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NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Raiders rise, Broncos plummet

Playoff football. Yep, Week 16 qualifies.

Thus, it's no surprise that, with so many upcoming games having postseason implications, teams from the top to the 20th spot are playoff-viable. Granted, as you descend into the later teens, "chances" morph into they'll-make-it-if-this-Stats-II-algorithm-somehow-comes-true. But hey, point is that many of the teams in the soft underbelly of the Power Rankings are even-steven, and could emerge out of the mediocre mosh pit to sneak into a wild-card slot. Before we get down there, though, two things to sort out:

A) The up/down arrows mean little compared to rank. In order to get this jigsaw puzzle right, some teams dropped farther than you would think (SEE: Broncos), while others didn't move up a ton despite winning by wide margins (SEE: Colts).

B) Recency bias is prevalent. Teams that have lost three of four (SEE: Redskins) were hit hard this week. Mid-December is the most important time of the NFL season in which to be hot.

OK, on to your hot takes, fresh out of the sports oven ...

Looks like you owe me an egg salad sandwich, Viktor.

Cool, man. You look like one of those dudes at the party in "Eyes Wide Shut."

I agree. I agreed, as you can see below.

The Titans and Chiefs moved in opposite directions this week. So did their entire divisions. That made adjusting the Power Rankings quite challenging. Though I imagine you can tell me where I messed up (or got it right!): @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Dec. 13 Power Rankings.

Simple directive for the Patriots on Christmas Eve: Ground the Jets. If New England does that, and those pesky Colts so happen to upend the Raiders, the Pats get to open quite a present on the night before Christmas: home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. By stifling the Broncos 16-3 in Denver on Sunday, the Patriots clinched their eighth straight division crown -- a new NFL record, snapping a tie at seven with the 1970s Los Angeles Rams. The coach for the first five of those Rams titles was Chuck Knox -- "Ground Chuck," as he was known. He certainly would have approved of the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense the Patriots employed on Sunday (39 carries for 136 yards). That game wasn't about the running backs, though, or even Tom Brady exorcising his Denver demons. This was about the league's top scoring defense controlling the engagement from stem to stern.

Dak to the Future, Part II. Following his worst outing of the season in Week 14, Prescott emboldened the hopes of Cowboys fans Sunday night. Everyone is on board again, with the sideline shots of Tony Romo dwindling to back to just two or three per half. Zeke gained his 159 yards. Ho hum. Yet, lost in the shuffle of all that fresh offensive star power, we've seen the re-emergence of a seemingly extinct species: what is known as a " Cowboys pass rusher." Its natural habitat has never been AT&T Stadium. So why it is now migrating to Big D -- in December, of all months -- baffles even the leading experts. Maybe we should put a tag on David Irving so we can track his movements. Or send out donation requests to "SAVE THE COWBOYS PASS RUSHER," with 50 mailing labels and a goal coin as the free gift for giving.

Remember earlier this season when Raiders fans were asking, "Where the heck is BruceĀ Irvin?" Apparently 30,000 of them drove down to San Diego this past weekend, because their roar for Irvin was deafening when he trapped Philip Rivers during the final Chargers salvo. So the guy didn't provide the immediate impact everyone demanded in the early portion of the season ... Well, in Oakland's five games since the Week 10 bye, Irvin has racked up 28 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble. Not too shabby -- like the Raiders clinching their first playoff berth in 14 years and sitting in the driver's seat for a first-round bye. Next up: hosting the Colts.

Another NFC West title for the Pete Carroll's Seahawks. And while many across the pro football landscape have spent recent weeks panicking -- or berating your hack writer for placing Seattle too high -- this team is likely going to finish 11-4-1. The four losses that everyone's been freaking out over? At Green Bay in December, where even the '07 Patriots might lose ... at Tampa Bay, after a 2,500-mile plane flight ... at New Orleans, where superior ballclubs often fall to the Saints ... and an early-season loss to a division rival, again on the road. The key for this group now is getting that first-round bye. The Seahawks are a different group at home.

Impressive outing in Cincinnati for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball relatively well, especially considering his recent struggles on the road. Pittsburgh's defense made Andy Dalton look pedestrian most of the day in a sub-mediocre performance. And Mike Mitchell got thrown under the bus before hitting the road. Baltimore prevailing over the Eagles makes the Christmas Day bout against the rival Ravens a must-win in the AFC North race. With a loss, the Steelers would need the reeling Bengals to pull off an upset of the Ravens in Week 17.

Glowing record, glaring concern in Kansas City right now. The blueprint for the Chiefs in the second half the season was to get their pass rushers healthy, run the football and then use the home-field advantage as the first or second seed to be a serious contender. Well, Justin Houston and Dee Ford are back and the running game is doing alright ... but playing at Arrowhead Stadium hasn't been much of an advantage at all. The Chiefs barely escaped with a win over the punchless Jags in early November, sputtered in a home defeat to the Bucs two weeks later and lost again Sunday against what most analysts feel is an inferior team (Tennessee). Maybe not. The offense has averaged just 17.7 points per game in those three home games. Not gonna cut it.

Nobody's buying into the Giants. The Giants keep winning. Improving to 10-4 with a 17-6 win over Detroit, Big Blue got extremely close to locking up a wild-card spot. There is a decent chance that only one other non-division winner will reach double-digit wins in the NFC. The Lions could lose out. The Bucs might not hit the 10 spot, either. Of course, another win and the G-Men simply clinch a spot. New York can do that this week in Philadelphia -- though the Linc has been a house of turds for Eli Manning and the offense in recent years. They've scored all of one touchdown since 2013 in Philly. Think it'll go down differently this time around.

Matt Ryan didn't exactly hurt his MVP candidacy Sunday afternoon. No, the Falcons' franchise quarterback did not put up the "Tecmo Super Bowl" numbers that we saw against the Panthers earlier this season. But you don't have to throw for five bills to be a good quarterback. Ryan performed like a top-flight QB against the 49ers, completing 17 of his 23 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. No turnovers. That's a 144.5 passer rating. Love the way OC Kyle Shanahan is using Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, as well. How about the throwback unis we saw Sunday? In like with them, not in love. Give me these and I'll swipe right.

No fourth-quarter heroics from the Lions this past weekend. No run game, either. Although the second statement is hardly a new development. It was the second quarter -- not the fourth -- that might have determined Detroit's fate on Sunday. Zach Zenner, who hasn't fumbled all season, let the ball hit the carpet inside the Giants' 5-yard line. Instead of potentially taking a 10-7 lead, the Lions' momentum was nil (as was the number of successful trips inside the red zone for Detroit the rest of the day). Unless Sam Bradford pulls a Bobby Layne performance out of his butt this week at Lambeau and Zeke doesn't go off on the Lions in AT&T, the NFC North is coming down to Green Bay at Detroit on New Year's Day.

Scary stuff there for the Cheeseheads late in Sunday's contest. Don't freak out. A division win on the road is a division win on the road, particularly when it comes in balmy, nine-degree weather. Barring a major misstep against a freshly-blown-out Vikings squad, the Packers will be playing for their eighth straight playoff berth Week 17 in Detroit. How ridiculous was Ty Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, rushing for 162 yards and two tugs on 16 carries? Almost as ridiculous as throwing a ball 60 yards in the effing cold to essentially ice the game.

Thought Dirk Koetter's outfit proved itself, even in a loss, as a legit playoff contender. Despite several self-inflicted wounds, the Bucs had the ball with a true chance to steal the game on the road against the NFC's top club. Now, if the season ended today, Tampa Bay would not be a part of the postseason equation. But with the Saints and Panthers on tap, the Bucs may well be come January 1st.

Survived. That's about how you can sum up the Ravens' win over the Eagles on Sunday. With another Steelers win in Cincy, and Pittsburgh set to host the winless Browns in Week 17, Baltimore's playoff hopes would have been on life support had Carson Wentz's two-point conversion-pass found Jordan Matthews' hands (whether Matthews would actually catch it is a whole 'nother adventure). Now the season comes down to a Christmas showdown at Heinz Field. Ravens fans sure hope C.J. Mosley's well-timed interruption wasn't the only present of the holiday season for this good bunch of kids.

Hats off to the little team that could from Nashville. The Titans have defied the odds since coming off the Week 13 bye, taking two close contests against the big, bad AFC West and keeping their playoff hopes alive. Once again, the 1956 football formula works in 2016 for this team: pound the run and play stout defense. Derrick Henry, in particular, stood out on Sunday. Listened to Frank Wycheck on the Titans' radio broadcast for a bit and agreed with his take that it would be nice to see Tennessee use the big rookie more to soften up defenses for DeMarco Murray. Next up: at Jacksonville.

Thought Matt Moore would acquit himself well, but good grief -- the top-notch backup delivered a top-shelf performance, completing 12 of his 18 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Read those numbers again. That's 13.1 yards per attempt, and a touchdown pass every 4.5 attempts. That's called being efficient. With Miami at 9-5, the sixth seed is the Dolphins' spot to lose.

Big drop for a Denver team that has now lost four of six. The defense did its job Sunday. ( Just ask the No Fly Zone.) Tom Brady didn't complete a ball until the second quarter. Trevor Siemian, who wasn't phenomenal, is trying to do his job. The running game, meanwhile, might keep everybody out of playoff jobs. Gary Kubiak desperately has tried to inject life into a ground attack that doesn't amount to even a ground scuffle without C.J. Anderson, signing Justin Forsett off the street, then starting him over the once-upon-a-time heir apparent, Devontae Booker. Why circle this instead of team-wide failures in key moments? Because the Broncos face Justin Houston and friends, then Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin (who had two sacks Sunday) on New Year's Day. Denver must maintain at least a morsel of balance to keep those guys off Siemian.

Harsh drop for the Redskins, no question. As my colleague Michael Robinson said on "Total Access: Endgame" Monday night, this team "had no energy." Reggie Wayne mentioned "no sense of urgency." The 29 yards rushing -- total -- didn't help, either. The Redskins now have lost three of four, with that last playoff spot perilously far from reach. Now the Packers or Lions are frontrunners for the sixth seed. Or Tampa Bay. Bad loss.

Still not sure how the Colts pulled it off. Pulled it off? They destroyed the Vikings on Sunday. Holy crap. Andrew Luck was brilliant, averaging nearly 9 yards per throw while not turning the ball over. Frank Gore picked up 100 yards rushing, only the second 100-yard performance by an Indy running back since 2012. Right tackle Le'Raven Clark made his first career start, joining right guard Joe Haeg and center Ryan Kelly to give the Colts a rookie triumvirate on the offensive line. Yet, they crushed it against a top-tier front seven on the road in a loud park. Football makes no sense. Speaking of cents (and dollars), Luck is worth $140 million and then some. Next up: at Oakland.

Wait, the Texans win, are in first place in the AFC South and go down in these rankings? Yep. At home on Sunday, versus one of the worst teams in pro football (so bad, in fact, that Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley was fired after the game), Houston looked anything but impressive. Making a quarterback change heading into Week 16 doesn't bode well, either ... especially with the division-rival Titans and Colts delivering two of the most impressive wins of the weekend. The Texans beat both clubs, but who knows what to expect from Tom Savage at quarterback? The kid handled being thrust into duty well, and before evaluating further, we must see if he performs versus the Bengals. That said, at this point of the season, it's about which teams are hot ... and not which teams escape.

What to make of the Bills? Still alive in the postseason race? Check. Blowout win? Check. Against one of the worst teams of the modern era? Uh, yeah -- check. Speculation ran rampant regarding both Rex Ryan and Tyrod Taylor's future in Buffalo this week. Both men will find the next two weeks more promising if the Bills run like they did Sunday. Shady McCoy scampered past the 1,000-yard mark on the season while the offense ran up 280 rushing yards on the hapless Browns. Getting back to the point: It's difficult to consider firing a head coach who is 15-15 with his team still in the playoff hunt. And considering this is only Taylor's second year starting, and given the uneven play of established starters like Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford and so on, can we really judge Taylor so quickly and definitively?

Hands down the worst performance of the NFL weekend. The Vikings hosted a Colts team that had allowed its quarterback to be hit more than any other signal caller in the league, and whose offensive line was severely banged up. Andrew Luck was also without the services of his best red-zone threat. Not only did Minnesota carry these matchup advantages, but a chance to possibly eliminate the Packers next week -- provided the Vikings could beat Indy -- before hosting the Bears in Week 17 should have motivated this team to play great football. Fail. Not sure the Vikings have ever looked worse in the Mike Zimmer era.

Impressive win for the Panthers, even if it came too late in the season to salvage said season. The energy pushing the team Monday night came from the stout legs of Jonathan Stewart, whom, I am beginning to think, Jon Gruden loves more than life itself. "Tell you what, Sean ... Jaaaahnnnnnathan Stewwwart made some sweet runns, TUH-nite! He made plaaays ... Oh man, that's just a great run right der!" Cam Newton played well, too. The backbone of these last two wins? A secondary that has improved so much since September. That was the league's third-ranked offense they held to 15 points.

The '85 Bears couldn't have done s#$% against Drew Brees on Sunday. Watch 10 minutes of Saints- Cardinals on Game Pass this week, and you'll see a Hall of Fame quarterback discarding recent woes and whispers from sports writers to rip what had been the league's second-ranked pass defense coming into this contest to absolute shreds. Needless to say, the Cardinals aren't ranked that highly anymore. Much of the postgame conjecture centered around New Orleans running back Mark Ingram's sideline blowup over being pulled from the game with the Saints at the 2-yard line. Never mind that the offense gained 488 yards and Brees put up 389 and four touchdowns.

Rough performance from the Bengals' offense Sunday. Put another way, it was offensive. Cincy began the day strong, taking the ball right down the field on the opening drive of the game against Pittsburgh for a field goal. The Bengals tacked on two more touchdowns before even half the second quarter was gone. Then ... nothin'. Andy Dalton was, in a word, really not productive. That was three words. Here are three more: out of playoffs.

First things first: The Cardinals lost, and deserved to lose, to New Orleans. But that call against Sio Moore on Sunday was ridiculous. It was obvious Moore wasn't trying to hit Drew Brees with his helmet. The Saints quarterback got hit by Kevin Minter, which essentially caused Moore to hit him in the head. Given that, had the 11-yard sack stood, the Cardinals would have knocked the Saints out of field-goal range in a one-score contest, the (bad) judgement call might have cost Bruce Arians' team the game. Of course, J.J. Nelson dropping a deep ball that could've gone for a quick score when the team needed two quick scores didn't help, either. Cardinals receivers dropping the football? Never!

Another week of nothing doing in terms of deciding the future of the Chargers, and another loss on the heels of a Philip Rivers interception. The franchise quarterback was under intense pressure on the final series against the Raiders, forcing a desperation throw over the middle on fourth-and-15. Is it fourth-and-long for this organization to stay put in San Diego? The irony was drenched in silver and black as Qualcomm Stadium erupted in cheers -- after Reggie Nelson picked off that football. Yep, it felt like a Raiders home game in that moment. Basically, one California team that appears to have a foot in Las Vegas had half its fan base show up in San Diego to beat another California team (and divisional opponent) that seems ever closer to moving to Los Angeles ... where the Raiders used to play.

At first, didn't like Doug Pederson going for the win late Sunday. Thought that carrying the momentum from scoring that late touchdown (on a sweet Carson Wentz run) would spill over into overtime. The Eagles' defense was holding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in check, particularly on third down. But think about it: Why not go for the win on the road? Philadelphia isn't fighting for a playoff berth, and the opportunity to try for the victory presented an even rarer opportunity to display confidence in your rookie quarterback in a truly meaningful moment. How many of those are left in a 5-9 season?

I've said it for weeks and will it reiterate here: Matt Barkley can play. Whether that means he is a viable starter in terms of taking the Bears to the next step (which, sadly, means getting over .500) remains to be seen. Yet, the dusted-off-this-season quarterback deserves to be in the mix to start in 2017. Moreover, there is no way Jay Cutler can be part of the equation in Chicago. The former "franchise" quarterback has now been outplayed by three backups -- Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer and Barkley -- since 2013. How about 113 more scrimmage yards from the emerging Jordan Howard on Sunday? OK, this has been far too positive to be a Bears blurb. On to the Rams.

Well, the white helmets looked cool. Of course, the Rams couldn't even get that right, as the rest of the jersey didn't match. If you're going to sport the look of the late-'60s Rams, then go all the way and look like the late-'60s Rams. Those teams sported a simple but sweet white-and-navy-blue color scheme that gave the early-'80s Eric Dickerson Rams uni a 2,105-yard run for its money. Oh, yeah, the post-Jeff Fisher product on the field is much the same as it was before he was fired. Now Fisher apparently wants revenge. Got to get another job to pull that off.

Need to type this Jets blurb before a Dolphins pass rusher gets a free run at it. Geez, how many times can a defense enjoy an unimpeded path to the quarterback? Free rushers caved New York's chances in the fourth quarter, de-cleating Bryce Petty (before folding him up in a Wake-Suh envelope). No matter the howls after that play, or all evening, one thing is certain: Christian Hackenberg ain't playing.

It's almost always a knee-jerk reaction for a head coach to get fired before the team's charter flight returns home from a road trip, especially with only two games left in the season. Then again, team brass reportedly wanted to release Bradley after the loss to the Vikings in Week 14. (So why wait until after a road game? Awkward.) Either way, can you blame owner Shad Khan after watching one of the most unsuccessful coaching tenures in league history? Bradley's teams won only 14 of 62 games. Even if Tom Coughlin returns to this franchise as Gandalf the White, how do you win with a quarterback who threw for 92 yards on Sunday and leads the league in giveaways?

The 49ers were, simply put, overmatched by the Falcons on Sunday. Yet, as discussed in this space in past weeks, much effort was given from Chip Kelly's guys to climb back into the game. They simply don't have the personnel (injuries haven't helped). Which is why you see the incessant tweets about the front office. Carlos Hyde's fumble gave aid to an Atlanta offense that didn't need any. We mention this because Hyde is not really a fumbler, and because he has produced a fine season for a one-win team: 950 yards rushing at 4.7 yards per tote, despite missing two games. Not bad.

Often when a team is winless or gets blown out, the first thing you can point to is giveaways, particularly from the quarterback position. Not the case with the Browns, who simply let the other team run for 280 yards. Speaking of running the football, thought Isaiah Crowell could have a big day against the Bills' front. Sure enough, Crowell ripped off a big run up the gut on the second play from scrimmage. Holding. Bring it back. Cleveland got away from the run, got down 14 points and was on its way to loss No. 14. Next up: Chargers. Maybe?

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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