Arizona is still good. The Panthers are, too, even though they finally lost. Brandon Weeden isn't losing. Calvin Johnson might be counting the days in Detroit. And somebody wake up the Chiefs and remind them that they are, in fact, the Chiefs.
Week 16 of the 2015 NFL season is in the books, and there are many "narratives" (2014 winner of the Crummiest Sports Journalism Word Award) to cover. In other news ...
Cards better get that #1 tomorrow in the rankings or you're lying to yourself @HarrisonNFLâ matty (@mvttyg) December 28, 2015
I'm lying to myself ...
... because I'm a Panther hater. (See below.)
There's a shake-up in the top 10, but not necessarily where fans are expecting it. The top three teams still look appropriate to me, based on who they played, their body of work this season and -- in the Patriots' case -- the bodies they'll be getting back. As for the rest of the rankings, there is movement just about everywhere, all the way through the first 31 teams. Don't worry, Titans fans: Your spot is secure. They aren't even lobbying for the last spot anymore. Thoughts? @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Dec. 22 Power Rankings.
Does going undefeated really matter? Is there a discernible difference between 15-0 and 14-1? The only thing that matters for a team that has performed to the level Carolina has all season is winning the Super Bowl. This organization has enjoyed magical seasons (see: 1996). It has been to the big dance (see: 2003). Taking the whole enchilada is what this campaign is about now, and that starts with securing home-field throughout the playoffs. That starts by beating the Bucs in Charlotte this weekend.
So Cory Redding has two-inch hops. And a touchdown. That sure looked like the best team in the NFL thrashing the Packers on Sunday. Carson Palmer is a certifiable MVP candidate. David Johnson has produced like anything but a third-round pick from Northern Iowa. The wide receiver corps -- Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson -- is, top to bottom, the premier group in the league. And give it up to the Honey Badger-less secondary, which caused Aaron Rodgers to hold, hold, hold, until he was being draped all over.
The Patriots seemed out of sync Sunday, even when fully in the game. I've wondered when all those injuries would catch up to them. It certainly did in the loss to the Jets, at least in terms of matchups, as any time Rob Gronkowski lined up outside, Darrelle Revis was looming right in front of him. Meanwhile, deferring to New York in overtime made us all scratch our heads. Let's merely state that Bill Belichick didn't exactly expand on that decision after the game.
Can Kansas City take out any team in the AFC? That's a question worth pondering as the Chiefs clinched a playoff spot Sunday with the victory over the Browns. Much like the win over the Chargers in Week 14, this deal was nip and tuck all the way, but that's been the 2015 season in a nutshell. Anybody can beat anybody, and whoever is hot is the team to beat. Well, with the Panthers falling in Atlanta, the Steelers falling in Baltimore and the Seahawks falling to the Rams, no team is hotter than Kansas City right now. What happens when this group gets Justin Houston back at full bore?
Give Ryan Fitzpatrick mad respect. No one was particularly excited about the Amish Rifle landing in New York this past spring. Chan Gailey's quarterback-friendly system has been more than quarterback-friendly to Fitz; it's been downright quarterback-friends-with-benefits for the former Ram, Bengal, Bill, Titan and Texan. Three touchdowns, no picks and a 109.4 passer rating in the team's biggest game of the year.
The Rams might have the Seahawks' number, but the latter team certainly did not do itself any favors in Sunday's loss. Nor did the refs. The holding call that negated Jermaine Kearse's catch inside the 2-yard line was ticky-tack. Still, Russell Wilson's fumble ... the defense's inability to beat the Rams' center to a fumble recovery ... and the Seahawks' center snapping groundballs that only Alvin Davis could field did Pete Carroll's group in.
The Steelers must beat the Browns and hope Rex Ryan says next week's game against the Jets doesn't mean anything. Because, of course, then Buffalo will play its best game of the season to defeat New York, the Steelers will make the postseason, and last Sunday's turd of a performance in Baltimore will be forgiven. No Week 16 development was more shocking than Ryan Mallett beating Pittsburgh. (Well, save for Brandon Weeden winning again.)
Love the moxie of Brock Osweiler on Monday night. The throw to Owen Daniels late in the fourth quarter to get the Broncos into field-goal range -- over the linebacker and in front of the DB -- was incredible. That said, why, oh why do coaches like Gary Kubiak settle for long field goals, on grass, in really cold weather? Yeah, Brandon McManus' kick was a Vanderjagt special, but it would've helped if Denver had kept pushing the football.
Where is this team headed? One-and-done in the playoffs? Or can AJ McCarron win a wild-card game if need be? Although McCarron fared admirably Monday night, the offense still only generated three points after the first two drives. Until Andy Dalton returns to the huddle, it will be difficult to gauge the Bengals. We know this, though: Vontaze Burfict can't commit that penalty in overtime. Tough call on a solid player, but those 15 yards were huge.
The drops were bad enough. The lack of separation might be worse. If you watched Packers-Cardinals on Sunday, you saw Aaron Rodgers holding the ball jussssst long enough to get hit. And hit. Shades of 2009 out there, back when Rodgers was taking 50 sacks partially for holding the ball too long. Said it before and will write it again: The most underrated injury in pro football this year, in terms of impact, was Jordy Nelson going down in the preseason.
Hard to keep the Vikes this low after
a 49-17 win, but who can we put them over? They are 1-4 vs. the top 10 in the Power Rankings, including a couple of blowout losses.
Still, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, #SKOL and all that Purple People Eater stuff to the Vikings, who ensured a spot in the playoffs for the first time in three years with the authoritative win over the Giants on Sunday night. After seeing the Vikes run the ball, tackle and dominate the game in the elements, are we suuure we don't want an outdoor stadium in Minnesota? Just asking. ZiggyWorld isn't complete yet, right?
Everyone, I want you to kneel down and hear what Kirk Cousins is doing ... he's thrown a touchdown every game this season, for a total of 26 to go with a sterling 99.2 passer rating. Sure, we're all used to seeing guys soar over the 100.0 passer rating barrier, but Cousins' journey from where he was this summer to where he is now illustrates the unpredictability of the NFL as well as anything.
What a special night for a special player on a special holiday. Could Charles Woodson's swan song in Oakland have been any better? Sure, it was long, but there is nothing like a close division game where neither defense is backing down ... and a retiring future Hall of Famer gets to go out a winner. The only thing funnier than Woodson's son saying "Raaaaaaaaiiiders" is Woodson's 65 career picks being 22 ahead of the next-closest active player.
Buffalo won a shootout on Sunday ... of punts and turnovers. If you happened to miss Cowboys-Bills, the rematch of Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII, it was about as exhilarating as those games. At least they had some points. Let's just say Kellen Moore and Tyrod Taylor weren't winging it like Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly out there. OK, honestly, the big one for the Bills (Rex) is next week, with a chance to knock the Jets out of the playoffs.
Raise your hand if you thought Brandon Weeden would win these last two road games for the Texans ... Anyone? Anyone? Oh, go ahead Mrs. Weeden, what data were you going on?
Big ups to Brandon, who surprised a few folks in leading Houston to the much-needed Week 15 victory in Indy. Some of us did see the win in Nashville coming, but not necessarily Weeden spinning the ball as well as he did. Sure, Jerry Jones let us know he, uh, could throw that footbawl, but in Nashville, Weeden posted only the third 100-plus passer rating start of his career. He threw for just 200 yards, but that's because the Texans were up five scores in the third quarter. Raise your hand if you thought Houston would be up five scores on anyone after being down five scores in Miami in October ...
For whatever reason, the Rams have the Seahawks' number. That's three out of four for St. Louis. The odd part in this series is that Jeff Fisher's team has been outgained in three of those contests, while losing the time-of-possession battle in all four. That Kenny Britt bakes a mean humble pie. Richard Sherman ate a nice big chunk of it.
League analysts, reporters and the like always say it:
Divisional road games are tough, no matter the competition. Thus, you shouldn't be surprised the
Falcons came up big
in knocking off the previously undefeated Panthers. Nor should you be surprised
Julio Jones caught seven of eight targets when covered by
A) That boy good.
B) Maybe Norman got too hyped up for his slapfest with Odell Beckham Jr. and suffered a hangover of sorts.
C) No one wanted to throw at Cerrano in "Major League" (i.e., it's easy talking smack to Roddy White, Josh. Ahem. Cough.).
Much chatter in league circles regarding whether Sunday marked Calvin Johnson's last home game in Detroit. Maybe he has slowed down, despite logging another TD grab in the win over San Francisco. This is a weird day and age we're living in, where 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns through 15 games is indicative of slowing down. Incidentally, those were Johnson's exact 2014 totals (though he played in two fewer games). He and Matthew Stafford have misconnected often (Johnson has caught just 78 of 134 targets). But it might be wise to not bury the guy's career quite yet.
With everyone being so careful to not spoil "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," I've decided to awaken the spoiler-alert side of my personhood for all those
Giants fans who DVR'd
the game Sunday night and have yet to watch it (all three of you):
A) One of the teams almost scored 50.
B) It wasn't your team.
C) Rueben Randle and Xavier Rhodes didn't get into a slugfest over baseball bats and trash talking.
D) The Giants wanted to tackle in the fourth quarter about as much as you want to see another FanDuel spot.
E) Tom Coughlin's cold, red face looked exactly like it did in the 2007 NFC Championship Game. The man hasn't aged a day.
this plantar fascia business isn't as big a deal as
people in Denver would have you believe. (Too soon?)
Drew Brees in
Sunday's win over the Jags: 412 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions despite dealing with an injury that has been in the news quite a bit in regards to other veteran quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Tim Hightower ... What the heck, man? The veteran running back put up 169 total yards and two touchdowns, with nobody watching. Still counts.
Not that anyone cares, but
the Bears won. Sure, it's
too little, too late for a team that blew some winnable contests right when the city thought the team might be turning its season around. The reality is that this Chicago bunch looked to be a 7-9 club -- at best -- all along.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has been mentioned as a hot head-coaching candidate. Well, that's nice. Enjoy a new system for the eighth time, Jay! Funny, but it was the defense that won the day in Tampa Bay, forcing three turnovers while allowing just 14 points when the outcome was still in doubt. (The Bucs scored a garbage-time TD.)
Clutch win delivered by the Colts -- and particularly the legs of Frank Gore. That performance was reminiscent of Gore's brand when in San Francisco: It included patience, broken tackles and a bunch of much-needed yards on the ground in a victory. The 32-year-old needs 109 more yards next Sunday to reach 1,000 for the ninth time in his 11-year career. Yes, he has yet to top the 100-yard mark this season -- but what a time it would be to do it. A win over the Titans in Indy, coupled with a Texans stumble versus the Jags -- and, OK, a bunch of other assorted outcomes that probably won't all happen -- gives the division title to the Colts.
Not exactly what Eagles fans were expecting from a season-on-the-line ballgame at their own park. Once again, the secondary struggled tremendously. Once again, rampant speculation abounds regarding Chip Kelly's job. It ain't always sunny in Philadelphia.
UPDATE: The Eagles announced late Tuesday that Kelly has been released.
A few weeks ago, the talk around the young Bucs involved strange words like "playoffs" and unfamiliar phrases of hope like "in the hunt." Then came three straight losses, and now the Bucs are simply hoping to avoid another double-digit-loss campaign. The hard-to-figure part of the late-season fall is the competition. They faced the Saints, Rams and Bears, two of them at home -- you had to figure Tampa Bay would win two, or at the least one. Nope. Zero. Let's see how Lovie Smith's young team responds at Carolina. (Which, uh, is playing for home-field. Oh boy.)
Protect the football, Blake. The Jaguars' franchise quarterback put up huge fantasy numbers once again, but he tossed two more picks. The interception total (16 on the season) isn't the concern; it's the timing. The first pick was thrown in his own territory with the Jags already down 14-zip. New Orleans produced points off the turnover, pushing the lead to 21 (too much to overcome). Still, it's hard to get on Bortles' case too much when Jacksonville's defense gave up 537 yards and 7.5 yards per play. Imagine that: The Saints gained almost 8 yards every time they snapped the ball. Brutal.
The Dolphins managed to out-Dolphin even themselves on Sunday. In the kind of game Miami almost always wins -- you know, the kind of late-in-the-year contest that only matters to the other team in which the Fins inexplicably look fantastic -- Dan Campbell's group laid an egg. If you thought the goal-to-go sequence at the end was grisly, check out the wicked tackling on Frank Gore's 37-yard touchdown run. Gore has been busting a bunch of long runs this year. Except not at all.
Maybe Johnny Manziel will get reprimanded by the league and all that jazz, but I personally liked the helmet-throwing emotion we saw from Mr. Football on Sunday. The guy clearly wants to win. OK, everyone wants to win. But how about guys who hate losing? It didn't look like Manziel was playing to any cameras at the end of the tight loss to the Chiefs, when the officials took their sweet time spotting the football as the clock ticked away. Manziel's passing numbers weren't great, but don't tell me he wasn't competing his butt off out there. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing against that Chiefs defense, too.
How the Ravens swept the Steelers is anyone's guess, but the sign of a good head coach is when his team doesn't quit on the season. Baltimore didn't force its fans to suffer through a mailed-in effort on Sunday. This was particularly the secondary, which, after a couple of weeks of horrid play, held down the fort in a manner it hadn't all season long -- i.e., the DBs covered guys in the opposite jersey. Big-time pick, Jimmy Smith. (The second one, too -- even though it didn't count for anything more than some extra cardio work.)
Blaine Gabbert provided another performance that gives the organization something to build upon ... even if the former No. 10 overall pick isn't the guy next year. Gabbert completed 22 of his 33 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions
in Detroit. The downer? A 1-for-11 mark from the offense on third and fourth down.
OK, back to next season. The issue going forward is that there aren't going to be many guys available in free agency or the draft, so we might indeed be looking at San Francisco's 2016 opening-day starter. Definitely seems like it could happert, uh, happen.
The Chargers gave it all they had Thursday night, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Much like in Philly, Miami and Nashville, conjecture is beginning to permeate about the head-coach position -- in this case, the status of third-year boss Mike McCoy. What a disappointment for an organization that has at least been in contention the previous two seasons. And that is merely a sidelight to the issue of relocation ... Here's hoping the San Diego Chargers stay put in San Diego.
" Cowboys need another receiver" -- Ike Taylor on the set of "NFL Gameday Blitz." Can't disagree. No one has been able to make plays on the offense without a productive, healthy Dez Bryant on the other side or Tony Romo in the pocket. We sincerely hope that people are catching on that the Dallas defense isn't even close to the problem. That group has kept the offense in games.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.