Week 15 was a beautiful bit of stage-setting for what should be a glorious final two weeks in the NFL regular season.
Consider the matchups that still lie ahead (current ranking in parentheses) : Packers (#7) at Vikings (#8), Bills (#10) at Patriots (#6), Titans (#11) at Texans (#9), 49ers (#4) at Seahawks (#3). Oh, and don’t forget Cowboys (#13) at Eagles (#14) — The Good Bad Team Super Bowl.
I guess what I’m trying to say is you should continue to watch professional football, at least through the end of the calendar year. Consider it unsolicited advice from your friendly neighborhood Power Rankings Guy.
Let’s get to it …
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 15 Power Rankings.
More dominance by the
The victims this time were the
Jets, a flawed and injury-depleted team that had no shot at containing
Lamar Jackson, who probably locked up the MVP award with a five-touchdown night. Jackson added 86 more yards on the ground,
breaking the NFL single-season rushing record for a quarterback in the process. Before you judge
Jets players for
going full fanboy on Jackson after the game, keep in mind the guy handing out autographed jerseys is
on pace to throw 38 touchdowns and rush for 1,200 yards. It’s been as historic an individual season as we’ve seen this century, so let’s excuse his vanquished opponents for soaking in the moment. Jackson’s dominance makes it easy to miss how great the
Ravens have been as a whole during their 10-game winning streak. That includes the defense, which has allowed just 14.6 points per game since Week 7. This is the clear
Super Bowl favorite.
Drew Brees, who decided one incredible NFL record wasn’t enough on
Monday Night Football. The
Saints legend went 29 of 30 for 307 yards and four touchdowns in
a 34-7 win over the Colts, passing Peyton Manning for the all-time touchdown record
and setting the new standard in single-game accuracy by completing 96.7 percent of his throws. Yup, it was a special night at the Superdome. Here’s your reminder that Brees enjoyed his nearly perfect night at 40 years old. Man. The night was nearly perfect as a whole for the
Saints, who came within one garbage-time score of a shutout, one week after the Niners
hung 48 points on them at home. New Orleans will need some outside help to land
a first-round bye, but this team looks as dangerous as any in football with two games to go.
That Week 17 matchup with the 49ers continues to loom over everything, but for now, the
Seahawks can enjoy where they stand: 11-3 and
sitting atop the NFC with the No. 1 seed. On Sunday, they took care of business in a depleted state,
beating the Panthers in Charlotte without
Shaquill Griffin or
Mychal Kendricks. By the time the game was over,
Bobby Wagner and
Quandre Diggs joined the walking wounded. Luckily, Seattle still has the ever-indestructible
Russell Wilson behind center. The quarterback led the ‘Hawks on touchdown drives in each of their first three possessions, allowing Seattle to coast to the finish line. Wagner and Diggs both suffered ankle injuries; Wagner stated he should be fine, while Pete Carroll said the Diggs injury will likely cost him time. It’s another hit to a defense that could soon reach the limit of the
49ers now have three losses: Two on game-ending field goals, and one — Sunday’s stunning
29-22 setback to the
Falcons — on
a Julio Jones touchdown catch with two seconds to play. It was a painful letdown game for Kyle Shanahan’s team, but all is not lost. The Niners surrendered a temporary grip on the No. 1 seed and division lead, but the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs can still be theirs with wins over the
Seahawks in the final two weeks. What Sunday’s loss to the
Falcons did was remove any margin for error from the process. The biggest bright spot on Sunday was
George Kittle, whose dominance, both as a receiver and a blocker, can be accurately described as Gronk-esque. We’re talking
peak Gronk. Kittle set a career high against the
Falcons with 13 catches (on 17 targets!) for 134 yards. This is a bad man.
Chiefs look like a team ready to make a run. Sunday’s
23-3 win over the
Broncos appears workmanlike on the surface, but a closer examination shows a Kansas City team humming on both sides of the ball. The steady snowfall did little to slow down
Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, both to
Tyreek Hill. The defense was even better.
Drew Lock was held under 50 percent completions, and the
Broncos had a season-low 52 rushing yards. The
Chiefs have allowed 17 or fewer points in four consecutive games — they managed that feat just four times
total in 2018. One area with room for improvement? The running game, which remains missing in action on most weeks. Makes you wonder if Andy Reid and Co. have regrets about trading
Carlos Hyde, who went over 1,000 yards for the
Texans on Sunday.
On the same day
Patriots footage of the Bengals’ sideline aired on a live NFL pregame show, the defending
Super Bowl champions went about their business in a
34-13 win over football’s worst team. Once again, New England won for reasons other than quarterback play: The Pats rushed for a season-high 175 yards, and the defense picked off
Andy Dalton four times, with
Stephon Gilmore returning one for a touchdown. Gilmore had two interceptions in the game (and nearly a third) and co-leads the league with six on the season.
Tom Brady continues to struggle. The quarterback threw two touchdown passes, but missed several open receivers and finished with just 128 yards. He posted a minuscule 4.4 yards per attempt — the third time in five weeks the three-time MVP has averaged less than 5 yards per attempt. For context, Brady hasn’t finished a season under 6.9 yards per attempt in the last 12 years.
Packers‘ offense is fairly one-dimensional as the season reaches the home stretch. Well, really
Aaron Jones is a reliable touchdown monster, up to 17 after two more scores
against the Bears on Sunday. Then there’s
Davante Adams, who went over 100 yards with a TD on Sunday and has easily outproduced all other
Packers receivers despite missing significant time to injury.
Aaron Rodgers must make the most of his two stars, because another reliable option hasn’t materialized (
Marquez Valdes-Scantling‘s whiff on a would-be 70-yard TD springs to mind). It’s perhaps a minor quibble for a
Packers team that’s now 11-3 and closing in on a postseason bye, but it’s fair to wonder how this Green Bay attack will function when the beasts of the NFC start popping up on their schedule. A big test comes Monday night with
a treacherous road matchup against the Vikings. It could decide the NFC North.
The combination of
Danielle Hunter and
Ifeadi Odenigbo changed everything on Sunday. Hunter’s forced fumble and
Odenigbo’s subsequent scoop and 56-yard touchdown return served as the turning point in
a 39-10 Vikings win that included seven
Chargers turnovers. That’s the most forced turnovers for Minnesota since 1995. The
Vikings are one game behind the
Packers in the NFC North, with Green Bay coming to U.S. Bank Stadium
on Monday. Who will be running the football for the home team in that massive division showdown?
Dalvin Cook exited in third quarter on Sunday after aggravating his shoulder injury, and backup
Alexander Mattison missed the entire game with an ankle injury. A compromised backfield will put more on the shoulders of
Kirk Cousins, who could use a prestige W before January hits. The
Vikings have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season. If they can set themselves up with a home game or two in the playoffs … look out.
A reminder never to count out or dismiss the
Texans. Houston went into Nashville and showed no fear against a surging
Titans team, scoring the game’s first two touchdowns and holding on for
a 24-21 win. It’s a massive victory that puts the
Texans in the driver’s seat to claim their second consecutive AFC South title. This was a big game for the defense. The unit held the
Titans scoreless in the first half and got a game-changing play —
Whitney Mercilus’ goal-line interception and 86-yard return — that altered the course of the afternoon. On offense,
Deshaun Watson found
Kenny Stills for two touchdowns, while
Carlos Hyde rushed for 100 yards and a score, going over 1,000 yards for the season. Here’s your reminder that Bill O’Brien landed both those players (plus star left tackle Laremy Tunsil) on the last day of August. Not bad work by the
de facto GM.
For the second time in 21 years, the
Buffalo Bills are headed to the playoffs. Oh, hell, let’s spin positive. For the second time in
three years, the
Buffalo Bills are headed to the playoffs. They got there in style, intercepting four Duck Hodges passes in a
17-10 win over the
Steelers at Heinz Field in front of Al, Cris, Michele and the world. Tiebreaker scenarios make an AFC East title unlikely, even in the event of a win over the
Patriots in Foxborough next week, but who cares? The
Bills have punched their ticket … and do you really want to face this defense on a cold day in January? So much of the credit for this Buffalo turnaround belongs to Sean McDermott, who managed to import to Western New York the dominant style of defense he built in Carolina. This team is hungry, and it believes.
Titans suffered a painful setback on Sunday in Nashville, where they had the opportunity to take control of the AFC South but were instead dealt
a 24-21 loss to the
Texans. It makes Tennessee a long shot to claim the division, but Mike Vrabel’s team remains in solid position to secure a wild-card spot with a strong close. The
Titans didn’t play poorly by any stretch of the imagination against the
Ryan Tannehill and
A.J. Brown spun their magic once again, and the offense went over 400 yards despite being shut out in the first half. One potential concern:
Derrick Henry might be limited right now by a nagging hamstring injury. CBS cameras showed the star running back getting his leg taped up in the second quarter, and if you take out a first-half run of 23 yards, he averaged just 3.2 yards on his remaining 20 carries. Tannehill has been a revelation, but Henry is the key to everything.
Here’s the biggest concern coming out of Western Pennsylvania on Monday morning. Did Sunday night’s
17-10 loss to the Bills expose the ceiling of the 2019
Steelers as a good team with a great defense that is destined to lose a low-scoring game in the playoffs because the offense can’t hack it?
Devlin Hodges has been a nice story this season, but his limitations as a passer were laid bare against a
Bills defense that intercepted him four times, including on each of Pittsburgh’s final two possessions. Hodges showed himself to be the superior option to
Mason Rudolph — the original
Ben Roethlisberger replacement — because he protected the football and made just enough plays. The
Bills showed just how vulnerable the
Steelers are if you can get ahead and force Hodges to try to beat you. Put in that position on Sunday night, the man they call Duck could not answer the call.
Cowboys entered Sunday riding a three-game losing streak, with doom in the air and a fast-improving
Rams team coming to town. The stage was set for another humbling setback and a particularly voracious round of Jason Garrett obituaries. But then the game started, and the
Cowboys played like the superior team in every conceivable way.
Final score: 44-21.
Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes, and
Ezekiel Elliott totaled 160 yards from scrimmage, with a pair of scores. The defense, shredded for 273 ground yards by the
Rams in last year’s playoffs, held
Todd Gurley and Co. to 22 yards on 14 carries. How fast can things change in the NFL? Suddenly, the
Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win over the
on Sunday. Of course, it’s smart not to assume anything with this team, and to view any football “expert” who speaks with certainty on the
Cowboys with extreme suspicion.
So much for momentum. The
Rams had it on their side when they got to Jerrah World on Sunday, but
a 44-21 loss reminded us how fickle a temptress Miss Mo can be. The kind way to explain the outcome would be saying the
Cowboys are a talented but underachieving team that found its top gear at the worst possible time for Los Angeles. The more blunt — and perhaps more
accurate — viewpoint would be that the
Rams were overwhelmed and outclassed by a mediocre opponent. Whatever the spin, it was
ugly, and now the
Rams‘ only chance of defending their conference title in January is to win out against the
Cardinals and pray the
Vikings lose out to the
Bears. “We went out there and played horrible,”
Aaron Donald said. “When you play horrible, you get beat, you get beat pretty bad, and we got embarrassed today.”
Here’s the bonkers stat of Week 15: After another gargantuan passing day in Sunday’s
38-17 win over the
Jameis Winston became the first player in NFL history with 450-plus passing yards in consecutive games.
The first player in NFL history. We’ll repeat our point
from last week: How do the Bucs make sense of this late surge in Winston’s contract year? Are you really prepared to cut ties with a former No. 1 overall pick who leads the NFL in passing yards and is second in touchdowns? Yes, there’s the not-inconsequential fact he also paces the league with 24 interceptions. But still. BUT STILL! And keep in mind Winston did his damage against the
Lions without star receivers
Mike Evans (sidelined by a hamstring injury) or — for much of the second half —
Chris Godwin (carted off Sunday with his own hamstring injury). Prediction time: Bruce Arians doesn’t want Winston playing for anyone but Bruce Arians in 2020.
That’s a wrap on the
Bears, who needed to find a way to beat the
Packers in Lambeau to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
They couldn’t do it, because the bad version of the Chicago offense returned at the worst possible juncture. The
Bears managed just 14 yards in a scoreless first quarter and just 13 points overall, looking little like the offense that rolled up 800 yards and 55 points in the previous two weeks.
Mitchell Trubisky made some plays and finished with 334 yards on a whopping 53 passes, but his fourth-quarter interception —
fired directly into the arms of defensive lineman Dean Lowry — was the type of failure his season will be remembered by. The
Bears have an interesting decision to make at quarterback in the offseason. Trubisky gets two more weeks to state his case.
It may not have seemed like it in the moment, but the
Falcons had the
49ers right where they wanted them. Trailing by five with 1:42 to play, Atlanta had the ball, a timeout and nothing to lose. The
Falcons are never out of a game when
Matt Ryan and
Julio Jones are humming, and the two superstars did their best work on the ensuing 70-yard drive, which ended with
Jones’ 4-yard touchdown catch with two seconds left that clinched
a victory over San Francisco. It was the type of win, on the road, against a conference superpower, that can change perspectives behind the scenes at Flowery Branch. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Dan Quinn would lose his job at the end of the year, but could Sunday’s outcome, paired with a couple more wins before the curtain goes down on 2019, be enough to save the head coach? Stay tuned.
Here’s the sick thing: After all the disappointment of this season, the
Browns could have been right in the thick of the wild-card race this week. The
Steelers both lost in Week 15, which would have put the
Browns one game behind both teams with two to play, had they taken care of business
against a Cardinals team riding a six-game losing streak. But the 2019
Cleveland Browns don’t take care of business. They talk a lot, and make dumb mistakes, and kick away opportunities — and that’s why they’ll be sitting at home once again come playoff time. As Gregg Rosenthal pointed out on Sunday’s
Around The NFL Podcast, the
Browns might be the most consistent team in football. The problem is that it’s the bad kind of consistency. You don’t get peaks and valleys, just an unimpressive plateau you can hike in about 20 minutes.
Hey, at least the
Colts got a front-row seat to history. Going against a superior
Saints team at the Superdome on a night that felt like it was custom-built for maximum
Drew Brees glory, Indy played the part of a jobber in professional wrestler: Show up, take your beating, get paid, go home. The
Colts weren’t always the Barry Horowitz of the NFL: A few weeks ago, this was a frisky team that looked like it had a real shot at winning the AFC South. But injuries to
Eric Ebron and
T.Y. Hilton sapped the offense of its potency, and the defense regressed badly. In the last two games,
Drew Brees and
Jameis Winston went a combined 62 of 75 (82.7 percent) for 763 yards with eight touchdowns against the Indy D. Brissett is a nice player, but he won’t win many shootouts, especially with his current cast. There’s always next year.
A grotesque Sunday for the
Chargers, who turned it over seven times in
a 39-10 loss to the
Vikings at Dignity Health Sports Park — overrun, as usual, by fans of the visiting team. Let’s go ahead and count those turnovers, shall we? Two fumbles by
Melvin Gordon, a fumble by tight end
Hunter Henry and a fumble and three interceptions by
Philip Rivers, who’s up to 18 picks on the season. Getting slaughtered in the turnover battle is a big reason why the
Chargers are limping to the finish line with a losing record. Speaking of Rivers, performances like these will only build speculation about his future in Los Angeles. Anthony Lynn is likely safe on the strength of last year’s 12-4 finish, but could the coach make an internal push for a younger option under center in 2020? There should be no shortage of potential replacements on the market this offseason.
Broncos can’t beat the
Chiefs. Doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, or who’s playing defense, or what the weather conditions might be — Denver continues to be on the nail-end of the hammer. The
Broncos were beaten by the
Chiefs in blizzard-like conditions at Arrowhead
on Sunday, the ninth consecutive defeat at the hands of the reigning AFC West champions. Denver hasn’t beaten Kansas City since Peyton Manning was around. Yep, it’s been awhile.
Drew Lock seemed like a guy who could bring some sizzle to this rivalry, especially after his stellar showing
against the Texans in Week 14. But Lock completed less than half his passes and threw an ugly interception late in the third quarter that essentially sealed his team’s fate. Lock’s rookie audition wraps with plum matchups against the
Raiders, two of the worst defenses in the league. The stage is set for a strong close.
At least Jon Gruden got his apology. The
told reporters on Monday that the NFL acknowledged the game clock should have kept running after
Derek Carr slid to the ground for a first down late in the fourth quarter
against the Jaguars. Poor Carr said after the game that the clock stoppage was “one of the most shocking moments of my life.” Game officials erroneously ruled that Carr had slid out of bounds, which gave the
Jaguars the extra time they needed to mount a game-stealing touchdown drive. It was one last dose of heartbreak for the fans in Oakland, who didn’t get to celebrate a win in
the team’s final home game before moving to Las Vegas in 2020. The depressing nature of Sunday’s affair pretty neatly matched up with the past four weeks for the
Raiders, who went from 6-4 to 6-8 faster than you can say Spider 2 Y Banana.
This game was billed as a showdown of the past two No. 1 overall picks, but
Kenyan Drake stole the show from the hotshot quarterbacks on Sunday in the desert. Drake rushed for a career-high four touchdowns in a
38-24 win over the
Browns in Glendale. The win was especially sweet for Drake, who was traded from the then-winless
Dolphins at midseason and had endured a personal losing streak that had covered 14 weeks. Drake also ran for a career-best 137 yards, part of a 226-yard rushing day for Arizona. Drake’s big afternoon further clouds the future of one-time starter
David Johnson, who last week
expressed unhappiness with his vastly reduced role. Johnson figures to be a goner this season, most likely via trade.
Cue the Bart Simpson
“At Least You Tried” GIF. The
Jets did their best to keep things respectable for two quarters against the
Ravens, but a disastrous third quarter exposed just how massive the gap is between Adam Gase’s injury-depleted and talent-deficient squad and the best team in football. One week after his
iconic Flu Game,
Le’Veon Bell set a season high with 87 rushing yards; the high-priced running back is still looking for his first 100-yard game with three weeks to go. Bell is under contract for 2020, but this has been a bad fit from the jump. If the
Jets can’t insta-build an offensive line that plays to Bell’s skill set, general manager Joe Douglas is better off finding a trade partner and a clean break. Does anyone remember the last high-profile free-agent signing that actually worked out for the
Jets? Just one of many reasons behind the team’s nine-year playoff drought.
Another lost game in a lost season for the
Panthers, but don’t let that overshadow the brilliance of
Christian McCaffrey. The third-year running back piled up another 175 yards and a touchdown in
Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, putting him over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the season. If he can add 186 receiving yards to his ledger by the close of Week 17, he’ll join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players to finish with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. And while we’re here: Any talk of shutting CMC down needs to be swept into the nearest trash receptacle. The kid is enjoying a special season — the
Panthers should give him every opportunity to finish it off by making some history.
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We’re seeing some progress here. The
Redskins came heartbreakingly close to
an upset win over the
Eagles. They almost pulled it off because
Dwayne Haskins played the best game of his young career. The first-round pick threw for a career-best 261 yards and two touchdowns, including
a 75-yard TD hookup with super rookie Terry McLaurin. Haskins is in developmental mode, but he’s shown the poise and arm ability to make you believe Washington has a potential long-term answer under center. Of course, every young QB needs a star wide receiver he can trust, and McLaurin — who went over 100 yards for the third time this season — fits that bill perfectly. Here’s a nug
Redskins fans can hit their
Eagles-supporting buddies with: McLaurin was drafted 19 picks after
Eagles wide receiver
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had zero receptions Sunday and has just eight on the season.
Moribund in the Meadowlands: The
Dolphins finish 0-for-2 in back-to-back games at MetLife Stadium. Not a good look, especially when you consider their opponents — the
Giants — entered game action with a combined record of 6-19. It’s just another reminder that pluck only gets you so far in the National Football League. The
Dolphins need more talent, and it goes beyond the quarterback the team will target — perhaps desperately — come draft time. The offensive line is in need of a complete rebuild, and the midseason trade of running back
Kenyan Drake has unearthed no discernible talent lurking behind him on the depth chart. Here’s an eye-popping stat:
Ryan Fitzpatrick leads all
Dolphins players with 219 yards rushing. Yes,
Ryan Fitzpatrick. The guy with the beard and the Harvard degree and all the kids. Miami has stockpiled a bunch of draft picks, but the
Dolphins need to hit some home runs come April.
Jaguars are finishing off a lost season that will almost assuredly lead to a major overhaul — on the roster, on the sidelines and likely upstairs in management. So let’s give Doug Marrone and his team credit for getting off the soggy turf at Oakland Coliseum and deciding not to let the
Raiders throw a goodbye party at their expense.
Gardner Minshew maximized his final chance to make something happen late in the fourth quarter, leading Jacksonville on the go-ahead touchdown drive to seal
a 20-16 come-from-behind win. “It’s something special to be a part of,” Minshew said of the
Raiders‘ Oakland finale. “It will be like an Aflac trivia question in like 20 years.” Minshew has been impressive all season, but never more so than in this moment, corporate branding his own hypothetical trivia question.
That’s how it should end for Eli Manning: leaving the field to cheers from the
Giants faithful after throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns in a
36-20 win over the
Dolphins. Eli represents a not-so-distant franchise past filled with big games and
Super Bowl championships. Now the
Giants can direct their attention back toward a more pressing matter: finding a way to dig this proud organization up from the bottom of the NFL barrel. A big part of that future is
Saquon Barkley, who finally returned to form with 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the
Dolphins. It was Barkley’s first 100-yard game since the ankle sprain that sent his season sideways back in Week 3. Even with the win, the
in the No. 2 spot of the 2020
NFL Draft, thanks to a slight strength-of-schedule advantage over the
The losses keep coming for the
Lions, who have now dropped seven straight and 10 of 11. That 2-0-1 start feels like it came a very, very, very, very long time ago. Detroit hasn’t even held a lead this month, and
Jameis Winston torched Detroit’s overmatched defense for 300 yards and three touchdowns in the first 20 or so minutes of
Sunday’s 38-17 defeat. The question in the final weeks is, where should the blame fall? Matt Patricia hasn’t delivered results in his first two seasons on the job, but how much can be expected with a third-string quarterback starting games and a defense that needs a massive infusion of talent? It’s hard to imagine even Bill Belichick, Patricia’s old boss, turning this version of the
Lions into a fighting squad, but don’t be surprised if management opts with a sideline overhaul anyway. Teams trapped in an extended cycle of losing love to hit the reset button.
The bad news?
Andy Dalton had a stretch in the second half on Sunday in which he threw three interceptions in eight pass attempts, an avalanche of turnovers by the Glowing Ginger Man that more or less sank the
a 34-13 loss to the
Patriots. The good news? The
Giants beat the
Dolphins on Sunday, which means the
Bengals have become a heavy favorite to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020
NFL Draft. This all happened, by the way, on the same weekend LSU super-stud quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy in a historic landslide. These are dark days in Cincinnati, but a new hope is coming.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.