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NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Bears rise, Steelers out of top 10

The mighty fell.

This past weekend in the NFL saw three top-tier teams go down, as the Rams, Patriots and Steelers all went flat on the road. Pittsburgh continued a maddening trend of dilly-dallying its way through the first half before trying to produce a frantic comeback late. New England was victimized by the most frantic play in football, where every player on offense laterals to every other player on offense at the end of the game -- save for the fact that the Dolphins didn't need that many laterals. Then there was Los Angeles, the consensus No. 1 from the readers' perspective, who played keep-away football -- as in, keep the ball away from your own offense.

Furthermore, the Saints struggled through three quarters before putting away the Bucs, while the Chiefs needed extra football in order to outlast the Ravens at home. With everyone playing for their last chance at the postseason dance, expect games to stay tight, even among the elite.

On to your elite thoughts ...

It will. Remember they won three titles in a six-year period ... in the 1950s. Just be patient.

Yeah, but the NFL is better when the Browns are bad. Just kidding.

Cool. So when is that? ... OK, despite the turnovers, Prescott did throw for 455 (with a little help from his friend in the No. 19 jersey).

The rest of the playoff field did a little shimmying, as well, particularly in the NFC East and AFC South. See how those teams rate below. Even the bottom third of the rankings absorbed a shakeup. Your take on any squad is 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.

Previous rank: No. 1

The Bucs never let the Saints off easy, do they? New Orleans was trailing by two scores deep into the third quarter on Sunday, with nothing doing from the offense. Then, as they are prone to do, the Saints exploded for 25 unanswered points, with a heavy boost from the special teams. Mark Ingram delivered the nail in the coffin, as the old kids call it, with a fourth-quarter touchdown rumble. I was listening to the Saints broadcast, which meant I heard former player/current broadcaster Deuce McAllister awkwardly announce that Ingram tied some guy named Deuce McAllister for the most rushing touchdowns in franchise history (49). Ingram's unselfish, steady play since his return from a four-game suspension has made quite a difference for this group.

 **Historical note:** In terms of awesome short touchdown runs, you can't beat 
 McAllister's scoring plunge in the bowels of a mosh pit against the 
 Eagles in the 2006 Divisional Round. 

Previous rank: No. 4

Much of the country might see the Chiefs' three-point overtime win against the Ravens as a stumble -- but this space sees it as a glowing positive. Kansas City has not won a defensive battle all season, and although Sunday's affair would hardly be classified as a Neil Smith- and Albert Lewis-inspired defensive slugfest, the Chiefs' D made some huge stops. Justin Houston's strip-sack darn near won the day in regulation. Then Bob Sutton's group held the fort on the second possession of overtime. Ultimately, the Chiefs might be asked to win this style of contest in the postseason -- think about last year's playoff match with the Titans. Then again, don't think about it.

Previous rank: No. 2

The denizens of the Twittersphere -- along with a few colleagues at NFL Network -- voiced their collective displeasure at the Rams not taking the No. 1 spot last week. Welp. Unlike when Los Angeles eked out a victory in Seattle, survived the Packers or outlasted the Chiefs, it could not escape Chicago with a win. Sean McVay's group was out of the top spot last week partially because it lost to the Saints in Week 9, with the other major factor being the Rams' spotty defensive play. But that wasn't the case on Sunday night, with Jared Goff and the offense unable to get anything going against the Bears. Goff fared miserably most of the evening, while running back Todd Gurley suffered through the biting cold and the bite of an immensely talented front seven. Time for the Rams to throw that game film in the toilet and gear up for a desperate Eagles team.

Previous rank: No. 3

No matter how cruddy the Dolphins are, no matter what their record is, no matter what the Patriots' record is, New England can't buy a win in South Florida. Miami could be starting Cleo Lemon at quarterback and still beat Bill Belichick and Co. At issue Sunday was not just the wild endgame scenario, but also the end-half scenario, when Tom Brady uncharacteristically took a sack deep in Dolphins territory with no timeouts left, preventing the Pats from kicking a field goal. Then there was Stephen Gostkowski, who characteristically (at least, this year) missed a field goal and an extra point. Little things. Including having Gronk in to post up, only for him to instead turn into a safety at the worst time. Back-seat coaching: Why not use Josh Gordon as the center fielder there? Gordon can high-point balls and he maybe would have been agile enough to reach Kenyan Drake.

Previous rank: No. 5

Love the Chargers, but boy do they play to the level of their competition. Two weeks ago, they were fully capable of lighting up the Steelers in the second half to steal a road win. On Sunday, they plodded their way squarely into Bengals-esque mediocrity. Most folks were too zoomed in on Eagles- Cowboys or the Steelers' debacle in Oakland to pay much attention to the squeaker at the L.A. soccer hub. Especially after the Bolts scored at will while going up 14-3 in the first half. Maybe the Chargers were looking ahead to the dandy of a matchup in Arrowhead this Thursday night. Let's just say that ain't Jeff Driskel they'll be facing out there.

 **Side note:** Respect, Michael Badgley ... making 14 of 15 field-goal tries since joining the fray in October is heady stuff. Badgley saved the day versus Cincy. 

Previous rank: No. 8

As detailed in last week's Power Rankings, dominating defense still resonates in the NFL. Yes, even in this era, when the middle of the field has become a posh fairway on which tight ends can rack up fantasy points, and anything so much as breathing heavily on the quarterback extends drives. The Bears upended Jared Goff on Sunday night's most important down. Akiem Hicks' sack of Goff on fourth-and-4 with less than five minutes left served as the nightcap on a date with the league's premier offense that couldn't have gone any better for Chicago. Perhaps most encouraging was the resurrection of the Bears' run game, which tallied 194 yards. In particular, Jordan Howard, who has been bottled up all year, ran wild (for him), gaining 101 yards on the Soldier Field grass. Nice work.

Previous rank: No. 6

The Texans' winning ways were halted this past weekend, but the happy days aren't done in Houston. If Week 14 taught the pro football world anything, it's that the AFC superpowers are more than vulnerable. The Patriots fell to the mediocre Dolphins in Miami, while the Ravens had the Chiefs on the ropes late in the fourth quarter -- at Arrowhead, no less. The disappointing aspects of the Texans' loss were twofold: 1) They blew an opportunity to put the rest of the AFC South away, and 2) the offense regressed. If Houston is to have a shot at playoff success in mid-January, the running backs will have to do better than 2 yards per carry. And the third-down offense sucked.

Previous rank: No. 9

Who wants to play the Seahawks right now? Anyone? Anyone? (Is this an appropriate time for a Ferris Bueller reference? No, overdone.) Seattle took care of business Monday night. That's really the only way to put it. The Seahawks traded blows with the Vikings in a defensively controlled contest, then let their top-ranked ground game take over, kind of like every other week during this win streak they have going. The 'Hawks ran a whopping 42 times for 214 yards -- the ninth time this season they've eclipsed 150 yards on the ground. Their leading rusher, Chris Carson, ran for 90 yards, which speaks to what a talented stable of runners Pete Carroll has, including his QB1. Who knows how the defense is playing so well, especially that young secondary. Again, who wants to play these Seahawks?

Previous rank: No. 10

For much of Sunday afternoon, it seemed the Cowboys would have to win in spite of their quarterback, which is a daunting prospect when you consider that even the best defenses eventually get worn out. Luckily for Dallas, Dak Prescott tossed a beauty to Amari Cooper in the fourth quarter to build a lead. Then Cooper proved his worth (high trade price be damned!) when he hauled in an underthrown go-route and turned it into a 75-yard score. And Cooper really proved his worth by outjockeying Eagles corner Rasul Douglas on an inaccurate Prescott throw to win in OT. Prior to the late unearthing of a passing attack, the Dallas defense was masterful, limiting Philadelphia to nine points following three Prescott turnovers. Hope the Rod Marinelli/Kris Richard 11 are otherworldly in the playoffs -- otherwise, the 'Pokes will be one-and-done.

Previous rank: No. 11

The Ravens gave the Chiefs everything they had Sunday and came up just short. Sometimes you simply have to tip your cap. Baltimore was bested by the most exciting quarterback to enter the league in years rolling to his right and throwing across his body nearly 50 yards downfield, like his arm literally was a rubber band. Wink Martindale's defense kept the Ravens viable, and the special teams delivered in the clutch on Cyrus Jones' 55-yard punt return late in the fourth quarter. But then Patrick Mahomes went out and won the game. Don't know about you, but I would love to see these two tee it up again, if you know what I mean.

Previous rank: No. 13

Now that was a helluva response. Think about it: The Colts lost last week to a Jaguars team that started Cody Kessler -- and which was blasted this past Thursday in Nashville -- after failing to score a single point. In order to have a realistic chance at the AFC South, Indy merely had to then take down a Texans outfit that had put up nine straight wins. And the Colts pulled it off. Handily. Andrew Luck will receive the usual praise, yet much props go to Matt Eberflus' defensive unit, which imposed its will Sunday at NRG. Indianapolis shut down the Texans running backs, then consistently got off the field on third down to make way for Luck. Notching five sacks sure didn't hurt, either. Indy's next three: vs. Cowboys, vs. Giants, at Titans.

Previous rank: No. 7

The Steelers stunk up the joint in Oakland bad enough to ultimately blow the game but not so bad that they couldn't try to climb back in with a hurried, late push -- much like at Jacksonville in Week 11 and at Denver in Week 12. Yes, Pittsburgh was without James Conner and even Ben Roethlisberger for a stretch, but personnel-wise, the Steelers should never have been in a position to need a Chris Boswell field goal just to tie Oakland, Boswell's plant foot be damned. Boswell's shank looked like a corner kick gone haywire -- you could use the same adjective to describe what's going on with Pittsburgh's AFC North hopes. The Steelers are lucky the Ravens had to play the Chiefs this weekend. Next up: vs. Patriots, then at Saints. Yeesh.

Previous rank: No. 12

The Vikings' slow tumble down the rankings boggles the mind. What's more perplexing is the avoidance of Dalvin Cook. Why in the world does Minnesota ignore the running game ... in close games ... with an RB1 who accelerates through a crease quicker than Twitter blames Kirk Cousins after every bad play? Cook looked plenty rapid the few times he received a handoff in his belly on Monday night. The would-be stud tailback carried the football 13 times for a respectable 55 yards in a game that was 3-0 most of the night. So, game script had nothing to do with nothing. This after getting 9, 10, 9, 10, 10, 10 and 16 carries in his previous eight games. Thank goodness for that Week 1 workload, or else folks might speculate whether there are clauses in his contract about accepting 11 carries or more. Meanwhile, don't get too carried away about the Vikes' playoff prospects ...

Previous rank: No. 17

Kudos to the Titans, who stayed relevant in the AFC wild-card race with a dominant showing versus the sad-sack Jags. Well, at least Tennessee made them look that way. The Titans' defense made life difficult for Cody Kessler, sacking him four times and pressuring him even more than that, while mostly taking away the Jacksonville running game. Also give some love to Derrick Henry, who equaled Tony Dorsett's 35-year-old record, running 99 yards for a touchdown. Like Dorsett, the feat required Henry to walk (trot) the tightrope down the sideline, with a wicked stiff-arm or three thrown in for good measure. Is it too soon to ask where that was all season? Henry outpaced his per-game average entering Week 14 (39.5 rushing yards) by 198.5 yards.

Previous rank: No. 19

The Packers played their first game sans the fired Mike McCarthy since a Jan. 1, 2006 win over the Seahawks, which was the capper to a 4-12 campaign under Mike Sherman. Must've been weird for Cheeseheads watching at home, even those who wanted a regime change. The early results on the move to interim HC Joe Philbin were mostly glowing. Green Bay posted a 34-spot on the scoreboard, marking their highest-scoring effort since October of last year. The Pack moved the ball on the ground, too, racking up 138 yards at a rate of 5.5 per rush, including a couple of sneaky Aaron Rodgers dashes. Third-down defense played a huge role in Philbin's debut, as the Falcons couldn't string together enough first downs to stay aloft in Lambeau. Next up: at the Bears. You betcha.

Previous rank: No. 20

"The Miami Miracle" is not nearly a creative enough name to suit the play of the NFL weekend. No way. No one who watched the Dolphins beat the Patriots on the patented end-of-the-game-pitch-a-palooza-that-never-works will soon forget it. The Bucs came close in Atlanta earlier this year, but DeSean Jackson couldn't handle the final toss. The most fun impossible play might have come from the Saints, who scored on a similar lateral-fest at the end of a 2003 game against the Jags. (Though John Carney sliced the extra-point try, meaning all the hysterics were for naught.) You shan't attribute Miami's feat to mere luck. Heard Kenny Stills tell SiriusXM Radio immediately after the game that the Dolphins rehearse their desperation play every Saturday in practice. They have also rehearsed beating New England late in the year enough times that the outcome is starting to become a foregone conclusion. Next up: at Vikings, in a game with massive playoff implications.

Previous rank: No. 14

Well, that didn't go as planned. The Broncos' schedule down the back stretch is as favorable as that of any playoff hopeful, but they are not off to a fast start, having laid an egg at the Big Blue Jean. In the first half, Denver stunk worse than the stadium cheese Niners fans had with their red wine, with a late flurry making the 20-14 loss seem much closer than it really was. Emmanuel Sanders' absence due to an Achilles injury hamstrung the passing attack all afternoon, as Case Keenum couldn't get the ball downfield. Keenum failed to hit the Mendoza Line in passing yards despite chucking it 42 times. Keenum's longest completion of the day: 21 yards, on the final meaningless play of the game. Next up: vs. Browns, at Raiders, vs. Chargers. Now I'm wondering if they'll actually end up dropping two of these three.

Previous rank: No. 15

To say the late-touchdown-nullifying OPI on Dallas Goedert was a bad call would be like saying Hugh Douglas and Terrell Owens disagreed slightly. And it was only compounded by a terrible roughing-the-passer call on Randy Gregory on the following play, though Eagles fans were probably satisfied with that ruling. Man, what a crappy sequence. What all the ticky-tack judgement at the end of Eagles-Cowboys obscured was a wonderful football game, another in a long line of exemplary NFC East title bouts between Philadelphia and Dallas. In three of the last four years now, Eagles at Cowboys has gone into overtime. Sunday did not disappoint, even if Doug Pederson's group left town dejected. Say this for his football team: Philly left it all out on that field at JerryWorld. Michael Bennett, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham played their butts off. As did Darren Sproles. What a game. Remember also that the season is far from done. With the Panthers, Bucs, Redskins and Vikings all losing, 8-8 might be enough to earn that sixth seed in the NFC. No, seriously.

Previous rank: No. 21

If you haven't seen it yet, hop on over to the highlights section of and watch Baker Mayfield's 51-yard bomb to Jarvis Landry. Ah, what the hey -- here it is. You're welcome. That's the same thing general manager John Dorsey can say to all of the thank-yous Browns fans should be offering right about now. Mayfield brings confidence and sorely-needed swagger to a franchise that hasn't had any since the days of Jim Brown. (Bernie Kosar's 1985 'fro is the closest Cleveland had gotten in the interim.) Christian McCaffrey is a phenomenal player, but other than two (very) short touchdown runs, Gregg Williams' defense shut him down. Walk-CMC.

Previous rank: No. 24

Checked in on the Giants game in the third quarter and darn near spit up the $112 bottle of whatever-my-holistic-doctor-implored-that-I-take. The only thing more rotten than the stuff in that bottle was finding out Saturday that Odell Beckham Jr. would be absent, a day after Landon Collins was checked out for the season. Rather than pack it in, Big Blue dominated the Redskins every which way to Sunday. What more can you say about Saquon Barkley? The man racked up nearly two bills in scrimmage yards and now has 12 games of over 100 yards from scrimmage. The rookie record? Thirteen, by Eric Dickerson. That boy good.

Previous rank: No. 22

 Darius Slay giveth, and 
 Darius Slay taketh away -- in a big way. The 2018 season hasn't been Slay's greatest. It hasn't been the 
 Lions' greatest, either. But one of the league's better corners killed it on Sunday. With Detroit nursing a 3-0 lead over the 
 Cardinals late in the third quarter, Slay read 
 Trent Sherfield's route, then beat him to the spot of the pass. Slay had his paws on the football before Sherfield had even finished his route. Sixty-seven yards later, 
 the Lions were up 10-zip. Believe me, that was a plenty-big lead in this game. Hey, 
 Zach Zenner rushed for a 1-yard touchdown. Get excited. 

Previous rank: No. 16

At least the Panthers didn't get blown out. How else to bake a warm plate of cookies out of this five-game losing streak? Once again, the secondary struggled. While the Browns didn't exactly air it out, Baker Mayfield completed 18 of 22 passes and averaged over 10 yards per throw because of two chunk plays to Breshad Perriman and Jarvis Landry. Other than a 25-yard scamper, Christian McCaffrey was held in check. That's the story for Carolina: When the defensive backs get beaten for huge plays and/or McCaffrey doesn't go off, bring on the losses.

Previous rank: No. 18

 *Once upon a time, Mark Sanchez got the start in a key game in the NFC East. **The Journeyman,** as he was known to be called, started 0 for 4, then completed his first pass for 3 yards. After connecting with Adrian Peterson on a monstrous 3-yard heave, his next completion went to the other guys ... and that, kids, is the story of how the G-Men got off to a 40-zilch start while Sanchez waited a full half-quarter before throwing a pick-six.* 

OK, so maybe that wasn't the most gripping yarn. But if Josh Johnson, fresh off not playing any football for three years, leads the Redskins to the playoffs, that might be the greatest f^()&&) football story ever told.

Previous rank: No. 26

The Bucs donned their monochrome magic-marker unis on Sunday, which almost conjured enough tricks to turn the Saints into losers again. Tampa's much-maligned defense impressively held down a formidable New Orleans offense for three quarters, limiting Drew Brees and friends to 144 total yards in that span. The turning point? The block of Bryan Anger's punt, which kick-started a Saints tidal wave of 25 unanswered points, all scored in the final third of the contest. The Bucs aren't totally out of the wild-card race yet, though. Not with the Eagles, Redskins, Panthers and Vikings all losing. What are the chances Tampa wins in Baltimore? OK, so maybe the Bucs are done.

Previous rank: No. 23

Though the AFC East matchup garnered less attention than games with playoff stakes, the Bills faltering at home versus the Jets rates as one of the surprises of the week. After essentially destroying the Jags' postseason hopes, then coming a Charles Clay non-dive away from defeating the Dolphins in Miami, Buffalo botched it. Josh Allen rushed for more than 100 yards for the second straight week, making him the first QB since Tobin Rote in 1951 to accomplish that odd feat. Less notable was his passing day, which included a low completion percentage and two picks. Meanwhile, the run defense, which was mostly stellar all day, stumbled on the game's most important play. Still surprised by the Jets' win, frankly.

Previous rank: No. 25

If the last few weeks are any indication, the Falcons might be fortunate to finish 6-10. Hard to believe for a group that nearly won the Super Bowl two years ago and came a football-in-between-Julio-Jones'-hands from defeating the Super Bowl champs in last season's Divisional Round. The injuries are what they are, but Atlanta is playing terrible football right now. The numbers from Sunday look so-so, but bear in mind that 14 of the Falcons' 20 points and nearly two-thirds of their total yards came in garbage time after they fell behind 34-7. Surely Dan Quinn's outfit can handle the visiting Cardinals this week, right?

Previous rank: No. 29

The 1970s were back in Oakland on Sunday, at least for an afternoon. It is difficult not to get nostalgic seeing the Steelers in their road whites taking on the Silver-and-Black in the same venue that saw three rough playoff games in the disco decade. Dancing was allowed in the stands Sunday, as Oakland delivered the upset of the day. As your friendly writer has stated before, say what you want about Jon Gruden, but the guys in that Raiders locker room are competing for their coach. Derek Carr, in particular, deserves a Spider 2Y Banana's worth of credit for his showing: 25 of 34 for 322 yards and two scores.

 **Historical note:** The last Pittsburgh-Oakland playoff game played at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was the 1976 AFC Championship Game. The 
 Raiders knocked off the two-time defending champ 
 Steelers, 24-7, en route to winning their first 
 Super Bowl two weeks later. The head coach was John Madden, who I hope watched this 2018 affair somewhere. 

Previous rank: No. 28

The Bengals gave the Chargers their best right hook Sunday -- and came pretty doggone close to upending the Bolts at their place. That would have been an upset that literally no one saw coming. The website tracks every analyst in the country's picks -- that includes over 100 people. Not a single prognosticator took Cincy. Yet, there were the frisky Bengals, down 23-21 and attempting an onside kick with 1:50 to go. They could've easily closed up shop after the Chargers drove the length of the field on the first two possessions to go up 14-3, but Marvin Lewis' guys stuck with it. Lewis has taken it on the chin this year, but he returned a few body blows Sunday.

Previous rank: No. 31

If 49ers tight end George Kittle doesn't make first-team All-Pro, then not only is the Associated Press' process rigged, but aliens never landed at Roswell and Tai Streets was not a sweet football name. Which is to say, Kittle deserves the nod over Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz (even if Carson Wentz targets Ertz with every other throw). Kittle has ascended into some seriously rarefied air this year. His 210 receiving yards versus the Broncos on Sunday counts for the third-highest single-game mark of all time, behind only Shannon Sharpe's 214 and Jackie Smith's 212. In case you are wondering, both of those guys have their likeness sitting in the bust room upstairs over in that museum in Canton. Kittle's 1,103 receiving yards are the most by a TE in 49ers history, and the NFL record in said category is not exactly unreachable. Gronk holds the mark with 1,327 yards in 2011. We'll see if Kittle gets there. If Nick Mullens performs like he did Sunday, Kittle will.

Previous rank: No. 27

The Jags looked ready to go fishing on Thursday night. The receivers struggled to consistently come up with big grabs, dropping another handful to go with a catalogue that rivals those "Soft '70s" CD catalogues you can buy at 3 a.m. on the History Channel. The tackling might have been worse, which actually is surprising with this bunch. I'm fully aware football is an emotional game, but Jalen Ramsey and a few guys were celebrating their tackles on that late goal-to-go stand as if it was the AFC Championship Game. Only problem: The score was 30-9, Titans, with half the fourth quarter gone.

Previous rank: No. 32

No one noticed Sunday, but the Jets won a football game. Gang Green had been cruising on a red-eye toward the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft -- or, at least, they appeared to be, following six straight losses. Enter Sam Darnold. And enter major coaching stones from Todd Bowles. The rookie's return to the lineup provided a spark, even if he was far from Namath-ish (or even O'Brien-ish). But Bowles' call to go for it on fourth-and-goal with a minute-and-change left, when a field goal could've tied the game, was rad. How often do you see 3-9 teams like the Jets play it safe when their season is going to nowheresville? As former Jets head coach Herman Edwards lectured all of us ... Nah, I won't say it.

Previous rank: No. 30

A week after knocking off the Packers, the Cardinals pulled the most Cardinals-esque move ever: flunking out against the visiting Lions. How could Arizona play that ugly -- against Detroit, mind you -- in front of the home crowd? Where were the warm vibes from Lambeau? The Cards generated enough heat to score three points. At least they made up for it by committing eight penalties. In an offensive game (not in a good way) so awful the XFL would have disowned it, Josh Rosen's pick-six in the third quarter essentially decided the outcome. Rosen did complete eight balls to David Johnson. For 12 yards. Reason No. 6,937 that full-point PPR leagues are dumb. Full- pint leagues would go over much better, especially when it comes to games like this one.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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