2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 12


Another week, another massive shake up. As is the norm in 2021, the top three teams in my power rankings from a week ago all lost. Colt McCoy outplayed Russell Wilson, the Chiefs defense dominated the Cowboys and the Texans upset the Titans. All in a week’s work for the NFL these days.

Once again, the top of these rankings, and the middle of these rankings for that matter, are murky at best. There are 19 teams with three to five losses on the season. That is ridiculous. Parity rules at this point and no one seems poised to dominate.

That being said, we are seeing a few teams heat up again as they prepare for the stretch run. The outlook for the Patriots, Chiefs and Colts feels very different than it did a few weeks ago. Same can be said for the Browns, Raiders and Bills. All in all, the NFL is a mess. Here is my best attempt at sorting it all out.

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1. Arizona Cardinals: 9-2 (Last Week: 4)
Won 23-13 at Seattle
Arizona is 9-2, 6-0 on the road and 4-0 in the NFC West. Considering that we spent the entire offseason talking about how it would be the best division in football. Most importantly, they have won two of three games without Kyler Murray. Colt McCoy put on a show while the Cardinals defense shut down Russell Wilson. I’ve also guaranteed my No. 1 team cannot lose next week because Arizona is on a bye.

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2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-3 (Last Week: 5)
Won 30-10 vs. New York
Tampa Bay bounced back after back-to-back losses heading into their bye week. Tom Brady looked sharp, spreading the ball around to a nearly full complement of receivers. On the defensive side, the front seven bothered Daniel Jones all night long, recording a pair of interceptions in a dominant showing. This is the version of the Buccaneers we need to see going forward. They cannot afford too many more slip ups given how tight things are atop the NFC.

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3. Green Bay Packers: 8-3 (Last Week: 1)
Lost 34-31 at Minnesota
Excuses are much harder to come by this time around. Losing to the Chiefs on the road without Aaron Rodgers could be explained away. And while Rodgers is dealing with a toe injury, he still accounted for 385 yards and four touchdowns through the air. It was Green Bay’s defense that cost them as the secondary could not contain Justin Jefferson. With injuries continuing to pile up for the Packers, it is fair to be a bit worried about how much longer this team can stay in true title contention.

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4. New England Patriots: 7-4 (Last Week: 6)
Won 25-0 at Atlanta
The rest of the NFL should be at least a little bit scared given the recent run of results New England has cobbled together. Bill Belichick and company are winners are five straight and seem to be getting stronger, particularly defensively. It was the Patriots third straight game allowing seven points or fewer. They blanked the Falcons on Thursday night, racking up four sacks and four interceptions while only allowing 2.5 yards per carry. No one wants to face this team right now.

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5. Kansas City Chiefs: 7-4 (Last Week: 9)
Won 19-9 vs. Dallas
Are the Chiefs back to their old ways? It is hard to say. Honestly, this doesn’t feel like the 2020 Chiefs at all. They looked much better. While Patrick Mahomes is not quite back to MVP form, he is now taking care of the football. More importantly, the defense has done a complete 180 from its early-season performances. Chris Jones played a major role on Sunday with 3.5 sacks. Kansas City is unquestionably heating up though and should be a factor in the chase for the AFC’s top spot come playoff time.

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6. Dallas Cowboys: 7-3 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 19-9 at Kansas City
Which Cowboys offense is going to show up on Thanksgiving? Dallas’ offensive production has taken wild swings in recent weeks since Dak Prescott’s return to the starting lineup. The Cowboys laid an egg against the Broncos in Week 9, before shelling the Falcons in Week 10. That pendulum swung all the way back in Week 11 with an underwhelming outing in Kansas City. Held without a touchdown, Dallas could not protect Prescott or run the ball consistently. The Cowboys definitely have some questions to answer on offense.

7. Los Angeles Rams: 7-3 (Last Week: 7)
Bye Week
This bye week finally gives the Rams a chance to process adding Odell Beckham Jr. and losing Robert Woods. They had to rush OBJ’s preparations for their Monday Night Football matchup with the 49ers. A full week off should see this offense look a bit sharper. They will need to be. Los Angeles heads to Green Bay for a clash of top NFC teams. The Packers are coming off a loss and will be looking to rebound. A third straight loss for the Rams, even against a good team, is going to turn up the heat on Sean McVay and Matt Stafford.

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8. Tennessee Titans: 8-3 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 22-13 vs. Houston
Is Tennessee really the second-best team in the league? I asked this question last week and I got a resounding answer in Week 11. The Titans are clearly not the No. 2 team in the league. With A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, Ryan Tannehill imploded. The former Texas A&M quarterback threw four interceptions in an ugly game. Tennessee is still trying to find its identity without Derrick Henry and things will get better with Brown and Jones back on the field. Until then, the Titans need to run the ball more. There is no reason Tannehill should be throwing it 52 times in a game.

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9. Indianapolis Colts: 6-5 (Last Week: 14)
Won 41-15 at Buffalo
Wow. The Colts picking up a road win against a talented Bills team felt unlikely heading into the weekend. Far from impossible, but certainly not expected, evidenced by the Bills being seven-point favorites. I’m sure some felt good about Indy’s chances of scoring the upset, but I don’t think anyone anticipated it going like this. Jonathan Taylor ripped off five touchdowns in an otherworldly performance. That will certainly grab headlines, and rightfully so, but the defense deserves some praise. They forced four turnovers, setting up the offense with a short field on several occasions. A huge showdown with the Buccaneers awaits.

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10. Baltimore Ravens: 7-3 (Last Week: 10)
Won 16-13 at Chicago
Another ugly game for the Ravens, but this one went in their favor. With no Lamar Jackson, who missed out due to illness, Tyler Huntley made his first career start. He played like you would expect, holding the ball too long and trying to make a lot of plays with his legs. Thankfully, the defense stepped up, knocking Justin Fields out of the game and doing just enough to slow down Andy Dalton. This is obviously not how John Harbaugh will want to play consistently, but winning without your starting quarterback is always an accomplishment.

11. Los Angeles Chargers: 6-4 (Last Week: 11)
Won 41-37 vs. Pittsburgh
I wasn’t expecting a shootout, but that’s what we got on Sunday night. Los Angeles’ defense played one of its worst games of the season, blowing a 17-point second-half lead, actually allowing Pittsburgh to take a late lead. Thankfully, Justin Herbert was up to the challenge, amassing 382 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air while picking up another 90 yards rushing. Austin Ekeler did his part too with four scores and 115 yards from scrimmage. The Chargers will be happy to pick up the win and see their offense in top form, but it would be nice to see the defense handle a very one-dimensional offense better.

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12. Buffalo Bills: 6-4 (Last Week: 8)
Lost 41-15 vs. Indianapolis
It might be time to panic in Buffalo. The Bills have now lost two of their past three. That’s not usually a huge concern, but when they come against the Jaguars and by 26 at home to the Colts, that’s a different story. So far this season, Buffalo has only beaten one team with a winning record. A lack of a consistent run game is hurting the offense while the defense this week simply had no answer for Jonathan Taylor. There isn’t much time to figure things out as the Bills face the Saints on Thanksgiving night.

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13. Minnesota Vikings: 5-5 (Last Week: 15)
Won 34-31 vs. Green Bay
The outlook for the Vikings is very different now than it was two weeks ago. Minnesota took down Green Bay behind a big day from Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins. It was a game where the Vikings simply needed to keep scoring as the Packers offense showed no signs of slowing down. Minnesota won because it had the ball last, but after being on the wrong side of so many of these results, it was due for a bit of good luck.

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14. Cincinnati Bengals: 6-4 (Last Week: 17)
Won 32-13 at Las Vegas
Coming off a bye and heading on the road, Cincinnati took care of business. Given the high score, you might think Joe Burrow went off, but it was the ground game that really shined. Joe Mixon had his most rushing yards since Week 1 as the Bengals dominated the time of possession. It also helped that the defense came up with a pair of turnovers. A rematch with the Steelers is next.

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15. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-4-1 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 41-37 at Los Angeles
Ben Roethlisberger turned back the clocks and put together a vintage performance. 273 passing yards and three touchdowns to go with no turnovers kept the Steelers in the game despite an uncharacteristically poor night from their defense. For as good as Roethlisberger played, Justin Herbert was even better. He had 472 yards of offense and three touchdowns. Austin Ekeler accounted for four scores as well. All is not lost for Pittsburgh, but the defense will need to play a lot better against the Bengals.

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16. Cleveland Browns 6-5 (Last Week: 16)
Won 13-7 vs. Detroit
Cleveland looks broken. Baker Mayfield is struggling to play through a litany of injuries and looked awful against the Lions. Unfortunately, the injuries keep building for the Browns, as Jarvis Landry joins the walking wounded. Thankfully, the hapless Lions, led by Tim Boyle with Jared Goff out, did not offer much of a challenge. Other than a 57-yard scamper from D’Andre Swift, Cleveland’s defense played extremely well. There is a chance the Browns can keep winning on the back of Nick Chubb, especially with Kareem Hunt set to play in Week 12, but this team desperately needs a week off. That won’t come until after a meeting with the Ravens.

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17. Philadelphia Eagles: 5-6 (Last Week: 19)
Won 40-29 vs. New Orleans
Quietly, the Eagles are in the mix for a wildcard spot in the NFC. Jalen Hurts is impressing as a run-first quarterback and the defense continues to come up with big plays. Darius Slay celebrated another touchdown, which was a huge momentum shift heading into halftime. Controlling the clock and limiting big plays on defense is a winning formula. An important divisional game against the Giants is on the docket.

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18. New Orleans Saints: 5-5 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 40-29 at Philadelphia
Once again, why is Trevor Siemian starting over Taysom Hill? Hill just signed a big contract extension and Siemian is not playing very well, yet Hill continues to ride the bench. It is truly a baffling situation considering that Hill has spent his whole career in New Orleans while Siemian spent the 2020 season on the Titans practice squad. Two more interceptions from Siemian and another disappointing performance from the Saints defense led to a third straight loss. These are missed opportunities in winnable games for New Orleans.

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19. San Francisco 49ers: 5-5 (Last Week: 20)
Won 30-10 at Jacksonville
This is a very important win for the 49ers. San Francisco was widely expected to win, but just ask Buffalo what happens when you roll into Jacksonville unprepared. Coming off a big win on Monday Night Football against a division rival, this game had the potential for an emotional let down. Instead, Jimmy Garoppolo played efficiently, taking care of the football, while Deebo Samuel starred as a runner. He accounted for 79 of the 49ers’ 171 yards on the ground. They face a red-hot Vikings team in Week 12.

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20. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-5 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 32-13 vs. Cincinnati
Talk about a gut punch. Las Vegas came out flat and never got a chance to get going offensively. The defense could not get off the field either as Cincinnati ran the ball early and often. The 47 plays the Raiders ran offensively were a season-low. Penalties and turnovers were the final nail in Vegas’ coffin. Three straight losses for the Raiders changes the outlook as the focus shifts from winning the AFC West to just trying to stay in the playoff race.

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21. Carolina Panthers: 5-6 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 27-21 vs. Washington
Not quite the homecoming he had hoped for. Ron Rivera and Taylor Heinicke spoiled Cam Newton’s return to Carolina. Newton played well with three total touchdowns, but could not lead a game-winning drive with his team trailing by six. It is the defense that really deserves the scrutiny, surrendering 190 yards on the ground and failing to rattle Heinicke. For a unit that made a big deal out of being the No. 2 defense in the league, this was a disappointing showing. This is a setback, but Carolina will get a chance to bounce back in Miami.

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22. Denver Broncos: 5-5 (Last Week: 22)
Bye Week
Denver had a very busy bye week, signing Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick to contract extensions. It was a wise move by the team as both players have had solid seasons despite inconsistent quarterback play. While that helps them in the long term, the Broncos need a boost in the short term. Their upcoming schedule includes matchups with the Chargers and Chiefs. That could very well decide their season. Being 7-5 and 2-1 in the division is very different from being 5-7 with no divisional wins.

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23. Miami Dolphins: 4-7 (Last Week: 26)
Won 24-17 at New York
Certainly not as impressive a performance as shutting down Lamar Jackson, this was an important win for the Dolphins as they look to continue their mid-season turnaround. Tua Tagovailoa put together a strong stat line, with 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It might have been against the worst pass defense in the league, but it gives the ‘Fins young quarterback a platform to build on. Three straight wins are great, but Miami has a much tougher test against Carolina coming up.

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24. Washington: 4-6 (Last Week: 27)
Won 27-21 at Carolina
Is Washington gearing up to run the table? It seems unlikely, but so did beating the Buccaneers and Panthers in back-to-back weeks. Reinforcements should be on the way too with Logan Thomas in line to return in Week 12. Taylor Heinicke played some of his best football of the season while he got a huge boost from his run game. Washington ran it a whopping 40 times for 190 yards. Given how the Seahawks have been playing of late, a third-straight win feels within reach.

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25. New York Giants: 3-7 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 30-10 at Tampa Bay
There was a brief moment where the Giants seemed like they were going to hang tough with the Buccaneers. Adoree’ Jackson’s interception set New York up inside the 10-yard line. Daniel Jones flipped a pass to Andrew Thomas of all the possible receivers he could have hit. Things went way downhill from there. Despite Jones getting hammered for most of the night, Tampa hit him nine times, Jason Garrett did not run the ball much. 13 rushes as a team is not good enough, especially with the Bucs teeing off in the pass rush. There are a lot of jobs on the line down the stretch in New York.

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26. Atlanta Falcons: 4-6 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 25-0 at New England
Welcome to rock bottom. It is a wonder the Falcons have four wins this season with how inconsistent this offense has been this year. Atlanta has lost three of four, lowlighted by back-to-back losses where it managed three points combined. In truth, pretty much this entire offense is not performing well. Matt Ryan has struggled, but his protection is poor and the surrounding skill position players are underwhelming. New England limited Kyle Pitts and Ryan really had nowhere else to go with the ball. Considering he was playing with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley this time last year, it is easy to point to where things went wrong.

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27. Seattle Seahawks: 3-7 (Last Week: 25)
Lost 23-13 vs. Arizona
We are hurtling toward a massive shake up in Seattle this offseason. Pete Carroll seems to be losing his touch, Russell Wilson is almost definitely going to want out and the defense is simply not championship caliber. Wilson’s return has done next to nothing to move the needle on offense. He is likely not at 100% with his finger, but getting outplayed by Colt McCoy is embarrassing. Keep in mind, this game was in Seattle. The Seahawks’ playoff hopes are on life support. Monday Night Football in Washington feels like a must-win.

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28. Chicago Bears: 3-7 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 16-13 vs. Baltimore
It is easy to point to losing Justin Fields as the reason the Bears lost, but in truth, the offense fared better with Andy Dalton under center. There were no excuses either with Baltimore in a similar boat as Tyler Huntley made his first career start. In the end, Chicago’s anemic offense is to blame. Matt Nagy’s job security has to be at an all-time low.

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29. Houston Texans: 2-7 (Last Week: 31)
Won 22-13 at Tennessee
Tyrod Taylor does it again! The Texans quarterback looked much better in his second week back from injury. Two rushing touchdowns led the way for the offense that did not really produce much else. Thankfully, they didn’t need to. Houston’s defense was on another level, picking off Ryan Tannehill four times and adding a fumble for five forced turnovers on the afternoon. Obviously, that is an unsustainable rate, but ball security and opportunistic defense is always a recipe for success.

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30. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-8 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 30-10 vs. San Francisco
Losing this year is not really a concern for the Jaguars. They are supposed to be bad with a rookie quarterback and a first-time NFL head coach. However, there are a few red flags. This was Trevor Lawrence’s third game in a row without a touchdown. His development is the only benchmark for success that this season should be measured by. He hasn’t had much help either with a defense lacking playmakers outside of Josh Allen and a run game that sputtered to 54 yards on the ground. Every team has growing pains, but it would be nice to see growth instead of just pain.

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31. New York Jets: 2-8 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 24-17 vs. Miami
I guess this was an improved performance. The defense is still not playing well, but 24 points is the fewest New York has allowed since Week 1. There are a few reasons for optimism though. Elijah Moore continues to ball out, totaling 156 yards of offense and a long touchdown to get the Jets back into the game. Despite the injury, Michael Carter also seems like a dynamic dual threat back. New York should get Mekhi Becton and Zach Wilson back soon as well. It will be interesting to see if the young talent on this offense can grow together over the final seven games.

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32. Detroit Lions: 0-9-1 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 13-7 at Cleveland
Good news. Jared Goff is not as bad as you thought! Tim Boyle is significantly worse. Without D’Andre Swift, this would’ve been one of the worst offensive performances in recent memory. On the bright side, the defense played fairly well, limiting the Browns to just two scoring drives. Just keep scouting the top players in the 2022 draft and have fun rooting for the Rams to fail so you get a better draft pick.

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