NFL power rankings, Week 14: Steelers rise, Falcons fall

The Pittsburgh Steelers are starting to look like a contender, while the Atlanta Falcons lost in the most brutal way possible.

Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) and wide receiver Corey Coleman (19) celebrate Coleman

32

Cleveland Browns

0-12

Last week: BYE
Last rank: 32nd

What can you say about a club that is on the verge of a winless season? Yes, there’s still time for the Browns to get into the win column. But it’s a franchise that has now dropped 15 consecutive games dating back to Week 15 of the 2015 season. We have seen three different starting quarterbacks this year and a total of seven different players attempt a pass in 2016. It’s a club that has allowed at least 25 points in each of its dozen outings this year while the defensive unit alone has surrendered 41 offensive touchdowns. In the first half, the Browns have allowed 172 points. In the third and fourth quarters combined, Cleveland has given up 172 points. And there’s an additional six points allowed in overtime.

Next Week: Could Hue Jackson’s team finally get a victory at the expense of the disappointing Cincinnati Bengals? While the latter comes off a 32-14 win over the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, Marvin Lewis’ squad is also a very substandard 1-5 on the road this year. However, the Bengals have beaten the Browns in four straight meetings.

Draft Talk: The Browns are closing in on the top pick in the 2017 NFL draft and it’s anyone’s guess what position they may be leaning towards. While the team still hasn’t settled on a long-term answer at quarterback, they do have some options. And perhaps a wise first-round selection would be help on an offensive line that is a shell of its recent self.

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

1-11

Last week: L, 26-6, at CHI
Last rank: 31st

San Francisco predictably played in one of the worst NFL games in recent years. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was benched after attempting just five passes, and converting only one in a snowy Chicago. This defense is completely gassed, evident by Jordan Howard rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns. Eleven penalties gave the team zero chance of competing on Sunday as well. It would be hard to imagine Kelly is gone after one year, but San Francisco can already see hiring him was a critical mistake. Perhaps they should have had some foresight when they were the only team to even interview him.

Next Week: The 49ers will continue their tour of playing horrible opponents when the Jets come to town. Both teams would technically fair better long-term taking a loss, but no one on the field has that mindset. San Francisco needs to attempt some deep passes and challenge the Jets secondary, which is depleted of young playmakers.

Draft Talk: San Francisco will be going into 2017 expecting to not have Colin Kaepernick, especially after he was benched Sunday. Deshaun Watson is expected to be a good fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, and could be available for the 49ers with a top-three draft pick. Kelly can’t wait like the Browns for a quarterback in 2018; his career in the NFL depends on the success of this pick.

Dec 4, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) reacts after a play in the second half against the Denver Broncos at EverBank Field. The Denver Broncos won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

30

Jacksonville Jaguars

2-10

Last week: L, 20-10, vs. DEN
Last rank: 30th

Gus Bradley’s club had its chances on Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos. They held rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch and the Denver offense to only 206 total yards and one offensive touchdown and still couldn’t secure a win. And it was a day in which the ground attack gained an uncharacteristic 154 yards. But quarterback Blake Bortles had another tough afternoon. Sacked just once, he hit on less than 50 percent of his passes (19-of-42), good for 181 yards and all three of his team’s turnovers in the contest. And Bortles saw one of his two interceptions taken back 51 yards for a score by Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby.

Next Week: It will be a battle of struggling teams meeting in Florida as the Jaguars, losers of seven straight games, host a Minnesota Vikings’ club that has dropped six of its last seven outings after a 5-0 start. But it’s worth noting that Jacksonville owns a dismal 1-5 home record in 2016.

Draft Talk: Just to make it official, the Jaguars have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. When it comes to the backfield, the team has a young running back in second-year pro T.J. Yeldon, as well 2016 free-agent addition Chris Ivory and Denard Robinson. They are also terribly unbalanced on offense. Either a running back or some more help on the offensive line would be a good start.

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

29

Los Angeles Rams

4-8

Last week: L, 26-10, at NE
Last rank: 28th

Jared Goff is still looking for his first NFL win after Tom Brady dismantled the Los Angeles defense. Brady, who became the all-time winningest quarterback in league history Sunday, attempted only three passes of 15 yards for more. The majority of his passes were for less-than five yards. Perhaps that’s due to the loss of Rob Gronkowski, or just excellent game planning by New England. Goff’s two interceptions are another sign he may not be ready for the NFL, but he needs the learning pains in order to have a successful career. Rams fans just hope those pains go away sooner than later considering what they traded for the number one pick.

Next Week: Los Angeles hosts the Falcons, who will be coming off a tough game against Kansas City where they lost after Eric Berry converted a “pick-two” in the one-point loss. With the Buccaneers and Falcons now tied for first in the NFC South, Atlanta will give the Rams all they’ve got, despite losing multiple players to injury.

Draft Talk: Los Angeles has regressed despite having Todd Gurley and Jared Goff now the leaders on offense. Gurley’s sophomore slump has a lot to do with that, but the Rams need to add more talent around the two. With no first or third-round pick thanks to the Goff trade, Los Angeles will need to get creative this offseason. Watch for either an interior offensive lineman or defensive back in the second-round. Hopefully the allure of living in Los Angeles will be enough to attract free agents.

Dec 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A “Bear Down” flag is flown after a fourth quarter touchdown during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

28

Chicago Bears

3-9

Last week: W, 26-6, vs. SF
Last rank: 29th

And the award for most unwatchable game in NFL history goes to, the Bears and 49ers. Chicago pulled out their first win in over a month against the 49ers, and were fortunate enough to do so at home. Despite the sleet dampening the win, the Bears and their fans will take whatever they can get at this point. All the credit offensively goes to Jordan Howard, who rattled off three touchdowns against a worn-out San Francisco team. Leonard Floyd had the best game of his young career thanks to two sacks, one of which was a safety in the waining minutes of the fourth quarter.

Next Week: Detroit is next for the Bears, and will most likely kill their exuberance after winning their first game since November 1. Matthew Stafford is a darkhorse to win the MVP this year after losing Calvin Johnson, while also having no support in the run game. Chicago should not get comfy with winning after Sunday.

Draft Talk: Chicago will most-likely turn to a quarterback, but will have to settle for the second or third quarterback in the class. After Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson, Chicago may have to hold off on taking a passer and turn to defense. Luke Falk out of Washington State is a potential mid-round quarterback who could surprise people.

Nov 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles coaches against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

27

New York Jets

3-8

Last week: Mon. night vs. IND
Last rank: 27th

Todd Bowles’ team has already lost two more games than it did during its 10-6 season of a year ago. But a year ago in Week 2, the club went to Indianapolis on a Monday night and managed a 20-7 victory over Andrew Luck and the Colts. Of course, this is a much different football team than we saw a year ago. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been unable to recapture the magic of 2015. New York has turned over the football 22 times in 11 games, just two less times than they did all of last season. And the supposedly-tough Jets’ defense has struggled as of late to pressure the passer while this unit has allowed far too many big plays.

Next Week: The Jets will have a short week and make their second trip out west this year when they invade Levi’s Stadium to face the struggling San Francisco 49ers. Chip Kelly’s club has dropped 11 straight games after a Week 1 win over the Rams. However, Bowles’ squad is 0-3 vs. interconference competition this season.

Draft Talk: This past April, general manager Mike Maccagnan used a second-round pick on quarterback Chris Hackenberg. The team also has two-year pro Bryce Petty on the roster. The team needs to find out exactly what they have behind center. What is not disputable is that the Jets need an heir apparent to rapidly-aging cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Dec 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) warms up before the start of a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

26

Carolina Panthers

4-8

Last week: L, 40-7, at SEA
Last rank: 24th

Carolina was dismantled by the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. That’s the only printable way to put that performance. We’re a family site. Cam Newton was benched to start the game for not wearing a tie, and Derek Anderson threw an interception on his first (and only) pass attempt of the game. Mike Tolbert not being able to catch the ball made the play and decision by Rivera even worse. It was just the start of a long night for Panthers nation everywhere. Turnovers, penalties, and the inability to convert on third-down resulted in the blowout loss on the road in as harsh an environment you can find in all of sports. A disappointing season only gets worse for Carolina.

Next Week: San Diego travels across the country to play the Panthers in an early game next Sunday. With Carolina’s inability to protect Cam Newton, first-round pick Joey Bosa will be due for another strong performance. The realistic possibility Luke Kuechly will not play means Melvin Gordon could explode in the running game.

Draft Talk: The Panthers need to better protect Cam Newton going forward, so the offensive line should be their primary focus. Cam Robinson, an offensive tackle from Alabama, is a popular choice should he persuade NFL teams his character will not be an issue. Running back and cornerback will also be addressed.

Dec 4, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) against the Detroit Lions 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

25

New Orleans Saints

5-7

Last week: L, 28-13, vs. DET
Last rank: 21st

Matthew Stafford, a legitimate MVP candidate, dominated the Saints on Sunday afternoon. New Orleans allowed over 400 yards of offense, most of which came off the arm of the former Georgia quarterback. Drew Brees on the other hand had his worst game of the year, as he is continually forced to throw the ball down field thanks to an inept run game. Brees had three interception and zero touchdowns, while the running backs combined for 50 yards. That includes a four-yard Brandin Cooks run and John Kuhn’s one-yard touchdown carry. Ten penalties and three turnovers made the Saints chances of being victorious even dimmer towards the end.

Next Week: The Saints take their fading playoff hopes to Tampa Bay, who is now tied for the division lead with Atlanta. Jameis Winston has an opportunity to dismantle the leagues’ worst defense at home, and will take full advantage of that. Who will cover Mike Evans, no one is quite sure.

Draft Talk: New Orleans has more holes on defense than the College Football Playoff committee’s explanations. They have drafted Hau’oli Kikaha, Sheldon Rankins, and Stephone Anthony to be the future of their front-seven. Middle linebacker, defensive end, and cornerback still need to be fixed on a defense that has been historically bad for years.

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

24

Houston Texans

6-6

Last week: L, 21-13, at GB
Last rank: 20th

On a cold and snowy afternoon at Lambeau Field, quarterback Brock Osweiler played one of his better games of the season. But his 202 yards through the air and two scores, along with an additional 20 yards on the ground, wasn’t enough to avoid a third consecutive loss. The Houston ground game racked up a respectable 123 yards on the ground but the Texans’ pass rush only sacked Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers once in the contest. Wideout DeAndre Hopkins and tight end Ryan Griffin hauled in Osweiler’s TD passes, but the latter was also responsible for this team’s lone turnover of the contest.

Next Week: The Texans visit their city of horrors next Sunday when they travel to Indianapolis to face the division- rival Colts. Last season, Houston won on the road in this series for the first time in 14 meetings. Back in Week 6 on a Sunday night in their own building, Bill O’Brien’s club rallied in the fourth quarter against a stunned Indianapolis club and then prevailed in overtime, 26-23.

Playoff hopes: You could say there are dwindling. But the fact is that the Texans are still tied for the lead in the AFC South despite the club’s recent skid. And the fact remains that with four games remaining, O’Brien’s club still owns a pristine 3-0 record against its division rivals. It’s not an ideal situation but at least for now, Houston controls its destiny when it comes to the postseason.

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

23

Philadelphia Eagles

5-7

Last week: L, 32-14, at CIN
Last rank: 19th

Fans in Philadelphia are calling for Doug Pederson to be fired after one season, and it may not be that big a stretch. Every aspect of this Eagles team has regressed, from the quarterback to the pass rush. Philadelphia came into their game against the Bengals looking as if they hadn’t prepared all week. Players are already voicing their concerns regarding Pederson’s long-term ability to be a head coach, something fans have feared since his introductory press conference.

Next Week: The Eagles will face the Redskins for the second time this year. Washington held off Philadelphia 27-20 last month, and the Eagles will have revenge in mind. If the Eagles defense can contain Kirk Cousins, which has not been easy to do this year, they at-least have a chance of splitting the season series.

Draft Talk: Philadelphia has multiple needs, but wide receiver and cornerback will be highlighted and circled repeatedly. John Ross and Mike Williams are worth first round picks among wide receivers. Ross’s teammate Sidney Jones could be a fit at cornerback, a position the Eagles have struggled with since losing Asante Samuel. Philadelphia owns the Vikings first round pick from the Sam Bradford trade, and will be rooting for their continued slide.

Nov 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen (83) against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Steelers won 28-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

22

Indianapolis Colts

5-6

Last week: Mon. night at NYJ
Last rank: 22nd

Despite their season-long struggles, the Colts can tie the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans for the top spot in their division if they can knock off the New York Jets. Indianapolis’ defense doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence these days, ranked 30th in the NFL in both total yards and passing yards allowed per game. Quarterback Andrew Luck (concussion protocol) returns to the lineup after missing the Thanksgiving night tilt with the Steelers. He looks to take advantage of a shaky New York secondary that has allowed a slew of big plays this season. Look for wideout T.Y. Hilton to try and exploit veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Next Week: This is a crucial seven-day stretch for Chuck Pagano’s struggling squad. After visiting the Jets, the Colts return home to face the Texans. Back in Week 6, Indianapolis squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter on a Sunday night at Houston and eventually fell in overtime, 26-23. The Texans seek their first-ever season sweep of the Colts.

Draft Talk: At 5-6, the Colts are hardly out of the race for the top spot in the AFC South. But this team still has a lot of issues in terms of talent. In April, general manager Ryan Grigson did address the offensive line with four picks and used four other selections on defense. But it may be time for the club to add a pair of young legs at running back.

Dec 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) runs against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 32-14. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

21

Cincinnati Bengals

4-7-1

Last week: W, 32-14, vs. PHI
Last rank: 25th

The struggling Bengals snapped a three-game losing streak and took out a season’s worth of frustrations by abusing rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and his Philadelphia Eagles. Quarterback Andy Dalton was extremely sharp, hitting on 23 of his 31 attempts for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Wideout Brandon LaFell led the club with five catches for 95 yards and one of Dalton’s scores. Led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s two interceptions, Cincinnati’s defense actually picked off Wentz three times on the afternoon. The Bengals’ attack rolled up 412 yards against the highly-regarded Philadelphia defense and kept Dalton clean, not allowing a sack in the 18-point victory.

Next Week: Cincinnati makes the extremely short road trip to face the winless Cleveland Browns. Back in Week 7, Lewis’ club managed a 31-17 victory over their intrastate rivals. Cincinnati has not only prevailed in the last four meetings by a combined 129-30 score, its last two trips to Cleveland have resulted in a pair of wins by an astonishing 67-3 count.

Draft Talk: This is one of the better organizations in the league when it comes to the selection process. The team has made a habit of taking cornerbacks in the first round in recent years. But this is a club that could use some more wide receiver help. Another big-play wideout would be a big help. The Bengals could also use a little more oomph at defensive tackle.

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

6-6

Last week: L, 17-15 vs. DAL
Last rank: 18th

Minnesota looks like a meteor falling from the sky. They’ve lost a quarterback, nearly their entire offensive line, a running back, and starters across the defense. Now, their head coach has undergone three eye surgeries since October, and is questionable for the game in Jacksonville. Publicly the organization will stand by its’ decision to trade a first round pick for Sam Bradford, but b behind closed doors they must be cursing themselves. Bradford, whose seven-yards per pass attempt average is 26th in the NFL, is who we all knew he is. A mediocre starter who can win a handful of games.

Next Week: The Vikings go to Jacksonville, with or without their head coach. Reports are that even if Mike Zimmer is unable to fly to Jacksonville, arraignments have been made to drive him there. A 1,500 mile trip that normally takes three hours by plane would require two days worth of driving to make an approximate 21-hour trip.

Playoff hopes: Currently tied with the Packers for second place, the Vikings will have a tough hill to climb to make the playoffs. They won’t have the depth or health tome a legitimate playoff push. Without a first round pick, and the future of Teddy Bridgewater in serious doubt, Minnesota finds themselves in an unenviable spot.

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

19

San Diego Chargers

5-7

Last week: L, 28-21, vs. TB
Last rank: 17th

Unfortunately for Philip Rivers and the Chargers, they became the latest victim of the very-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mike McCoy’s team would open up a 14-7 halftime lead and owned a 21-17 advantage early in the fourth quarter. But San Diego’s fourth-quarter woes once again came back to haunt them as the Bucs scored 11 unanswered points to close the game. This season, the Chargers have been outscored a combined 128-71 in the final 15 minutes and overtime. And while quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 225 yards and two scores, he completed only 57.7 percent of his passes and was picked off twice – one of those thefts returned for a touchdown.

Next Week: The Bolts pack their bags and will make the long trip east to face the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers. It’s the first road game in this series for the Chargers since 2004 and the first meeting between these interconference foes since ’12. Carolina leads the all-time series with a 4-1 record.

Draft Talk: Could this team possibly look at a quarterback sometime this April? Rivers has a lot of mileage on him and is still effective but it’s never too early to plan for the future. More realistically, the Bolts could go for some wide receiver help given the injuries that have plagued the position in recent years.

Dec 4, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) celebrates after making a catch during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

18

Green Bay Packers

6-6

Last week: W, 21-13, vs. HOU
Last rank: 26th

Green Bay is back to their winning ways despite a gimpy Aaron Rodgers playing in the snow. The Packers took advantage of Houston’s lack of history playing in the snow, and ultimately came out on top. Rodgers was still able to throw the deep ball despite the hamstring injury suffered on Monday against Philadelphia. Rodgers threw for over 200 yards with two touchdowns, while the Houston pass rush sacked him just once. With no J.J. Watt or Jadeveon Clowney, a damaged Packers offensive line was able to protect their wounded leader. Another much-needed win by the Packers as they look to revive their season, which was once declared dead and buried.

Next Week: Seattle comes to Green Bay looking to break a trend that has stood for over a decade. The road team in this series has not won since 1999 when the Seahawks knocked off Brett Favre in Lambeau Field. If there were ever a year that could change, this would be it.

Playoff hopes: Green Bay will need a lot of help to make the playoffs this year. Tied with the Vikings for second in the division, the Packers need several teams above them to fall in the wild card standings. Missing the playoffs would mean a draft pick in the mid-teens for Green Bay to work with. Drafting depth at linebacker and finding a productive running back will be on their shopping list come spring.

Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) makes a catch during the first half against the Washington Redskins at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

17

Arizona Cardinals

5-6-1

Last week: W, 31-23, vs. WSH
Last rank: 23rd

Arizona battled and won Sunday against a Redskins team that has a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. A late touchdown pass to J.J. Nelson ultimately sealed the victory, but multiple stars on offense contributed. Carson Palmer threw three touchdowns to three different receivers, including Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. David Johnson continues to prove himself to be one of the best running backs in football, a fact few in the Cardinals organization could have believed after their original draft day target (Ameer Abdullah) was taken out from under them. Arizona needed a win like this to help finish out a disappointing season.

Next Week: Carson Palmer will look to continue his recent success in Miami against the Dolphins. Miami saw their six-game win streak come to an end, but will hang their hats on being an excellent team in the comforts of home. Both teams are battling for playoff position, and could spell the end of their opponents season. With the Seahawks pulling away in the NFC West, it will be tough for the Cardinals to make a run at the playoffs. A distant wild card opportunity is available, but in all likelihood their season will end in four weeks.

Draft Talk: Arizona did not expect to be drafting early this year, but will ultimately be benefit by adding some young talent. Finding someone to help Patrick Peterson at cornerback will be on the docket, as will finding the long-term solution at quarterback. If Brad Kaaya falls to the late-first round or early-second, I can see Arizona turning in a card with his name on it.

Nov 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) passes during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

16

Tennessee Titans

6-6

Last week: BYE
Last rank: 16th

What a turnaround for a franchise that posted a combined 5-27 record the past two seasons. Led by an ever-improving quarterback Marcus Mariota and the league’s second-leading rusher in DeMarco Murray, the Titans have already totaled 308 points in 12 games – nine more than they managed all of last season. In his last eight games, the second-year signal-caller has thrown for 21 scores compared to only three interceptions. Mariota has thrown for at least two scores in each of those outings. And don’t sell the Tennessee defense short or be fooled by the fact that the team has allowed 296 points this season. Dick LeBeau’s unit has allowed only 27 offensive touchdowns in a dozen outings this year.

Next Week: For the first time since 2011, the Denver Broncos will pay a visit to Nashville. The last time these two original AFL franchises met was three years ago in the Mile High City when Peyton Manning was leading his club to a 51-28 win. The Broncos bring a 4-2 road record into this tilt.

Playoff hopes: Here’s a team that’s tied for the AFC South lead with the Houston Texans and seeking a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. The division title could possibly come down to these teams’ meeting in Tennessee in Week 17 (although the Colts may have a say on the matter). The Titans’ 1-3 divisional record doesn’t help their cause.

Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker James Cowser (47) sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) during a NFL football game at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

15

Buffalo Bills

6-6

Last week: L, 38-24, at OAK
Last rank: 13th

Everything seemed to be going the way of the Buffalo Bills. In a game in which the team would rack up 212 yards on the ground (130 by LeSean McCoy) and open up a 24-9 third-quarter lead, apparently the Raiders had Rex Ryan’s team just where they wanted them. Buffalo allowed 231 total yards and 29 points in the second half. Bills’ defenders surrendered 139 yards rushing on 32 attempts. And it also prove to be a rough outing for Tyrod Taylor, despite the fact that he ran for a third-quarter touchdown. The young quarterback threw for only 191 yards, was sacked four times and committed both of his team’s turnovers in the bitter loss.

Next Week: Ryan and his talented squad will look to cool off the suddenly-rejuvenated Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger and company have won three straight games after a surprising 4-5 start. For what it’s worth, the Bills have dropped five straight games in this series. It will be interesting to see if Ryan’s defense can slow down red-hot running back Le’Veon Bell.

Playoff hopes: They took a big-time hit with the loss at Oakland. The 38-24 loss dropped Buffalo’s record in the AFC to 3-5, which includes losses to non-divisional contenders such as the Ravens and Raiders. Unless this team gets a lot of help, the Bills will remain the only team in the league not to make the playoffs this century.

Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) signals to teammates during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

14

Washington Redskins

6-5-1

Last week: L, 31-23, at AZ
Last rank: 12th

Washington has been pleasantly surprised with Kirk Cousins this year, and may be forced to place the franchise tag on him for a second consecutive season. With the second-most passing yards and ninth-most points scored in the NFL, Washington looks to get a wild card bid in the playoffs. Their loss to Arizona (fueled by two interceptions by Cousins) certainly damaged their chances of making the playoffs. They traded points with the Cardinals in the second half, but allowed a touchdown to J.J. Nelson after the two minute warning. An inability to close out games could damage their playoff dreams even more.

Next Week: The Redskins travel to Philadelphia, a team they squeaked a win over in their first game of the season. The Eagles have struggled lately, and Doug Pederson is beginning to hear it from the fans.This game becomes a must-win for Washington to boost their resume heading towards the finish line of the playoff race.

Playoff hopes: Currently there are three teams from the NFC East projected to make the playoffs. Dallas has virtually clinched the division, while New York and Washington are looking at wild card spots. The Redskins have a New Years Day game against New York, which could ultimately knock one of them out of the playoff race.

Dec 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (14) runs after the catch as Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Zach Orr (54) defends during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Miami Dolphins 38-6. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

13

Miami Dolphins

7-5

Last week: L, 28-6, at BAL
Last rank: 9th

The Dolphins’ six-game winning streak ended with a resounding thud as they played poorly in all aspects in a lopsided loss at Baltimore. The offense managed only 277 total yards while quarterback Ryan Tannehill was picked off three times on the afternoon. Running back Jay Ajayi got just 61 yards rushing and the Dolphins just 62 yards on the ground as a team against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. Meanwhile, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco abused the Miami defense for 381 yards and four touchdowns (1 interception). Not only did Adam Gase’s defensive unit allow 496 total yards, they failed to record a sack in the humbling loss.

Next Week: For the first time since 2004, the Arizona Cardinals visit Miami to take on the Dolphins. After winning the first eight meetings in this interconference series, the Cards have prevailed in the last three encounters. Miami has won four straight at home while Arizona sports a 1-4 road mark this season.

Playoff hopes: They certainly took a bit of a hit with the loss to the Ravens. Miami now sits three games out of first place in the AFC East with four games to play. And a head-to-head loss to Baltimore could possibly come back to haunt Gase’s team come tie-breaker time. But there’s still a lot of football to play and the Dolphins remain in the thick of the playoff discussion.

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

12

Atlanta Falcons

7-5

Last week: L, 29-28, vs. KC
Last rank: 7th

Atlanta has a well-documented history of collapsing under the pressure of a looming playoff appearance. The 2016 season looked to be different, but Sunday’s remarkable win could be a sign of things to come. Kansas City safety Eric Berry had two interceptions taken to the opposite end zone, totaling himself eight points in his first game in his hometown. Berry’s “pick-two” off Matt Ryan’s failed two-point conversion attempt late in the game sealed the Falcons loss, and brought déjà vu on to Falcons fans. Luckily for them, the schedule favors Atlanta down the stretch.

Next Week: The Falcons face rookie quarterback Jared Goff, who’s still looking for his first professional win. Los Angeles has scored no more than 10 points in two Goff’s three career starts. Atlanta’s defense will welcome that deficiency after allowing 24 points in all but one game this year.

Playoff hopes: Now tied with Tampa Bay for the NFC South title, the Falcons must strap on their hard hats, and get to work. After splitting their season series, division record would determine a tie at seasons end. At the moment, Atlanta holds that advantage with one more win in the division. However, Tampa Bay hasn’t played New Orleans yet, and sits with two wins already. Atlanta needs to keep an eye on the wild card scenarios just in case.

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

7-5

Last week: W, 38-6, vs. MIA
Last rank: 32nd

It proved to be quite the wakeup call for the Baltimore offense and quarterback Joe Flacco. After totaling just 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions during the club’s 6-5 start, the nine-year pro threw for 381 yards and four scores (1 interception) in the club’s convincing victory over the Dolphins. Last season, the Ravens picked off an NFL-low six passes. In a dozen outings this year, Baltimore has already racked up 14 interceptions – three of those at the expense of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday. John Harbaugh’s team ended the Dolphins’ six-game winning streak and limited their offense to just 277 total yards.

Next Week: One of the AFC’s better rivalries is renewed next Monday night at Foxborough as Harbaugh’s squad visits the AFC East leading Patriots. It’s been an interesting venue for the Ravens, who are 0-6 lifetime in the regular season but have won two of the team’s four playoff meetings at Gillette Stadium.

Playoff hopes: The teams both own 7-5 records, but the Ravens still own the tie-breaker over the rival Steelers because of their win over Pittsburgh in Week 9. Baltimore also owns an impressive 7-2 record within the conference and a 4-0 record in the division. Like the Steelers, this club controls its own destiny in terms of the AFC North title.

Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) gestures against the San Diego Chargers during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

7-5

Last week: W, 28-21, at SD
Last rank: 14th

Tampa Bay is another Cinderella team this season, and is remarkably sitting atop the NFC South along with Atlanta. A four-game winning streak became reality after a second-half comeback off the arm of Jameis Winston, who threw for 280 yards and a touchdown. Having Doug Martin back and healthy makes a big difference as well, even if he is not dominating during every game. Limiting the turnovers and major penalties was a key for Tampa Bay Sunday, and that style of play needs to become consistent.

Next Week: The Saints arrive in Tampa Bay attempting to remain in the playoff hunt themselves. New Orleans is two games behind Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and needs this first game of the seasons series to gain leverage. Tampa Bay hasn’t had the best home record this season at 2-4, but has recently turned a page on their season.

Playoff hopes: Tampa Bay still has their two games against the Saints to be played, a major piece of the tiebreaker puzzle. Should the Falcons and Buccaneers finish tied for first place in the NFC South, division record would be a critical tie breaker. Having played more games, the Falcons have one more division win. Tampa Bay needs to sweep New Orleans to stay relevant in the division race.

Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

9

New York Giants

8-4

Last week: L, 24-14, at PIT
Last rank: 6th

New York saw its six-game win streak finally reach a conclusion in Pittsburgh. Odell Beckham Jr. made it a point to blame the officiating for New York’s 10-point loss after the game. Ultimately, the officials did not allow Ladarius Green to run seamless seam-routes, or allow three receivers to have six receptions. December is historically a horrible time to be the Giants, and the trend continued this weekend. Not even the Steelers’ 12 penalties could help New York overcome Eli Manning’s two interceptions or failing to convert on fourth down three times.

Next Week: The Giants host the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football as a stretch of tough match ups continues. Dallas would be undefeated if not for the Giants, so they’ll be looking to play spoilers while leading the division.

Playoff hopes: Injuries within the Giants’ front seven could spell the start of a fall. New York has four tough games to finish the season, including two division games on the road to finish the year. I said last week it was possible the Giants could lose-out heading into the Steelers game. They must buck their December trends now if they wish to hold onto the top wild card spot.

8

Pittsburgh Steelers

7-5

Last week: W, 24-14, vs. NYG
Last rank: 11th

Pittsburgh made it three straight victories while putting an end to the Giants’ six-game winning streak. The resurgent Steelers defense limited New York to 234 yards of total offense and quarterback Eli Manning to just 195 yards through the air. They also sacked the veteran signal-caller twice and picked off two of his throws. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger had another productive outing. He completed six passes each to running back Le’Veon Bell (who ran for 118 yards), wide receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Ladarius Green. The latter totaled 110 yards on his half-dozen receptions, while Brown hauled in Big Ben’s other scoring pass.

Next Week: The Steelers make the short trip to Orchard Park, New York, to take on the 6-6 Buffalo Bills, who squandered a big lead at Oakland in Week 13. As for this series, Pittsburgh has prevailed in the last five meetings between the clubs, but these franchises haven’t squared off since 2013. Tomlin’s club owns a 3-3 road record this season.

Playoff hopes: The Steelers and rival Baltimore Ravens both own 7-5 records but the latter owns the temporary tie-breaker because of their 21-14 win in November. It’s hard to believe that the AFC North will produce a pair of playoff teams this year. If Mike Tomlin team wins out, they will be division champions. But there’s an awfully long way to go.

Dec 4, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) looks on prior to a play against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter at EverBank Field. The Denver Broncos won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

7

Denver Broncos

8-4

Last week: W, 20-10, at JAX
Last rank: 9th

It was far from a thing of beauty but it was reminiscent of last season’s team. The Broncos, under the guidance of rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch, gained only 206 total yards and were only 1-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts. But Denver did not turn over the football while forcing Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles into three turnovers. Gary Kubiak’s club totaled 104 yards rushing while Lynch threw for 104 yards without a touchdown. Meanwhile, interceptions by Bradley Roby and Chris Harris Jr. added up to 87 yards. And it was the former who took back one of those thefts 51 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Next Week: The defending Super Bowl champions remain on the road and within the AFC South as they travel to Nashville to clash with the much-improved Tennessee Titans. Mike Mularkey’s team had the week off but still managed to gain ground on the slumping Houston Texans. The teams are now tied for the division lead with 6-6 marks. The Denver defense will have to deal with the explosive combination of Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray.

Playoff hopes: At 8-4, the Broncos would be by themselves in first place in both the AFC North and AFC South. They would trail the New England Patriots by just two games in the AFC East. But these days, that mark is only good enough for third place in the wild AFC West. But there are still opportunities for this club to win a division title.

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

8-4

Last week: W, 28-13, at NO
Last rank: 7th

Four consecutive wins has propelled the Lions into first place in the NFC North. Matthew Stafford finally looks like an MVP candidate, and the kind of player the Lions thought they were going to get coming out of Georgia as the number one overall pick. Stafford picked apart the New Orleans defense, resulting in two touchdowns and 341 passing yards. All of this comes despite losing Calvin Johnson and Ameer Abdullah, two of the offense’s much-needed playmakers. Credit is also deserved for the defense, which picked-off Drew Brees three times on the road. They have been one of several Cinderella stories this year.

Next Week: The Bears travel to Detroit after a big win over San Francisco. Matt Barkley will be starting for Chicago, giving the Lions defense a great opportunity to pounce on a division opponent. This game could get messy, and result in David Fales being thrown into the sacrificial fire late in the game.

Playoff hopes: Two games separates the Packers and Lions for the NFC North crown. Each team is on a multi-game win streak, although it appears the Packers are not as strong this time around. Injuries on defense and questions being drawn around the head coach will play in Detroits favor. The New Years Day game could be the determining factor in week 17.

Dec 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) participates in during pregame stretches against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

5

Seattle Seahawks

8-3-1

Last week: W, 40-7, vs. CAR
Last rank: 5th

A dominant performance at home over Carolina will be overshadowed by the indefinite loss of Earl Thomas. An incidental collision with teammate Kam Chancellor resulted in a broken bone in Thomas’ leg. Hopefully the offense’s dominance will carry over the remainder of the season, and make up for the loss of their best player. Having Thomas Rawls to help carry the load off Russell Wilson’s shoulders will help. Coming off a broken leg of his own, Rawls had two touchdowns, and 118 total yards against the Panthers. Overall, the offensive efficiency was an exciting sign for Seahawks fans heading towards the final stretch of the season.

Next Week: The Seahawks take a trip to venerable Lambeau Field, where they have not won in 20 years. Aaron Rodgers will provide a tough test for the banged-up Legion of Boom, which lost Earl Thomas to a broken leg on Sunday night against Carolina.

Playoff hopes: Seattle is now three games ahead of Arizona, virtually establishing themselves as the NFC West champions. With four winnable games to finish out the regular season, the Seahawks will compete for one of the top spots in the NFC.

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

9-3

Last week: W, 29-28, at ATL
Last rank: 4th

The opportunistic Chiefs continue to frustrate their opponents by making timely plays in all manners. In Sunday’s narrow escape at Atlanta, safety Eric Berry ran back an interception 37 yards for a touchdown and wide receiver Albert Wilson scored on a 55-yard run off a fake punt. Then with the Falcons’ leading 28-27 and going for a two-point conversion, Berry picked off the attempt in the end zone and ran it back for the game-deciding two points. Once again, Kansas City defenders gave up their share of yards (418). But Andy Reid’s playmakers continue to get it done. This is a team that is now 19-3 in its last 22 regular-season outings.

Next Week: It’s a short week but a crucial one for the Chiefs as they host the AFC West leading Oakland Raiders on a Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium. It was back in Week 6 in the Bay Area that Kansas City throttled the Silver and Black, 26-10. All told, the Chiefs have prevailed in their last four meetings with their longtime divisional rival.

Playoff hopes: All signs point to this resourceful club making its second consecutive postseason trip and third playoff appearance in four seasons under Reid. And if the Chiefs can knock off the first-place Raiders on Thursday night, they will put themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to the AFC West title.

Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) is defended by Buffalo Bills cornerback Kevon Seymour (29) on a 37-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter during a NFL football game at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3

Oakland Raiders

10-2

Last week: W, 38-24, vs. BUF
Last rank: 3rd

The division-leading Raiders appeared primed for an upset loss against a dangerous Buffalo team. And when the Bills jumped out to a 24-9 lead with 9:01 to play in the third quarter, Oakland’s five-game winning streak appeared to be in danger. But 29 unanswered points later via a pair of David Carr touchdown passes and a pair of scores by running back Latavius Murray and Jack Del Rio’s confident club rolled to a 14-point win. The Raiders’ signal-caller finished the afternoon with 260 yards through the air and wasn’t sacked in the victory. Meanwhile, Murray racked up 82 yards rushing on 20 carries, part of a 139-yard effort by the Oakland ground attack.

Next Week: It’s a short week for the Silver and Black as Del Rio’s team looks to avenge this season’s 26-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. This time around, the teams play at Arrowhead Stadium and on a Thursday night. The Raiders are a sparkling 5-0 away from home this season, but Oakland has lost four straight in this series.

Playoff hopes: Pretty damn good barring an unimaginable collapse, the Silver and Black will be playoff-bound for the first time since 2002. But they still have some work to be done if they are to capture the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs sit just one game back in the division and have already beaten Del Rio’s team once this season.

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

10-2

Last week: W, 26-10, vs. LA
Last rank: 2nd

It was hardly a surprise that the AFC East leaders jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead over the struggling Rams. Bill Belichick’s club outgained their guests by a combined 230-25 in terms of total yards by intermission. When it was all said and done, the Pats would cruise to a 16-point victory and limit Jeff Fisher’s club to a mere 162 total yards. On the other hand, it was a stellar performance by the New England offense. Quarterback Tom Brady and mates ran 75 plays and gained 402 total yards while committing zero turnovers and not allowing a sack to a talented Los Angeles defensive front.

Next Week: The first-place Pats remain home for a second straight week and host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. Including four playoff encounters between the franchises, New England owns a 9-3 overall advantage in this series. But two of those wins by Baltimore have come at Foxborough and in the postseason.

Playoff hopes: Make it 14 consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins by this amazing franchise. The Patriots are also zeroing in on an eighth consecutive playoff appearance and a record eight straight division title. Of course, they’re also in the running for the top seed in the AFC as well.

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

11-1

Last week: BYE
Last rank: 1st

Dallas continues to surprise, and has become the first team to have clinched the first playoff spot of the season. The Cowboys snuck by the Vikings on the road, largely thanks to a non-call on a late face mask penalty. Sam Bradford was clearly having his helmet grabbed at on a last-second two-point conversion attempt, but the officials missed the foul. Ultimately, the Cowboys were able to overcome turnovers and an excessive amount of penalties. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott may need to share the Rookie of the Year award, as both have outperformed expectations this year.

Next Week: The Cowboys travel to New York for Sunday Night Football, the start of a three-game primetime stretch for Dallas. Their only loss of the season came against New York in the first game of the year. New York will need this game should a tie-breaker become reality in the wild card race.

Playoff hopes: Dallas has turned their distant playoff dreams into reality. Who could have imagined when Tony Romo went down the kind of response this team would have throughout the season. It’s been a nearly perfect season for the Cowboys, and it will be one that could run through Dallas for the entirely of the NFC playoffs.

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