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NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Patriots up; Bengals drop

Super Bowl XLIX, 2.0.

Based on how the Seahawks and Patriots went to work in Week 14, we would be in for a treat if those teams linked up on Super Sunday again. Thus, the Power Rankings see Seattle and New England climb the ranks, while the top two teams stay right where they are. As for a pesky team outside the top group ...

Sorry, broseph -- was spending all day Monday getting these suckers ready. See below.

I'm not sure Jed York reads my Power Rankings. But if he does, he would know that I enjoyed "Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan" -- and that Jim Tomsula deserves another year.

The Federation was located in San Francisco. So is a 4-9 team that lost to Johnny Manziel and the Browns, who moved up, by the way. As for the rest of the league, take a look below. As always, feel free to share your take ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Dec. 8 Power Rankings.

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After weeks of speculation that the Panthers would be the worst undefeated team in history, they go out and beat a divisional rival, 38-zip. And this "defensive" team has managed to score 79 points over the last two weeks. In the process, Cam Newton comes out briefly after tweaking his wrist -- then comes back in to tighten his vise grip on the MVP award. Ho hum. What a season.

Arizona has staked its claim as the second best team and isn't letting go anytime soon. Most impressive is the cadre of offensive contributors, from David Johnson to J.J. Nelson to Michael Floyd. How about the downfield blocking display that both Floyd and fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald put on week in and week out? Check out Floyd's catch-and-run touchdown in the second half of Thursday's win over the Vikings -- Fitz literally flattens the defender in front of him. That kind of effort from a 12th-year wideout ... almost as impressive as a 14th-year pass rusher's spin move. #Freeney

A single thought for your Tuesday Patriots' read: Give Gronk all the credit you want. Lump it on like brown sugar in your morning oatmeal, man. Call him the most valuable non-QB in the game, because he is. Others can take J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, Adrian Peterson and Miles Austin to their heart's desire ... Rob Gronkowski is the queen on the chessboard in the New England attack, and the best player at his job in the NFL. Next question.

Who wants to play Seattle in January? Anyone? Anyone? ... Bueller? The Seahawks' offense has been on a serious roll since the Week 12 win over Pittsburgh -- the unit has been unstoppable despite losing Jimmy Graham in that contest, and it stayed that way after losing running back Thomas Rawls for the season in Sunday's win over the Ravens. Through it all, Doug Baldwin has developed into a WR1 (or he always was one), while rookie Tyler Lockett has shown himself to be more than just a glorified kick returner. Russell Wilson is playing like an absolute badass.

Boy oh boy, the win in Cincinnati -- coupled with Andy Dalton's injury -- has the Steelers in prime position. We didn't get the Ben Roethlisberger aerial show we anticipated, but Pittsburgh's offense did enough -- and stuck with the ground game enough -- to pull off a very large W. DeAngelo Williams' 25 touches played a major role. Let's just hope he doesn't remember he's a 10th-year pro anytime soon. Let's also hope Stephon Tuitt doesn't remember he's a 303-pound defensive lineman anytime soon. He looked Lev Bell-nimble making that pick in the red zone. #gamechanger

Wanted to drop a nice line about the Broncos here ... but I figured there was no way I could live up to the "dropping things" standard set by Denver's receivers. That bar is way too high. Demaryius Thomas and Vernon Davis suffered two of the most ill-timed drops you'll ever see in Sunday's loss to the Raiders. At least Thomas made up for it with a terrible fumble. And then there was the muffed punt by Emmanuel Sanders at his own 20 ... alright, this is getting depressing. On to the next blurb.

Mike McCarthy calls plays. Green Bay runs the football. Packers win. Makes you wonder why McCarthy ever stopped barking plays in Aaron Rodgers' helmet. Well, most head coaches don't call the plays, as they have the game to manage. James Starks has always been a bit player, not a lead back -- and Eddie Lacy looks a legit 280 pounds. But McCarthy got back to the offensive bread and butter of 1970s-era football, pounding Lacy and sprinkling in draws to Starks.

It was muddy. It was ugly. And it was a Chiefs win. The crummy Chargers ignited panic in K.C. fans after Vincent Brown (remember that guy?) caught a ball at the 1. Yet, Kansas City tightened up with some help from, well, the crummy Chargers: first a delay-of-game, then the Danny Woodhead drop. All I know is this: The Chiefs are going 11-5, and Tamba Hali looks reaaaaaalll nice when he gets a little R&R during the week.

The worst possible scenario for the Bengals went down this past weekend: They lost their game against the Steelers *and* they lost their MVP candidate of a quarterback. Now, not only is a first-round bye in jeopardy, but so is the AFC North. Luckily for Cincy, Dalton won't need surgery and could be back for the playoffs, potentially keeping the team's postseason hopes from being doused by injuries for a second straight year. Still, Sunday's game will mark the first Bengals contest not started by Dalton since 2010, who has stayed upright his entire career (77 games) till now. Character-check time in Cincinnati.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is one wicked-hot quarterback right now. Which sucks for him, because you can tell he really loves that lumberjack beard. As sexy as it might be, you simply can't ignore the numbers since he went more Michael McDonald and less Grizzly Adams. Amish-bearded Fitzpatrick (his first 10 games): 219.9 yards per game, 16 touchdowns, 11 picks, 81.5 passer rating. Trimmed Fitzpatrick (the last three games): 310.0 yards per game, nine touchdowns, zero picks, 111.5 passer rating.

What the heck was Teddy Bridgewater doing on that final play Thursday night? Whatever it was, he can't hold the ball that long. Sure, you can question the play call with 13 seconds to go. But what team -- that is, with a solid quarterback who the coaching staff trusts -- wouldn't call at least a quick out in that scenario, so as to get the kicker closer? Answer: none.

Huge win delivered by Khalil Mack and company. We owe the latter some apologies, as right after we pointed out that he hadn't made enough All-Pro level plays earlier this season to match his reputation, he absolutely dominated in Denver on Sunday. First, he terrorized the right tackle. Then, maybe for fun, he blew right past left tackle Ryan Harris like Harris' 300-plus pounds weren't even there. Five sacks in one game -- as many as Howie Long ever had. More than Greg Townsend put up. More than Sean Jones ever registered, too. Congrats on matching that Raiders record, Mr. Mack.

Eli Manning ... that boy good. Stood in the makeup room with my colleague Erin Coscarelli (and my morning Muscle Milk breath) debating what to write about the Giants. That Eli line is the best I got. However, if pressed, I would be remiss if I didn't give Nikita Whitlock some love. Playing both ways? Come on. The fullback/linebacker's block on third-and-2 to spring Rashad Jennings for a first down on the final drive might not have loomed as large as Odell Beckham Jr.'s catch, but it was one of of the five or six plays that don't jump off the box score -- just simply win football games.

There's a tie atop the NFL's garbage division, but at least it came after the teams in first won. Washington was the first to get its W on Sunday, surprising a few folks with a road win at Soldier Field. Perhaps even more surprising has been the play of Kirk Cousins, who, over the last seven games, has completed 72.1 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 109.1 passer rating. We played a game of " Matt Ryan or ???" on the set of "NFL Now GameDay Blitz," with half the guys taking Cousins over Ryan when his name came up. Eyebrow-raising, huh? Just like the fact that Parker Brothers hasn't put a patent on " Matt Ryan or ???" -- a board game for the whole family (not available in the Atlanta market)!

It's officially OK, Philly sports fans. Pull your Wilbert Montgomery poster out of the closet and put it back on the wall. Shoot, grab your Von Hayes Fleer cards, too. The Eagles are worth going to Chickie's and Pete's to watch the game again. One week after shocking the Patriots, Philadelphia stayed atop the NFC East with a clutch win over a just-as-desperate Bills team. Props to the bendable-but-stout-when-it-mattered defense. Elsewhere, LeSean McCoy didn't return Chip Kelly's phone call. Well, I bet Kelly isn't endorsing Shady on LinkedIn. So there.

Where oh where was Tyrod Taylor throwing that ball on that clinching interception? Too many of his passes seem similarly questionable, despite the moderately nice statistics. It looked as though Taylor was determined to throw that ball down the right sideline toward Robert Woods, as he never looked anywhere else. Don't get me wrong, 50 penalties didn't help matters either.

Not the kind of showing the Texans desired in front of a national audience Sunday night. Yet, I have to agree with Cris Collinsworth on the NBC broadcast that the disruption Jadeveon Clowney caused represented a relevant development, even in a blowout. The key now is if Clowney can pull that off when it counts. Because if he becomes a force, Houston will be able to impose its will on teams defensively, even in January. And that might be with T.J. Yates at the helm, at least for some duration.

New Orleans isn't folding. Drew Brees isn't, either. With everyone talking up the Bucs and their viability in the NFC playoff picture, the Saints marched into their place and controlled the football game from stem to stern. Special acknowledgement should be sent the way of Tim Hightower, who picked up 95 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in a workhorse role (29 touches). Forget knowing he was on the Saints -- how many fans knew Hightower was even still in the league? Don't answer that, fantasy geeks.

With an opportunity to stay in the thick of the NFC Wild Card race, the Bucs' defense failed to show up Sunday. Drew Brees did whatever he wanted most of the afternoon, completing over 75 percent of his passes while converting a staggering 12 third downs. It's kind of hard to win when you can't get off the field on third down.

Boy, right when you get excited about the Bears, they spend two weeks reminding you they are, in fact, the Bears. What the heck were offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Jay Cutler thinking on the final drive? Instead of taking vertical shots on third down, why not throw something underneath to Matt Forte to get Robbie Gould closer? No matter how effective kickers are these days, 50-yarders on wet grass are not gimmes. They aren't 50-50 propositions, either.

We snapped the Jaguars near the center of the Power Rankings, but the reasoning sailed over everyone's heads. Other than one really awful play in the first half, Gus Bradley should allow his players to only watch game film of the second half. Everyone has had enough of 4-12 around here. Let these players think they're world beaters who put up 50-burgers in their sleep. The "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams were one slow offense in 1998 -- and in '99, they started believing in what they could do. Getting Marshall Faulk helped, sure -- but don't go ruining my analogy with details ... #Yeldon

Miami has too much talent to be 5-8, or at least it feels that way. The Dolphins had an opportunity to stay relevant in the AFC Wild Card race, in front of their own crowd, in front of a national TV audience, and instead fell prey to ... the Dolphins. Dumb penalties, wide receivers not helping out their quarterback, and then that same quarterback brilliantly avoiding the pass rush only to sail the ball over an open Jarvis Landry. The wideout's frustration didn't help matters, either, particularly that whole 15-yard thing. The late hit on Eli Manning wasn't enjoyable to watch. Neither was seeing defensive linemen being gassed all evening. OK, so that sums up the game in case you missed it. Run along.

The Colts have lost their last two games by a combined score of 96-26. In that span, they've turned the ball over five times, and opposing quarterbacks have thrown for seven touchdowns and no picks. Essentially, they've been playing # Falcons football. Not sure where Chuck Pagano and his staff go from here. Can you avoid watching game film for multiple weeks? (By the way, they're still tied for first place.)

Heard an interesting comment that Todd Gurley didn't let the Rams' offense ruin him Sunday. Isn't it odd that whenever an offense fails, we blame the quarterback or the coordinator (St. Louis just fired theirs last week), and never the running back? Can't they miss holes? Can't they miss blitz reads? Well, scratch the random football musings for now, because Gurley was ridiculous against that Lions front, collecting 140 yards on just 16 carries. Good grief. He resembles a sleeker version of Eddie George, if you ask me. Ironic that George's head coach was also Jeff Fisher.

Saw tweets about the Lions doing " Lionsish" things down in St. Louis, which is defined in Urban Dictionary as being crappy in a game people thought they should win against a team that had previously been hapless. It's hard to pinpoint one thing with Detroit. Maybe not allowing Todd Gurley 140 yards on 16 carries is a good start. (140 yards on 16 carries? Really? That's 8.8 yards per.)

Why did Cleveland move so high (well, at least for the Browns)?

 **b)** Far more importantly, the 
 Browns found 
 a viable quarterback, unlike the 
 Cowboys' and 
 Ravens' backups. 
 **c)** They're not the 
 Falcons, who have functioned more like 
 Mylanta than Atlanta lately. 
 **d)** The defense 
 posted nine sacks Sunday. 

The 49ers set offensive football back about 60 years on Sunday. Actually, that's unfair, as Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry would have played better football than what we saw from this San Francisco team in Cleveland. I've met Hugh. He would be more effective right now. One particular note: The 49ers went a putrid 2 for 13 on third down. What was this, the 2011 NFC Championship Game again?

Ugh. Atlanta fans should hide their eyes. Is there a worse team in pro football right now? We get it, the Falcons are 6-7, but they stink so much more than that. There are plenty of teams in pro football with worse records. Over the last seven games, Dan Quinn's team has scored all of 96 points -- 13.7 points per game from a team whose receiver is arguably the scariest in pro football -- or, at least, he's in the discussion. The Falcons made sure their fans' hopes died early Sunday, as opposed to what they did in the agonizing defeat in Tampa Bay. You know, like in the first quarter ...

If ever there was a quarterback who could make 13 of 29 for 114 yards look uglier than 13 of 29 for 114 yards, it was Matt Cassel. The Cowboys signal caller endured a rough outing at Lambeau, taking the shine off what is usually one of the NFL's classiest matchups. There have been so many wonderful football games played between these two franchises over the decades. Sunday's wasn't one of them.

Not sure what to glean from the Ravens' loss to the Seahawks. Kamar Aiken made a gaggle of plays against Seattle (five receptions for 90 yards). The running game averaged ... well, let's skip the run game. Jimmy Clausen wasn't awful. Hey, we promised Baltimore Ravens fans in our Week 14 Game Picks that they wouldn't have to endure another agonizing one-score loss. So enjoy the peaceful Sunday.

The Chargers ... finding new ways to lose since Week 1. We'll have to go back to Game Rewind to fully disseminate everything that happened in that final sequence at Arrowhead. Danny Woodhead must make that catch in the end zone. He's been the consummate pro in San Diego and even leads the team in scrimmage yards with 861. Fantastic player. It looked like he could have come up with the touchdown. One other note, this from The San Diego Union-Tribune: Philip Rivers was 2 of 9 on that final drive, with both completions coming on fourth-and-10. Seems like the Bolts have played many games like that this season.

Although it was eventually buried in the highlights among the Patriots blowing out the Texans, the Seahawks demolishing yet another opponent and Johnny Manziel head-butting tablets, the Titans' loss in New York was the worst in the NFL this past weekend. Tennessee, for all intents and purposes, was never in the game. The only coverage worse than what we saw on Brandon Marshall was ObamaCare 1.0. (Calm down. It was the last line of this football odyssey ... at least let me make myself laugh.)

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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