NFL power rankings, Week 15: Packers rise, Broncos fall

In our Week 15 NFL power rankings, the Green Bay Packers moved on the ladder while the Denver Broncos fell hard after a loss in Tennessee.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs with the ball as Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Karlos Dansby (56) makes the tackle during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

32

Cleveland Browns

0-13

Last week: L, 23-10, vs. CIN
Last rank: 32nd

Another game and another loss for a franchise that has won only three of its last 34 games dating back to 2014, then they opened the season 7-4 that year. The Cleveland defense had another long afternoon when it came to stopping the run, allowing Cincinnati running back Jeremy Hill to rush for 111 yards (1 touchdown) and the Bengals to roll up 213 yards on the ground in a 13-point win. Meanwhile, Browns’ quarterback Robert Griffin III returned to the field for the first time since Week 1 and looked pretty rusty. He completed only 12 of his 28 passes for 104 yards, was picked off once and was sacked three times. Cleveland managed only 254 total yards in their latest setback.

Next Week: Jackson’s winless club shuffles off to Buffalo to take on a Bills’ team that gave up 240 yards on the ground in a home loss to the Steelers. That adds up to good news for Cleveland running back Isaiah Crowell, who ran for 113 yards on just 10 carries in the loss to the Bengals. The Browns have dropped 11 straight road games overall.

Draft Talk: The Browns are inching closer to that first overall pick in the 2017 draft and they could do worse than to look in the trenches. With Griffin and rookie Cody Kessler expected to be in the mix, there’s really no need to invest a Day One selection on the position until you find out what you truly have.

Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton (11) after recovering the fumble by running back Carlos Hyde (28) against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at Levi

31

San Francisco 49ers

1-12

Last week: L, 23-17 (OT), vs. NYJ
Last rank: 31st

San Francisco played another unwatchable game this week, where running backs were the stars in an overtime loss. Bilal Powell and Carlos Hyde combined for 338 rushing yards, while Shaun Draughn scored one of two 49ers touchdowns. The second came from Hyde in the air, but it was not enough to hold off the Jets out by the Bay. A gassed 49ers defense allowed Powell to take his second touchdown of the game to the house, despite leading 17-3 at halftime. Chip Kelly’s mindset is clearly set for the college game where he has more players active to rotate in and out, and that deficiency has shown once again in his fourth NFL season.

Next Week: San Francisco carries their 12-game losing streak to Atlanta, where their defense will be no test for Matt Ryan. Even if Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are out once again, the Falcons showed this week they can score without them. Taylor Gabriel and Tevin Coleman provided enough offense for the Falcons to stay hot down the stretch.

Draft Talk: San Francisco needs a quarterback, but it ended up with the worst year to have that need. Mel Kiper recently said Deshaun Watson would normally receive a third-round grade, but you can expect the 49ers to reach for him with their projected top-three pick. Watson might be Kelly’s last chance in the NFL, and could possibly run the system Kelly has dreamt of for the past four years. If not Watson, the 49ers could look to build their defense around someone such as Jonathan Allen.

Dec 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (11) changes direction as he approaches Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (24) during the second half of an NFL football game at EverBank Field. The Vikings won 25-16. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

30

Jacksonville Jaguars

2-11

Last week: L, 25-16, vs. MIN
Last rank: 30th

Make it eight consecutive losses and counting for Gus Bradley’s club, who played turnover-free football but still only managed one touchdown and three field goals against the visiting Vikings. Quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 257 yards and a score but was sacked four times. He got little support from the ground attack per usual as the Jaguars ran for only 85 yards on 24 carries against a Minnesota defense that had struggled against the run as of late. For the sixth straight season, Jacksonville has totaled 11-plus losses. And the franchise now owns a 41-100 win-loss ledger since the start of the 2008 season.

Next Week: Bradley’s team heads west to the Lone Star State looking to snap a five-game series losing streak to the Houston Texans. The Jaguars fell at home earlier this year to their divisional rival, 24-21. Not that this team has won much of anywhere as of late, but it’s worth noting that the club is just 2-20 in their last 22 road games dating back to the start of 2014.

Draft Talk: The Jaguars have spent their share of money and high draft picks on offensive line help. But the fact remains that Bortles has been sacked an incredible 133 times in 43 career contests. More help is needed up front, not just in terms of pass protection but to aid a continually-disappointing ground attack.

Dec 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher reacts during an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

29

Los Angeles Rams

4-9

Last week: L, 42-14, vs. ATL
Last rank: 29th

Jeff Fisher continues to feel the heat from outside as the Rams have lost eight of their last nine games, and Jared Goff struggles to throw the ball downfield. Reigning offensive rookie of the year Todd Gurley said postgame that his team “looks like a middle school offense” that is “going through the motions.” Whether or not the team has given up on Fisher is still to be seen, but what fans did see was a rookie quarterback whose two turnovers were returned for 14 points. Goff has shown he is not ready to be an NFL quarterback, but there’s nothing the team can do about it now.

Next Week: To make matters worse for Los Angeles, next week will feature the rookie quarterback traveling to Seattle for Thursday Night Football. There is not a worse situation for a struggling rookie quarterback to be thrown into. The Rams should attempt to rely on some quick passes and hope Todd Gurley can get himself going once again.

Draft Talk: With no first or third-round pick thanks to the Goff trade, the Rams will need to strike gold with what they have next spring. Building up the offensive line is one strategy they could go for, while replacing the pending free agent Trumaine Johnson is just as crucial. Since Kenny Britt and Brian Quick will be free agents, a wide receiver to complement Tavon Austin could also be found in the later rounds.

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Barkley (12) throws the ball during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

28

Chicago Bears

3-10

Last week: L, 20-17, at DET
Last rank: 28th

Chicago falls to 0-7 on the road this year despite Matt Barkley having one of the best games of his faulty NFL career. Late penalties negated possible field goal chances created by the former USC quarterback, who also found Cameron Meredith in the end zone with a perfect pass. Rookie cornerback Cre’Von Le’Blanc had a pick-six off Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter, but the Bears defense could not hold off Stafford as he carried in the game-winning touchdown with three minutes remaining. While Barkley’s emergence in place of Cutler and Hoyer has been a bright spot in a dim season, it may not be enough for him to keep a starting job next year.

Next Week: A hot Green Bay team arrives at Soldier Field next week for a classic NFC North battle. With a wintery mix forecasted for the weekend, the run game will become important for both teams, giving the Bears a slight advantage. Rookie running back Jordan Howard is looking for a 1,000-yard season, and looks to continue the tradition of Chicago running back dominance.

Draft Talk: Quarterback is clearly a need for the Bears, but this years class may not be the year to make the pick. Still, Mitch Trubisky could be an interesting option depending on who the head coach is next year. If Josh McDaniels in the man, a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo could be in play.

December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) scores the game-winning touchdown against San Francisco 49ers strong safety Antoine Bethea (41) during overtime at Levi

27

New York Jets

4-9

Last week: W, 23-17 (OT), at SF
Last rank: 27th

Step forward if you watched this game in its entirety. Never mind. The Jets fell behind 17-3 in the second quarter at San Francisco but would rally the score the final 20 points of the contest. Running back Bilal Powell enjoyed a huge afternoon, running 29 times for 145 yards and two scores – the second touchdown coming in overtime. Bryce Petty made his second NFL start and while he was sacked six times and picked of one, he connected on 23 of his 35 throws for 257 yards. New York rolled up 404 yards of total offense – 286 yards in the second half and overtime.

Next Week: Get ready for Saturday night live at MetLife Stadium when the Jets play host to the Miami Dolphins in less than a week. Adam Gase’s surprising 8-5 club is right in the thick of the playoff race and managed to a 28-25 win over the Green and White earlier this season.

Draft Talk: Perhaps it’s not just the cornerback position on the defensive side of the ball that needs addressing when it comes to this disappointing team. Despite the win at San Francisco, Todd Bowles’ once-proud defensive unit gave up a whopping 248 yards on the ground – 193 of those yards via running back Carlos Hyde.

Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 16-11. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

26

New Orleans Saints

5-8

Last week: L, 16-11, at TB
Last rank: 25th

New Orleans lost the turnover battle against Tampa Bay, which was capped off by a last-minute interception by Keith Tandy. Drew Brees and the entire New Orleans offense could not find a rhythm, leaving Brees without a passing touchdown for the second straight week. In fact, Brees has had consecutive games without a touchdown and three interceptions for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. Kicker Wil Lutz hit all three field goal attempts, while Paul Kruger recorded a safety in the second quarter. Sundays loss was the Saints fourth on the road this year, and essentially pushed them out of the playoff hunt once again.

Next Week: The Saints travel to Arizona next week to face a once-destined Super Bowl contender. Brees will need all of his receivers healthy once again with Patrick Peterson expected to shutdown Brandin Cooks, which could mean a big game for either a healthy Willie Snead or Michael Thomas.

Draft Talk: New Orleans needs to continue addressing its defense, which is once again among the worse in the NFL. It has allowed the third-most points per game this year, sitting behind only the Browns and 49ers. Safety, outside linebacker, and defensive tackle will be areas of weakness for the Saints, as three of their starters will head towards free agency. Jabrill Peppers could find a home here.

Dec 11, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers strong safety Kurt Coleman (20) intercepts a pass in the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Chargers 28-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

25

Carolina Panthers

5-8

Last week: W, 28-16, vs. SD
Last rank: 26th

Five turnovers and a safety forced by the Panthers defense gave the defending NFC champions just their fifth win of the season. San Diego also lost two of their top young playmakers, Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon to injury, giving the Panthers an even easier path to victory. Rookie cornerback Daryl Worley had a big game, picking off Philip Rivers and leading the team with 10 tackles in the victory. Carolina needed this type of win, especially since it still have some slight playoff hopes that rest in the hands of several other teams faltering late in the year.

Next Week: Carolina gets Monday Night Football on the road in Washington against a Redskins team dealing with injuries across the board. If Washington’s offensive line and linebackers can not recover this week, Carolina could have a big game on the road, despite having just one win away from home.

Draft Talk: Cam Newton needs protection, and since the referees are not giving it to him, the team must find a way to. Mike Remmers will be a free agent, which could mean Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson moving up north. The Outland Trophy winner could start 2017 as one of the Panthers starting tackles, depending on if the team feels comfortable playing a rookie on the left side. Replacing Josh Norman will also be a focus this offseason for Carolina.

Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (17) makes a reception past Washington Redskins outside linebacker Martrell Spaight (50) during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Washington Redskins won 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

24

Philadelphia Eagles

5-8

Last week: L, 27-22, vs. WSH
Last rank: 23rd

Injuries flipped the Eagles game plan upside down in their loss to Washington. The biggest loss ended up being long snapper Jon Dorenbos, who suffered a wrist injury and was out for most of the game. After his backup Brent Celek took a big hit, the team ran tryouts on the sideline. With no reliable long snapper, the team was forced to keep the offense out on fourth down, and lost opportunities to kick easy field goals. A last-minute drive orchestrated by Carson Wentz ended on a fumble thanks to back ups playing across the offensive line.

Next Week: The Eagles travel for the final time this season, but it will just be down the road in Baltimore. With the playoffs essentially out of sight, the Eagles will enter the offseason with questions on both the roster and coaching staff, with fans already calling for Pederson’s job.

Draft Talk: Philadelphia owns the Vikings first round pick from the Sam Bradford trade, and will be cheering on Minnesota’s collapse. Washington receiver John Ross and cornerback Sidney Jones will be the two names to watch for with the Eagles. A running back in the second or third round (Nick Chubb, Samaje Perine) will also be an area to address.

Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) catches a pass for a 35 yard touchdown against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Houston defeated Indianapolis 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

23

Indianapolis Colts

6-7

Last week: L, 22-17, vs. HOU
Last rank: 22nd

Patience is running thin in Indianapolis as the team fell to 3-4 at home and 2-3 vs. their division rivals. Despite some second-half heroics, quarterback Andrew Luck had his issues and committed all three of the Colts’ turnovers in the five-point loss. Indianapolis’ pass defense picked off Brock Osweiler once and sacked him twice. But it was another shaku performance against the run that enabled Houston to control the football for 36:05. Bill O’Brien’s club racked up 185 yards on the ground on 41 attempts, led by Lamar Miller’s 107 on 21 carries. It marked the first time in the series’ 15-year history that the Colts had been swept by the Texans.

Next Week: It’s back to the road for Chuck Pagano’s uneven club as they travel to the Twin Cities to face the 7-6 Minnesota Vikings. Off a 25-16 win at Jacksonville, Mike Zimmer’s team looks to make it a clean sweep of the AFC South. The Colts are 3-3 on the road this season.

Draft Talk: Much-maligned general manager Ryan Grigson had eight selection in April’s draft and used four picks on the offensive line and four more on the defensive side of the ball. In five years on the job, he’s has four first-round selections and used one (disappointing defensive end Bjoern Werner) on defense. The club will have to do better than that this coming spring.

Dec 11, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) leaves the field with center Matt Slauson (68) and guard Spencer Pulley (73) after being sacked for a safety in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Chargers 28-16 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

22

San Diego Chargers

5-8

Last week: L, 28-16, at CAR
Last rank: 19th

There are defeats and there are losses. The Chargers found themselves trailing 23-7 at the half on the way to a 12-point loss to the defending NFC champions. On Sunday, the team also saw their last two first-round draft choices leave the field with injuries. Both running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Joey Bosa went to the sidelines. As for the game, quarterback Philip Rivers had a horrendous afternoon. He was sacked five times, once for a safety, and turned over the football on five occasions via three picks and a pair of lost fumbles. Mike McCoy’s team is now just 3-14 in its last 17 road games.

Next Week: The Bolts hope to play spoiler to one of their most hated rivals as they host the 10-3 Oakland Raiders. San Diego has dropped three straight to the Silver and Black and hopes to avoid being swept for the second straight year. Dating back to Week 15 of 2014, the Chargers are a dismal 1-11 vs. their AFC West neighbors.

Draft Talk: We posed the question last week and will raise it once again. Could this team possibly look at a quarterback early in April? Rivers is in the midst of his 13th season and this year, has thrown for 27 scores but has already turned over the football 22 times. Injuries at wide receiver were an issue this year and that’s another area of concern.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

21

Cincinnati Bengals

5-7-1

Last week: W, 23-10, at CLE
Last rank: 21st

It took until early December, but the Bengals finally have their first two-game winning streak of the season. That’s because Marvin Lewis’ team did what it usually does when it makes the roughly four-drive to Cleveland. The defending AFC North champions completed a season sweep of the Browns and won on the road in this series for the third straight year – those victories by a combined 90-13 score. Jeremy Hill ran for 111 yards and a score and quarterback Andy Dalton overcame four sacks, throwing for 180 yards and two scores – both to tight end Tyler Eifert. Cincinnati’s run defense continues to be an issue as the Browns rolled up 169 yards on the ground. But Lewis’ club owned the football for 34:53 on Sunday.

Next Week: It will be the second meeting of the season between two intense rivals in the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Including last year’s 18-16 fiasco in the 2015 AFC Wild Card Playoffs in the Queen City, Mike Tomlin’s club has now prevailed in three straight encounters between the clubs. That includes both clashes in Cincinnati a year ago and a 24-16 win at Pittsburgh in Week 2 this season.

Draft Talk: The Bengals could probably use some help on both the offensive and defensive lines. The run-stopping problems are a big concern and Dalton has been sacked 36 times in 13 games this season. Some more sure-handed wide receivers might be on the wish list as well.

Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson (14) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. The Miami Dolphins defeat the Arizona Cardinals 26-23. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

20

Arizona Cardinals

5-7-1

Last week: L, 26-23, at MIA
Last rank: 17th

Arizona continues to baffle NFL fans, winning just two of their last seven games, in a season where they were Super Bowl favorites for many. Horrible penalties and special teams blunders allowed the Dolphins (who lost Ryan Tannehill to a suspected ACL injury) to kick a game-winning field goal. Chandler Catanzaro had an extra-point attempt blocked and returned for a safety in the fourth quarter, giving the Miami fans the energy needed to finish out the game. David Johnson can not carry the team on his own, especially when Carson Palmer’s two interceptions and three fumbles stifle the offense.

Next Week: The Cardinals return home, where four of their five wins have come this season. New Orleans presents the battle of AARP quarterbacks who have struggled with turnovers this year. Drew Brees and Palmer have combined to throw 14 interceptions in their last five games. Feel free to play either defense in fantasy next week the way these quarterbacks are turning the ball over.

Draft Talk: Arizona is projected to own a top-15 pick, and could slip into the top-10 the way Carson Palmer has played lately. This will not be the year to draft a quarterback, with Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and DeShone Kizer receiving grades outside of the first round by many draft analysts. Finding someone to help Patrick Peterson could be the best option for the Cardinals, who have not had a top-10 pick since 2013 when they took eventual bust Jonathan Cooper.

Dec 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) celebrates scoring a touchdown with quarterback Sam Bradford (8) in the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Vikings won 25-16. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

19

Minnesota Vikings

7-6

Last week: W, 25-16, at JAX
Last rank: 20th

Minnesota finished off a fourth-quarter comeback on the road against the Jaguars with Mike Zimmer back and sporting an eyepatch on the sideline. Jacksonville’s goal line defense nearly held off Matt Asiata twice, but the running back made the second attempt count with a power run up the gut late. In typical Vikings fashion, not one player on offense stood out with Sam Bradford throwing the football. Adam Thielen quietly had a nice game with over 100 receiving yards, while Stefon Diggs laid out for a big catch late in the first half. Taking advantage of Jacksonville’s 14 turnovers, the Vikings remain in the playoff hunt despite two teams in the division winning.

Next Week: Minnesota looks to stay above .500 when the Colts travel to U.S. Bank Stadium for a Sunday matinee. Andrew Luck has just one career appearance against the Vikings, in which he threw two touchdowns and no interceptions in a Colts win. Luck is 12-3 in December football, and could threaten the Vikings postseason chances.

Playoff Hopes: Despite a midseason collapse, the Vikings could squeak into the playoffs. However, a tough NFC East and South could mean the Giants and the second-place finisher of the South take the two wild card spots, leaving the once undefeated Vikings on the outside looking in.

Dec 11, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan leaves the field after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers at New Era Field. Steelers beat the Bills 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

18

Buffalo Bills

6-7

Last week: L, 27-20, vs. PIT
Last rank: 15th

In case you were ever wondering for whom the bell tolls, we found out Sunday that it was the Buffalo Bills. The Pittsburgh Steelers ground attack rolled up 240 yards in a 27-20 victory at Orchard Park, all but four of those yards by running back Le’Veon Bell. He also scored all three touchdowns for his team as Rex Ryan’s club allowed 460 total yards on the afternoon. In fact, Bell gained 298 total yards from scrimmage by game’s end – 23 more than the Buffalo offense managed in the contest. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was sacked five times and the NFL’s best ground attack finished with only 67 yards on 18 attempts.

Next Week: The Bills take on the winless Browns in the second of what is a three-game home stand. All told, Cleveland has dropped 16 consecutive games dating back to Week 15 of ’15. The Browns have also lost 11 straight contests away from home. And the franchise is an astounding 3-31 dating back to the final five games of 2014.

Draft Talk: It’s not an impossible situation but the Bills look like they will make it 18 straight years without a trip to the playoffs. So what can the team do to improve itself? The defense continues to be a disappointment and the team is counting on a healthy Reggie Ragland at inside linebacker in 2017. But Buffalo could use a little more beef on that defensive front.

Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Houston defeated Indianapolis 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

17

Houston Texans

7-6

Last week: W, 22-17, at IND
Last rank: 24th

In pursuit of their first-ever season sweep of the Colts, Bill O’Brien’s club opened up a 13-3 halftime lead at Indianapolis. They failed to score a touchdown in the final 30 minutes but did get three more field goals from Nick Novak, who booted five three-pointers on the afternoon. Led by running back Lamar Miller, Houston rolled up 185 yards on the ground by game’s end. Houston had the football for 36:05 and completed their first-ever season sweep of the Colts. The Texans not only won at Indianapolis for the second consecutive year, but Bill O’Brien’s club raised its record to 4-0 within the division and made it nine straight wins vs. AFC South rivals.

Next Week: Houston looks to make it another sweep of a divisional foe when they host the disappointing 2-11 Jacksonville Jaguars. Back in Week 11in Florida, the Texans held on for 24-21 victory, their first road win of 2015. It was Houston’s fifth consecutive win in this short-lived rivalry dating back to 2014.

Playoff hopes: At 7-6, the Texans still have company at the top of the AFC South. But their undefeated record in divisional play (4-0) gives them a big leg up over the Tennessee Titans (1-3), who they have already beaten once this year. Those two clubs will square off in Nashville on the final Sunday of the season.

Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks (3) kicks the game winning field goal to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 26-23 at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

16

Miami Dolphins

8-5

Last week: W, 26-23, vs. AZ
Last rank: 13th

Following a miserable 32-point loss at Baltimore, the Dolphins rebounded in a big way by outlasting the disappointing Arizona Cardinals. But the team’s victory was tempered by the news of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury, which is why they slip three spots. After the game, head coach Adam Gase stated that “it doesn’t look good.” That’s very unfortunate for a team that has now won seven of its last eight games since opening 1-4 this season. In the win over the Cards, Tannehill threw for 195 yards and three scores (1 interception) before backup Matt Moore came in and finished the job. Miami’s suspect defense gave up 154 yards rushing but sacked Carson Palmer three times and force him into three more turnovers.

Next Week: The Dolphins head north for a Saturday night tilt with the New York Jets, a team they knocked off eight weeks ago in South Florida by a 28-25 count. The win gives Miami a chance to sweep this series for the first time since 2009. The ‘Fins are 6-2 in their last eight road tilts vs. the Green and White.

Playoff hopes: Miami is still in very good shape and still have a chance to win the AFC East, especially if the Patriots fall short at home against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. Of course, a lot also depends on how Moore plays in place of Tannehill. But the veteran quarterback certainly has his share of starting experience.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is pursued by Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

15

Tennessee Titans

7-6

Last week: W, 13-10, vs. DEN
Last rank: 16th

Running back DeMarco Murray continues his comeback year and enjoyed another productive afternoon in the team’s hard-earned victory. He ran 21 times for 92 yards and his team’s lone touchdown in the three-point win over the visiting Broncos. Fortunately for head coach Mike Mularkey, his defense and ground attack carried the day as quarterback Marcus Mariota had his issues against the Denver secondary. He hit on just six of his 20 throws for 88 yards, was sacked twice and fumbled once. But his team did not commit a turnover and Dick LeBeau’s defenders forced Trevor Siemian to drop back 54 times. The Tennessee defense limited the Broncos to only 18 yards rushing on nine attempts.

Next Week: After knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions at home, the Titans hit the road and hope to cool off one of the hottest teams in the league in the Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid’s club has won eight of its last nine games since a humbling 43-14 Sunday night loss to the Steelers in Week 4.

Playoff hopes: At 7-6, the Titans remain tied with the Texans for the AFC South lead. What could come back to cost them is their 1-3 record within the division. All the team can do is keep winning and hope they get some help. And while their 4-5 record vs. the conference is subpar, it includes victories over contenders Miami and Denver.

Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins defeated the Eagles, 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

14

Washington Redskins

7-5-1

Last week: W, 27-22, at PHI
Last rank: 14th

Washington lost in nearly every facet of Sunday’s game, with the exception of the most important one: final score. Philadelphia dominated the majority of a game riddled by injuries on both sides of the field. Redskins rookie linebacker Su’a Cravens syffered what appears to be a torn bicep, and Will Compton will have an MRI on Monday for an injury as well. Kirk Cousins looked like the future of the Redskins once again, despite throwing a pick-six late in the game. Former Eagle DeSean Jackson reminded Philly fans what he can bring to the table, scoring an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter to break the game back in Washington’s favor.

Next Week: Washington will host the reeling Panthers for Monday Night Football next week as it looks to stay in the Wild Card race. Sneakily, the Redskins are one of the best offenses in the NFL, sitting 10th in the league in points scored and second in passing yards per game. A banged-up Panthers team will have a big test on their hands in primetime.

Playoff Hopes: The Redskins sit one game behind the Giants for second place in the NFC East, and are looking to secure a wild card spot. At the moment, the Giants hold one of the two wild card spots, and the Redskins sit a game behind the Buccaneers for the second.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak (R) talks with Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Tennessee won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

13

Denver Broncos

8-5

Last week: L, 13-10, at TEN
Last rank: 7th

Denver’s run defense is becoming a major liability. The team entered Week 14 ranked 28th in the league in rushing defense. In the first half at Nashville, they allowed a whopping 138 yards on the ground to the Titans. When it was all said and done, the Titans totaled 42 attempts for 180 yards and 13 points proved to be enough to hold off Gary Kubiak’s squad. Quarterback Trevor Siemian hit on 35-of-51 passes for 334 yards and a score. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (10-126) and Emmanuel Sanders (11-100-1 TD) both caught at least 10 passes and hauled in 100-plus yards of throws. But the Denver ground attack managed an embarrassing 18 yards on nine carries.

Next Week: The Denver Broncos play host to their longtime nemesis from Foxborough as they take on the New England Patriots. Kubiak’s club knocked off Tom Brady and company twice last season, both in Denver. That includes a 20-18 victory in the AFC Championship Game as the Broncos were on their way to Super Bowl 50.

Playoff hopes: The Broncos have won five consecutive AFC West titles. But it looks like that streak is likely going to come to an end unless both the Chiefs and Raiders completely collapse. Then again, the defending champs now have to worry if they will finish with a good-enough record to even reach the playoffs.

Sep 25, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) looks on during the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Baltimore Ravens won 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 25, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) looks on during the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Baltimore Ravens won 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

12

Baltimore Ravens

7-5

Last week: Mon. night, at NE
Last rank: 11th

The heat is on just a bit for John Harbaugh’s team. With Pittsburgh’s 27-20 victory over the Bills on Sunday, the Ravens need a win to keep pace for the top spot in the AFC North. Now the Ravens head to Foxborough, where they have now prevailed in the regular season but managed postseason triumphs in both 2009 and 2012. Baltimore’s highly-regarded defensive unit will try and outwit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who’s thrown 19 touchdown passes and just one interception in eight games this season. One season after picking off an NFL-low six passes, Ravens’ defenders have 14 interceptions in a dozen outings in 2016.

Next Week: Off a short week, the Ravens return home and play host to the struggling Philadelphia Eagles. Doug Pederson’s team have lost four straight and are just 2-8 in their last 10 games since opening 3-0 this year. It is worth noting that Harbaugh and company are 0-3 vs. the NFC East in ’16.

Playoff hopes: A win over the Patriots puts Baltimore back at 8-5 and tied for the divisional top spot with the Steelers. At 7-2, the only team with a better conference record in the AFC is New England. Don’t forget last week’s win over the Miami Dolphins should it come down to a tiebreaker.

Dec 11, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) runs off the field following the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

11

Green Bay Packers

7-6

Last week: W, 38-10, vs. SEA
Last rank: 18th

Green Bay appears to have rebounded from four straight losses, now winning three straight games thanks to some convincing defense. They have held opponents to 13 points or less during that stretch, a sign that players are once again healthy. During their losing stretch, the defense allowed more than 30 points a game. Aaron Rodgers continues to be plagued by the hamstring injury he suffered against the Eagles, and now appears to have a calf injury due to overcompensating for the hammy. Brett Hundley did make an appearance, but failed to complete both of his sole pass attempts Sunday.

Next Week: Snow may continue to be in the forecast for the Packers as they travel to Soldier Field for a division battle. With all three of their remaining games against division opponents, the Packers need to win every possible game to keep with Detroit in the division.

Playoff Hopes: Two games behind the Lions, Green Bay needs to continue their recent stretch of dominance and health. Matthew Stafford injuring his finger could be a major factor in the NFC North race, which is closer than Lions fans would like. A New Years Day matchup between the two could be for the division.

Dec 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) scores on a 64-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

10

Atlanta Falcons

8-5

Last week: W, 42-14, at LA
Last rank: 12th

Despite not having Julio Jones, the Falcons offense dominated with no signs of slowing down. Matt Ryan passed for 237 yards and three touchdowns and the defense came up big against Jared Goff, forcing five turnovers in Los Angeles. Without Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel became the primary target for Ryan, catching three passes and scoring on a 64-yard pass in the third quarter. Seeing the Rams commit 11 penalties let Falcons fans relax with a 42-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. A healthy Tevin Coleman, who scored two touchdowns, will be critical with Jones and Sanu nursing injuries.

Next Week: Ryan and the offense will have fun next week when the 49ers come to town, and provide an extraordinary amount of time for them to produce. San Francisco gives the ball away more than they can take it, leaving their defense weary with the offense paying little attention to time of possession.

Playoff Hopes: Tampa Bay continues to nip at the Falcons’ heels in the division title race. The pair split their season series, making the three remaining games critically important for Atlanta to finish off. The Falcons score the most points per game in the league (32.2), while the defense ranks 29th in points allowed per game with 27.6 through 13 games.

Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Keith Tandy (37) is congratulated after he intercepted the ball from New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 16-11. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8-5

Last week: W, 16-11, vs. NO
Last rank: 10th

Winners of five straight games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stay in the hunt for the NFC South title. Their defense held off Drew Brees’ Saints, who lead the league in offensive yards this season. Tampa Bay’s defense forced three interceptions, including one from rookie Vernon Hargreaves III. Jameis Winston has continued to develop as a pocket passer, completing the majority of his passes and only being credited with five rushing attempts. The emergence of tight end Cameron Brate is also a welcome sight, as secondaries are forced to drape Mike Evans. Somehow, Tampa Bay continues to be the Cinderella of the 2016 NFL season after losing three of its first four games.

Next Week: Tampa Bay’s game in Dallas was flexed into primetime, giving Winston the opportunity to knock off the dynamic Cowboys. The Buccaneers have won five of their six games on the road, although the Cowboys in Jerry World are a whole different challenge. Tampa Bay’s run defense has been suspect this year, giving up 116 rushing yards per game. Ezekiel Elliott will be drooling behind that offensive line in primetime once again.

Playoff Hopes: After splitting the season series with the Falcons, the Buccaneers are still fighting for the division title with Atlanta. They have two winnable division games remaining after Dallas, and will need those to get ahead of any potential tiebreakers for the division crown.

Dec 11, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) reacts after throwing an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers beat the Seahawks 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

8

Seattle Seahawks

8-4-1

Last week: L, 38-10, at GB
Last rank: 5th

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense continues to play pitiful on the road, combining to score 12 points in their last two road games. In four of their games on the road, Seattle has scored 10 or fewer points, including the tie against Arizona. Wilson threw a career-high five interceptions, two of which were brought down by Damarious Randall. Seattle is clearly looking for answers, as Wilson targeted 10 players in the passing game. Six turnovers, zero red zone scores, and allowing the Packers to score on all four of their trips inside the 20 left Pete Carroll scratching his head. It became so bad, Green Bay sent Brett Hundley into the game in a snowy Lambeau Field.

Next Week: Luckily for the Seahawks, the next two games will be in the comforts of home. This time, Jared Goff and the Rams travel north for Thursday Night Football. Playing in a hostile environment on a short week spells disaster for Goff, and could result in a major win for the Seahawks as they look to secure the second-seed in the playoffs.

Playoff Hopes: If the NFC West was competitive this year, the Seahawks could be in major trouble. Since Arizona has collapsed this year and sits three games back, Seattle has no worries of losing the division. The Seahawks still need to win out to keep their home-field advantage away from Detroit, and we’ve seen how big playing in CenturyLink Field has been for the Seahawks offense.

7

Pittsburgh Steelers

8-5

Last week: W, 27-20, at BUF
Last rank: 8th

It was an extremely snowy afternoon at Orchard Park but the Steelers had few problems moving the football in the first half thanks to versatile running back Le’Veon Bell. The four-year pro racked up 125 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of play. When it was all said and done, Bell rang up an impressive 298 yards from scrimmage and three touchdown runs (236 on the ground). The one negative was the fact that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger – not sacked in the contest – was picked off three times in a game in which the Pittsburgh offense racked up 460 yards on the afternoon.

Next Week: The Steelers hit the road for the second straight Sunday looking to complete a season sweep of the rival Cincinnati Bengals. Back in Week 2 at Heinz Field, Tomlin’s team came away with a 24-16 victory. Including last year’s playoff meetings, the Steelers are 11-3 in 14 meetings between the teams dating back to 2010 – 6-1 at Cincinnati.

Playoff hopes: Very alive and well. The team’s fourth consecutive win temporary moves them above the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North – pending that team’s Monday night visit to Foxborough to face the Patriots. The win also raised Pittsburgh’s conference record to 6-3. The Steelers close with the season with games vs. each of their three divisional rivals.

Dec 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) is pressured by Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (98) as he looks to pass during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

6

New York Giants

9-4

Last week: W, 10-7, vs. DAL
Last rank: 9th

New York pulled off its second win of the year over the Cowboys, and have won seven of its last eight games this year. The heavily-paid defense showed up, holding Dallas to just seven points, and holding Dez Bryant to just one catch. Credit needs to be given to the Giants and their special teams, who closed out the fourth quarter perfectly with their use of timeouts, punts, and play-calling. With time of possession nearly 50/50 and the turnover margin identical, every snap mattered in this predictably-fierce NFC East showdown. New York showed it is a playoff team, and December football means something new for this group.

Next Week: New York has their final home game of the regular season when the red-hot Lions arrive. Both teams are on impressive runs this year, but Matthew Stafford injuring his finger could be a major factor on both sidelines. Game planning in and around Stafford could change depending on how he feels going into a cold MetLife Stadium.

Playoff Hopes: New York is still in contention for the NFC East, just two games behind the Cowboys. Even if the Giants tie with the Cowboys, their two wins head to head give them the tiebreaker advantage. Barring an epic collapse, the Giants look as if they will be playing in January.

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates after scoring the game winning touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

5

Detroit Lions

9-4

Last week: W, 20-17, vs. CHI
Last rank: 6th

Detroit finished off its eighth fourth-quarter comeback of the season, breaking the single-season record once held by Jim Caldwell’s 2009 Colts. That team went on to the Super Bowl, something that could be possible for Detroit the way it has been playing. With a win in eight of their last nine games, the Lions continue to pursue home-field advantage in the playoffs. Despite throwing two interceptions and suffering a finger injury, Matthew Stafford finished off the comeback with a rushing touchdown to seal the win over Chicago. His defense didn’t create any turnovers against Matt Barkley and the Bears, but did enough to keep them in the game late enough for Stafford to create an MVP-caliber comeback.

Next Week: The Lions travel to New Jersey to face the Giants, who are coming off a defense-heavy Sunday Night Football game against Dallas. Detroit will need to keep up their current play, which has carried it to five straight wins, against a Giants defense that was paid astronomically this offseason.

Playoff Hopes: Detroit is battling Seattle for home-field advantage and a first-round bye, which could be critical should Stafford’s finger injury linger. Minnesota and Green Bay sit two games back in the NFC North, with the Packers being the biggest threat among the two to Detroit’s dreams of a division crown.

Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) reacts during a NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

4

Oakland Raiders

10-3

Last week: L, 21-13, at KC
Last rank: 3rd

Even three takeaways on Thursday evening at Arrowhead Stadium couldn’t prevent the Silver and Black from a season sweep at the hands of the Chiefs. In their two losses to Kansas City in 2016, the Raiders totaled a mere 23 points. Jack Del Rio’s team has scored at least 27 points in 10 of their 13 contests this season and held to 17 points or less just three times – twice vs. the Chiefs. A lot of the blame has seemingly fallen on the pinky and not the shoulders of quarterback Derek Carr, who had a rough night (17-of-41) and threw for only 117 yards. But some would wonder why running back Latavius Murray (22 carries for 103 yards, 1 touchdown) wasn’t busier on Thursday evening.

Next Week: It’s back to the road and against another divisional foe as the Raiders look to complete a season sweep of the San Diego Chargers for the second consecutive year. But it won’t be easy against quarterback Philip Rivers, who despite Oakland’s recent success in the series owns a 14-7 lifetime record as a starter in this rivalry.

Playoff hopes: It would still take quite the collapse for the Silver and Black to fall short of the postseason. Winning the AFC West could now be a lot trickier after a second loss to the Chiefs. But the Raiders already have 10 wins and still own an extremely solid 7-2 record vs. conference foes.

Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) rushes for a touchdown on a punt return against Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King (7) during a NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3

Kansas City Chiefs

10-3

Last week: W, 21-13, vs. OAK
Last rank: 4th

Despite turning over the football three times and being limited to only 65 yards on the ground, the Chiefs got an efficient effort from Alex Smith and took advantage of Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr, obviously hampered by that injured finger. The Kansas City signal-caller did commit a pair of turnover but also completed 17 of his 26 throws for 264 yards and one touchdown. It was also a game in which the Chiefs did not force a turnover and still came away with their fifth straight win over the Silver and Black. The victory made it nine straight wins for Kansas City over AFC West rivals.

Next Week: The Chiefs have a few extra days off to prepare for another home game as the improving Tennessee Titans head to Arrowhead Stadium. Two years ago in Week 1 at Kansas City, Reid’s team was stunned by the Titans, 26-10. It’s a new regime in Nashville but the 7-6 Titans are tied atop the AFC South with the Houston Texans.

Playoff hopes: Pretty damn good. A sweep of the Raiders and a road win at Denver is part of the club’s 4-0 record within the AFC West. The Chiefs also own a nifty 7-2 record within the conference, with losses to the Texans and Steelers as their only blemishes there. It would be difficult for this team not to make the playoffs.

Dec 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams (83) scores a 1st quarter touchdown against the Giants and celebrates with Dez Bryant (88) at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2

Dallas Cowboys

11-2

Last week: L, 10-7, at NYG
Last rank: 1st

Dallas finally saw its11-game win streak snapped, and once again it was the Giants who got the job done. Dak Prescott looked miserable playing in the cold, throwing two interceptions and fumbling in the loss. I have never seen a quarterback throwing on the sidelines with his coat on, but Prescott (who was born in Louisiana and played in the SEC) was forced to do just that. As typical with an NFC East game, the final minutes were what made all the difference. After a perfectly executed punt by the Giants, Prescott was backed up in his own end zone, and failed to complete a first down in the final minute. A drop by Dez Bryant on the final play cued the “Dez caught it” mentions on Twitter, but ultimately the Giants pulled out their second win over Dallas this season.

Next Week: Dallas now gets the red hot Buccaneers in Jerry World next week in primetime, Sunday Night Football. Tampa Bay is riding high with a five-game win streak, and the Prescott vs Winston storyline will make the matchup even more intriguing as the week goes on.

Playoff Hopes: Dallas remains atop the NFC East, and has already punched their ticket to the playoffs. New York can still contend for the division, but needs a couple of games to fall in their favor. Having the head-to-head advantage over Dallas is the key for New York clinging onto the East at this point.

Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1

New England Patriots

10-2

Last week: Mon. night, vs. BAL
Last rank: 2nd

It should be a very interesting evening in Foxborough as the Patriots host the Ravens for the first time since their memorable 35-31 victory in the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoffs. You will recall that Baltimore would squander a pair of 14-points leads in that contest. This time around, John Harbaugh brings the league’s top-ranked defense to this tilt and will look to cool off quarterback Tom Brady. In eight games since his return to the field, he’s connected on 68.9 percent of his passes for 2,470 yards and 19 touchdowns, with just one interception. It’s safe to say the ravens have their work cut out for them.

Next Week: It’s a short week and a road trip for the first-place Pats as they head west to Denver for the third time in two seasons. A year ago, Belichick’s team dropped a pair to the eventual Super Bowl champions Broncos – including a bitter 20-18 setback in the 2015 AFC title game.

Playoff hopes: With Miami’s win over Arizona on Sunday, the Patriots still can’t clinch the AFC East even with a victory over the Ravens. Of course, a loss on Monday night could make things extremely interesting in a division that this franchise has captured seven consecutive years – tied for the longest streak ever.

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