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