Last week was pretty crazy, huh? Between the New England Patriots losing to the Miami Dolphins – which in the long-term doesn’t have a ton of meaning – to the Philadelphia Eagles losing quarterback Carson Wentz for the season – which unquestionably effects their standing as a Super Bowl contender. This week in the NFL Power Rankings, we try to figure it all out and sort through a crowded wild-card field.
Def Pen’s 2017 Week 15 NFL Power Rankings, Tier One: Imperfect Contenders
- New England Patriots
- New Orleans Saints
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Minnesota Vikings
- Philadelphia Eagles
Despite a loss, New England (10-3) takes over the top spot. As stated in the intro, in the context of things, the Pats’ loss doesn’t really mean a lot. They’re still in the best position to get to the Super Bowl. That’s about all that matters to them.
The highest graded QBs this season pic.twitter.com/HpExQ5wVRu
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 13, 2017
After winning eight straight, New Orleans (9-4) has (quietly?) lost two of their last three. While the number two spot in the NFL Power Rankings still shows the Saints a ton of respect, we might have to keep an eye on this team. They just might prove to be the team that peaked too early.
Pittsburgh (11-2), was weirdly the only team in the top tier that won in Week 14 and not also suffer a potentially devastating injury while doing so. The Steelers keep winning and are unquestionably in contention, but it’s easy to pick holes in this team. Like their point differential: Pittsburgh’s mark of +69 in that category isn’t even the best in their own division. (Baltimore’s is +72.)
The Vikings (10-3) remain in the top tier despite coming off a loss to the Panthers. Minnesota has a great chance to bounce back this week at home against the Bengals. Plus, the Vikings have a firm grasp on the NFL North and are also looking to be in decent shape for a potential top seed in the NFC if Philly struggles with a new QB.
How far do you move the Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) down? They still won; they still have the NFL’s best record. But the loss of Carson Wentz is huge (obviously). Nick Foles has looked good before in an Eagles uniform. We’re keeping Philadelphia in the top tier, but moved them down within the tier. It helps that they have the Giants and Raiders as their next two opponents, but this is definitely a team to keep an eye on going forward.
Tier Two: Slightly More Imperfect Contenders
- Carolina Panthers
- Los Angeles Rams
- Jacksonville Jaguars
Carolina (9-4) came out of Week 14 with a big win against the Vikings. That gave the Panthers a leg up on a wild-card spot in the NFC. Carolina also has a chance to knock out a contender for one of the wild-card spots this week against Green Bay.
The Rams (9-4) could be in line for a drop next week if they allow Seattle to take over the top spot in the NFC West when they play each other this weekend. Los Angeles was a feel-good story for much of this season, but they’re still not out of the woods yet. There’s still time for the wheels to come off here. And that leaves L.A. in a bit of a precarious situation at the moment.
Russell Wilson calls Rams DT Aaron Donald probably the best defensive player he’s ever faced.
— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) December 14, 2017
Seems like every year now there’s a team that is so overwhelming on defense they must be taken as a serious contender no matter what other issues they have. It looks like Jacksonville (9-4) is this year’s version of that team. Despite not getting much out of Blake Bortles, the Jags still have the NFL’s third-best point differential (at +127, behind only the Eagles and Rams).
Tier Three: Buckle Your Seatbelt
- Atlanta Falcons
- Baltimore Ravens
- Seattle Seahawks
- Tennessee Titans
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Los Angeles Chargers
The 2017 Atlanta Falcons (8-5) can beat anybody on any given week, they can also plausibly lose to any team any given week (except Cleveland … because, c’mon, right?). But a huge portion of responsibility is on the shoulders of Matt Ryan (and indirectly, the offensive line). The passing game is nowhere near where it was at this point last year, but this team has time for it to get there. But the clock’s ticking.
Baltimore (7-6) is the biggest benefactor of the AFC’s weak middle class. The Ravens have taken advantage of a relatively anemic schedule, too. Their three remaining games (Browns, Colts, and Bengals) are all very winnable, which would put Baltimore in the playoffs. Still, don’t expect them to make much noise once postseason play starts.
The Seahawks (8-5) are officially in make-or-break territory. This week’s game against the Rams could either put Seattle in position to win the NFC West, or it could severely hurt their wild-card chances. Look for this team to move up or down pretty dramatically in next week’s NFL Power Rankings, depending on how things play out this week.
Being in the league’s worst division has its perks. Even though the Titans (8-5) can look downright bad, they still rank pretty high in the NFL Power Rankings because they can’t be counted out for the AFC South crown.
Kansas City (7-6) did enough to get back in the winning column (finally). But things aren’t going to get any easier on the Chiefs, as they play the Chargers with the AFC West crown on the line.
[email protected] pointed out a pretty cool @Chiefs record they’re going for.
1,000 rushing yards from a RB, 1,000 receiving yards from a WR, and 1,000 receiving yards from a TE.
Hunt is already there and Hill and Kelce are right there. #ChiefsKingdom #Chiefs
— Chris Lilly (@wibwChrisLilly) December 13, 2017
Since the Chiefs and Chargers (7-6) play each other this week, look for the two to split in future NFL Power Rankings. They’ve been clustered for a few weeks now since the division race has been so close. But we’ll have a better idea of who the best AFC West team is after this week.
Tier Four: Do You Believe in Miracles?
- Green Bay Packers
- Buffalo Bills
- Dallas Cowboys
- Detroit Lions
Green Bay (7-6) more or less got everything they could’ve asked for out of Brett Hundley. Sure, it wasn’t pretty for much of the time, but he kept them in the playoff race. Aaron Rodgers comes back this week, but the pressure is still on the Packers, who have to win out to have any chance to play on. A win this week would mean a move up the NFL Power Rankings for Green Bay in the future.
Congrats @AaronRodgers12. So Happy to hear you’re coming back. The NFL is a better place when that Baaaaaaaaaaaddddddd Man is in the House. Can’t wait to see you on Sunday.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) December 13, 2017
The Bills (7-6) play the Dolphins twice yet with the Patriots sandwiched in between. A win in two of those three could put Buffalo in an interesting spot regarding the wild-card spots. Miami is playing better as of late, and the Pats will most likely still be playing for home-field advantage, so the Bills aren’t going to get any breaks from their in-division rivals, making their path to the playoffs all the tougher.
Fans of the Dallas Cowboys (7-6) can talk themselves into believing their team still has a chance at the postseason, and they’d technically be right. But in Dallas’ case, it’s not so much about making up the games they’re behind, it’s the number of teams they’d have to jump over in order to get a wild-card. In pretty much every scenario, the Cowboys are on the wrong side of a tie-breaker, so it looks like there are only three games left for Dallas this season.
A few weeks ago, it looked like Detroit (7-6) was at the head of the NFC wild-card group. However, they just haven’t gone enough to help themselves, and now it looks like the Lions will end up on the outside of the playoff race.
Tier Five: Drop the Ball Already, We’re Ready for 2018
- Arizona Cardinals
- Washington Football Team
- Oakland Raiders
- Houston Texans
To Arizona’s (6-7) credit, they’ve kept playing pretty hard (and well) despite the season being lost pretty early on. They still have a chance to finish above .500 and could play a huge role in the NFC playoff picture in Week 17 when they play Seattle. At one point in time, the Cardinals were one of the biggest disappointments in the league, but they’ve weirdly put together a pretty successful season all things considered.
The most interesting part of Washington’s (5-8) season just might be what influence it has on the organization going forward. It feels like we’re heading towards a franchise-defining offseason in D.C.
Besides a one-point victory over Kansas City before we knew they ran out of gas, Oakland’s (6-7) season is completely devoid of quality wins. Not only was this season super disappointing for the Raiders, there’s not much to be hopeful for in the future, either.
The Texans (4-9) just want the season to be over with. On the bright side, Houston fans might have more of a reason to look forward to next year than any other fan base. A good slot in the NFL Draft and a chance to finally get healthy should set up this squad nicely to be a contender in the near future.
Tier Six: Where are We and Where are We Going?
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Miami Dolphins
- New York Jets
- Denver Broncos
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s kind of hard to tell where the bottom is for the Bengals (5-8). Seems up in the air if they’re on the way down or have enough to bounce back towards the top of the AFC. It’s kind of hard to believe a team with young impact players already missed their window, but that just might be the case here.
Injuries are never a good thing. But in the Jets’ (5-8) case, losing QB Josh McCown was far from the worst thing in the world. New York wasn’t making the playoffs anyhow, losing their remaining games will only improve their draft pick, and it forces them to take a look at what they have in their backup quarterbacks, something they were looking for an excuse to do anyway. Dropping lower in the NFL Power Rankings before this season is over might be the best way the Jets climb back up in 2018.
John Elway is rightfully beloved in Denver (4-9). But he’s faced some backlash recently over the Broncos’ roster construction and struggles to find a quarterback. Whether Elway gets fired this offseason (which is probably a longshot) or not, the relationship between Broncos management and their fan base is a fascinating storyline.
Ian Rapoport reported that the expectation is that Joseph will be back in 2018 and no more “major changes” are expected to the team’s coaching staff. Also, notes that John Elway will be watching the final 3 wks closely to see if the players seem motivated or have given up on him
— Sportsfeedia.com (@sportsfeedia) December 14, 2017
Although Tampa Bay (4-9) has been out of the playoff picture for a while now, they can still make a bit of a statement this season. The Bucs play each of their division rivals over the last three weeks of the season. Even if they don’t win, staying competitive is imperative for this Tampa Bay team. They need to at least show signs they can make a leap in 2018.
Def Pen’s 2017 Week 15 NFL Power Rankings, Tier Seven: The Rebuilders
- Chicago Bears
- San Francisco 49ers
- New York Giants
- Indianapolis Colts
- Cleveland Browns
Chicago (4-9) didn’t exactly surprise anybody this season (at least in a good way). But the Bears benefit from low expectations. It’s hard to consider 2017 a failure since there was so much turnover on the roster and a concerted effort to rebuild. But on the other hand, if things don’t start to turn around next season, this season wasn’t worth the trouble. The Bears 2017 gets an “Incomplete” because so much of their future successes are riding on this season’s failures.
The 49ers (3-10) are a surprising 2-0 since handing the offensive keys over to Jimmy Garoppolo. San Francisco picked a good time to make the switch. Since the change at QB, the 49ers played the Bears and Texans, and have the Titans, Jaguars, and Rams. Slowly ratcheting up the competition like that is a great way to bring a young quarterback along.
Between making changes to the coaching staff and management, and the fact that they’ve been hit more big injuries than just about anybody, it might be easy for the Giants (2-11) to reasonably conclude they can bring back roughly the same roster and expect more winning in 2018. However, it looks like this is an organization on the brink of a bigger rebuild. And they might be right to do so.
Although Andrew Luck didn’t play this season, Indianapolis (3-10) is on track to waste the career of a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. This team seemed destined for this low a spot in the NFL Power Rankings.
The inference of being a “rebuilding” team is that there was something built to begin with. Since the Browns (0-13) have been back in Cleveland, every time they try to set a foundation it crumbles and they have to start over again. That’s a recipe to rank at the bottom of the NFL Power Rankings in perpetuity.
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