Week 15 was a beautiful bit of stage-setting for what should be a glorious final two weeks in the NFL regular season.
I guess what I'm trying to say is you should continue to watch professional football, at least through the end of the calendar year. Consider it unsolicited advice from your friendly neighborhood Power Rankings Guy.
Let's get to it ...
More dominance by the Ravens. The victims this time were the Jets, a flawed and injury-depleted team that had no shot at containing Lamar Jackson, who probably locked up the MVP award with a five-touchdown night. Jackson added 86 more yards on the ground, breaking the NFL single-season rushing record for a quarterback in the process. Before you judge Jets players for going full fanboy on Jackson after the game, keep in mind the guy handing out autographed jerseys is on pace to throw 38 touchdowns and rush for 1,200 yards. It's been as historic an individual season as we've seen this century, so let's excuse his vanquished opponents for soaking in the moment. Jackson's dominance makes it easy to miss how great the Ravens have been as a whole during their 10-game winning streak. That includes the defense, which has allowed just 14.6 points per game since Week 7. This is the clear Super Bowl favorite.
All hail Drew Brees, who decided one incredible NFL record wasn't enough on Monday Night Football. The Saints legend went 29 of 30 for 307 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-7 win over the Colts, passing Peyton Manning for the all-time touchdown record and setting the new standard in single-game accuracy by completing 96.7 percent of his throws. Yup, it was a special night at the Superdome. Here's your reminder that Brees enjoyed his nearly perfect night at 40 years old. Man. The night was nearly perfect as a whole for the Saints, who came within one garbage-time score of a shutout, one week after the Niners hung 48 points on them at home. New Orleans will need some outside help to land a first-round bye, but this team looks as dangerous as any in football with two games to go.
That Week 17 matchup with the 49ers continues to loom over everything, but for now, the
Seahawks can enjoy where they stand: 11-3 and
sitting atop the NFC with the No. 1 seed. On Sunday, they took care of business in a depleted state,
beating the Panthers in Charlotte without
Shaquill Griffin or
Mychal Kendricks. By the time the game was over,
Bobby Wagner and
Quandre Diggs joined the walking wounded. Luckily, Seattle still has the ever-indestructible
Russell Wilson behind center. The quarterback led the 'Hawks on touchdown drives in each of their first three possessions, allowing Seattle to coast to the finish line. Wagner and Diggs both suffered ankle injuries; Wagner stated he should be fine, while Pete Carroll said the Diggs injury will likely cost him time. It's another hit to a defense that could soon reach the limit of the
The 49ers now have three losses: Two on game-ending field goals, and one -- Sunday's stunning 29-22 setback to the Falcons -- on a Julio Jones touchdown catch with two seconds to play. It was a painful letdown game for Kyle Shanahan's team, but all is not lost. The Niners surrendered a temporary grip on the No. 1 seed and division lead, but the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs can still be theirs with wins over the Rams and Seahawks in the final two weeks. What Sunday's loss to the Falcons did was remove any margin for error from the process. The biggest bright spot on Sunday was George Kittle, whose dominance, both as a receiver and a blocker, can be accurately described as Gronk-esque. We're talking peak Gronk. Kittle set a career high against the Falcons with 13 catches (on 17 targets!) for 134 yards. This is a bad man.
The Chiefs look like a team ready to make a run. Sunday's 23-3 win over the Broncos appears workmanlike on the surface, but a closer examination shows a Kansas City team humming on both sides of the ball. The steady snowfall did little to slow down Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, both to Tyreek Hill. The defense was even better. Drew Lock was held under 50 percent completions, and the Broncos had a season-low 52 rushing yards. The Chiefs have allowed 17 or fewer points in four consecutive games -- they managed that feat just four times total in 2018. One area with room for improvement? The running game, which remains missing in action on most weeks. Makes you wonder if Andy Reid and Co. have regrets about trading Carlos Hyde, who went over 1,000 yards for the Texans on Sunday.
The Packers' offense is fairly one-dimensional as the season reaches the home stretch. Well, really two-dimensional. Aaron Jones is a reliable touchdown monster, up to 17 after two more scores against the Bears on Sunday. Then there's Davante Adams, who went over 100 yards with a TD on Sunday and has easily outproduced all other Packers receivers despite missing significant time to injury. Aaron Rodgers must make the most of his two stars, because another reliable option hasn't materialized ( Marquez Valdes-Scantling's whiff on a would-be 70-yard TD springs to mind). It's perhaps a minor quibble for a Packers team that's now 11-3 and closing in on a postseason bye, but it's fair to wonder how this Green Bay attack will function when the beasts of the NFC start popping up on their schedule. A big test comes Monday night with a treacherous road matchup against the Vikings. It could decide the NFC North.
The combination of Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo changed everything on Sunday. Hunter's forced fumble and Odenigbo's subsequent scoop and 56-yard touchdown return served as the turning point in a 39-10 Vikings win that included seven Chargers turnovers. That's the most forced turnovers for Minnesota since 1995. The Vikings are one game behind the Packers in the NFC North, with Green Bay coming to U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday. Who will be running the football for the home team in that massive division showdown? Dalvin Cook exited in third quarter on Sunday after aggravating his shoulder injury, and backup Alexander Mattison missed the entire game with an ankle injury. A compromised backfield will put more on the shoulders of Kirk Cousins, who could use a prestige W before January hits. The Vikings have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season. If they can set themselves up with a home game or two in the playoffs ... look out.
A reminder never to count out or dismiss the Texans. Houston went into Nashville and showed no fear against a surging Titans team, scoring the game's first two touchdowns and holding on for a 24-21 win. It's a massive victory that puts the Texans in the driver's seat to claim their second consecutive AFC South title. This was a big game for the defense. The unit held the Titans scoreless in the first half and got a game-changing play -- Whitney Mercilus' goal-line interception and 86-yard return -- that altered the course of the afternoon. On offense, Deshaun Watson found Kenny Stills for two touchdowns, while Carlos Hyde rushed for 100 yards and a score, going over 1,000 yards for the season. Here's your reminder that Bill O'Brien landed both those players (plus star left tackle Laremy Tunsil) on the last day of August. Not bad work by the de facto GM.
For the second time in 21 years, the Buffalo Bills are headed to the playoffs. Oh, hell, let's spin positive. For the second time in three years, the Buffalo Bills are headed to the playoffs. They got there in style, intercepting four Duck Hodges passes in a 17-10 win over the Steelers at Heinz Field in front of Al, Cris, Michele and the world. Tiebreaker scenarios make an AFC East title unlikely, even in the event of a win over the Patriots in Foxborough next week, but who cares? The Bills have punched their ticket ... and do you really want to face this defense on a cold day in January? So much of the credit for this Buffalo turnaround belongs to Sean McDermott, who managed to import to Western New York the dominant style of defense he built in Carolina. This team is hungry, and it believes.
The Titans suffered a painful setback on Sunday in Nashville, where they had the opportunity to take control of the AFC South but were instead dealt a 24-21 loss to the Texans. It makes Tennessee a long shot to claim the division, but Mike Vrabel's team remains in solid position to secure a wild-card spot with a strong close. The Titans didn't play poorly by any stretch of the imagination against the Texans. Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown spun their magic once again, and the offense went over 400 yards despite being shut out in the first half. One potential concern: Derrick Henry might be limited right now by a nagging hamstring injury. CBS cameras showed the star running back getting his leg taped up in the second quarter, and if you take out a first-half run of 23 yards, he averaged just 3.2 yards on his remaining 20 carries. Tannehill has been a revelation, but Henry is the key to everything.
Here's the biggest concern coming out of Western Pennsylvania on Monday morning. Did Sunday night's 17-10 loss to the Bills expose the ceiling of the 2019 Steelers as a good team with a great defense that is destined to lose a low-scoring game in the playoffs because the offense can't hack it? Devlin Hodges has been a nice story this season, but his limitations as a passer were laid bare against a Bills defense that intercepted him four times, including on each of Pittsburgh's final two possessions. Hodges showed himself to be the superior option to Mason Rudolph -- the original Ben Roethlisberger replacement -- because he protected the football and made just enough plays. The Bills showed just how vulnerable the Steelers are if you can get ahead and force Hodges to try to beat you. Put in that position on Sunday night, the man they call Duck could not answer the call.
The Cowboys entered Sunday riding a three-game losing streak, with doom in the air and a fast-improving Rams team coming to town. The stage was set for another humbling setback and a particularly voracious round of Jason Garrett obituaries. But then the game started, and the Cowboys played like the superior team in every conceivable way. Final score: 44-21. Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes, and Ezekiel Elliott totaled 160 yards from scrimmage, with a pair of scores. The defense, shredded for 273 ground yards by the Rams in last year's playoffs, held Todd Gurley and Co. to 22 yards on 14 carries. How fast can things change in the NFL? Suddenly, the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win over the Eagles on Sunday. Of course, it's smart not to assume anything with this team, and to view any football "expert" who speaks with certainty on the Cowboys with extreme suspicion.
Carson Wentz is an imperfect quarterback at this stage of his career, but damn if the man is not impressive when the chips are down. For the second consecutive week, Wentz led the
Eagles on a late game-winning touchdown drive, this time victimizing the
a 37-27 win at FedExField. Playing with a group of wide receivers who would be held in check by defensive backs in the XFL, Wentz made it work, connecting with
Greg Ward Jr. on
the go-ahead touchdown with 26 seconds to play. The first of Wentz's three touchdown passes --
a 15-yard dart to Miles Sanders in the third quarter -- might have been the most impressive throw any QB has made this season. At 7-7, the
Eagles have it all in front of them now: If they beat the
at home Sunday and beat the
at the Meadowlands in Week 17, they are NFC East champions.
So much for momentum. The Rams had it on their side when they got to Jerrah World on Sunday, but a 44-21 loss reminded us how fickle a temptress Miss Mo can be. The kind way to explain the outcome would be saying the Cowboys are a talented but underachieving team that found its top gear at the worst possible time for Los Angeles. The more blunt -- and perhaps more accurate -- viewpoint would be that the Rams were overwhelmed and outclassed by a mediocre opponent. Whatever the spin, it was ugly, and now the Rams' only chance of defending their conference title in January is to win out against the 49ers and Cardinals and pray the Vikings lose out to the Packers and Bears. "We went out there and played horrible," Aaron Donald said. "When you play horrible, you get beat, you get beat pretty bad, and we got embarrassed today."
Here's the bonkers stat of Week 15: After another gargantuan passing day in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Lions, Jameis Winston became the first player in NFL history with 450-plus passing yards in consecutive games. The first player in NFL history. We'll repeat our point from last week: How do the Bucs make sense of this late surge in Winston's contract year? Are you really prepared to cut ties with a former No. 1 overall pick who leads the NFL in passing yards and is second in touchdowns? Yes, there's the not-inconsequential fact he also paces the league with 24 interceptions. But still. BUT STILL! And keep in mind Winston did his damage against the Lions without star receivers Mike Evans (sidelined by a hamstring injury) or -- for much of the second half -- Chris Godwin (carted off Sunday with his own hamstring injury). Prediction time: Bruce Arians doesn't want Winston playing for anyone but Bruce Arians in 2020.
That's a wrap on the Bears, who needed to find a way to beat the Packers in Lambeau to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They couldn't do it, because the bad version of the Chicago offense returned at the worst possible juncture. The Bears managed just 14 yards in a scoreless first quarter and just 13 points overall, looking little like the offense that rolled up 800 yards and 55 points in the previous two weeks. Mitchell Trubisky made some plays and finished with 334 yards on a whopping 53 passes, but his fourth-quarter interception -- fired directly into the arms of defensive lineman Dean Lowry -- was the type of failure his season will be remembered by. The Bears have an interesting decision to make at quarterback in the offseason. Trubisky gets two more weeks to state his case.
It may not have seemed like it in the moment, but the Falcons had the 49ers right where they wanted them. Trailing by five with 1:42 to play, Atlanta had the ball, a timeout and nothing to lose. The Falcons are never out of a game when Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are humming, and the two superstars did their best work on the ensuing 70-yard drive, which ended with Jones' 4-yard touchdown catch with two seconds left that clinched a victory over San Francisco. It was the type of win, on the road, against a conference superpower, that can change perspectives behind the scenes at Flowery Branch. It's been a foregone conclusion that Dan Quinn would lose his job at the end of the year, but could Sunday's outcome, paired with a couple more wins before the curtain goes down on 2019, be enough to save the head coach? Stay tuned.
Here's the sick thing: After all the disappointment of this season, the Browns could have been right in the thick of the wild-card race this week. The Titans and Steelers both lost in Week 15, which would have put the Browns one game behind both teams with two to play, had they taken care of business against a Cardinals team riding a six-game losing streak. But the 2019 Cleveland Browns don't take care of business. They talk a lot, and make dumb mistakes, and kick away opportunities -- and that's why they'll be sitting at home once again come playoff time. As Gregg Rosenthal pointed out on Sunday's Around The NFL Podcast, the Browns might be the most consistent team in football. The problem is that it's the bad kind of consistency. You don't get peaks and valleys, just an unimpressive plateau you can hike in about 20 minutes.
Hey, at least the Colts got a front-row seat to history. Going against a superior Saints team at the Superdome on a night that felt like it was custom-built for maximum Drew Brees glory, Indy played the part of a jobber in professional wrestler: Show up, take your beating, get paid, go home. The Colts weren't always the Barry Horowitz of the NFL: A few weeks ago, this was a frisky team that looked like it had a real shot at winning the AFC South. But injuries to Jacoby Brissett, Marlon Mack, Eric Ebron and T.Y. Hilton sapped the offense of its potency, and the defense regressed badly. In the last two games, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston went a combined 62 of 75 (82.7 percent) for 763 yards with eight touchdowns against the Indy D. Brissett is a nice player, but he won't win many shootouts, especially with his current cast. There's always next year.
A grotesque Sunday for the Chargers, who turned it over seven times in a 39-10 loss to the Vikings at Dignity Health Sports Park -- overrun, as usual, by fans of the visiting team. Let's go ahead and count those turnovers, shall we? Two fumbles by Melvin Gordon, a fumble by tight end Hunter Henry and a fumble and three interceptions by Philip Rivers, who's up to 18 picks on the season. Getting slaughtered in the turnover battle is a big reason why the Chargers are limping to the finish line with a losing record. Speaking of Rivers, performances like these will only build speculation about his future in Los Angeles. Anthony Lynn is likely safe on the strength of last year's 12-4 finish, but could the coach make an internal push for a younger option under center in 2020? There should be no shortage of potential replacements on the market this offseason.
The Broncos can't beat the Chiefs. Doesn't matter who the quarterback is, or who's playing defense, or what the weather conditions might be -- Denver continues to be on the nail-end of the hammer. The Broncos were beaten by the Chiefs in blizzard-like conditions at Arrowhead on Sunday, the ninth consecutive defeat at the hands of the reigning AFC West champions. Denver hasn't beaten Kansas City since Peyton Manning was around. Yep, it's been awhile. Drew Lock seemed like a guy who could bring some sizzle to this rivalry, especially after his stellar showing against the Texans in Week 14. But Lock completed less than half his passes and threw an ugly interception late in the third quarter that essentially sealed his team's fate. Lock's rookie audition wraps with plum matchups against the Lions and Raiders, two of the worst defenses in the league. The stage is set for a strong close.
At least Jon Gruden got his apology. The Raiders coach told reporters on Monday that the NFL acknowledged the game clock should have kept running after Derek Carr slid to the ground for a first down late in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars. Poor Carr said after the game that the clock stoppage was "one of the most shocking moments of my life." Game officials erroneously ruled that Carr had slid out of bounds, which gave the Jaguars the extra time they needed to mount a game-stealing touchdown drive. It was one last dose of heartbreak for the fans in Oakland, who didn't get to celebrate a win in the team's final home game before moving to Las Vegas in 2020. The depressing nature of Sunday's affair pretty neatly matched up with the past four weeks for the Raiders, who went from 6-4 to 6-8 faster than you can say Spider 2 Y Banana.
This game was billed as a showdown of the past two No. 1 overall picks, but Kenyan Drake stole the show from the hotshot quarterbacks on Sunday in the desert. Drake rushed for a career-high four touchdowns in a 38-24 win over the Browns in Glendale. The win was especially sweet for Drake, who was traded from the then-winless Dolphins at midseason and had endured a personal losing streak that had covered 14 weeks. Drake also ran for a career-best 137 yards, part of a 226-yard rushing day for Arizona. Drake's big afternoon further clouds the future of one-time starter David Johnson, who last week expressed unhappiness with his vastly reduced role. Johnson figures to be a goner this season, most likely via trade.
Cue the Bart Simpson "At Least You Tried" GIF. The Jets did their best to keep things respectable for two quarters against the Ravens, but a disastrous third quarter exposed just how massive the gap is between Adam Gase's injury-depleted and talent-deficient squad and the best team in football. One week after his iconic Flu Game, Le'Veon Bell set a season high with 87 rushing yards; the high-priced running back is still looking for his first 100-yard game with three weeks to go. Bell is under contract for 2020, but this has been a bad fit from the jump. If the Jets can't insta-build an offensive line that plays to Bell's skill set, general manager Joe Douglas is better off finding a trade partner and a clean break. Does anyone remember the last high-profile free-agent signing that actually worked out for the Jets? Just one of many reasons behind the team's nine-year playoff drought.
Another lost game in a lost season for the Panthers, but don't let that overshadow the brilliance of Christian McCaffrey. The third-year running back piled up another 175 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's loss to the Seahawks, putting him over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the season. If he can add 186 receiving yards to his ledger by the close of Week 17, he'll join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players to finish with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. And while we're here: Any talk of shutting CMC down needs to be swept into the nearest trash receptacle. The kid is enjoying a special season -- the Panthers should give him every opportunity to finish it off by making some history.
We're seeing some progress here. The Redskins came heartbreakingly close to an upset win over the Eagles. They almost pulled it off because Dwayne Haskins played the best game of his young career. The first-round pick threw for a career-best 261 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard TD hookup with super rookie Terry McLaurin. Haskins is in developmental mode, but he's shown the poise and arm ability to make you believe Washington has a potential long-term answer under center. Of course, every young QB needs a star wide receiver he can trust, and McLaurin -- who went over 100 yards for the third time this season -- fits that bill perfectly. Here's a nug Redskins fans can hit their Eagles-supporting buddies with: McLaurin was drafted 19 picks after Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had zero receptions Sunday and has just eight on the season.
Moribund in the Meadowlands: The Dolphins finish 0-for-2 in back-to-back games at MetLife Stadium. Not a good look, especially when you consider their opponents -- the Jets and Giants -- entered game action with a combined record of 6-19. It's just another reminder that pluck only gets you so far in the National Football League. The Dolphins need more talent, and it goes beyond the quarterback the team will target -- perhaps desperately -- come draft time. The offensive line is in need of a complete rebuild, and the midseason trade of running back Kenyan Drake has unearthed no discernible talent lurking behind him on the depth chart. Here's an eye-popping stat: Ryan Fitzpatrick leads all Dolphins players with 219 yards rushing. Yes, that Ryan Fitzpatrick. The guy with the beard and the Harvard degree and all the kids. Miami has stockpiled a bunch of draft picks, but the Dolphins need to hit some home runs come April.
The Jaguars are finishing off a lost season that will almost assuredly lead to a major overhaul -- on the roster, on the sidelines and likely upstairs in management. So let's give Doug Marrone and his team credit for getting off the soggy turf at Oakland Coliseum and deciding not to let the Raiders throw a goodbye party at their expense. Gardner Minshew maximized his final chance to make something happen late in the fourth quarter, leading Jacksonville on the go-ahead touchdown drive to seal a 20-16 come-from-behind win. "It's something special to be a part of," Minshew said of the Raiders' Oakland finale. "It will be like an Aflac trivia question in like 20 years." Minshew has been impressive all season, but never more so than in this moment, corporate branding his own hypothetical trivia question.
That's how it should end for Eli Manning: leaving the field to cheers from the Giants faithful after throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-20 win over the Dolphins. Eli represents a not-so-distant franchise past filled with big games and Super Bowl championships. Now the Giants can direct their attention back toward a more pressing matter: finding a way to dig this proud organization up from the bottom of the NFL barrel. A big part of that future is Saquon Barkley, who finally returned to form with 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins. It was Barkley's first 100-yard game since the ankle sprain that sent his season sideways back in Week 3. Even with the win, the Giants remain in the No. 2 spot of the 2020 NFL Draft, thanks to a slight strength-of-schedule advantage over the Dolphins and Redskins.
The losses keep coming for the Lions, who have now dropped seven straight and 10 of 11. That 2-0-1 start feels like it came a very, very, very, very long time ago. Detroit hasn't even held a lead this month, and Jameis Winston torched Detroit's overmatched defense for 300 yards and three touchdowns in the first 20 or so minutes of Sunday's 38-17 defeat. The question in the final weeks is, where should the blame fall? Matt Patricia hasn't delivered results in his first two seasons on the job, but how much can be expected with a third-string quarterback starting games and a defense that needs a massive infusion of talent? It's hard to imagine even Bill Belichick, Patricia's old boss, turning this version of the Lions into a fighting squad, but don't be surprised if management opts with a sideline overhaul anyway. Teams trapped in an extended cycle of losing love to hit the reset button.
The bad news? Andy Dalton had a stretch in the second half on Sunday in which he threw three interceptions in eight pass attempts, an avalanche of turnovers by the Glowing Ginger Man that more or less sank the Bengals in a 34-13 loss to the Patriots. The good news? The Giants beat the Dolphins on Sunday, which means the Bengals have become a heavy favorite to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. This all happened, by the way, on the same weekend LSU super-stud quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy in a historic landslide. These are dark days in Cincinnati, but a new hope is coming.
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