NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Falcons fly into top three heading into penultimate week

In a year of surprises (the playoff-bound Raiders!) and disappointments (the eliminated Cardinals), here's how the rankings stack up as we move into the second to last week of the season.
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Every NFL season brings its share of surprises and disappointments. This year, perhaps even more than usual.

Even if you believed in Dak Prescott’s potential, did anyone see a 12–2 start coming for the Cowboys? How about the Raiders at 11–3, or the Bucs, Titans, Dolphins and Lions all in control of their playoff destinies with two weeks to go.

Of course, the opposite end of the spectrum has a different vibe. Take the top three teams in our Power Rankings headed into Week 1: Carolina, Arizona and Denver. That group made up three of the four conference-title participants a year ago, with the Panthers and Broncos obviously meeting in the Super Bowl. Only Denver has a realistic shot to reach the playoffs this year, and it needs help to do so—the Cardinals have been eliminated; the Panthers are down to a miracle long shot.

Two weeks left in the regular season. One set of Power Rankings to go after this version. 

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32. Cleveland Browns

PREVIOUS: 32

RECORD: 0-14

Tuesday marked a year, officially, since the Browns’ current 17-game losing streak began. A full year! That means there now have been more years than Browns victories in the past 365 days.

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31. San Francisco 49ers

PREVIOUS: 31

RECORD: 1-13

The 49ers’ tackling in Atlanta graded somewhere between ”completely terrible” and ”why are those people trying to catch an eel with their bare hands?” The Falcons finished with 550 yards; they could have had about seven or eight hundred if they hadn’t shut it down so early.

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30. New York Jets

PREVIOUS: 28

RECORD: 4-10

On Saturday, the Jets allowed Matt Moore to throw for four touchdown passes. Moore's only other four-TD games since leaving high school came against Portland and Oregon State. Todd Bowles’s team is 1–6 at home this season and has lost its last two MetLife Stadium games by a combined count of 75–23.

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29. Los Angeles Rams

PREVIOUS: 30

RECORD: 4-10

“I want a chance to play the Rams,” Jeff Fisher recently told FOX’s Charissa Thompson, which ... OK. I’m sure the Rams would be fine with that. Look, when a robber rips off a bank, he doesn’t run out the front door yelling, “Vengeance shall be mine!” That doesn’t make any sense.

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28. Jacksonville Jaguars

PREVIOUS: 29

RECORD: 2-12

Interim coach Doug Marrone’s tenure in Buffalo was generally forgettable, but he won more games in two years there (15) than Gus Bradley managed in nearly four seasons with the Jaguars (14). Jacksonville absolutely had to make a move.

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27. San Diego Chargers

PREVIOUS: 24

RECORD: 5-9

Every Chargers game is like that video of the golfer lining up a shot off a frozen pond. You know it’s going to be entertaining, but also that something awful is probably going to happen. Can San Diego avoid being Cleveland’s first victim of 2016?

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26. Philadelphia Eagles

PREVIOUS: 27

RECORD: 5-9

Dorial Green-Beckham’s last TD, a garbage-time 5-yard pass, came in Week 11. The last scores for Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor, respectively: Weeks 8, 5 and 1. The Eagles have to spend the off-season attempting to rebuild their skill positions around Carson Wentz.

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25. Arizona Cardinals

PREVIOUS: 25

RECORD: 5-8-1

The 48 points New Orleans hung on the scoreboard Sunday marked the most points ever allowed by the Cardinals in Arizona—they last gave up that many at home back in 1969, when they were the St. Louis Cardinals.

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24. Chicago Bears

PREVIOUS: 26

RECORD: 3-11

Matt Barkley has the same interception rate (4.3%) as Ryan Fitzpatrick, so let’s not race to anoint him as the Bears’ new long-term QB. (In fairness, one of Barkley’s seven INTs came on a Hail Mary to close the first half Sunday). What Barkley has done, though, is give the Bears something to think about. He’s at least earned a chance to compete for the QB1 job next summer.

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23. Minnesota Vikings

PREVIOUS: 18

RECORD: 7-7

The Vikings played Sunday's game against the Colts like a team in a football movie does after the players all use fake IDs to get drunk at a country bar the night before the game. The major flop really came out of nowhere. Even in their growing number of losses, the Vikings had been competitive. Sunday, they definitely were not.

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22. Cincinnati Bengals

PREVIOUS: 20

RECORD: 5-8-1

The last Bengals team to win a playoff game beat the Houston Oilers and then lost to the Los Angeles Raiders—two franchises who no longer even play in those cities. The harsh reality:

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21. Buffalo Bills

PREVIOUS: 23

RECORD: 7-7

The Bills’ last five wins have come against teams with a combined 12–57–1 record on the season, including Sunday’s victory over the now 0–14 Browns. Maybe Rex Ryan survives as Buffalo’s coach beyond 2016, but “we’re definitely better than the absolute worst teams” isn’t much of a selling point.

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20. Washington Redskins

PREVIOUS: 13

RECORD: 7-6-1

It's hard to fathom this, but Washington is now 2–16 in home Monday night games since FedEx Field opened in 1997. Even stranger, the Redskins are 4–3 during that time when they play road Monday nighters. This latest slip-up will be hard to bounce back from given what it did to their playoff hopes.

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19. Carolina Panthers

PREVIOUS: 22

RECORD: 6-8

The last two times Carolina failed to win eight games in a season, it followed up with 12 and 15 wins, respectively, the following year. And while 15–1 may not be in the offing for 2016, this doesn’t look like a team headed toward a prolonged slump. The Panthers are 5–3 since their bye and will be tough on both Atlanta and Tampa Bay to close the year.

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18. Houston Texans

PREVIOUS: 17

RECORD: 8-6

“Prototypical size ... He has a huge arm, good mobility and physical toughness.” … “Exceptional size ... he flashes tremendous upside with a quick release, a strong arm and natural accuracy.” The latter quote comes from ESPN’s draft profile of Brock Osweiler; the former from Tom Savage’s scouting report. Is there going to be enough a difference between the two QBs for the Texans to save their season?

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17. New Orleans Saints

PREVIOUS: 19

RECORD: 6-8

Drew Brees needs 441 yards passing (or 220.5 per game) over the final two weeks to reach 5,000 for the fifth time in his career. That hardly qualifies as a moral victory for a team doomed to missed the playoffs, but the soon-to-be 38-year-old QB still appears to have sand left in the hourglass.

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16. Denver Broncos

PREVIOUS: 12

RECORD: 8-6

It was Patriots 16, Broncos 3, Peyton Manning Papa John’s commercials 341 on Sunday—the latest dud from Denver’s offense and another reminder that there are TOO MANY PAPA JOHN’S COMMERCIALS! WHY ARE MANNING AND JOE MONTANA DOING THESE? DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY ORDER THAT BACON CHEESEBURGER PIZZA?? Sorry. That one got away from me. Anyway, the Broncos are in serious trouble.

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15. Indianapolis Colts

PREVIOUS: 21

RECORD: 7-7

Indianapolis has averaged 30 points on the road this season and just 21.7 at home, which helps explains why it’s above .500 away in away games (4–3) but below that mark in Lucas Oil Stadium (3-4). The Colts’ overall record is right in line with what they’ve been all year, but it has been a strange trip to get there.

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14. Miami Dolphins

PREVIOUS: 14

RECORD: 9-5

The Dolphins forced four turnovers in their win over the Jets, giving them eight over the past two weeks and 19 since the start of November, most in the league. The only time Miami finished a game with a negative turnover margin during that stretch, it lost (Week 13 vs. Baltimore).

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13. Baltimore Ravens

PREVIOUS: 15

RECORD: 8-6

1999, 2000 and 2001. Those are the three seasons, since the franchise’s revival in 1996, that Baltimore has won at both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. To make the playoffs as AFC North champs, the Ravens will have to pull off the trick again, over a seven-day stretch beginning Sunday vs. the Steelers.

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12. Detroit Lions

PREVIOUS: 8

RECORD: 9-5

Swap out Jeff Goldblum for Jim Caldwell and the T-Rex for Aaron Rodgers, and the Lions’ entire season now resembles that “must go faster” chase scene from Jurassic Park. I’d pay good money to hear that Caldwell press conference. “Jim, your legs are bleeding profusely and it looks like half of your friend’s torso is lying over there.” “Sorry, we don’t talk about injuries.”

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11. Seattle Seahawks

PREVIOUS: 12

RECORD: 9-4-1

“By beating the Rams on a Thursday night” is to dream division-clinching scenarios what an above-ground pool and a Blu-ray collection of Hillary Duff movies would be to the Price is Right Showcase Showdown. Great, thanks, but can we get to the important stuff now?

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10. Tennessee Titans

PREVIOUS: 16

RECORD: 8-6

While the AFC South takes a lot of heat (and rightly so), the Titans’ rally from 14 down to win at a frigid Arrowhead Stadium is nothing short of one of the season’s best victories. The Titans could be the hosts next time they see the Chiefs, which could be in the wild-card round of this year’s playoffs.

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9. Green Bay Packers

PREVIOUS: 10

RECORD: 8-6

The Bears, down by three, had a 1st-and-goal at the Packers’ 3 late Sunday and settled for a game-tying field goal. It was obvious what would come next—the Aaron Rodgers dagger. Having Rodgers on the ropes but not finishing him off is like when the bad guy ties up James Bond, tells him his evil plan, then leaves the room assuming Bond is about to die.

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8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

PREVIOUS: 7

RECORD: 8-6

Tampa Bay turned it over four times Sunday night and also had a drive short-circuit when Jameis Winston headbutted a Cowboy, so in some ways it’s quite impressive they had two chances to win the game late. The Bucs are now 1-5 on the season when they commit multiple turnovers.

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7. New York Giants

PREVIOUS: 9

RECORD: 10-4

Ben McAdoo’s game-day play sheet appears to be just a menu off which you’d order a tuna melt and a vanilla milkshake, so it makes sense that it took him awhile to figure out what would get his run game going. But the Giants rushed for 114 yards Sunday, their fourth time topping the century mark the past six games.

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6. Pittsburgh Steelers

PREVIOUS: 6

RECORD: 9-5

The Steelers had not won four straight on the road since 2011, until they just pulled it off over a season-changing five-week stretch starting on Nov. 20. Their victory over Cincinnati was as pretty as that mushy, black snow at the end of your driveway, but who cares? It’s not easy to do what Pittsburgh just did.

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5. Kansas City Chiefs

PREVIOUS: 2

RECORD: 10-4

What’s the first thing that anyone tells you when you’re feeling anxious? “Take a deep breath. Relax.” The whole idea is to slow everything down so you’re not panicky anymore. Why, then, do football coaches insist on icing the kicker? Isn’t it more stressful to make a guy try to clear his mind while he’s rushing to get off a kick within a 40-second window? All the timeout does is let the kicker get his bearings. Andy Reid found that out the hard way Sunday.

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4. Oakland Raiders

PREVIOUS: 4

RECORD: 11-3

Raiders trivia time: Latavius Murray averaged 6.2 yards rushing Sunday, on 13 attempts. Can you name any of the last three Oakland players to top a 6.0 yards-per-carry average in a game in which they had at least 10 carries? Answers: Marcel Reece, Rashad Jennings and Terrelle Pryor, all in 2013—not one of these players is still on the roster, and Pryor doesn’t even play the same position he did then.

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3. Atlanta Falcons

PREVIOUS: 5

RECORD: 9-5

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2. Dallas Cowboys

PREVIOUS: 3

RECORD: 12-2

In the most productive season that QB Troy Aikman ever had during his Hall of Fame Cowboys career, he threw for 3,445 yards. Dak Prescott needs 28 passing yards over Dallas’ final two regular-season games to surpass that total in his rookie campaign.

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1. New England Patriots

PREVIOUS: 1

RECORD: 12-2

The dominant, Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers won about 57% of their regular-season games during their heyday from 1981-92. The Yankees teams of the mid-’90s/early 2000s—six World Series trips and four WS wins in nine seasons—won at approximately a 60.5% clip. Michael Jordan’s Bulls, during a stretch of six titles in eight years, posted a 74.6% win percentage. Since 2003, their first of 14 straight double-digit win seasons, the Patriots have won 78.4% of their games in the regular season.