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NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: New England Patriots reign again

Week 16 comes with high drama in tow.

Good luck matching this past weekend. Holy cow. Whether you were watching Sunday Ticket, the Red Zone Channel or listening on the radio, the final moments of two afternoon games were riveting, in every sense of the word. Actually, riveting doesn't serve the almost-simultaneous endings nearly enough -- not after Ben Roethlisberger served up the unthinkable, two snaps after instant replay did the same. Just over 2,500 miles away, the less experienced Jimmy Garoppolo played like a 30-something Pro Bowler in the final minute of the fourth quarter, coolly leading the 49ers down the gridiron for a game-winning field goal in the land of Joe Cool. For 10 minutes of tension, pro football can't outdo this double dip of crunch time in Patriots-Steelers and Titans-49ers. Just like that, the 10-3 Patriots added another victory and looked to home-field throughout the AFC playoffs, while the 3-10 49ers grabbed another win and continued to build toward a future worth looking forward to.

Now, on to your thoughts ...

Well said, Jane. This would change pro sports forever. No joke.

Uhh, mmm, well ... You kinda made a case for them not being in the top 10 here. They have more of a walk game.

For analysis on all 32 teams, see below. Remember, the top of the list is not supposed to resemble the playoff field, seeding or the like. But rather, how the teams stack up right now, irrespective of the standings. Cool? Your take ----> @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 "NFL Power Rankings" show. Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts at the bottom of this page or tweet @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Week 15 Power Rankings.

At the end of the day at Heinz Field, the Patriots were saved by two future Hall of Famers ... and the NFL rulebook. I don't know what a catch is, but I do know that final New England foray was a masterpiece from Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, a representation of the oft-symbiotic relationship that's been ripping up defenses since 2010. Their connection is Rivers-Gates-esque, or Romo-Witten-esque, in spades. However, letting the Steelers go right down the field in a matter of seconds? Yeah, that was not Canton-worthy from the secondary. Yet, much like Brady, Gronk and the Patriots of the last 17 years, they found a way to win.

OK, so it's not a cute story anymore. No more Case Keenum sure is doing a nice job for the Vikings ... they're a pesky team ... If Carson Wentz was a certifiable MVP candidate, then Keenum is, too, regardless of his (lack of) draft pedigree, whether or not he was only supposed to be a backup and his status as the fourth-most-famous starting quarterback in the NFC North. Against the Bengals on Sunday, all that the former Houston Cougar, Houston Texan and Los Angeles Ram did was go 20 of 23 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks. That's 10-plus yards per attempt, broham. Couple that with a defense that doesn't take any sh$#, and you're seeing a Super Bowl team.

Whatever counseling you need this week should be covered by your employer. How the heck are Pittsburgh fans supposed to go to work after watching that abomination at the end of the loss to the Patriots? Between the Jesse James catch-not-catch, the tipped-ball interception and losing Antonio Brown for the rest of the regular season, the collapse to New England must be up there among the most frustrating losses in franchise history. The broadcast crew didn't even realize why the James play was being reviewed until two minutes into the review. (Imagine the internal thought bubbles of Tony Romo, who played in the eerily similar *Dezcaughtit* affair three seasons ago.) Sure would be nice if Pittsburgh could ever be healthy for the entire postseason. Brown is the latest marquee player to fall during a season in which the league can't keep its stars on the field.

So, uh, Nick Foles is not a problem ... or the problem. Couldn't have agreed more with what Chris Spielman was driving home during the broadcast Sunday: In a nutshell, while the football world focuses on Carson Wentz's caddy, the defense was out there allowing the Giants to move up and down the field. Had it not been for Foles and a special teams unit that blocked everything, Philadelphia would have gone down to one of the worst offenses in football. Giving up 35 points to the Rams' high-octane offense is one thing, but surrendering 29 to a team that felt compelled to turn to Geno Smith a couple of weeks ago is quite another.

You knew it was the Rams' day when Todd Gurley took it 57 yards to the house on a run designed to merely get out of Dodge on third down. L.A. racked up 352 yards on the Seahawks' defense. You can point to Seattle's injuries, sure -- but the missing players are on the back end. The Seahawks were pushed around all day by the upstart Rams, who are still in the mix for a first-round bye. Sean McVay's team has scored 438 points in 14 games. The Rams scored 224 all of last year. That's insane.

The Saints inched one step closer to the NFC South title with the win over the Jets on Sunday. The big date comes this Sunday, when New Orleans sees the Falcons, who still own an outside chance of winning the division themselves. Besides the fact this matchup will be in the Big Easy as opposed to Atlanta (where the Saints lost in Week 14), Sean Payton's in line to have Alvin Kamara at his disposal for the entire game. Kamara, who piled up 89 scrimmage yards and a TD Sunday, was dearly missed in the previous loss to the Falcons. I don't think Drew Brees would've had to force that game-ending pick in the end zone -- in fact, Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones wouldn't have even been there to pick it -- with Kamara on the field. Looking forward to the rematch.

If you had any doubts about the viability or legitimacy of the Jaguars, I hope you at least caught the highlights of the Texans game on Sunday. The defense was its usual stubborn self, allowing Houston a grand total of seven points. Ever so under-the-radar-y, though, Blake Bortles is playing quality football. On Sunday, the least respected multi-year starter in football enjoyed another multi-touchdown, interception-less outing. That's three straight games now that Bortles, who went 21 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdowns against Houston, has pulled that feat off. Bortlesmania. #Swaguars

Huge win for the Panthers on Sunday, on the strength of an opportunistic defense that made Aaron Rodgers look like a quarterback who's been out of the lineup for two months. Well, maybe Rodgers had been absent for weeks, yet he was still uncharacteristically off on a few throws, partially because of rust and partially because of solid play on the back five by Carolina. Then there was the spot pressure when it was needed most, highlighted by Julius Peppers capturing Rodgers late in the fourth quarter, when Green Bay was threatening in Panthers territory. Peppers, whose age (37) is only surpassed by his career sack total (153.5), has produced 10 sacks in this, his 16th NFL season. Rodgers even mentioned after the game that the man who planted him will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. #Respect

The Falcons survived the Bucs. Is there a more appropriate way to describe Monday night's win? At times, the offense mirrored the track team from 2016. Then Matt Ryan would miss an easy throw, or an on-field connection between the reigning MVP and his intended receiver would be slightly off. Or maybe the audience would catch an errant F-bomb when somebody wasn't getting lined up. Then Terron Ward sprints for a sweet first down run and all is right with Atlanta's world again. What an odd team Dan Quinn's 53 guys comprise this year. When they commit to the run, though, the Falcons can beat anybody. Next up: Saints, in New Orleans. Cool.

The margin between the good teams and the also-rans in the parity-driven NFL is thin -- and we saw just how narrow it is on Sunday night. A flimsy notecard was the difference between winning and losing for the Cowboys in Oakland. Dallas' performance was far from atypical. The run game was prolific for spots, then absent in chunks. Dak Prescott manufactured a handful of important plays, but, other than on his touchdown run in the second half, failed to step up or move around in the pocket, a la the game in Atlanta. Then there is Sean Lee, who spearheaded a Cowboys defense that bends plenty but doesn't bust enough to allow opponents to score more than 20 points. Lee and the gang gave up 17 to the Raiders, and the Cowboys are giving up 18 points per game when the dynamic middle linebacker is in the lineup. With Ezekiel Elliott back from training in Mexico and the defense keeping the offense in games, Dallas might have enough to get past the first round of the playoffs.

They say you live and die by turnovers in the NFL. As long as Andy Reid's Chiefs don't give you those freebies while taking a few under their arms, they will advance. Everyone knows Kansas City's defense isn't up to its standards of years past under coordinator Bob Sutton, but the clutch second-half takeaways by Marcus Peters (one of which came on a world-class strip job) and Ron Parker transitioned the AFC West battle between the Chiefs and Chargers into a divisional runaway. Alex Smith now has 25 touchdowns against a scant five interceptions on the year.

Sunday's win in Cleveland felt like Track 14 from the Ravens' Defense Anthology. Baltimore goes as far as Dean Pees' unit takes it. In fairness, the face-off with rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was more of a mismatch than a matchup, as evidenced by Brandon Carr's pick in the end zone with the outcome still (kind of) up in the air. The Ravens thwarted the Browns' offense all day, spotting Cleveland 266 yards but winning the turnover battle, 4-zip. We'll find out how solid this team is this weekend, when Baltimore goes from playing the winless Browns to facing the 3-11 Colts at home. OK, so maybe we won't find out anything. Who do the Ravens play the following week, ITT Tech?

The Chargers are not done yet, although the path to the playoffs gets much more difficult following the loss to the Chiefs. In order to win the AFC West, the Bolts would have to win out while hoping that Kansas City falls flat over the last two weeks. Now it's really a waiting game to see if either the Ravens or Titans stumble. While it was only encroachment, I thought Jatavis Brown's offside penalty midway through the third quarter was huge. The Chargers had just gained the lead at 13-10 and were a third-and-5 away from holding the Chiefs to a three-and-out -- Los Angeles had all the momentum. But then Brown jumped, jumpstarting a Kansas City drive that went right down the field. Andy Reid's boys never looked back.

The Lions got the win they so desperately needed Saturday to keep their somewhat scant (tepid?) playoff hopes alive. Detroit needs to take care of business in Cincinnati the way its NFC North mates have lately (the Bears and Vikings blew out the Bengals), then beat their personal Vader on the last Sunday of the season. (Notice I didn't say Kylo Ren, who looks like a guy who played a lot of D&D as a kid and who'll never approach Darth status. Moving along ...) Not as fun as the eighth win of the season was seeing Matthew Stafford get knocked around again, especially when the outcome was no longer in doubt. That dude is gonna be mummified by Week 17.

The Bills took care of business Sunday against the Patriots-beaters from the south. You probably knew the Dolphins would come out flat after playing up to New England's level last Monday night. (I mean, I did.) What Buffalo couldn't have expected, however, was for both the Titans and Chargers to lose over the weekend. The Bills don't own the tiebreaker against the latter team and have trailed the former in the conference standings most of the season. All of which makes the contest in New England this week the most important Bills game since Y2K. Let's hope Sean McDermott's defense doesn't fail to reset after letting the Dolphins' offense make the game too close for comfort at the end. Not with Tom Brady, who has lost to Buffalo once (in a meaningless game), coming to town. "Too Close for Comfort" was also an underrated show, a vehicle for Judge Smails, er, Ted Knight. Thus, for Bills fans who don't like this ranking, *You'll get nothing and like it!!!*

Maybe the bar is a bit lofty for Aaron Rodgers. The presumption that he would walk on the field in Charlotte and take the Panthers to school after not playing since mid-October was a bit far-fetched. Putting the three interceptions aside, the man did throw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, so it's not as though he was Brian Brohm or Anthony Dilweg out there. Losing Davante Adams early didn't help matters, especially on a hit that seemed awfully unnecessary (or awful). Whether or not Green Bay will have Rodgers playing for the rest of the season is now the question.

 * The Green Bay Packers placed Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve Tuesday.* 

Not often do the Seahawks get embarrassed at home like they were by the Rams on Sunday. What a dud. Seattle allowed 42 points in a must-have game against NFC West rivals. To give you an idea of how rare that is, consider that the Seahawks have not allowed more than that total at home since 2004. That was a wild Monday nighter in which Julius Jones ran, well, wild. Jones put up 209 yards from scrimmage that night. Todd Gurley could've easily surpassed that total, as he produced 180 yards before Sean McVay's offense stood on the brakes in the fourth quarter. Speaking of running, Pete Carroll's group must run what's left of the table to stay in the playoff mix. Next up: at Dallas, and a running back who wears the same number as Julius Jones, though he's slightly better. Slightly.

Throw out the records, man. Neither the Cardinals nor the Redskins were playing for draft position Sunday. And neither looked like a team playing out the string. The last Arizona possession took place amidst a fever-pitch buzz from the stands, accompanied by the feeling of a playoff game. Credit safety D.J. Swearinger with a timely and cluttttttch play, knocking a sure fourth-down completion out of Larry Fitzgerald's hands. Glad his unsportsmanlike-removing-the-helmet penalty didn't ruin the stop, or the final. I watched a game in 2002 in which the Browns snatched a loss from the jaws of sure victory via that very penalty. I'm sure you're shocked Cleveland would lose in such a way.

Jimmy Garoppolo has officially ruined the next few years for every GM who doesn't happen to possess a franchise quarterback. The former Patriot pulled a Montana for the 49ers on Sunday, taking the football at his own 25 with a minute and change and pushing the offense into field-goal territory in three plays. If the final drive was Montana-ish, the numbers were Steve Young-y: 31 of 43 for 381 yards with a touchdown, no picks and a passer rating well north of 100. Now every fan base will be screaming for its team's brass to trade for whomever the hot backup is next season, or pay Kirk Cousins a king's ransom, squared, this offseason.

What appeared to be a lock about two weeks ago is now less than a 50-50 proposition. The Titans, who've fallen to the Cardinals and 49ers the last two weeks, will try to make the playoffs by taking down the Rams and Jaguars the next two weeks. Los Angeles and Jacksonville are both 10-4, having romped their opponents by a combined score of 87-14 this past Sunday. Not sure what the coverage was on the pass to the immortal George Kittle -- the one that set San Francisco up in Tennessee territory (in the final minute, no less) -- but it sure would get you beaten in "Madden." Mike Mularkey and staff have work to do.

The Raiders' playoff hopes went down with one of the odder passages from the NFL rulebook, and a crusty notecard stuck in the pocket of Gene Steratore. Welcome to pro football in 2017. Although, in regard to the Derek Carr fumble/touchback and the notecard, it should be noted that Oakland enjoyed a pot full of luck, too. For example, Carr, in the face of a rush, throwing a ball up for grabs that fell perfectly into Raiders receiver Seth Roberts' hands. That play set up a touchdown from Michael Crabtree. Then, on the ill-fated drive that activated the little-seen touchback rule on an offensive fumble through the end zone, Carr got a gimme PI on an underthrown deep ball. Not that it was a horrible call, but quarterbacks are too often bailed out on poor vertical throws. Either way, the bizarre loss to Dallas almost perfectly encapsulated what has been an inexplicable regression for the Raiders this season, through the prism of an imperfect rulebook.

Call Sunday's performance in Washington not the foremost of Blaine Gabbert's career. Despite the poor numbers (189 yards, 43.6 passer rating), Gabbert put the football in the perfect spot to convert fourth-and-long, away from the defender, where Larry Fitzgerald could go down and get it, while under heavy fire from a pass rush that had collapsed his pocket much of the day. The future Hall of Famer couldn't squeeze it, though. Two thoughts:

 **A)** Even if he hasn't been the answer in terms of saving Arizona's season, I'm not sure how anyone can't respect the way Gabbert has competed. He's a solid QB2. 
 **B)** Despite all the injuries Bruce Arians' group has suffered, and despite the subpar campaign, his outfit has played to win every week. Said it before: Arians doesn't give two squirrels' farts about what fans or the media think -- he coaches the way he sees fit. Guarantee he wants to finish .500, even if Arizona picks lower in 2018 as a result. 

If you are reading this blurb and don't follow the Dolphins closely, perhaps you can commiserate with their legion of fans. Like, if you ever sold your tail off at work, then couldn't get a car off the lot to save your life the next week, even with the aftermarket spoiler ... or if you were absolutely crushing it on Bumble, but then on the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you got ghosted, ghosted, ghosted. That's this Miami team, which followed up a complete performance in which it controlled the premier squad in the league for four quarters by coming out flatter than an RC Cola that's been open for three weeks. Jay Cutler, who performed at a Bob Griese-level last Monday night, was more Cleo Lemon on Sunday. Not even. Producing three interceptions, four fumbles and just six points through three quarters was too much for the Dolphins to overcome.

Not the outcome Bears fans were expecting on Saturday, especially after such an impressive performance the previous week in Cincinnati. What we saw was the maturation of Mitchell Trubisky, complete with hiccups. Because of a few exceptional rookie seasons in years past, whether from Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson or Matt Ryan, fans want these quarterbacks to be Dan Marino from Day 1. Well, Marino was so special as a rookie because he was Dan effing Marino. Also remember that Trubisky made a handful of really nice throws downfield on skinny posts and deep slants. The Bears will be all right.

Brock Osweiler rendered a relief appearance worthy of Brian Fuentes and Huston Street on Thursday night. Osweiler was particularly accurate down the field, profiting from a ground game that gobbled up hunks of yardage. Meanwhile, folks in 28-team fantasy leagues -- and the Heuerman family league -- received quite the bonanza on Osweiler's 54-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Former Ohio State Buckeye and Barron Collier High School product Jeff Heuerman delivered the play of the day, as well as a lead that the top-ranked defense in the league would not surrender.

No move for the Bucs, who -- for the second straight game -- stayed with a potential playoff team until it was game-deciding field goal time. Guess who always loses in those scenarios? When the Lions' Matt Prater swung his leg, the good guys lost. When their own Patrick Murray swung his, the good guys lost. Still, the Bucs stay as they lay in this week's league hierarchy because of the way they competed, despite being down a handful of key contributors. Moreover, Jameis Winston played his tail off. For those wondering if he has been overrated, take a brisk walk across your screen to your Game Pass app and rewatch Monday night's game. Then you are allowed to move on to your usual Tuesday night, popping "Love Actually" into the VCR. #loveyoumeanit

Make it two straight weeks in which the Bengals have been completely blown out in embarrassing fashion. Cincy has been dismantled on offense by the Bears and Vikings, with Sunday's staging in Minnesota exactly that: It looked like an NFL offense out there, but it hardly resembled one in terms of production. The Bengals racked up all of 161 yards, with the only touchdown coming in total and utter garbage time. Andy Dalton and friends went 2 for 16 on third and fourth downs. That will win, oh, about zero games. This is as bad as this organization has been in the Marvin Lewis era. Maybe it's even worse than anything in the David Shula era, and that's sayin' something.

Mentioned in this space in prior weeks how this roster has played for Todd Bowles in 2017. Sunday's tug of war with the far superior Saints was no different, as New York was down only 17-13 heading into the fourth quarter, then narrowed the margin to five points later in the quarter, when Bryce Petty connected with Elijah McGuire from 2 yards out. Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara; Bryce Petty and Elijah McGuire -- not exactly parallel universes. Ultimately, the defense faltered in the end on Mark Ingram's sprint to glory, but you can't ignore the net effect of the Jets' offseason housecleaning. In a similar vein, Bowles sent a message in benching the tardy Mo Wilkerson. He's almost assuredly gone next season, too. If that sounds harsh, how about this hot take, fresh out of the write-it-like-you-feel-it portion of the galaxy ...

The value of the defensive signal caller, even if said linebacker is not of Pro Bowl-caliber, was on full display on Thursday night. When Jon Bostic went down, he managed to take the entire Colts defense down with him. The ugly run defense was only surpassed by the confusion when Indy was lining up pre-snap, which Cris Collinsworth aptly described on the broadcast. By the way, I watched the game on Amazon. I thought people ordered Michelob Lite koozies and "Settlers of Catan" on Amazon; I didn't think they used it to see Jacoby Brissett get zero help from his receivers. Oh, well.

Started to write the Giants blurb, but got blocked. Do you think Aldrick Rosas blocks people on Twitter? Just wondering. New York made a game of it Sunday, but ultimately, the Giants could not overcome Philadelphia's special teams unit or their own secondary. You think about the two games Philly and Big Blue played this year, and either could've gone Big Blue's way. It seems as though in this series, the Giants' luck sucks.

Welp. The Texans were in it for, like, half a quarter. T.J. Yates has supplied Houston with sharp spot play before. Yeah, not against that Jags secondary. The loss in Jacksonville dropped the Texans to 4-10, and it was their seventh defeat in their last eight games. The poor record won't even help in late April, as Houston traded its 2018 first-round pick, which could be in the top five, to the Browns to move up and take Deshaun Watson. Fortunately for the Texans, the talent they have coming back from injury, including Mr. Watson, will still make 2018 promising.

The Browns and DeShone Kizer's season in a microcosm: Down 17 points early in the fourth quarter, Cleveland -- aided by a couple of big penalties -- marches down the field to the Ravens' 11-yard line, surviving multiple third-and-5s. First play in the red zone: Kizer throws a dirt ball to Duke Johnson in the flat, giving his running back zero chance to advance. Second-and-10: Kizer smartly pulls the ball down when no one is open, gaining 5 yards and living to play another down knowing his team needs at least a field goal. Third-and-5: Kizer backs up under pressure, goes to his right, then squares his shoulders to throw a short punt into the middle of three Ravens defenders, completely obscuring the mental progress he demonstrated with the previous throw. Good gosh it's tough rooting for the Browns.

*Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL. And be sure to tune in to the "NFL Power Rankings" show on NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET. *

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