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NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Chargers closing in on No. 1 spot

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As we head into Week 16, comebacks fill the air. Footballs don't.

Ground attacks and solid defense both made their way back into the NFL mainstream this past weekend. Points were down, as the Redskins, Colts, Titans, Bills, Browns, Ravens, Falcons, Vikings, Bears, Bengals, Steelers and Saints all won while keeping their opponents at 17 points or fewer. Meanwhile, a number of young running backs -- like Jaylen Samuels, Kalen Ballage, Dalvin Cook, Gus Edwards, Nick Chubb and Marlon Mack -- logged 100 yards rushing. For Samuels and Ballage, it was their first such NFL outing. Cook joined the century club for just the second time -- and first since his pro debut back in September of 2017. Tevin Coleman made a triumphant return to 100-yard productivity, as well. Overall, 10 guys hit that mark, with all but two of them helping their respective teams win.

Helping an organization be successful is a major source of motivation for a player attempting to mount a personal comeback. In that regard, no one has been better than Andrew Luck, who led his Colts to yet another win on their way to what could be a wild-card berth. J.J. Watt is right behind him, having been a huge factor in the Texans' road win on Saturday. Yet, this past weekend, one man stood above all.

Josh Johnson has been a part of 12 NFL teams and hadn't started a game since 2011. He got his first win at 32 years old, to keep his Redskins in the playoff race. Now that's a comeback.

Agreed.

Watt's Texans escaped New York like Kurt Russell. They didn't move up with the win, however. Houston's top competition jumped way up, as Indy shut out the Cowboys. For the full rundown, read further. Your take is always welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for "The Power Rankings Show." Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts in a tweet to @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.

RANK

1

SAINTS (12-2)

Previous rank: No. 1

The Saints didn't resemble anything close to an elite team Monday night, as the Panthers slowed down New Orleans' top-shelf offense all game. What the Saints did accomplish was inching closer to home-field advantage by eking out a division road game, never an easy task in the NFL. Moreover, for all those fingering New Orleans' weaknesses, you should remember that the Saints just finished up a three-game road trip: first, taking on a geeked-up Cowboys defense ready for blood like Kiefer Sutherland in "Lost Boys," then battling the desperate Bucs (who were clinging to even more desperate playoff fantasies), then Carolina. The Panthers were also playing for their postseason lives, yet New Orleans outlasted dem boys, too. The Saints have so many ways they can beat your favorite team -- they are simply drawing on those resources more than they needed to earlier this season, when Drew Brees was torching secondaries on a weekly basis.

RANK

2

CHARGERS (11-3)

3

Previous rank: No. 5

The Chargers are the Michael Myers of the NFL right now -- which is better, I think, than being the Michael Bolton (getting no respect). That is to say, the Bolts are a scary group. The Anthony Lynn-guided outfit beat the Chiefs on Thursday night -- in Arrowhead, mind you -- while still being far from full strength. Not only were they without RB1 Melvin Gordon, they were without RB2 Austin Ekeler, too. In fact, the Bolts have been down a man (or two) all year. Right when their game wrecker on defense returned to form, their fantasy-points Pez Dispenser got hurt. When Joey Bosa, Gordon and Ekeler are all in action at the same time again -- whether that happens in Week 16 or 17 -- look out. Then there's second-year receiver Mike Williams, who enjoyed his finest game all season, with three touchdowns and the outcome-deciding two-point conversion. And, of course, the Chargers wouldn't have gotten where they did without Hunter Henry. (PSA for the uninitiated: The tight end returned to practice Monday after missing all of this season thus far with an ACL tear.)

RANK

3

CHIEFS (11-3)

1

Previous rank: No. 2

The Chiefs' lack of balance bit them in the cold of Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night. No, I'm not just talking about the running back situation, which, in the wake of Kareem Hunt's departure, is problematic without a healthy Spencer Ware. My concern is the constant leaning on Patrick Mahomes to outscore the other offense. Kansas City couldn't make it happen on Thursday night, and the Chiefs lost -- consider it version 3.0 of a problem that came to bear in the Monday night track meet with the Rams and the loss to the Patriots in Week 6. When you score 28 points at home, that should be seen as "enough," not a disappointing final tally. That said, the Mahomes-led attack needed more from a ground game that produced 60 yards. The offense as a whole garnered less than 300 yards for the first time this season.

RANK

4

BEARS (10-4)

2

Previous rank: No. 6

Caught up with my good friend (and semi-loyal reader) @TurkNorton on Sunday. He was overjoyed, because the Bears are enjoying a good year, irrespective of whether they clinched the division. I asked him what surprised him most about how 2018 has played out for the Windy City's favorite sons. "Matt Nagy. After watching the stagnant play-calling last year ... watching the way he uses his utility players. When the whole team can be behind every play ... I think that makes the locker room strong." My buddy is from Naperville, Illinois, and upon meeting him the first time, he showed me his kickoff return TD in '98 from high school. (You can look it up on the internet.) What does @TurkNorton see as Chicago's biggest strength going forward? "Offensive play-calling. The defense is great, but after watching that Rams game and how they negated Aaron Donald ... I mean, if anybody else is gonna beat us, cool. But (the Rams) are the tops of the NFC right now. Anyway, the play-calling and offensive scheme will keep defenses on their heels." Biggest concern? " Cody Parkey. Missed a few kicks a few weeks ago, and kicking seems more difficult than it used to be. He is super-jacked, though." We, uh, had to edit some of his take. This is a family website.

On another note: If Mitch Trubisky plays like he did in the win over the Packers on Sunday, the Bears can beat anyone in the tournament. Nagy: A prime Coach of the Year candidate. Most importantly, I love the division title for Chicago fans. Put another way:

RANK

5

RAMS (11-3)

2

Previous rank: No. 3

Another so-so showing from the Rams has many league observers wondering where Sean McVay's team resides in the pantheon of Super Bowl wannabes. Two weeks ago, Los Angeles sleepwalked through most of an afternoon in Detroit and won. One week back, the Rams were clobbered in Chicago. This past Sunday night? They were taken down by the Eagles, who appeared more Super Bowl-ready than their hosts. Maybe it was the Nick Foles effect. Or maybe opposing DCs are preparing more effectively for McVay's offense, with a 30-game catalogue to study and no Cooper Kupp to cover. There is not a high quantity of slot receivers who can get open vertically.

RANK

6

PATRIOTS (9-5)

2

Previous rank: No. 4

Gloom and doom in New England following another loss this past weekend. Frankly, the Steelers were desperate enough (and are capable enough) to beat any team at Heinz. Been hearing the whispers about the slow roll downward of Tom Brady's play. These are overblown. Admittedly, Brady is not enjoying his finest season, but he's been far from subpar. Of his 11 misses at Heinz Field, several were on throws into tight coverage or on hurried end-game attempts. He did seem to shy away from pressure up the middle on the game's final toss, fading to his left before flicking the ball with his feet nowhere near set, which only furthers the idea that Brady might now indeed be mortal. Putting only a touchdown and a field goal on the board ain't enough, and Brady would be the first to say that. The encouraging sign here -- and the reason to believe all the "Pats are done" chatter is simply that: chatter -- is that the defense allowed 17 points after getting embarrassed in Miami. New England stunk against the run (again), but rarely broke. Only the Ravens have held Pittsburgh to fewer points at home this year, and they're the top scoring defense in the league.

RANK

7

TEXANS (10-4)

Previous rank: No. 7

The Texans hardly inspired confidence out at the Big Snoopy on Saturday afternoon. In a game where Deshaun Watson wanted the team to assert itself as an AFC power, Houston barely managed to ground the Jets in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to DeAndre Hopkins' spidey arms making a couple of slick grabs down the stretch, as well as inspired play from the front four. J.J. Watt, in particular, was hard to miss ... or block. As mentioned in the intro, not too long ago, most folks -- even avid Texans fans -- wondered if Watt would ever be the same player again following two injury-interrupted seasons. Now, Watt has 14.5 sacks, 54 tackles and a league-leading six forced fumbles.

Side note: While Watt pummels quarterbacks, his own QB gets pummeled ... repeatedly. Watson has been sacked 52 times this year, which is the most in the NFL. And he's been hit 105 times, also the most in the NFL. Yikes.

RANK

8

COLTS (8-6)

3

Previous rank: No. 11

Hmm. Think the Colts sent a message on Sunday. Indy enters the top 10 for the first time in years with a rout of the Cowboys. The last time Indy shut out an opponent, Bjoern Werner got a sack. That tells you how long ago that was (Week 7, 2014). DC Matt Eberflus dialed up all the right calls in stonewalling the Cowboys' offense, particularly when it mattered. It helps when you play against your former employers. Dallas dominated time of possession in the first half -- and put up exactly nil to show for it. Colts running back Marlon Mack played wingman to Eberflus' defensive effort, rushing 27 times for 139 yards and two tugs. Can't wait until that Week 17 beauty in Nashville. Colts will win that sucker, too.

RANK

9

STEELERS (8-5-1)

3

Previous rank: No. 12

Stressful being a fan, isn't it? The waning moments in Heinz Field were not for the faint of heart. If you fainted watching Tom Brady's last pass go airborne, who could blame you? No Pittsburgh contest goes down easy these days. Sunday's thriller marked the fifth straight Steelers outing determined by one score. Despite Pittsburgh's penchant for going "empty" on offense (no RBs), a third-string running back was imperative to Mike Tomlin's group staying in first place in the AFC North. Jaylen Samuels picked up 172 yards on 21 touches, outgaining all of the Patriots' RBs combined. With James Conner's ankle still wonky, Samuels could be huge in terms of eating yards and clock in New Orleans this week, limiting Drew Brees' possessions.

Side note: The Steelers' all-black unis are cool, but they kind of look like what teams wear in movies where the filmmakers couldn't get the rights to NFL properties. You know, like when Johnny Unitas roamed the sidelines at Texas Stadium in "Any Given Sunday" donning gear that rivaled the costumes at the Dallas Medieval Times? Wasn't he coaching the "Knights"?

RANK

10

RAVENS (8-6)

Previous rank: No. 10

After topping Tampa, the Ravens inch ever closer to an AFC wild-card berth, if not the AFC North title. With the Steelers taking down the Patriots, Baltimore still lingers a half-game back in the division. The Ravens have a hella challenging game out at StubHub this weekend, with a potential loss, on first glance, setting them back in the hunt for the North. However, with Pittsburgh traveling to New Orleans, Baltimore probably will either gain a game or stay a half-game back, presuming a Steelers loss. In Week 17, the Ravens host the pesky Browns, while the Steelers will meet the equally feisty Bengals, who are fresh off a win over the Raiders. Call your friendly writer silly, but methinks this Baltimore defense matches up well with the Bolts, particularly with the Chargers' RB situation somewhat in flux.

RANK

11

SEAHAWKS (8-6)

3

Previous rank: No. 8

Right when all data pointed to the Seahawks gliding toward the fifth seed in the NFC, one loss puts even the sixth spot in doubt -- not a pound of doubt, to be fair, but a pinch. At 8-6, Seattle remains in the pole position. At issue are the Eagles, Redskins and Vikings, all of whom won their games Sunday and are nipping at the 'Hawks' heels. With the Chiefs coming to town this weekend, Seattle is in danger of falling behind Minnesota and even the NFC East combatants for those two postseason slots. A pair of notes from the loss in San Francisco:

A) How is it that, sandwiched around the Seahawks pecking Kirk Cousins enough to make him mediocre, Nick Mullens went 50-for-77 for 689 yards, three TDs and a pick against Seattle in two games?

B) Despite decent numbers, Russell Wilson was off late -- when the outcome was in doubt -- in the loss to the Niners. That followed a 72-yard passing day the previous week. Wilson was once a dark-horse MVP contender. Now Seattle needs its franchise quarterback to step up to stay in contention.

RANK

12

VIKINGS (7-6-1)

1

Previous rank: No. 13

Task: Handled. The most lovely factoid emanating from the Vikes' 41-17 win over the Dolphins? Dalvin Cook finally receiving some semblance of a workload. Minnesota's dynamic RB1 has been anything but this season, but that's due more to a lack of opportunity than anything else. It's hard to sell Honda Civics if your dealership doesn't provide you any Civics to sell. Cook took his 19 carries and spun them into 136 rushing yards and two scores. Throw in 68 from his caddy, Latavius Murray, and Minnesota controlled the clock for over 33 minutes. At 7-6-1, the Vikings own the inside track to the NFC's sixth seed, with both the Packers and Panthers falling.

Side note: Watching Miami play at Minnesota, I couldn't help but recall former Vikings great Cris Carter coming out of retirement to play for the Dolphins, only to face his former team, back in 2002. With the game on the line, a portly (?) Carter dropped a Jay Fiedler delivery in the end zone to lose the day. Carter in aqua and orange: still weird.

RANK

13

TITANS (8-6)

1

Previous rank: No. 14

The Titans impressed on Sunday. No, seriously. Make that three wins in a row for the wild-card hopefuls, with the last two Ws coming courtesy of a suffocating defense. Tennessee yielded a grand total of 260 yards of total offense to the Giants on Sunday, while allowing Eli Manning to have the football for only 24 minutes, 39 seconds. Look no further than the front seven's performance against New York RB Saquon Barkley, who's ripped everybody for 100 yards or more this year; against the seemingly playoff-ready Titans, Barkley could only manage 56 yards. Now for the Negative Nancy section of this blurb: The passing "attack" is still woeful. Marcus Mariota attempted 20 passes for a grand total of 88 yards. Get excited.

RANK

14

COWBOYS (8-6)

5

Previous rank: No. 9

Surprisingly, the Cowboys' defense laid a turd on the Lucas Oil turf. After a 455-yard passing performance from Dak Prescott in Week 14 that was more built on Amari Cooper and good fortune than it was Dan Fouts-esque, Prescott went 24-for-39 for 206 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. And a chunk of those yards came in garbage time, with Dallas already trailing, 23-0. Prescott was far from the only problem, as the Cowboys dropped a few passes and the offensive line dropped the ball in general. Bottom line: Zero points is zero points. There is no excuse. Indy has played like a postseason-bound team for two months, with a defense that is playoff-ready but not dominant. Sunday's performance was as ugly as it gets from the Dallas offense, whether you blame DP, JG or S(&)L. You know, the play-calling has oft been unintentional comedy.

RANK

15

EAGLES (7-7)

3

Previous rank: No. 18

They're lurking. The defending champs looked the part Sunday night, perhaps for the first time all season. Was it due to Nick Foles? The backup-turned-starter-turned-backup received his latest turn in the rotation, with winning results. Even when he didn't make fine throws, all came up roses. Consider his deep ball to Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter, which was definitely underthrown -- but Jeffery and Nelson Agholor were so open, they were practically flailing their arms for a fair catch, so it didn't matter that the toss was short. Foles' lone turnover was not of heavy consequence, despite being deep in Rams territory, as Philadelphia's defense eventually halted the ensuing L.A. drive in the red zone. That Rams possession led to a field goal in what was then a 30-13 game, but it ate up a large chunk of the fourth quarter in the process -- time that would become precious in the waning moments. Please, no annoying quarterback-controversy jazz. Enjoy the win responsibly.

RANK

16

BROWNS (6-7-1)

3

Previous rank: No. 19

Fantastic win for the Browns on Saturday night. So much to like, starting with Cleveland's brief time with a slightly more realistic chance to make the playoffs (at least until the Steelers won the next day). When is the last time heading into Week 16 anyone was using the words "Browns" and "playoffs" in the same sentence? Try 2007. Although it doesn't feel like it, that was 11 years ago. It's been 25 years since Cleveland had a quarterback with the kind of swagger remotely comparable to Baker Mayfield. Well, Bernie Kosar's swagger was having no swagger before efficiently Brian Brennan-ing your favorite team to death. (Which is having swagger. Obvi.) Mayfield was hardly solely responsible for this win, as the defense came up large in several spots, like on each of the Broncos' final two forays. RB Nick Chubb pitched in with 100 yards rushing, including 53 on Cleveland's final drive to salt away the game clock.

Back to Mayfield: The rookie was not spectacular against the Broncos, but, as per usual, he was stellar in the red zone. Mayfield went 3-for-3 with a touchdown pass, pushing his passer rating in the NFL's version of the paint to 117.1. The only guy who sits higher on that chart is Drew Brees, at 117.3. Considering that is where the field is squished, and a place where even veteran quarterbacks press, Mayfield's numbers as a rookie are uber-impressive.

RANK

17

BRONCOS (6-8)

Previous rank: No. 17

Once in the thick of the playoff race, the Broncos dropped consecutive winnable games to crash out of contention. Losing to the 49ers in Week 14 was bad, as Denver's defense held a clear advantage over a Niners offense starting its QB3 (Nick Mullens) and RB3 (Jeffery Wilson). And although the Browns have proven to be far more viable than usual this season, laying an egg at home with the whole country watching was particularly disappointing. Couple other thoughts:

A) Vance Joseph should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 at the Browns' 6-yard line, with Denver trailing 17-13 and less than five minutes remaining. Even if the Broncos don't convert, they can play defense with a crowd so juiced that Baker Mayfield can't hear himself think. And even if Cleveland picks up a few first downs, that still only puts them at midfield. Instead, Denver kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 17-16 -- which ended up being the final score.

B) How did Case Keenum not anticipate that blitz from Jabrill Peppers? The guy was up on the line, not exactly selling a faux blitz. Keenum, like any veteran quarterback, must know the DNA of the opposing defensive coordinator -- or, in this case, interim head coach. Gregg Williams wasn't playing coverage at that stage of the game.

RANK

18

PACKERS (5-8-1)

3

Previous rank: No. 15

The Packers will not be taking part in the postseason tourney for a second straight year. Perspective: Even with no pressure, there were a few plays where Aaron Rodgers looked unlike, say, 2011 Aaron Rodgers. The offense left a couple of touchdowns on the table. Defensively, nice stop on Matt Nagy's (too cute) fake-punt attempt. Green Bay took advantage of the short field and put eight points on the board to tie this classic tilt at 14. Ultimately, Mitchell Trubisky made plays that Rodgers didn't, or couldn't, while the Chicago defense procured five sacks to clinch the division. Surprising? Not really. Loved Rodgers' postgame comment about his teammates, although he fumbled his way through it (not that he ever fumbles). I get older, they stay the same age. Rodgers couldn't nail McConaughey's creepiness in that classic scene. Maybe if Equanimeous St. Brown were standing outside of a pool hall?

RANK

19

REDSKINS (7-7)

4

Previous rank: No. 23

Among many storylines on Sunday -- most of them playoff-centric -- a special story played out in Jacksonville. Sure, the Redskins kept their playoff hopes alive with a late win, pushing their record to 7-7. And Adrian Peterson, held in check all day, got physical late to grind out a crucial first down, setting up Washington's field goal as the clock moved to 0:00. But the real takeaway was a lesson of perseverance. Josh Johnson hadn't started an NFL game since 2011. The guy didn't take a single regular-season snap from 2014 through 2017. Yet there he was Sunday, on his 12th NFL team, staring down the Jags defense, down 13-6 with half the fourth quarter gone. No problem. Johnson went 5-for-6 on the ensuing drive with a touchdown toss in the red zone to draw even at 13-13. After a Jags turnover, Johnson and Peterson maneuvered the Redskins into position to let kicker Dustin Hopkins ice this deal. Johnson ran off the field with his first career win as an NFL starter, at the tender age of 32.

Side note: Johnson was seen limping after the game. The Oakland native shrugged it off. "I haven't been hit in two years," Johnson said with a laugh, via the Washington Post. "I haven't played a 300-pound defensive lineman like Calais Campbell and (Yannick) Ngakoue. My body's getting acclimated. There's a lot of things I'm doing on speed dial right now." Bet ya a cool Mountain Dew a lot of folks in Johnson's inner circle dialed him up after Hopkins' boot sailed through the uprights. What a story.

RANK

20

DOLPHINS (7-7)

4

Previous rank: No. 16

With postseason dreams dancing around like Snowflake in "Ace Ventura," the Dolphins took a deep dive in the fourth quarter Sunday. Miami entered the final stanza down one score to the Vikings, trying to keep pace with the Ravens-Titans- Colts trifecta in the wild-card race. Instead, they got their #$@%s handed to them and were outscored 17-zip. Two weeks after procuring a paltry 175 yards against the Bills, Miami's offense failed to reach the Mendoza Line again in Minnesota. That makes four games this season in which Adam Gase's attack(?) has failed to reach 200 yards. Ryan Tannehill threw for a grand total of 108 yards ... and lost 71 on nine sacks. Eww.

RANK

21

BILLS (5-9)

4

Previous rank: No. 25

Josh Allen and the Bills pulled out another win, their fifth in a season which many assumed would just serve as a preamble to Buffalo kicking off the 2019 NFL Draft. The Bills far from dominated Sunday, but they fought their way back from a fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Lions. This came one week after giving up a late lead in a loss to the Jets and two weeks after dropping a game in Miami that they controlled in every capacity but the final score (Buffalo outgained the Dolphins in yardage, 415 to 175). Allen continues to impress, even if not in the traditional manner. On a day the offense plodded along, the rookie signal-caller connected with Robert Foster for a 42-yard touchdown when his team had to have it. The defense: 18.4 points per game allowed over the last five outings.

RANK

22

LIONS (5-9)

1

Previous rank: No. 21

The holidays aren't going to be kind to Lions fans. Matt Patricia and his fresh batch of No. 2 pencils were broken in Buffalo. Josh Allen's fourth-quarter touchdown heave proved too much for a defense that actually did its part for the third week in a row. The offense? Yuck. Detroit's chances were hampered by Mr. Automatic missing from 48. Matt Prater's failed boot hurt, as has this entire ill-fated 2018 campaign. My suggestion, Lions fans: Make yourself a whiskey something ( anything), put on some Gordon Lightfoot and call it a day. Or a season.

RANK

23

PANTHERS (6-8)

1

Previous rank: No. 22

This season is likely a wrap for the Panthers, although they could figure a path to the playoffs with two wins, a TI-81 graphing calculator and pretty much every other team in the league losing. Carolina has dropped six straight if you are counting at home, though the masses were tracking Cam Newton's throws Monday night. Specifically, his shoulder, which has become a topic of conversation -- and the central culprit in both the player's and organization's woes. Newton surely didn't look right against New Orleans, especially on a couple of those dirtballs in the fourth quarter. A "sore shoulder" might not sound like much, but back in the old days, they referred to it aptly as a "dead arm." As Newton mentioned in his postgame comments, the need for practice to perform better is superseded by the need of a pitch count to save strength. It's a cycle that won't right itself until Carolina's season ends -- prematurely, considering this team was 6-2 and eyeing January football just a month and a half ago.

RANK

24

FALCONS (5-9)

2

Previous rank: No. 26

Welcome back, Falcons. Everybody missed you. After five weeks of bad football (and losing) -- when Atlanta lost by fewer than 10 points just once -- Dan Quinn's team showed up to play Sunday. Tevin Coleman stands front and center in the Falcons' triumphant return to existence, rambling through the Cardinals' front seven for 145 yards on just 11 carries, with a 65-yard scamper to set up a field goal and a 43-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach for Arizona. Honorable mention to Grady Jarrett, who was all over the place with seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble that set up a touchdown. Despite the poor overall campaign from Quinn's defense, Jarrett has resumed his high level of play. This is an interior lineman with six sacks, 47 tackles, 11 QB hits and three forced fumbles. Maybe not in the Aaron Donald stratosphere, but there are about, oh, 32 organizations that'll take those numbers from a DT.

RANK

25

GIANTS (5-9)

5

Previous rank: No. 20

Boy, hope nobody watched the Big Blue game Sunday. Well, unless you live in the greater Nashville area. Perhaps the least-inspired showing by any team in Week 15 came from the Giants, who couldn't accomplish jack vs. the Titans. Eli Manning was ineffective. Saquon Barkley was stonewalled time and again. The offense as a whole sucked. At least the defense made up for it by making Derrick Henry look like Earl Campbell. Hey, the Jags couldn't stop that guy, either. Cool. Jacksonville has dropped nine of 10, having just lost to a quarterback who hadn't started since Barack Obama's first term. Next up for New York: at Indy. Uh-oh.

RANK

26

49ERS (4-10)

3

Previous rank: No. 29

While most of the country was zeroed in on the Pats-Steelers thriller, the 49ers pulled off the surprise of the weekend by upending the purportedly-destined-to-win-out Seahawks. San Francisco got stops at critical junctures, thwarting Seattle 10 times on third down. Lather, rinse, repeat on the 49ers' run defense, though, which gave up 168 yards to Pete Carroll's ground express two weeks ago ... then allowed the same exact figure on Sunday. The key for San Francisco: Too often, the Seahawks couldn't turn time-consuming drives into touchdowns. One march stalled at the 49ers' 39, another at the 43. Then 49ers DC Robert Saleh's guys made multiple stands late, holding Russell Wilson and Co. to a field goal, punt and punt in Seattle's last three drives of regulation, and a three-and-out in overtime. Liking Kyle Shanahan's prospects for next year. Especially with the way Jimmy G's scruff is growing in. (The networks sure like to show him on the sideline.) Is this an appropriate time to type that Nick Mullens balled out?

RANK

27

BENGALS (6-8)

1

Previous rank: No. 28

Cincy proved there would be no mailing it in on the 2018 season. "But it was THE RAIDERS," you say. Yeah, maybe, yet the defense showed up in the clutch to preserve a win for a locker room and coaching staff that needed one. Geno Atkins bore right through Chaz Green and the rest of Jon Gruden's line for three sacks. Darqueze Dennard got in on eight tackles and forced a fumble that led to a commanding 17-zip lead in the first half. Cincy's D relinquished just 68 yards on the ground, and 297 in total. The unit's season-long averages in said categories coming into Sunday: 148.1 and 421.9. Bit of an improvement, eh? Mentioned last week that Cincy came ohsoclose to knocking off the Chargers without anyone noticing. The Bengals could play the mean holiday spoiler for both the Browns' and Steelers' fan bases over the next two weeks. #Driskelmania

RANK

28

BUCCANEERS (5-9)

4

Previous rank: No. 24

It's not easy to win on the road allowing 167 rushing yards in the second half. Letting the Ravens own the ball for 22 minutes after the break sure didn't help, either. Tampa stayed afloat early in the fourth quarter when Carl Nassib took over for a drive, posting a sack, then forcing Lamar Jackson into an intentional grounding on third-and-long. Of course, the Bucs had already started to sink themselves earlier in the day, with the corners botching a couple of interceptions in the second quarter and Chris Godwin dropping a touchdown pass in the third. All of which added up to a day of what ifs when Tampa stood toe to toe with what could be a playoff team. While Baltimore vies for a postseason invite, Dirk Koetter invited more criticism (and speculation on his future) in losing another close game -- the Bucs' fifth one-score loss this season.

RANK

29

RAIDERS (3-11)

2

Previous rank: No. 27

Despite the final score, 30-16, the Raiders sure did deflate their own hopes of winning in Cincinnati. Oakland perpetually failed on third down, suffered through too many penalties and ultimately settled for too many field goals. Chaz Green did his part by allowing four sacks by himself, but there was plenty of blame to go around. Running the football 16 out of 59 plays in what was a close affair throughout makes no sense, although Jalen Richard's second-quarter fumble didn't strengthen his position group's case. The Raiders' defense hung in, though Jeff Driskel's 13-yard scramble on the last play of the third quarter -- on third-and-10 -- really hurt. Cincy kept Oakland's D on the field for almost seven minutes that drive, before paying it off with a field goal to go up two scores.

Side note: Think Amy Trask got it right -- and then some -- in laying out the blueprint for how the Raiders can exit Oakland gracefully this week. Amen.

RANK

30

JETS (4-10)

1

Previous rank: No. 31

Tough loss for the Jets on Saturday evening, as they missed their chance to deal a severe blow to the Texans' playoff aspirations -- never mind potentially building a mountain of confidence along the way. Houston came into town seeking a postseason bye and darn near went bye-bye with a loss at the hands of the four-win Jets. New York's real problem was getting the Texans' front four blocked -- particularly the usual suspects, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

Side note: The little things buried in the second quarter always go overlooked. The Jets ruined a promising drive when back-to-back big plays were negated by stupid blocking-in-the-back penalties, by a wide receiver and a tight end. Rare that you see pass catchers doing that on consecutive plays. That's why there's an art to reaching 4-10. # Jets

RANK

31

JAGUARS (4-10)

1

Previous rank: No. 30

The Jaguars deserve the drop to 31. If not for the Cardinals ... you get the point. Jacksonville made a few headlines by waiving Barry Church last Friday. They made more by allowing the Redskins to steal a game at their house, with Washington rolling out a quarterback who last started back when Maurice Jones-Drew was leading the NFL in rushing. The issue for Doug Marrone is not his defense. Despite providing Josh Johnson with his first win as a starter in the NFL, the real non-heroes were on offense. Simple math: No team should lose at home allowing just 16 points. Jacksonville can't move the football. The offense produced a scant 192 total yards, with six points to show for it (the TD was scored on special teams). That also makes 28 total points scored over the last three games. If Cody Kessler didn't take off and run out of the pocket, the Jags would've had no offense. Can't put all that on Nathaniel Hackett now, huh?

RANK

32

CARDINALS (3-11)

Previous rank: No. 32

The Cardinals are becoming the magic elixir for whatever ails any team ( save for the Packers). Arizona whisked the Falcons -- who hadn't won since early November -- off the winter schneid, barely putting up a fight Sunday in Atlanta. The hardest part for fans must be watching the offense, which treads water (at best) week after week. The rundown: More penalties and punts than points (15-14), with three turnovers and a mercy quarterback change late. Mike Glennon fared better than Josh Rosen, but with the score already 40-7, the Falcons were content to let him complete a few. Incompletions cause the clock to stop. Nobody wants the clock stalled this late in a season going nowhere. Go Cardinals.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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