NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Cowboys finally lose grasp of top spot

0:58 | NFL
NFL Power Rankings: Week 15
Wednesday December 14th, 2016

The list of teams eliminated from playoff contention has grown to six, and it’s essentially at 10—the Chargers, Saints, Panthers and Eagles all face astronomical odds of reaching the postseason. That quartet also had a decent Power Rankings standing at one point or another this year, before reality set in.

The teams rising toward the top now will be harder to move from the contenders pile. And there is a change atop the rankings this week, after the Cowboys fell in the Meadowlands.

Let’s get to it ...

  • 32
    1Cleveland Browns
    last week: 31
    record: 0–13
    Every Browns game is like a Sweet Dee stand-up set from Always Sunny: You hope it will go well, kind of root for ’em and, inevitably, they wind up dry heaving all over themselves.

  • 31
    2San Francisco 49ers
    last week: 32
    record: 1–12
    The 49ers blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead at home, to a third-string quarterback making his second career start. Chip Kelly is going to need hypnotherapy to get over this season. “Close your eyes, Chip. When I count to three you’ll wake up and believe that you are a college coach again.”

  • 30
    last week: 29
    record: 4–9
    It’s a story that has played out millions of times: wide-eyed optimist leaves the midwest to pursue a dream in La-La Land, only to discover he doesn’t have what it takes. The only differences between Jeff Fisher and so many of those past tales of woe are Fisher’s millions and millions of dollars.

  • 29
    4Jacksonville Jaguars
    last week: 28
    record: 2–11
    “It’s the biggest nightmare possible,” Blake Bortles said Sunday following his team’s eighth straight loss, via I once had a nightmare that I went to a graveyard and a bunch of ghosts chased me until I fell off a cliff, so I dunno about that. But it’s been bad, yes.

  • 28
    5New York Jets
    last week: 30
    record: 4–9
    Props to Bryce Petty and Bilal Powell for making the Jets look like they wanted to be on a football field, at least for a little bit last Sunday. Rallying against the 49ers doesn’t do much to prove Petty’s worth, but perhaps it is a baby step forward for the Jets’ miserable QB situation.

  • 27
    6Philadelphia Eagles
    last week: 26
    record: 5–8
    If the Eagles merely were 5–8 right now, it would be frustrating and disappointing but not quite unexpected. They switched coaches after 2015, they tossed their rookie QB into the fire just before Week 1, they have injuries up front and a horrible group of WRs. The fact that they got off to a 3–0 start, though, has made the subsequent fall sting a bit more.

  • 26
    7Chicago Bears
    last week: 27
    record: 3–10
    These next two weeks will be interesting. The 3–9 Bears clearly will be overmatched against both the Packers and Redskins, a pair of teams hunting for the playoffs. On the other hand, their defense isn’t a pushover and Matt Barkley actually has jolted the offense a bit. Some random team always plays spoiler in December. Will it be Chicago this year?

  • 25
    8Arizona Cardinals
    last week: 19
    record: 5–7
    Tyvon Branch, Ulrick John and Deone Bucannon all are headed to injured reserve as the Cardinals limp toward the finish line. Shutting down Tyrann Mathieu and building a protective cone lined with air bags around David Johnson might not be the worst ideas, either.

  • 24
    9San Diego Chargers
    last week: 20
    record: 5–8
    The Chargers continue to cough up the football at an astonishing rate: 2.3 turnovers game, thanks to Sunday’s five-giveaway debacle in Carolina. Mike McCoy’s team keeps battling each week, but in a lot of ways it might always have been destined to finish with nine or 10 losses.

  • 23
    10Buffalo Bills
    last week: 18
    record: 6–7
    Back to the Future II was on TV over the weekend, because one of the Back to the Future movies must be airing somewhere at all times per the Geneva Conventions, and now I’m just disappointed no one ever made a parody of Doc running up to the late Buddy Ryan, yelling, “It’s your kids, Buddy! Something’s gotta be done about your kids!”

  • 22
    11Carolina Panthers
    last week: 25
    record: 5–8
    There remains a scenario in which the entire NFC South finishes 8–8, so if you’re a Team Chaos supporter that’s the spot for you. Otherwise, the Panthers don’t have much left to play for aside from pride. There’s no getting around what a rapid fall from grace Carolina has undergone since Super Bowl 50 kicked off.

  • 21
    12Indianapolis Colts
    last week: 16
    record: 6–7
    Barring another injury setback, or the Colts simply sitting him out of caution, Andrew Luck will play in 15 games this season, eight more than he did a year ago. And despite that, Indianapolis needs to win two of its final three to finish 2016 with a record matching its 8–8 finish from ’15.

  • 20
    13Cincinnati Bengals
    last week: 23
    record: 5-7-1
    Maybe wins over Philadelphia and Cleveland in Weeks 13 and 14, respectively, don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. But if those victories snowball, the Bengals could spell trouble for Pittsburgh, Houston and Baltimore over the season’s final three games. If the Bengals are going down, may as well try to take as many other teams as they can with them.

  • 19
    14New Orleans Saints
    last week: 17
    record: 5–8
    What do Heath Shuler, John Fourcade and now Drew Brees have in common? They’re the only Saints quarterbacks ever to have back-to-back three-interception games without throwing a touchdown. That’s good football company for Shuler and Fourcade. It is not for Brees.

  • 18
    15Minnesota Vikings
    last week: 24
    record: 7–6
    In their 45 seasons before this one, the longest the Vikings ever had gone without hitting 100 yards rushing was five games. They’re currently at nine and counting. No question that the defense will have to carry Minnesota home if it hopes to squeak into the playoffs.

  • 17
    16Houston Texans
    last week: 22
    record: 7–6
    Of the quarterbacks to start all 13 games this season, only Tyrod Taylor (2,520) has fewer passing yards than Brock Osweiler (2,656). Nevertheless, the job in front of the Texans is pretty clear: Win ’em all and they’re in as AFC South champs. The road gets even easier if Tennessee slips up before Week 17.

  • 16
    17Tennessee Titans
    last week: 16
    record: 7–6
    According to Pro Football Reference, the Titans/Oilers franchise has won 22 games in its history when throwing for fewer than 75 yards (including a minus-4-yard gem in 1981), but the last time it happened prior to Sunday was in 2007. The Titans won’t mind. They had to have that W over the Broncos.

  • 15
    18Baltimore Ravens
    last week: 10
    record: 7–6
    Despite Monday night’s 30–23 loss in New England, when the Pats piled up a staggering 496 yards total, the Ravens still have the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense and are No. 4 overall in both points and yards allowed. [Stephen A. Smith voice] Howevahhhhr [end Stephen A. Smith voice], in their six losses, the Ravens have coughed up an average of 377.2 yards.

  • 14
    19Miami Dolphins
    last week: 13
    record: 8–5
    Matt Moore is a decent NFL quarterback. Or, at least, he was when he used to play. Moore’s last NFL start happened two days before Mitt Romney defeated Rick Santorum in the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential caucus, so yeah, it’s been a minute. The Dolphins’ playoff hopes now rest in his hands.

  • 13
    20Washington Redskins
    last week: 15
    record: 7–5
    Washington may not wind up with a 1,000-yard receiver (Jamison Crowder is closest at 808), but it’s going to have five players with at least 500 yards. And nine different Redskins have scored multiple TDs this year. The offense has become a lot of fun to watch each week.

  • 12
    21Denver Broncos
    last week: 7
    record: 8–5
    The Broncos may have to win at least two of three to reach the playoffs. They close with games against the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders so ... yeah, this is going to be tough. This is still a championship-caliber defense, but it’s not the all-time great unit it was last year. Considering Denver’s offense, the slight step back is a significant issue.

  • 11
    22Seattle Seahawks
    last week: 5
    record: 8–4
    Not since That ’70s Show swapped out Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher for Josh Myers has Wisconsin seen as head-scratching a performance as what Russell Wilson turned in Sunday. His five picks doubled his total for the season and nearly challenged what he put up in all of 2014 (seven) and ’15 (eight).

  • 10
    23Green Bay Packers
    last week: 14
    record: 7–6
    The last Packers team to force six turnovers in a game (2010 against the Giants) went on to win the Super Bowl, which is pretty good as far as omens go. But this year, the Packers still have work to do just to reach the playoffs, and it won’t be easy closing the year against three straight division rivals.

  • 9
    24New York Giants
    last week: 12
    record: 9–4
    The Giants lost the turnover battle five times over the season’s first six weeks as they got off to a 3–3 start. They have broken even or come out ahead in takeaways in six of their past seven games, with a 6–1 record to show for it. Their defense saved them Sunday vs. Dallas, forcing three turnovers to offset three mistakes by the New York offense.

  • 8
    25Detroit Lions
    last week: 6
    record: 9–4
    Detroit’s daredevil strategy this season—essentially, “let’s punch a shark in the nose and see what happens”—has paid off with a 9–4 record and a five-game win streak, but how many more times can they avoid disaster? Matthew Stafford’s finger injury adds an obstacle the Lions definitely did not need.

  • 7
    26Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    last week: 9
    record: 8–5
    The Buccaneers have not held six straight opponents to 21 points or fewer in more than a decade—Jon Gruden’s 2005 team was the last to accomplish it, with a run of eight consecutive games. This year’s Bucs can reach that mark Sunday night, if they can slow down the Cowboys.

  • 6
    27Pittsburgh Steelers
    last week: 11
    record: 8–5
    What more does Le’Veon Bell need to do to enter the MVP conversation? Yes, he was suspended to start the year, but so was Tom Brady, and the QB seems to have a clear path to the trophy. Bell is on pace for 2,100 yards from scrimmage, and his per-game average (161.6) is fewer than two yards off the highest single-season mark ever (Priest Holmes, 163.4 in 2002).

  • 5
    28Atlanta Falcons
    last week: 9
    record: 8–5
    The Falcons became the team to finally push Jeff Fisher out of Los Angeles, which for the Rams was right up there with Harry Potter having to destroy all of Voldermort’s horcruxes in terms of unnecessary difficulty. If for some reason you had forgotten about Matt Ryan as an MVP candidate, it’s time to pay attention again—Bovada has his odds behind only Ezekiel Elliott, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford.

  • 4
    29Oakland Raiders
    last week: 2
    record: 10–3
    Tough racket, the AFC this year. The only team Oakland has lost to in the past two and a half months is Kansas City, but it’s happened twice and the latest setback was enough to bump the Raiders from a No. 1 to a No. 5 playoff seed. To put that in a little perspective, though: Two years ago, the Raiders fell to 2–12 with a December loss to the Chiefs.

  • 3
    30Dallas Cowboys
    last week: 1
    record: 11–2
    The Cowboys turned the ball over three times or more in six different games last season. It had yet to happen this year until Sunday night’s frustrating loss in New York, which featured Dak Prescott’s first multi-interception game since a Nov. 15, 2014 matchup with Alabama.

  • 2
    31Kansas City Chiefs
    last week: 4
    record: 10–3
    How long has it been since the Chiefs posted consecutive double-digit win seasons (a feat they accomplished with their win over Oakland last Thursday)? The last run started in 1990 and ended in ’93, the same year that current star cornerback Marcus Peters was born.

  • 1
    32New England Patriots
    last week: 2
    record: 11–2
    Against the league’s top defense, without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, Tom Brady threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns. If the Patriots’ returners hadn’t spent the third quarter trying to make sure the Ravens didn’t feel too badly about themselves, Monday night would have been a blowout victory.

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