The lowest-ranked team currently holding down a playoff spot lands at 22 in the Power Rankings this week. The highest-ranked team on the outside looking in on the postseason field is at 11. To some extent, that speaks to what’s going on this season—there are weak spots in a couple of the division races, but the wild-card battles are shaping up to be brutal right down to the wire.
A little shift at the bottom of this week’s rankings, too. That’s where we start:
San Francisco finished with six yards of passing on Sunday. Six. (That’s 39 through the air minus 33 on sacks.) It was cold and snowy and windy in Chicago but ... come on. This is an 0–16 team that just happened to win a game in Week 1.
31. Cleveland Browns
The Browns sounded legitimately excited about Robert Griffin III this off-season, so at least they will get another chance to see him—he’s been out since Week 1 with a fractured shoulder. Maybe his return provides the boost Cleveland needs to get one lousy win.
30. New York Jets
29. los angeles Rams
Blake Bortles has played in 42 games with the Jaguars. He has thrown 50 interceptions (including a league-leading 15 this season) and 11 pick-sixes. He has fumbled 26 times. He has been sacked a staggering 130 times. The situation in Jacksonville is as ugly as it gets.
27. Chicago Bears
Believe it or not, the Bears actually are 3–3 with a plus-11 point differential at home this season. Granted, they’re like vampires in sunlight when they leave the Windy City, but the Bears could play the role of spoiler in Week 15 vs. Green Bay or Week 16 vs. Washington.
The lowest rushing total Minnesota has ever posted during a 16-game season is 1,467, in 2005. To reach that mark this year, the Vikings will need 149.5 yards per game in Weeks 14-17, about 77 yards more than what they’ve averaged so far.
Is there anything more frustrating for a fan base than what Cincinnati goes through when Andy Dalton unleashes one of his random defense destructions? He’s like that pitcher with a 4.80 ERA who fires a two-hitter every 10th start. He is football Francisco Liriano.
22. Houston Texans
Brock Osweiler said this week that the Texans are “very close to exploding as an offense,” so either a) he meant to say “imploding” and got his words confused, or b) the exchange between Osweiler and reporters looked something like this.
21. Tennessee Titans
Derrick Mason was a two-time Pro Bowler who racked up more than 11,000 all-purpose yards for the Titans, so their deal to acquire him (which sent Chris Chandler to the Falcons for multiple 1997 draft picks) is probably the franchise’s best trade since moving to Tennessee. Snagging DeMarco Murray almost for free is creeping up there. Murray is on pace to challenge 1,400 yards rushing this season.
20. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers’ defense has forced 24 turnovers this season, paced by NFL interceptions leader Casey Hayward. Annnnnd that’s almost been enough to offset the mess created by San Diego’s offense, which has coughed it up 25 times, third-most in the league.
If you’ve ever watched a group of kids try to catch a dog that’s gotten loose, you know what it looks like when NFL defenders have to tackle David Johnson. The Cardinals’ running back has 194 yards receiving over the past two weeks and a league-high 336 yards from scrimmage.
18. Buffalo Bills
After a miserable 0–2 start, it seemed as if Rex Ryan’s Buffalo days were numbered. After a few wins, he’s back in that predicament once again: the Bills are 6–6, Ryan admitted he’s not sure what ails the defense and Sammy Watkins just criticized his team’s mental toughness. Check that schedule, though: If Buffalo can knock off Pittsburgh, a 10–6 record is very doable.
Drew Brees’s run of 60 consecutive home games with a TD pass ended Sunday, against the Lions, of all teams. Worse yet, after hustling back to .500 at the season’s midway point, the Saints now have lost three of four. Anything shy of a 4–0 finish (with two games against Tampa Bay, plus trips to Arizona and Atlanta), and the playoffs are out of reach.
15. Washington Redskins
Jay Gruden after his team’s loss to Arizona, in what I can only describe as a coaching version of Green Eggs and Ham: “I don’t like the way they had a -play drive right down our throat to start the game. I don’t like the way our offense answered with two penalties in the first drive and having to punt. ... I don’t like the fact that we had two turnovers, and we didn’t cause any. I don’t like the fact that we lost the game.”
In the seven games since a loss to Dallas, Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 19 touchdowns (to just three interceptions), 2,100-plus yards and has a QB rating of 104.6. He also has rushed for 212 yards during that stretch, putting him on pace to break his previous career high (356) on the ground. If Green Bay hadn’t gone 3–4 during this Rodgers run, we’d be talking about him as an MVP candidate.
13. Miami Dolphins
Turns out, everyone who told me I had the Dolphins ranked too high last week was correct. So, that makes the updated score: Internet 12 billion, Burke 0. And the Dolphins are going to keep tumbling if their defense plays as it has the past two weeks, in allowing a combined 971 yards and 62 points to San Francisco and Baltimore.
12. New York Giants
The Steelers’ (semi-)magic number is two, as in the number of turnovers they need to force to win games. They are 1–4 this season when they come up with zero or one takeaway; with Sunday’s victory over the Giants, they’re now 6–1 when their defense delivers exactly two turnovers.
10. Baltimore Ravens
Maybe this all comes crashing down in the final four weeks, as the Ravens still face trips to New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (a team against which it hung on for dear life in Week 12). For now, though, Baltimore still has the league’s stingiest defense and a spot atop the AFC North.
Were the playoffs to start today, the opening round would feature a matchup of Bucs-Lions, brought to you by your broadcast team The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These past three weeks easily could have undone Tampa Bay—at Kansas City, home vs. Seattle, at San Diego. Instead, it propelled the Buccaneers into a tie for the NFC South lead.
The good thing about being a track-meet sort of team is that you’re almost never out of a game. The bad thing is that the same goes for your opponent—the Falcons rank third in passing yards and first in points scored but 32nd and 29th in those same categories on defense.
Fortunately for the Broncos, Blake Bortles accidentally hits his own self-destruct button every time he winds up to pass. Otherwise, Denver and its Paxton Lynch-led offense might not have escaped Jacksonville with a critical victory Sunday. Trevor Siemian is far from an All-Pro, but he’s clearly this team’s best chance.
5. Seattle Seahawks
The Patriots did not automatically drop in the Power Rankings when they lost Rob Gronkowski for the year, so the Seahawks will get the same treatment despite Earl Thomas’s injury. Seattle has a month to figure things out—the division title is all but wrapped, so the only mystery is if Pete Carroll’s club can hold off Detroit for a bye.
The Patriots could clinch their eighth consecutive AFC East title as early as Monday, and their Week 13 win over the Rams guaranteed them 10 victories for the 14th(!!) consecutive season. To call them a “machine” would be a disservice because even machines break down from time to time.
2. Oakland Raiders
It’s not just that Derek Carr is compiling wins and big numbers through the air. He also is protecting the football at an almost unprecedented rate. According to Pro Football Reference, 679 quarterbacks in league history have attempted at least 400 passes in a season, including Carr this year. Carr’s interception rate of 1.09% (five INTs on 458 attempts) is the fourth-best among them, behind only Tom Brady (2010), Steve DeBerg (1996) and Aaron Rodgers (2014).
This season continues to have something of a Hollywood feel for the Cowboys, who keep pulling out close games despite their rookie QB and rookie running back. Can’t wait for the season-in-review movie: Jerry’s World, based on the novel Jerry by Jerry Jones, starring Jerry Jones as himself.