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. Cleveland Browns
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. San Francisco 49ers
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. LOS ANGELES Rams
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
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28. New York Jets
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. Philadelphia Eagles
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. Chicago Bears
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. Arizona Cardinals
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. San Diego Chargers
23. Buffalo Bills
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. Carolina Panthers
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. Indianapolis Colts
20. Cincinnati Bengals
19. New Orleans Saints
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. Minnesota Vikings
17. Houston Texans
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. Tennessee Titans
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. Baltimore Ravens
14. Miami Dolphins
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. Washington Redskins
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. Denver Broncos
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. Seattle Seahawks
10. Green Bay Packers
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. New York Giants
8. Detroit Lions
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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. Pittsburgh Steelers
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. Atlanta Falcons
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. Oakland Raiders
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. Dallas Cowboys
2. Kansas City Chiefs
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. New England Patriots
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.