NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Patriots retake No. 1; Chiefs rise

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Shakeup at the top. Shakeup on the Rams. Movement everywhere.

Three of the top five teams from last week's pecking order lost: the Cowboys, Raiders and Seahawks.

It's also that time of the year when playoff races -- and the proverbial seats of certain coaches -- really start to heat up. Guessing John Fassel will not be the only interim head coach we see this season.

While I don't expect teams to plummet or ascend 10 spots over the next couple of weeks, much of the volatility in this week's rankings spawns from the fact that many of the second-tier squads won, or keep winning (think: Giants, Redskins, Bucs, Packers, Dolphins, here). Can't always keep teams in the same locale when everyone behind them is taking care of business (sorry, Ravens).

Those are my initial thoughts. What about yours?

No.

Maybe they were all out at a Candlebox concert. They're dropping, dude.

Seattle stays in the top 10 this week, although that won't be the case much longer if Pete Carroll's guys fall to the Fassel-led Rams on a short week. For the full rundown, see below. Feel free to share your take, as always: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Dec. 6 Power Rankings.

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1

11-2 PATRIOTS

1

For the first time in weeks, there's a new No. 1. (OK, it's an old No. 1 -- but you get it.) While we're at it, there might be a new frontrunner for MVP. Tom Brady put over four hundy on the league's top statistical defense. Now that is saying something. Yeah, he missed the first four games, but a 22:2 TD-to-INT ratio while leading the league's top team speaks pretty loudly. Two other factoids about our No. 1 team that really jump off the page:

A) LeGarrette Blount is destroying dudes on the other side this year. The man already has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns.
B) Do you think anyone besides Patriots fans know that Matt Patricia's defense allows the second-fewest points in the league? Best QB + power RB + stingy D = top contender.

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2

11-2 COWBOYS

1

The defense, bless Rod Marinelli's heart, has been playing over its head. Ezekiel Elliott delivered the quietest 100-yard game since any of Troy Hambrick's 100-yard outbursts. Meanwhile, the passing game has been mostly absent for three weeks now. Dak Prescott has thrown for 195, 139 and 165 yards, with just three touchdown passes against three giveaways. Here's the deal: Dak has enjoyed a fantastic rookie campaign, far exceeding what anyone expected. But use the eye test. The Giants went conservative on offense late because they didn't think Prescott could beat their defense. Now he'll have to rebound against the hottest defense in the league, with Tampa Bay coming to Dallas for "Sunday Night Football."

One last thought: Don't blame Dez Bryant's fumble for the loss. Bryant almost never fumbles, and that was a bang-bang play that happened in a millisecond -- whereas both quarterbacks had 3-5 seconds before making some of those errant throws.

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3

10-3 CHIEFS

2

Obviously an important win over the Raiders in terms of the AFC West race. But don't sleep on home-field advantage for these guys. Anything can happen over these last three weeks, including the Patriots losing in Denver and Miami. Likely? Perhaps not. But those are two cities in which Bill Belichick has had trouble over the years. The Chiefs will get that No. 2 seed if they win out. Man oh man is that easier to do with Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford playing together. (Maybe I should have said man on man.)

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4

10-3 RAIDERS

1

Tough, tough loss for the Raiders last Thursday -- big setback in the grand scheme of things. Oakland not only fell behind in the race for home-field, but the Raiders very well could be playing for a wild-card slot. That hasn't been determined yet, but there is quite a difference between being a No. 1 or 2 seed vs. being a wild card. Having the bye AND the Divisional Round home game is huge. The defeat in Kansas City wasn't the Raiders' best moment, but I stand behind my opinion of Derek Carr and Khalil Mack both being MVP candidates.

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5

8-4-1 SEAHAWKS

1

Expected the Seahawks to lose in Lambeau, although I wasn't 100 percent sure. Never could've guessed Russell Wilson would throw five interceptions, even if three inches of snow fell into his right hand while he was throwing the football at a secondary full of Charles Woodsons. This is a quarterback who, entering Sunday's contest, had tossed five picks all season. The most he had ever thrown in a regular-season game before was three, which happened once ( in his fourth NFL game). Of course, he did have four picks against the Pack in the NFC Championship Game two years ago. So maybe Dom Capers has Wilson's number? Weird.

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8-5 STEELERS

3

Start thinking about all the productive running backs the Steelers have boasted since their inaugural season in 1933, and Le'Veon Bell's franchise-record 236 rushing yards on Sunday becomes even more impressive. John Henry Johnson, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Barry Foster, Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall all posted 1,000-yard seasons in black and gold. Former Steelers running back -- and Supreme Court Justice -- Byron "Whizzer" White never did it, despite leading the league in rushing. Ditto "Bullet" Bill Dudley. Thirty-eight carries for the Steelers back on Sunday. Now that's what I call a Bell cow. (Nailed it!) Eat your heart out, Zeke.

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7

9-4 LIONS

So weird. The Lions' season defies explanation. How can a team trail in the fourth quarter in 12 of 13 games ... and go 9-4? Matthew Stafford, whom I touted as an MVP candidate on last Friday's "Total Access," didn't play like one on Sunday. Well, until the final drive, when Detroit had to have a drive. Once again, there was Anquan Boldin delivering a clutch catch-and-run in the game's defining stanza. What a fantastic (late) free-agent pickup he turned out to be.

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8

9-4 GIANTS

2

It's not often that the ol' free agency spending spree works out. We saw the Eagles' "Dream Team" their way to .500. How about the 2000 Redskins? A playoff team in 1999, Washington added Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Mark Carrier and Andre Reed ... and finished third in the division and missed the postseason. Well, these Giants are bucking the trend, as their defensive overhaul has worked out swimmingly. Olivier Vernon wasn't getting sacks early on, but he has pressured the pocket all season. Janoris Jenkins delivered a dominant performance Sunday night. And what more can you say about Damon "Snacks" Harrison, who is a top run-stuffing DT? (Oh, do the Jets miss him ...) The only thing I wonder is if Vernon's agent sounded like this when he asked for that $52 million guaranteed.

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8-5 BRONCOS

3

Much to get to here...

1) First thought after the loss in Tennessee is that the Broncos have an uphill battle to snag an AFC wild-card slot. With the Dolphins winning, grabbing that last spot in the AFC will be challenging.
2) The impending sked is quite imposing: vs. Patriots, at Chiefs, vs. Raiders.
3) Demaryius Thomas played his butt off in Nashville.
4) Trevor Siemian received plenty of credit for his 300-yard game, but it took more than 50 attempts to get there, which means dink-and-dunk heaven.
5) Aqib Talib gave up one pass -- one stinking ball -- to Rishard Matthews late, and it was costly. With the Broncos' offense as clunky as it is, there is just too much pressure on the defense to always be perfect. Too much to ask.

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10

7-5-1 REDSKINS

1

Kirk Cousins delivered when his team needed him to, as speculated in last week's Power Rankings. The franchise QB-to-be bounced back from a fourth-quarter pick-six to convert a key fourth down and march the Redskins 77 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. He averaged a sterling 11.1 yards per attempt on an economical 21 throws, delivering a majestic moon ball that only DeSean Jackson could track. Before we go: Clutch play, Ryan Kerrigan. #HTTR

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8-5 FALCONS

1

Well, I guess Sunday in Los Angeles was no trap game. Admiral Ackbar can calm down. So can the fans who think Matt Ryan's brilliant campaign hasn't been noticed. If we are talking solely 2016, Ryan is indeed in the MVP conversation. The only quarterback clearly ahead of him in the race is Derek Carr -- and perhaps Tom Brady. Although you can make the case that missing the first four games -- and having New England go 3-1 in those games -- works against the Patriots quarterback. Then maybe there's Matt Stafford. Anyhow, Ryan was phenomenal in L.A., tossing three touchdowns without his WR1 and WR2.

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7-6 PACKERS

2

As laid out in the Game Picks column last week, Aaron Rodgers has been darn-near unbeatable at home in December over the course of his career. Sunday's win at Lambeau made it 16-2 for the Packers' noticeably hobbled quarterback in that setting. While Mr. Rodgers performed better than Samwise Gamgee taking on a fat, hairy spider, masterfully handling the conditions (physical and environmental), Dom Capers' D delivered its finest performance in years: six takeaways, three sacks and 10 points allowed against a team that just hung 40 on the Panthers. Didn't mean to go from hobbled to hobbit up there, but whatever -- I'm not editing it.

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13

8-5 BUCCANEERS

Underrated NFL narrative of December: The dominance of the Tampa defense. Since Week 10, the Bucs have allowed all of 12.8 points per game, the stingiest mark in the NFL. They've recorded 14 takeaways in that time span, an astronomical figure that also leads the league. And coming into the game versus the Saints, the Bucs were allowing opposing quarterbacks a scant 67.3 passer rating -- again, tops in the league. Drew Brees' mark on Sunday: 48.5.

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7-6 RAVENS

6

Don't like moving the Ravens down six spots after the Monday night loss, but I have no choice. Every team that was immediately behind Baltimore won, all in impressive fashion. The Steelers Le'Veon Belled the Bills. The Giants stifled the Cowboys (again). The Redskins prevailed on the road versus a division opponent. The Falcons and Packers flat smoked their opponents. And the Bucs' defense is playing lights out. The Ravens' top-notch defense became another notch on Tom Brady's belt, allowing nearly 500 yards of offense. Baltimore must regroup quickly, because it will take at least two more wins to grab the final wild-card slot in the AFC.

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15

8-5 DOLPHINS

Huge win/ huge loss for the Dolphins on Sunday. At 8-5 after the rain-soaked victory, Miami is right in the mix for the sixth spot. But if the Fins are to make the postseason for the first time since 2008, Adam Gase's group will have to do it with a whole lotta Matt Moore. Ryan Tannehill is out for at least the next couple weeks -- if not the season -- with a sprained ACL/MCL. As backup quarterbacks go, Moore is top-notch. Can he produce against the Jets? Everybody else does.

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7-6 TEXANS

6

The Texans defied the odds on Sunday in Indy -- and in the process, defied nearly every analyst I know. Given the state of Brock Osweiler's play, and the Texans' history versus the Colts, it was sooooo easy to take Indy in Week 14. What Bill O'Brien's club proved, for the 500th time (at least) in NFL history, is that running the football and playing solid team defense will never go out of style. The Broncos won the Super Bowl last year with similar schematics. Houston might have won the AFC South behind Lamar Miller's 107 rushing yards and the defense's three takeaways.

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17

7-6 VIKINGS

1

Ride the defense. The Vikes put the blueprint for pulling out of their tailspin on display in Jacksonville on Sunday. Get an efficient game from Sam Bradford, run just enough to be balanced and lean on the backbone of this team: those 11 dudes, and I mean dudes, on defense. They didn't force any turnovers and even allowed Blake Bortles a few third-down conversions. Yet, you look at the scoreboard and see yet another game where Minnesota didn't give an opponent 20 points.

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18

6-7 COLTS

1

Oddball call on the final offensive play, a play that might have cost the Colts the AFC South. A screen pass to a running back on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line? Thought Bart Scott on CBS postgame made a great point that, if you are going to call a screen, it should be a bubble screen to a wide receiver ... not one to a running back, who can get caught up in the traffic of hard-charging pass rushers. It would be like having a backup safety take a snap from a wide receiver on a fake-punt play while the rest of his special teams unit looks on in disbelief. Like that would ever happen.

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7-6 TITANS

4

The Titans will not go away. After looking thoroughly unimpressive in a tight win over the lowly Bears, Tennessee capitalized on its late bye week, looking certifiably impressive against the defending champs. Should've trusted my gut and picked the Titans, a physical team coming off a week of rest. Mike Mularkey's ruthless running attack was indeed stout (42 carries for 180 yards). But that defense, y'all. Dick LeBeau's unit was all over Trevor Siemian and completely shut down the run, giving up a mere 10 points in a game the Titans had to have.

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6-7 BILLS

4

Was going to run right by this blurb to type the Bengals section. I knew no one here would stop me. Oh, by the way, No. 26 in white's name is LAY-vee-on Bell. He's really, really good. How a defense with as much talent as the Bills' unit let a back put up 298 yards of offense on a day the Steelers' passing game could do nothing is anyone's guess. On another note, sure would like to see the Bills turn Tyrod Taylor loose. Seems like he plays under wraps often. If he fails, fine. No risk, no return. Am I seeing this wrong, Bills Mafia? ( @HarrisonNFL)

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21

5-7-1 BENGALS

3

Two wins in a row for the Bengals, although beating a winless team in December only carries so much weight. Notable was the effective play of Andy Dalton (also for the second consecutive week), the productivity of Jeremy Hill (25 carries for 111 yards) and a defense that wouldn't let the Browns' offense off the mat. With the Broncos' loss and the Dolphins losing Ryan Tannehill, Cincy could hope for a miracle. Hey, the Steelers needed a miracle to win that wild-card game last year, and got two of them -- so it is possible. (Too soon? Yep. Too soon.)

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22

5-8 PANTHERS

4

Fine defensive performance turned in by the Panthers on Sunday, sans leader Luke Kuechly, who was still in concussion protocol. The pass rush and secondary worked in concert to get Philip Rivers' bolo tie all in a wad. At this point, Carolina isn't playing for anything but pride, but it didn't look like it Sunday. OK, OK -- I'll temper the enthusiasm. The offense stunk up the joint most of the afternoon. Graham Gano enjoyed himself a heckuva day, though. Alright, I'll stop. Hey, this is a 5-8 team; I'm doing the best I can here.

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23

5-7-1 CARDINALS

4

Welp. A season full of promise in early September appears to be over in early December. With Arizona dropping to 5-7-1 -- and the Giants, Redskins, Packers and Buccaneers all winning -- the Cards would need a billion things to go their way to make the postseason. Including, but not limited to, the Falcons and Vikings losing out, and the Redskins dropping two of three ... and ... and ... forget it. We're as likely to see Roy "Jet Stream" Green come out of retirement and catch some balls from Timm Rosenbach as we are to see this Cardinals group in the tournament.

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24

5-8 SAINTS

3

Doesn't look like the Saints' track-meet offense out there, does it? When is the last time you saw Drew Brees throw six picks and no TDs over a two-game stretch? Bucs safety Keith Tandy read Brees' eyes and flat stole the ball ballgame, as well as any fleeting hopes New Orleans had of making a playoff run. Lost in the recent struggles is the competitive play of Dennis Allen's defense, which, frankly, kept the Saints viable Sunday.

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5-8 CHARGERS

5

No team's had worse luck on the injury front than the Chargers. And we're going back a few years now. Mike McCoy lost Melvin Gordon and Joey Bosa on Sunday. Kinda important -- his best offensive and defensive players. Philip Rivers tried to mitigate the loss of his star running back, and with poor results. There's no getting around that Rivers has played poorly the last two weeks, often forcing throws when he should've just lived to play another down. Frustrating for Rivers, frustrating to watch.

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26

5-8 EAGLES

1

The Eagles made it interesting Sunday, with the ball and a chance late in the fourth quarter. Carson Wentz couldn't pull out the win, although the rookie quarterback bounced back nicely after a miserable outing in Cincinnati. To be honest, many of the issues with Wentz have nothing to do with Wentz. The Eagles are devoid of playmakers on offense. Losing Darren Sproles in the second half didn't help, either. That said, big ups to Trey Burton, who not only caught seven balls but volunteered to deep snap on Philly's go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter (and delivered). Maybe the Cardinals should trade for him.

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27

3-10 BEARS

1

Disparage Matt Barkley all you want, folks. Well, hopefully Bears fans are giving their new starter love. Sure, the guy wasn't lights-out, but I see much resilience and composure in him, à la Dak Prescott. Perhaps Barkley is destined to become a career backup. Especially if Bears receivers continue to be allergic to the football. Another huge drop Sunday, this time courtesy of Cameron Meredith, on a play that could've changed the complexion of the final drive. On the other side of the ball, what if Chicago defensive backs could intercept every QB as well as they do Matt Stafford?

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28

4-9 RAMS

1

The dismissal of Jeff Fisher topped off a not fun stretch for this organization. First there was the story that won't die: The purported lack of a welcome mat for Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson. Then the reported rift between Fisher and GM Les Snead. Followed by a trouncing at hands of the Falcons, who jumped out to a 42-0 lead without their top two wide receivers. Going off owner Stan Kroenke's statement, the Rams will be swinging for the fences on their next head coach hire. No, it won't be Jon Gruden. Tom Coughlin?

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29

4-9 JETS

Nobody was watching Jets-49ers late Sunday afternoon, save for your hack writer and a gaggle of fans on the left and right coasts. Yet the Jets win in San Francisco was a gut-check -- check that -- a heart-check win. As in, the media and fans were questioning Gang Green's heart after that prime-time embarrassment versus the Colts. On Sunday, New York went down 14-0 in the first quarter and didn't close up shop. The defense tightened. Nick Folk hit a clutch 50-yard field goal. Bryce Petty competed his butt off, even if the numbers didn't necessarily reflect that. Hey, here is a sign of a quality head coach: His team comes off a horrific blowout loss, has nothing to play for, then pulls out a road win the following Sunday.

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30

2-11 JAGUARS

Heard Gus Bradley on Sirius XM NFL Radio this past week talking about how close the Jaguars are, and that all these losses have come down to one possession in the fourth quarter. I have always liked Bradley, going back to his days running the Seahawks' defense ... but that's a tough sell. The regression of the offense stands front and center, as that unit has free-fallen from 14th in points per game last year to 27th this season. The run game, which was supposed to be prioritized with the addition of Chris Ivory, has been a nonfactor for large chunks of the season, affecting down and distance. Too many three-and-outs. OK, we're out. On to a worse team.

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31

1-12 49ERS

Not sure what happened to the 49ers' offense after jumping out to a 14-zip lead versus the Jets. Another missed opportunity for Chip Kelly, who has seen his team be in position to win a couple of games recently ... only to come up short (SEE: at Arizona, at Miami). Nobody can say these guys aren't playing for their head coach. It would be nice if Phil Dawson made those kicks, too. That is, unless you heartless jerks just want San Francisco to get a high pick. Don't answer that. Next up: at Atlanta.

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0-13 BROWNS

Realize there are Browns fans who would like to see Cody Kessler get more run at quarterback, in the interest of evaluation. Cleveland had to start RGIII. This was the quarterback the organization acquired to start in 2016. Griffin "won" the job. The Browns couldn't bench him after one half of football this season. So when RGIII was ready, he was going to play. After watching that flea-flicker, I am comfortable with the team starting Kessler.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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