Week 15 NFL Power Rankings: Injuries, upsets shake up AFC’s best

2:04 | NFL
SI's NFL Power Rankings: Week 15
Wednesday December 16th, 2015

The latest Power Rankings update is a reminder that this exercise is not meant to regurgitate the standings, nor to predict future victories, but rather to figure out how teams stack up in the present.

That’s how a team currently outside the AFC playoff bracket lands in the top five, and how a six-win team resides in the basement.

Three weeks of the regular season remain to sort everything out before the playoffs begin. For now, this is how it is:

  • 1
    1Carolina Panthers
    last week: 1
    record: 13–0
    The Panthers last week became the ninth team in NFL history to reach 13–0, though their latest win came with injury-filled caution flags. Cam Newton briefly left the game banged-up, then Greg Olsen narrowly dodged a serious knee injury. Jonathan Stewart sprained his foot and Bene Benwikere broke his leg. Perfection is within reach, but Panthers fans will be crossing their fingers.

  • 2
    2Arizona Cardinals
    last week: 4
    record: 11–2
    Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t really like to talk about his blocking prowess, but when the time comes to debate his Hall of Fame case years from now, he will enjoy having the extra ammo. Fitzgerald showed off that aspect of his game again Thursday, throwing a pancake block downfield to spring Michael Floyd for a 42-yard TD.

  • 3
    3New England Patriots
    last week: 5
    record: 11–2
    Tucked away in the storage area of my basement are a bunch of random containers filled with sports cards (mostly baseball) that I’ve collected through the years. I imagine Bill Belichick’s personal stockpile is similar, only instead of memorabilia he has defensive backs tucked away for when he needs them. “Hey, Bill, where are the Christmas lights?” “They're downstairs, behind Leonard Johnson.”

  • 4
    4Seattle Seahawks
    last week: 6
    record: 8–5
    Russell Wilson needs two touchdown passes Sunday to reach 100 for his career. Should he do so, he would reach the milestone in his 62nd career game. Just a handful of QBs in league history have hit the century mark faster (Dan Marino holds the record at 44 games), most recently Andrew Luck (55 games) earlier this year. Are we still debating whether Wilson is a good passing quarterback?

  • 5
    Pittsburgh Steelers
    last week: 8
    record: 8–5
    After rolling past the Bengals, Pittsburgh now has scored 30-plus points in five straight games for the first time in its franchise history. It did so this past week without Ben Roethlisberger even throwing a touchdown pass, so who knows what the ceiling might be.

  • 6
    6Denver Broncos
    last week: 3
    record: 10-3
    All it took was one home meltdown against the Raiders to shift Denver’s conversation from “Hey, maybe Brock Osweiler can take us all the way” to “Has medical science advanced enough to create a healthy clone version of Peyton Manning?”

  • 7
    7Kansas City Chiefs
    last week: 7
    record: 8–5
    Hey, they’re not all going to be Monets. You have to win ugly sometimes, and Sunday’s 10–3 slopfest against the Chargers was about as unappealing as it gets. But the Chiefs’ slow start left them no wiggle room down the stretch, so getting the result is all that matters now.

  • 8
    8Cincinnati Bengals
    last week: 2
    record: 10–3
    Breaking the thumb on your throwing hand while diving to tackle a defensive lineman who has just intercepted your screen pass is high up the nightmare scenarios list for a QB. Whether or not Cincinnati spirals, too, depends on how A.J. McCarron plays ... and how his teammates respond to the unexpected change.

  • 9
    9New York Jets
    last week: 11
    record: 8–5
    Bilal Powell, a 2011 draft pick, had zero career receiving touchdowns until Week 13 of this season. He’s now found the end zone in two straight games off passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick. His uptick in production is a huge development for the Jets’ offense.

  • 10
    10Green Bay Packers
    last week: 10
    record: 9–4
    Every game with Eddie Lacy is like that first ride after taking the training wheels off a kid’s bike—give him a push and hope it works out. The difference in Green Bay’s offense is obvious when Lacy is on his game. That he and James Starks combined for their most productive game of the year in Mike McCarthy’s return to play-calling may not be a coincidence.

  • 11
    11Minnesota Vikings
    last week: 12
    record: 8–5
    Up one spot after a tough loss in Arizona, which could have been a win had the Vikings even pretended that there was a clock ticking down toward zero before their last play. Of the five likely playoff teams they’ve faced so far, the Vikings have lost to four.

  • 12
    12Oakland Raiders
    last week: 18
    record: 6–7
    It’s a classic movie gag. One character yells to another to hurry up, for some reason or another. Before he’s done that second character is standing alongside him, and says something like, “You don’t have to yell.” That was Brock Osweiler’s day trying to run plays against Khalil Mack. “Ready! Set! Omaha! Omaha! Hut! ... Wait, Khalil, what are you doing here...”

  • 13
    13Washington Redskins
    last week: 17
    record: 6–7
    Simply by finally winning a road game, Washington threw another wrench into the NFC East race. Considering the Giants’ schedule, taking the next two (Buffalo, at Philadelphia) might be enough for Washington to clinch the division. But the Redskins haven’t won three straight since RG3’s magic struck late in 2012.

  • 14
    14Philadelphia Eagles
    last week: 19
    record: 6–7
    Fletcher Cox, he ate my lunch today,” Buffalo lineman Richie Incognito said after Cox’s dominant showing Sunday. No kidding. Cox notched eight tackles and a sack to repeatedly disrupt anything the Bills wanted to do on offense. He has been a standout all season, despite limited defensive talent around him.

  • 15
    15Buffalo Bills
    last week: 9
    record: 6–7
    Over their past two road trips, the Bills have been whistled for 24 penalties (15 at Philadelphia). Rex Ryan and his coaching staff were upset with the officials Sunday, as one might expect, but that’s still a complete breakdown in discipline.

  • 16
    16Houston Texans
    last week: 15
    record: 6–7
    With Brian Hoyer doubtful for Week 15, the Texans’ AFC South hopes figure to rest on T.J. Yates, a recurring guest star in this franchise’s history. Think of him as Henry Winkler’s Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development—he’s usually not there, but it tends to be important when he is.

  • 17
    17New York Giants
    last week: 23
    record: 6–7
    Just one player in league history, Bob Groman (27), caught more touchdown passes over his first 25 games than Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham reeled in touchdowns No. 23 and 24 in Monday night’s win. Groman finished his career with just 36 touchdowns. Beckham’s bar is set exponentially higher.

  • 18
    18Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    last week: 13
    record: 6–7
    The Bucs’ surprising playoff hopes are all but gone after their offense sputtered Sunday, against New Orleans of all teams. Scoring just 17 points against that Saints defense deserves the ol’ Ron Burgundy line: “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.”

  • 19
    19New Orleans Saints
    last week: 24
    record: 5–8
    Tim Hightower had not played in an NFL game since 2011, then stepped in Sunday and ran for 85 yards and a touchdown. Absolutely terrific story considering Hightower’s perseverance coming back from a knee injury. But, jeez, C.J. Spiller? This was the most resounding indictment yet of his role in this offense.

  • 20
    20Indianapolis Colts
    last week: 14
    record: 6–7
    A 35-point loss in Pittsburgh, OK, sure. A 35-point loss in Jacksonville? Well, this might be a problem. There are college basketball teams that have gone two games this season without giving up 96 combined points, as the Colts did in Weeks 13 and 14.

  • 21
    21Chicago Bears
    last week: 16
    record: 5–8
    The Bears’ chance to make a playoff push turned into their death knell—back-to-back home losses to San Francisco and Washington. Chicago has made a few solid finds amid this lost season, like Adrian Amos and Jeremy Langford and Willie Young’s resurgence. Using these last three games to keep digging is a must for the coaching staff.

  • 22
    22Miami Dolphins
    last week: 20
    record: 5–8
    This depends in part on who coaches Miami in 2016, but as it stands, Lamar Miller has to get out of there during free agency. He averaged 7.42 yards on 12 carries Monday; the Dolphins gave him the ball twice over the final 25 minutes. This has been a recurring theme all year. It’s absurd.

  • 23
    23St. Louis Rams
    last week: 26
    record: 5–8
    Jeff Fisher vs. Jim Caldwell in Week 14 was a battle of who can do just enough to keep his job in 2016. Fisher won, if we’re calling it that, mainly because Todd Gurley happened to land in St. Louis after his home planet of Krypton exploded.

  • 24
    24Dallas Cowboys
    last week: 21
    record: 4–9
    The Cowboys are on national TV this coming Saturday against the Jets. They could be flexed into a prime-time game in Week 17, if the Redskins are playing for the division title. We’re all begging you: Please play Kellen Moore. We can’t take any more Matt Cassel.

  • 25
    25Jacksonville Jaguars
    last week: 30
    record: 5–8
    It helps to hang 51 points on the board in a single game, but the Jaguars now have a top-10 scoring offense this season. Bank on them using most available resources, like the draft and free agency, to get the other side of the ball fixed so they can take a real crack at the AFC South next season.

  • 26
    26Detroit Lions
    last week: 22
    record: 4–9
    The Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary in Week 13 assured that the Lions had little playoff motivation in Week 14 and ... well, they looked like it. Jim Caldwell’s stoic look doesn’t play all that well when the walls are crumbling around him.

  • 27
    27San Francisco 49ers
    last week: 25
    record: 4–9
    If you take a glance at the Coaching Hot Seat Flow Chart, you’ll notice that a yes answer to “Did you lose to Cleveland?” advances the line all the way to “Pack your bags.” Any hope Jim Tomsula had of hanging onto his job may have vanished Sunday.

  • 28
    28San Diego Chargers
    last week: 28
    record: 3–10
    San Diego now has scored exactly three points in three of its past four games, with a pair of those power outages coming against Kansas City. The end of Sunday’s game was fitting: a long march to the one-yard line that ended with a delay of game, a false start and a dropped pass.

  • 29
    29Tennessee Titans
    last week: 29
    record: 3–10
    Delanie Walker is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his 10-year career. That’s a great tribute to his performance, but it also provides further evidence of the lack of help surrounding rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. He’s throwing to Walker because he doesn’t have many other choices.

  • 30
    30Cleveland Browns
    last week: 32
    record: 3–10
    The Browns once were 2–3 this season and took the Broncos to overtime in Week 6. Remember that? Their latest win over San Francisco snapped a seven-game skid, so it was cathartic if nothing else. Let’s see what Johnny Manziel can do at Seattle and Kansas City the next two weeks.

  • 31
    31Baltimore Ravens
    last week: 30
    record: 4–9
    Can we all just agree to simulate the Ravens’ last three games on Madden or something? No good can come of them taking on three potential playoff teams (Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati). They just signed Ryan Mallett to join Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen in what’s just a depressing QB battle.

  • 32
    32Atlanta Falcons
    last week: 27
    record: 6–7
    There is not a team in the league playing worse football right now than the Falcons. They were zombies in a 38–0 loss at Carolina, the final nail in the coffin on their 2015 season. While Dan Quinn deserves (and likely will get) another crack at this, his team’s utter implosion is cause for serious concern.

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