NFL Power Rankings: Packers, Eagles, Bears tumble down after losses
Slowly, it's all becoming clear.
The top 11 teams in this week's Power Rankings all would have playoff spots if the season ended today, and the argument for any other team being more deserving than those 11 is dwindling. (The 12th postseason spot belongs to the NFC South champion, whoever that may be.)
Some shuffling still could occur -- Kansas City could make a move by winning in Pittsburgh this week; Philadelphia is far from out in the NFC -- but as is usually the case, the also-rans are fading.
This week's Power Rankings:
New England, meanwhile, has lost a total 27 games ... in the past eight seasons. A decade-long Super Bowl drought has to be frustrating in Foxborough, but it shouldn't cloud the fact that this is one of the greatest regular-season dynasties the NFL has ever seen.
Surprised by the number of folks chalking up Seattle's recent defensive uprising as simply being the product of playing against, in order, Drew Stanton, a struggling Colin Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez and Kaepernick again. That's like pointing out an editing mistake in Die Hard. It might be right, but that movie is still straight awesome.
Is there cause for concern? Sure. Peyton Manning hasn't slumped this badly since midway through the 2010 season, when he threw 11 interceptions during an 0-3 stretch with the Colts. And he then missed '11 with a neck injury.
The butterfly effect of Sunday's loss in Buffalo could sneak up on Green Bay later. With it, the Packers slipped from the brink of being the NFC's No. 1 overall seed to possibly needing a 2-0 finish just to reach the postseason. This is still a dangerous, explosive team, but it may already have doomed itself to a road playoff game. Green Bay is 3-4 away from Lambeau this year and 11-12 since 2012.
Jason Witten needs 11 catches and 190 yards over Dallas' last two games to avoid his worst statistical season in a decade -- he caught 35 passes for 347 yards as a rookie in 2003. Don't mistake the production drop for a decrease in impact, though. When Tony Romo and the Cowboys need a play, Witten is one of the top options. His seven receptions, highlighted by three early third-down conversions set the tone against Philadelphia.
Justin Tucker ruined Detroit's playoff chase last season by nailing a game-winning 61-yard field goal in Ford Field. So you are forgiven, Lions fan, if your heart was in your throat when Minnesota's Blair Walsh lined up for a 68-yard attempt late Sunday. He missed, moving Detroit to the brink of a postseason berth.
In case the 9-4-1, AFC North-leading Bengals want to play the disrespect card this week, well here ya go: The Bovada Sportsbook lists Cincinnati at 40/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, the 13th-lowest in the NFL. Twelve teams make the playoffs.
The last time Ryan Lindley fired a touchdown pass he was playing Louisiana-Lafayette in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl, so ... scoring might be a bit of a problem here. Arizona has to rely on its other options: a playmaking defense, a solid run game and, if someone's available, possibly a little witchcraft.
Baltimore sacked Blake Bortles eight times. That level of effort has become both the norm up front and a necessity because of how thin this team is at cornerback.
A bunch of scenarios remain on the table in the AFC North. It all starts here: If the Steelers win their final two games, at home against Kansas City and Cincinnati, they claim the division. Not bad for a team that lost to the Jets and Bucs.
Chip Kelly's team enjoys less time of possession than any team in the league. ("Hey, TV viewer, here's a clock that times how long it takes them to snap it! Look at how fast they go!!") Even so, the past two weeks have been awful. Philadelphia had the ball for just 18:04 in a loss to Seattle and 18:05 on Sunday versus Dallas.
Considering the last time a Chiefs' receiver caught a touchdown pass was about when that "great googly moogly" commercial started airing, this actually can be a very deep and diverse offense. To wit: 10 different players caught passes in Sunday's win and De'Anthony Thomas chipped in an 81-yard punt return touchdown.
Ultimately, Doug Whaley's tenure as the Buffalo GM may be judged on how bright Sammy Watkins' star shines. But the Watkins-vs.-Odell Beckham Jr. discussions should not overshadow the work Whaley has done elsewhere, specifically on defense where he's added a collection of gems (Corey Graham, Jerry Hughes, Preston Brown) to the talent already in place.
Add Keenan Allen to the Chargers' injury report, the longest list this side of Santa's. This team keeps fighting but it looks like the effort will be for naught. Sunday's loss to Denver dropped the Chargers to 0-2 in their make-or-break four-game stretch to close the year.
Joe Philbin Watch is on in earnest. Will the Dolphins bring him back after a third straight season without a playoff berth, assuming that's how this story ends? Sunday's loss in New England -- far more so than Miami's Week 1 win over the Patriots -- was a brutal reminder of where this team sits in the AFC East pecking order.
The Texans' 2014 offensive highlight reel is going to look like one of those "In Memoriam" clips from an awards show. They'll be on quarterback No. 4 this week against Baltimore, either Thad Lewis or (previous odd man out) Case Keenum. Quarterback always looked like it might be this team's undoing, but not like this. Not like this.
We haven't talked about Aaron Donald much in the Power Rankings this year, so here's a moment of appreciation. He has recorded sacks in five straight games now, and he has been even more disruptive against the run. There's a good chance that this is your Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Close your eyes and try to get some sleep, dear 49ers. This will all be over soon. A tumultuous season has drifted beyond the point of return, meaning San Francisco will play out the string and prep for significant changes. The moves may start with Jim Harbaugh, but Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Michael Crabtree lead a familiar list of players who could follow him out the door.
We now can say the Saints are the NFC South favorites ... with as much confidence as you might decide that "It's probably fine" when you eat something past its expiration date. Of course, to close out the division, New Orleans has to snap a four-game, two-month losing streak at home by beating Atlanta this week.
The Panthers' defense has forced five turnovers over the past two weeks -- both wins -- after producing five turnovers from Oct. 19 through Nov. 30. Playing back-to-back games within the division might have helped.
Eli Manning is not going to hit that 70-percent goal with his completion rate. But at 63.2 (thanks in large part to Odell Beckham Jr.), Manning actually is carrying a career-high in that category, up nearly six points from the 57.5 clip he was at last season. That all will mean little to Manning when his season ends in two weeks.
The Falcons holding their lead in the NFC South was contingent on them beating someone outside the division. So much for that. With Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh, the Falcons are now 1-9 against non-NFC South foes. And yet, if they finish 6-0 in intra-division contests by sweeping New Orleans and Carolina the next two weeks, the crown is theirs.
Rex Ryan's team is still playing hard. Hey, that may not sound like much. For a three-win team out of the playoff picture for months and especially for a coach who likely will need a new job soon, however, it's something. That said, Ryan's reaction had the Titans actually completed Music City Miracle II might have produced the GIF of the millennium.
As desperate as the Raiders were to find a potential franchise quarterback before Derek Carr arrived is how badly the franchise should be seeking out a No. 1 wide receiver this offseason. Oakland has attempted more passes than all but two teams this season, yet ranks 24th in yards through the air. Some of that is on Carr's development; a lot of it is because he has limited weapons helping him.
"We have a lot of great pieces in place," Gerald McCoy told ESPN.com after leaving Sunday's loss with a knee injury. "We’ve made a lot of great strides. But, in order to make all that happen, I have to get healthy." A healthy McCoy, yes, that's an obvious need. Not losing to Derek Anderson all the time also would be great.
The Jaguars have been outscored 1,269-713 over the past three seasons -- that's an average of 27.6-15.5 per game. The offense is young, with a rookie quarterback running the show, so 2014 was going to be rocky. For this team to get back to respectability, though, the offense must at least reach mediocrity.
Against the Saints on Monday night, Chicago played with all the energy of a kid forced to do the dishes after dinner. Marc Trestman's job appeared somewhat safe a few weeks ago. Now, it would be surprising if the Bears kept him.
Locker will find work elsewhere, at least as a backup. A fresh start is needed for all parties.
The entire offseason outlook for this franchise more or less hinges on how Robert Griffin III plays in Weeks 16 and 17. If he shows signs of putting it all together, as he did briefly in Week 15, it would be far easier to envision a Griffin-Jay Gruden pairing lasting into 2015. If he tanks (again) and Gruden makes another switch at quarterback, Washington may have no choice but to split the duo up, one way or another.