I’m back! I traveled to California to cover the USA Ultimate College National Championships. It was a really fun weekend and fantastic to see some old friends and teammates I had not seen in years. Unfortunately, I came home with COVID-19 and was in no condition to write last week.
So this is a chance for me to play catch up after the past two weeks of action. A ton has happened. The Lions beat the Cardinals. The Cowboys dropped 56 on Washington. Davis Mills outdueled Justin Herbert as the Texans dealt a major blow to the Chargers’ playoff chances. In short, it was a wild two weeks.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, here is where every team stands.
1. Green Bay Packers: 12-3 (Last Week: 1)
Won 24-22 vs. Cleveland
Green Bay keeps on rolling. The Packers have won four straight. However, the past two have come by a combined three points. They squeaked past an incredibly banged up Baltimore side and then held on against Cleveland despite four interceptions from Baker Mayfield. Forcing the turnovers is a really good sign, but it feels like the Packers should have done better than a two-point win with that level of production from its defense.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-4 (Last Week: 2)
Won 36-10 vs. Pittsburgh
They are back. The Chiefs are cruising, winning eight straight. Five of those past six wins have been by double digits as well. Kansas City is taking care of the football, finding balance between the run and pass and dominating on defense. Only the Chargers have scored more than 14 points against the Chiefs since October. That is outrageous. No one wants to face this team right now, and for good reason. They have found a grove and unearthed more playmakers as the season has rolled on.
3. Los Angeles Rams: 11-4 (Last Week: 3)
Won 30-23 at Minnesota
Do I fully trust this team? Not exactly, but it is hard to argue with an 11-4 record and four straight wins. The point of contention is Matt Stafford’s continued inability to protect the football. He now has 13 interceptions in 15 games, throwing three more against Minnesota on Sunday. Thankfully, Sony Michel had a monster game, racking up 131 yards rushing and a touchdown. A 61-yard punt return also helped bail out Stafford. He will need to avoid turnovers if Los Angeles plans have a long stay in the postseason.
4. Dallas Cowboys: 11-4 (Last Week: 4)
Won 56-14 vs. Washington
Dallas made a statement. After weeks of inconsistent and underwhelming offensive play, the Cowboys exploded for 56 points and nearly 500 yards of offense. It was so lopsided that Cooper Rush got in the game and threw a touchdown pass. Three different linemen scored in this game as well for Dallas. In short, everything was working. If they can carry this momentum into the postseason, the Cowboys are going to be a dangerous team with an opportunistic defense and an uber-talented offense.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 11-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 32-6 at Carolina
Tampa Bay got back on track after laying an egg against the Saints a week ago. Beating the hapless Panthers is nothing all that impressive on its own, but this was a decisive win. The Buccaneers controlled the line of scrimmage, racking up 5.1 yards per carry. On the other side, Carolina managed just 65 yards rushing. The win also officially gave the Buccaneers the NFC South title. Thankfully, it seems like the Saints will not be in the postseason to potentially derail things.
6. Indianapolis Colts: 9-6 (Last Week: 7)
Won 22-16 at Arizona
The Colts’ 1-4 start feels like a lifetime ago. Wins over the Patriots and Cardinals firmly push them into the playoff picture and maybe even the Super Bowl conversation. Jonathan Taylor continues to look nearly unstoppable and the defense is playing at a high level. However, the passing game is still a little bit suspect and now Carson Wentz will miss at least Week 17’s game against the Raiders after landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list as an unvaccinated player. That likely ends Indianapolis’ already slim hopes of winning the AFC South.
7. Arizona Cardinals: 10-5 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 22-16 at Indianapolis
Arizona is fading down the stretch once again. Three straight losses, including a blowout against the Lions, is a huge red flag. Cardinals fans have to be worried about another second-half meltdown. The Cards lost five of their final seven games in 2020 to miss the postseason. This time, they have already secured a spot, but finishing 12-5 will feel very different than 10-7. If Arizona cannot stop the skid, there are going to be a lot of uncomfortable questions asked of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray.
8. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-6 (Last Week: 9)
Won 41-21 vs. Baltimore
In case anyone was wondering, the Bengals are loving their franchise quarterback. Joe Burrow aired it out for 525 yards and four touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins both went over 100 yards receiving, with Higgins coming close to 200. It helped to face a decimated Ravens secondary, but this was one of the most impressive offensive performances of the season. Now, Cincinnati will get a litmus test against Kansas City with a chance to put itself in the contender conversation.
9. Buffalo Bills: 9-6 (Last Week: 10)
Won 33-21 at New England
Buffalo exacted revenge and vaulted atop the AFC East with a convincing victory over New England. There are still clear areas for improvement as the Patriots rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry. Damien Harris was responsible for most of the damage done. As we’ve seen already this year, the Bills cannot stop elite rushing attacks. Jonathan Taylor destroyed them earlier this season. Josh Allen is playing at a high enough level to make up for many of those deficiencies, but it is a lot of pressure to put on him.
10. New England Patriots: 9-6 (Last Week: 8)
Lost 33-21 vs. Buffalo
Not all losses are created equal. This one stings a bit more as it means the Patriots lose their lead in the AFC East. Mac Jones’ shortcomings as a passer were on full display as well. He finished 14-of-32 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Damien Harris put together another Herculean effort, but the damage had been done and the defense could not quiet Josh Allen. New England is a good team, but there are clear weaknesses that teams are more than capable of exploiting.
11. Tennessee Titans: 10-5 (Last Week: 15)
Won 20-17 vs. San Francisco
Mike Vrabel unquestionably deserves to be in the Coach of the Year conversation. Tennessee has reached double-digit victories and is in great position to win the AFC South despite a clear lack of offensive playmakers. With Derrick Henry and Julio Jones sidelined, A.J. Brown stepped up huge on Thursday night and Ryan Tannehill deserves credit for taking care of the football. It doesn’t really make sense how this team keeps on winning, but the Titans won the turnover battle and made a few key plays to edge the 49ers.
12. Baltimore Ravens: 8-7 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 41-21 at Cincinnati
I want to crush the Ravens after another loss and with this injury-riddled roster, but they have shown a lot of fight despite starting their third-string quarterback. If Baltimore can get even a few of those injured players back, and a few off the reserve/COVID-19 list, hopes of reaching the postseason are still alive. Unfortunately, there might not be anything the Ravens can do to bolster their secondary. Surrendering 525 yards to Joe Burrow is an abysmal showing.
13. San Francisco 49ers: 8-7 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 20-17 at Tennessee
San Francisco has spent this entire season stuck in neutral. Jimmy Garoppolo fell well short of expectations again, with two costly interceptions. It turns out he also suffered a broken thumb in the game, which will thrust Trey Lance back into action. Perhaps the rookie can jumpstart this offense, because it is lacking right now. Deebo Samuel has been sensational, but San Francisco needs someone, pretty much anyone else to step up. The playoffs are still within reach, but it is hard to feel good about the 49ers’ chances.
14. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-7 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 41-29 at Houston
Well that was a dud. This is a clear learning experience for this young team. Los Angeles should have rolled over this overmatched Houston squad. Instead, the defense got carved up by a rookie quarterback, run over by a journeyman running back and outworked by a less talented defense. Justin Herbert threw two interceptions in a disappointing performance, but the blame has to lie with the defense for surrendering 41 points. This puts the Chargers’ playoff hopes in serious jeopardy with a pair of divisional games left on the schedule.
15. Miami Dolphins: 8-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 20-3 at New Orleans
Make it seven straight for Miami. It wasn’t the prettiest performance for the Dolphins, with only one offensive touchdown. Thankfully, the defense dominated rookie quarterback Ian Book in his first NFL start. Eight sacks and two interceptions, including a pick six highlighted an impressive showing that took all the pressure off Tua Tagovailoa. The second-year quarterback had an up and down night, but Miami is finding a way to win without Tua needing to carry them.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: 8-7 (Last Week: 18)
Won 34-10 vs. New York
Are the Eagles good? Are any of these 8-7 teams good? Honestly, I have no idea. Philadelphia has won five of its past six games, including that second-half domination against New York. It helped to be playing against the combination of Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm, but you have to perform in those spots. It was something the Eagles didn’t do a month ago against the Giants. Philly suddenly finds itself in the race for the postseason. A win against Washington would put them in a really good spot to earn a spot.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: 8-7 (Last Week: 19)
Won 17-13 vs. Denver
It is amazing that the Raiders are in the playoff conversation. Between Jon Gruden’s “resignation” over racist and misogynistic emails and Henry Ruggs’ fatal DUI crash, Las Vegas has had more distractions this season than most teams do in a decade. The mental toll these events must have had on the players is hard to imagine. And yet, they are grinding out wins to stay in the hunt. It was a huge performance from Josh Jacobs and the defense to lead the way. Denver finished with 18 yards on 16 carries, which is just ridiculous. Jacobs had more than that on a single carry, finishing with 129 yards on 27 attempts. The path to the postseason is still a tough one, but the Raiders refuse to go away.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-7-1 (Last Week: 14)
Lost 36-10 at Kansas City
Mike Tomlin’s streak of never posting a losing season as the head coach of the Steelers is hanging in the balance. We’ve seen Pittsburgh grind out some tough wins, but they have fallen well short against the NFL’s elite teams. Sunday was no exception. Kansas City jumped all over Pittsburgh, taking a 30-0 midway through the third quarter. On the bright side, Najee Harris had one of his most efficient games of the season, picking up 93 yards on the ground on 19 carries. One more win clinches another non-losing season. The Browns and Ravens stand in the way.
19. Cleveland Browns 7-8 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 24-22 at Green Bay
Which side of this loss do you want to focus on? Baker Mayfield threw four interceptions in a crushing performance. He was a bit unlucky to toss a couple of them, but there is no question those mistakes cost Cleveland the game. On the other hand, the Browns only lost this game by two points. They rumbled for 219 yards on 8.8 yards per carry, which is a winning formula for just about every team in the league. If Mayfield can take care of the ball, Cleveland likely wins this game easily.
20. Minnesota Vikings: 7-8 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 30-23 vs. Los Angeles
Minnesota has to be kicking itself for losing this game. Mike Zimmer’s defense came up with three interceptions, but could not capitalize, trailing 13-10 after all three of those turnovers. Surrendering a special teams touchdown and failing to come up with stops the rest of the game sunk the Vikings. Minnesota’s playoff chances are hanging by a thread and Zimmer’s hot seat is only getting warmer.
21. Denver Broncos: 7-8 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 17-13 at Las Vegas
This was a tough blow for the Broncos. Denver had a chance to really assert itself in the playoff race, but fell flat in a must-win in Las Vegas. It was one of the worst rushing performances we’ve seen this season, as the Broncos managed just 18 yards on 16 attempts. That did not set Drew Lock up for success. He did well not to turn the ball over, but he also did not do much to win this game when the opportunities were there. Denver now needs a ton of help to reach the playoffs.
22. New Orleans Saints: 7-8 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 20-3 vs. Miami
Well, the Ian Book era will likely be a short-lived one in New Orleans. In his defense, he was thrown to the wolves. The Saints offensive line struggled all night long against the blitz-happy Dolphins defense. Book took eight sacks and threw a pick-six on his second career pass attempt. It was about as ugly as you can imagine for your first NFL start. The Saints can still make the playoffs, but they are going to need either Taysom Hill or Trevor Seimian under center to have any chance.
23. Atlanta Falcons: 7-8 (Last Week: 24)
Won 20-16 vs. Detroit
Atlanta might be the worst 7-8 team in NFL history. The Falcons have the fifth-worst point differential in the league. They have one win this season over a team with a winning record. That came against the Dolphins in the midst of their early-season free fall. Miami is also 8-7. They were tied with the lowly Lions heading into the fourth quarter. Yes, Detroit has been playing better of late, but that was with Jared Goff at quarterback. Tim Boyle was the starter on Sunday. If the Falcons somehow make the playoffs, Arthur Smith should be a lock for coach of the year.
24. Washington: 6-9 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 56-14 at Dallas
What in the world happened to the Washington defense? This was an elite unit a year ago, carrying a lifeless offense to an NFC East title. Now, they are one of the worst in the NFL. Washington ranks in the bottom five for total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, passing yards per attempt allowed and points allowed per game. Injuries have certainly played a part, but this is a massive step backward. We saw it on full display with the Cowboys dropping 56 points on them, including 42 in the first half. Ron Rivera has a lot of work to do to turn this around.
25. Chicago Bears: 5-10 (Last Week: 29)
Won 25-24 at Seattle
With all the chaos around the NFL, it is nice to see something familiar. Nick Foles frustrated Giants fans everywhere while leading the Bears to an unlikely road win, hurting the value of Chicago’s first-round draft pick, which New York owns in 2022. Foles played well, taking care of the ball and throwing a touchdown pass and the go-ahead two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. For Chicago, it might be a meaningless win, but for Foles, it likely puts him back on the radar as a potential veteran fill-in for teams in need of a quarterback.
26. Carolina Panthers: 5-10 (Last Week: 25)
Lost 32-6 vs. Tampa Bay
Goodness the bottom has fallen out for Carolina. The Panthers are in the midst of their second losing streak of at least four games this season, having lost their fifth in a row on Sunday. It wasn’t even close. Carolina’s offensive line gave up seven sacks and the running backs accounted for just 14 yards. It was Cam Newton who did much of the heavy lifting in the run game. On the flip side, the defense got gashed by KeShawn Vaughn and the Buccaneers run game. Matt Rhule probably deserves another year, but it is getting harder to make that argument following another lopsided loss.
27. Seattle Seahawks: 5-10 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 25-24 vs. Chicago
Two weeks ago, Seattle was talking about running the table and making a playoff push. Instead, the Seahawks lost to the Rams and Bears, increasing speculation that Russell Wilson will force his way out this offseason and that the team could move on Pete Carroll. The loss to Chicago in particular is hard to swallow with the Bears relying on their third-string quarterback. It wasted good performances from Russell Wilson and Rashaad Penny. Seattle might be headed for a major rebuild.
28. Houston Texans: 4-11 (Last Week: 31)
Won 41-29 vs. Los Angeles
The Texans are on a win streak! Houston shocked the Chargers with a huge upset led by rookie quarterback Davis Mills. The former Stanford man outplayed Justin Herbert with an inferior supporting cast, making it clear the Texans might just have a quarterback to build around going forward. On top of his sterling showing, Rex Burkhead turned the clocks back to his Patriots days with a 149-yard, two-touchdown performance. Houston is showing some solid signs of progress, which bodes well for the future under David Culley.
29. New York Jets: 4-11 (Last Week: 30)
Won 26-21 vs. Jacksonville
It almost didn’t happen, but the Jets hung on to win their fourth game of the year. It wasn’t Zach Wilson’s best game as a passer, but he more than made up for it with his legs. He picked up 91 yards rushing, including a 52-yard touchdown scramble. New York’s defense was not perfect, but came up with a clutch stop in the final seconds on the goal line to seal the win. It was a gutsy performance as the Jets were decimated by COVID this week, missing a number of key starters and head coach Robert Saleh. Plus, the Seahawks lost, which is good for the Jets draft pick situation.
30. Detroit Lions: 2-12-1 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 20-16 at Atlanta
Dan Campbell has this team competing with everyone right now. It was not as impressive a performance as a monster win over the Cardinals, but a gritty loss to the Falcons with Tim Boyle at quarterback continues to solidify the locker room’s belief in Campbell. The defense played well, holding the Falcons to 254 yards of offense, but struggled to contain Kyle Pitts. Losing close games is the best case scenario with a chance to secure a great draft pick and build some momentum heading into 2022.
31. New York Giants: 4-11 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 34-10 at Philadelphia
The Giants announced plans to run it back with Joe Judge and Daniel Jones. It is hard to understand why. I get keeping Jones. New York has done a terrible job of protecting him and he has one more season guaranteed on his rookie contract, pending his fifth year option. However, keeping Judge feels like an odd choice. He has not done much to indicate he is the right coach to lead the franchise. Plus, the Giants seem likely to move on from Dave Gettleman. Not allowing the new general manager to pick his own head coach will make the opening less desirable.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-13 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 26-21 at New York
The outlook for the Jaguars has changed quite a bit since the last time I put these power rankings together. Urban Meyer is gone and the team is searching for a replacement coach with interviews set with Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, the one thing that has not changed is the losing streak. Jacksonville lost its seventh straight game and owns a 3-28 record since the start of last season. Trevor Lawrence still has not thrown a touchdown pass since October. Some positive momentum feels much needed before the season ends.
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