Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots grabbed control of the AFC with their controversial win in Pittsburgh
After Week 14 brought us scores of close games and thrilling endings, the most recent NFL weekend came up a little bit short in that respect — outside of some truly bizarre finishes in the big games in the latter part of the Sunday slate. That’s not great news if you’re watching at home or headed to the stadium but it certainly clarifies the playoff picture and makes sorting out the league pecking order a heck of a lot easier.
Doing as much as one can to sort through all that and factoring in everything from overall roster strength, to quarterback play, to the coaching staff, here is the latest edition of NFL power rankings and where every team stacks up from 1 to 32.
Week 16 NFL Power Rankings
1. New England Patriots
Last week: 2
The luckiest team in the NFL now controls their destiny with the road to the Super Bowl all but running through a title defense in Foxborough. The return of Rob Gronkowski sure made a difference Sunday on offense as he was uncoverable and it sure seems like that was just the kind of jolt that will send Belichick and Brady onto another Lombardi Trophy.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last week: 2
That heavyweight fight with the Patriots was one for the ages and the Steelers absolutely got hosed on the call in the end zone. While that sequence to end the game will be discussed ad nausea for the next two months, the bottom line is it means a trip to New England if Pittsburgh wants to win the conference (and it may have cost the team a bye to the Jaguars of all teams to boot).
3. Minnesota Vikings
Last week: 4
Think this team was glad to be back home after all that time (three weeks) on the road? Given how shaky the Eagles looked, being able to snag home-field advantage throughout the playoffs might still be on the table for perhaps the most complete team in the league.
4. Carolina Panthers
Last week: 3
There’s plenty focus on off the field with the franchise but the team on the field is really ramping up. They’re starting to find their stride on offense and Christian McCaffrey looks like the kind of threat in the postseason that could be a game-changer with his ability to get open. Then there’s that defense, which opportunistic and stingy, even if the Panthers allowed Aaron Rodgers to get back in the game like only he can.
5. Los Angeles Rams
Last week: 5
This might not be the best team in the NFC yet but the Rams have the greatest potential of the conference contenders if that offense is rolling behind Todd Gurley (above, right) like it was this week and Aaron Donald has his way on every snap. After absolutely destroying the Seahawks and taking a bit of their soul up in Seattle, it seems like L.A. is right in the mix for a Super Bowl run.
6. New Orleans Saints
Last week: 6
Not the most consistent of games from the Saints against the Jets at home but a (seemingly) half dozen touchdowns taken off the board by review might have played a part. There may also have been a bit of a look-ahead factor with the Falcons coming into town next week.
7. Phiadelphia Eagles
Last week: 7
Nick Foles left a fantastic impression on Philly fans in his first start taking over for the injured Carson Wentz with those four touchdown throws. Yes it came against the Giants but the team needed every yard and every point to survive because the defense failed to make the trip to the Big Apple.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last week: 10
Welcome back Jags, first playoff berth in a decade! That’s three games of 30-plus points in a row and hitting that mark just about guarantees a win given how good the defense is. More importantly, Blake Bortles is on a roll of his own right now, which is even more impressive when you factor in the loss of all those wideouts. Now the unthinkable: a potential first-round bye in the AFC.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Last week: 9
Not quite an easy, runaway victory against a beat-up division rival but Falcons fans will take it despite all the sweat they expounded on Monday night. Atlanta is one win away from locking up a spot in the postseason and continue to control its fate in the toughest division in the league.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Last week: 12
Every team needs a little bit of luck this time of year and the Cowboys better hope they didn’t use it all up in those final few minutes against Oakland. It’s hard not to think that the return of Ezekiel Elliott won’t provide a nice boost to the offense but Dallas still needs a little help if it wants to make the big dance.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Last week: 11
That easy final stretch is really paying dividends for the playoff run, even if it took the Ravens a little while to get going against the lowly Browns on Sunday. That was probably to be expected given the extremely physical game against the Steelers last week but this team just keeps sneaking up on you when you start to look at the postseason.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
Last week: 17
We’ll just call that win over the Chargers the Marcus Peters game given how he seemed to be everywhere and in on every play after his one-game suspension. Given the remaining slate, the Chiefs still look like the division favorite. Will they be able to continue this momentum (led by the rushing attack getting back on the track) though?
13. Detroit Lions
Last week: 16
That Rockettes touchdown celebration was perhaps the most memorable thing to emerge out of that victory against Chicago, which kept the Lions in the playoff hunt. While the division is out of the question, winning seven of their last nine would indicate they could be an issue in the postseason if they make the cut.
14. Los Angeles Chargers
Last week: 8
Well that disastrous effort at Arrowhead probably sunk chances of a remarkable run to the postseason and finally saw Philip Rivers revert to back to normal after an MVP-esque run. The Chargers’ final two games are very winnable but that might not matter given the amount of help they need.
15. Green Bay Packers
Last week: 15
Aaron Rodgers’ return was not as triumphant as the cheeseheads were hoping for down in Carolina. His first three-interception game in eight years showed he’s still a little rusty but he did give the team a better shot to win than Brett Hundley. Given that the loss eliminated the Packers from the postseason, it might be time to shut down No. 12 again and let the kid show what he can do in these final two games.
16. Seattle Seahawks
Last week: 13
Fans in the Pacific Northwest might remember back in 2009 when a torch was passed from Pete Carroll’s dynasty at USC to a hot, up-and-coming challenger when Oregon ran the Trojans off the field. The way the team was demolished by the Rams had a similar feeling in terms of the NFC West.
17. Tennessee Titans
Last week: 14
What a dreadful trip to the West Coast that was for the Titans. Fans of this team have every right to riot over the job — or lack thereof — this coaching staff has done in crunch time during the second half of the season.
18. Buffalo Bills
Last week: 22
It wasn’t pretty, but a win against a division rival is still a win and keeps this team in the playoff hunt. Winning ugly seems to be a theme this year for the Bills but that was a quality effort early in the game by Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy as New England looms next week.
19. Washington Redskins
Last week: 21
This is a beat-up team with little to play for but at least the Redskins found a victory against Arizona as the defense stood tall time after time on Sunday. Not being able to run the ball consistently remains an issue but Kirk Cousins and company picked up some of that slack.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Last week: 19
You can’t say that the Cardinals didn’t have their chances to beat Washington on the road, as several passes slipped off the hands of receivers in the red zone during the final few minutes and they settled for field goals all day instead of finding the end zone.
21. Oakland Raiders
Last week: 20
It kind of felt like that final drive was a microcosm of the Raiders’ season – so promising to start, a few mistakes and mental lapses, some bailout help and then a heartbreaker to squash any remaining hope of making a surprise run.
22. San Francisco 49ers
Last week: 26
The legend of Jimmy G. rolls on and there hasn’t been this kind of life in the 49ers’ franchise since that Super Bowl run.
23. Miami Dolphins
Last week: 18
Further proof last week’s win over New England was a mirage, Jay Cutler reverted to form with a three-interception performance on the road up in Buffalo.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last week: 25
It was an inspired effort against their division rival on Monday night despite being severely undermanned with injuries. At least there was a bigger bright spot for the Bucs fans on hand in seeing old Jon Gruden get inducted into the ring of honor.
25. Chicago Bears
Last week: 23
The Bears not surprisingly followed up one of their best outings of the season with one that was decidedly not close to that. You have to at least be competitive in the division if you want to show signs of progress and Chicago simply hasn’t done that in 2017.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
Last week: 24
Not exactly a shock to see Marvin Lewis get out in front of the news that he would not be back as head coach, a lock given the team’s recent performance and lack of success in the postseason. Seems like the team was following their coach’s lead against Minnesota in one of the worst losses the team has seen in a while.
27. Denver Broncos
Last week: 28
The triumphant return of Brock Osweiler went much better than anybody could have expected in that Thursday romp over Indianapolis but what does that mean going forward for the team? All options are on the table but it was an encouraging sign to see his ability to threaten with a pass help open up the running lanes.
28. New York Jets
Last week: 29
It was a gutsy effort down in New Orleans for a team that is overmatched at just about every position but still keeps fighting to make games closer than they should be. Still, the focus in New York is less on the season that’s left and more on the draft season coming up.
29. New York Giants
Last week: 30
Great result long-term for the Giants against the Eagles all things considered, as they threatened to win the game and played well but preserved their draft positioning with a loss.
30. Houston Texans
Last week: 27
We all know about the injuries this season but getting run off the field like that against a division rival had to be eye-opening for the few people in Houston who don’t think some changes need to be made. At least the Rockets are entertaining because the city’s NFL franchise sure isn’t worth tuning in for.
31. Indianapolis Colts
Last week: 31
Normally, playing at home and forcing your opponent to play their backup quarterback would give you a pretty big advantage. Not so with the Colts, who blew a two-score lead and lost their fifth in a row. To add injury to such insult, Andrew Luck may now need another surgery. At least they’re all but a lock for a top-five pick.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last week: 32
DeShone Kizer had -12 yards in the first quarter, which probably sums up where the team is in the rebuilding process. At least the Browns clinched a top-two pick and are the overwhelming favorite for the top spot again.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.