The Eagles remain atop the NFL Power Rankings for the fourth straight week, but you can hear a ferocious growl in the deep distance.
Yes, the Lions — America’s Team in the truest sense — continue to capture the nation’s imagination and make their move up the big board, a stunning turn of events for a team left dead and buried after a 1-6 start.
The Lions aren’t the only erstwhile have-nots/wild creatures making noise, either. The Jaguars, long a doormat in this exercise, are making a hard charge — both for the AFC South and a spot in the top 10 of our rankings. I like to think these goals are equal in terms of importance to the organization, but you can decide that for yourself.
Meanwhile, the defending Super Bowl champion Rams have officially been eliminated from playoff contention and remain buried in the netherworlds of the Power Rankings. This Christmas, let’s chip in to get Sean McVay a Men In Black-style memory wipe device.
The 2022 season wasn’t disappointing … because it never existed at all.
Enough. On to the rankings …
Don’t forget to check out the NFL Power Rankings Podcast with Dan Hanzus and Colleen Wolfe. New episodes every Tuesday all season long.
NOTE: Up/down arrows below reflect team movement from the Week 15 Power Rankings.
Previous rank: No. 1
Sometimes it’s just about taking care of business. The Bears put up more of a fight than expected but were still no match for a Philadelphia team that made the big plays when necessary in a 25-20 win at Soldier Field. Jalen Hurts threw two interceptions in a game for the first time this season, but otherwise kept his MVP credentials legitimate with three rushing touchdowns — moving within one ground score of Cam Newton’s single-season NFL record for QBs. On Monday, it was learned that Hurts suffered a shoulder sprain that could keep him out of the lineup for the Week 16 showdown with the Cowboys. Philly is now tasked with managing Hurts’ health while attempting to lock up the top seed in the NFC. A delicate dance, for sure.
Previous rank: No. 2
Brock Purdy has been tested twice, and the rookie has aced both exams with flying colors. It’s a best-case scenario for the 49ers, who initially profiled as would-be Super Bowl contenders ruined by bad injury luck after Jimmy Garoppolo was lost to a broken foot in Week 13. Instead, Purdy has kept the offense efficient and productive while the defense continues to squeeze the life out of its opponents. Geno Smith and the Seahawks found that out the hard way on Thursday, as the Seattle quarterback was sacked three times and hounded relentlessly by a savage San Fran pass rush. Winners of seven straight, the Niners are NFC West champs for the first time since 2019.
Previous rank: No. 4
Saturday night’s 32-29 win over the Dolphins in the snow at Highmark Stadium is exactly the type of high-stakes playoff tune-up this team needed. This season has sometimes felt like a chore for a Buffalo squad that has been ticketed for the AFC Championship Game since July. These Bills have navigated injuries, inconsistent offensive play and a significantly improved AFC East to place themselves on the verge of another division title and possibly the conference’s No. 1 seed. And all of that was in peril if Josh Allen didn’t get his team off the mat after a rough third quarter on Saturday. Allen and Co. closed strong in a comeback win that felt like a playoff dress rehearsal.
Previous rank: No. 3
The Bengals spotted the Bucs the game’s first 17 points on Sunday before taking Tom Brady’s team apart with clinical precision in a 34-23 comeback win in Tampa. The sluggish start by Cincinnati made the team’s second-half surge all the more stunning: The Bengals forced four turnovers and Joe Burrow threw four touchdown passes, three of which ended scoring drives that were fewer than 40 yards in distance due to Tampa Bay’s avalanche of mistakes. The win, coupled with a Ravens loss to the Browns on Saturday, gives the Bengals some cushion as they attempt to claim their second straight AFC North crown. It would not be wise to bet against this team.
Previous rank: No. 5
The Chiefs continue to stack wins against lesser opponents, but their sloppiness with the football is an issue to keep an eye on. Kansas City coughed up two fumbles — the team is now up to 10 lost fumbles on the season — and the Chiefs needed overtime to turn away the 1-12-1 Texans on Sunday. Kansas City will enter Week 16 with a minus-6 turnover differential, a puzzling data point for an 11-3 Super Bowl contender. Like the Bills, the Chiefs sometimes feel like a superpower just grinding their way through the season ahead of the true test to come in January. Playing loose with the football is dangerous business, but K.C.’s ability to hit the accelerator when necessary is an uncommon gift.
Previous rank: No. 6
The Cowboys’ Christmas Eve matchup with the Eagles lost some sizzle after a damaging 40-34 defeat to the Jaguars that likely locks Dallas into a wild-card path in the playoffs. The Cowboys have no one to blame but themselves: Mike McCarthy’s team had a 27-10 lead on Jacksonville with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter, but the defense couldn’t cool off a scorching Trevor Lawrence, and Dak Prescott threw two more interceptions, including the overtime pick-six that ended the game in stunning fashion. The Cowboys aren’t playing very sharp football right now — if they don’t clean things up, this will be yet another year to feature a fast start and depressing finish.
Previous rank: No. 10
The Lions can win ugly, too. Dan Campbell’s Grit Monsters went to the Meadowlands and struggled to break through against a stellar Jets defense … until it mattered most. Facing fourth-and-inches at midfield with two minutes to play, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson (his head coach stock going up by the week) called a brilliant misdirection play that resulted in a 51-yard touchdown for Brock Wright. The Lions have won six of seven with an opportunity to move into NFL playoff position if they can take out the Panthers on Sunday. “A lot of these close games are starting to lean more toward us than them,” said Jared Goff. “That hasn’t always been the case around here. We fully believe in each other and know that somebody’s going to make a play to do something right.”
Previous rank: No. 7
The Vikings obviously have a sense of humor. They must know the football world has been in an ongoing debate about whether the team is a legitimate contender or an outright fraud — it’s the only possible explanation for falling behind the lowly Colts 33-0 at halftime on Saturday before mounting the greatest comeback in the 103-year history of the NFL. “You just need five touchdowns,” veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson told his offensive teammates at halftime. “That’s nothing.” The final touchdown came from Dalvin Cook, who nearly brought the roof down at U.S. Bank Stadium on the 64-yard screen-pass score with less than three minutes to play in regulation that set up Greg Joseph’s game-winner in overtime. Call them contenders, call them pretenders … just don’t call them boring.
Previous rank: No. 11
Some games can be as encouraging as they are frustrating. The Dolphins let a fourth-quarter lead slip away in a 32-29 loss to the Bills in snowy Orchard Park, but Mike McDaniel’s team also answered critics who said the Tua Tagovailoa-led offense would struggle against top competition in adverse conditions. Tua was actually better than his very good numbers indicate, regularly delivering on-target passes to his teammates — even if they weren’t always caught. Miami’s chances of winning the AFC East are slim, but this can still be a very dangerous playoff team. The Fins just have to get there first.
Previous rank: No. 17
The Jaguars are for real. Doug Pederson’s team wiped out a 17-point second-half deficit and walked off the Cowboys on Rayshawn Jenkins’ dramatic pick-six in overtime. The 40-34 win served as the latest showcase for Trevor Lawrence’s sudden ascension to franchise star status, while also moving Jacksonville within a game of the death-spiraling Titans in an AFC South photo finish that no one saw coming. The Jaguars can put a tremendous amount of pressure on Tennessee with a prime-time win over the slumping Jets on Thursday Night Football. As for Lawrence: The 2021 No. 1 overall pick has a passer rating of 111.1 with 13 touchdown throws and one pick over his last five games, looking like one of the best quarterbacks in football during that stretch. It’s all happening.
Previous rank: No. 8
The hope (prayer?) is that Lamar Jackson’s return to the lineup will signal the end of the offensive woes for the Ravens, who were kept out of the end zone in a sleepy 13-3 loss to the Browns. Baltimore continued to run the ball with authority (piling up 198 yards), but the passing attack remained moribund, an issue that predated Jackson’s knee injury. “We have to just have a better passing game, basically,” a frank John Harbaugh said after the loss. “It’s not a good enough passing game right now across the board to do the things that we’re hoping to do. So, that will be priority one.”
Previous rank: No. 19
The Giants won their most important game of the year because their best player balled out, and their most promising rookie announced his arrival. A rejuvenated Saquon Barkley barreled over the Commanders’ defense in a dominating display during New York’s final scoring drive, and Kayvon Thibodeaux dominated the Commanders’ offensive line and lived in the backfield in a 12-tackle effort that included a sack/fumble/recovery for a massive touchdown. New York’s goal-line stand in the final minute was, ahem, helped along by outside forces, but the Giants got it done and put themselves in excellent position to end a long postseason drought. Kudos.
Previous rank: No. 12
The Jets continue to play competitive football every week … but the wins have stopped coming. The latest setback was the hardest to swallow, a 20-17 loss to the Lions that badly damaged New York’s chances of ending the NFL’s longest playoff drought. The defense’s failure to get one final stop was a stunner, but the story around this team remains the quarterback position. Zach Wilson threw two touchdown passes in an erratic start in place of injured QB1 Mike White. On Monday, Robert Saleh chose not to commit to the former No. 2 overall pick for Thursday’s pivotal prime-time game against the Jaguars. From here, the reasoning appears obvious: Saleh (like the rest of the Jets’ locker room) presumably wants White to lead the offense in a must-win scenario. The short week might not allow it.
EDITOR’S UPDATE: Jets coach Robert Saleh announced Tuesday that Zach Wilson will start against the Jaguars.
Previous rank: No. 18
The Raiders, man. Derek Carr’s dramatic fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Keelan Cole was high theater, but Chandler Jones’ stunning lateral snatch-and-score as time expired qualifies as one of the most shocking plays in Silver & Black history. When the dust settled, the Raiders had secured a must-win in a season that seems to bring fresh absurdity each week. “It’s probably the most insane ending I’ve ever been a part of,” said Josh McDaniels, aging like a two-term president in his first season as coach. “We’ll take it. We’ll take it for sure.” We’re now working under the assumption the Raiders will win out to make the playoffs before blowing a 64-0 lead in the Wild Card Round.
Previous rank: No. 22
The Packers leaned on their backfield to take care of the Rams and stay alive in the NFC playoff race. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for 197 total yards and three touchdowns in a 24-12 win at freezing Lambeau Field. Green Bay’s defense took care of the rest, silencing a depleted Los Angeles offense led by Baker Mayfield, who lacked any of the magic of his previous prime-time appearance against the Raiders. Green Bay needs to win out and get help to return to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year — the uphill climb continues on Christmas Day in Miami.
Previous rank: No. 13
Just an unfathomable finish for the Patriots, who kicked away a late lead in Vegas, then literally threw the game away on Jakobi Meyers’ doomed lateral taken to the house by Chandler Jones as time expired. (Jones, the former Patriot, stiff-arming Mac Jones into Middle-earth on the way to the end zone was an inspired insult-to-injury touch by the Football Gods.) After the game, the players involved took accountability for the horror that had transpired, but it remains stunning to watch a Bill Belichick team regularly beat itself with mental errors. Big changes could be coming to the Patriots — The Big Question might be whether The Hooded One will be on board with them.
Previous rank: No. 15
The free fall continues. The Titans battled to the end on Sunday, but watched their losing streak balloon to four after a 17-14 setback to the Chargers at SoFi. The Titans, once in total control of the AFC South, are suddenly just one game up on the surging Jaguars with three to play. Ryan Tannehill gutted through Sunday’s action on a bad ankle, and poor line play continues to undermine an offense that makes every yard earned feel like a World War I trench battle. “The division is still there, but, personally, I could care less about that,” safety Kevin Byard said after the game. “It don’t look like we’re a team right now that’s going to beat anybody, so we’ve got to find a way to get back to work and beat Houston. That’s all we can really do at this point.” Eek.
Previous rank: No. 16
The Seahawks had an opportunity to get their season back on track on Thursday Night Football, but the same issues that have plagued the team in recent weeks popped up again in a damaging 21-13 loss to the 49ers. The running game remains absent behind Geno Smith, while the Seattle defense has returned to major-liability status after a midseason hot streak raised expectations. Throw in the loss of Tyler Lockett (finger surgery), and this suddenly feels like a season on the brink. “I don’t know if I have all the right words, but, man, I just hate losing,” Smith said postgame. “I got to figure it out.” The Seahawks will try to stop the bleeding on Saturday in Kansas City.
Previous rank: No. 24
You get the feeling that Mike Tomlin will eventually look back at this transition season in Pittsburgh and call it one of his most rewarding from a coaching perspective. Things could have been ugly as the Steelers quietly turned over their roster in a post-Big Ben era. Instead, Pittsburgh profiles as a young team that’s steadily improving as a long season nears its conclusion. We were reminded that as the Steelers out-executed the Panthers on both sides of the ball in a 24-16 win in Charlotte. Mitch Trubisky played mistake-free football in place of Kenny Pickett (concussion), and the Steelers punished the Panthers on third down, finishing 12-for-16 in those situations. This won’t be a playoff season in Pittsburgh, but the franchise reset is going according to plan.
Previous rank: No. 21
For one half, it looked like the Buccaneers, at long last, had found themselves. The defense was throttling Joe Burrow, Tom Brady had rediscovered his chemistry with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and Tony Romo was bathing the home team with effusive praise from the CBS broadcast booth. Then came halftime and, eventually, the hard reality that the Bucs are simply not a very good team. Tampa Bay turned the ball over four times in the second half and botched a fake punt run for good measure in an embarrassing 34-23 defeat. The weakness of the rest of the NFC South may allow the Bucs to clinch another division title — but that doesn’t mean we need to take them seriously.
Previous rank: No. 20
The Panthers had a chance to catch the bumbling Bucs atop the NFC South … and they let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers in a 24-16 loss to the Steelers. After the game, a frustrated Steve Wilks wanted to dispel any January fantasies. “We’ve got to worry about trying to get ourselves right to win a football game,” the interim coach said. “I don’t want anybody in this building talking playoffs.” Carolina lost because Pittsburgh succeeded at the things the Panthers usually do well: getting stops on defense and running the ball with authority. On Monday, Wilks announced Sam Darnold will remain the starter on Saturday against the Lions.
Previous rank: No. 27
The Saints are somehow, almost impossibly, still in the race for the NFC South title after a 21-18 win over the Falcons. The victory, coupled with a Bucs loss to the Bengals, moves New Orleans within one game of the division leaders with three games to play, though Tampa owns the tiebreaker thanks to a season sweep of New Orleans. (It’s all so silly, but let’s embrace it.) It’s been a frustrating year for the offense, but the Saints have something in Juwan Johnson, a college wide receiver turned undrafted NFL tight end who scored twice on Sunday and set a career high with 67 receiving yards. The emergence of Johnson, paired with an extremely promising rookie campaign by wideout Chris Olave, gives New Orleans something to build on moving forward.
Previous rank: No. 25
So maybe that’s why Arthur Smith was so hesitant to turn to Desmond Ridder? The rookie quarterback looked quite green in a 21-18 loss to the Saints, tentative in the pocket on a 97-yard passing day. Ridder should improve as he adjusts to the pro game, but it will be a bumpy ride that likely takes Atlanta out of contention in the absurd NFC South. The biggest bright spot on offense Sunday? Running back Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for a career-high 139 yards and a touchdown on a gorgeous 8.2 yards per attempt. Cordarrelle Patterson continues to produce, but Allgeier now looks like the potential future of Atlanta’s backfield.
Previous rank: No. 26
Baker Mayfield’s magic didn’t travel to Green Bay, as the Rams’ offense was ice cold in the sub-freezing temperatures of Lambeau Field in a 24-12 loss. Mayfield threw for just 111 yards with a touchdown and one interception, while the Rams’ defense — missing Aaron Donald for the second straight week — struggled to stop a Packers running game built for the cold. With three games to play, the Rams are eliminated from playoff contention and have matched the highest loss total by any defending Super Bowl champion. This was not the history Sean McVay was hoping to make when L.A. began its title defense in September.
Previous rank: No. 30
Russell Wilson was cleared from concussion protocol last week, but Nathaniel Hackett still opted to go with Brett Rypien at quarterback. It was probably a good idea. A fierce Arizona pass rush finished with seven sacks, including three from J.J. Watt. Undeterred, Rypien led the Denver offense on three touchdown drives in the second half of a 24-15 win. The offensive leader was Latavius Murray, who ran for 130 yards and a touchdown. A strong effort kicks off what likely will serve as the final evaluation for Hackett in his attempt to avoid a one-and-done fate.
Previous rank: No. 28
The Bears made the mighty Eagles earn it on Sunday, pushing the NFC East leaders to the brink in a narrow loss at Soldier Field. The game was competitive because the young Chicago secondary had one of its best weeks of the season: MVP candidate Jalen Hurts threw two interceptions and was held without a passing score for the first time since Week 5. On the other side of the ball, Justin Fields ran for 95 yards and joined Lamar Jackson and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Not bad company for the third-year player.
Previous rank: No. 29
After the week from hell — one in which Kyler Murray tore his ACL and general manager Steve Keim abruptly left the team to attend to personal matters — it was perhaps encouraging to watch Kliff Kingsbury’s group deliver a professional effort in a 24-15 loss to the Broncos. The defense was led by J.J. Watt, who had three of Arizona’s seven sacks of Denver backup Brett Rypien. The 33-year-old Watt isn’t the all-world game-wrecker he was during his prime in Houston, but he remains a disruptive force who’s now just one half sack away from cracking double digits in that category for the first time since 2018. Canton awaits for Justin James.
Previous rank: No. 31
An unthinkable collapse by the Colts, who jumped out to a stunning 33-0 halftime lead over the Vikings on Saturday only to end up on the bad side of the biggest comeback in NFL history. Indianapolis helped Minnesota get back into the game with an extremely conservative second-half game plan that ultimately produced three points in the final two quarters and overtime. Not to be outdone, the defense was sliced and diced by Kirk Cousins, giving up 417 of Cousins’ 460 passing yards — and all four of his touchdown passes — after the break. We’d say this is the kind of loss that gets a head coach fired … but the owner already flipped that emergency lever a month ago. This is a Colts season that needs to end.
Previous rank: No. 32
The Texans continue to flirt with some serious upsets. In Week 14, Lovie Smith’s team nearly took out the Cowboys in Big D. On Sunday, Houston pushed the mighty Chiefs to overtime at NRG Stadium. Given the fact that winning can only hurt the Texans’ draft position, some fans might consider this play hard/lose barely as the optimal scenario at this stage. Smith isn’t about that life, but he’s right to take pride in a team that’s still fighting as we approach late December. Will Texans management credit Smith for the team’s fight — or hold it against the coach that he has only coaxed one win out of a Houston team that’s now been tied or ahead in seven games entering the fourth quarter? Stay tuned.