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Power Rankings: Pats sputter into playoffs –


Power Rankings: Pats sputter into playoffs –

And that’s a wrap on the 2019 regular season. In the coming weeks, the Power Rankings will focus its attention on the remaining playoff teams, but for this week, let’s roll out the full 32. Looking for a fun exercise? (Don’t worry, I’m not talking about real exercise. We all know that won’t — hypothetically…

Power Rankings: Pats sputter into playoffs –

And that’s a wrap on the 2019 regular season.

In the coming weeks, the Power Rankings will focus its attention on the remaining playoff teams, but for this week, let’s roll out the full 32.

Looking for a fun exercise? (Don’t worry, I’m not talking about real exercise. We all know that won’t — hypothetically — happen until after New Year’s.) OK: Check out your favorite team’s ranking this week, and compare that to where it was prior to Week 1 on these very Power Rankings. How much movement do you see? In which direction? Did you agree with me then? Do you agree with me now? Do you like me? Would you come to my house if I invited you? Would you loan me 20 bucks?

Happy 2020, everybody.

NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 17 Power Rankings.

Previous rank:
No. 1

John Harbaugh has notched much bigger wins, both this season and over the course of his long and successful
Ravens tenure, but you wonder how many were more satisfying than
beating the Steelers with his backups in a game that began with playoff ramifications for the longtime rivals from Pittsburgh. It’s been that kind of blessed year for the
Ravens, who finished the regular season at 14-2, the best mark in franchise history. They made more history, too, passing the 1978
Patriots (yes, the
Patriots existed before Tom Brady) for
the most team rushing yards in a single season. They did it on the backs of two special players: soon-to-be MVP
Lamar Jackson (1,206 rushing yards) and stellar free-agent acquisition
Mark Ingram (1,018 yards). Up next is a week of rest and preparation before getting the
Texans or
Titans in their house a week from Saturday. This is your clear
Super Bowl favorite.

Previous rank:
No. 2

Saints deserve better than the No. 3 seed. Sean Payton’s team took care of their business in decisive fashion on Sunday, building a 35-0 first-half lead in
an unholy blowout of the early-vacationing
Panthers. The
Saints averaged 40 points per game over the final four weeks of the season, humming on offense with the kind of precision we haven’t seen since last season. It makes you wonder if bringing in
Antonio Brown
for a workout last week was a move made solely to freak out NFC playoff teams already intimidated by the
Saints‘ overwhelming attack. First up is the
Vikings, a team that seems to be stumbling at the same time the
Saints are reaching full flight. Throw in an all-time Revenge Game opportunity (
Minneapolis Miracle, anyone?), and
Saints fans are right to feel confident about their team right about now.

Previous rank:
No. 3

If the
49ers end up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in five weeks, remember the tackle rookie linebacker
Dre Greenlaw made in
the regular-season finale against the
Seahawks. Greenlaw
de-cleated Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister at the goal line, denying Seattle the go-ahead score in the final seconds and ensuring the
49ers would enter January as the NFC West champions with home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. The Niners are a better team than the
Seahawks, and they showed it for most of Sunday night’s epic season-closing showdown. But had
Russell Wilson worked his magic and stolen the game? Who knows if the Niners recover? If they did, it would’ve been on the road this weekend in Philadelphia. Instead, it’s a bye week, a home game (or two) and the inside track on a
Super Bowl return. Yup, remember that name.
Dre Greenlaw.

Previous rank:
No. 6

Packers finished the season at 13-3 and have collected one of the two all-important byes that greatly increase the chance of a
Super Bowl appearance. So why does this team feel vulnerable entering the playoffs? Because of performances like we saw
on Sunday, when the
Packers allowed the
Detroit Lions — the same
Detroit Lions team that lost 12 of its final 13 games — to jump out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Aaron Rodgers and Co. figured it out after the slow start and got
a Mason Crosby field goal to win it as time expired, but this is not behavior becoming of a legit conference superpower. Green Bay needs to be better on both sides of the ball if it’s going to last in the sandbox occupied by the true beasts of the NFC.

Previous rank:
No. 5

A stunner at Foxborough.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s touchdown pass in the final minute was a devastating dagger to the
Patriots‘ hopes of securing a postseason bye for the 10th consecutive year. The
Dolphins hung around all afternoon, and New England’s vaunted defense couldn’t keep Miami out of the end zone with the game on the line, allowing Fitzmagic to march the Fins 75 yards on 13 plays in the final four minutes for the game-winning score. For the first time since the 2009 playoffs, the
Patriots will have to earn their way to the Divisional Round with a win on Wild Card Weekend. And they’ll have to do it
against the Titans, one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Is this all a recipe for imminent doom for the greatest dynasty in NFL history? Will it even be a huge upset if Tennessee wins on Saturday night at Gillette? The
Patriots are vulnerable — it’s been that way for weeks.

Previous rank:
No. 7

Seahawks were set up for their sweeping cinematic moment. One yard away from a touchdown that would clinch their division in front of Al, Cris, Michele and millions of TV viewers, not to mention the 69,162 delirious 12s at CenturyLink Field. The Clink roared as
Marshawn Lynch jogged onto the field for a goal-line carry that seemed destined to trigger a second BeastQuake. But then the Football Gods yelled “Cut!” The
Seahawks got a mind-numbing delay-of-game penalty, Al Riveron took a pass on
an obvious PI review and
Jacob Hollister was upended inches away from paydirt on fourth-and-goal. In the end, it was the
49ers celebrating an NFC West title
as the credits rolled. Seattle’s season ends on a rough two-game skid — and now the ‘Hawks get the surging
Eagles on the road Sunday. This doesn’t feel like a script with a happy ending.

Previous rank:
No. 8

Bill O’Brien was given a chance to protect his top players in Week 17, and now a fully rested Houston squad will get an offensively-challenged
Bills team
at home on Saturday. The Buffalo defense is as excellent as its Josh Allen-led attack is erratic, so don’t expect the
Texans to waltz to victory. A looming X-factor is
J.J. Watt, who was designated to come back from injured reserve last week and
will return to action Saturday. Houston has survived more than it has thrived without its three-time Defensive Player of the Year, struggling to stop the run or rush the quarterback since Watt tore his pec in late October. Will he be close to the same guy? Can he make it through the game? Stay tuned.

Previous rank:
No. 11

How fitting was it to see
Derrick Henry ripping off
another monster touchdown run to clinch a playoff berth for the
Ryan Tannehill has been a revelation in Nashville, but it was Henry who proved himself to be the team’s heart and soul over the past two seasons. The 53-yard gallop put away the
Texans‘ backups and gave him 211 yards in the game — enough to take the NFL rushing title away from
Browns star
Nick Chubb. Yes, the
Titans went 9-7 for the fourth consecutive season, but this team is nothing like those boring-as-a-dishwasher-repair-manual editions of Mariotas past. Mike Vrabel doesn’t have a perfect team — the defense and kicking game stand out as particular question marks — but do you think the
Patriots want anything to do with this playoff matchup
on Saturday night? The
Titans are feeling dangerous.

Previous rank:
No. 10

Bills went into Sunday’s
regular-season finale against the
Jets with nothing to play for but a shiny 11-5 finish. They didn’t get it, and they ended up losing some key players to injury despite resting multiple starters. Starting cornerback
Levi Wallace was ruled out after suffering a nasty-looking ankle injury on
an interception of Sam Darnold. Offensive lineman
Ty Nsekhe aggravated an ankle injury in his first action since Week 11.
Josh Allen was lifted after just two series, and
Matt Barkley reminded us that, well, the
Bills need
Josh Allen to stay healthy. The standout on offense was reserve wideout
Duke Williams, who had six catches for 108 yards on a team-high 12 targets. A nice showcase for Williams, but he’ll likely return to the sidelines when the
Bills starters emerge from hibernation
Saturday in Houston.

Previous rank:
No. 9

With nothing to play for in
Week 17’s loss to the
Bears, the
Vikings made the prudent move in resting their starters, but let’s be honest here: No team in The Final 12 enters January with less juice than Minnesota. If nothing else, Sunday was an opportunity to wash out some of the bad taste of that
egregiously awful
Monday Night Football performance against the
Packers. They chose a different path, and now they’ll travel to New Orleans
to face a Saints team that’s a mortal lock to stack points on Sunday. Sean Payton’s squad averaged 40 points per game in its final four contests of the season. Contrast that with the
Vikings, who managed
seven first downs against Green Bay in their final regular-season game of consequence. Sports are weird, and it’s certainly possible
Kirk Cousins and friends emerge from their stupor to go punch-for-punch with the mighty
Saints … but you’d understand if doubt has crept into the building.

Previous rank:
No. 12

What an incredible job by the
Eagles, who chose to ignore every signal from the Football Gods that this wasn’t their year. The NFC East champions get the equally battered
this weekend — a winnable matchup for the Wentz Warriors. Speaking of which, here’s a great stat that perfectly encapsulates what makes a franchise quarterback. In
Sunday’s win over the
Giants, the
Eagles became the first team in NFL history to have a quarterback throw for 4,000 yards without a 500-yard wide receiver on the roster. It speaks to Philadelphia’s rotten injury luck, but also to Wentz’s impressive ability to keep producing while the world crumbled around him. One guy Wentz needs to make the
Eagles more than a December feel-good story?
Zach Ertz, the star tight end who remains in limbo after suffering a cracked rib and lacerated kidney (ouch) in Week 16.

Previous rank:
No. 14

Advanced metrics love the 2019
Dallas Cowboys … they’ll always have that. Jason Garrett’s team was a darling in the DVOA realm this season, but we’ll stick with the teachings of the tenured professor, Bill Parcells: You are what your record says you are. The
Cowboys went 8-8 — the definition of average. If Jason Garrett does indeed go (a fate that remains expected as of now), his former job becomes the most attractive gig on the market. Working for the eternally
involved Jerry Jones comes with its own special challenges, but this is a prestige position leading a roster that remains stocked with considerable talent. Sunday’s
47-16 win over the
Redskins was a reminder — and a final tease — of how impressive the
Cowboys machine can be when it’s humming. Jerrah’s job is to find someone who can keep it from going on the fritz so often.

Previous rank:
No. 15

Rams didn’t expect their final game at the old Coliseum to come in the regular-season closer, but it was that kind of disappointing campaign in Los Angeles. On the plus side, Sean McVay’s offense started to look more like itself in recent weeks, a fact that should allay some Jared Goff-related fears as the organization looks ahead to a pivotal offseason. Speaking of December optimism, how about
Tyler Higbee‘s final stretch? The one-time reserve tight end caught 8 of 12 targets for 84 yards and a touchdown in
a win over the Cardinals; it was actually the first time he was held under 100 yards since November. In Higbee’s final five games, he piled up 43 catches for 522 yards and two scores. In the process, he went from afterthought to reserve to Key Contributor for an offense that needed some fresh blood.

Previous rank:
No. 16

We learned over the weekend that Dan Quinn
would keep his job — a near miracle after the
Falcons‘ grisly 1-7 open to the season. It’s an example of how players can rally around a coach and save his bacon even after the primary objective — reaching the postseason and making a
Super Bowl — is wiped from reality. Quinn is probably on the bread line right now without those road wins
over New Orleans and
San Francisco in the second half. Beating the two best teams in the NFC — in their buildings — convinced ownership that this team can still be special, three years after a
Super Bowl appearance. Now comes the hard part. This roster needs a talent infusion, and there are salary-cap complications to consider. Atlanta needs to copy the New Orleans model of 2017 and hit big on a draft class. Easier said than done, of course.

Previous rank:
No. 13

A humbling close to the season for the
Steelers, who were
beaten soundly by the Ravens’ backups in a game that began with playoff ramifications.
The Titans’ win over the
Texans rendered Sunday’s outcome in Baltimore irrelevant, but it doesn’t change the fact that — and this bears repeating — the
Steelers lost to the
Ravens‘ backups. In fairness, the
Steelers are playing with some backups in key positions, as well, most notably at the game’s most important position. It felt like the
Steelers lost their juice the moment Duck Hodges failed to lead the team back late in the fourth quarter
against the Bills. At that moment, the reality of the situation was laid bare: With Hodges (or Mason Rudolph) behind center, Pittsburgh would never be able to hang with the NFL’s elite, even with a great and opportunistic defense. The
Steelers‘ No. 1 offseason acquisition will be getting
Ben Roethlisberger back from elbow surgery.

Previous rank:
No. 17

If you told
Bears fans in August this season would end with
an Eddy Pineiro field-goal make in the final seconds, I’m sure most would have begun preparations for a parade down Michigan Avenue. Instead, Pineiro’s kick was good enough to (barely) beat the
Vikings‘ backups in
the regular-season finale. The
Bears were an 8-8 team all the way, mediocre at the beginning, middle and end. Ryan Pace says he’s
sticking with Mitchell Trubisky in 2020, and he will have some weapons.
David Montgomery didn’t have the impact that fantasyheads dreamed about over the summer, but he went for 100 yards against the
Vikings and became the fourth
Bears rookie since 2000 with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards. The wide receiver corps has a legit No. 1 in
Allen Robinson, who finished with the most receiving yards (1,147) by a
Bears player since 2013.

Previous rank:
No. 20

The season ends with positive vibes around the
Broncos. We’ll start with the obvious: Denver finished at 7-9 after a 2-6 start. Rookie
Drew Lock won four of his five starts, then went viral for his
virtuoso Young Jeezy impression on Sunday.
Phillip Lindsay became the first undrafted running back in NFL history to go over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons to open a career. And, in a charming anecdote from the CBS broadcast, we learned late in Sunday’s
16-15 victory over the
Raiders that famously Grinch-like head coach Vic Fangio spent last week binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies alone. Two notable happenings on Monday: 1) Denver picked up
Von Miller‘s beefy option, ensuring the defense’s heart and soul will remain intact. 2) General manager John Elway doesn’t foresee competition for Lock in the summer: “I don’t like to show our hand, but I think it’s unrealistic to say we’re going in a different direction.”

Previous rank:
No. 18

Who had a worse final two weeks than
Jameis Winston? Prior to the Bucs’ Week 16 game against the
Texans, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Tampa Bay was
expected to retain the former No. 1 overall pick for 2020 and perhaps beyond. But then Winston threw six more interceptions in two closing losses, giving him a staggering 30 on the year. The Bucs’ season ended suddenly on
Winston’s seventh pick-six — setting an ignoble NFL record. Bruce Arians was clearly peeved after
Sunday’s overtime loss, and on Monday he remained agitated on the topic of Winston’s future
when asked if he could envision the Bucs winning with a different QB. “With another quarterback? Oh yeah. If we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one, too.” Is the straight-shooting Arians blowing off steam — or did a poor finish cost Winston his opportunity to stay with Bucs?

Previous rank:
No. 19

Colts felt like a team that simply ran out of gas. A series of injuries to key positions played a huge part — including
the Monday disclosure that
T.Y. Hilton played through a two-centimeter calf tear (yuck) — but the
Colts were barely competitive in the final weeks of the season. It’s not a great look, and it will lead to internal questions of whether this team is on the right path in the post-Andrew Luck era. One big question will center around
Jacoby Brissett, whom Indy attempted to prop up as a franchise quarterback successor to Luck, even if that never quite passed the smell test. Brissett was up and down this season (mostly down after his November knee injury), and the
Colts would do themselves a favor by taking a look at other options on the market. There’s still plenty to like about this offense with Frank Reich at the controls.

Previous rank:
No. 22

Jets will watch the playoffs from their couches for the ninth consecutive year, but let’s stay positive here: New York won six of its last eight games after a miserable 1-7 start, finishing with a 7-9 record that represents its best 16-game mark since 2015. Who would have thought that was possible at midseason, when reports swirled that the team was ready to hit the eject button on Adam Gase? The coach didn’t win over many
Jets fans in the second half, but Gase (along with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) deserves credit for turning this team into a second-half winner — against
a cake schedule, but still. The next step, of course, is finding a way to do it over the course of an entire season. A pivotal offseason awaits for untested general manager Joe Douglas.

Previous rank:
No. 23

There would be no Week 17 miracle for the
Raiders, and
a failed 2-point conversion attempt in the final seconds
on Sunday meant there would be no win to close 2019, either. But pay special attention to Jon Gruden in the minutes after
Derek Carr‘s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, clinching a win for the
Broncos. CBS cameras caught the coach with a smile on his face, his arm around defensive coordinator Paul Guenther before giving Carr a firm handshake with some genial eye contact on both ends. The season might have sputtered after that unlikely 6-4 start, but you get the feeling Gruden believes he is on the right track. With another good offseason — and, remember, the
Raiders were an
Antonio Brown fiasco away from completing an offseason masterpiece in 2019 — the future Las Vegas
Raiders could be a bona fide playoff contender in their first season in the desert.

Previous rank:
No. 21

Freddie Kitchens had to go, but any analysis that his hiring was always bound for disaster is the worst kind of 20/20 hindsight. The
Browns fell for Kitchens because
Baker Mayfield fell for Kitchens, and — when the time came to pick a permanent replacement for Hue Jackson — Mayfield was fresh off one of the better debut seasons by a rookie quarterback in recent NFL history. Should the
Browns have rebooted the whole staff? Should they have kept interim coach Gregg Williams, leaving Kitchens in an assistant-coach role he proved to be far more qualified for? Perhaps.
In retrospect, promoting Kitchens was a massive risk, one that was amplified when the
Odell Beckham Jr. circus came to town via a mega-trade that shot expectations through the roof. The
Browns will take a more calculated route this time around, but I can’t kill them for following an instinct … even if it turned out to be the wrong one.

Previous rank:
No. 27

Ryan Freaking Fitzpatrick. What a season for the Amish Rifle, who capped a heroic campaign with a 13-play, 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive that
shocked the Gillette Stadium faithful into silence and returned the defending champion
Patriots to their version of Hell … the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend. Fitzpatrick is an easy choice for team MVP — a guy who was supposed to be a tackling dummy for perhaps the worst team ever but instead helped turn the
Dolphins into a weekly headache for opponents too quick to check off a “W” on their schedule. Fitzpatrick couldn’t have done it without
DeVante Parker, who emerged as a star wide receiver in Year 5,
got himself paid, then — in a gorgeous final act to his one-man play — beat up on Defensive Player of the Year candidate
Stephon Gilmore for four quarters. Tank this.

Previous rank:
No. 25

This will be the offseason of
Philip Rivers. The veteran quarterback is coming off one of his worst seasons, a 23-turnover campaign that made him look like a passer whose best days had passed him by. Couple Rivers’ down year with a quiet
Chargers front office, and it’s fair to wonder if the organization plans to make its challenging transition to spacious SoFi Stadium with a shiny new quarterback who can be used as a selling point to the Los Angeles market. Rivers’ season-ending press conference revealed the QB’s understandably emotional state. He absolutely wants to return for a 17th season, but he sounded like a guy who understands that might not be with the only team he’s ever known. “I’ve never been in this position,”
he said. “I usually don’t even know when the league year starts and when all those things are. We’ll just kind of see.”

Previous rank:
No. 24

Cardinals‘ season ended with another loss,
a 31-24 setback to the
Rams that left Arizona’s final record at 5-10-1. That’s not much better than the 3-13 finish in Steve Wilks’ one-and-done run in the desert, but the
Cardinals feel like they’re in a much more positive place than they were a year ago. That comes with stability.
Kyler Murray had a successful rookie season and could be set for a big Year 2 leap. Kliff Kingsbury isn’t going anywhere, and on Monday, he announced that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will also be back, despite Arizona’s struggles on that side of the ball. A big offseason priority will be giving Joseph more pieces to work with: The defense finished the year ranked last in yards allowed per game (402) and allowed at least 21 points in every week but one.

Previous rank:
No. 26

parted ways with Pat Shurmur on Monday, ending a marriage that felt doomed from the start. Shurmur was a victim of timing to some degree, but he went 9-23 in two seasons with Cleveland, then matched that record in his two years in Gotham. You can only have so much pity for a man who had a .292 career winning percentage in four seasons (plus one interim game in Philly) in the big chair. Ownership decided to keep general manager Dave Gettleman, though team president
John Mara acknowledged that Gettleman’s “batting average has got to increase going forward.” Baylor coach Matt Rhule is reportedly the focus of the
Giants‘ coaching search; it’s a sensible match for both sides. Let’s see if Big Blue can land their big fish.

Previous rank:
No. 30

A report surfaced over the weekend that Doug Marrone had been told he would be relieved of his duties as head coach following
Sunday’s game against the
That report was challenged, and sure enough, Marrone was
officially retained for 2020 via a Tuesday morning statement released by owner Shad Khan. GM Dave Caldwell will be back for another season, as well, making Tom Coughlin the only high-profile casualty connected to Jacksonville’s last-place finish. Khan’s statement expressed a combination of disappointment over 2019 and hope for the future, with one particular graph summing up the owner’s mixed feelings: “The 2019 season was unacceptable and I’ve made my dissatisfaction clear. While many unusual circumstances influenced our season, none can fully explain or defend our second-half collapse with first place in the division within reach on Week 9. At the same time, there were positive developments and contributions that should not be overlooked.”

Previous rank:
No. 28

Something tells me Perry Fewell will fail to garner serious consideration for the permanent head-coaching job in Charlotte. The
Panthers‘ season came to a fittingly grim conclusion with
a 42-10 loss to the
Saints that could have been so much worse had Sean Payton been in a petty mood.
Will Grier capped a disastrous mini-audition with another unproductive start, this one ended prematurely by a foot injury. The only good news came in the backfield, where
Christian McCaffrey joined Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only running backs to finish with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. McCaffrey was remarkably consistent all year, continuing to produce even as Carolina’s season morphed into a
Saw sequel in the final two months. CMC is on a
Hall of Fame trajectory through three seasons.

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Previous rank:
No. 29

Ron Rivera is
a smart hire for the Redskins, a highly respected figure in league circles who brings a winning pedigree and professionalism to a Washington franchise that badly needs it. Rivera was arguably the most coveted NFL coach available on the open market, and one suspects the
Redskins offered him a lot — both in terms of money and power — to keep him from shopping his wares across the league. A muddied culture in Washington is an obvious concern, but there’s one person Rivera doesn’t have to worry about clashing with. On Monday, Bruce Allen
was dismissed as team president. Allen joined the organization in 2010; since then, the
Redskins have logged a 62-97-1 regular-season record. That includes five last-place finishes in the NFC East and just two playoff appearances.

Previous rank:
No. 32

Andy Dalton started what was almost certainly
his final game as a member of the
Bengals on Sunday. He won, as he did more often than not in his time with the team. His 70-61-2 record in Cincinnati won’t put him in Canton, but it’s certainly commendable when you consider the franchise he’s played for since coming into the league as a second-round pick in 2011. Dalton brought stability and professionalism to the position, and that’s what should — and likely will — make him a desirable option for a team in search of a veteran quarterback this offseason. The
Bengals, meanwhile, look ahead to a future that will almost certainly include LSU quarterback Joe Burrow as
the first overall pick in the 2020
NFL Draft. Hope is a good thing.

Previous rank:
No. 31

It remains somewhat surprising that
the Lions decided to stick with Matt Patricia, a coach who built his reputation on defense, then presided over one of the NFL’s worst defenses of the 21st century in 2019. The
Lions allowed 400 yards per game, never finding any solutions as quarterback after quarterback picked them apart. When
Matthew Stafford went down with a back injury in early November, Detroit’s house of cards tumbled to the ground over nine straight losses to close the season. Stafford said this week he’s feeling good and is excited to return to action, but that’s not going to change all that much if the
Lions don’t get markedly better on the other side of the ball. It is the No. 1 directive of the offseason.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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