The six Pro Bowl quarterbacks named to the initial AFC and NFC rosters: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers. The connection to these Power Rankings? Those QBs’ respective teams make up six of the top seven on our final rankings of the regular season—Carr’s Raiders are the only team outside, mainly due to Carr’s season-ending leg injury.
The lone top-seven club without a Pro Bowler (at least for now) is the Chiefs, led by Alex Smith.
It’s not enough to have just a star quarterback, but time and again we get reminders that this is a QB-driven league. The franchises that are strongest under center tend to be those we’re still talking about come January.
One more quick note before we launch into the list: Thanks for reading these all year long. I know Power Rankings carry little weight aside from entertainment value, so hopefully these have been worth your time most weeks. An extra tip of the cap to those of you who have reached out with comments or criticism—both are welcome and appreciated.
Anyway, let’s get to why we are here. Enjoy Week 17.
32New York Jets
last week: 30
I’ve wanted to be at the mall the day after Christmas more than the Jets wanted to be on the field against New England. Hey, Jets, next time I’ll go play the game and y’all go drive around looking for a parking spot for 45 minutes so you can return these pants.
31Los Angeles Rams
last week: 29
This has been a year fit for government conspiracies, so here’s one more: The Rams are no longer an NFL franchise but rather an undercover outfit ought to destroy America’s desire to watch football, one major city at a time. St. Louis has fallen. Los Angeles is next.
30San Diego Chargers
last week: 27
The Chargers have a point differential of minus-3, yet are five games under .500. Compare that with the playoff-bound Dolphins, who are plus-4 in points but sit at 10–5 on the year. San Diego has been almost comically bad in close games the past two seasons.
last week: 32
Saturday marked the Browns’ first win since Dec. 13 of last year, their first time holding an opponent under 20 points since Dec. 27, 2015, and their first time scoring at least 20 themselves since Oct. 30 of this year. They accomplished all that and retained the No. 1 pick in the draft, a win-win after a lot of losses.
28San Francisco 49ers
last week: 31
Chip Kelly is now 2–0 against the Rams this season and 3–0 against them for his career, including a 2014 victory back with Philadelphia. What’s that? Oh, you want to know how he’s doing against everyone else? Sure. Well, against non-Los Angeles teams this season, the 49ers [/screen abruptly fades to black].
Ever see American Psycho? (SPOILER ALERT!) Christian Bale’s character hacks people up for 90 minutes, but then at the end you’re left wondering if any of it really happened or if it was all in his mind. And that sums my current feelings toward Matt Barkley’s Weeks 12-15 play after watching him last Saturday.
last week: 28
If you listened quietly Sunday during the Jaguars’ 38–17 upset of Tennessee, you could almost hear Gus Bradley screaming, “What the hellllll?!” and kicking a rock. Jacksonville left it all out there for interim coach Doug Marrone, at least opening the door for Marrone to lose that “interim” tag for 2017.
last week: 23
Props to WR Adam Thielen, who on Saturday joined Paul Flatley, Sammy White, Randy Moss and Sidney Rice as the only Vikings ever with a 200-yard receiving game. Thielen’s play has been a gold bar hidden in the pile of horse manure this Vikings season turned out to be.
last week: 22
The Bengals lost a game because Mike Nugent missed a pair of extra points, and Nugent also missed a PAT and a FG in a 27–27 tie with Washington. Saturday, Cincinnati was set up for a road win only to have Randy Bullock push a potential game-winning kick wide. Flip all three results and the Bengals would be 8–7 right now—not good enough for the playoffs, but far more respectable.
last week: 19
Cam Newton’s QB rating for the first half Saturday: 3.7. That’s 35.9 below what a quarterback scores if he just throws all incompletions. Newton headed to halftime 6 of 18 for 58 yards and two interceptions, a brutal showing in what has been a very disheartening season for the Panthers.
last week: 21
Perhaps no play better summed up Buffalo’s season than when, facing a second-and-12 in overtime, the Bills called for a reverse to Reggie Bush. Not 1,200-yard rusher LeSean McCoy, but Bush, who has minus-3 yards on 12 attempts this season. Bush lost eight yards, the Bills missed a field goal and went on to lose…and Rex Ryan lost his job three days later.
It feels like Malcolm Jenkins has (or should have, at least) way more than his 14 career interceptions. He has, though, taken six of those 14 back to the house, counting his pick-six against Eli Manning last Thursday.
last week: 25
Before this season began there had been nine players in NFL history to post a season of 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage and 20-plus TDs. David Johnson just became the 10th. He has been unbelievably good despite the team around him struggling, like when Adam Banks gets traded to the Mighty Ducks before the Mighty Ducks learn how to play hockey.
last week: 15
If Detroit and Washington combine to knock Green Bay out of the postseason next Sunday, it would leave the Colts with exactly zero wins over playoff teams. As it is, Indianapolis posted an 0–5 record against Houston, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, capped by a Week 16 loss to the Raiders.
last week: 16
In an episode of “Louie,” Louis C.K. tells his daughter, “I’m bored is a useless thing to say. … Being the fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to be bored.” And then they watch highlights of the Broncos’ offense and he says, “No, I get it now. Sorry.”
Hard to envision a much crueler fate that the one the Titans suffered. They were one win from hosting a game for the division title, with a clear advantage at the QB position, but instead will trot out Cassel in a meaningless Week 17 pseudo-exhibition. It just proves the eternal truth: The Jaguars ruin everything.
last week: 18
Only a missed, last-second field goal by Randy Bullock saved us from a Tom Savage–Matt Cassel winner-takes-all showdown in Week 17. Or is it, he robbed us of a Savage-Cassel battle for all the marbles? Eh? No, you’re right, he saved us. The Texans have two weeks to figure out how to make their offense remotely playoff-worthy.
15New Orleans Saints
last week: 17
Two Saints running backs have eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season since the turn of the millennium: Deuce McAllister and Ricky Williams. Mark Ingram can be No. 3, if he can rush for 60 yards in Atlanta. His 5.1 yards per attempt would be the best ever for a New Orleans 1K-rusher.
last week: 20
With Saturday’s 478-yard outburst in Chicago, Washington now needs just 84 yards in its final game to secure its spot as the most productive offense in franchise history. The 1989 Redskins finished the year with 6,253 yards but missed the playoffs despite posting a 10–6 record.
last week: 12
Zach Zenner’s first half Monday perfectly encapsulates the entire Lions experience this season. For 25 minutes or so, he was brilliant, unstoppable. And then he vanished. The Lions’ offense is like telling someone you saw a UFO. They look, it’s gone and you’re stuck standing there muttering, “I swear, it was just there.”
last week: 13
In the end, the Ravens’ offense turned out to be better than it once appeared; the defense, much worse. They never could strike the complete balance on both sides of the ball to make the leap into juggernaut status. This will be the first time since 2004-05 that the Ravens have gone consecutive seasons without hitting 10 wins.
last week: 11
The Seahawks are going to win the NFC West by at least two games, although this season, that amounts to Lance Armstrong lapping the contestants of a kindergarten Big Wheel race. This is a flawed team, though, with no obvious fixes. Their playoff run will continue for as long as Russell Wilson can carry them on his shoulders.
When a developing team gets a bit ahead of schedule, as the Buccaneers were at 8–5, the NFL has a way of delivering a heat check. Back-to-back losses at Dallas and New Orleans served as such for Tampa Bay, whose playoff hopes are all but gone (ESPN has them at 60,000:1 odds entering Week 17).
last week: 14
It’s still a little hard to tell if the Dolphins are, ya know, good. But a 10-win season is an accomplishment no matter how it happens. Adam Gase probably won’t win Coach of the Year—not with Jason Garrett and Jack Del Rio out there—but he has done a remarkable job in his first season with Miami.
8New York Giants
last week: 7
Thursday marked the third time ever that the Giants posted 470 or more yards yet scored 19 or fewer points in a game. They’ve lost all three times, the others coming in 2010 (vs. Tennessee) and 1991 (vs. Dallas). New York has not scored 20 points since Thanksgiving weekend. Is this one of those years Eli Manning suddenly turns it on in the playoffs?
last week: 4
According to Pro Football Reference, Matt McGloin’s nickname is “Red Rifle,” which … look, you don’t want to be “the other Red Rifle” when the first one is Andy Dalton. So priority numero uno is to find McGloin a better moniker. He’s from Scranton, can we use that? The Canton Strangler (for all the future Hall of Fame QBs he might have to beat in the playoffs) or Thunder Mifflin or something? Get to work, internet.
I’m working on a theory that Aaron Rodgers struggled a bit earlier this season for the sole purpose of being able to could track who would badmouth him publicly. And if he wins the Vince Lombardi Trophy or the MVP or Offensive Player of the Year, his speech is just going to be him reading off the names of people who are now on his list.
last week: 6
Antonio Brown measured in with an arm length of 31 inches before the 2010 draft. If instead they were, say, 22 inches, not only would he be the first T-rex to play professional football, the Steelers probably would be staying home this postseason. Brown’s reach at the goal line on Pittsburgh’s final play Sunday turned a potentially crushing mistake—if he comes up short, there’s not enough time to kick a game-tying field goal—into a play that will live in franchise lore.
The Chiefs’ blowout victory over the Broncos was their 10th consecutive win vs. AFC West opponents, which is two shy of the longest such streak in franchise history per The Kansas City Star. They’ll have to run it to 11 Sunday in San Diego if they have any hope of capturing the division title this year.
last week: 3
If I asked you to name someone on Atlanta’s offense, Julio Jones would be somewhere between the first and third player mentioned, depending on a) how rabid you are about Matt Ryan’s MVP campaign and b) how many fantasy games Taylor Gabriel won you. And while Jones, when healthy, is unquestionable great, here’s something you might not realize: He hasn’t caught a TD pass since Week 9. It has hardly mattered—Atlanta is averaging 36.4 points over its past five games.
Thanks to his season-high 148.3 passer rating in Monday’s win over Detroit, Dak Prescott now carries a 105.6 mark for the season. That’s the best number in NFL history for any rookie quarterback with at least five starts. The only pro QB to top Prescott’s current clip was Hall of Famer Otto Graham, who posted a 112.1 QB rating for the Browns in the All-America Football Conference.
1New England Patriots
last week: 1
The only time in their history that the Patriots have finished the regular season with the league’s top scoring defense, 2003, they won the Super Bowl. Unless they allow 34 more points to the Dolphins this week than Seattle does to the 49ers, they will take home top-ranked scoring D honors again.