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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
At this point in the NFL season, many teams are just playing out the string. Others are trying to build momentum to take into the offseason. And others still are in a dogfight for either a playoff spot or positioning in said playoffs.
Man oh man, was all that evident in a wild Week 16.
Two of the top five teams from these power rankings last week went down in defeat. Two more were in games that went down to the wire. Two divisions were clinched, while the lead in another changed hands—a move that could leave one perennial contender out of the playoffs altogether. And the stage was set for a winner-take-all matchup in Week 17 that will now be the Sunday night game.
And that was just the contenders. There was plenty more mayhem among the also-rans, including a return to .500 for a team that hasn’t seen that number in December since before the Obama administration.
Another unpredictable week of action certainly left its mark on the NFL’s pecking order, and as they have every week this season, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport have come together to sort out the chaos and rank the teams from the bottom to the very top.
At least those bookend teams have the common decency to stay put.
The rest of the league keeps rudely moving around.
They get coal in their stockings—all of them.
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Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Last Week: 32
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Rams 31-9
Seeing as it’s Christmas, it only seems fair to at least make an effort to find something nice to say about every team in these power rankings.
Not that it will last, mind you—it just seems fair.
In Arizona’s umpteenth blowout loss of the season, Larry Fitzgerald (for whom we weep given he’s closing out a Hall of Fame career on this turkey of a team) threw a pretty touchdown pass to David Johnson.
That’s about all we’ve got for an Arizona team that’s redefining pitiful on a weekly basis.
Gagnon thinks it’s time for a coaching change—again.
“They’ve now lost a league-high six games by three or more scores this season,” Gagnon said. “Nobody did that more than four times in 2017. Goodbye, Steve Wilks. You don’t deserve a second season there.”
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John Hefti/Associated Press
Last Week: 31
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Denver 27-14
On Monday night in Oakland, fans of the Raiders got a bittersweet gift from the team.
Hope, in what may be the last game played at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
In pounding the Denver Broncos, the Raiders continued a mini-surge of sorts over the last month. The Raiders were terrible last week in Cincinnati, but the week before that, they stunned the Steelers in Oakland. The week before that, Oakland gave the Kansas City Chiefs all they could handle.
There’s hope that maybe hiring Jon Gruden wasn’t the major disaster it appeared to be not too long ago. That Gruden has a plan. And that including quarterback Derek Carr in that plan (as opposed to starting over under center) is a viable option.
Make no mistake—the Raiders are a bad team with holes aplenty on both sides of the ball. But the Raiders also have more draft capital in 2019 than any team in the NFL.
It’s going to be an interesting 2019 offseason in—wherever the Raiders wind up playing.
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Ron Schwane/Associated Press
Last Week: 26
Week 16 Result: Lost at Cleveland 26-18
To be fair, it isn’t entirely the Cincinnati Bengals’ fault that the team stinks. Any NFL team would be hard-pressed to win games without its starting quarterback, two best receivers and with a deluge of injuries at linebacker.
But as the Bengals prepare for their last game in another disappointing season after losing by eight in Cleveland in Week 16, the questions are piling up around the team.
Is Andy Dalton still the team’s long-term answer at quarterback? Which Cincy team is the real Bengals—the club that started the year 4-1 or the one that’s 2-8 since? What can be done to fix a horrible Bengals defense that was gashed again Sunday by the Browns for 493 total yards. And most importantly, is it finally time for the Bengals to move on from head coach Marvin Lewis?
Cincinnati isn’t usually a hotbed for offseason intrigue, but all the issues facing the Bengals in 2019 shape up to make it one.
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Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Last Week: 30
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Green Bay 44-38 (OT)
Sunday was probably the final nail in the coffin of Todd Bowles’ tenure as head coach of the New York Jets.
Despite a 341-yard, three-score game from rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, the Jets were unable to hang on against the Packers and notch their fifth win of the year. The supposedly defensive-minded Bowles had absolutely zero answer for the Green Bay offense in that final period and overtime. By the time the dust settled, the Jets had surrendered a staggering 540 yards of total offense.
Jets fans can at least take a measure of solace in Darnold’s performance. His play is improving, as is his rapport with wide receiver Robby Anderson.
But it’s time for a change at the top after three straight seasons with double-digit losses. Bowles will latch on somewhere as a defensive coordinator, but in this go-round at least, he doesn’t appear to have what it takes to lead these Jets back to respectability.
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Steven Senne/Associated Press
Last Week: 29
Week 16 Result: Lost at New England 24-12
Buffalo’s 12-point loss to the New England Patriots was a very Bills effort.
Defensively, the team played well. Anytime you can hold Tom Brady to 13-of-24 for 126 yards with a pair of interceptions, that’s a win. As a matter of fact, Brady was outperformed statistically by rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
The problem is that outplaying Brady on Sunday didn’t make Allen good; he completed less than half his passes for 217 yards, was picked off twice himself and had a passer rating of just 52.6.
That’s the Bills in a nutshell—very good on defense, rotten on offense—especially in games where opponents limit Allen’s ability to scramble.
Until Allen improves markedly throwing the ball, the Bills are going to be exactly what they are in 2018: a flawed team capable of the occasional upset but no sort of threat to challenge for a playoff spot.
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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Last Week: 25
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Chicago 14-9
Where the NFL’s bottom-feeders are concerned, there isn’t an easier team to find nice things to say about.
Despite being wrecked by injuries, the 49ers continue to fight, scratch and claw on a weekly basis. This is a team on its third quarterback and third (at least) tailback. There isn’t a position group that hasn’t been blasted by injuries.
And yet the Niners show up just about every week—well, except for the two against the Cardinals. No idea what happened there.
Sunday’s five-point loss to the Bears was the team’s sixth by single digits. That includes two playoff teams in the Bears and Chargers. The Niners also fell by 11 against the Chiefs.
The 2018 season has been a mess, but the foundation is there for a quick turnaround in 2019.
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Roger Steinman/Associated Press
Last Week: 27
Week 16 Result: Lost at Dallas 27-20
Thanks to Sunday’s seven-point loss to the Cowboys in Dallas, the Buccaneers are insured double-digit losses for the second straight season. And most of the factors that have led to those losses were on full display.
Turnovers? Check. Two, including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
Penalties? Nine of them, for 72 yards.
Ill-timed defensive lapses? Yep. Despite holding the Cowboys to less than 250 yards of offense, the Tampa defense still allowed 20 points.
There was an NFL Network report Sunday that threw cold water on the notion that head coach Dirk Koetter is a goner. Per Ian Rapoport, the Buccaneers haven’t ruled out keeping Koetter and quarterback Jameis Winston in their current roles.
Tampa has a puncher’s chance at a sixth win next week at home against the similarly disappointing Falcons, but it’s hard to see how the status quo in 2019 is going to somehow produce different results.
Pretty sure Einstein said something about doing the same thing over and over and expecting the outcome to be different.
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Rey Del Rio/Associated Press
Last Week: 24
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Minnesota 27-9
That the Detroit Lions are a bad team isn’t new or especially unusual.
But in recent years, even if the Lions were lousy, you could count on the team to at least move the football and score points.
Of late, the Lions haven’t even done that. Detroit’s loss to Minnesota was the fifth straight game in which the Lions have posted 17 or fewer points. In news that should surprise approximately no one, the Lions have lost four of those games.
Yes, the Lions are shorthanded at the skill positions. But there’s no denying that in 2018 (and especially of late), Stafford has struggled—so much that his future with the team is going to be looming over the Lions all offseason long.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Last Week: 28
Week 16 Result: Won at Miami 17-7
Before the Jaguars and Dolphins murdered everything that was good about football in Week 16, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported that the Jaguars’ disastrous 2018 season will not cost head coach Doug Marrone his job.
“For the Jaguars,” he wrote, “owner Shad Khan is not panicking, sources say, nor is he looking for a scapegoat. Less than a year after locking in his entire upper-level power structure to contract extensions, he wants to see it through. They were, after all, a tipped pass away from the Super Bowl.”
The Jags got Marrone win No. 5 in an ugly one Saturday, but Sobleski isn’t exactly a believer moving forward:
“To the Jags’ credit, they didn’t fold and earned a victory over the Miami Dolphins. Yet, the team is a disaster at the game’s most important position. The coaching staff benched Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler only to bench Kessler for Bortles. Time is a flat circle, and the Jaguars still need quarterback help.”
Neither is Davenport.
“Leonard Fournette getting hurt and Blake Bortles being Blake Bortles will get blamed for Jacksonville’s collapse, but neither explains why the defense fell apart. Or why the effort level in several games was…let’s go with not good. The Jaguars didn’t make an AFC title game because of Doug Marrone in 2017. They did it in spite of him.”
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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
Last Week: 22
Week 16 Result: Lost at Tennessee 25-16
Saturday’s loss in Nashville put the finishing touches on a slide that has dropped the Redskins from promising contender to disappointing also-ran. In a way, it’s fitting that Josh Johnson—the fourth-starting quarterback—threw two late interceptions that cost the Redskins the game.
The second half of the 2018 season has been unending misery for a Washington team that was once in the driver’s seat in the NFC East. But lost among all the doom and gloom was at least one sliver of good news.
With 119 yards on 26 carries, Adrian Peterson became the oldest running back to gain 1,000 yards in a season since John Riggins in 1984.
That Peterson only joined the team after youngster Derrius Guice was lost for the year to injury just about sums up Washington’s season.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Last Week: 20
Week 16 Result: Lost at Indianapolis 28-27
In recent weeks, the New York Giants had shown some signs of life. An overtime win over the Bears. A thrashing of the Redskins.
If there was any of that momentum left after last week’s shutout loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Giants squandered it in blowing a late lead and chance to play playoff spoiler in Indianapolis.
Yes, New York didn’t have wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. or linebacker Alec Ogletree in this one. But the Giants managed to build the lead without them. They should have been able to hold it without them, too.
There’s little left in the present for the Giants to play for, so it’s time to turn to the future for Big Blue—specifically, the team’s future at quarterback.
For the most part, Eli Manning played pretty well Sunday—at least until he threw the interception that killed the final drive.
If one of next year’s top young quarterbacks is on the board when the Giants make their first pick, the chances of New York drafting him are about 198 percent. Especially after a few more months of hearing how that’s what they should have done in 2018.
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Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Last Week: 21
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Jacksonville 17-7
On Sunday in Miami, the Dolphins were finally, mercifully eliminated from playoff contention.
It’s about time.
That this Dolphins team somehow entered Week 16 a .500 football team is a bigger mystery than Stonehenge and what exactly nougat is. The Dolphins entered Week 16 in the NFL’s bottom five in both total offense and total defense.
Not to get overly technical, but they stink.
Frankly, this game was so bad that players from both teams should have to visit the homes of everyone who watched it and apologize. The Jaguars and Dolphins had fewer yards combined than the Kansas City Chiefs averaged by themselves entering the week. Cody Kessler and Ryan Tannehill barely cracked 250 passing yards put together.
The Dolphins travel to Buffalo next week with a chance to get back to .500 on the line. If the team has any sense, it will make a concerted effort not to do that.
Miami needs all the draft position it can get.
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Mike McCarn/Associated Press
Last Week: 19
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Atlanta 24-10
At the halfway point of their season, the Carolina Panthers were a 6-2 Super Bowl contender.
With one week to play, the Panthers are a six-win tomato can living a Tom Petty song.
The one about free-falling.
Over their seven-game losing streak, everything that could go wrong has for the Panthers. And with starting quarterback Cam Newton on the shelf for the rest of the season with a bad shoulder, Carolina offered little resistance Sunday against a Falcons team that hasn’t exactly had a great season itself.
In the spirit of bright spots, though, in Sunday’s loss, second-year tailback Christian McCaffrey set a new NFL record for receptions in a season by a running back with 106.
However, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, this season’s collapse isn’t expected to cost head coach Ron Rivera his job. The temperature of his chair come next September, though, is apt to be considerably balmier.
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Jason E. Miczek/Associated Press
Last Week: 23
Week 16 Result: Won at Carolina 24-10
At this point in the season, it can be hard to find something nice to say about a tomato can coming off a meaningless win.
How about that Brian Hill.
Pressed into service at tailback for the Falcons after injuries tore through the Atlanta backfield, the second-year pro from Wyoming had himself a day in Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers—eight carries for 115 yards.
That’s 14.4 yards a carry, which seems pretty good.
Hill wasn’t the only player who shined for Atlanta. Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns without an interception—one each to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu. A beleaguered Atlanta defense made a number of big plays, piling up a pair of sacks and forcing four turnovers.
Consider it a reminder that there’s some good buried under all the blah that was the 2018 Falcons.
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D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press
Last Week: 17
Week 16 Result: Lost 27-14 at Oakland
It’s getting harder and harder to see Vance Joseph surviving Black Monday.
After Monday night’s embarrassing loss to the Oakland Raiders dropped the Broncos to 6-9 on the season, Joseph owns a dubious piece of Broncos history: He was the head coach when Denver posted two straight losing seasons for the first time since 1971 and 1972.
That’s not going to sit well with head coach John Elway.
There’s just no bright spot to point to in this game for the beleaguered coach. The offense continued to sputter, furthering that which we already know—Case Keenum ain’t the answer at quarterback. The execution and play-calling on defense wasn’t much better.
Every bit of momentum the Broncos built up with recent wins over the Steelers and Chargers is long gone. Denver isn’t the worst team in the AFC West, but it isn’t far from it.
Right or wrong, someone’s going to be blamed for the debacle that is 2018 in Denver.
That somebody is Vance Joseph.
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Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Last Week: 18
Week 16 Result: Won at New York Jets 44-38 (OT)
It’s been a disappointing season in Titletown. But in Sunday’s miraculous comeback win over the New York Jets, Packers backers got a reminder just how special Aaron Rodgers is.
Trailing 35-20 at the beginning of the final quarter, Rodgers led the Packers on three straight scoring drives that put up 18 unanswered points and a 38-35 lead. Rodgers also led the game-winning drive in OT en route to 442 passing yards.
Of course, that the Packers needed that comeback and drive in overtime was a stark reminder of why this season has been so disappointing. The Packers surrendered a 341-yard passing game to rookie Sam Darnold and needed overtime to beat a bad Jets team they outgained by 170 yards.
“It’s the same tired story,” Davenport said. “Rodgers standing on his head to get a win because the defense in Green Bay is atrocious. This season was another wasted year of Aaron Rodgers’ prime, and it’s going to take a lot of changes for next year to be any different.”
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Last Week: 16
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Houston 32-30
The champs just will not die.
All season long, the Philadelphia Eagles have teetered on the brink in the NFC East. And when the Houston Texans took a one-point lead late Sunday, it appeared that balancing act was finally going to crash and the Eagles were going to become the first defending champs since the 2012 Ravens to miss the playoffs the following season.
Not so fast, my friend!
Despite being knocked out for a play by a vicious hit from Jadeveon Clowney, backup quarterback Nick Foles found record-setting tight end Zach Ertz for a long catch that set up the field goal that both gave Philly the win and kept their playoff hopes alive.
Sobleski was feeling a little deja vu:
“Nick Foles is doing it again. For some reason, the Eagles just click with their backup signal-caller leading the way. Foles threw for a whopping 471 yards and four touchdowns against the Houston Texans. This marriage won’t last forever since the organization and Foles have a mutual contract option this offseason and Philadelphia is cap-strapped. But all parties can enjoy the ride while it lasts.”
Philadelphia isn’t out of the woods yet, as the team will need a hand in Week 17 if it is going to have an opportunity to defend its Super Bowl title of a year ago.
But you can rest assured the Eagles will be giving it everything they have next week in the nation’s capital.
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David Richard/Associated Press
Last Week: 15
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Cincinnati 26-18
We here at Bleacher Report hope that you have your affairs in order and have made peace with the universe. For you see, the end times are upon us.
The Cleveland Browns are a .500 football team in December.
For a time Sunday in Cleveland, it looked like the Browns might revert to old habits—perhaps because Hue Jackson was back in the building. After roaring out to a 26-3 lead, the Browns allowed 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points to let Cincinnati back into it.
But Cleveland was able to run out the clock and notch win No. 7 on the season—and fifth in seven games since Gregg Williams was handed the reins to the team.
It was a win that featured all the things that have spurred this turnaround. Another excellent performance from Baker Mayfield under center. Another 100-yard game from tailback Nick Chubb. And more tenacious play from Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and the defense.
This team is going to get a lot of run as a playoff contender next summer.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Last Week: 9
Week 16 Result: Lost at New Orleans 31-28
The Pittsburgh Steelers are an immensely talented team on both sides of the ball. Were they to make the playoffs in a wide-open AFC, there’s a chance they could advance all the way to the Super Bowl. Maybe even win it.
However, even if the Steelers beat the bumbling Bengals next week, there’s an excellent chance Pittsburgh won’t be in the playoffs after its stunning loss in New Orleans.
That Pittsburgh lost isn’t the stunning part. It’s how it happened. Yet another late lead squandered. Yet another backbreaking turnover. Multiple pass-interference calls in pivotal situations.
The Steelers have been their own worst enemy most of the season. Now, unless Baltimore loses at home to Cleveland (unlikely but possible) or the Titans and Colts tie (um, no), it won’t matter what happens with the Bengals.
“The Steelers have no one to blame but themselves,” Sobleski wrote. “A Week 15 win against the New England Patriots doesn’t mean much when Pittsburgh lost four of its last five games. Now, the Browns hold the Steelers’ fate in their hands. A Cleveland win coupled with a Pittsburgh victory in Week 17 gets the Steelers into the playoffs. The fact that Pittsburgh needs help after starting 7-2-1 says everything about how the season has gone.”
“Time to—prepare for shameless plug—move on from Mike Tomlin, who isn’t getting enough out of a talented team thanks partly to his poor game-management skills and a string of bad in-game decisions,” Gagnon added. “The Steelers need a fresh start now that they’re likely to miss the playoffs for just the third time this decade.”
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Jose Juarez/Associated Press
Last Week: 13
Week 16 Result: Won at Detroit 27-9
That the Minnesota Vikings were led to victory in Detroit in Week 15 by a guy named Rudolph is just about the most Christmas thing ever.
But Kyle Rudolph’s huge game (9/122/2) wasn’t the only story from Minnesota’s big win. Or the biggest one.
The Vikings appear to be figuring things out.
In back-to-back convincing wins over the last two weeks, the Vikings have looked like the Super Bowl contender we expected them to be. The offense has been balanced and prolific. The defense has been stout and opportunistic.
Gagnon shared a fun fact about this streaky team:
“The Vikings really bounced back from that Monday night stinker two weeks ago in Seattle, crushing half-decent opponents on consecutive Sundays to give themselves some momentum for a potential Super Bowl run in this wide-open season. If only they could keep playing matinees on local television, because they’re 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 17.8 in their last five 1 p.m. ET kickoffs. Meanwhile, they’re 1-4 this season on national TV.”
However, despite playing arguably their best football of the season, nothing is guaranteed yet. With Philadelphia also in the mix for the NFC’s remaining Wild Card spot, the Vikings need a third straight win in Week 17 to advance to the tournament…
…Over a Chicago Bears team fighting for a first-round bye that thumped the Vikings in Chicago a few weeks ago.
At least it’s not a night game.
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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
Last Week: 12
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Washington 25-16
The Tennessee Titans aren’t racking up style points, but the team keeps piling up something that’s infinitely more important in December.
Despite losing quarterback Marcus Mariota late in the first half to a shoulder injury, the Titans grinded out a win against the Redskins—a win salted away by Malcolm Butler’s pick-six on the game’s final play.
To call it an impressive win would be stretching the term past the breaking point. The Titans were outgained and managed just 99 yards on 27 carries. But just as they’ve done in four straight and six of their last eight, they found a way to win and stay in the thick of the wild-card race.
That sets up a critical, win-and-in home date with the Colts next week that will essentially be a playoff game all its own.
And it sets up the health of Mariota’s shoulder to be one of the dominant storylines of Week 17.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Last Week: 10
Week 16 Result: Won vs. New York Giants 28-27
For most of Sunday’s matchup with the New York Giants, it looked like the Indianapolis Colts’ dreams of turning a 1-5 start into a playoff trip were on shaky ground. The Colts trailed the Giants throughout the game—including by double digits on multiple occasions.
But just as the Colts did when staring at that 1-5 record, Indy didn’t quit. And an Andrew Luck scoring strike to Chester Rogers with under a minute left completed the comeback that kept Indy’s hopes of making the postseason alive.
That playoff trip is no sure bet. There is a pack of teams vying for the No. 6 seed in the AFC, among them a similarly hot Tennessee Titans team that the Colts will travel to face next Sunday in what’s now one of Week 17’s biggest games.
How big? Flexed-to-Sunday-night big.
But for the Colts to have climbed back to within a win of a playoff spot after losing five of six to open the season speaks well to both the players and the job that first-year head coach Frank Reich has done.
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Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press
Last Week: 14
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Tampa Bay 27-20
There’s good news and bad news for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16.
The good news is that by virtue of a seven-point win borne of another strong performance by the Dallas defense that included a defensive score, the Cowboys are the 2018 NFC East champions.
There will be playoff football in Dallas to open 2019.
The bad news is if Sunday’s win was any indication, it may be a short trip. After appearing to finally find its stride, the Dallas offense has once again slowed to a crawl. Despite a matchup with one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Dak Prescott and Co. managed just 232 yards of total offense.
“The Dallas defense is good enough to keep the team in a lot of games,” Davenport said. “But the offense is just too erratic to see this team winning against the Bears, Saints or Rams. Not on the road.”
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Last Week: 7
Week 16 Result: Lost at Philadelphia 32-30
The Houston Texans may well come to rue Week 16 for some time as the beginning of the end for the team’s dreams of making it to the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
Thanks to an otherworldly effort from quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans were able to overcome the absence of tailback Lamar Miller and a late deficit to take a one-point lead with about two minutes left Sunday in Philadelphia.
But facing a backup quarterback (albeit one with a Super Bowl MVP award), the Texans couldn’t hold the lead, and the loss cost Houston the No. 2 slot (at least for now) in the AFC playoffs.
Davenport believes this loss could come back to bite them.
“Houston’s in the tournament,” he said, “and the Texans will likely wind up being the No. 3 seed. That means hitting the road in the divisional round, and as we saw today, the Texans have a hard time sealing the deal away from Reliant Stadium—never mind the prospect of having to travel to the house of horrors that is Gillette.”
“Houston is a flawed franchise at the moment,” Sobleski continued. “A 13-point fourth-quarter comeback means nothing after allowing Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles to drive the ball 72 yards for a game-winning field goal. The defense should be better with all the star power it features, and the offense still can’t adequately protect quarterback Deshaun Watson.”
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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
Last Week: 8
Week 16 Result: Won at Los Angeles Chargers 22-10
The Baltimore Ravens aren’t winning football games in the conventional sense.
Well, to be fair, the Ravens are winning the conventional way—if this were 1990.
On Saturday night, the Ravens rolled into StubHub Center and punched the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers in the mouth with an old-school butt-kicking. The Ravens ran the ball to the tune of over 150 yards, controlled time of possession and dominated defensively, holding the Chargers to their lowest outputs of the year in both yardage and points.
Davenport believes the Ravens’ style of play makes them a potentially dangerous playoff team:
“The Ravens are a nightmare matchup in the playoffs. The offense isn’t something teams are used to seeing in today’s NFL. The defense is the best in the league and lacks weak spots that can be exploited. And Baltimore has the best kicker in football in Justin Tucker. It’s a style of football that not only travels well but wins in the postseason. The AFC’s other contenders will be doing everything in their power to avoid facing this team in the Wild Card Round.”
“I still can’t see Lamar Jackson raising the Lombardi Trophy in six weeks,” Gagnon added, “but that defense is for real, and that was a big-boy road win over the league’s hottest team. The Ravens will be a tough out in January, especially now that they’re likely to have at least one game at home.”
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last Week: 11
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Kansas City 38-31
So much for 2018 being a rebuilding year.
The Seahawks got off to a slow start, but over the team’s last 13 games, Russell and the Wilsons are a rock-solid 9-4—with the latest win an impressive victory over the AFC heavyweight Kansas City Chiefs.
The Seahawks are undoubtedly Wilson’s team, but part of the reason the team is winning is through balance. The Seahawks have gone ground-and-pound. That run-heavy offense was effective against the Chiefs, piling up 210 yards and holding the ball for over 35 minutes.
That big home victory punched Seattle’s ticket to the playoffs, but moving forward the Seahawks will have to show an equal ability to take the show on the road.
Fortunately for them, running the ball and playing defense is a strategy that generally travels well.
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last Week: 5
Week 16 Result: Lost at Seattle 38-31
For most of the 2018 season, the Kansas City Chiefs had been the top dogs in the AFC. The team the rest of the conference was chasing. And with a Week 17 win versus Oakland, the Chiefs can still secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
But any aura of invincibility has taken a beating in successive losses.
The problem is easy to pinpoint: Kansas City’s defense is brutal. Both the Chargers and Seahawks used Kansas City’s inability to stop the run to move the ball and control time of possession—the latter by over 10 minutes.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense can’t score without the ball.
It’s hardly panic time—the road to Atlanta on the AFC side will still likely go through Arrowhead, one of the toughest venues for opponents.
But some of the shine has been knocked off the Chiefs.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Last Week: 2
Week 16 Result: Lost vs. Baltimore 22-10
Well, that didn’t last long.
For just over a week, the Los Angeles Chargers looked like easily the best team in the AFC. But after getting slapped around by the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, the notion of the “best” team in the conference is becoming equal parts relative and fungible.
Philip Rivers and the L.A. offense were completely stymied. The Chargers had fewer than 200 yards of total offense, just 51 yards rushing and got its only offensive touchdown on a drive when the Ravens committed multiple penalties. Rivers was sacked four times, and the Chargers committed three turnovers—one of which was returned for a game-sealing TD.
The loss all but dashes any hopes the Chargers had of winning the AFC West, essentially locking them in as the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Depending on how things shake out, that could mean a trip to M&T Bank Stadium in two weeks to play those same Ravens.
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Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Last Week: 6
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Buffalo 24-12
On one hand, the Patriots did what they needed to do in Week 16. In doubling up the hapless Buffalo Bills, they put the brakes on their two-game skid and won an NFL-record 10th straight AFC East title.
But if anything, the level of concern surrounding these Patriots may be even greater than it was after last week’s loss to the Steelers…even with this win (and Houston’s loss in Philly) moving the Patriots back to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Patriots just didn’t look especially good in beating the Bills. Tom Brady had a terrible game by his standards, completing just over half his passes and throwing a pair of interceptions against a stout Buffalo defense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continued his recent disappearing act, going catch-less on three targets.
“This is the time of year,” Davenport said, “when the Patriots are supposed to be polishing a rough edge here and there and sewing up home-field advantage. Instead, the Pats are pitching and lurching and look like a team that could be ripe for an upset in the postseason.”
Still, for all that hand-wringing, these are the defending AFC champs. Until someone knocks them off that perch in the postseason, the Pats have earned a measure of the benefit of the doubt.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Last Week: 4
Week 16 Result: Won at Arizona 31-9
After dropping two games in a row and falling out of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams needed an elixir to help get back on track.
Enter the Arizona Cardinals, the cure for all that ails.
That the Rams cruised past the Redbirds even without tailback Todd Gurley to keep hold of the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs isn’t surprising. The fact that L.A. did so while getting 167 rushing yards from the recently signed C.J. Anderson was.
If there’s a dark cloud in this sunny outcome, it would likely be the performance of quarterback Jared Goff. After rampaging across the NFL over the first half of the season, Goff’s numbers were again pedestrian against the Cardinals: 216 passing yards and one score.
It didn’t matter in a Week 16 game where the Rams rushed for 269 yards. But starting in two or three weeks, if Goff can’t flip the switch, it could be a problem.
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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Last Week: 3
Week 16 Result: Won at San Francisco 14-9
On the surface, surviving a game against a bad San Francisco 49ers team in which the Bears only scored 14 points doesn’t cement their status as one of the front-runners to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
However, there are a couple of factors to consider.
First, while the 49ers may not be good, they are annoying—especially in Santa Clara. San Francisco downed the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium last week and toppled the Denver Broncos the week before that.
Second, while the Bears didn’t play their best game of the season, they found a way to win on the road. This is a young team still becoming accustomed to this whole winning thing. The Bears haven’t won the NFC North since 2010.
They are the highest they have ever been in these rankings and still in the mix for a bye with a little bit of help, so they will be making every effort to finish strong next week in Minnesota.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Last Week: 1
Week 16 Result: Won vs. Pittsburgh 31-28
Sunday was a very good day for the New Orleans Saints and a very bad day for the rest of the NFC playoff teams.
Thanks to a three-point win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superdome, the Saints insured that every playoff game they participate in in the 2018 playoffs this side of Super Bowl LIII will take place in said Superdome.
It’s a recipe the team had a fair amount of success with back in 2009.
The game was a great example of why the Saints so badly wanted home-field advantage. The Saints were actually outgained by a fairly sizable margin, but a few opportune big plays made the difference. Some of those miscues by the Steelers may have had something to do with the fact they couldn’t hear themselves think.
“As soon as the final gun sounded and the Saints earned the No. 1 seed,” Davenport said, “New Orleans became the heavy favorite in my mind to rep the NFC in Atlanta. In the controlled environment of their home stadium, the Saints have a considerable advantage.”
Gagnon’s not so sure.
“New Orleans got the win, but it needed a lot of breaks to beat a flawed Steelers team at the Superdome,” he said. “The Saints are the league’s best team, but that’s almost by default. There truly are no really great NFL teams this season. And that’ll make for a fun January.”