Entering the final quarter of the regular season, there are plenty of teams still looking to make a final push for a playoff spot in a deep league. The Week 14 NFL power rankings include a new No. 1 and a jump from the Cowboys.
1. Los Angeles Rams (11-1) | Last week: 2 (+1)
After New Orleans’ Thursday night loss to Dallas, the Rams took advantage by winning in Detroit to take back control of the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Homefield advantage in Los Angeles isn’t a huge deal, and teams probably aren’t fazed going into the Coliseum; but the bigger deal would be not having to play Drew Brees and company in the Superdome—which actually delivers a legitimate homefield advantage—in January. In the Week 13 win against the Lions, it was hilarious that Todd Gurley ran parallel to the goal line while breaking tackles in an effort to run out the clock—likely angering fantasy football owners in the process before he punched it in a couple of plays later, as there was still too much time remaining for kneel downs. A frigid Sunday night matchup in Chicago this week should be fun, and it’s probably the Rams’ biggest challenge in the final quarter of the season.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2) | Last week: 1 (-1)
The Saints were bound to slip up at some point, and it came against a very tough Cowboys defense in primetime. The game just didn’t start well for the offense, as Drew Brees uncommonly couldn’t connect with his receivers on his first four pass attempts, and the team was shutout in the first half for the first time since 2014 (which also came against the Cowboys). There’s obviously no reason to panic, but the upcoming schedule is no cakewalk: @ Tampa Bay, @ Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, and vs. Carolina. However, after the loss to end their ten-game winning streak, the entire team should be locked in this Sunday against the Bucs after they were stunned by them at home in Week 1.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-2) | Last week: 3
Sammy Watkins (foot) remained out of the lineup and Tyreek Hill didn’t do much (though there were a couple of just-misses on deep balls, and he took coverage away for his teammates), but Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs still put up four passing scores and 40 points to improve to 10-2 this season. Eric Berry appears to finally be getting close to a return, and it’ll be great to see him back on the field if/when it happens—perhaps next Thursday night’s big matchup against the Chargers will be the date if not this weekend. The Chiefs did a good job of handling the Kareem Hunt situation, promptly releasing him after they found out he lied to them about his actions last February. Football wise, Hunt—the NFL’s leading rusher last season—is a big loss, but Spencer Ware and Damien Williams are more than capable in the backfield.
4. New England Patriots (9-3) | Last week: 4
The Vikings are about as tough of a defense as the Patriots will see, and Tom Brady and friends didn’t have much trouble moving the ball against them. Brady moved in the pocket and got the ball out of his hands to his playmakers while avoiding hits and sacks in another typical performance in Foxboro. The most promising part of the 24-10 win was probably the defense stepping up and shutting down an offense with a ton of firepower. Aside from the surprising showing in Tennessee a few weeks ago, New England’s defense has been outstanding, allowing point totals of 6, 17, 13, and 10 in the four other games in the last five outings. If the defense continues to play like this and the team is able to play all their playoff games in Foxboro, the franchise will likely be heading to another Super Bowl.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) | Last week: 5
It looked like the Chargers were set to potentially get routed in Heinz Field on Sunday night; the defense was giving up big plays, and the offense was struggling without superstar running back Melvin Gordon to start the game. But the Chargers battled back, outscoring the Steelers 26-7 in the second half, as the defense tightened up and Philip Rivers was again spectacular. Keenan Allen (14 receptions, 148 yards, touchdown, two-point conversion) was obviously huge on quick passes to help offset not having Gordon in the lineup, but Mike Williams also came up with a few big catches to help keep drives moving; also, rookie running back Justin Jackson stepped up and showed great patience to give the run game a boost in the second half. Rookie safety Derwin James was flying around the field, and LA’s defense has a bunch of difference-makers all over—they’re a really good team.
6. Houston Texans (9-3) | Last week: 7 (+1)
The defense of the Texans took rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield very seriously, and they were locked in against him, intercepting three passes to extend their winning streak to nine games. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is getting his talented group of players to play well, but this week against Andrew Luck and the Colts will be their toughest test since the winning streak started against Indy with a 37-34 overtime win in Week 4. Houston is running the ball as well as they have in some time, and that’s helping take pressure off Deshaun Watson to play within himself and only take over games when necessary. The AFC South can be clinched this week after a last-place finish in 2017.
7. Chicago Bears (8-4) | Last week: 6 (-1)
The loss to the Giants isn’t a huge concern for the Bears, as the defense played OK with two of the touchdowns allowed by Chicago coming on a trick play and a defensive touchdown by New York. The bigger concern is the status of Mitchell Trubisky, as the team’s Super Bowl aspirations take a hit if the shoulder injury lingers for the young franchise quarterback. Chase Daniel can run Matt Nagy’s offense, but Trubisky offers more upside with his athletic ability. The Bears could have put 2.5 games between themselves and the Vikings with four to go, and now they have a tough task hosting the Rams this Sunday night.
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-5) | Last week: 11 (+3)
I thought about putting the Cowboys higher than this, but the Eagles are right on their heels and could even things up in the NFC East after this weekend. But the Cowboys don’t look like a fluke after their fourth straight victory, as they shut down a Saints offense that’s looked unstoppable this season. Dallas’ defense led by Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith is blazing fast and covers sideline-to-sideline as well as any team in the league, which makes it difficult for opposing offenses to get much going. I like good defense, so I’m liking the Cowboys right now—and it’s refreshing that a team can win games with this type of play in an offensive-heavy league. Offensively, Dak Prescott is playing well, and the team is feeding Ezekiel Elliott (25+ touches each game during the four-game winning streak) to make good things happen.
9. Pitsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) | Last week: 8 (-1)
That was a tough home loss to the Chargers, and the Steelers probably have a case that the officials impacted the game. However, Pittsburgh simply wasn’t the better team in the second half, and after two straight losses they’re going to have a difficult time pushing for homefield advantage or a first-round bye in the postseason. James Conner will now miss time after suffering an ankle injury in the Week 13 loss, and a situation like this is when they could’ve used Le’Veon Bell as elite depth—but obviously the team has moved on and probably isn’t even thinking about that (nor should they). The Steelers cannot look past the Raiders with a matchup against the Patriots on deck.
10. Seattle Seahawks (7-5) | Last week: 9 (-1)
The Seahawks only drop a spot because the Cowboys went up three spots in the power rankings, but I like what they’re doing. Russell Wilson needed just 17 pass attempts to throw four touchdowns against the Niners, as the offense continues to have impressive balance and commitment to the run game. Their style of play ensures they stay in it most games, and I’d really like to see the young defense get more consistent and become a force over the final four games of the season. Getting linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who returns from his eight-game suspension because of insider trading charges, back should give the unit a boost.
11. Baltimore Ravens (7-5) | Last week: 13 (+2)
The Ravens picked up a big win in Atlanta to get within a half game of the Steelers in the NFC North, along with basically knocking the Falcons out of the playoff picture in the other conference. With Joe Flacco nearing a return from his right hip injury, the quarterback situation is interesting with a matchup against the Chiefs coming up. Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as the starter, but he has had his struggles and inconsistencies as a passer; I think they might go with a two-quarterback system, with Flacco (if healthy) getting most of the snaps this week in a game they need to take advantage of a Kansas City defense allowing the most 20+ yard completions in the league this season. A win this week would put Baltimore in a very favorable position heading into the final three games of the year.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) | Last week: 14 (+2)
Aside from a 90-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson, the Eagles basically shut down Washington’s offense, which was to be expected against a team with a backup to the backup quarterback that didn’t have close to a full playbook available. It could’ve been a more convincing win if not for getting stuffed on fourth-and-goal and a red-zone interception by Carson Wentz, but they’ll take the victory to get back to .500 and win consecutive games for the first time this season. The defending champs will look to make it three straight when they face the Cowboys in a game they probably need to win to have a realistic shot of repeating in the NFC East. It was a positive sign to see Nelson Agholor more involved as a receiver last night, and hopefully we see more of that moving forward.
13. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) | Last week: 10 (-3)
One of the league’s hottest offenses was shut out by the Jaguars, as Jacksonville seemingly figured Indy’s offense out a bit dating back to their first matchup when the Colts scored zero points in the second half. The 6-0 loss ended Andrew Luck’s streak of eight straight games with at least three touchdown passes, but hopefully it was just a one-time thing that the offense is able to bounce back from this week against the Texans. A loss would knock the Colts out of the AFC South race, but the game might be even more important in a tough wild-card battle in the AFC.
14. Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1) | Last week: 12 (-2)
Perhaps it’s because the Patriots are nearly unbeatable in Foxboro late in the season, but I just didn’t feel confident about the Vikings having much of a chance to win on Sunday. Minnesota has yet to get a win over a team above .500 this season (now 0-4 in such games), but they’ll have another chance when they go to Seattle this Monday night. Mike Zimmer still wants to run the ball more, but there’s no reason to believe it’ll actually happen with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo preferring to throw the ball—it just might not be a pairing that can last past this season. A win and a Bears loss to the Rams would put the Vikings in position to win out for a division title.
15. Tennessee Titans (6-6) | Last week: 16 (+1)
Things didn’t look good for the Titans against the Jets, but Marcus Mariota led yet another game-winning drive to avoid what would’ve been a crushing Week 13 loss. It was Mariota’s third game-winning drive of the season after he had five of them last season, and there aren’t many guys you want at quarterback late in games over him. He delivered dimes when his team needed it, including a couple of beautiful deep balls to Taywan Taylor, who was huge in his return to the lineup after missing nearly a month. It was good to see the Titans finally use Derrick Henry as the starter and lead runner again, and hopefully they’ll keep that going for the rest of December.
16. Denver Broncos (6-6) | Last week: 20 (+4)
Again, the Broncos’ last three losses have come against the Rams, Chiefs, and Texans; and they’re 4-3 in the last seven games, including wins against the Chargers and Steelers. They’re simply playing solid football and staying in games, and they’ll likely be favorites the next three weeks against San Francisco, Cleveland, and Oakland. Denver cannot just coast and look past any team, so they just need to take care of business every week and they’ll be in strong position for a wild-card spot in the AFC. Losing cornerback Chris Harris is tough, but the pass rush led by Von Miller and Bradley Chubb makes things easier on the secondary.
17. Carolina Panthers (6-6) | Last week: 15 (-2)
The collapse of the Panthers has been one of the most surprising turns of this season, as they’ve gone from 6-2 and a great bet for the postseason to 6-6 with two matchups against the Saints still coming up on the schedule. Defensive assistant coaches have been fired, and now head coach Ron Rivera is thought to be on the hot seat if the team doesn’t turn things back around. Firing Rivera would probably be a mistake, but this losing skid is a big head-scratcher—though Cam Newton’s four interceptions certainly made it tough to get a win over the Bucs on Sunday. Obviously, the Panthers must get on track against the Browns this weekend.
18. Miami Dolphins (6-6) | Last week: 21 (+3)
The Dolphins were probably outplayed by the Bills, but Adam Gase’s squad was able to edge out a close victory to remain squarely in the mix in the AFC wild-card race. Ryan Tannehill continues to look fine in his return from his shoulder injury, and he’s distributing the ball accurately and efficiently to his receivers. The defense next faces a Patriots team that put up 38 points on them earlier this season, but the game at least comes in Miami, where the Dolphins are 5-1 this season (and the Patriots are 1-4 in Miami the last five games).
19. Washington Redskins (6-6) | Last week: 18 (-1)
Colt McCoy’s fractured fibula is simply heartbreaking for the nine-year veteran, as he unfortunately might not ever get another opportunity like he had to potentially lead a team to the postseason. Now, the Redskins are in an incredibly tough spot as they try to go on a run with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. I think Sanchez can play well in the right situation despite the harsh criticism of him, but it’s not going to be easy quarterbacking a team after just arriving a few weeks ago. Jay Gruden’s teams have been among the unluckiest since his arrival in Washington, which is a shame.
20. Atlanta Falcons (4-8) | Last week: 19 (-1)
The Falcons have also been very unlucky this season, as injuries have decimated both sides of the ball. The injured offensive line was holding up well for a while, but Matt Ryan is now taking too many big hits, which is making it difficult for him to unleash his devastating play-action passing against opposing defenses. It’s good to see Deion Jones back in the lineup, but unfortunately it looks to be too late for the Falcons. My preseason NFC pick looks like they’ll miss the postseason for the first time since 2015. They’ll look to build momentum towards next season by taking it one week at a time, and maybe they’ll somehow be in the playoff picture at the end of the season with an 8-8 record.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) | Last week: 26 (+5)
Jameis Winston put together his second straight two-touchdown, zero-interception game as the Bucs have extended their winning streak to two games and remain alive in the NFC playoff race. Given his questionable decision-making on and off the field, I probably wouldn’t trust Winston as a franchise quarterback no matter what happens these last four games, but he has a lot to play for with his future on the line—hopefully it leads to him continuing to take care of the ball. There’s plenty of talent on Tampa Bay’s offense to do some damage, even if it’s just playing “spoiler” against other teams.
22. Green Bay Packers (4-7-1) | Last week: 17 (-5)
I do not like the Packers firing Mike McCarthy in middle of the season, and it was a shocker when the team released a statement announcing the news. McCarthy won a Super Bowl for the franchise and is one of the best coaches in the NFL; even if you were 100% going to move on at the end of the season, you should have given McCarthy the final four games to finish things up. And I don’t buy the argument that this gives McCarthy time to find another job. If he was fired after the season when more jobs are open, he’d be hired in two seconds—now he’s just going to probably have to wait anyway. For one of the league’s most prestigious and steady franchises, firing McCarthy during the season was a no-class move. Despite a sparkling TD/INT ratio, Aaron Rodgers deserves some blame for not having an outstanding season, as there have been concerns about him not playing within McCarthy’s offense throughout his career.
23. Cleveland Browns (4-7-1) | Last week: 22 (-1)
With former Packers executives John Dorsey and Eliot Wolf in Cleveland, many people have been pointing to the Browns as a landing spot for McCarthy. I think judgement should be reserved until Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens get to finish this final four-game stretch, but McCarthy would be a fantastic hire for Baker Mayfield. The No. 1 pick struggled against the Texans with his first career three-interception game after two great outings, but inconsistency isn’t surprising from a rookie quarterback. Look for him to bounce back in Week 14 against Carolina.
24. Detroit Lions (4-8) | Last week: 23 (-1)
The run defense started pretty strong against Todd Gurley and the Rams, but they couldn’t contain the reigning Offensive Player of the Year for the full game. The team put up a solid effort, though, which is what you want to see from them in Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach. Matthew Stafford has had to deal with not having all of the weapons he’s used to around him on offense, but I’d like to see him get on a roll in the final four games of the season. He has just four touchdowns with five interceptions the last five games.
25. Buffalo Bills (4-8) | Last week: 24 (-1)
Josh Allen certainly isn’t putting up amazing stats as a passer, but he keeps making plays to carry the offense into a position to win games. Allen is basically willing to do whatever it takes to win, and his personality and play style fits Buffalo perfectly. The rookie is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rush for 95+ yards in consecutive games, and he’s a freak athlete that also has All-Pro potential as a thrower. Charles Clay nearly caught a would-be go-ahead touchdown late, but he couldn’t quite come up with it wide-open in the end zone on a diving attempt he probably should’ve had. Despite the loss, the Bills must feel good about what they’re building.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) | Last week: 25 (-1)
After a fourth straight loss and now with both Andy Dalton and A.J. Green done for the season, it’d be a major shock if the Bengals make the postseason in the AFC. Marvin Lewis’ time as the team’s head coach is probably coming to an end, so I really hope we see the team play extremely hard for him in the final quarter of the season. Three of Cincinnati’s last four games come on the road, starting this Sunday against the Chargers. Ideally, Jeff Driskel will lead a more balanced offensive attack in his second career start after he threw 37 passes in the Bengals’ Week 13 loss.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) | Last week: 27
This has not been a fun season for the Jaguars, so it’s hard to blame Tom Coughlin for getting so excited about finally pick up their first win since September. Like I believe they did after the win over the Patriots earlier this season, the Jags can’t just be happy with winning this game—they need to string together a win streak and try to end the year on a good note. They should be prepared on Thursday night against a Titans team that’s had their number a bit with Marcus Mariota.
28. New York Giants (4-8) | Last week: 28
It came against a backup quarterback, but the Giants picked up a nice win against a tough Bears team to get back on track after Week 12’s loss to the Eagles. The Giants are now 3-1 in their last four games, and just two of their eight losses have come by more than one possession this season. There are still some issues and uncertainties, but the franchise is in a better spot than they were at this time last year.
29. New York Jets (3-9) | Last week: 29
The Jets got off to a hot start against the Titans, but they gave up a lead and dropped their sixth straight game. I’ve been saying Todd Bowles should remain the coach through next season as the team goes through its rebuild, but unfortunately, he probably won’t get a chance if the Jets aren’t able to get a win or two over the final four games. Hopefully we see rookie quarterback Sam Darnold (foot) back on the field starting this week at Buffalo.
30. Oakland Raiders (2-10) | Last week: 30
Derek Carr hasn’t thrown an interception in his last seven games, which is a major positive sign after he struggled with decision-making in his early games with Jon Gruden as the new head coach of the Raiders. Carr also looks more comfortable despite still dealing with pressure, as he’s navigating the pocket and delivering precise passes to his receivers. There’s still four games to go, but Carr is likely to remain Oakland’s quarterback next season—as Gruden has said would be the case. But if 2019 doesn’t go well, I wonder if one of the quarterbacks from this past Saturday’s SEC Championship Game will lead the franchise into its first season in Vegas.
31. Arizona Cardinals (3-9) | Last week: 31
The Cardinals easily could have moved up a couple of spots after their big win in Lambeau Field against the Packers, and it’s a good sign for first-year head coach Steve Wilks that his team fought and got it done in cold/snowy weather. However, the Packers were clearly reeling and are not in a good spot. Still, Steve Wilks didn’t have his team shut down on him—which would have been more of a reflection on the players than the coach, but it’s still a good sign.
32. San Francisco 49ers (2-10) | Last week: 32
Again, I’m not sure what Jed York expected when he fired his two previous head coaches on very short leashes, but things haven’t gotten better in the win department in San Francisco. The Niners’ next three games are at home, but the matchups are difficult against the Broncos, Seahawks, and Bears.