Just when we started to feel like we knew what was going on in the NFL, the league threw us a massive curveball in Week 14. We thought the Texans had joined the contenders list in the AFC after beating the Patriots, only to turn up lifeless at home against the Broncos. The Chargers had played close games all year, so naturally they blew out the Jaguars by 35. With the 49ers beating the Saints, the door was open for the Seahawks to seize control of the NFC playoff picture. Seattle ended up being soundly beaten by the rival Rams.
Even Eli Manning added to the fun with a return as the starting quarterback for the Giants. We are also seeing trends we are not used to seeing in the NFL. The Patriots have lost back to back games. Aaron Rodgers had another off week as Green Bay narrowly escaped a scrappy Washington team. The Steelers continue to win despite missing just about every meaningful skill position player. Football is an unpredictable sport, and there are sure to be a few more wrinkles before the playoffs get underway.
1. Baltimore Ravens: 11-2 (Last Week: 1)
Won 24-17 at Buffalo
Baltimore is now going toe-to-toe with the best the NFL has to offer. During this nine-game win streak, the Ravens have beaten the Steelers, Seahawks, Patriots, Texans, Rams, 49ers and now Bills. Lamar Jackson did not have his best game, but still threw three touchdown passes. Baltimore’s defense is playing at an elite level, holding Josh Allen to 3.7 yards per attempt. That was in addition to racking up six sacks. Until someone can stop these runaway Ravens, they will be glued to the top spot of these rankings.
2. San Francisco 49ers: 11-2 (Last Week: 4)
Won 48-46 at New Orleans
I will admit that I was skeptical of this 49ers team despite all the wins. I knew the defense was really good, but could they find a way to win if they had to rely on the offense? Clearly, the answer is yes. This was a respectable Saints defense that Jimmy Garoppolo had a lot of success against. He spread the ball around and showed he has developed a connection with Emmanuel Sanders. San Francisco is going to be tough to stop given their ability to adjust from week to week. However, the defense mysteriously disappeared. Drew Brees had five touchdown passes and the 49ers had no sacks in the contest.
3. New Orleans Saints: 10-3 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 48-46 vs. San Francisco
This a bitter pill to swallow for the Saints. Heading into the game, the focus was on how well New Orleans’ offense would fare against a dominant San Francisco defense. Clearly, the Saints forget to prep their own defense for the challenge. Any time you give up 48 points, a lot of things went wrong. New Orleans gave up huge chunk plays and had no way to slow down the running game, as the 49ers gained 6.8 yards per carry. All of this boils down to the Saints giving up the top seed in the NFC.
4. Seattle Seahawks: 10-3 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 28-12 at Los Angeles
Maybe I am making too much out of one game, but this was a troubling loss for the Seahawks. The Rams have their number. Los Angeles was just a missed field goal away from knocking off Seattle earlier this year. This time around, the Rams rolled to a convincing win. The Seahawks could not get into the end zone on offense, with their lone trip coming on a pick-six. Again, it was just one game, but this is a bad sign for Seattle come the postseason, where one bad game will end your year.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-4 (Last Week: 6)
Won 23-16 at New England
Kansas City finally won in Foxborough. It wasn’t always pretty, but there is a lot to like about this performance. Patrick Mahomes did not play his best. However, he made enough plays in the first half for the defense to close things out. It was a rough night running the ball as well, making this defensive showing even more impressive. The Chiefs appear to be back on track after some midseason struggles. Assuming Mahomes can get back to full strength, this team will be poised for a deep playoff run.
6. New England Patriots: 10-3 (Last Week: 5)
Lost 23-16 vs. Kansas City
Simply stated, New England was outplayed. There is no question the Patriots ended up on the wrong side of a couple of bad calls on Sunday. However, that does make up for what was another poor outing for the offense. Jakobi Meyers dropped passes, Tom Brady missed throws and Sony Michel managed eight yards on five carries. New England has now lost against the other three teams currently leading their divisions in the AFC. Between injuries and declining play, this team is at risk of missing out on a first-round bye in the playoffs.
7. Green Bay Packers: 10-3 (Last Week: 7)
Won 20-15 vs. Washington
It was another questionable outing by the Packers, failing to put away a team it should have battered. Green Bay got off to a hot start, but that quickly fizzled into a slugfest. The passing game continues to underwhelm, as Aaron Rodgers finished under 200 yards passing again. Aaron Jones made up for a lot of that with 134 yards and a touchdown. At some point though, it would be good to see the Packers get back to beating up on teams lower down in the standings, especially starting rookie quarterbacks. Green Bay finishes with three straight divisional games, so the margin for error is going to disappear quickly.
8. Minnesota Vikings: 9-4 (Last Week: 9)
Won 20-7 vs. Detroit
Minnesota rode its defense to a comfortable victory over Detroit. It wasn’t flashy, but there was never a point where this game felt in doubt. Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook did enough to lead the offense, but it would be good to see them pick up the pace a bit. This Lions defense had been one of the worst in the league entering the weekend, so 20 points is far from impressive. With the Vikings still trailing the Packers by a game in the NFC, Mike Zimmer needs to get this group to click in the final few weeks of the season.
9. Los Angeles Rams: 8-5 (Last Week: 12)
Won 28-12 vs. Seattle
For the first time since the Super Bowl, the Rams looked a lot like the team who won the NFC last year. Los Angeles ran the ball 35 times and set up Jared Goff to be comfortable. The heavy run focus allowed Goff to utilize play action against a Seahawks defense that already struggles to rush the passer. Give the defense a lot of credit as well for shutting down Russell Wilson. Seattle failed to reach the end zone on offense, which is a testament to how well Los Angeles played on Sunday night. Suddenly, the Rams are back in playoff contention.
10. Tennessee Titans: 8-5 (Last Week: 11)
Won 42-21 at Oakland
Ryan Tannehill has to win some kind of award for his performance this season. He has led an explosive offense in the second half of the year, highlighted by throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders. With the Texans losing to the Broncos, the possibility for a division title is more real than ever. However, the Titans will get tested in these final three games. Two games with Houston sandwich a visit from New Orleans. Time to see if Tannehill can continue to shine with the pressure on.
11. Houston Texans: 8-5 (Last Week: 8)
Lost 38-24 vs. Denver
In terms of shocking results, this one takes the cake for Week 14. Hosting a Broncos team that has struggled all year featuring a rookie quarterback making his second career start, this should have been a comfortable victory. The Texans beat the Patriots a week ago after all. Instead, the defense made Drew Lock look like a Hall of Famer. Deshaun Watson accounted for three total scores, but he also threw a pair of interceptions. This game was 38-3 before Denver just hit cruise control the rest of the way. This was a colossal failure by Houston, as it lost ground in the AFC and the division.
12. Buffalo Bills: 9-4 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 24-17 vs. Baltimore
A rough day from the Buffalo offense cost it a chance to knock off the kings of the NFL. Josh Allen was ineffective against a talented Ravens defense. On the flip side, the Bills actually did a pretty good job of containing Lamar Jackson. With three games left, Buffalo only trails New England by one game in the division and heads to Foxborough in Week 16 for an AFC East showdown.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-5 (Last Week: 13)
Won 23-17 at Arizona
Pittsburgh held on for another road win with a limited offensive lineup. That is most because defensively the Steelers are playing about as well as anyone else in the league. With five sacks, three interceptions and a punt return touchdown, Pittsburgh made up for a banged up offense. Joe Haden came up with a game-sealing interception for the second week in a row. The race for the final playoff spot is going to be tight between the Steelers and Titans.
14. Chicago Bears: 7-6 (Last Week 15)
Won 31-24 vs. Dallas
Has Mitchel Trubisky finally broken out of his funk? I think its too early to tell, but his play of late has kept the Bears’ playoff hopes alive. He tore apart a woeful Dallas defense. Chicago’s run defense did just enough to limit Ezekiel Elliott, despite giving up two touchdowns on the ground. There is still a long way to go if the Bears are truly going to reach the postseason, but they are not mathematically eliminated yet.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-7 (Last Week: 18)
Won 38-35 vs. Indianapolis
Jameis Winston has become the league’s ultimate gunslinger. He racked up 456 yards passing and four touchdowns against the Colts. Winston also tossed three interceptions, including a pick-six. Still, he lead Tampa Bay to 17 unanswered points to close the game. One of the most interesting questions to be answered this offseason will be what the Buccaneers decide to at quarterback, because the former Florida State star is quite the conundrum.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 23-17 (OT) vs. New York
That was ugly in every sense of the word. The Eagles slept walked through the first three quarters of this game. Philly is about as banged up as any team in football. Greg Ward was the team’s most productive wideout. If it wasn’t for Zach Ertz and Boston Scott, the Eagles would never have been able to make this comeback. This concerning win brings Philadelphia level with Dallas in the division though, meaning the season is far from over. While the Eagles have looked really rough this year, if they can get healthy in time, they might just surprise some people.
17. Cleveland Browns: 6-7 (Last Week: 19)
Won 27-19 vs. Cincinnati
Cleveland avoided the embarrassment of losing to Cincinnati and kept its slim playoff chances afloat. Baker Mayfield had a terrible outing, completing under 50 percent of his passes. He added two interceptions to the mix as well. Thankfully the running game and defense bailed him out. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both punched in a score, while Denzel Ward took one of Andy Dalton’s passes to the house. The Browns are not playing great football, but this was a solid win.
18. Dallas Cowboys: 6-7 (Last Week: 14)
Lost 31-24 at Chicago
The sky is falling in Dallas as the Cowboys fall below .500. America’s team has been a mess in recent weeks, especially defensively. Mitchell Trubisky looked like one of the league’s best passers facing that Dallas secondary. On the flip side, Dak Prescott is moving the ball down the field, but too many drives have come up empty. A late surge made the scoreline look respectable, but this was another beatdown for a team lacking an identity. Despite all the well-documented problems, the Cowboys are still in control of the NFC East.
19. Indianapolis Colts: 6-7 (Last Week: 17)
Lost 38-35 at Tampa Bay
I still don’t know the Colts lost this game. Jameis Winston threw three interceptions, including one that was returned by Darius Leonard for a touchdown. Tampa Bay had no real success running the ball either, yet Indianapolis continued to get burned by Winston through the air, squandering a 14-point second half lead. The path to the playoffs is a lot tougher now as Indy trails Houston and Tennessee by two games. This defense needs to step it up down the stretch if the Colts are going to catch either of them.
20. Denver Broncos: 5-8 (Last Week: 21)
Won 38-24 at Houston
The Drew Lock era picked up a monumental win over the Texans. The Broncos had easily their best offensive game of the year in a thrashing. Lock looked great, as did fellow rookie Noah Fant. Defensively, Denver took its foot off the gas after building a 35-point lead, but this was a real showcase of how good the unit can be. This final stretch could go a long way in building a bright future for the Broncos.
21. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-8 (Last Week: 23)
Won 45-10 at Jacksonville
Finally, the Chargers featured in a lopsided game. Los Angeles blew the doors off an overmatched Jacksonville squad. Austin Ekeler accounted for over 100 yards rushing and over 100 yards receiving. The contest got so out of hand that Tyrod Taylor made an appearance and threw a touchdown pass. This is the type of showing the Chargers have been waiting for all year long. It is likely too little too late, but it certainly gives them something to build on.
22. Atlanta Falcons: 4-9 (Last Week: 24)
Won 40-20 vs. Carolina
Once again, Atlanta dominated Carolina. Matt Ryan carved up the Panthers secondary, while Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill turned in solid performances on the ground. With four forced turnovers, this was a complete showing. The struggles for the Falcons this year have been around keeping everyone healthy, evidenced by the latest news that Calvin Ridley is done for the rest of the season. There is talent on this roster, Atlanta just can’t seem to get everyone on the field together.
23. Oakland Raiders: 6-7 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 42-21 vs. Tennessee
Things have gone sideways in Oakland. After a 6-4 start, the Raiders have lost three straight in incredible fashion. The latest one secured the AFC West for Kansas City. The offense played reasonably well in Josh Jacob’s absence, but the defense has fallen off a cliff. Ryan Tannehill shredded the secondary and Derrick Henry ran all over the front seven. Tennessee is certainly headed in the right direction, but Oakland offered little resistance.
24. Carolina Panthers: 5-8 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 40-20 at Atlanta
It was another uninspiring day for the Panthers defense. Turns out that firing Ron Rivera did nothing to solve the problems currently facing this team. It is clear Carolina needs Cam Newton back and desperately needs to find some more talent to add to the secondary. Getting blown out by a combined total of 46 points by Atlanta is just a sign of how far this team needs to go in order to get back on track.
25. Arizona Cardinals: 3-9-1 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 23-17 vs. Pittsburgh
It was a bit of a bounce back for the Cardinals despite the final result. However, the same issues cropped up once again. Kyler Murray took five sacks and tossed three interceptions. Defensively, Arizona played one of its better games of the year, but it was against a decimated Pittsburgh offense. In the end, the errors and inexperience proved to be too much as the Cardinals dropped their sixth straight contest.
26. Washington: 3-10 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 20-15 at Green Bay
It was ultimately a loss, but honestly this was closer than Washington ever should have been with Green Bay. There are some brutal stats in this game for Dwayne Haskins and company. Aaron Jones outrushed the entire Washington team and the offense as a whole barely managed over 250 yards. Defensively, Bill Callahan has this team playing the best it has all season. Four sacks coupled with holding Aaron Rodgers under 200 yards passing, Washington has plenty to hang its hat on. Now if only Haskins would start to show signs that he is taking the next step.
27. New York Jets: 5-8 (Last Week: 30)
Won 22-21 vs. Miami
This team is unbelievably banged up. With Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Adams, most of the offensive line and a good chunk of the defense unavailable, this was a gutty performance. On one hand, New York held Miami out of the end zone, giving up seven field goals. On the other, Sam Darnold had an uneven performance, but it ultimately ended in a win. The Jets still have plenty of holes on the roster, but they are starting to identify a decent base to rely on going forward.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-9 (Last Week: 25)
Lost 45-10 vs. Los Angeles
Turning the offense back over to Gardner Minshew did not provide much of a spark. The Jaguars got steamrolled at home in an embarrassing meeting with the Chargers. Jacksonville has to do a better job establishing the run and figure out what happened to its once-dominant defense. With five straight losses and a mess of problems, it would not be a surprise to see the team move on from coach Doug Marrone at the end of the year.
29. Miami Dolphins: 3-10 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 22-21 at New York
At least Miami knows it has a good kicker. Otherwise, this was a disappointing follow up to knocking off the Eagles the week prior. Ryan Fitzpatrick did his best to power a lackluster offense, leading the team in rushing. It was also a bit ridiculous to not see more of DeVante Parker against a banged up Jets secondary. No one expected the Dolphins to be competitive this season, but now that they have shown the capability, it is tough to stay positive when they drop games like this.
30. Detroit Lions: 3-9-1 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 20-7 at Minnesota
If there is any team wishing for the season to end right now, it is the Lions. With Matt Stafford and Jeff Driskel hurt, David Blough has been thrust into action. He proved to be outmatched by a good Vikings front seven on Sunday, taking five sacks, including three at the hands of Danielle Hunter. It is hard to judge this team right now given the lack of talent it has to work with, but that doesn’t make the slow crawl to the end of the year any less painful.
31. New York Giants: 2-11 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 23-17 (OT) at Philadelphia
For one half, it looked like Eli Manning was going to channel some of that mind-boggling magic as he has done so often throughout his career. Instead, the offense flopped in the second half and the defense could not hold on to see the game out. There were some positive signs as Darius Slayton continues to look like a diamond in the rough, but the secondary is still a joke and Saquon Barkley still has not been able to get back into the same groove he was in a year ago. Given how far this young team feels from competing right now, the result is probably a good thing. Chase Young is well within reach.
32. Cincinnati Bengals: 1-12 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 27-19 at Cleveland
Cincinnati could not find a way to string together wins, but played tough in the loss. Andy Dalton is clearly not the future at quarterback, but his play relative to Ryan Finley indicates Finley isn’t the future either. This team seems like a lock for a top-two pick, meaning they should have their preference of the current college quarterbacks. There is a very good chance we will see Joe Burrow suiting up for the Bengals in the not-too-distant future.