With a couple exceptions, the top of the NFL Power Rankings remains the same. However, as has proven true in past weeks, the middle is much harder to get a feel for. Teams that were climbing their way up have fumbled the opportunity (Carolina Panthers) and teams that were close to being written off are now legitimate contenders, at least it seems (Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens).
2018 NFL Power Rankings: Week 15; Tier 1: Eyes on the Prize
1 New Orleans Saints (11-2; +164 point differential)
Garrett: The Saints offense has been one of the best in the league this season, but Brees, along with the rest of the offense has struggled over the past couple of games. The dry spell the offense is going through shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as they have too many playmakers for that to be a long-lived issue. New Orleans is currently the number one seed in the NFC playoff picture and if they win out, will remain the top seed. Going into the postseason, the Saints will need to improve on finding the right balance between running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. If the Saints can do that, along with getting star wideout Michael Thomas more consistent targets, then they will be a very difficult team to beat come January, and possibly February.
2 Kansas City Chiefs (11-2; +120)
Garrett: The Chiefs have been the most surprising team in the NFL this season. With Patrick Mahomes leading the team, many people saw them as a wildcard team in the AFC. They have challenged the mantra “defense wins championships” all season. With an offense that can score in the blink of an eye and a defense that can do just enough to hold opponents to fewer points, the Chiefs have clinched a spot in the postseason. With a win over the Chargers on Thursday night, The Chiefs will guarantee themselves a home playoff game. Though they beat the Chargers 38-28 in week one, this game will be a little different. The Chiefs will be without Kareem Hunt and Star Tyreek Hill may also be out. With a playoff spot clinched and the return of All-pro safety Eric Berry soon to be, look to see if Kansas City’s opportunistic defense can become more consistent heading into the playoffs.
3 Los Angeles Chargers (10-3; +96)
Garrett: At 10-3 this Chargers team is different than they have been in recent years. Rather than finding ways to lose close games, the 2018 Chargers come out of the close games with wins. 37-year-old Philip Rivers is having possibly the most efficient season of his illustrious career. Keenan Allen is overcoming the “injury prone” label and has become an elite receiver in this league, ranked third by Pro Football Focus. While this is a run-first team, a lot of their success comes off the play action pass. The return of Joey Bosa has sparked the Bolts’ defense, along with first-round pick Derwin James quickly becoming a star safety. Heading into their most important game of the season, the Chargers might get running back Melvin Gordon back Thursday night. With the playoffs almost certain, this team is a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs, even as a wildcard team.
The best wide receivers in the NFL in 2018. pic.twitter.com/PrvtFn3h50
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 11, 2018
4 Los Angeles Rams (11-2; +112)
Richard: The Rams may have found out that defense still wins championships in the NFL. Los Angeles went to the frozen tundra and lost to the defensive-minded Bears 15-6. The passing and running game looked like a shell of itself against a good Bears defense. It could also just have been the cold weather. Weather that they won’t have to deal with in the playoffs if they finish in one of the top two seeds. With the Eagles up next on the schedule before facing the Cardinals and the 49ers, the second seed looks safe in hand and the number one seed feels very attainable for the Rams. After that, the playoffs will tell of defense truly wins championships.
Tier 2: With a Raised Eyebrow, They Proceed
5 Chicago Bears (9-4; +112)
Ben: Chicago cemented itself as a legitimate contender Sunday with an enormous primetime win over the Los Angeles Rams. While Mitchell Trubisky’s return to the field was encouraging, and Jordan Howard went over the century mark for rushing, the real MVP was the Bears’ defense. Forcing 4 interceptions and 3 sacks, the Bears defense is starting to put the rest of the NFC on notice and the Rams got a front row seat. With losses from the Vikings and Packers, the Bears can clinch the NFC North on Sunday at Soldier Field. The only problem is it’s against the Packers, who have beaten Chicago in 5 straight match-ups.
6 New England Patriots (9-4; +71)
Richard: The Patriots had their tenth win of the season in the bank then all hell broke loose (see Dolphins). Just like that, the Patriots went from winning 10 games in 16 straight seasons to losing and making getting the number one seed in the AFC playoffs just that much more difficult after the Chiefs squeezed one out against the Ravens. New England faces the struggling Steelers that are looking to fend off teams for the wildcard before playing the Bills and Jets. The easy ending of their season will help the Patriots lock up the second seed in the AFC playoffs. Despite the unlikely loss, they still have a fighting chance at the top seed guaranteeing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
7 Dallas Cowboys (8-5; +30)
Ryan: Defensively, Dallas has risen to the level of teams that can win if their offense is merely mediocre. Few teams have built a defense that’s good enough to win by practically by itself. The Cowboys are almost there. Further, Amari Cooper’s emergence is the icing on the cake. He’s been nothing short of spectacular since coming from Oakland in a trade that many trashed at the time. This is a team that looked lost early on, but the Cowboys deserve to be taken seriously. Very seriously.
Tier 3: Closed Eyes, Wishing for the Best
8 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1; +74)
Ryan: New England, New Orleans, and Cincinnati. That’s what stands between the Steelers and the end of the season. The game against the Bengals stands as the only one Pittsburgh would go into as the favorites. And neither the Patriots nor the Saints will lay down. They’re both fighting for seeding. Last week’s loss could prove to Oakland could prove to be really debilitating. Pittsburgh is in real danger. Not only for the division with the Ravens right behind them in the standings. But for the playoffs in general. Two losses and a win against Cincy puts them at 8-7-1. That might not even be good enough for the playoffs. And if it is, it would really put them behind the proverbial eight-ball.
9 Seattle Seahawks (8-5; +74)
Richard: The Seahawks are on a four-game winning streak and are heating up at the right time. While the Chiefs and Saints beat you with high power offenses, Seattle runs the ball and keeps the score close until the fourth quarter, where they let quarterback Russell Wilson take over the game and bring home the win. The Seahawks will find out how they stack up against the top teams in the NFL when they face the Chiefs in two weeks. Aside from Kansas City, Seattle will face the 49ers and Cardinals in the remaining weeks of the season helping them lock up a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
10 Houston Texans (9-4; +64)
Ben: Houston’s 9-game win streak came to a screeching halt on Sunday, falling to a divisional foe, Indianapolis 24-21. The run game was noticeably absent, with the team going for 89 YDS total and Deshaun Watson leading the team with 35. The defense also did not have a banner day, allowing Andrew Luck to throw for 399 Yds. The Texans still have a shot at a first-round bye in the playoffs, but New England owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. Houston’s playoff chances didn’t really take a hit Sunday, but their loss gave life to Indianapolis and Tennessee in the division and missed out on an opportunity to pass New England in the AFC seeding.
11 Baltimore Ravens (7-6; +80)
Ryan: The Ravens have Tampa Bay this week. As much as it seems like an easy win, Baltimore could struggle against a Bucs team that has been problematic for some throughout the year. It’s an interesting match-up, to be sure. With a win, the Ravens could set themselves up nicely for the playoff spot they’re after. In fairness, Baltimore is a tough opponent in their own right. Their defense is solid and the offense behind Lamar Jackson brings a different look than any other team in the league. That makes it really hard to prepare for them.
12 Indianapolis Colts (7-6; +49)
Ben: T.Y. Hilton will be haunting the dreams of the Houston Texans’ for the foreseeable future. He followed up his 115 receiving YDs in Week 4 vs Houston with a 199-yard performance on Sunday. The Colts offense got back on track as a whole, after getting shutout the week prior in Jacksonville. At 7-6, the Colts are very much alive in the AFC playoff picture, even in the AFC South race itself. Their final three games oddly see two NFC teams (vs DAL, vs. NYG) before finishing at Tennessee, who also sit at 7-6. Their Week 17 matchup may just end up being a play-in game for the postseason.
Tier 4: All Eyes on Them
13 Miami Dolphins (7-6; -55)
Richard: The Dolphins won their matchup against the Patriots on Sunday using magic. Well, not exactly magic, but the play that won the game for Miami would rival any magic show performed on the Vegas strip. With seven seconds left in the game and down five points with the ball at their own 31-yard line, the Dolphins tried and completed the hook and ladder play that we’ve all seen run and fail a countless amount of times. Ryan Tannehill passed the ball to Kenny Stills who lateraled the ball to DeVante Parker who lateraled to Kenyan Drake who ran the ball 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Other than possibly being the play of the year, the win keeps the Dolphins in the hunt for the wildcard. They face the Vikings, Jaguars, and Bills and if the rest of the season plays out as crazy as their final play on Sunday, Miami may even win the AFC East.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 11, 2018
14 Carolina Panthers (6-7; -8)
Garrett: After a fast start to the season many people thought the Panthers were for real this season. That quickly changed when they lost all ability to make a stop on defense. On top of all that, Cam Newton has been really struggling with his accuracy lately. He missed two wide open receivers in the end zone on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter Sunday’s 26-20 loss to the Browns. After a 6-2 start to the season, the Panthers have dropped 5 consecutive games. Now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, things are not looking good for them. The play the Saints two times in their final three games.
15 Tennessee Titans (7-6; -3)
Ben: Tennessee may just win the award for “Most Confusing Team in the NFL”. This is a team that has soundly beat the Cowboys and the Patriots but has also lost to the Bills and have been blown out by the Colts and Ravens. Well on Thursday, the “good” Titans came out in full-force. Derrick Henry provided one of the best performances of the NFL season, rushing for 238 YDS and 4 TDs (both franchise records). The greatest of his 17 carries came on a 99-yard touchdown in the 2nd Quarter, tying Tony Dorsett for the longest run of all-time. The Titans finish with a fairly favorable schedule (@NYG, vs WSH, vs IND). Their Week 17 tilt against the Colts will not only provide an opportunity for revenge for the 38-10 loss Week 11 but may also decide who gets the final spot in the AFC playoffs.
16 Denver Broncos (6-7; +8)
Garrett: Just last week people were considering the Broncos to be a team with a realistic possibility to sneak into that final AFC wildcard spot. Denver had impressive wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Bengals in three consecutive weeks to get them to 6-6. Denver then proceeded to lose to the 49ers on Sunday. While the defense has been shaky at times, number five overall pick, Bradley Chubb has proven to be a great pick by the Broncos. The rookie is the perfect player to lineup opposite of Von Miller. The duo has combined for 25.5 sacks, leading the league for any two players. While the offense has had to deal with injuries, as well as trading away Demaryius Thomas, it has been a fairly successful season for the Broncos. This is a team that should draft a quarterback and start the rebuilding process and leans on young running backs Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay along with their defense.
17 Philadelphia Eagles (6-7; -14)
Ryan: Philadelphia is technically still alive in the NFC playoff hunt. But in reality, it might not be a bad idea for the Eagles to pack it in for the season. They never got healthy this season – a deal-with-the-devil debit for winning it all last season. Obviously, they will keep competing, but with the Rams and Texans up next, Philly might be looking a 6-9 record heading into Week 17. That’s not that nice. And it would effectively eliminate them from the postseason. As easy as it seems to explain the Eagles’ struggles in 2018 (mainly because of the injuries), their year still feels really befuddling.
18 Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1; -9)
Ben: To say the Vikings’ offense is in turmoil may be a little bit of an overstatement. But they are the next closest thing. The Vikings have only scored 17 combined points in their last two games, including a dismal 21-7 loss to Seattle Monday night. Kirk Cousins’ numbers aren’t terrible (20-33, 208 YDS, 1TD), but the Vikings can not move the ball consistently. To try and fix the situation, the Vikings made the unprecedented move of firing Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo with only 3 games left in the season. Perhaps a change at the offensive helm will bring about a quick fix, but with a tough final 3 games (vs MIA, @DET, vs CHI) it may be tough for Minnesota to sneak into the Playoffs in the very-crowded NFC.
Tier 5: One Eye on the Present, One Eye on the Future
19 Green Bay Packers (5-7-1; +8)
Ben: Despite interim head coach Joe Philbin burning through both his challenges in the first 2 minutes of the game, the Packers were able to get a much-needed win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. Aaron Rodgers threw for 2 TDs and the defense got a rare score. Green Bay needs a lot to happen for them to sneak into the playoffs, needing to win out and get help from the Redskins, Eagles, Panthers, and Vikings. If nothing else, the Pack proved that there is something left in the tank and are starting to look competitive going into the final 3 weeks. Their tricky road to the postseason continues this week in Chicago.
20 Cleveland Browns (5-7-1; -40)
Ryan: Despite a losing record, the Browns have done just about everything fans could’ve asked for. They ended several different losing streaks (ranging from going totally winless to ending the road drought, etc.) and found a quarterback to go forward with. All in all, there’s arguably more optimism in Cleveland as there’s ever been for any five-win team. There’s a lot of talent on the roster, they just need to let it grow.
We’ve told you about the @Browns interior offensive line…
% of passing snaps where an interior pressure is allowed:
1. NE (8.3%)
2. CLE (8.4%)
3. OAK (10.0%)
4. PIT (10.1%)
5. IND (11.0%)
5. PHI (11.0%)
— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) December 13, 2018
21 New York Giants (5-8; -24)
Ryan: In typical Giants fashion, the G-Men have won four of five. A late-season hot streak is New York’s calling card. But this season, the success is arguably detrimental as the wins have moved them further down the draft board. Thus making their first-round pick less and less valuable. That’s not to say it won’t be a good pick, but for the majority of the season, it looked like the Giants would have a top-five pick. Now it might not be inside the top ten.
22 Detroit Lions (5-8; -48)
Ben: In a week featuring overtime finishes and a last-second miracle, Detroit’s 17-3 win over Arizona failed to get fans clamoring to their TVs. Regardless of viewership, the Lions’ defense showed up in a big way. Darius Slay’s 67-yard pick six provided nearly half of the Lions scoring. linebacker Jarrad Davis had a good day as well, with 8 total tackles, 2 for a loss. On the other hand, the Lions offense lacked inspiration, with Matt Stafford only throwing for 101 YDS, further proving how much Stafford misses Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Matt Patricia’s squad has shown flashes in his first season, but if the Lions want to be competitive in the NFC North going forward, the offense needs to be more consistent.
23 Cincinnati Bengals (5-8; -90)
Ryan: For the past few seasons, Cincinnati has done little to supplement the roster around A.J. Green and, to a lesser extent, Andy Dalton. Now that both are on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bengals have as little a talent across the depth chart as perhaps any team in the NFL. The only thing keeping them from the really plummeting to the very bottom is their five early-season wins. Still, it only goes to show that this is a team – even at full health – is closer to the bottom of the league than the top.
24 Washington Redskins (6-7; -48)
Ryan: Washington is at least a win better than the other teams that surround them in these NFL Power Rankings but they’ve lost four games in a row and have gotten about the worst quarterback play in the league since Alex Smith went out. This team once looked like the favorite to win the NFC East. Now they’re spiraling towards a 6-10 record and a higher draft pick than seemed conceivable five weeks back. No matter how much worse it gets, the bottom two spots are pretty much cemented in place, so at least the floor for Washington is above that. But look for this squad to keeping falling in future weeks.
The Redskins were booed off the field at halftime, though the thousands of Giants fans here should be applauding them. Washington played an abysmal half of football in trailing 34-0 at halftime. The Redskins have just two first downs and 51 total yards…. https://t.co/QiKhk7E6A2
— John Keim (@john_keim) December 9, 2018
25 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8; -51)
Garrett: After the 2-0 start, everybody was on the “Fitzmagic” hype train. Even after the week 3 loss to Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick remained the starting quarterback. After the first half of week 4, the Bucs Ryan Fitzpatrick got benched in favor of Jameis Winston, who was serving a three-game suspension to start the season. The Bucs switched their starting quarterback back to Fitzpatrick after Winston struggled for a while, then back to Winston. The only team Tampa Bay has looked good against this season is the Saints. This team isn’t heading in a specific direction, but they should be better in the future if Jameis can stay on the field.
Tier 6: Getting the Side Eye From Their Fan Base
26 Atlanta Falcons (4-9; -51)
Garrett: Just two years ago this team was up 28-3 in the Super Bowl. We all know what happened after that, but regardless, this team should not be 4-9. They have essentially the same roster as the Super Bowl team. The biggest problem with the Falcons this season has been injuries without a doubt. Losing 3 defense starters in the first couple of games, as well as starting running back Devonta Freeman, would hurt most teams, and the Falcons couldn’t overcome the injuries. They cannot make the playoffs this season, but with the offseason giving them much needed time to get healthy, as well as a good draft pick this year as a result of their disappointing record, they should be back near the top of the NFC in 2019.
27 Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9; -61)
Ben: Jacksonville is a mess. It doesn’t get more simple than that. The defense provided some hope for a solid end to the season, beating Indy 6-0 two weeks ago. While Jacksonville wasn’t going to make the playoffs, they could at least finish strong and play spoiler. The Titans had other ideas. The Jags struggled mightily to tackle Derrick Henry in space, missing 5 tackles alone on Henry’s 99-yard TD. Believe it or not, the Jags had opportunities to take control of the game, noticeably in the first half. Following, a safety Jacksonville drove deep into Titan territory to try and take a lead. However, the Jags turned the ball over on downs on the one-yard line, with the next play being Henry’s now infamous TD. Perhaps, this is the biggest indictment of the struggling Jaguars offense. Failing to take advantage of opportunities and failing to block sufficiently for Leonard Fournette has led the Jags to the position they’re in.
28 New York Jets (4-9; -119)
Richard: The Jets beat the Bills in a game that both teams should have been trying to lose. Head coach Todd Bowles is as good as gone when the season ends and their first-round quarterback of the future, Sam Darnold, has been inconsistent at best. New York has scored less than 20 points eight times this season but has given up more than that in ten games. Nobody expected this Jets season to end in a championship, but the lack of development in the rookie quarterback and the team getting worse on the defensive side of the ball will have the Jets looking for a new head coach in the offseason and starting over again next year.
29 Buffalo Bills (4-9; -119)
Richard: The Bills did what they had to do and lost to the Jets on Sunday. At this point of the season, the Bills main focus should be the draft. With a few more losses on their record, Buffalo could contend for the number one draft pick. Quarterback Josh Allen is doing his best Micheal Vick impression leading the team in rushing yards. With a good draft and development of Allen’s throwing abilities, the Bills could be an improved team in the near future.
30 San Francisco 49ers (3-10; -75)
Richard: What are the 49ers doing winning a game when the number one pick in the draft is the goal of this season for them, well at least it should be. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down too early in the season for the Niners to evaluate how good he really is. Assuming they believe he is as good as they paid him to be, San Francisco should be taking advantage of a bad situation and stack up talent through the draft with the high picks that come with a bad season. Wins at this point of the season work against the future success of this team. Lose now and improve the team for the return of the franchise quarterback.
Current 2019 NFL draft order:
1. 49ers (3-10)
2. Cardinals (3-10)
3. Raiders (3-10)
4. Falcons (4-9)
5. Jets (4-9)
6. Bills (4-9)
7. Jaguars (4-9)
8. Buccaneers (5-8)
9. Giants (5-8)
10. Lions (5-8)
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 10, 2018
31 Oakland Raiders (3-10; -144)
Garrett: While many teams are making a playoff push to close out the season, Oakland is making a run for the first pick in next year’s draft. The Raiders season has been summed up by making roster moves that clearly made their team worse this season. From trading Khalil Mack to Trading Amari Cooper, the Raiders looked to be tanking from the beginning. With the team stocking up on first round picks in preparation to their move the Las Vegas, they picked a strange time to get the biggest win of the season against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have made some very questionable decisions this year as far as running the team, but they should be able to become a respectable team in a few years behind Derek Carr.
32 Arizona Cardinals (3-10; -149)
Richard: The Cardinals are not good. They only mustered up three points against the Lions on Sunday in a loss. With the Rams and Seahawks coming up after the Falcons, Arizona looks like the team atop of the leaderboard for the number one pick in the draft. The Cardinals will look to build around quarterback Josh Rosen in his second year and start turning things around for head coach Steve Wilks who will also be entering his second year with Arizona.