The lowest-ranked team currently holding down a playoff spot lands at 22 in the Power Rankings this week. The highest-ranked team on the outside looking in on the postseason field is at 11. To some extent, that speaks to what’s going on this season—there are weak spots in a couple of the division races, but the wild-card battles are shaping up to be brutal right down to the wire.
A little shift at the bottom of this week’s rankings, too. That’s where we start:
1San Francisco 49ers
last week: 31
San Francisco finished with six yards of passing on Sunday. Six. (That’s 39 through the air minus 33 on sacks.) It was cold and snowy and windy in Chicago but … come on. This is an 0–16 team that just happened to win a game in Week 1.
last week: 32
The Browns sounded legitimately excited about Robert Griffin III this off-season, so at least they will get another chance to see him—he’s been out since Week 1 with a fractured shoulder. Maybe his return provides the boost Cleveland needs to get one lousy win.
3New York Jets
last week: 27
Todd Bowles insisted that Ryan Fitzpatrick gave the Jets the best chance to win in Week 13, and they lost by 31. Either he misjudged the situation or we were supposed to be reading between the lines there. “Are you saying you had no chance to win, Todd?” (Bowles winks, tips his cap, walks out of the room.)
“We’re on a record-setting pace with our punting team,” an apparently not-kidding Jeff Fisher told reporters this week, much like a police officer might say, “Well, the tornado leveled your house but we did manage to recover this chair, and it seems to be in O.K. shape.”
Blake Bortles has played in 42 games with the Jaguars. He has thrown 50 interceptions (including a league-leading 15 this season) and 11 pick-sixes. He has fumbled 26 times. He has been sacked a staggering 130 times. The situation in Jacksonville is as ugly as it gets.
last week: 30
Believe it or not, the Bears actually are 3–3 with a plus-11 point differential at home this season. Granted, they’re like vampires in sunlight when they leave the Windy City, but the Bears could play the role of spoiler in Week 15 vs. Green Bay or Week 16 vs. Washington.
last week: 24
Remember when the Eagles manhandled the Steelers to improve to 3–0? Feels so long ago that we may as well change the game film to black and white and dub over any commentary with, like, “The Entertainer”. Thanks to its remaining schedule, Philadelphia will have a huge say in which teams make the playoffs. Does Doug Pederson’s team have any fight left?
The lowest rushing total Minnesota has ever posted during a 16-game season is 1,467, in 2005. To reach that mark this year, the Vikings will need 149.5 yards per game in Weeks 14-17, about 77 yards more than what they’ve averaged so far.
last week: 23
Is there anything more frustrating for a fan base than what Cincinnati goes through when Andy Dalton unleashes one of his random defense destructions? He’s like that pitcher with a 4.80 ERA who fires a two-hitter every 10th start. He is football Francisco Liriano.
last week: 20
Brock Osweiler said this week that the Texans are “very close to exploding as an offense,” so either a) he meant to say “imploding” and got his words confused, or b) the exchange between Osweiler and reporters looked something like this.
last week: 21
Derrick Mason was a two-time Pro Bowler who racked up more than 11,000 all-purpose yards for the Titans, so their deal to acquire him (which sent Chris Chandler to the Falcons for multiple 1997 draft picks) is probably the franchise’s best trade since moving to Tennessee. Snagging DeMarco Murray almost for free is creeping up there. Murray is on pace to challenge 1,400 yards rushing this season.
13San Diego Chargers
last week: 14
The Chargers’ defense has forced 24 turnovers this season, paced by NFL interceptions leader Casey Hayward. Annnnnd that’s almost been enough to offset the mess created by San Diego’s offense, which has coughed it up 25 times, third-most in the league.
last week: 25
If you’ve ever watched a group of kids try to catch a dog that’s gotten loose, you know what it looks like when NFL defenders have to tackle David Johnson. The Cardinals’ running back has 194 yards receiving over the past two weeks and a league-high 336 yards from scrimmage.
last week: 13
After a miserable 0–2 start, it seemed as if Rex Ryan’s Buffalo days were numbered. After a few wins, he’s back in that predicament once again: the Bills are 6–6, Ryan admitted he’s not sure what ails the defense and Sammy Watkins just criticized his team’s mental toughness. Check that schedule, though: If Buffalo can knock off Pittsburgh, a 10–6 record is very doable.
16New Orleans Saints
last week: 15
Drew Brees’s run of 60 consecutive home games with a TD pass ended Sunday, against the Lions, of all teams. Worse yet, after hustling back to .500 at the season’s midway point, the Saints now have lost three of four. Anything shy of a 4–0 finish (with two games against Tampa Bay, plus trips to Arizona and Atlanta), and the playoffs are out of reach.
last week: 19
NFL teams don’t hit the 40-point mark all that often. This isn’t the Big 12. But with Monday night’s outburst, a 41–10 thumping of the downtrodden Jets, the Colts are now 67–0 in their history when they crank the scoreboard beyond the 30s.
Jay Gruden after his team’s loss to Arizona, in what I can only describe as a coaching version of Green Eggs and Ham: “I don’t like the way they had a -play drive right down our throat to start the game. I don’t like the way our offense answered with two penalties in the first drive and having to punt. … I don’t like the fact that we had two turnovers, and we didn’t cause any. I don’t like the fact that we lost the game.”
19Green Bay Packers
last week: 18
In the seven games since a loss to Dallas, Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 19 touchdowns (to just three interceptions), 2,100-plus yards and has a QB rating of 104.6. He also has rushed for 212 yards during that stretch, putting him on pace to break his previous career high (356) on the ground. If Green Bay hadn’t gone 3–4 during this Rodgers run, we’d be talking about him as an MVP candidate.
last week: 7
Turns out, everyone who told me I had the Dolphins ranked too high last week was correct. So, that makes the updated score: Internet 12 billion, Burke 0. And the Dolphins are going to keep tumbling if their defense plays as it has the past two weeks, in allowing a combined 971 yards and 62 points to San Francisco and Baltimore.
21New York Giants
last week: 11
Something about this Giants season has an ominous feel. Like when a movie character hiding from a killer says, “No way am I going out there,” then gets stabbed in the heart as soon as everyone else leaves the room. Maybe it’s that the Giants clawed their way to 8–3, only to face a brutal December/January schedule.
The Steelers’ (semi-)magic number is two, as in the number of turnovers they need to force to win games. They are 1–4 this season when they come up with zero or one takeaway; with Sunday’s victory over the Giants, they’re now 6–1 when their defense delivers exactly two turnovers.
last week: 17
Maybe this all comes crashing down in the final four weeks, as the Ravens still face trips to New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (a team against which it hung on for dear life in Week 12). For now, though, Baltimore still has the league’s stingiest defense and a spot atop the AFC North.
24Tampa Bay Buccaneers
last week: 9
Were the playoffs to start today, the opening round would feature a matchup of Bucs-Lions, brought to you by your broadcast team The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These past three weeks easily could have undone Tampa Bay—at Kansas City, home vs. Seattle, at San Diego. Instead, it propelled the Buccaneers into a tie for the NFC South lead.
last week: 6
The good thing about being a track-meet sort of team is that you’re almost never out of a game. The bad thing is that the same goes for your opponent—the Falcons rank third in passing yards and first in points scored but 32nd and 29th in those same categories on defense.
last week: 8
Fortunately for the Broncos, Blake Bortles accidentally hits his own self-destruct button every time he winds up to pass. Otherwise, Denver and its Paxton Lynch-led offense might not have escaped Jacksonville with a critical victory Sunday. Trevor Siemian is far from an All-Pro, but he’s clearly this team’s best chance.
last week: 10
Facing Brock Osweiler, Sam Bradford (twice) and Blake Bortles is like dicing through the 6–9 spots in the Padres’ order, before they pinch-hit for the pitcher. But Detroit has bookended its ongoing defensive revival by holding Washington in check and, incredibly, stuffing Drew Brees in the Superdome. The Lions are a lot more than Matthew Stafford.
The Patriots did not automatically drop in the Power Rankings when they lost Rob Gronkowski for the year, so the Seahawks will get the same treatment despite Earl Thomas’s injury. Seattle has a month to figure things out—the division title is all but wrapped, so the only mystery is if Pete Carroll’s club can hold off Detroit for a bye.
29Kansas City Chiefs
last week: 4
Fitting that this Chiefs team took the lead in Atlanta on an Eric Berry pick-six, then won it on a Berry pick-two. The latter doesn’t even officially count as a turnover, but the Chiefs still broke even in that department. The last time Kansas City lost a regular-season game when it did not have a negative turnover differential was Week 5 of last year, just before its 10-game win streak.
The Patriots could clinch their eighth consecutive AFC East title as early as Monday, and their Week 13 win over the Rams guaranteed them 10 victories for the 14th(!!) consecutive season. To call them a “machine” would be a disservice because even machines break down from time to time.
last week: 2
It’s not just that Derek Carr is compiling wins and big numbers through the air. He also is protecting the football at an almost unprecedented rate. According to Pro Football Reference, 679 quarterbacks in league history have attempted at least 400 passes in a season, including Carr this year. Carr’s interception rate of 1.09% (five INTs on 458 attempts) is the fourth-best among them, behind only Tom Brady (2010), Steve DeBerg (1996) and Aaron Rodgers (2014).
last week: 1
This season continues to have something of a Hollywood feel for the Cowboys, who keep pulling out close games despite their rookie QB and rookie running back. Can’t wait for the season-in-review movie: Jerry’s World, based on the novel Jerry by Jerry Jones, starring Jerry Jones as himself.