Wow! The NFL season really goes by fast; we are already through 15 weeks! Although the matchups didn’t appear to be very enticing on paper, we were treated to several tremendous finishes, including some upsets that have caused some movement near the top of the power rankings- we have a new #1 team this week. So, who’s that team, and how did the other 31 teams fare this week! Let’s rank every team after 15 weeks, assigning grades for their performance and highlighting a top performer.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 36-20 at NYG
Top Performer: LB Jerome Baker
The good news for Dolphins fans is following their loss to the Giants, they’re now back in a solid position to earn the #2 pick in the draft, which could land them star edge rusher Chase Young. The bad news? They were blown out by the Giants, of all teams. Honestly, it’s hard to peg what went wrong for Miami offensively, but at the end of the day, they weren’t able to move the ball consistently against a poor defense, which speaks to the volatility of Ryan Fitzpatrick- you never know what you’re getting from him. However, if there is a unit to blame for this loss, it’s the defense, which struggled in all facets. Young linebackers Jerome Baker and Vince Biegel turned in encouraging performances, but other than that, it was a very lackluster effort, and by generating just THREE total pressures, they proved why they’d be better off losing and drafting Young- they need any sort of impact pass rusher. Plus, undrafted rookie corner Nik Needham once appeared to be a steal and a building block for Miami, but he’s played very poorly over the past month; outside of their group of linebackers, there isn’t much for the Dolphins to build on. That’s why they have three first-round picks in next year’s draft- this loss does much more good than a win would’ve. Is Miami truly the worst team in football? We’ll find out next week when they host the Bengals.
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 34-13 vs NE
Top Performer: EDGE Carlos Dunlap
Before they took on the Patriots, the attention regarding the Bengals, outside of New England’s “Spygate part two” scandal, wasn’t around their current team, but their next future quarterback- there were signs calling for LSU signal-caller Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday and is positioned to be the #1 pick in the draft. What happens to Andy Dalton? Maybe he stays as a bridge starter, maybe he’s traded, but does it really matter? We’ve tried to make excuses regarding his supporting cast all season long, but in a game in which he received adequate pass protection and got tremendous production from his playmakers, he truly hampered the unit’s ability to move the ball with four costly interceptions; not only has he not elevated the play from those around him, but there’s a chance he’s the problem. Defensively, edge defender Carlos Dunlap was pretty much a one-man wrecking crew, as besides him, Cincinnati was gashed on the ground and didn’t generate any sort of pass rush. Notably, rookie third-round linebacker Germaine Pratt has been a liability this season, and this game, was atrocious in run defense. The Bengals have much more talent than the Dolphins, but that doesn’t say much. On the bright side, they’re on the verge of securing that #1 pick that’ll grant them their franchise quarterback, though they’ll have to be careful to not trip into a win in Miami.
#30: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Won 20-16 at OAK
Top Performer: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue
Wait, the Jaguars WON in Week 15? After losing five straight games by three scores or more, Jacksonville deserved to be counted out when they were down by double digits in the fourth quarter in Oakland. However, that’s when Minshew magic took over; the Jaguars made the emphatic comeback to spoil the Raiders’ farewell game. Minshew, outside of the end of the game, didn’t play well in this game, despite being protected well, and the absence of top receiver DJ Chark was definitely felt; no one should be congratulating the Jaguars for barely scoring 20 points against a subpar defense. Nor should they be commended for their defensive efforts, as they missed 13 tackles, and their linebackers were awful in pass coverage. Still, it was nice to see of Jacksonville’s high-end players – edge rusher Yanik Ngakoue and cornerback AJ Bouye – live up to their talent, and because of that, they’ll be able to escape the hardship they went through during that awful losing streak. Still, I have no faith that they’ll be able to make it two in a row when they take on the Falcons in Atlanta.
#29: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 31-27 vs PHI
Top Performer: WR Terry McLaurin
The Redskins may not be winning games, but no one can accuse them of not being competitive; their young talent has kept them afloat in recent weeks. I wouldn’t say Dwayne Haskins played well, considering he was protected fantastically, but he definitely gave his team a chance to win this game, and his connection with third-round rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, his teammate at Ohio State, should give Washington some optimism for the future. Still, it was all for naught, as the defense couldn’t slow down an Eagles offense that’s honestly not scaring anyone. They did have 28 pressures on Carson Wentz, including ten from interior defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, but at some point, you have to be able to stop the run to a certain extent, which Washington clearly didn’t do- they had a putrid 33 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus. Washington isn’t a completely terrible team, and definitely has some young players, but they still aren’t close to competing at the moment; this offseason, which will feature a top-five draft pick and a new head coach, may define the future of their team with Haskins under center. How high will they pick in the draft? Their upcoming matchup against the Giants may determine that.
#28: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Won 36-20 vs MIA
Top Performer: WR Sterling Shepard
The Giants have finally done it! For the first time since Week 4, they won a game, trouncing the Dolphins by a score of 36-20. Yes, it came against a poor Miami defense, but finally, we saw New York’s collection of playmakers all perform up to their capabilities. Receivers Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Darius Slayton all made an impact, but it was running back Saquon Barkley’s stellar outing that was most encouraging; he finally looked like the explosive dual-threat back that he hadn’t looked like in recent weeks. Plus, Eli Manning didn’t play great, but he still had an above-average game, and if this is it for him, it’s nice to see him go out in style (and with his 117-117 record). Heck, the Giants even performed adequately on defense, as their pass rush caused havoc with 23 pressures, and their young corner duo of Deandre Baker and Sam Beal definitely held their own. Obviously, this win doesn’t say much, considering their opponent, but for a team that didn’t have a pulse recently, it was nice to see they haven’t given up; change still awaits this franchise, however. Whether it’s Manning or Daniel Jones, they actually have a decent chance to win their second straight in Washington; for draft position sake (Chase Young, anyone?), it would actually be in their best interest to not win, ironically.
#27: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 30-24 vs SEA
Top Performer: RG Trai Turner
Remember when the Panthers were considered a playoff team when they were 4-2 after winning four straight games with Kyle Allen under center. Well, they’ve won just one game since then, and now, Allen has been booted; third-round rookie Will Grier will start for Carolina in Week 16. Though it’s the prospect of getting a look at Grier is exciting, this is undoubtedly more of an inditement of Allen, who has been a turnover machine; he posted yet another grade from Pro Football Focus below 50. It’s honestly a shame how poor he’s played, as he’s surrounded by excellent playmakers after the catch in receivers DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, as well as running back Christian McCaffrey; the offensive line held up tremendously in this game as well. I have no expectations for Grier, since he’s an unknown, but one thing’s for certain- he can’t be any worse than Allen has been. Whereas the offense has the excuse of Allen holding them back, there’s something else even more troubling- the defense, which is supposed to be the identity of this team, has been atrocious. Cornerback Donte Jackson, as athletic as he is, is not getting the job done, and with James Bradburry struggling and set to be a free agent, the cornerback position, and the secondary as a whole, is in for a massive overhaul. Oh, and when you’re out of the playoffs, it behooves you to give reps to your young players, yet first-round edge rusher Brian Burns played just SEVEN snaps in this game. It’ll be interesting to see how Grier plays in Indianapolis, but right now, there’s no reason to watch this team; their series of offseason decisions (quarterback, head coach, front office) will ultimately determine the state of their franchise moving forward.
#26: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Won 38-24 vs CLE
Top Performer: CB Patrick Peterson
Similar to the Giants, the Cardinals had been long searching for a win; since Week 7, to be exact. However, they’ve been very competitive throughout the season, and on Sunday, we rewarded with a sound victory over the Browns. After two awful weeks, it was nice to see Kliff Kingsbury’s offense put together an all-around performance. Kyler Murray played much better, though it helps his surrounding cast played well; running back Kenyan Drake had four touchdowns and was true dual-threat back in this game. At this point, it’s clear that Drake fits this offense best; he’ll likely be re-signed, while David Johnson’s future with this team appears to be over. As for the defense, which will need to complement this exciting offense, Arizona’s NINETEEN missed tackles and putrid run defense aren’t exactly encouraging, but on the bright side, the secondary had its best game of the season; star corner Patrick Peterson finally looked like his old self, as he shadowed Odell Beckham Jr. to perfection. With the Seahawks and Rams coming up, this will likely be the last win for the Cardinals this season. However, unlike other teams on this list, they definitely have a chance to be a playoff contender next year, as the pairing of Kingsbury and Murray gives this team a bright future; a fringe top-five pick will also help.
#25: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 20-16 vs JAX
Top Performer: TE Darren Waller
With the hapless Jaguars coming to the town, the Raiders had a chance to end their stay in Oakland in style; they looked primed to secure a blowout victory, especially when they were up by two scores in the fourth quarter. However, all hell broke loose for them- they collapsed in an embarrassing 20-16 loss. Derek Carr continues to earn decent grades from Pro Football Focus, but let’s be frank- unless he starts being aggressive throwing the ball down the field, there’s no reason for him to be this team’s quarterback in Las Vegas; the Raiders don’t need to be paying a quarterback $25 million to just throw check-downs. Yes, they lack talent at receiver (though tight end Darren Waller is amazing), but considering how much Jacksonville has struggled to defend explosive passes, it’s honestly sad that he couldn’t have any success taking shots down the field. Plus, this is still one of the worst defenses in the NFL, as they have zero threat of a pass rush (11 pressures) despite making several investments to fix it in the draft, and they’re still very thin at cornerback. At least rookie corner Trayvon Mullen bounced back after a couple of tough weeks, but nevertheless, this team has a long ways to go before they’re truly ready to compete for a playoff spot; that’s where their two first-round picks (albeit without a second-round pick) and extensive amount of cap space needs to be used appropriately.
#24: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Lost 42-21 at BAL
Top Performer: WR Jamison Crowder
On a short week, the Jets didn’t even ever stand a chance of beating the dangerous Ravens in Baltimore. However, it would’ve been nice to see them be competitive, but instead, they were absolutely demolished. That’s not entirely accurate, as their offense did move the ball well, as the offensive line held up against Baltimore’s stunt-heavy pass rush and Sam Darnold had a pretty efficient game; slot receiver Jamison Crowder also made a huge impact in this game. Yet, from the start, they were in catchup mode- their defense was utterly abysmal. Gregg Williams is a decent defensive coordinator who thrives at confusing inexperienced quarterbacks, but when he faces a quarterback who can read his disguises, it almost always turns into a disaster for him. That’s what happened in this game, as Lamar Jackson tore apart New York’s secondary, while, to no one’s surprise, they had no answers stopping one of the most prolific rushing attacks in NFL history. Whether it’s the coaching or the roster construction, there’s something clearly missing with this team at its current state, and given the general dysfunction of the organization, I’m not confident that it’ll be fixed. This end of the season won’t get easier for Darnold; he’ll face the Steelers vaunted defense this week before taking on the Bills.
#23: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 38-17 vs TB
Top Performer: WR Danny Amendola
It’s been a very difficult season for the Lions, who have faced a substantial amount of adversity. They started off the season strong with a 2-0-1 start, only two lose two games against the Chiefs and Packers at the final minute. Then, they lost their quarterback, Matt Stafford, for the season, and they’re now down to their third-string quarterback in David Blough, who isn’t providing much support at all (52 grade from Pro Football Focus). They still have an elite offensive line, but with star receiver Kenny Golladay the only remaining talented player (Stafford, receiver Marvin Jones, tight end TJ Hockenson, running back Kerryon Johnson are all hurt), there’s no hope for this offense at the moment. You’d expect the defense to step up, right; head coach Matt Patricia was brought into to improve that side of the ball. Yet, they’re a complete mess, and have no strengths whatsoever. With both their pass rush and secondary underperforming AND lacking in talent, they can’t stop the pass at all, and when that’s the case, it doesn’t matter if they have the talent on the defensive line needed to stop the run; why would any offense run the ball when they can pass the ball with ease? I don’t know where the Lions go from here, but for now, they can try to win their first game since Week 8- they travel to Denver in Week 16.
#22: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Lost 38-24 at ARI
Top Performer: LB Mack Wilson
Heading into the season, there was so much hype for the Browns, who looked poised to finally bring winning football to Cleveland. However, after losing their eight-game in embarrassing fashion – a 38-24 loss to a three-win Cardinals team – they officially cannot have a winning season. So it goes for a team that is not only one of the most unorganized and undisciplined team I’ve ever seen, but doesn’t have the talent to compensate for it. Obviously, the offense is what many point to as the issue, and for good reason. Expected to be one of the leagues most explosive units, they looked average against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Baker Mayfield is definitely part of the season, as he’s been both inaccurate and inconsistent with decisions. However, it’s not just his fault; Odell Beckham Jr. has been anything but the star receiver he was supposed to be, and it doesn’t help that head coach Freddie Kitchen’s play-calling gives this offense zero flow whatsoever. Yet, the offense wasn’t even the worst unit in this game- they did give up 38 points, after all. Rookie linebacker Mack Wilson had by far his best game of the season, but besides him, no starter played well; linebacker Joe Schobert has really slowed down after multiple elite performances in the middle of the season. What do the Browns do this offseason? It has to start with a new head coach, yet the organization just gave a vote of confidence for Kitchens, and with multiple players wanting out of Cleveland, this could get out of hand in a hurry. Then again, it can’t get any worse than this, right?
#21: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 23-3 at KC
Top Performer: LT Garrett Bolles
For the first time in his career, Drew Lock has lost a game in the NFL; the Broncos, who had won the past two games with Lock under center, fall flat in the snow in Kansas City. When assessing what went wrong, it has to start with Lock himself, who took a major step back in this game. Inaccuracy and a multitude of awful decisions really plagued him and the offense in this game- he received a putrid grade of 27.9 from Pro Football Focus. He’s not the sole reason why Denver scored 3 points in this game – their playmakers were non-existent – but he’s a major component of it, and after generating so much hype as this team’s potential long-term quarterback, this was definitely a teaching moment for us to not buy into small sample sizes. Yet, it’s not as though head coach Vic Fangio’s defense fared much better, as they had no answer to stopping to Chiefs passing attack, despite the conditions. Edge rusher Von Miller (7) accounted for almost half of the team’s pressures (16), as the pass rush really misses second-year edge rusher Bradley Chubb, and because of that, the secondary suffered, with star corner Chris Harris Jr. and safety Justin Simmons having unusually poor performances. This is still a team that’s played hard this season and could make some noise next season, but Lock needs time to develop, and with the defense aging, it’s clear those two timelines won’t correlate. Should a rebuild be in store? Probably, but nevertheless, Lock’s progression over the final two games, starting at home against the Lions in Week 16, is the team’s main storyline; we need a larger sample size before coming to conclusions about his future as a potential long-time starter in the NFL.
#20: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Lost 34-7 at NO
Top Performer: LT Anthony Castonzo
Coming into the season, the Colts weren’t expected to contend for the playoffs, as Andrew Luck’s retirement appeared to be too crushing of a blow to overcome. However, when the team got off to a 5-2 start, and was tied for the division lead as recently as Week 12, there was hope that they could somehow claw their way into the postseason. Well, following their 34-7 blowout loss in New Orleans, that dream is officially over. With what be the best offensive line in the NFL, one that is also very young, there should be optimism for Indianapolis’ offense for the future. However, the Colts still will have to be in the market for Luck’s replacement- Jacoby Brissett clearly isn’t it. He’s essentially a game-manager that’s still a little careless with the football; in reality, he’s a backup. The defense had compensated for his issues for most of the season, but now, they’re breaking. Any unit as young as they are is destined to go through its growing pains, but it’s some of the Colts’ key players that are struggling; safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Pierre Desir (who is not living up to his contract extension) headline what has been a tough time for the secondary, which has exposed mightily by Drew Brees. With a pair of winnable games against the Panthers and Jaguars up ahead, 8-8 is still a very realistic goal for Indianapolis. That may be disappointing based on how they started the season, but in the end, that’s pretty successful given all the adversity they’ve dealt with. The future is certainly bright for the Colts, though they still have to address the most important position before they’re a true playoff-caliber team.
#19: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 21-13 at GB
Top Performer: WR Anthony Miller
After winning three straight and four of their last five, the Bears, with a 7-6 record, weren’t a true threat for the playoffs, but were starting to look a little bit like the team they were supposed to be. They didn’t exactly play poorly in Green Bay, but still, they lost, and as a result, have been officially eliminated from the postseason. They may have only scored 13 points, Mitchell Trubisky and the offense was actually pretty effective in moving the ball down the field. At this point, you almost have to bring him back as the starter next season, as ever since Week 10, he’s looked like the quarterback Chicago envisioned him being when they drafted him #2 in the 2017 draft. However, problems persist with the defense; their days of dominance may be over. The pass rush, led by edge rushers Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack, has gone quiet in recent weeks, and to make matters worse, the Bears can’t stop the run AND have problems at the back-end of their secondary. With little resources available, it’s hard to see how Chicago can overhaul their roster much for next season, and as a result, they’ll probably be around a .500 team next season as well. Can they at least end their season on a high note? They’ll try to upset the Chiefs when they host them on Sunday Night Football.
#18: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 29-22 at SF
Top Performer: DT Grady Jarrett
Heading into the season, the Falcons looked like a good bet to win the division, but instead, have just five wins. Yet, two of those wins have come against teams with double-digit wins; they’ve won on the road against the Saints and 49ers. This upset in San Francisco was incredibly shocking, as I had given them zero chance to win this game. Yet, that’s exactly what they did, and by doing so, they flashed their immense amount of talent- they’re a playoff-caliber team with a 5-9 record. Most of that comes from the offense, which held their own against arguably the league’s best defense; the pass protection was adequate against a potent pass rush, and star receiver Julio Jones continues to be one of the most unstoppable receivers in the NFL. As for the defense, it was a mixed bag for them, as linebacker Deion Jones and cornerback Kendall Sheffield were terrible in pass coverage, but their pass rush continues to emerge down the stretch. Interior rusher Grady Jarrett, in particular, is definitely the team’s best defensive player and is rewarding the team after they signed him to a four-year extension. This may have been a tumultous season for the Falcons, but they still could end up with a 7-9 record, That’s quite the finish to a season, and as a result, there has to be a lot of excitement about the team’s prospects in 2020, though head coach Dan Quinn’s future with the team is still unclear. He’s definitely making a case to stay with how hard the team is playing, however, and that only strengthens if they can come away with a convincing victory against the Jaguars in Week 16.
#17: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 17-10 vs BUF
Top Performer: DT Tyson Alualu
On Sunday Night Football against the Bills, the Steelers had a chance to put themselves in a great position to make the playoffs. They couldn’t get the job done, and now, face much more urgency if the want to defeat the odds and make the postseason. As it’s been for most the season, it was poor quarterback play that got in Pittsburgh’s way, as Devlin Hodges looked like the undrafted free agent rookie that he is- he was completely fazed by Buffalo’s disguised coverages and continiously put the ball in harm’s way. Add in the fact that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is one of the worst play-callers (zero creativity in the NFL), and this may honestly be the weakest offense in the NFL. Yet, Pittsburgh remains a competitive team, which speaks to the dominance of the defense. This wasn’t their best game in pass coverage, but they generated constant pressure on Josh Allen, as they definitely won the battle up front. With that defense and some young playmakers on offense, this is a team that could certainly contend for the Super Bowl next year with Ben Roethlisbergr back healthy. As far as this season is concerned, however, they have no choice but to win against the Jets next week.
#16: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Won 17-10 at PIT
Top Performer: EDGE Trent Murphy
If there’s one word that certainly doesn’t describe the Bills, it’s flashy. This is a team that embraces playing gritty, low-scoring types of games, which made the offensively-challenged Steelers the perfect opponent for them. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Buffalo’s defense, the identity of this team, dominated in pass defense, with their linebackers (Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, and Lorenzo Alexander) starring in coverage, while cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace figure to be the leaders of the secondary for year’s to come- this is a defense loaded with talented players. It’s a bit rockier with the offense, as the play-calling was very conservative, and as a result, Josh Allen played a game-manager role. Their lack of upside really holds this team back from being a true threat in the playoffs, but still, Buffalo is in the playoffs, and with how young they are and how tremendous the culture is, it probably won’t be the last time. Now comes a major test- they travel to New England to try to take down the undisputed “top dog” in the AFC East.
#15: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 39-10 vs MIN
Top Performer: EDGE Melvin Ingram III
It’s official- the Chargers will cap off their extremely dissapointing season with a losing record. Los Angeles was expected to be a Super Bowl contender at the beggining of this season, but injuries piled up, and unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the depth to compensate for that. Plus, making matters worse, Phillip Rivers is starting to fall off a cliff in terms of production, as his turnover worthy play rate (4.97% per Pro Football Focus) is extremely high, and at 38-years-old and a free agent at season’s end, he may not be with the team next season. Now, it doesn’t help that running back Melvin Gordon III fumbled twice in this game, and that dual back Austin Ekeler and tight end Henry were non-factors, but still, it’s hard to justify the team sticking with Rivers, as he’s too limited in his capabilities to elevate the play of those around him. It may have not seemed like it based on the points allowed, the defense played pretty well- when the offense turns the ball over seven times, you’re put in a tough position. There’s still too many skilled players on both sides of the ball for this team not to be very competitive next season – eight of their losses have come by one score – but as they move into a new stadium, this is the exact opposite type of season they were hoping for. With the Raiders coming to town in what’ll be their final “home” game before the stadium change, they’ll look to get back on track.
#14: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 24-21 at TEN
Top Performer: WR DeAndre Hopkins
After putting themselves in a hole following a brutal home loss to the Broncos, the Texans had to respond with a win in Tennesee in order to mantain their hold on the AFC South lead. It wasn’t pretty, but Houston was able to come away with an impressive road victory, and as a result, have practically secured a spot in the playoffs. It was the typical bounceback game for Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense, as with deep threat Will Fuller back in the fold, Houston’s passing attack was tremendous. When you combine Watson’s ability with a receiving corps of DeAndre Hopkins, Fuller, and Kenny Stills, plus an underrated pass-blocking offensive, and it’s clear this offense has an enormous upside; the question, as it has been the entire season, is if they can have these types of performances on a consistent basis. They’ll have to, as even their defense played better than usual in this game, they can’t afford to count on that consistently. There’s still no threat of a pass rush without JJ Watt, and even though their linebackers were great in coverage, the same cannot be said for the seconday; this is a team that’s going to have to win shootouts. On the bright side, with Watson leading one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, they’re equipped to win those types of games, which is what they’ll have to do in Week 16- they’ll travel to Tampa Bay to take on the explosive Buccaneers.
#13: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 38-17 at DET
Top Performer: LB Lavonte David
It’s always hard to buy-in to the Bucs, given their enormous inconsistency; they were just 3-7 after Week 11, after all. However, they’ve now won four straight games in pretty dominat fashion, and by doing so, have demonstrated something that should scare the NFC South- they’re finally an all-around team, and have to be taking seriously as a playoff-caliber team (though they won’t make it this year). Right now, the main focus with this team is the offense, as Jameis Winston is in his contract year. He hasn’t changed – he still is as volatile as it gets within a game – but that’s okay; this Bruce Arians-led offense is so explosive to the point that they can move the ball with ease WITHOUT star receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. With those two back healthy for next season and with one of the better offensive lines, it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t bring back Winston, as his upside allows this offense to prosper and engage in shootouts. Yet, that’s not why I’m so excited about this team; Winston and the offense no longer have to carry this time, as quietly under Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay’s defense has transformed into a strong unit. Their investment in cornerbacks in the draft, for example, appears to finally have paid off, as the trio of Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, and Sean Murphy-Bunting have emerged as starting-caliber players, while the linebacker duo of veteran Lavonte David and fifth overall pick Devin White have been excellent in recent weeks. Now, the Bucs need to work on improving their pass rush, as Vita Vea is a solid interior rusher and Shaquil Barrett has had a breakout season on the edge, but that’s about all they have, and Barrett is poised to cash-in as a free agent. Still, with a dynamic offense and a vastly improving defense, there has to be a lot of optimism about this team for the future; I wouldn’t be surprised if they win the NFC South next season. Now they have a chance to make a statement, as they host the Texans this upcoming Saturday.
#12: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Won 37-27 at WSH
Top Performer: LT Jason Peters
Coming into the season, the Eagles were expected to be a dominant team- they were so strong on both sides of the ball. However, they’ve dealt with an unprecedented amount of injuries, and as a result, have a significantly depleted roster. Therefore, they’re incapable of blowing out teams that they should, as for the second week in a row, they barely got by against an inferior divisional foe- they beat the Redskins at the last second. As per usual, I’ll avoid judging Carson Wentz for his poor performance too much; after all, his top receiver at the moment is Greg Ward, who surprisngly had a fantastic game. However, because of the lack of receiving talent, this is an offense with little upside; throwing to tight-end or running backs, or simply running the ball, is how this team is going to have to move the ball. On the bright side, having one of the best offensive line helps them, as does the fact that second-round rookie Myles Sanders has established himself as a true dual-threat back for them. Yet, given that this isn’t an offense that can win in a high-scoring affair, it’ll up to the defense to support them, and right now, they’re failing at that task. To be frank, this pass defense is terrible; not only is their secondary extremely vulnerable, but their pass rush isn’t helping- they had just 15 pressures, and the only time they actually hit or sacked Dwayne Haskins was on a hail marry on the final play of the game; their run defense was also putrid in this game. If this is how the Eagles are going to play against the Redskins, then I don’t have any hope of them beating the Cowboys in Week 16. If they somehow do beat Dallas though, they’ll have done the unthinkable- they’ll be on the verge of making the playoffs with an abundance of practice squad players.
#11: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Lost 44-21 at DAL
Top Performer: CB Darious Williams
Coming into Week 15 and off a huge win against the Seahawks, the Rams appeared to be back to their 2018 form, and primed to make a run at the #6 seed in the NFC. Well, so much for that- Los Angeles has torn to pieces by the Cowboys. What wrong for Los Angeles? In reality, everything did. Jared Goff had easily his worst game of what has been a very strange season for him, but it wasn’t all on him. The Rams appeared to have rebuilt their offensive line with a midseason realignment, but in this game, their two rookie starters on the right side, guard David Edwards and tackle Bobby Evans, were abysmall in pass protection. Essentially, the entire offense was tight end Tyler Higbee, as outside of him, no one played well at all. Meanwhile, the defense’s stars – Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Cory Littleton – turned in respectable performances, as did cornerback Darious Williams in the place of the injured Troy Hill, but nevertheless, this was a disastrous performance for them in run defense. The Rams missed 18 tackles in this game, couldn’t stop the run if their life depended on it, and had just eight total pressures on 26 dropbacks. This was an absolute stinker for Los Angeles, but not they could have- their season is now over, and with no resources to improve the team, there shouldn’t be much hope for this team’s outlook for the next couple years. At least for the sake of ending the season strong, winning in San Francisco would at least somewhat compensate for this drastic embrassasment.
#10: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 44-21 vs LAR
Top Performer: LB Sean Lee
After falling to 6-7 with a loss to the Bears, the Cowboys were mocked, and finally, they saw a major slide in these rankings. However, they have something working in their favor that few teams do, which is what I’ve always seen in them- they have as talented and well-constructed of a roster as arguably any team in the NFL. Heck, they didn’t even have to rely on Dak Prescott in this game, as he was relatively mediocre, though he’s been their best player throughout the season. Instead, Dallas was able to run the ball effectively, as their two running backs (Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard) averaged 6.7 yards a carry. That’s the power of having such an elite offensive line; the fact they were able to score 44 points when receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb had just one reception a piece should scare NFC teams. Plus, the Cowboys defense also played to its expectations, as their pass rush harrassed Jared Goff, while their pass coverage held up tremendously. Veteran linebacker Sean Lee, in particular, was the standout performer, and he’s filled in for Leighton Vander-Esch tremendously; this is a very deep roster. This is not a team that should be 7-7, and they demonstrated that by blowing out a true playoff-caliber team; if the Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a win in Philadelphia, it’s not inconcievable that they could win a playoff game. Still, they have to take care of business against the Eagles before we even have to have that conversation.
#9: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 21-13 vs CHI
Top Performer: NT Kenny Clark
The Packers may not be a very exciting team and appear to be incapable of blowing any team out, but they do keep winning games; they clinched the playoffs with their 11th win of the season, a home victory against the rival Bears. The strength of this team is definitely in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but especially their offensive line- they completely neutralized a talented Chicago pass rush. Yet, Aaron Rodgers and co. never could really get into ryhtym in this game, which is definitely concerning. Rodgers isn’t exactly playing well right now, and though this remains one of the best offenses on their first couple drives, head coach Matt LeFleur’s inability to adapt as the game goes on may hold this team back; these aren’t problems that playoff teams should be having in Week 15. Yet, Rodgers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and behind this offensive line and with a true #1 receiver in Davante Adams, there’s still a lot of hope for this offense heading into the postseason. Plus, whether it’s due to playing easier opponents or not, the defense has made improvements. As referenced, the front four is their strength- nose tackle Kenny Clark and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith have been an excellent pass-rushing tandem all season long, and they even got rookie edge rusher Rashan Gary involved in this game. That pass rush helps out the secondary a lot, and as a result, they’re performing better as well. It’ll be interesting to see if the defense can mantain its current performance against better offenses, starting in Minnesota on Monday Night Football in Week 16; if they can, this is one of the most well-rounded Packer teams on recent memory, though they don’t have a clear strength at the moment, which is a little worrisome.
#8: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 30-24 at CAR
Top Performer: RB Chris Carson
After 15 weeks, the Seahawks actually have the #1 seed in the NFC, which is remarkable given their lackluster point differential- plus 36. That speaks to the construction of their roster, as though they have some solid receivers and a couple star defensive players, this is a relatively mediocre roster, which continues to be boosted up by Russell Wilson. He had yet another sound performance in this game, and with that, remains Pro Football Focus’ highest graded quarterback and leader in Wins Above Replacement- he’s still my pick for MVP. In fact, this was one of Wilson’s surrounding cast’s better games, as he was protected incredibly, Chris Carson averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and Tyler Lockett was excellent in the slot. Now, not having Josh Gordon will hurt, but with Lockett and DK Metcalf, Seattle is still well equipped at the receiver positon, at least as long as Wilson continues to be the best quarterback in the NFL. This offense will probably have to score a lot of points, as even though they were missing some key starters, the defense still underperformed against a weak Panthers offense. Yes, edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney didn’t play in this game, but ten total pressures on 47 dropacks won’t get the job done, and no one, outside of linebacker Bobby Wagner in pass coverage, was a standout performer. It’s hard to not put the Seahawks higher on this list, given their record, but as we’ve seen in their losses to the Rams and Ravens, they don’t have the talent to match up with some of the top teams in the NFL. Still, they’re in great position to make a Super Bowl run, just off the premise that getting the top seed in the NFC is in their control, though they’ll need to avoid a letdown against the Cardinals before hosting the 49ers.
#7: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Lost 24-21 vs HOU
Top Performer: TE Jonnu Smith
After clawing their way out of a 2-4 start – they were 6-1 after turning to Ryan Tannehill under center – the Titans had a prime opportunity to take control of the AFC South at home against the Texans. They actually played very well, but they caught some rough breaks, and as a result, lost a very close battle. It was yet another terrific game for Tannehill, who led an explosive offense; tight end Jonnu Smith, rookie receiver AJ Brown, and receiver Corey Davis continue to be excellent playmakers, while the offensive line is certainly a top-ten group. This is still a great offense, and at this point, you’d be crazy to not bring Tannehill back next season; for reference, his Pro Football Focus grade is over 90. Defensively, it was a mixed performance, as their secondary had its issues without top corner Adoree’ Jackson, and they couldn’t pressure Deshaun Watson at all. However, getting Jackson back will help fix that issue, and honestly, this may be the best front seven in football- they’re versatile, stop the run, cover well, and usually are productive in rushing the passer. Regardless of the final outcome of this game, this is still one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, and if they get the #6 seed from the Steelers, they’ll be the one team that no one in the AFC wants to play. For now though, they have to focus on winning the games at hand, and that starts when they host the Saints in Week 16.
#6: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 23-3 vs DEN
Top Performer: QB Patrick Mahomes
The Chiefs have been winning games, but even then, they haven’t passed the eye test, which is surprising for an offense that is supposed to be historically explosive. They finally passed that test in their win against the Broncos; the snow made it aestetichally pleasing, but Kansas City looked like their old selves in this game. Despite dealing with a couple of injuries, Patrick Mahomes had arguably the best game of his career, earning an abusrd 94 grade from Pro Football Focus. Plus, making matters even better, tight end Travis Kelce was excellent as a receiver in this game, and most importantly, the offensive line, which is now healthy, has established themselves as one of the best in the NFL- this is a absolutely scary offense. However, it’s not as though this is a one-dimensional team that needs to score 40 points a game, as the defense is suddeny not a liability. The safety duo of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill lead an improved secondary, and even better, the pass rush duo of interior rusher Chris Jones and edge rusher Frank Clark is finally living up to is potential; the run defense has been significantly better, which is notable because at the beggining of the season, they were awful against the run. Frankly, #6 may be too low for the Chiefs, who finally are an all-around team; they have a serious chance to win the Super Bowl, and will look to keep rolling through opponents when they travel to Chicago to take on the Bears on Sunday Night Football.
#5: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 39-10 at LAC
Top Performer: EDGE Danielle Hunter
As they traveled out west to play the Chargers, the Vikings appeared to be heading towards a trap game against a team that was much better than their 5-8 record would indicate. However, those fears appeared to be foolish, as they blew away the Chargers in front of a lot of purple- their fans took over Los Angeles. Head coach Mike Zimmer wants this team to be defensive-minded, as to his credit, the defense dominated in this game. This was by far their best game in pass coverage, as defensive backs Anthony Harris, Trae Waynes, and Mike Hughes were all fantastic, despite playing a strong group of receivers. Additionally, the front seven was amazing in run defense, did their job in pressuring Phillip Rivers enough; if the secondary can perform like they did in this game, then this can be the type of defense they were supposed to be. Furthermore, it’s not as though the defense is even the strongest unit on this team- the offense is one of the league’s best. Kirk Cousins continues to have a spectacular season under center for Minnesota, while this was probably the offensive line’s best game in pass protection. Yes, potentially losing running back Dalvin Cook with a shoulder injury could be an issue, given how much of an impact he has, but his value is limited given his position, and Mike Boone stepped up admirably in his place. They may not be winning the NFC North, but I have zero doubts that the Vikings are the best team in the division, and one of the best in the conference; they’ll get their chance to prove that when they host the Packers on Monday Night Football.
#4: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 34-7 vs IND
Top Performer: QB Drew Brees
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the 49ers at home, the Saints needed to bounce back on Monday Night Football against the Colts. That proved to be a simple task, as from the beggining, this was destined to be Drew Brees’ act. The new leader for touchdown passes in NFL history completed 29 of his 30 passes, displayed the accuracy and anticipation that has made him so legendary, and perhaps most significantly, demonstrated that he’s not about to slow down during this stretch run; the midseason break he got while recovering from his thumb injury may have been a blessing by disguise. He was easily the offense’s top performer, but we also can’t overlook how his playmakers performed; receiver Michael Thomas continues to make his case as the best receiver in the NFL, tight end Jared Cook has developed excellent chemistry with Brees, and even Taysom Hill continues to earn more playing time as the most versatile player in the NFL. In other words, this offense is clicking on all cylinders, but their main problem still plagues them- this defense is struggling. They may have only allowed seven points, but that says more about Jacoby Brissett’s inaccuracy and Indianapolis’ inability to finish off drives than anything they did specifically. Yes, linebacker Demario Davis continues to thrive in all facets, but without Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins, the pass rush isn’t the same, thus placing more pressure on a below-average secondary. In the end, I’m not sure this injured defense will hold up enough to not spoil this season for Brees, but at the very least, the offense appears to be peaking at the right time. They’ll look to build off of this win when they travel to Tennesee to take on the Titans in Week 16.
#3: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 34-13 at CIN
Top Performer: CB Stephon Gillmore
He may be the greatest player of all time potentially, but the Patriots are no longer Tom Brady’s team. In fact, a case can be made that New England’s passing attack is the weak link, as they have no speed on the perimeter, and Brady is clearly having trust issues with his young receivers; they had issues against the Bengals, of all defenses. However, that may all not matter at the end, as this secondary is fantastic. The cornerback duo of Stephon Gillmore and JC Jackson dominated this game with four combined interceptions; in essence, they were the reason they won this game. Their ability to lock down any team’s top two receivers is what gives this team a chance during the stretch run, as they are undoubtedly the strength of this team. Can New England’s offense turn the corner? Maybe, but at this point, we’ve waited too long for that to happen, so this will be a team tha will have to win in Bill Belichick fashion- special teams and defense. They can definitely win that way, but at the moment, I don’t think they can knock off the Ravens. Right now though, they have to focus on clinching the AFC East, as they host the Bills this upcoming Saturday.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Lost 29-22 vs ATL
Top Performer: TE George Kitte
After beating the Saints in New Orleans, the 49ers had possesion of the #1 seed, and just had to beat the previously four-win Falcons to keep it. Well, every contender has had one game this season in which they’ve gotten beaten by a clealry inferior team, and that’s what happened- San Francisco was upset and shocked with a loss at the final seconds. After dominating the week prior, the offense came out very flat against a suspect defense, as the offensive line struggled, and the 49ers had issues passing AND running the ball- not exactly an ideal combination. It also wasn’t the best game for San Francisco’s defense; their secondary wasn’t the same without top corner Richard Sherman; Akhello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Mosley failed to step up in his place. Overall, this was just a dissaponting performance all-around, and really demonsrates that this is not a flawless team- they have some issues and are severely injured, and will need to rebound against the Rams before taking on the Seahawks.
#1: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 42-21 vs NYJ
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
I’ve been skeptical of the Ravens all season long, but I’ve admitted my mistake in recent weeks; by putting them #1 on these rankings, I’m officially apologizing, as this team is fantastic. Lamar Jackson still has some problems throwing outside the numbers, but his connection with tight end Mark Andrews is impossible to defend, especially with rookie Marquise Brown already establishing himself as one of the league’s top deep threats. Oh, and they likely have the best offensive line in football, and rushed for another 218 yards in this win over the Jets; there’s no defense in the NFL that can stop them right now. Yet, it’s the development of the defense that may be most significant- they’ve gone from a potential liability to a definite strength just off of the trade for cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters and Marlon Humphrey are already one of, if not the top cornerback duo in the NFL. Additionally, their heavy blitzes have led to them manufacturing a very stable pass rush, and heck, they’re even defending the run and tackling better than they had been. The NFL changes quickly, but as things currently stand, it’s hard to see a team beating the Ravens right now; they have a clear gameplan, and continously execute it to perfection. Their last goal of the regular season? Clinch the #1 seed in the AFC, which can happen if the beat the Browns to extend their winning streak to 11 games.