We have a brand new team sitting atop the Power Rankings.
This battle is won ... but the war will rage on into February.
Welcome to the top, Ravens. To the top of the AFC standings, and the top of the Power Rankings. (I'll let John Harbaugh decide what means more to him.) Over the past two months, we've watched the Ravens drop nukes from above on teams that never had a chance. On Sunday, we learned Baltimore can we win a bare-knuckle street fight when necessary, too. The NFC-leading 49ers were worthy competition, but the Ravens locked in on defense and got another money moment from Justin Tucker, the greatest kicker on Earth. The Ravens showed they can win when Lamar Jackson isn't at his best, and their 10-2 record includes victories over the Niners, Seahawks, Patriots, Texans and Rams (combined record of 45-10 against non-Baltimore opponents). This is the best team in football -- now we'll find out if it can sustain this incredible momentum to the Super Bowl.
Was there ever really a doubt? We have nearly a decade of evidence telling us Russell Wilson will never lose a game like that at CenturyLink Field. With the stakes sky-high, the home crowd roaring and millions of fans watching on TV ... the Seahawks and their star quarterback always find a way. A 37-30 win over the Vikings shifted the complexion of the NFC: The Seahawks, on the strength of their 10-2 record and head-to-head win over the Niners, jump into the No. 2 seed in the NFC and move into first place in the NFC West with a Week 17 rematch vs. San Francisco looming. The combination of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny was brilliant against Minnesota, the two backs combining to go over 200 scrimmage yards with three touchdowns. Penny finally seems to have found his role and it makes the Seattle offense that much more difficult to stop.
The 49ers showed they were up to the challenge in a showdown with the red-hot Ravens, but their inability to make the big play in the second half -- not to mention, the impossibly accurate leg of Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker -- haunted the visiting team in a 20-17 loss. The defeat, coupled with a Seahawks win on Monday night over the Vikings, drops San Francisco from No. 1 all the way to No. 5 in the NFC playoff picture. Yep, the top of this conference is as loaded as we've seen in recent memory. The Niners play their third straight opponent with an .800-plus winning percentage on Sunday, when they travel to the Superdome to meet the NFC South champion Saints. It's a historically difficult stretch of games that will ensure Kyle Shanahan's team is playoff-tested before the real playoffs begin.
The Saints didn't play their cleanest brand of football in November, but they executed well enough to achieve their first major goal of the season. A 26-18 win over the Falcons made the Saints the first team to clinch a playoff spot. The NFC South champs now set their sights on the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. Last Thursday night will be remembered for the relentlessness of the front seven, which made Matt Ryan's life miserable in a nine-sack assault. Cameron Jordan led the charge, finishing with four sacks, including the game-clinching takedown in the final minute. Jordan is up to 13.5 sacks on the season -- 3.5 shy of the team single-season record of 17, set by La'Roi Glover in 2000. Speaking of the No. 1 seed, the Saints will put themselves on the inside track if they can take out the 49ers on Sunday.
Has Aaron Rodgers finally found a dependable second banana in the Packers' receiving group? Green Bay hoped either Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Geronimo Allison would make the leap in 2019, but the real breakout candidate might be Allen Lazard, who caught 3 of 3 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown in a 31-13 win over the Giants. Davante Adams (two touchdowns on Sunday) remains the clear-cut No. 1 option in Green Bay's attack, but Lazard could be a huge piece for Rodgers, who appears to be gaining confidence in the undrafted second-year pro. Rodgers could also use some more help in the backfield, where Aaron Jones has gone cold in recent weeks. Green Bay's offense has been at its best when Matt LaFleur has been able to utilize Jones' ability as a runner and a receiver. Don't be surprised if the Packers make that a priority this week against the Redskins.
Deshaun Watson kept it real after the Texans' 28-22 win over the Patriots on Sunday night: He really wanted to beat Tom Brady before the legendary quarterback called it a career. Consider it another goal achieved for the young star. Watson was the better quarterback on Sunday, throwing three touchdown passes and catching another(!) in a victory that keeps Houston alone atop the AFC South and pumps up their chances of landing a first-round bye come January. Watson has now thrown 21 touchdowns against just three interceptions in eight career prime-time games -- he's the Anti-Cousins. Watson's performance was even more impressive considering the opponent: New England's defense entered Sunday having allowed just four touchdown passes while piling up 20 interceptions. Watson's diving score on the Texans' expertly designed and executed trick play felt like a statement to the defending Super Bowl champions and longtime Houston bullies. *We're not afraid of you anymore.* </content:power-ranking>
What a strange blowout win for the Chiefs. It was quite possibly the weirdest 40-burger in NFL history. Kansas City won, 40-9, on a day where Patrick Mahomes threw for just 175 yards, leading rusher Darwin Thompson managed just 44 yards and the Raiders outgained the Chiefs in total yardage, 332-259. Figuring out the blowout was more like piecing together a puzzle. Juan Thornhill had a pick-six. The Chiefs turned the Raiders' lone PAT try into a blocked kick return for two points (39 and 40). And the Raiders had three turnovers and 12 penalties for 99 yards while the Chiefs went turnover- and penalty-free. The win essentially locks up the AFC West for the Chiefs, who have a two-game lead and the tiebreaker on the second-place Raiders. Up next: A huge showdown with the Patriots at Foxborough. A first-round bye could be at stake.
It was there for the Vikings. Minnesota ball, trailing by four, less than four minutes to play, three timeouts at their disposal. Kirk Cousins took the field looking to build on a strong night and exorcise some Monday night ghosts. But the Vikings went five-and-out and the offense never saw the field again in a 37-30 loss to the Seahawks. Cousins falls to 0-8 on the Monday Night Football stage, but put this loss on a Vikings defense that got carved up on the ground by Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny and through the air by Russell Wilson. Cousins' job was made that much more difficult when star running back Dalvin Cook exited the game midway through the third quarter with a clavicle injury. The Vikings are still in excellent position to claim a playoff spot, but they might have to win out to have any chance at the NFC North title.
We see you, Bills. We all see you now. Sean McDermott's squad went to Dallas and laid a Thanksgiving whooping on the supposedly superior Cowboys, putting themselves on the map as a legitimate contender in the AFC. At 9-3, the Bills have a stranglehold on a wild-card spot and remain within striking distance of the hardly invincible Patriots in the AFC East. There were standout performances up and down the roster against the Cowboys, but this game could be a flashpoint for Josh Allen, who played like a franchise quarterback in front of a huge national audience. Allen led six consecutive scoring drives against Dallas and dished out some punishment on a third-quarter touchdown run that might be the highlight of his young career to date. Now the Bills get extra time to prepare for their biggest challenge of the season: a home game against the surging Ravens. Dismiss the Bills at your own risk.
What a glorious win for the Titans, who wiped away a double-digit second-half deficit, on the road, against a division rival. This was a total team effort. Ryan Tannehill delivered another solid performance, punctuated with a perfectly thrown dagger touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond in the fourth quarter. Derrick Henry went off for 149 yards and a score (the Titans are now 12-1 since 2016 when Henry has at least 18 carries). The defense forced the Colts into three second-half turnovers, including two Jacoby Brissett interceptions. And, last but not least, there was a huge performance from special teams, which came up with the field-goal block and touchdown return that swung the game. The Texans remain alone in first place in the AFC South after an impressive win of their own against the Patriots, but this is a division race that could go down to the final weekend. The Titans are a team reborn. </content:power-ranking>
Things didn't start well for Duck Hodges and the Steelers. Pittsburgh had accumulated 9 yards of total offense midway through the second quarter as the visiting Browns built a 10-0 lead. But then Hodges warmed up, James Washington started making plays and Pittsburgh's defense -- always the catalyst during this stunning return from 0-3 irrelevance -- did the rest in a 20-13 win over the Browns. This victory had to be the sweetest of the season for the Steelers, who exacted revenge on a Browns team that bullied them in more ways than one just two weeks earlier. In that Week 11 matchup, Mason Rudolph melted down against an aggressive Browns defense. Hodges kept his cool (not having to face the suspended Myles Garrett surely helped) and delivered on enough downfield throws to keep Cleveland honest and allow Pittsburgh to regain control of the game. Mike Tomlin deserves serious Coach of the Year consideration.
Watching the Rams on Sunday was like taking a trip in a time machine all the way back to the innocent days of ... last November. Back then, Los Angeles was still the envy of the league, thanks to a relentless offensive attack. We hadn't seen much of that this season, at least not before Jared Goff threw for more than 400 yards in a little more than three quarters against the Cardinals. Robert Woods had 13 catches for 172 yards and Todd Gurley chipped in with 115 yards from scrimmage and a score. It was a perfect get-right game for the Rams after a humbling butt-whipping at the hands of the Ravens two Mondays ago. The big question: Was this the sign of a turnaround for the Rams ... or was it merely a mirage against one of the league's have-nots? This week's prime-time showdown against the Seahawks will tell us a lot.
We've reached rock bottom of the Jason Garrett era. A 26-15 loss to the visiting Bills on Thanksgiving was sobering confirmation of a hard truth in Dallas: The Cowboys, with all their marquee talent, are just another team, as mediocre as their 6-6 record says they are. After the loss, an emotional Jerry Jones spoke of "looking ahead at winning four or five straight and helping write a story they will talk about," but he sounded like an owner talking like a fan, blind optimism blotting out cold reality. Jones says that Garrett's job is safe, but the pressure is on the coach in a way it's never been before. Playing in a weak NFC East, the Cowboys still have the inside track to a division title and home playoff game. But nothing should be assumed at this point. Dallas is a flawed team, perhaps fatally so.
Things have gone sideways in a flash for the Raiders. Back-to-back losses have dropped Oakland to 6-6 and out of the race in the AFC West. The playoffs are still a possibility via the wild-card route, but it's hard to get too excited about a team that's been outscored 74-12 over the course of eight days. Derek Carr isn't fond of the reputation that he can't win in the cold, but performances like we saw at Arrowhead with a kickoff temperature of 36 degrees Fahrenheit won't do much to alter the narrative. Carr threw two interceptions, including the game-icing pick-six in the second quarter, and struggled to create any spark with a wide receiver group that combined for 8 yards receiving through three quarters. Silver & Black-related pessimism is understandable, but things will shift in a hurry if Oakland knocks off the surging Titans at the Black Hole. The Raiders have been a menace at home all year.
If the Colts are sitting at home come playoff time, this will be the game that sticks with them the most. Leading the Titans 17-7 in the third quarter, Indy looked to be in prime position to solidify its playoff chances and deal a crushing setback to a division rival. But a stunning collapse on special teams led to a blocked field-goal attempt and touchdown return for Tennessee. Minutes later, after another key mistake -- this time a Jacoby Brissett interception -- the Titans were back in the end zone again. From 17-7 to 17-17 to 31-17 in a flash. Brissett wasn't nearly sharp enough in the second half, but he's in a tough spot. Playing without Marlon Mack (hand), T.Y. Hilton (calf) and Eric Ebron (ankle), the Colts simply don't have the firepower to put teams away. They'll finish with three of four away from home.
"A lot of players made a lot of plays, but today was Mitch's day." Those were the words of Bears coach Matt Nagy, after Mitchell Trubisky threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns to beat the Lions on Thanksgiving. It was easily Trubisky's best game of the season, and it creates an air of optimism around the much-maligned former first-round pick as the season hits its home stretch. Can Trubisky put himself in position to keep his starting job next season with a strong finish? His play has improved markedly in the past two weeks, but Chicago has been arguably the league's most disappointing team, and Trubisky's regression has been a big reason why. The Bears finish with a murderer's row of opponents -- Cowboys, at Packers, Chiefs, at Vikings -- giving Trubisky both an epic challenge and a golden opportunity to salvage his season.
At a certain point, you are who you are. We've waited all season for the Browns to play to their talent level. A three-game winning streak teased that as a possibility, but then came another dull performance in a huge spot against the Steelers. At 5-7, Cleveland's playoff hopes aren't completely dashed, but what have we seen from this team that tells us it has something special in store? Maybe that's a question a reporter could have asked Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., but those team leaders ducked out of the locker room without talking. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens did talk after the game, left to answer questions about the dumb T-shirt he wore over the weekend that incited an already hyped Steelers team. The Browns just seem messy, and you have to wonder if ownership will deem it necessary to find someone new to clean this up.
It feels like we never go more than a few weeks without watching L.A.'s other team suffer a loss in excruciating fashion. "It seems like we're literally trying to figure out every way you can possibly lose a game," running back Austin Ekeler said after Sunday's last-second loss to the Broncos. "It's just frustrating, for sure." The Chargers are now 4-8, dead and buried in the AFC. All eight of those losses have come by seven points or fewer. It's been a what-if season for the NFL's preeminent what-if franchise. Against the Broncos, the Chargers found a way to lose a game in regulation in which they kicked a game-tying field goal with 14 seconds to play. Cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. was called for defensive pass interference on a deep ball that set up Brandon McManus' 53-yard game-winner at the gun. Chargers gonna Charger.
The Ron Rivera Watch is on. The Panthers lost their fourth straight on Sunday, blowing a 14-0 lead in a loss to one of the worst teams in football. Panthers owner David Tepper let it be known he won't stand for mediocrity, but that's exactly what the Panthers represent as the season reaches its final month. This all seems like very bad news for Rivera, who might need his Panthers to win out to land a 10th season on the sideline. Even that might not be enough with a new owner who looks thirsty to make his first real imprint on the team he bought in 2018. "I'm not worried about my future," Rivera said after the game. "I'm worried about this football team. We have a game coming up on Sunday." This is a familiar script in a league that fires a quarter of its coaches each January.
An unthinkable loss for the Eagles, who had a 28-14 lead over the 2-9 Dolphins but couldn't close out a win that would have moved them into a tie atop the NFC East. Despite a highly productive day from Carson Wentz and the struggling Eagles offense, a winnable game swung on a series of critical failures in the second half. Dropped passes, overthrown balls, penalties, bad sacks, missed field goals -- Philadelphia opened up a bag of ineptitude and dumped it all over the field in Miami. Doug Pederson said on Monday that his team "self-destructed" while labeling the Eagles a "long shot" to make the playoffs. That's not quite accurate: Philly remains just one game behind Dallas in a weak NFC East, but this is a hard team to believe in. Fix one problem, and another one pops up. It's a losing game of whack-a-mole. </content:power-ranking>
Could the Buccaneers be putting it together in the home stretch? It won't result in a playoff appearance, but a strong finish would be a great way to enter the offseason. In Week 12, the Bucs' offense torched the Falcons for 446 total yards. On Sunday, it was the defense's turn to shine in a 28-11 victory over the Jaguars. Tampa Bay turned three Nick Foles turnovers into touchdowns, then came up with a huge end zone interception of Gardner Minshew to snuff out a late Jacksonville rally. The star was rookie Devin White, who intercepted Foles and returned a fumble for a score. This comes after the first-round pick had two sacks in the win over Atlanta. Speaking of sacks, Shaq Barrett had two more, to up his total to 14.5 on the season. He's just two shy of Warren Sapp's franchise record.
The Broncos needed that one. Vic Fangio's team has been on the wrong end of multiple game-ending kick scenarios this season. On Sunday against the Chargers, Brandon McManus was the one sweeping the leg to set off a celebration at midfield. It made a winner out of rookie Drew Lock in his NFL debut. The second-round pick finished 18-of-28 passing for 134 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a start that inspires some optimism. Making things easier for Lock was an emerging superstar in Courtland Sutton, who had both touchdown receptions and drew the long pass-interference penalty that set up McManus' game-winner. Around The NFL Podcast colleague Chris Wesseling says Sutton is making a hard push for an All-Pro nod. That's an amazing accomplishment, considering Denver's revolving door at quarterback.
The Jaguars are a toy ship sinking to the bottom of one of the swimming pools at their home stadium. Jacksonville's losing streak reached four after a 28-11 setback against the Buccaneers that left the home crowd jeering and head coach Doug Marrone with no choice but to put Nick Foles on the bench. The Jags' problems have gone far beyond Foles in the past three weeks, but Sunday was the first time the former Super Bowl MVP was a main reason the team struggled. Each of the first three Jacksonville possessions ended with a Foles turnover that was eventually turned into a Tampa Bay touchdown. Gardner Minshew sparked the offense once he entered the game in the third quarter, and the rookie will remain in the lineup this week against the Chargers. Minshew Mania will have to run wild all over the NFL in the final four weeks for Marrone to keep his job.
It's been an ugly season in Atlanta, and the sight of Matt Ryan being ruthlessly stiff-armed to the turf during a Saints interception return pretty much sums up the current state of Falcons football. That was just one chapter in a book of brutality on Thanksgiving night for Ryan, who was sacked nine times in a 26-18 loss that allowed the hated Saints to celebrate a division title on enemy turf. Ryan played without Julio Jones, who was (wisely) held out of action with a bum shoulder. The Falcons might want to start thinking similarly about their franchise quarterback, who shouldn't be taking a beating of this nature when the stakes are this low for the 3-9 Falcons. Hey, at least Atlanta recovered back-to-back onside kicks on Thursday. You take the positives where you can find them in a lost season.
The Dolphins might be the most fun 3-9 team you'll ever watch. How could you not enjoy the way Miami went after the Eagles, battling back from multiple deficits, calling trick plays, surprise onside kicks -- anything to make up for the talent disparity they face every Sunday? It's a credit to first-year coach Brian Flores -- and the quarterback, too. This is a young Dolphins team playing with the spirit of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who competes his butt off every Sunday. Fitzpatrick made a series of money throws in wiping out a two-touchdown deficit in the second half, and he avoided the killer turnovers that have haunted him in the past. It helps to have a guy like DeVante Parker, who has broken out as a star playmaker in his fifth season. Parker is an example of why you don't give up on talent. The 2015 first-rounder has become a player this organization can build around.
Adam Gase, we were led to believe, had fixed the Jets. Sam Darnold had locked into sync with the coach's game plan, and Gregg Williams' defense was balling out. Then Sunday happened, and all the goodwill accrued during a three-game winning streak was wiped away. The Jets were no match for the Bengals, bullied by an 0-11 team in a 22-6 loss in Cincinnati. The Jets become the first team in NFL history to lose to two teams that started a season 0-7 or worse (they got whipped by the 0-7 Dolphins last month). This is all a very poor reflection on Gase, who didn't have his team prepared in a game with playoff ramifications (however faint they might have been). Gase called a poor game, too: Le'Veon Bell finished with just 10 carries against the NFL's worst run defense. Sometimes it feels like this organization is chemically addicted to embarrassment.
Dwayne Haskins needs help. On Sunday, the Redskins backfield gave it to him. Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson combined for 228 yards and three touchdowns, powering Washington to an upset win over the Panthers in Charlotte. Guice delivered a performance that should give fans hope: The former second-round pick showed burst and power, ripping off runs of 37 and 60 yards. The man knows how to deliver angry runs for the people. And after a special teams breakdown led to an onside kick recovery by the Panthers in the final minutes, the defense stepped up with a goal-line stand to seal the win. Kyle Allen will have nightmares of his backward scramble that resulted in Chris Odom's game-deciding strip sack. The Redskins have won two straight, with a trip to Lambeau Field on deck. </content:power-ranking>
Burn the tape! Destroy the evidence! Never speak of it again! These are all commands one could imagine coming out of Cardinals headquarters after Sunday's embarrassing 34-7 loss to the Rams, a game that featured almost nothing in the way of positives for the home team. The defense gave up a season-high 549 yards, and the offense didn't cross 100 yards until the fourth quarter. This was the fifth consecutive loss for Arizona, but all losses are not created equal, especially for a rebuilding team. In the three defeats that preceded their Week 12 bye, the Cardinals hung tough and looked ready to hit their stride behind rookie Kyler Murray. Week 13 represented a step back, and it cost at least one player his job. Starting cornerback Tramaine Brock was released on Monday. It won't get any easier for Murray this week, when the red-hot Steelers bring their swarming defense to town.
At some point in the season -- let's clock it around late September -- the Lions lost any ability to close out games. Detroit has lost eight of nine, but the free-fall wouldn't have been so pronounced had the Lions handled their business. We saw that again on Thanksgiving, when a 17-7 second-quarter lead became a 24-20 loss to the Bears. At least the Lions have a feel-good story in David Blough, whose first career completion was a 75-yard touchdown to Kenny Golladay. The third-string QB led the Lions to another touchdown on their second possession and threw for 280 yards against a top defense. We'll see more of the undrafted rookie, too: The Lions moved Jeff Driskel to injured reserve on Saturday with a hamstring injury. With Driskel done and Matthew Stafford (back) in limbo, you Bloughhards out there are in for a treat.
Giants fans sent a message to their team on Sunday, leaving thousands of empty seats at MetLife Stadium in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Packers, New York's eighth straight defeat. These are dark days for a team that stands as one of football's proudest and most decorated franchises. A lack of difference-makers on defense was plainly apparent against the Packers, who scored 17 points before sending out their punter for the first time. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes without an interception as the Giants allowed an opponent to score at least 30 points for the seventh time in 12 games. Big changes are on the horizon for Big Blue, which doesn't have many foundational players beyond quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. Pat Shurmur hasn't been a winner in two seasons, but has he ever had a chance? </content:power-ranking>
That dude can come off the roof now. The Bengals delivered a complete effort on both sides of the ball in a 22-6 win over the Jets. Cincinnati will not join the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns in NFL infamy. Phew. Andy Dalton returned from an unearned benching and provided a legitimate spark, picking apart a Jets secondary that had been playing well in recent weeks. Dalton's final numbers would look even better if not for a pair of end-zone drops in the first half. While Dalton starred for the offense, Carlos Dunlap led the defense in a dominating day. The veteran defensive end finished with three of the Bengals' four sacks, and Cincinnati held New York to just 271 total yards. The cherry on top of the day? The Redskins also won, keeping the Bengals on the inside track for the No. 1 overall pick. </content:power-ranking>
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