NFL Power Rankings Heading into Week 16

Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki, USA TODAY Sports

With two weeks left in the season, some teams are beginning to lock up playoff spots while others are making a final push to sneak into the playoffs.

In week 15, Drew Brees bounced back with a four touchdown game in the Saints victory over the Cardinals. Matt Moore also had a four touchdown game as the Dolphins beat the Jets to hold the 2nd wild card spot in the AFC. LeSean McCoy and the Bills offense rushed for over 200 yards as the Bills moved back to the .500 mark in their win over the Browns. The Giants defense prevented a Matthew Stafford 4th quarter comeback as the Giants won their 10th game of the season. Without Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and the Falcons beat the 49ers as they scored over 40 points for the 5th time this season.

After fifteen weeks of the NFL season, here are the NFL Power Rankings heading into week 16.

  1. New England Patriots (12-2) – Ranked #1 last week
  • One key evaluation test, especially for teams with elite offenses, is how well they perform in defensive battle games. In games where the offense is not clicking and having a hard time picking up 1st downs, it is always good to see their strengths and weaknesses because like the old saying goes, defense wins championships. The Patriots proved against the Broncos and have done so several times over the past month that their defense can be relied on. The Patriots defense were able to get three takeaways including a Logan Ryan interception in the red zone. A pair of sacks by Trey Flowers were also a contributing factor in the Pats win. Yes, they did play one of the more unsound offenses in the AFC but the way the Pats dominated the Broncos offense with solid pass coverage and shutting down their rush attack was overall impressive. As the Patriots are inching closer to the #1 seed, which team in the NFL can stop the Pats?
  1. Dallas Cowboys (12-2) – Ranked #2 last week
  • The Tony Romo return rumors picked up a lot of coverage over the past two weeks but they will be put to rest at least for the coming week. Dak Prescott had one of the best games of his rookie season as he completing 88% of passes for 279 yards and he added a rushing touchdown. Prescott’s ability to accurately hit his targets as he rolled outside of the pocket and composure in the pocket were huge positives in the Cowboys victory. A good mixture of short passes to Jason Witten to challenge opposing linebackers in coverage while also spreading it out to the rest of the receiving group lead to a good passing game plan. Also, the Cowboys might have found a new breakout contributor in David Irving. Irving was able to disrupt the Bucs offense with constant pressure on Jameis Winston. Irving made his name clearly known to Jameis and the Bucs offense as he recorded five sacks, five QB hits, and two tackles for a loss. The Cowboys have been looking for a pass rusher that can be effective on every drive and they might have just found one with the playoffs looming ahead.
  1. Oakland Raiders (11-3) – Ranked #4 last week
  • This game felt like just another Raiders home game with silver and black colors flowing across the stadium and loud Raiders chants as this game was played in Qualcomm. To be fair, they do deserve another home game since one of their home games was played in Mexico City but they can be proud that Raiders fans packed the Qualcomm for their matchup with the Chargers. Derek Carr had another subpar game but that just gave the defense another opportunity to shine under pressure. Bruce Irvin had a strong game with two sacks along with the regular pressures by Khalil Mack. More importantly for the Raiders, they take back the #2 seed in the AFC and 1st place in the AFC West. At the moment the Raiders are guaranteed at least one playoff home game and it will be an electric atmosphere in Oakland, just like the glory days of the early 2000’s. 
  1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) – Ranked #3 last week
  • A week after capturing the season sweep over the Raiders and finally receiving national praise, they blew their momentum with a loss against the Titans. It is not just momentum that they lost but the division lead and a 1st round bye too. This was a game that they should have and needed to win. Through three quarters, it was a typical Chiefs game; the offense doing just enough while the defense continued to bend but not break. Well in the 4th quarter, not only did they break but they collapsed and fell out of the top spot in the division. The Titans scored 12 unanswered point including a game-winning field goal from a familiar friend but now Chiefs enemy,  Ryan Succop. The Chiefs went from controlling their own destiny to needing help to take back the #2 seed in the AFC all in the matter of one minute… welcome to the NFL.
  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) – Ranked #6 last week
  • Down 20-6, Steelers Nation were probably thinking not this again. The Steelers have been infamous for their road struggles over the past couple of years with Big Ben looking like a completely different quarterback away from home. But instead of the narrative continuing, the Steelers picked it up with one of their best 2nd half performances of the season. First, the defense was stellar in holding the Bengals scoreless in the 2nd half with all-around good tackling and coverage by Sean Davis and the Steelers secondary. Considering that the Steelers were having a difficult time scoring a touchdown through three quarters, the Steelers defense stepped up and gave the Steelers offense great field position in the 2nd half. Also, a ton of credit goes to Chris Boswell and Eli Rogers for their clutch plays that sealed the Steelers 9th win of the season. The Steelers remained in 1st place in the AFC North and #3 in the AFC.
  1. New York Giants (10-4) – Ranked #7 last week
  • When your defense shuts down two of the best offenses in the NFC for a combined 13 points, you deserve plenty of Super Bowl 51 hype. The Giants were able to present good pass coverage that ranged from their cornerbacks to linebackers when playing man coverage. More importantly, the Giants prevented a potential Matthew Stafford 4th quarter comeback win. Especially with Jason Pierre-Paul out, the Giants will need to rely on their pass defense more than ever with Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins up next. Expect at least 40 pass attempts from both Wentz and Cousins over the next two games.
  1. Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1) – Ranked #8 last week
  • Heading into the Rams matchup, Russell Wilson needed to have a solid bounce back game after last week’s ugly five interception game against the Packers. Although he has struggled against the Rams defense in his career, Wilson completed 73% of passes with three touchdowns in the Seahawks win over the Rams on Richard Sherman’s “favorite” game of the year, Thursday Night Football. The Seahawks defense played very well as big hits and superb coverage highlighted the Seahawks win but then again, they did it against the worst offense in the NFL. When it is time to play the Falcons, Lions or Cowboys offense in the playoffs, we will see how much the loss of Earl Thomas will hurt the team.
  1. Atlanta Falcons (9-5) – Ranked #9 last week
  • Falcons proved once again why they are the one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Falcons obliterated the 49ers defense with 41 points and over 200 rushing yards. Matt Ryan has now had two solid back-to-back games without Julio Jones as he has completed 68% of passes with five touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Rams and 49ers. Watch out for this Falcons offense as they can match up really well against any NFC team.
  1. Detroit Lions (9-5) – Ranked #5 last week
  • Through three quarters, many fans felt that another 4th quarter comeback by Matthew Stafford was coming. The Lions played a mediocre game heading into the 4th quarter as they were down 10-6 but this time around, Stafford was unable to pull off his 9th 4th quarter comeback this season. This loss was the most discouraging for the Lions this season as it essentially eliminates their chance at the #1 seed and it opens the door for the Green Bay Packers to potentially snatch away the NFC North division crown. We will finally seed if the Lions are legit deep playoff run contenders or just a pretender team that has had their share of good fortune as they play the Cowboys and Packers in their final two games.
  1. Miami Dolphins (9-5) – Ranked #12 last week
  • Ryan Tannehill who? Matt Moore left fans wondering how he has been a backup for the last four seasons. Four touchdown passes, including two that went for over 50 yards, by Matt Moore helped the Dolphins cruise to a win over the Jets. With Tannehill gone, the Dolphins are going to have to rely more and more on the defensive front to create turnovers and halt drives by the opponents offense. Suh and Wake delivered against the Jets as they crashed the line of scrimmage with tackles for a loss and delivered constant pressure on Bryce Petty. Even when you think that the 2016 Dolphins are finally finished, they just continue to claw their way back into the playoff race.
  1. Green Bay Packers (8-6) – Ranked #14 last week
  • Ty Montgomery had a game that he will not forget. A converted running back, Montgomery finished with 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Packers win over the Bears. Montgomery came into the game with fewer than 250 rushing yards as he was ineffective all season long but he came through with a career game. With a passing attack that had a hard time picking up 1st downs against the Bears defense, Montgomery gave them a reliable weapon on offense and he essentially saved their season. The Packers now hold the 2nd wild card spot in the NFC and it is like their mid-season struggles never happened. 
  1. Tennessee Titans (8-6) – Ranked #16 last week
  • How about them Titans? They slipped away with a win against the red hot Chiefs and they finally have received national praise. Despite the controversial call after Derrick Henry’s touchdown to go for a 2-point conversion, the Titans redeemed themselves with a quick late drive to set up Ryan Succop for a game-winning field goal. The rush offense continues to prove that they are in the elite status as they rank #3 in the NFL after rushing for 148 yards. The DeMarco Murray trade has gone from a high reward, high risk trade to becoming an absolute steal trade.
  1. Baltimore Ravens (8-6) – Ranked #15 last week
  • The Ravens studied and prepared for a potential Carson Wentz 40+ pass attempts day and it paid off with a strong performance… up until the final drive of the game. Wentz drove down the field for a game-tying touchdown but Eagles head coach Doug Pederson decided to go for 2 and the win. The Ravens got the defensive stop and moved to 8-6. Two games remain for the Ravens with back-to-back AFC North divisional road games.
  1. Denver Broncos (8-6) – Ranked #10 last week
  • From Super Bowl 50 champs to currently out of the playoff picture. The offense’s struggles as of late have been worse than Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense difficulties last season. Playcalling and at times, Trevor Siemian decision-making in the red zone over the last four games has been highly criticized and has even stirred up arguments in the Broncos locker room. It was reported that a “shouting match” began between offensive and defensive players after the Broncos 16-3 loss to the Patriots. Offensive adjustments might be too late as the Broncos will prepare for must win games against the Chiefs and Raiders up next. Lighten up John Elway, at least you did not pay $72 million for a quarterback that has been benched.
  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) – Ranked #11 last week
  • When the Bucs look back at the game film of their matchup against the Cowboys, they’ll see a winnable game that could have catapulted them to national praise and more importantly, a good hold of the 2nd wild card spot. Even with the turnovers and an 88% completion percentage game by Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense were given two opportunities to orchestrate a game-winning drive but ultimately, they came short. This loss should not put them back to irrelevance nor give them the label of a pretender in the NFC but instead they should be seen as a dark horse team that is a year away from being a serious contender in the NFC. From Pro Bowl talents such as Jameis Winston and Gerald McCoy, watch out for them in the playoffs this season, if they make, and next season.
  1.  Washington Redskins (7-6-1) – Ranked #13 last week
  • With the Bucs loss to the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, the Redskins moved into the 2nd wild card spot in the NFC but not anymore. With the Redskins loss, they moved out of the 2nd wild card spot with the Packers moving into the spot at the moment. No excuses for the Redskins as they failed to take advantage of a Panthers team without Luke Kuechly. Redskins abandoned the run as Cousins attempted 47 passes but it was not enough. Now the Redskins need to win out and have the Packers and Bucs each lose at least one game to sneak into the playoffs.
  1. Houston Texans (8-6) – Ranked #18 last week
  • The Tom Savage era has officially begun in Houston. Savage came in relief to deliver a comeback win and ultimately keep Houston in 1st place in the AFC South. The key for Savage is to really do the opposite of what basically the last couple of Texans quarterbacks have done: take care of the football, challenge the secondary with deep passes and keep DeAndre Hopkins happy with a fair share of targets per game.
  1. Indianapolis Colts (7-7) – Ranked #20 last week
  • The Colts put out their best overall performance on Sunday with a 34-6 beatdown victory over the Vikings. The Colts were near flawless on both sides as Frank Gore looked like vintage 49ers Frank Gore while Adrian Peterson looked… well 2015 Frank Gore. Also, credit to one of the most underrated players this season in Erik Walden as he recorded his 10th sack of the season in the Colts win. The Colts still need to win out and see the Titans lose a game and the Texans lose out to win the division… realistic chances, right Colts fans?
  1. Buffalo Bills (7-7) – Ranked #19 last week
  • Bills fans will tell you that especially considering how the team has performed over the past three weeks, they were worried that they were going to be the infamous team that lost to the 2016 Cleveland Browns. Thanks to LeSean McCoy and the Bills rushing attack that rushed for 280 yards, the Bills did not have to worry about the loss as the Bills beat the Browns 33-13. Now all Bills fans are wondering not if… but when will the Rex Ryan era in Buffalo come to a conclusion.
  1. New Orleans Saints (6-8) – Ranked #23 last week
  • Drew Brees needed a redemption game after two of his worst performances over the past five years and like Brees has done for years, he delivered. Brees threw for 389 yards and four touchdown passes. The Saints need a near miracle to get into the playoffs as of now.
  1. Minnesota Vikings (7-7) – Ranked #17 last week
  • Remember when the Vikings were Super Bowl favorites after their 5-0 start? Now they are a loss away from a non-winning season and elimination from playoff contention. The Vikings got blown out by the Colts and dropped to the .500 mark. It was good to see Adrian Peterson after being out for three months but he struggled to get going running behind an offensive line that was not creating lanes for AP to get into the open field. Vikings can at least finish out the season on a positive note by deteriorating the Packers playoff chances with a win over them next week and finishing with a winning record with a win over the Bears in week 17.
  1. Carolina Panthers (6-8) – Ranked #24 last week
  • While the Panthers playoff hopes need a significant miracle, they were able to get a nice road win on Monday Night Football over the Redskins. A 300 passing yards and two touchdown game by Cam Newton was enough to knock off the Panthers out of the 2nd wild card spot. Getting to 8-8 after a 1-5 start to the season is now a realistic possibility for the Panthers.

23. Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1) – Ranked #21 last week

  • The Cardinals can not catch a break even when their offense scores 41 points. With the loss to the Saints, the Cardinals clinched a losing season just 11 months after playing in the NFC Championship game. With a season like this, there will be heavy speculation over what is next for the Cardinals. Will Bruce Arians retire? Could Carson Palmer be playing his final game as a starting QB for the Cardinals in week 17?

24. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) – Ranked #22 last week

  • Steelers fans will have great bragging rights after going 3-0 against the Bengals in 2016. In a game where the Bengals blew a 14 point lead and Vontaze Burfict was at it again with cheap shots against Steelers players, the Bengals walked off the field eliminated from the playoffs and clinching a losing season. A topic that has been highly debated among Bengals and NFL fans, is it time for Marvin Lewis to go?
  1. Philadelphia Eagles (5-9) – Ranked #25 last week
  • Carson Wentz once againa threw over 40 passes but completed under 50% of them for 170 yards on a 4.0 yards per attempt average. Wentz did get help from Ryan Mathews to create a good balanced offense as he rushed for 128 yards but not much reciever help until the final drive. The Eagles clinched back-to-back losing seasons and are on their way to a last place finish in the NFC East.
  1. San Diego Chargers (5-9) – Ranked #26 last week
  • The Chargers played a hard fought game against the Raiders… in front of an estimated 70/30 crowd full of Raiders fans. Especially in a time where the Chargers are considering moving to Los Angeles, it is not a good time to have more than half of your game attendance filled with fans of the opposing team. At least for Chargers fans, rookie Joey Bosa has lived up to the hype. Bosa has recorded 7.5 sacks in 10 games this season with 3 coming against the Raiders.
  1. New York Jets (4-10) – Ranked #27 last week
  • It was the 4th time that the Jets played in front of a national audience but like the last three games, Jets fans were left disappointed as the Jets lost the season series to the Dolphins. It was actually a competitive game until the 3rd quarter when the Jets allowed 21 points en route to another blowout loss. It sucks watching offensive players Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte playing on a losing season because they are both over 30 and they can contribute what they have left to a winning team looking to make a playoff push. With the quarterback situation, Bryce Petty does not leave Jets fans over excited about the future and the calls have begun for Christian Hackenberg.
  1. Chicago Bears (3-11) – Ranked #28 last week
  • It sucks losing to your rival but it is even worse looking at how the Bears lost to their long-time rival. After scoring 17 points in the 4th quarter to tie the game at 27, Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for a 60 yard completion to set up a Mason Crosby game-winning field goal. Although the Bears lost a close one to the Packers, there are plenty of positive takeaways from this game. Matt Barkley threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns in a heroic comeback attempt. Jordan Howard reached over 1,000 rushing yards. Up until the Nelson completion in the late stages of the 4th quarter, the Bears pass defense held Rodgers to under 200 passing yards and sacked Rodgers four times. It is the little thing that can go a long way for an organization that is in one of the worst seasons over the last decade. 
  1. Los Angeles Rams (4-10) – Ranked #29 last week
  • Jeff Fisher must have been watching this game thinking that he was not the problem for the Rams struggles this season and after his “I want to play the Rams” comments this week, he was probably rooting for the Seahawks. On the national stage, the Rams showed exactly why they have a losing record. Dropped passes, poor QB throws, lack of hustle, you name it, the Rams looked like a team that were just not ready to play this game. On offense, Todd Gurley recorded his 16th straight game without a 100 rushing yards game and Jared Goff once again did not look comfortable in the pocket. Maybe the Rams should bring in… Josh McDaniels?
  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) – Ranked #30 last week
  • After the Jaguars blew a 13 point lead to Tom Savage and the Texans, the Jaguars finally had enough and fired Gus Bradley. So who would want to coach the Jaguars? This should be an attractive position for NFL and college coaches/coordinators. Coaching a team full of young and rising talents on offense and defense should be a hot commodity this offseason.
  1. San Francisco 49ers (1-13) – Ranked #31 last week
  • Patrick Willis and other 49ers defensive players that played during the Jim Harbaugh era probably are shocked at how bad the 49ers defense has been. In their game against the Falcons, the 49ers defense allowed over 200 rushing yards for the 4th time this season. From a once proud and elite defense to a defense that needs an overhaul of talent. 49ers will have a ton of work to do in the off-season to revamp the defensive front.
  1. Cleveland Browns (0-14) – Ranked #32 last week
  • The Browns are now two games away from an 0-16 season. As Cleveland sports fans reminisce back to everything that has happened over the last 7 months, well what a rollercoaster year. Cavs win the NBA Finals, Indians make it to the World Series and the Browns are getting closer to the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. Just another crazy year for Cleveland sports fans.