1. Dallas Cowboys (11-1) defeated Minnesota 17-15. Previously: 1
The Cowboys finished their tour of the NFC North 2-0. Winning in Green Bay and Minnesota is no easy task. Thursday night’s game, which perhaps did not feature an abundance of reassurances about the quality of officiating in the league (with complaints justified on both sides,) kicked off what will be four straight primetime contests for Dallas. Handing the Giants their fifth loss in New York Sunday night would clinch the NFC East with three games to go.
2. New England Patriots (10-2) defeated Los Angeles 26-10. Previously: 2
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Similarly, on Monday night the Patriots will have a chance to clinch the AFC East against the Ravens if the Dolphins have lost their earlier game. Either way, this game featuring two division leaders could foreshadow a playoff matchup we’ve seen give great games in recent years. The Patriots win over the Rams this week was Tom Brady’s 201st career victory, moving him out of a tie with Peyton Manning for the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
3. Oakland Raiders (10-2) defeated Buffalo 38-24. Previously: 3
Huge matchup this Thursday night as the Raiders look for revenge and a two game-cushion in the AFC West. Kansas City took the Raiders apart in October in Oakland 26-10. Since that game, the Raiders are 6-0; the Chiefs are 6-1. Both teams have thrilled with comebacks this season, and the game that might decide the NFL’s best division might be exactly what the NFL needs to save a dismal season of primetime matchups.
4. Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) defeated Carolina 40-7. Previously: 4
Speaking of dismal matchups, here we have the Sunday night game that included the reigning MVP starting off on the bench, one of the league’s premiere safeties breaking his leg and publicly considering retirement, and yes, the 33-point dismantling of last year’s Super Bowl runner-up. From the Seattle perspective, this game was a dramatic response to last week’s loss, despite the worry Earl Thomas’ loss causes. For the rest of the league, this was a snoozer.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) defeated Atlanta 29-28. Previously: 6
The reason we can’t just call Earl Thomas the premiere safety in the league: Eric Berry. In his career, he’s returned five of his 13 interceptions for touchdowns and, while he got one of those Sunday, it doesn’t even encompass his most dramatic play: intercepting Matt Ryan’s two-point attempt and returning it for the game winning two points. The problem for Kansas City, and this is only half-in-jest: Berry might be the team’s best offensive weapon.
6. Denver Broncos (8-4) defeated Jacksonville 20-10. Previously: 7
It’s still unclear whether Trevor Siemian will be able to return this week, but if he doesn’t Paxton Lynch (and the rest of the team) will face a much stiffer test against the Titans than they did against the Jaguars. With the Colts and Texans playing each other and all three teams at 6-6, Tennessee will be desperate to stay in the division race. And let’s just say they run the ball a teensey bit better (141.5 yards per game) than the Jags (101.1.)
7. Detroit Lions (8-4) defeated New Orleans 28-13. Previously: 9
Matthew Stafford will get (and deserves) plenty of accolades for Detroit’s season (and, let’s be honest, any success of the past decade in the Motor City) but take a look at what the Lions defense just did to New Orleans. No passing touchdowns for Drew Brees (more on that below,) three interceptions, and just 13 points for a unit that put up 49 on the Rams last week. And the Lions, for the first time this season, didn’t trail in the fourth quarter. Can they make a habit of it against the Bears?
8. New York Giants (8-4) lost to Pittsburgh 24-14. Previously: 5
Rough loss where the Giants trailed from start-to-finish to have as a tune-up for their big game with Dallas. While they’re still the only team to beat the Cowboys this season, even a home win this week would see the Giants two games behind Dallas with three games to play. But a home loss could drop them from the perch atop the wildcard standings they’ve enjoyed for weeks right into the thick of things.
9. Baltimore Ravens (7-5) defeated Miami 38-6. Previously: 12
This is the week of primetime games that could save the NFL, and it couldn’t come at a better time. We’ve just reached the lowest ranked team in our power rankings that will play a night game this week, and we’re at number nine. And a number nine that just played their best game of the season. Following a mid-season hiccup, the Ravens have won four-of-five, with a to-be-expected loss to Dallas stuck in the middle.
10. Atlanta Falcons (7-5) lost to Kansas City 29-28. Previously: 8
They’ll tenuously keep their spot above Tampa Bay here for now. They did beat the Bucs the last time the two played, and have the seemingly easier schedule the rest of the way. Matt Ryan won’t have to see Eric Berry anymore the rest of this season, except perhaps in his nightmares, unless the Falcons make the Super Bowl, so that’s good news. Count on this offense to be just fine against the Rams and 49ers the next two weeks.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) defeated San Diego 28-21. Previously: 14
This week is the first of two remaining matchups with the Saints and, this weeks bizarre toothless performance against Detroit aside, Drew Brees and New Orleans should provide ample testing of how different this Tampa defense is from the one teams salivated about facing earlier this season. No team in the NFL has a more impressive last three weeks than the Bucs.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) defeated New York Giants 24-14. Previously: 17
The Steelers, who looked so miserable halfway through this season, appear reinvigorated enough by matchups with the Browns and an Andrew Luck-less Colts team that they were able to stick it to one of the NFL’s hottest teams this weekend. Now they get to face a Bills defense that just let Oakland drop 24 points in the last 19 minutes of a monster comeback. The rest of the league has to be eyeing this offense warily.
13. Green Bay Packers (6-6) defeated Houston 21-13. Previously: 20
The Packers got their second straight win, but are now facing a way tougher test than the Texans or Eagles when Seattle comes to town. Christine Michael gets a shot at the team that has sent him packing two seasons in a row, but it may be better for Green Bay to just stick with the mere illusion of a running game that has them winning. With three games left against their division, they aren’t out of this yet.
14. Washington (6-5-1) lost to Arizona 31-23. Previously: 10
This was a puzzling loss for Washington, who had looked like one of the nation’s hottest teams, even in their loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. In the end it’s just a shame they didn’t score a touchdown, two-point conversion and then bumble through overtime with the Cardinals, giving us two teams with two ties this season.
15. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) defeated New York Jets 41-10. Previously: 22
No one needs me to explain that the Colts are a different team with Andrew Luck at the helm, but boy, if anyone had been watching the game Monday night they would have marveled that this was the team the nation last saw 11 days earlier in between turkey-and-Colts-induced snoozes. There wasn’t a better time for this outburst either, with the Colts about to face Houston, losers of three straight, for the division lead.
16. Miami Dolphins (7-5) lost to Baltimore 38-6. Previously: 11
Now that’s ending a six game win streak in style. There’s no time to mope in Miami, with the Cardinals visiting and the Dolphins still in the thick of the AFC playoff race. If they can handle a likely jet-lagged Arizona team, winnable games against the Jets and Bills follow. But there can’t be any more 500-yard games allowed by this defense.
17. Houston Texans (6-6) lost to Green Bay 21-13. Previously: 13
The Texans have lost three in a row, and given a lot of credence to the doubters who say they’re nothing more than the best of a poor division. Even that might be in doubt as they’ve fallen into a three-way-tie with the Colts and Titans. It’s up to them to prove they’re a step above the rest and if they do that, they’ll have written their ticket to the playoffs, because they have games left against the Colts, Jaguars, and Titans.
18. Tennessee Titans (6-6) Bye. Previously: 18
The Titans have to be rooting for the Texans this weekend with their own two losses to the Colts assuring they would lose any tie-breaker with Indianapolis. Tennessee, one of the NFL’s best examples of a team winning the games they should win: ie a middling team picking on the league’s worst, has a chance to pull the upset this week against a Broncos team that looks vulnerable on offense. They just have to hold on to the ball, which is kind of their forte.
19. Minnesota Vikings (6-6) lost to Dallas 17-15. Previously: 16
Week 14 may give the Vikings just what they need, unlike the officials watching Sam Bradford get hit in the head on their two-point attempt against Dallas Thursday night. And what does any struggling (read: lost six of their last seven) team need? A date with the Jacksonville Jaguars of course. This is one opponent the Vikings defense can outscore.
20. Buffalo Bills (6-6) lost to Oakland 38-24. Previously: 15
The Bills let a 24-9 lead turn into a 38-24 defeat this week, and that’s just brutal. Hopefully Rex Ryan has some answers and the defense gets it turned around quick, because the Steelers offense is coming to town and it looks like 10 wins might be the necessary amount to find yourself in the playoffs in the AFC.
21. Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) defeated Washington 31-23. Previously: 25
The Cardinals broke convention and conventional wisdom against Washington, in a game where the two teams entered headed in seemingly opposite directions. A win on the east coast at one o’clock is a tough call, but if they can beat the Dolphins they’ll be back to .500 for the first time since they scraped one against the 49ers three weeks ago.
22. San Diego Chargers (5-7) lost to Tampa Bay 28-21. Previously: 19
Being 5-7 with a plus-15 point differential is tough, and the Chargers lost their seventh one-score game this week. With games remaining against the Panthers and Browns, you have to imagine they’ll finish with a positive point differential as well, and we’ll just have to wonder where this team would be if they played in, say, the AFC South.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) defeated Philadelphia 32-14. Previously: 27
The Bengals got back into the winner’s circle for the first time since October 23rd, when they beat the Browns. They’ll have to be careful this week to repeat the feat, facing the Browns in Cleveland after their bye. With the Ravens and Steelers facing tough schedules the rest of the way, and the Bengals holding a game against each, they actually may not be out of this yet.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) lost to Cincinnati 32-14. Previously: 21
Coming off their worst three losses of the season, the Eagles look stumped. They became the first team not to sack Andy Dalton this season Sunday, a week after becoming the second team not to sack Aaron Rodgers at least once. In the three games since the team ran for 208 yards in their last victory over the Falcons, no player has topped 50 yards rushing.
25. New Orleans Saints (5-7) lost to Detroit 28-13. Previously: 23
Sunday was Drew Brees’ first home game without a touchdown pass since week 4 of the 2009 season. If you believe in patterns, bad news Saints fans, that game was his first without a touchdown pass since week 3 of the 2009 season.
26. Los Angeles Rams (4-8) lost to New England 26-10. Previously: 28
The Rams extending Jeff Fisher’s contract, and, also, the Rams being likely to lose at least one football game the rest of this season, makes it extremely likely that Fisher will tie and surpass Dan Reeves for the most losses in NFL history. Fisher currently sits at 164, one behind Reeves. It’s not a completely ignoble position: Tom Landry and Don Shula are the next two names on the list. And Fisher has had success: he had six playoff seasons and three 13-win seasons in a 10 year period in Tennessee, but the last one was in 2008.
27. Carolina Panthers (4-8) lost to Seattle 40-7. Previously: 24
If you want Carolina’s 2016 in a microcosm, look no further than Sunday night. Cam Newton’s attire was more important than on-field results, which is especially true when the on-field results look like this. The Panthers won their playoff game against Seattle last year, but they were outscored 24-0 in the second half, and the Seahawks picked up right where they left off.
28. Chicago Bears (3-9) defeated San Francisco 26-6. Previously: 30
That was as feel-good a game as a 2-9 team could have had. The Bears allowing as many net passing yards (six) as they had sacks. Matt Barkley continuing to look good against the coach that jettisoned him from Philadelphia. Jordan Howard becoming the first Bears rookie to run for three touchdowns in a game since Rashaan Salaam. And all of it happened in (and very probably because of) some trademark Soldier Field weather. Now they just have to defend Detroit the same way in a dome.
29. New York Jets (3-9) lost to Indianapolis 41-10. Previously: 26
It’s Bryce Petty for the rest of the season then. While Todd Bowles may have acknowledged they won’t be going to the playoffs this season, stay tuned to see whether the team has packed it in after a cross-country flight to face San Francisco on a short week.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) lost to Denver 20-10. Previously: 29
Blake Bortles brought the team back into the game with a nice touchdown run, but it was his own pick six that put them in the hole to begin with, and a strip sack that finally killed the Jaguars off. They’ll be in danger of a similar result this week against the Vikings if they aren’t more careful with the ball. At least while they were turning it over in 2015, they were scoring in buckets.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-11) lost to Chicago 26-6. Previously: 31
Colin Kaepernick had been trending upwards as the 49ers starting quarterback, peaking at 409 total yards and three touchdowns last week as they barely lost to the Dolphins. Sunday’s game was anything but a continuation of that trend, as he finished 1-for-5 for four yards, was sacked five times, and benched so Blaine Gabbert could provide “a spark.” San Francisco finished with six net passing yards.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-12) Bye. Previously: 32
Cleveland will return from their bye to their best chance at a win the rest of this season. They’ve had an extra week to prepare for a Bengals team that, while showing signs of life against the Eagles, hasn’t won on the road since Week 1 when they stole a victory from the Jets. If you can do it Cleveland, the 31 spot can be yours