instead, New Orleans will need plenty of help from some of their division rivals over the next four weeks if they’re going to have any chance of pulling off a miraculous run as they currently sit two games back of Atlanta. For a quarterback that is used to putting up dominant numbers on a weekly basis, Brees has to be kicking himself for struggling against Detroit in this one.
On a positive note, at least the Saints end their season with three divisional games between the Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice). The chances of them winning the division may seem like a long shot this late in the season, but anything is possible when it comes to the NFL as there have been plenty of bizarre finishes over the years.
Nov 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs with the ball during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
17. Tennessee Titans (17)
Despite being one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL this season, the Tennessee Titans still have a chance to win the AFC South if they receive some help over the final four weeks of the regular season. After finishing at the bottom of the division in 2015, who would have thought the Titans would find themselves in this position?
Obviously, playing in one of the weakest divisions in football has helped Tennessee as this team hopes an extra week of rest will pay off as they prepare for a showdown against the Denver Broncos. If the Titans are going to have any chance at defeating the defending Super Bowl champions, Marcus Mariota will need to limit his turnovers, which has been an issue at times this season.
Still, Mariota’s impressive play along with an improved ground game has been one of the main reasons behind Tennessee’s surprise turnaround in 2016. Depending on what happens with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts moving forward, it would be amazing if the Titans could find a way to come out on top of this division.
First things first though, which is preparing for a tough Week 14 matchup against Denver next Sunday.
Dec 4, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) walks off the field following the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
16. Houston Texans (19)
For whatever reason, the Houston Texans just can’t seem to figure out a way to overcome their road woes after suffering another tough loss to the Green Bay Packers. Obviously, the weather ended up playing a huge factor in this one, but the Texans are slowly watching their AFC South lead slip away as they better hope for some help from the New York Jets, who play the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
The sad thing is, Brock Osweiler can’t be blamed as much for this loss as the quarterback completed 22-of-35 passes for 202 yards to go along with two touchdowns. Even if that is the case, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Houston is overpaying Osweiler as the quarterback has failed to live up to the amount of money he’s earning this season.
Bringing Osweiler on board was supposed to take the Texans to the next level as they seemed to be a stellar quarterback away from being strong contenders in the AFC. Instead, Osweiler continues to prove the Denver Broncos were much better off without him on the roster as he looks far from being a legitimate starter in the NFL.
Honestly, when DeAndre Hopkins is a quarterback’s top target in the passing game, it’s hard to feel bad about a disappointing player like Osweiler.
Dec 4, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
15. Green Bay Packers (23)
Don’t look now, but the Green Bay Packers seem to be getting hot at the right time after another key win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. For a team that previously lost five of six two weeks ago, the Packers will need to continue staying hot in the final stretch as they still have a long way to go when it comes to getting back into the playoff picture.
Despite dealing with a hamstring injury along with terrible weather, Aaron Rodgers led the way for Green Bay once again on offense after completing 20-of-30 passes for 209 yards to go along with two touchdowns. Rodgers understands whether the Packers make the playoffs will fall on his shoulders, but the veteran quarterback has a history of thriving when facing these types of situations.
Even if it Green Bay has to settle for a Wild Card spot instead of a division title, all that matters for this team is punching a ticket to the postseason, no matter how it comes. The good news for the Packers is they get to face the Detroit Lions, who continue to stay hot, on the final game of the regular season as early signs point to that turning into an epic divisional showdown.
Dec 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (not pictured) in front of Baltimore Ravens defensive back Jerraud Powers (26) during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
14. Miami Dolphins (10)
So much for the Miami Dolphins being one of the hottest teams in football and controlling their own destiny for a playoff spot as this team failed to show up against the Baltimore Ravens. It would be one thing if the Dolphins actually made it an interesting game, but this game was well over before halftime with the Ravens having a 24-0 lead.
To top it off, it took Miami until the fourth quarter just to earn their first points of the game as they watched their six-game winning streak come to an end. When considering all they had to overcome just to get back into the playoff picture, it’s frustrating to see the Dolphins perform like they did against the Ravens.
So what exactly happened for Miami in this loss? For starters, it’s going to be tough for this team to win games where Ryan Tannehill throws three interceptions as he dealt with all sorts of problems from Baltimore’s defense. If the Dolphins are going to remain in the playoff hunt, Tannehill will need to return to his elite level as three of the team’s four remaining games are against divisional opponents, which is never easy to deal with.
Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball to running back Robert Kelley (32) during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
13. Washington Redskins (11)
After two impressive wins against the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, the Washington Redskins all of a sudden find themselves behind in the playoff race thanks to back-to-back road losses, with the latest coming on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. What makes this pill even tougher to swallow is the fact that Washington’s defense continues to be an issue for this team after allowing Carson Palmer and David Johnson to have big games.
There’s a reason why the Redskins rank near the bottom of the league for defense after allowing the Cardinals to score 31 points during Sunday’s loss as this team now trails the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. The sad thing is, this game was within reach for Washington when considering they were only trailing by one late in the fourth quarter before J.J. Nelson sealed the game with a 42-yard touchdown catch.
Kirk Cousins has been playing out of his mind at times throughout the 2016 season as he continues to push for that long-term deal from the organization, but his two turnovers against the Cardinals ended up being costly on Sunday. If Cousins really wants to earn that massive payday, he better figure out how to prevent these mistakes from happening over the next couple of weeks.
Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) runs after a catch against Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
12. New York Giants (8)
Prior to Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants were considered one of the hottest teams in football thanks to an impressive six game winning streak. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, as Eli Manning just couldn’t figure out a way to get anything going on offense against the Steelers.
Between Manning throwing two costly interceptions in the red zone along with a lack of running game, the Giants looked like anything but playoff contenders in Week 13 after falling to the Steelers 24-14. Odell Beckham Jr. may have ended up with 10 catches for 100 yards, but those receptions didn’t seem to matter as much with New York taking until the middle of the third quarter just to put up their first points of the game.
As tough as this loss was, the Giants are still in good shape for a postseason run when considering this was only the fourth time they lost a game all season. With that being said, New York will most likely have to settle for a Wild Card spot instead of the division as the Dallas Cowboys are on the verge of clinching the NFC East title with an 11-1 record.
Dec 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Terrance West (28) blows a kiss to the fans after his fourth quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
11. Baltimore Ravens (15)
If the offense of the Baltimore Ravens was looking for a statement game to prove they deserve consideration for being a team to beat in the AFC, Sunday was it as Joe Flacco and company shined against the Miami Dolphins. When looking at all of the criticism he’s received throughout the 2016 season, it was a relief to see Flacco throw for 381 yards with four touchdowns against the Dolphins’ defense to keep the Ravens tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
Of course, Baltimore currently owns the tiebreaker over their divisional rivals due to the head-to-head matchup, but even they know how quickly that could change with a critical matchup against Pittsburgh on Christmas Day. Let’s not forget how Flacco got hot out of nowhere a few years ago when the Ravens made their Super Bowl run as this team would love to see their quarterback do the same again this January.
With four wins over their last five games, Baltimore faces one of their toughest challenges of the season next Monday night when they face the New England Patriots. It’s not going to be easy, but a win on the road over the Patriots would be an even bigger statement than Sunday’s victory over the Dolphins.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) runs the ball during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Tampa Bay won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14)
Who saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming out of nowhere to claim one of the current playoff spots in the NFC at the moment? One week after a very impressive win against the Seattle Seahawks, the Buccaneers worked their magic again to hang on for the 28-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week 13.
Sunday’s game against San Diego marked the fourth win in a row for Tampa Bay as they seem to have picked the perfect time to start playing some of their best football. At 7-5, the Buccaneers currently have the same record as the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South, but at least they have the advantage of having the hotter team at the moment.
While Jameis Winston deserves plenty of credit for Tampa Bay’s surprise turn around, the defense has been the difference maker during the winning streak when looking at how well they performed against playoff-caliber teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. Other than a tough game against the Dallas Cowboys in two weeks, the Buccaneers could easily emerge as NFC South champions with three of their final four games within the division (two games against the New Orleans Saints one against the Carolina Panthers).
Dec 4, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak watches the action during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Broncos won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
9. Denver Broncos (12)
One week after a devastating loss at home in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos entered Sunday’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars knowing this would be a trap game. Even though it was closer than it should have been, the defending Super Bowl champions managed to hold on against the Jaguars while moving back into the AFC playoff picture thanks to a little help from the Miami Dolphins.
Once again, it was the stellar play of the defense that led the way for the Broncos after Bradley Roby took an interception 51 yards to the house in the third quarter. With Trevor Siemian out of the lineup, Denver relied on Paxton Lynch to lead the way on offense, and while the rookie didn’t standout, he did just enough to help the offense get by.
The quarterback position has been an issue for the Broncos most of the season, but it’s tough to rely on a rookie like Lynch when seeing how inexperienced he is. Hopefully, Siemian recovers quickly from his foot injury to help Denver during their final stretch of the regular season as every game is important with the AFC West shaping out to be the toughest division in football.
Dec 4, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) carries the ball as Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) defends during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Chiefs won 29-28. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
8. Atlanta Falcons (6)
The Atlanta Falcons have put together some frustrating losses in 2016, but what happened on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs may end up being the icing on the cake after a costly mistake by Matt Ryan ended up costing a win.
With the Falcons clinging on to a 28-27 lead following a five-yard touchdown catch by Aldrick Robinson, Ryan was hoping to give his team a comfortable three-point lead by converting a two-point conversion. Instead, Ryan threw a costly interception that Eric Berry returned to give the Chiefs a 29-28 lead.
Turns out, this costly mistake by Ryan ended up being the difference maker in this one as Atlanta dropped to 7-5 on the season. For a squad that was considered one of the top teams to beat in the NFC following a 4-1 start at the beginning of the season, these are the kind of losses the Falcons can’t afford to lose this late in the year as the NFC South is turning out to be a tight finish with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All things considered, it’s unbelievable how Atlanta managed to lose the way they did against Kansas City, and they have nobody to blame but themselves.
Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) is congratulated by Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro (66) after recording a first down against the New York Giants during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (12)
In typical fashion, the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be getting hot at the right time after earning their third win in a row on Sunday against the New York Giants. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown seemed to pickup right where they left off in Week 12 after connecting for another touchdown, but the biggest surprise of the day was Ladarius Green having a career day.
The tight end caused all sorts of trouble for New York’s defense after hauling in six passes for 110 yards, including a key 20-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Pittsburgh has been looking for an effective pass-catching tight end all season, and if Green can provide this type of impact on a weekly basis, it will only make the offense that much more dangerous.
Although they’ve failed to live up to their offseason hype, this Steelers offense is going to be the last group of players any team is going to want to end up playing in the playoffs. All of a sudden, that Christmas Day matchup against the Baltimore Ravens could turn out to make a huge impact when it comes to which of these teams ends up winning the AFC North at the end of the year.
Dec 4, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates after throwing a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Lions defeated the Saints 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
6. Detroit Lions (7)
For the first time this season, the Detroit Lions didn’t have to overcome a fourth quarter deficit to win a game after handing the New Orleans Saints a 28-13 loss on Sunday thanks to another solid performance by Matthew Stafford. Once again, Stafford continues to prove he deserves to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league after completing 30-of-42 passes for 341 yards with two touchdowns against the Saints.
With four wins in a row, the Lions remain one of the hottest teams in the NFC as they currently hold a two-game lead over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. As well as Stafford has played this season, the one player that deserves a ton of credit for Detroit’s success as of late is Golden Tate in the passing game.
The wide receiver was phenomenal against New Orleans after hauling in eight passes for 145 yards to go along with a touchdown, which believe it or not is just his third trip to the end zone on the season. Assuming Stafford and Tate continue to play at this high level, Detroit is going to be a tough team to beat in the home stretch of the 2016 season.
Dec 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker K.J. Wright (50) celebrates after forcing a fumble against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Carolina, 40-7. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
5. Seattle Seahawks (5)
There were concerns surrounding the Seattle Seahawks after a tough loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12, but Sunday’s win against the Carolina Panthers is the perfect example of why this is the second best team in the conference, next to the Dallas Cowboys. Just imagine how much fun it’s going to be from a fan perspective if the Seahawks to end up facing the Cowboys at some point in the playoffs, but let’s not jump ahead just yet.
For now, it’s time to praise Seattle for bouncing back on a high note after crushing Carolina 40-7 in a game that was well over before halftime even rolled around. What makes this win even more exciting for the Seahawks is they didn’t need a stellar game from Russell Wilson to do so.
Nothing against Wilson being effective with running the offense, but Thomas Rawls and Tyler Lockett were the true heroes of the game. While Rawls finished with 106 rushing yards to go along with two touchdowns on 15 carries, Lockett came up big with a 75-yard touchdown run to open up the third quarter that ended up being the dagger for the Panthers.
If the rest of the NFC were smart, they should be terrified of the Seahawks as they seem to be heating up at the right time of the year once again.
Dec 4, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) celebrates after defeating the Atlanta Falcons 29-28 at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5)
One week after pulling off an outstanding overtime win on the road against the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs found a way to record another key victory on the road against the Atlanta Falcons thanks to their defense and special teams.
As if the fake punt by Albert Wilson that ended up going 55 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter wasn’t impressive enough, Eric Berry picked off Matt Ryan on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minutes and returned it to the house to seal the 29-28 win. What’s even more impressive is Berry also returned a 37-yard interception for a touchdown right before the end of the first half as the safety had a career day against the Falcons.
After a tough loss at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City has proven over the last two weeks why they deserve to be in consideration for one of the top teams to beat in the AFC. If they can continue to play at this elite level, they should have no issues with securing one of the playoff spots in the conference.
Of course, the main goal for Andy Reid and company at this point is to beat out the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos for the division title instead of fighting for one of the Wild Card spots.
Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) and receiver Seth Roberts (10) celebrate after a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter during a NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3. Oakland Raiders (3)
Every time it seems like the Oakland Raiders are about to cool down and lose, they find a way to turn the game around to pull off a ridiculous win in the craziest way. Take a look at Sunday’s win against the Buffalo Bills and it’s obvious there’s something special about this Oakland team on the verge of their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season.
When all hope seemed lost against the Bills, the Raiders overcame a 24-9 deficit by scoring the game’s final 29 points to end up winning 38-24. Derek Carr was the hero once again for Oakland after the third-year quarterback didn’t panic when his team was trailing while finishing the game completing 19-of-35 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns.
As impressive as Carr has been this year, the Raiders still have plenty to prove as there’s plenty of pressure on this team to hang on to the top seed in the AFC, with the New England Patriots waiting for the right opportunity to jump them. Not to mention if Oakland does in fact reach the postseason, there’s going to be plenty of pressure for some of these younger, inexperienced players like Carr.
Dec 4, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long (95) celebrates after sacking Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (not pictured) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
2. New England Patriots (2)
The New England Patriots received an early Christmas present with a home matchup against the Los Angeles Rams for their first game of December, as this game seemed to be over early on. Luckily, this was one of those games where Tom Brady knew he would most likely only need to do the minimum amount of work on offense as the Patriots had little trouble on their way to a 26-10 win.
Of course, the main story surrounding New England was the loss of Rob Gronkowski as the offense will need to adjust to playing the rest of the regular season without their star tight end after having back surgery a few days ago. When healthy, Gronkowski has always proven to be nearly impossible for opponents to defend due to his large size and strength, which is why replacing him at tight end won’t be easy.
Throughout his career, Brady has always found ways to make his teammates better, but a player like Gronkowski is arguably irreplaceable. Hopefully, the loss of Gronkowski doesn’t end up being as big of an issue as New England was able to increase their division lead to three games thanks to a loss by the Miami Dolphins.
Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Dallas Cowboys safety Byron Jones (31) celebrates with safety Jeff Heath (38) the failed two-point conversion attempt by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cowboys win 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
1. Dallas Cowboys (1)
It was close, but the Dallas Cowboys managed to hold on for a 17-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to earn their 11th win in a row as they continue to look like the most dominant team in the NFC. To think of the amount of success this team is having led by two rookies on offense is nothing short of amazing, but the true test will come once January rolls around.
Assuming all goes according to plan over the next couple of weeks, the Cowboys should have no problems with locking up the top seed in the NFC thanks to a comfortable lead over the Seattle Seahawks. With that being said, it will be interesting to see how Dak Prescott handles the pressure of leading this team in the postseason.
There’s no question what Prescott has accomplished this year has been amazing, but the rookie has shown he’s capable of being contained over the last few games when looking at his performances against teams like the Vikings and Washington Redskins. Even if Prescott was only average in those games, everyone knows the pressure of the postseason hits a whole new level as Dallas fans haven’t felt this kind of excitement over a possible Super Bowl run in a long time.