2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 15: Los Angeles Rams Embarrassed at Home By Atlanta Falcons

Dec 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) throws an incomplete pass in the second quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at the 2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 15 with the Los Angeles Rams falling after a tough loss at home to the Atlanta Falcons.

If there’s anything to take away from the 2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 15 for the Los Angeles Rams, it would be Jeff Fisher‘s squad isn’t going to be on the rise anytime soon.

To say the Rams were embarrassed by the Atlanta Falcons in front of their own fans would be the understatement of the season as Fisher’s team found themselves trailing by 42 at one point before eventually going on to lose 42-14. The offense has put together some pathetic performances throughout the 2016 season, but it’s safe to say this was a new low for Los Angeles after losing for the eighth time in nine games.

This was supposed to be the year the Rams’ offense took the next step in the right direction after using the No. 1 pick on Jared Goff in the draft, but that obviously hasn’t been the case since the team ranks dead last in the league when it comes to points per game. Even the defense has looked like a disaster as of late when seeing how bad quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Matt Ryan have torched them in the passing game.

So just how much did Los Angeles fall in this week’s rankings? Let’s not waste any more time and jump right into the 2016 NFL Power Rankings for Week 15.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) flies through the air from a hit while carrying the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

32. Cleveland Browns (32)

The good news for the Cleveland Browns is Robert Griffin III returned to the lineup for the first time since opening weekend after the quarterback suffered a devastating shoulder injury that kept him on the sidelines until Sunday. The bad news for the Browns is the return of RGIII didn’t seem to matter that much as the Browns struggled once again as they’re now three losses away from becoming the second team in NFL history to go an entire season without winning a game.

Quarterback struggles have been one of the main reasons why Cleveland has been unable to win a single game as Hue Jackson has been forced to play five different players under center due to injuries. While the argument can be made the Browns would have won a few games with a healthy Griffin, it still doesn’t take away from how bad this team is overall, especially on offense.

With two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, let’s hope Cleveland figures out a way to improve on both sides of the football as nobody could have predicted they would look this awful in Jackson’s first season as head coach. Even if the Browns have a history of being bad, this is a new low even for them.

December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly looks on during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Levi

31. San Francisco 49ers (31)

Just when it seemed like the San Francisco 49ers were finally going to earn that second win for Chip Kelly, they find a way to blow a lead against the New York Jets before losing in overtime. Leave it to the 49ers to hold a 17-3 after halftime, only to fail to score a single point in the second half on their way to a 12th loss in a row for the season.

For a team that has been struggling to be productive on offense, it’s a shame to see a performance like Carlos Hyde‘s (193 rushing yards with a seven-yard touchdown catch) go to waste as this is the perfect example of how this year has gone for San Francisco.

If the 49ers can’t even beat a team like the Jets while playing in front of their own fans, how is anyone supposed to feel confident about this team’s future? Clearly, this team just needs to clean house as a fresh start seems to be the only thing capable of turning San Francisco around as a franchise.

Yes, that fresh start includes parting ways with Kelly too as the head coach continues to prove he doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be successful at the NFL level.

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 (30)

That’s now eight losses in a row for the Jacksonville Jaguars as Gus Bradley‘s team came up short once again to drop to 2-11 on the season. For a head coach that was already on the hot seat at the beginning of the season, it seems like only a matter of time before the Jaguars decide to part ways with Bradley as the team has taken a step back in 2016 after showing signs of improvement last year.

The frustrating factor from Jacksonville’s eight game losing streak is each of their last six losses have come by 10 points or less, meaning they seemed capable of winning some of those games. Not even a strong outing by Marqise Lee (five catches for 113 yards) was good enough for the Jaguars to escape with a win against the Vikings as they simply failed to show up in the fourth quarter in this loss.

With three remaining games against each of their division rivals that happen to be fighting for the AFC South title, it’s tough to imagine Jacksonville winning again in 2016. For a team that many believed was capable of making the leap to becoming surprise contenders in the AFC, the Jaguars ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the season.

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 (28)

Each week, the Los Angeles Rams seem to find a new way to hit an all-time low, with the latest coming on Sunday when the team found themselves trailing 42-0 at one point while playing at home. Don’t even be fooled by the 14 points scored by the Rams as the two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the game was well out of reach.

While Jared Goff deserves some benefit of the doubt after dealing with an illness throughout the week, it still doesn’t take away from how bad Los Angeles has been all season as they are turning out to be one of the most inconsistent teams in football. One week the defense puts on a stellar performance, only to come back the following week and allow their opponents to have a field day, as was displayed against Atlanta.

If Goff is going to be the quarterback of the future for this team, they need to figure out a way to provide the No. 1 pick with some more reliable weapons on offense. Any quarterback with the talent level of Goff deserves to have better targets than Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt on offense as Los Angeles has plenty of areas in need of improvement heading into the offseason.

Don’t forget, the Rams have to figure out to improve without having a first-round pick thanks to the trade with the Tennessee Titans in order to acquire Goff prior to last year’s draft.

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Barkley (12) gets pressure from Detroit Lions middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. The Lions won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

28. Chicago Bears (27)

The Chicago Bears may have ended up on the losing end against the Detroit Lions, but the team deserves plenty of credit for giving their NFC North rivals a scare when considering the circumstances. When taking a closer look at how these two teams compare on the 2016 season, the Bears should be proud for putting up a good fight against the Lions as they nearly pulled off what would have been a major upset on the road.

Jordan Howard continues to be one of the biggest surprises for Chicago as the rookie had another strong performance against Detroit after finishing with 86 rushing yards on just 13 carries. For a team that made the bold decision to part ways with Matt Forte in the offseason, the Bears have to feel good about what the potential the future holds at running back with Howard.

As for the quarterback position, that will be another interesting topic of debate in the offseason as Matt Barkley hasn’t looked terrible since taking over the starting role. Barkley has been patiently waiting for an opportunity to prove himself worthy of being a starter, and it may sound crazy, but he certainly deserves some sort of consideration for the future.

December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) is congratulated for scoring the game-winning touchdown during overtime against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

27. New York Jets (29)

Who would have thought that Bilal Powell would end up being the unsung hero for the New York Jets during their thrilling comeback win in overtime against the San Francisco 49ers? With Matt Forte exciting the game early with a knee injury, Powell took advantage of extra playing time by rushing for 145 yards to go along with two touchdowns on 29 carries as the Jets went on to defeat the 49ers 23-17 in overtime.

All hope seemed lost for New York when they found themselves trailing 17-3 at halftime, but this team deserves plenty of credit for rallying in the second half to earn their fourth win of the season. Even though his performance wasn’t anything to brag about, the Jets have to feel better about heading into the offseason knowing Bryce Petty may have potential.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean New York shouldn’t consider drafting a quarterback a few months from now, but at least the team knows they may have a few options to work with. No matter what happens though, at least the Jets will be smart this time around by not rewarding Ryan Fitzpatrick with another ridiculous contract, which could go down as one of the worst decisions from the 2016 season.

Dec 11, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) throws a pass as tackle Cordy Glenn (77) blocks Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt (91) during the second half at New Era Field. The Steelers beat the Bills 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

26. Buffalo Bills (25)

Poor weather conditions or not, don’t be fooled by the final score of Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Buffalo Bills were embarrassed on defense, especially when it came to stopping Le’Veon Bell.

It would be one thing to allow Bell to have a big game, but the fact that Buffalo allowed the star Steelers running back to record 298 yards from the line of scrimmage to go along with three touchdowns is simply pathetic. Most games where a defense manages to intercept a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger three times would result in a win, but that obviously wasn’t the case for the Bills in this loss.

At 6-7, it’s amazing to think Buffalo was considered one of the hottest teams in football after winning four in a row following an 0-2 start. When looking at how this team has performed over the last couple of weeks, it’s clear this team needs to focus on improving the offense during the offseason, with one of the biggest decisions being if Tyrod Taylor is the true answer for this team at quarterback.

Taylor’s play against the Steelers was decent, but he just doesn’t seem like the explosive type of quarterback the Bills need to contend in the AFC.

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

25. San Diego Chargers (22)

If there was anything to take away from Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers from the San Diego Chargers, it would be how much this team has benefitted from having Melvin Gordon in the lineup this season. Gordon’s rookie season may have ended up being a bust after failing to find the end zone even once, but the running back emerged as one of the best in the league during his sophomore season as the future looks bright for the former Wisconsin standout.

With that being said, the Chargers certainly could have used Gordon in Week 14 after he was forced to leave the game with a hip injury after finishing with just three carries for five yards. Kenneth Farrow did everything in his power to pick up the slack in the ground game, but he just couldn’t find a way to make the same impact as Gordon after finishing with 55 yards on 16 carries.

Not only did San Diego’s offense struggle without Gordon, but Philip Rivers displayed a performance to forget after recording five turnovers against Carolina’s defense (three interceptions and two fumbles). Rivers has seen plenty of frustrations throughout the 2016 season, but the quarterback hit a new low during this loss as the Chargers lost for the third time in four games.

Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) and defensive tackle Matthew Ioannidis (98) during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Washington Redskins won 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

24. Philadelphia Eagles (24)

Every time it seems like the Philadelphia Eagles are finally going to put together an impressive win, they find a way to end up losing the game as it happened again on Sunday against the Washington Redskins. What made this loss even more frustrating for the Eagles to accept is watching one of their former stars in DeSean Jackson torch them in the passing game for the Redskins after hauling in three catches for 102 yards, one of which went 80 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

A weak receiving corps has been one of the biggest areas of struggle for Philadelphia this season as it’s safe to assume the team misses having a weapon like Jackson on offense. Carson Wentz continues to show there’s only so much he can do on his own with running the offense as the rookie quarterback faced plenty of pressure all afternoon from Washington’s defense, including a crucial strip fumble on Philadelphia’s final offensive drive of the game.

With the Cleveland Browns already having their first round draft pick, the Eagles are simply playing just to give Wentz experience at this point. Philadelphia fans may be frustrated over how this season is turning out, but here’s to hoping the early experience pays off in the long run for the rookie quarterback.

Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) runs away from Houston Texans defensive end Jadevon Clowney (90) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

23. Indianapolis Colts (23)

After a strong performance against the New York Jets in which he threw four touchdown passes, everybody expected Andrew Luck to come out firing for the Indianapolis Colts against the Houston Texans in Week 14. Despite all of the struggles displayed throughout the 2016 season, the Colts had the chance to move ahead of the Texans in the AFC South standings, but unfortunately Luck and the offense took too long to overcome their struggles.

Instead of picking up where he left off last week, Luck was awful against Houston as the quarterback recorded three turnovers as Indianapolis went on to lose 22-17. With the loss, the Colts now trail both the Texans and Tennessee Titans by one game in the AFC South standings, which means they will need all of the help they can get in the next three weeks just for a chance at the playoffs.

With their next two games on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, all signs point to Indianapolis falling short of winning the division if they can’t even defeat Houston while playing at home. If the Colts do end up falling short of the postseason, it will be interesting to see what the team decides to do with Chuck Pagano as their head coach.

Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) reaches for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. The Miami Dolphins defeat the Arizona Cardinals 26-23. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

22. Arizona Cardinals (19)

For a team that was considered one of the heavy favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season, it’s absolutely frustrating to see the Arizona Cardinals in this current position heading into Week 15. Sunday’s 26-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins marked the fifth time in seven games the Cardinals failed to come up on the winning end as they have nobody to blame but themselves for being in this bad of shape.

Between three turnovers by Carson Palmer along with a poor performance on offense, this has become a common way of playing for Arizona throughout the 2016 season, although they most likely would have played better in better weather conditions. Still, even if the Cardinals were forced to play in heavy rain, it still doesn’t take away from the fact the defense allowed Ryan Tannehill to throw three touchdowns before the halfway point of the third quarter.

On paper, Arizona seems talented enough to be in consideration for having one of the best offenses in the NFL, but that’s obviously far from the case. After falling just short of reaching the Super Bowl last January, it’s a shame to see the Cardinals take a major step backwards in 2016 as this team has plenty of areas to improve on in the offseason.

Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) points and calls a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

21. New Orleans Saints (18)

Here’s a statistic that nobody could have predicted: Drew Brees has failed to throw a single touchdown pass for the New Orleans Saints over the last two games, both of which ended up being losses. To top it off, Brees has also thrown six interceptions in those two contests as the Saints fell just short in their 16-11 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The loss marked the fourth time in five games New Orleans came up on the losing end as it’s hard to believe this team seemed capable of competing for a division title two months ago. Closing out games has been a major issue for the Saints when considering three of those four losses have come by single digits.

Any chance of New Orleans making a late push for the playoffs is all but gone now as this will mark the third year in a row Brees and company will fall short of playing in January. While Brees seemed capable of playing a few more seasons at the NFL level, it has to be frustrating to see the veteran struggle the way he has over the last two games.

Even if it’s been against two very tough defenses, Brees has always been able to overcome these obstacles before.

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

20. Carolina Panthers

Where was this play from the Carolina Panthers on defense all season? If only the Panthers’ defense played like they did against the San Diego Chargers earlier in the year, they would be in much better than their 5-8 record indicates.

The only downfall of this strong performance by the defense is this seems to be another case of waiting too long to finally start playing well, which seems to be a common theme in the NFL over the last few weeks. If it wasn’t for that disastrous 1-5 start, there’s a good chance the Panthers would actually be in the race for one of the playoff spots in the NFC.

Instead, the only thing Carolina can do is finish the year on a strong note and look forward to bouncing back in 2017. On a positive note, at least the defense made it a long game for Philip Rivers after the quarterback recorded five turnovers in the loss, which says a lot about the way the Panthers played on defense.

Not to mention, it was great to see the defense step up during a game in which Cam Newton struggled on offense after the quarterback completed just 10 of 27 passes for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) runs with the ball as Cleveland Browns defensive end Jamie Meder (98) chases during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

19. Cincinnati Bengals (21)

One week after the offense finally woke up in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cincinnati Bengals picked up right where they left off during Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. Then again, when seeing how the Browns are entering the final three weeks still searching for their first win of the season, the Bengals had no excuse to lose this game between their AFC North rivals.

With A.J. Green out once again, it was Tyler Boyd (89 yards from the line of scrimmage) and Tyler Eifert (five catches for 48 yards with two touchdowns) who stepped it up in the passing game as Cincinnati jumped out to an early lead against Cleveland and never looked back. Along with solid performances in the passing game, Jeremy Hill came up big in the ground game for the Bengals after rushing for (111 rushing yards with a touchdown) to go along with a touchdown.

As well as Cincinnati has played over the last two games, this unfortunately is a case of too little, too late when it comes to making a run at the postseason. If only the Bengals had avoided a midseason slump in which they only won once in seven games, they would be in much better shape for making a last-minute run at the playoffs.

Instead, it would take some sort of miracle for Cincinnati to get in, which most likely isn’t going to happen when looking at the rest of the AFC playoff picture.

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

18. Minnesota Vikings (20)

Anything but the playoffs will simply be a failure for the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the 2016 season when considering the team surrendered a first-round pick in order to acquire Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. After Teddy Bridgewater‘s devastating injury, Bradford was supposed to help the Vikings remain strong contenders in the NFC, and while that seemed like the case over the first five games, the offense has been in a bit of a slump since their 5-0 start.

The fact that Minnesota had lost six of their last seven games prior to Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars is the perfect example of how this season has taken an unexpected turn for Bradford and company. Injuries have played a major role in the team’s struggles over the last two months, but the last thing the Vikings want to hear about is excuses as there’s nothing they can do about the draft pick they sent to the Eagles.

At 7-6, Minnesota still trails the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by one game for the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. While the NFC North isn’t completely out of the picture, it’s tough to imagine the Vikings overtaking the Detroit Lions, who currently hold a two-game lead, this late in the season.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) leaves the field after loosing to the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Tennessee won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

17. Denver Broncos (9)

All of a sudden, the Denver Broncos are in a deep hole when it comes to the AFC West standings as they currently trail the Kansas City Chiefs by two games with three weeks remaining after Sunday’s tough loss on the road to the Tennessee Titans. While the Broncos currently hold the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, their offense will need to figure out a way to perform at a higher level over the final three games if the defending champions want to be playing in January.

Despite Trevor Siemian throwing for 334 yards to go along with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combining for 226 receiving yards, Denver struggled to put up points against Tennessee as all of their 10 points came in the fourth quarter. Nothing against the Titans’ defense, but when looking at the impact Thomas and Sanders bring to the table, there’s no reason for the Broncos to be struggling with scoring points.

What puts Denver in even a tougher position is the fact that each of their three remaining games come against three teams in the AFC that would be in the playoffs if the regular season officially ended today. In other words, the Broncos are at high risk of missing out on the postseason if their offense is going to continue playing at this disappointing level.

Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) calls a directs running back Jonathan Grimes (41) in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

16. Houston Texans (16)

Who would have thought with the way the Houston Texans had looked over their previous three games, they would figure out a way to come through with a win on the road against the Indianapolis Colts? When looking at how tight the AFC South race is turning out to be, the Texans may be in better shape to hang on for the division title than originally thought.

Brock Osweiler was brought on board to take Houston’s offense to the next level, but that’s been far from the case as the quarterback struggled once again on Sunday after throwing for just 147 yards while failing to throw a single touchdown pass. While the Texans should just be happy for coming through with the win against their division rivals, it has to be frustrating on their end to see Osweiler fail to throw more than two touchdowns in a game all season.

Houston made a bold move in the offseason when they decided to reward Osweiler with a hefty $72 million deal, despite his inexperience as a starter. By having one of the league’s top wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins, there’s really no excuse for Osweiler’s struggles as the quarterback better hope the Texans can find a way to win the division, or he’ll be quite the popular topic of discussion in the offseason.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee TItans players celebrate after recovering a fumble by Denver Broncos tight end A.J. Derby (83) late in the fourth quarter at Nissan Stadium. The Titans won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

15. Tennessee Titans (17)

The Tennessee Titans entered Week 14 knowing they would face one of their toughest challenges of the 2016 season by hosting the defending Super Bowl champions. What the Titans didn’t expect was to walk away with a win on a day in which Marcus Mariota struggled at quarterback, but a win is a win no matter how it may come.

Believe it or not, it was the defense that came up big for Tennessee as they went on to defeat the Denver Broncos 13-10 to remain tied with the Houston Texans for first place in the division. The Titans may play in arguably the weakest division in football, but this team is all of a sudden in good shape to make a final push for the division title if all goes well over the final three weeks of the regular season.

Just like other opponents over the last couple of weeks, the Titans found a way to be effective on the ground against the Broncos’ defense after DeMarco Murray fought hard to finish with 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. To see Tennessee emerge as contenders to win the division after finishing at the bottom of the AFC South one year ago is simply amazing to see, but they still have plenty to prove.

With the defending Super Bowl champions out of the way, the Titans must now focus on figuring out a way to defeat one of the AFC’s hottest teams in the Kansas City Chiefs on the road in Week 15, which isn’t going to be an easy task.

Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins center Anthony Steen (left) checks on the condition Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right) during the second half against Arizona Cardinals at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

14. Miami Dolphins (14)

Between allowing the Arizona Cardinals to rally in the fourth quarter along with poor clock management at the end of regulation, the Miami Dolphins should consider themselves for escaping Week 14 with a 26-23 win. Unfortunately, the win came with a huge loss as well after Ryan Tannehill was forced to leave the game with a knee injury.

To top it off, early reports indicate that Tannehill will miss the remainder of the season as the injury appears to be a torn ACL, which is a major blow for the Dolphins in the middle of their playoff run. When looking at all of the criticism he’s overcome throughout his career, Tannehill played a key role in helping Miami turn their season around to get back in the playoff hunt as the Dolphins have won seven of their last eight games.

With the New England Patriots in control of the AFC East, Miami realizes they will be battling for a Wild Card spot as it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts on offense to playing without their beloved quarterback. Now, it looks like Miami’s playoff hopes rests in the hands of Matt Moore at quarterback running the offense.

Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) and quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) react after connecting on an 80 yard touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

13. Washington Redskins (13)

It may have been closer than originally expected, but the Washington Redskins came up big when it mattered the most to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the NFC following Sunday’s 27-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. While DeSean Jackson (three catches for 102 yards with a touchdown) continued to stay hot against his former team, it was Kirk Cousins who continued to show why he deserves a long-term deal from the organization in the offseason.

Cousins continues to carry this team on his shoulders as Washington put an end to their two game losing streak while playing in a hostile Philadelphia environment. Throughout his career, Cousins has a history of playing well against the Eagles, and despite an unfortunate interception returned for a touchdown a the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Redskins quarterback played well enough to help his team earn this tough win on the road.

At this point in the year, Washington will need all of the help they can get in the final weeks to make a run for one of the two Wild Card spots in the NFC. Luckily, the Redskins have favorable matchups over the next two weeks against the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears before an epic showdown against the New York Giants in the regular-season finale.

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

12. Baltimore Ravens (11) (Play Monday Night)

The Baltimore Ravens were one of the most difficult teams to figure out a few months ago, as they didn’t seem capable of being contenders in the AFC. After winning four of their last five games, nobody is questioning the Ravens anymore as they look to make a major statement on the road with a Monday night matchup against the New England Patriots.

Defense has been the main factor behind Baltimore’s success in 2016 as they look to stay close with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the battle for the AFC North. Over their last five games, the Ravens have held their opponents to 14 points or less four times (all wins), but even they know Monday’s game against Tom Brady and company could be their toughest challenge to date.

Take a look back a few weeks ago when Baltimore nearly pulled off a win on the road against one of the league’s hottest offenses in the Dallas Cowboys. If the Ravens can perform against the Patriots like they did against the Ravens, they may actually have a shot on Monday.

And if that does happen, it will make the race for the division title with the Steelers even more exciting to follow over the final three weeks.

Dec 11, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) passes the ball in the first quarter during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

11. Green Bay Packers (15)

Nobody believed Aaron Rodgers when he said the Green Bay Packers could run the table and make the playoffs, but everybody believes him now after his team made a huge statement win against the Seattle Seahawks. When looking at the history between these two teams from the last couple of seasons, it seemed like this could turn into an epic battle between two playoff contenders, but it was the Packers’ defense that ended up being the biggest surprise after recording five interceptions on Russell Wilson.

With three wins in a row following a four game losing streak, Green Bay hopes to take advantage of a favorable schedule while receiving help from other teams in the NFC to make that final push at the postseason. At the moment, the Packers seem like they would have to get in through a Wild Card spot, but depending on what happens with the Detroit Lions, that regular-season finale against Matthew Stafford and company could end up deciding the division.

However, Green Bay realizes they’re lucky to even be in this position when seeing how much this team struggled earlier in the year, which is why they’re taking the one game at a time approach. But if all goes well with the Packers remaining hot, making the postseason shouldn’t be an issue for Mike McCarthy‘s team.

Dec 11, 2016; Green Bay, WS, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones (95) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) at Lambeau Field. Mandatory credit: Jim Matthews/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

10. Seattle Seahawks (5)

When it comes to the biggest surprises of Week 14, the Seattle Seahawks rank near the top of the list not because they lost to the Green Bay Packers, but from how bad they ended up losing this game.

In a game between two NFC teams with enough talent to make a run at the Super Bowl, it seemed like the Packers were currently holding on to a playoff spot instead of the Seahawks as Russell Wilson went on to have one of the worst games of his career. For a quarterback that only had five interceptions on the season prior to Sunday, it was shocking to see Wilson throw five interceptions against the Packers as he just couldn’t seem to figure out a way to get the ball rolling on offense.

It was one thing to give Wilson some slack at the beginning of the season when seeing all of the injuries he was dealing with while struggling, but there’s no excuse for the type of performance displayed in Week 14. To watch Seattle be in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye to falling to the No. 3 seed in the NFC is nothing but frustrating for this team as they will need some help from the Detroit Lions over the next few weeks.

Otherwise, the Seahawks may be forced to play an extra playoff game instead of enjoying an extra week of rest in January.

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 (10)

What’s the most impressive thing about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning five games in a row to remain tied with the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South? How about the fact that each of their last four wins have come by single digits, with the latest coming on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Once again, it was the defense that shined for the Buccaneers as they prevented Drew Brees from throwing a single touchdown while intercepting the veteran quarterback three times. When looking at some of the teams Tampa Bay has defeated over the last few weeks, there’s every reason to believe this team is playing with enough confidence to beat anyone if they were able to make it to the postseason.

Of course, making sure the Buccaneers reach the playoffs is the main focus for this team as they have a more difficult path than most other teams over the final stretch of the regular season. With upcoming road games against the Dallas Cowboys along with another meeting with New Orleans, Tampa Bay looks to continue proving they’re worthy of earning a playoff spot in the NFC, all while hopefully receiving some help from Atlanta as well.

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

8. Atlanta Falcons (8)

Isn’t it amazing how the Atlanta Falcons managed to score 42 points against the Los Angeles Rams, despite the fact that Julio Jones was forced to miss the game due to a turf toe injury? Turns out, the Falcons didn’t even need Jones on the field as this game was well over before halftime was even here.

Not only did Atlanta cruise for an easy win without Jones, but they also managed to do so with Devonta Freeman only rushing for six yards on six carries. For a team in need of a win after last week’s crushing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it was good to see the Falcons take advantage of playing against a team like the Rams as every win is important from here on out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers emerging out of nowhere to get back into the NFC South race.

The good news for Atlanta is they have a favorable schedule to close out the season as they will face three each with records below .500 on the year. Assuming all goes well, the Falcons should have no problem earning one of the playoff spots in the NFC, but let’s hope Jones’ toe doesn’t continue to be an issue, as Matt Ryan doesn’t even want to think about playing another game without his top target.

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

7. Oakland Raiders (3)

The Oakland Raiders entered Week 14 as one of the hottest teams in football with the advantage of holding the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Unfortunately, it looks like the pressure of holding the top seed finally caught up with the Raiders as the offense struggled to get going against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

All season, Derek Carr has been the difference maker for Oakland’s offense as the third-year quarterback has even made a strong case to be in consideration for MVP. With that being said, Carr picked a terrible time to have one of his worst games of the 2016 season after he only completed 17 of 41 passes for 117 yards with no touchdowns.

What makes this loss even tougher for the Raiders is the Chiefs now have the upper hand of being in first place in the division. As enjoyable as a Wild Card spot would be, Oakland would obviously prefer to win the division in order to host a home playoff game.

Losing to the Chiefs hurt, but there’s no reason for the Raiders to worry as they knew this game against their division rivals wasn’t going to be a walk in the park as they should bounce back next weekend against the San Diego Chargers.

Dec 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) runs the ball against Dallas Cowboys corner back Brandon Carr (39) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

6. New York Giants (12)

Defense has been one of the main reasons behind the New York Giants turning their season around, and after holding the Dallas Cowboys to seven points while playing in the national spotlight, this team seems determined to make a deep run in the postseason.

Even if the Giants are forced to settle for a Wild Card spot in the NFC, nobody is going to want to play them in the playoffs as they seem capable of being just as dangerous on the road. Keep in mind this was the same team that struggled to close out the big games in 2015, and after fixing the issue this season, New York no longer has to worry about letting games slip away in the final minutes.

Once again, Odell Bekcham Jr. proved he can make an impact at any point in the game after struggling at the beginning of the game before exploding for a 61-yard touchdown late in the third quarter in what turned out to be the game-winning score for the Giants. Not only is New York the only team to defeat Dallas this year, but they’ve found a way to do it twice.

If that doesn’t make a strong case for earning a playoff spot in the NFC, nothing will.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7)

On a day where Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, it was Le’Veon Bell who stepped it up for the Pittsburgh Steelers on offense as the running back had a field day against the Buffalo Bills in the snow. Bell has always been considered one of the top running backs in the league due to the fact he’s just as dangerous in the passing game, but nobody could have predicted this type of performance in Week 14.

Not only did Bell carry the ball 38 times for 236 yards to go along with three touchdowns, but the running back finished second on the team behind Antonio Brown with four catches for 62 yards to give him 298 yards from the line of scrimmage on the afternoon. From a fantasy football perspective, owners with Bell on their roster were certainly happy to have the running back with league playoffs getting under way.

With the win, Pittsburgh puts even more pressure on the Baltimore Ravens heading into their Monday night matchup against the New England Patriots. If the Ravens go on to lose that game, the Steelers would find themselves one game up on their division rivals, which would make the Christmas Day meeting between these two teams even more important.

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

4. Detroit Lions (6)

The Detroit Lions should consider themselves lucky for barely holding on against the Chicago Bears in which would have been a tough loss to accept at home, but this team may have bigger problems moving forward following the news of Matthew Stafford.

For the rest of the season, Stafford will have to deal play with a dislocated thumb and torn ligaments, which is the last news the Lions wanted to hear. When looking at everything this team has overcome to rise to the top of the NFC North, it’s crushing for Detroit to see their beloved quarterback suffer this type of injury with only three games remaining in the regular season.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Stafford will be just fine as he’s proven throughout his career to be one of the toughest quarterbacks in the game. With Detroit in position to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, here’s to hoping Stafford isn’t bothered by this injury and he keeps the offense rolling as the Lions have now won eight of their last nine games.

If any quarterback is capable of leading his team to a remarkable postseason run while playing through an injury, it would be Stafford.

Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) pursues the play during a NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3. Kansas City Chiefs (4)

Remember a few weeks ago when the Kansas City Chiefs received heavy criticism following a tough loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? All of a sudden, the Chiefs seem capable of making a deep run in the postseason after another key win over the Oakland Raiders.

Tyreek Hill continues to be a surprise star for the Chiefs as the rookie managed to record two touchdowns (one receiving and one punt return) against the Raiders. Kansas City knew they were taking a risk on Hill when they selected him in May, but that low risk is turning out to be a high reward when seeing the type of impact he’s made over the last few games.

Over the last three weeks, the Chiefs have defeated three playoff contenders in the Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, and Denver Broncos. With eight wins over their last nine games, Kansas City is the last team any playoff team is going to want to face once January rolls around as they’re getting hot at the right time.

Plus, the Chiefs also have an extra advantage of playing two of their final three games at home as they hope to use this to their advantage during the final stretch of the regular season.

Dec 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley (11), the shortest player in the huddle, in the 1st half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2. Dallas Cowboys (1)

In a way, the Dallas Cowboys seeing their 11 game losing streak come to an end could benefit them in the long run as there’s no longer the pressure of keeping this streak alive heading into the postseason. Of course, the concern for the Cowboys heading into January is finding a way to avoid the New York Giants as they just can’t seem to overcome this team.

It would be one thing if it was only one game, but Dallas has now lost twice to their NFC East rivals in 2016 after suffering a 10-7 loss on Sunday night. Not only did Dak Prescott throw two costly interceptions, but Dez Bryant was limited to just one catch all game, which ended up backfiring since the wideout ended up fumbling on that play to give New York solid field position.

As frustrating as this loss was for the Cowboys, there’s obviously no reason for concern with the Cowboys since they’re still one of the most dangerous teams entering the postseason. The only thing to be concerned about is letting the division slip away as Dallas just needs to win two of their final three games to clinch the NFC East title.

Dec 4, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) celebrates with quarterback Tom Brady (12) after catching a touchdown during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. New England Patriots (2) (Play Monday Night)

Thanks to some help from the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots enter Monday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens as the current No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Of course, the Patriots realize they still have plenty of work to do in order to hang on to that top spot, beginning on Monday against one of the league’s top defenses in the Ravens.

When looking back at the history between these two AFC rivals over the years, it’s safe to assume Monday’s game could easily turn into another classic as both the Patriots and Ravens hope to remain being one of the hottest teams in the NFL beyond Week 14. The good news for New England is the AFC East is all but wrapped up with a comfortable lead over the Miami Dolphins, but now the team must focus on the battle for the top seed in the conference.

Obviously, the loss of Rob Gronkowski is a major blow for the Patriots’ offense, but at least Tom Brady still has plenty of other weapons to rely on. New England has unfortunately found themselves in this position before when it comes to playing without Gronkowski, and as long as Brady remains healthy, this team will be just fine entering the postseason.

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