2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Rams Hit New Low in Loss to 49ers
December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ronald Blair (98) during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Rams took another hit in the 2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 17 after losing to the San Francisco 49ers for the second time this year.
For the 2016 NFL Power Rankings Week 17, the Los Angeles Rams hit a whole new low after finding themselves in the bottom three for the first time this season.
With a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter, all signs pointed to Jared Goff finally earning that first career win as a starter in the NFL, even if the rookie didn’t have the strongest of games. Instead, the Rams found a way to allow the 49ers to rally in the fourth quarter by scoring 15 unanswered points to seal the 22-21 victory.
Not only did this mark the second time this year Los Angeles fell to Chip Kelly’s squad, but also these are the only two wins San Francisco has recorded all season, with the first victory taking place opening weekend. At 2-14, there’s a good chance the 49ers will end up with the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which makes this loss even more embarrassing for the Rams to accept.
Before getting to Los Angeles, it’s only fair to start off with the Cleveland Browns, even though they won for the first time all year, on the latest edition of the 2016 NFL Power Rankings for Week 17.
Dec 24, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) runs the ball during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
32. Cleveland Browns (32)
After a season filled with frustration and always coming up short, the Cleveland Browns finally earned their first win of the 2016 season following a 20-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Thanks to the win, the Browns avoided ending up on the wrong side of NFL history by becoming the second team to go an entire year without winning a single game.
To top it off, Cleveland was able to reclaim the top spot for the 2017 NFL Draft thanks to the San Francisco 49ers pulling off a comeback win against the Los Angeles Rams. With the way Browns fans celebrated after the Chargers missed a field goal to send the game into overtime, one would have thought this team just won the Super Bowl.
The best part about this victory is Hue Jackson no longer has to worry about going winless in his first season as the head coach never could have predicted this outcome in a million years. While the argument can be made this year would have turned out much different if it wasn’t for all of the injuries at quarterback, it will be interesting to see if the team wants to give Robert Griffin III another chance to prove himself in 2017.
Either way, at least the Browns will have two high draft picks in the first round thanks to the extra one they’re receiving from the Philadelphia Eagles.
December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
31. Los Angeles Rams (29)
The saddest part about Saturday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers is the Los Angeles Rams can’t even blame Jeff Fisher anymore since he’s no longer employed with the team. This team has seen plenty of low points throughout the regular season, but it’s hard to top what happened against the 49ers in Week 16 as Jared Goff was denied of earning his first NFL win, even though he didn’t have the best of games.
The fact that Goff only completed 11 of 24 passes for 90 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions shows just how much the rookie struggled in this game. Goff has received some benefit of the doubt throughout his rookie season when looking at the weak receiving corps he has to work with, but it was frustrating to see him struggle against a defense like the 49ers.
Speaking of struggling against San Francisco’s defense, Los Angeles was hoping this would finally be the game in which Todd Gurley broke the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in 2016. While Gurley managed to find the end zone in the first quarter, the running back struggled for the most part after only rushing for 67 yards on 23 carries.
With the 49ers ranking dead last when it comes to stopping the run, this sums up the kind of year it’s been for the Rams’ offense.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Barkley (12) warms up prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
30. Chicago Bears (28)
Over the last few weeks, Matt Barkley has been doing everything in his power to prove he deserves consideration for being the Chicago Bears quarterback beyond the 2016 season since Jay Cutler’s future with the team is up in the air. Unfortunately, Barkley arguably had the worst game of his young NFL career against the Washington Redskins after throwing five costly interceptions, as the Bears went on to lose the game 41-21.
As disappointing as this outcome was for Chicago, at least fantasy owners with Cameron Meredith on their roster ended up with a nice surprise after the wideout caught nine passes for 135 yards to go along with a touchdown. Alshon Jeffery has been considered the team’s top wide receiver all season, but Meredith continues to make a name for himself over the last couple of games while giving the Bears hope for their future on offense.
Everybody knew Chicago would most likely go through some struggles in 2016 after finishing at the bottom of the division in 2015, but this team somehow found a way to take a step back. Here’s to hoping the Bears make the necessary changes in the offseason on both sides of the football to help turn around this disaster of a franchise.
Dec 24, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles watches from the sideline against the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Jets 41-3. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
29. New York Jets (27)
All signs pointed to the New York Jets being in for a long game against the New England Patriots when seeing how these AFC East rivals compared on paper, but nobody could have predicted the outcome to be this ugly. Over the years, the Jets have a history of keeping games close whenever these division rivals square off, but that was far from the case on Saturday.
This game was well over before halftime even rolled around with New York trailing 27-0 before going on to eventually lose 41-3. Once again, the struggles continued for Ryan Fitzpatrick after the quarterback replaced Bryce Petty (shoulder) as he completed just 8 of 21 passes for 136 yards to go along with two interceptions.
When the season eventually comes to an end, Fitzpatrick’s contract will go down as arguably the worst from 2016 as the Jets were lucky not to reward the veteran with a long-term deal in the offseason. Of course, now the question becomes who is going to be New York’s quarterback of the future as Petty has shown potential at times, but hasn’t made a strong enough impression to secure the job.
December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Rod Streater (81) celebrates with wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (13) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) his touchdown scored against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
28. San Francisco 49ers (31)
Too bad the San Francisco 49ers can’t play the Los Angeles Rams every week as their only two wins from the season have come against their division rivals. All hope seemed lost when the 49ers found themselves trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, but believe it or not, it was Colin Kaepernick that helped put an end to the 13-game losing streak.
Not only did Kaepernick come up big with a rushing touchdown with a little over five minutes left, but he found Rod Streater in the end zone from 10 yards out in the final minute. To top it off, it was Kaepernick that completed the two-point conversion instead of attempting the extra point to give San Francisco the win in Week 16.
Normally, going for two this late in the game is crazy, but even Chip Kelly realizes the 49ers have nothing to play for this late in the season other than draft order. If San Francisco really wants to turn their franchise around, they need to strongly consider parting ways with Kelly in the offseason as the head coach continues to prove his style isn’t suited for the NFL.
His system may have worked at Oregon, but Kelly’s last four years in the NFL proves he’s in over his head.
Dec 24, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Cam Johnson (57) chases San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
27. San Diego Chargers (25)
With the way this season has been going for the San Diego Chargers and their inability to close out games, nobody should be surprised over the fact they were the first ones to lose to the Cleveland Browns all season. Obviously, the outcome of this game most likely would have been different with a healthy Melvin Gordon, but this may go down as the most embarrassing loss of the season for the Chargers.
Nine of San Diego’s 10 losses on the season have come by single digits after falling 20-17 to Cleveland in Week 16, which is crazy to think about since 10 of their 12 losses from a year ago ended up coming by single digits as well. With the way this year has turned out, it seems to be only a matter of time before the team decides to part ways with Mike McCoy as their head coach.
McCoy may have been successful during his first year as head coach after leading the Chargers to the postseason, but it’s been downhill for him ever since. After recording another losing record in 2016, San Diego is one of numerous teams in need of numerous changes during the offseason.
Only time will tell, but McCoy seems like one of those coaches who is going to be sent packing once the regular season finally comes to an end next weekend.
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars center Tyler Shatley (69) congratulates Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) on a touchdown during the second half of an NFL Football game against the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field.The Jaguars won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (30)
Who would have thought all it would take for the Jacksonville Jaguars to finally earn their first win since the middle of October was to get rid of Gus Bradley as their head coach? The decision to fire Bradley was long over due when seeing how this season has turned out for the Jaguars, and it was amazing to see this team end up on the winning end against the Tennessee Titans in Week 16.
As bad as it sounds, the firing of Bradley seemed to be a major wakeup call for members of Jacksonville when considering the team could take a completely different approach with their next head coach. The one player that comes to mind the most is Blake Bortles as the former first-round pick arguably had the best game of 2016 against the Titans after recording two total touchdowns (one catching) while throwing for 325 yards without recording a single turnover.
On paper, the Jaguars were expected to finally elevate their game to the next level in 2016, and possible become a sleeper contender in the AFC. Obviously, that was far from the case, but at least Jacksonville is in position to end the year on a positive note after ruining Tennessee’s playoff hopes.
Dec 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing (56) tackles Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead (33) during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
25. Cincinnati Bengals (23)
After failing to live up to high expectations this season, it really wasn’t that much of a surprise to see the Cincinnati Bengals score just 10 points against the Houston Texans on the night of Christmas Eve. For a team that reached the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, it’s disappointing to see the Bengals sitting at 5-9-1 heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
If A.J. Green or Tyler Eifert actually played against Houston, Cincinnati would have had a much better chance of winning this game, but the team didn’t want to risk any injuries to their superstars in what was a meaningless game on their end. Marvin Lewis was already on the hot seat at the beginning of the year with an 0-7 playoff record, and now that Cincinnati isn’t going to be playing in January, it will be interesting to see how the organization addresses the situation in the offseason.
Most of the time, a head coach with a resume like Lewis would have been fired years ago, but for whatever reason the Bengals continue to give him more chances to prove himself. But after the way this year turned out, it’s hard not to wonder if the organization will finally realize a change is needed when it comes to Lewis.
Dec 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (13) catches a touchdown as Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins (32) defends in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
24. Carolina Panthers (22)
Saturday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons is the perfect example of just how frustrating this year has been for the Carolina Panthers as it’s crazy to think this was the same team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last February. While it’s understandable the Panthers faced plenty of pressure heading into 2016 when it comes to being one of the top contenders again, nobody could have predicted this big of a disappointment.
Between Cam Newton‘s struggles to opponents having a field day with the defense, Carolina has plenty of adjustments to make in the offseason if they’re going to have any chance of bouncing back in 2017. Whether they want to admit it or not, it’s obvious how much the Panthers miss having Josh Norman on defense as they’ve been getting shredded by offenses all season.
Still, even without Norman, the return of Kelvin Benjamin in the passing game was supposed to make this team even more dangerous than last year, which obviously wasn’t the case. To go from NFC champions to finishing the following season with a losing record makes Carolina one of the biggest disappointments from 2016.
Not to mention, there are plenty of questions surrounding Ron Rivera and whether he should still be the head coach heading into next season.
Dec 24, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan leaves the field after losing in overtime to the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field. The Dolphins beat the Bills 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
23. Buffalo Bills (21)
After another tough loss, will the Buffalo Bills end up parting ways with Rex Ryan at the end of the season? Not even a three-touchdown performance by Tyrod Taylor along with a strong outing by LeSean McCoy (128 rushing yards with a touchdown) in the ground game was good enough for the Bills to end up on the winning end against the Miami Dolphins.
At one point in the season, Buffalo was considered one of the hottest teams in football thanks to a four-game winning streak following an 0-2 start, but unfortunately the wins have been rare since then as this team could easily have been in contention if a few more games went their way. Six of the team’s eight losses on the season have come by single digits, which shows the Bills have nobody to blame but themselves for falling short of the postseason.
Even if the team does decide to send Ryan packing at season’s end, at least the potential will be there for the 2017 season from a talent perspective for whoever takes over as the new head coach. First thing is first though, which is Buffalo needing to make a decision on their current coach in Ryan.
Dec 24, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins (24) hits Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) out of bounds in the fourth quarterat Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY Sports
22. Minnesota Vikings (20)
The Minnesota Vikings made one of the boldest moves from the 2016 offseason when they made the decision to surrender a first-round pick in 2017 to the Philadelphia Eagles in order to acquire Sam Bradford at quarterback. With the devastating leg injury to Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings made the move for Bradford due to the belief he gave the team a strong chance of being a top team in the NFC.
Unfortunately, it looks like that trade is going to end up being a waste as Minnesota was officially eliminated from postseason after the defense couldn’t figure out a way to shutdown Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense from the Green Bay Packers. To see the defense go from leading the Vikings to a 5-0 start to playing like the way they did on Saturday has been simply embarrassing for the defending NFC North champions.
What makes this loss even more frustrating for Minnesota is Bradford still managed to throw for 382 yards with three touchdowns, despite receiving heavy pressure from Green Bay’s defense all game. Not to mention a career day by Adam Thielen (12 catches for 202 yards with two touchdowns) ended up being a complete waste for the Vikings’ offense.
Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) against the New York Giants during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
21. Philadelphia Eagles (26)
Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles found a way to close out a game in the fourth quarter after pulling off the thrilling 24-19 win over the New York Giants. The Eagles may not have anything to play for at this point in the season other than experience for Carson Wentz, but at least they managed to earn their first win within the division.
Not only has Philadelphia been eliminated from playoff contention, but their first-round pick for 2017 is already going to the Cleveland Browns, which is why they truly don’t have anything to play for other than experience for Wentz. While this season has been filled with plenty of bumps in the road, the future seems bright for Wentz as it looks like trading up to acquire the rookie at No. 2 in the 2016 NFL Draft is going to pay off.
Wentz has certainly experienced some of the typical rookie mistakes, but he continues to win the hearts of Philadelphia fans with the level of toughness. Hopefully, the Eagles can focus on providing their franchise quarterback with better weapons in the offseason as terrible doesn’t even begin to describe the team’s current receiving corps, as they rank near the bottom of the league.
Dec 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano reacts during a NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Colts 33-25. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
20. Indianapolis Colts (17)
At the end of the day, the Indianapolis Colts have nobody to blame but themselves for failing to win the AFC South when seeing how inconsistent the team has been all season. One week after an impressive road victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Colts seemed capable of keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.
Instead, Andrew Luck‘s costly turnovers prevented that from happening for Indianapolis as they will be watching the playoffs from home instead after the Houston Texans clinched the division title. When looking at some of the wins the Colts have put together against playoff-caliber teams in 2016, winning arguably the weakest division in football should have been no sweat for Luck and company.
Once again, Indianapolis decided to rally in the fourth quarter when the game was already over as it will be interesting to see what type of changes are made for this team in the offseason, starting off with Chuck Pagano. For a head coach that received a surprise extension after last year, Pagano’s hot seat is at an all-time high when seeing how much of a disappointment the Colts were in 2016.
When a team falls short of reaching goals that should have been achieved, it’s guys like Pagano that end up with most of the blame.
Dec 25, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) throws a pass during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
19. Denver Broncos (18)
After winning the Super Bowl last February, expectations were high for the Denver Broncos heading into the 2016 season as they were hoping to have one of the top defenses once again led by Von Miller. Unfortunately for the defending champions, they’re not going to have a chance to repeat as the Broncos were officially eliminated from postseason contention after falling to the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas.
Once again, the defensive struggles continued for Denver after allowing Kansas City to score 33 points while nearly allowing them to record 500 yards on offense. It’s amazing to think how the Broncos were in great shape a few weeks ago with a 7-3 record, only to end up losing four of their next five games.
Clearly, this team will have plenty to think about in the offseason when it comes to making the right adjustments to make sure they return to their dominant form next year. While Denver’s at it, let’s hope they figure out their issues at quarterback as well since Trevor Siemian has made it clear he’s far from the answer when it comes to leading the offense.
Whether it’s through the draft or free agency, any change will do at this point.
Dec 24, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) celebrates with teammates after kicking a game winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The Cardinals won 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
18. Arizona Cardinals (24)
Who would have though it would be the Arizona Cardinals of all teams that would knock off the Seattle Seahawks on the road in Week 16? Not only did Carson Palmer finally look like his old self, but David Johnson continues to show why he’s considered one of the top running backs in the league after finding the end zone three times against the Seahawks.
Playoffs may be out of the picture for Arizona, but at least the future seems to be bright when seeing the type of success Johnson has seen over the last two seasons. It’s tough for most running backs to receive 28 carries against a tough defense like Seattle, but Johnson was an absolute workhorse on Saturday to help his team pull off an epic win.
As enjoyable as this win was for Bruce Arians and company, it still doesn’t take away from the type of disappointing season it’s been for the Cardinals. For a team that was considered a strong favorite to reach the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year after falling just short last January, Arizona will go down as one of the biggest disappointments from the 2016 season.
Sadly, this year’s roster seemed to be the team’s best chance of making that Super Bowl run since Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald aren’t getting younger any time soon.
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is carted off in the second half after sustaining an injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Jacksonville Jaguars won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
17. Tennessee Titans (12)
As if losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars and missing out on possibly winning the division wasn’t already frustrating enough, the Tennessee Titans were devastated to see Marcus Mariota suffer a fractured fibula in the loss. For a team that was considered one of the hottest in football following big wins against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, it’s a shame to see the Titans fall short of reaching the postseason.
With that being said, Tennessee has to be thrilled at the progress made in 2016 after finishing at the bottom of the division one year ago. If there’s anything to take away from this season, it would be the Titans are heading in the right direction with Mariota as their franchise quarterback.
He may have struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season, but it was good to see Mariota start to limit his turnovers further into the year. If Tennessee can have a successful offseason with key additions through free agency and the draft, there’s every reason to believe this team will be even better next year, especially with an extra first-round pick thanks to the Los Angeles Rams deciding to move up in last year’s draft.
Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) in the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14)
Two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in solid shape to not only possibly earn a spot in the NFC playoffs, but to make a run for the NFC South title with the Atlanta Falcons. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Buccaneers are mathematically alive for one of the Wild Card spots in the conference, but unfortunately it’s going to take a miracle for that to happen.
As if losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15 wasn’t already tough enough to deal with, Tampa Bay missed out on another golden opportunity on Christmas Eve after falling to the New Orleans Saints 31-24. The Buccaneers found a way to hold the Saints to scoring just 11 points when these two teams met back in Week 14, but the outcome was completely different time around as the offense for New Orleans was too much for Tampa Bay’s defense.
On a positive note, at least the Buccaneers can say they took a step in the right direction by emerging as contenders this year, which didn’t seem like a possibility when they started off the season with a 1-3 record. Even if Tampa Bay falls short of their postseason goals, the momentum should carry over to next year when it comes to being contenders in the conference.
Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton during the second half of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
15. New Orleans Saints (19)
The New Orleans Saints may have nothing to play for this late in the season, but they certainly loved coming through with a big win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make an impact on the NFC playoff picture. When considering how well the Buccaneers’ defense has been playing over the last few weeks, the Saints deserve plenty of credit for putting up 31 points against their division rivals.
It’s a shame New Orleans couldn’t have been more consistent at the beginning of the season when looking at how well they played over the last two games against Tampa Bay and the Arizona Cardinals. The numbers don’t lie as the Saints’ offense is filled with plenty of weapons for Drew Brees to work with as the veteran proved this season he’s capable of being an effective starter for a few more years.
Brees was solid for the second-straight week, but the difference maker against the Buccaneers was Mark Ingram as the running back found the end zone twice while rushing for 90 yards on 18 carries. Of course, the main question that’s going to be on the minds of Saints fans moving forward will be what the future holds for Sean Payton as rumors are already beginning to heat up about where the head coach is going to be in 2017.
Dec 25, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) stretches the ball across the goal line to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
14. Baltimore Ravens (11)
The Baltimore Ravens have the entire offseason to look back at this game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and realize how they let an opportunity to play in the postseason slip away. With a 20-10 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, it seemed like the Ravens were going to be in great position heading into the final week of the regular season while being in the driver’s seat in the division.
Instead, Baltimore allowed their division rivals to rally in miraculous fashion after Pittsburgh scored 21 points in the final quarter before going on to win the game 31-27 to clinch the AFC North title. There’s a reason why the Ravens and Steelers are considered one of the top rivals in the NFL, as it wasn’t a surprise to see this game decided by single digits.
For the most part, Baltimore’s defense has ranked near the top of the league all season, but the offense has been the one area holding them back from pulling away in the division all season. To see the Ravens be in control of their own destiny so many times to allowing the Steelers to take it away is certainly a tough pill to swallow.
Dec 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage (3) looks for an open receiver during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
13. Houston Texans (16)
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for the Houston Texans, but the only thing that matters moving forward is they will be playing in the postseason after clinching the AFC South following Saturday’s win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even if it was closer than expected as the Bengals missed the chance to pull away with the win after failing to convert on a field goal as time expired, the Texans have to like their chances heading into the first round of the playoffs.
In his first career NFL start, Tom Savage did enough to help Houston’s offense get by after throwing for 176 yards without recording a single turnover. It was an absolute shock to see Bill O’Brien make the gutsy call a week ago to replace Brock Osweiler with Savage, but the decision looks like it’s going to pay off for the Texans.
The decision to sign Osweiler to such a hefty contract is going to go down as one of the worst decisions from the 2016 offseason as the quarterback has nobody to blame but himself for being a disappointment. If Savage is able to find success with this offense, there was no reason why Osweiler couldn’t do the same with Houston.
Dec 24, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills free safety Corey Graham (20) dives to try and tackle Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) during the second half at New Era Field. The Dolphins beat the Bills 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
12. Miami Dolphins (13)
The Miami Dolphins continue to be one of the biggest surprises of the year after another thrilling win over the Buffalo Bills that could have easily gone the other way. With a regular-season finale matchup against the New England Patriots, the Dolphins control their own playoff destiny as they currently hold on to the No. 6 spot in the AFC.
Jay Ajayi led the way for Miami on offense as the running back was simply phenomenal after rushing for 206 yards to go along with a touchdown on 32 carries. If the Dolphins do end up securing a spot in the postseason, they will certainly need all of the help they can get from Ajayi in the ground game since the offense has already been forced to make the adjustment to playing without Ryan Tannehill.
Then again, Matt Moore has turned into a nice surprise for Miami as the quarterback managed to complete 16 of 30 passes for 233 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. If Moore can continue playing like he has over the last two games with running the offense, there’s a good chance the Dolphins will be a dangerous team in the AFC come playoff time.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) scores a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
11. Washington Redskins (15)
They may need help during the final weekend of the regular season, but the Washington Redskins are still alive in the hunt for the NFC playoffs after cruising to an easy victory over the Chicago Bears. Kirk Cousins continues to make a strong case for earning a long-term contract in the offseason after recording three touchdowns, two of which happened to come on the ground.
Not even the absence of Jordan Reed stopped Cousins from being effective on offense, as the quarterback received extra help from DeSean Jackson (five catches for 114 yards) and Pierre Garcon (four catches for 94 yards) in the passing game. With an NFC East showdown scheduled for Week 17 against the New York Giants, Cousins in the Redskins will need to do whatever it takes to win just to have a shot at the postseason.
Even if Washington does end up falling short of making the playoffs, that doesn’t mean Cousins shouldn’t receive the hefty contract he clearly deserves. The numbers alone by Cousins over the last two seasons is enough proof the Redskins need to do whatever it takes to make their quarterback happy, or they may end up regretting it down the road.
Dec 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws a pass against the New York Giants during second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants won 17-6. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
10. Detroit Lions (9) (Play Monday Night)
No matter what happens on Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, the only game that matters for the Detroit Lions is their Week 17 matchup at home against the Green Bay Packers. All the Lions have to do is win that game against the red-hot Packers and the division title will go to the Lions, although it’s easier said than done.
Prior to their Week 15 loss to the New York Giants, Detroit was one of the hottest teams in the league thanks to eight wins during their previous nine games thanks to stellar play by the defense along with Matthew Stafford leading the offense. Unfortunately in that game against the Giants, Stafford suffered a finger injury on his throwing hand that he claims won’t be an issue.
Stafford can say whatever he wants about his finger injury, but until he proves it’s not an issue with running the offense, the level of concern is going to be pretty high. Nothing against New York, but it wasn’t a good sign for Stafford that Detroit only scored six points during that week 15 loss.
But with the Lions in this position to win the division along with the possible scenario of the loser missing out on the postseason, expect Stafford to do whatever he has to for his teammates.
Dec 24, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) celebrates his touchdown catch against the Arizona Cardinals during the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
9. Seattle Seahawks (6)
The Seattle Seahawks were in the perfect position to pull off a thrilling comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals before Steven Hauschka picked the worst time to miss an extra point that would have given his team the lead in the final minute of the game. And if that wasn’t frustrating enough to deal with, the Seahawks’ defense allowed the Cardinals to march down the field to setup the game-winning field goal of their own during the 34-31 loss.
Now, Seattle may end up playing in the Wild Card round of the playoffs instead of receiving an extra week of rest since they let the loss to Arizona put them out of the No. 2 seed in the NFC at the moment. All the Seahawks had to do was win the final two games against the Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers to secure that first-round bye, but now the team is going to need some help in order for that to happen.
If only Seattle’s offense didn’t wait until the fourth quarter against Arizona to show up, there’s a good chance they would have ended up winning this game since Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin seemed impossible to contain at times. The Seahawks still know they’re capable of making a deep run in the NFC from a talent and experience perspective, but it’s amazing how the two games against the Cardinals could end up having a major impact in their playoff seeding.
Dec 24, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrate a touchdown completion in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY Sports
8. Green Bay Packers (10)
How much better does Aaron Rodgers feel about the chances of the Green Bay Packers making the playoffs? Rodgers was the one individual that claimed the Packers were capable of running the table, and after helping the team earn a fifth-straight win, this team has the unexpected opportunity to win the division next weekend against the Detroit Lions.
Rodgers was fantastic against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 after completing 28 of 38 passes for 347 yards to go along with five total touchdowns (one rushing). When seeing how Rodgers has helped turn Green Bay’s season around over the last five weeks, it’s hard not to consider them one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC.
One of the main reasons behind the success of Rodgers and the Packers’ offense as of late has been the stellar play of Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 154 yards with two touchdowns against the Vikings. Assuming Rodgers and Nelson continue to play at this high level, Green Bay should have no trouble locking up the division during next weekend’s showdown against Detroit.
Even if the Packers ended up settling for a Wild Card spot, all they care about at this point is getting into the postseason.
Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
7. New York Giants (3)
Anytime Eli Manning is forced to throw the football 63 times, it’s never a good sign for the New York Giants. Prior to Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants were still in the running for the NFC East with a little help from the Dallas Cowboys.
Instead, New York will have to settle for hopefully a Wild Card spot in the NFC after Manning had another game to forget against Philadelphia’s defense. As if throwing 63 passes wasn’t already frustrating enough, Manning threw three interceptions, including a costly one on the team’s final offensive drive of the game as the Giants were hoping to take the lead.
The good news for New York is overall, this team is still in good shape when it comes to earning a Wild Card spot in the NFC as the defense should still be considered very dangerous heading into the postseason. As history shows, the Giants are always going to be one of those teams that nobody should sleep on at this point in the season as they seem capable of making a run at the Super Bowl.
Dec 25, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) celebrates after scoring a touchdown with Jeremy Maclin (19) during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
6. Kansas City Chiefs (7)
One week after suffering an embarrassing loss at home to the Tennessee Titans in which they basically gave the game away, the Kansas City Chiefs bounced back with a dominating performance against the defending Super Bowl champions. What made this win even more enjoyable is the Chiefs received an early Christmas present when they secured a spot in the postseason thanks to the Baltimore Ravens losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The defense continued to be the strong part of Kansas City against Denver, but one of the main takeaways from this one was much success Andy Reid’s team had on offense. If Alex Smith and the Chiefs could find a way to play at this elite level once the playoffs roll around, they are going to be a very tough team to beat.
Now that a playoff spot in the AFC is officially locked up, the next goal for Kansas City is to hope Denver can knock off the Oakland Raiders so they have a shot at the No. 2 spot. Of course, in order for that to happen, the Chiefs would need to win against the San Diego Chargers as well.
If that’s not enough motivation for Kansas City to earn an extra week of rest in the playoffs, nothing is.
Dec 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is helped off the field during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at the Oakland Coliseum. The Oakland Raiders defeated the Indianapolis Colts 33-25. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
5. Oakland Raiders (5)
Crushing doesn’t even begin to describe heartbreaking loss by the Oakland Raiders after losing Derek Carr for the season after the quarterback suffered a broken fibula during the team’s win against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. For a team that finally clinched a playoff berth for the first time since the 2002 season, and seemed capable of making a deep run in the AFC, the loss of Carr.
The potential is certainly there for Matt McGloin at quarterback when looking at the weapons he has to work with in the passing game, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’s not going to make the same type of impact as Carr. In fact, the argument can be made that Carr deserved to be in consideration for the MVP award for what has been a miraculous third season with the Raiders.
Injuries in sports are never easy to deal with, but it’s even more difficult to deal with when they happen to a strong contender right before the stop of the postseason. At least Oakland has one more game in the regular season for McGloin to get comfortable with running the offense before the playoffs get underway in a few weeks.
Dec 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) changes the play during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 33-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
4. Atlanta Falcons (8)
Congratulations are in order for the Atlanta Falcons after clinching the NFC South following Sunday’s impressive 33-16 win over the Carolina Panthers to avoid another collapse like last year. There were times throughout the regular season when it seemed like the Falcons were going to collapse again, but luckily that won’t be the case as they will get the opportunity to host a home playoff game in a few weeks.
Matt Ryan deserves to be in consideration for MVP as much as the other candidates as the veteran quarterback came up big against the Panthers once again after completing 27 of 33 passes for 277 yards to go along with two touchdowns. What’s even more impressive about Ryan’s play as of late was the fact he had gone the previous two weeks without his top wide receiver in Julio Jones, who caught four passes for 60 yards in his return against Carolina.
Heading into the playoffs, Atlanta has one of the most high-powered offenses that seem capable of taking down any defense that stands in their way. Just look at their resume and some of the teams the Falcons have defeated throughout the regular season as this team seems ready to make a deep run into January.
Dec 25, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) has his fasemask grabbed while he extends the ball across the goal line to score the game winning touchdown against Baltimore Ravens strong safety Eric Weddle (32) in the fourth quarter. The Steelers won 31-27 at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
How crazy has this season been for the Pittsburgh Steelers? At the beginning of the season, the Steelers were expected to set numerous records on offense due to all of the weapons they had from Le’Veon Bell to Antonio Brown.
Nobody could have predicted Pittsburgh would be in this position to clinch the AFC North title after their win against the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas when considering there was a time in the middle of the season when they lost four in a row. Since then, the Steelers have emerged as one of the best teams in football as they head into the final weekend of the regular season winning six in a row.
This was the dominant team everybody expected to see from the Steelers at the beginning of the season as they seem ready to compete with any AFC team standing in their way. Assuming everyone can manage to stay healthy, Pittsburgh could arguably be the one team in the conference that has the best chance of knocking off the New England Patriots.
However, the Steelers realize they need to take things one game at a time, and deal with the possibility of the Patriots when/if the time comes.
Dec 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrates after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
2. Dallas Cowboys (2) (Play Monday Night)
The Dallas Cowboys officially locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC before even playing on Monday night thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles defeating the New York Giants on Thursday night. Now, the debate for the Cowboys becomes what approach to take with their starters over the final two games of the regular season.
As much as Dallas wants to keep their star players to avoid getting rusty in the postseason, this weekend is the perfect example of how quickly a team’s season can change due to injuries. Both the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders suffered devastating injuries at the quarterback position, and this is the last thing the Cowboys would want to see with one of their star rookies.
It truly is a tough position for Dallas since their next meaningful game won’t be until the Division Round of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean this team shouldn’t feel proud for all that’s been accomplished this year. To go from four wins in 2015 to finishing with the best record in the NFC pretty amazing as the Cowboys certainly have the talent to make a Super Bowl run, although the experience factor may be the only thing to worry about with this squad.
Dec 24, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
1. New England Patriots (1)
Even if it wasn’t the best of competition, the one thing to takeaway from Saturday’s game against the New York Jets shows the New England Patriots should be considered the team to beat in the AFC as they look to continue their push for the No. 1 seed. Not only was the defense phenomenal by holding the Jets to scoring just three points, but Tom Brady had little trouble with running the offense as the MVP candidate completed 17 of 27 passes for 214 yards with three touchdowns.
At the beginning of the season, not many people expected the Patriots to be this dominant since Brady was forced to sit the first four games of the regular season due to suspension, but here they are heading into Week 17 as arguably the team to beat in the AFC. Not even the loss of Rob Gronkowski on offense has stopped this team from winning 10 of their last 11 games heading into their regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins.
And as impressive as the offense has been this year thanks to Brady, the one factor to keep an eye on for New England is how the defense has held opponents to 17 points or less in four of their last five games. If they continue to be successful, it’s going to be tough for any opponent in the AFC to stop the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl, especially if the path runs through Foxborough.
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