NFL Power Rankings: Week Eighteen

It’s hard to believe that after 18 thrilling weeks of NFL action, the regular season has come to an end. We’ve seen our ups and downs, legendary highs and bedrock-level lows, but it was all worth it in the great and beautiful adventure we call a football season. Welcome back to the final installment of the TSW NFL Power Rankings: Week Eighteen.

1: () Green Bay Packers (13-4)

What is there to say? The Lions pulled out all the stops and it wasn’t nearly enough until Green Bay sent their backups in. Jordan Love doesn’t appear to be the answer for the future, and this just helped solidify Aaron Rodgers’ position as MVP of 2022. The Packers are the best team in the NFL right now, and their refusal to let the starters get rusty with a two-week bye is indicative of their dedication to winning it all right now.

2: (1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)

Tampa Bay did what needed to be done, and got some help from the San Francisco 49ers en route to a bump in seeding. Now, instead of taking on the significantly more troublesome 49ers or Cardinals, they get to host the Philadelphia Eagles. A lucky break for a team that has had some issues this season.

3: (1) Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

This wasn’t an ideal end to the season for the Rams, who blew an early 17-point lead against the wildly inferior 49ers. It cost them a favourable matchup against the Eagles and made their playoff run that much harder. Still, they had clinched the toughest division in the NFL already and can beat any team in the league on a good day. Do they have a good day ahead? We’ll find out soon enough, as they host their division rivals, the Arizona Cardinals, in the most enticing Wild Card matchup of the weekend.

4: (1) Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

On Saturday Night Football, the Cowboys smothered the Eagles. Though it’s the result that we expected, both teams had their backups on the field in preparation for a potentially hectic playoff run, and the game was largely meaningless. Onto the postseason, as they host the 49ers.

5: (1) Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)

Kansas City is one hell of a team, but the defense isn’t fixed, as some may have had you believe. They made very little in the way of adjustments this season, and in doing so have lost the edge that came with being these indomitable powerhouses of the AFC. Though still incredible, they’re going to have their work cut out for them in a closely contested AFC playoff race. The lane to the throne is open, but they’ll put on one hell of a show in defending it. They drew the long straw, and are lucky enough to host the Pittsburgh Steelers after one of the wildest endings to the regular season we’ve ever seen.

6: (2) Arizona Cardinals (11-6)

Just a few short weeks ago Arizona was the best team in the NFL, and their late skid was unprecedented. How quickly they fell. Though they had nothing to play for in week 18, their seeding secure at fifth, they fielded the starters and lost badly to a Seahawks team without their own first-rounder to tank for. The defense was overwhelmed, Russell Wilson cooked them, and now they have tough questions to answer ahead of their visit to L.A. They take on the Rams, who have issues of their own.

7: (4) Tennessee Titans (12-5)

The Titans have dealt with a lot this season, but we had them far too low for the team that won the AFC despite it all. Respect must be paid, and so they rise. That being said, they did almost let their 21-point lead slip away against the Houston Texans and their star wideout: Danny Amendola? It came down to one major play, where Tannehill turned a would-be sack on third down to force a punt into a near-40-yard gain. He was good under duress, and so the Titans get a much-needed week off. The rest is well deserved, and they could prove troublesome if they can get just a little healthier ahead of their postseason run.

8: (1) Buffalo Bills (11-6)

Buffalo dominated the Jets in every area of the field on Sunday except one: Punting. The Bills’ offense was largely effective but, in the few moments when they stalled, Matt Haack’s three-straight shanks (and one dropped snap, resulting in a miserable 7-yard punt) allowed for all 10 of New York’s points. The defense deserves all the credit, as they combined with the Bills’ offense to create a whopping 424-53 yard differential. It didn’t turn into points early, but this was one-sided from the start. The twice-consecutive AFC East champions host the Patriots in round three of their divisional battle this Saturday.

9: () Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)

Having clinched the AFC North last weekend, Cincy rested their starters as well against the Browns who had nothing to play for but also nothing to lose. The Bengals had a chance to be the third seed, but ultimately decided it didn’t matter if it meant that they were unhealthy in the Wild Card round. They gave the Browns some issues, but this game was a was from the very beginning. Now they host the Raiders, and it couldn’t have worked out much better if they’d tried.

10: (2) San Francisco 49ers (10-7)

This was a huge break for the 49ers, who take their win over the Rams with a great deal of pride. The epic comeback was engineered by Jimmy Garoppolo, who was also a large part of why they were in the hole in the first place. Still, he outlasted his mistakes and set up the game-winner in overtime. They surged into a playoff spot with a must-win against one of the NFL’s best, and have earned the rights to visit the Dallas Cowboys on Super Wild Card Weekend.

11: (1) New England Patriots (10-7)

The Patriots have had a rough end to the season. From taking the lead in the AFC East just a few short weeks ago, they’ve lost it all to two divisional rivals that they needed to beat. The Patriots were in desperation mode late, but it was all for naught. They could have rested their starters but with the AFC East still within reach at the time they had to go for it. It didn’t pay off. The offense made too many mistakes, which Miami took advantage of, and their defense had trouble containing Miami on the ground. This Patriots secondary is still one of the scariest in the NFL, but they’ll need more if they want to get past the Bills on Saturday night.

12: (2) Las Vegas Raiders (10-7)

Viva Las Vegas, and long live Daniel Carlson. Perhaps they should have just allowed the clock to expire, but the Chargers’ interference changed their plans quickly, and the favourable fifth seed was infinitely more enticing than the lowly seventh. Derek Carr, Maxx Crosby, and a hobbled Josh Jacobs made an abundance of plays down the stretch as one of the NFL’s most unfortunate teams made history. They’ve come through a lot of hardship in 2021 but, with the first interim head coach to make the playoffs since 1961, they have a shot at unexpected greatness.

13: (5) Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)

Ouch. This is one for the books, as Chargers fans (or is it fan?) everywhere are frothing at the mouth. Justin Herbert is the real deal and there’s a case for the better team having lost on the final Sunday Night Football game of the year, but it doesn’t matter; They missed the playoffs. A questionable timeout called by Brandon Staley ended up resulting in a Raiders first down in field goal range, and though both they and their opponents could have entered the NFL Playoffs with a tie, Vegas rightfully went for the throat. Don’t play to tie, and the Chargers shouldn’t have needed to rely on the mercy of the Raiders to make the postseason.

14: (1) Indianapolis Colts (9-8)

How the mighty have fallen? How did the mighty fall at all? The Colts were expected to be coming into these playoffs to do damage, not lose to Jacksonville in a blowout to miss the postseason in its entirety. This season has thrown everything on its head 10,000 times, and this was just 10,001. Wentz wasn’t the answer, evidently, and now they lose their first-round pick because of it. Philadelphia makes the playoffs and still gets good draft position thanks to Indianapolis’ blunders. Frank Reich doesn’t deserve to be on the hot seat just yet, but he’s about to be.

15: (1) New Orleans Saints (9-8)

Much like the Ravens, New Orleans had a shot at the playoffs, and, barring a huge unexpected comeback from the 49ers, they would have made it. We know what happened now, but in that moment the Saints played their hearts out in a dominant win. We’ve said that several teams over the past few years have been “A QB away from contending”, but we really mean it. With Jameis Winston, who is not an elite passing talent, the Saints were division contenders. Imagine what they could do with an upgrade this offseason.

16: (1) Baltimore Ravens (8-9)

The Ravens had an unbelievably slim chance at making the postseason in Week 18, and it’s no wonder it didn’t work out. As they fell in overtime against the Steelers, they fell into an unfortunate middle ground that’s hard to get out of. Lamar Jackson’s contract is on the table, their draft picks are middling, and there’s no telling how well they’re going to play once the roster is fully healthy again. With a solid offseason and good conditioning, these guys can compete as early as September, but will they?

17: () Philadelphia Eagles (9-8)

Philadelphia was down their starting quarterback and still proved to be worrisomely adequate against the winners of the NFC East. Philly is a fun team to watch even with the backups in and, though the game eventually became a blowout loss, there’s very little to be mad about. The Eagles prepare for a playoff appearance as they visit the second-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers. How high can they fly?

18: (1) Miami Dolphins (9-8)

Miami fired their head coach, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Brian Flores did a good job with what he was handed in Miami, and now they look for their fifth head coach in as many years. Tua and the Fins came out strong against the Patriots to help prevent them from securing an AFC East title, though it proved unnecessary. The defense was opportunistic, the offense was crafty, and they all did enough to remind us why people had such high expectations for Miami before the year started. They’re still an offseason away from contention, but they might be as close as anyone on the bubble.

19: (1) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1)

In an interesting season, Pittsburgh got into the playoffs much like one gets into a closing set of train doors: Painfully, uncomfortably, and embarrassingly. Still, they’re in, and Roethlisberger’s career continues much as it has the past few seasons. They’re not good. They have good players, sure, but it’s far from a team and they truly don’t stand a chance against the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend. It would be so much fun if they did, though. Give a mess of credit to T.J. Watt; His 22.5 sack season is one for the history books.

20: () Seattle Seahawks (7-10)

Seattle has so much talent on offense, but their line is still a problem. The one thing Russell Wilson wanted fixed in order to stay was woefully underfunded and unsupported, and after getting hurt this season it’s hard to justify staying with the Seahawks. He has offers to go elsewhere, as QB-less teams with plenty of talent on their own rosters make for attractive destinations. Seattle could use the draft picks too. Still, they were marvelous against the Cardinals and it may be enough to prove to Russ that he’s already where he belongs.

21: () Cleveland Browns (8-9)

If you know any Browns fans, give them a call today and let them know you love them. Their QB is injured and undergoing surgery, but he was far from ideal when he was healthy, and they’ve succeeded in worsening their draft picks in the final game of the season. An 8-9 record might just be the new 8-8, as they found their offense was full of too many holes to patch right away. Committed to Baker Mayfield for the 2022 season, they have to hope that with his health comes some consistency, and they can do enough in one offseason to get back to where they expected to be: Competing for the AFC.

22: () Minnesota Vikings (8-9)

Minnesota was never going to be good enough under Mike Zimmer, but now that he’s gone they can bring in someone to actually take them to the levels they’re already capable of. The candidates on the market are ready, and this roster is just inches from that of one ready to compete. They better hire someone fast, because one of the most enticing jobs in the market needs to be ready by March; Free agency will determine the success of them in the first year under a new regime.

23: () Washington Football Team (7-10)

Washington still has the pieces they need to win games in the future, but an offseason that saw regression from areas of strength and a lack of upgrades in anywhere important (quarterback, for example) cost them. Now, they can try again. They need to do a lot to prove to their people that they actually came here to win.

24: () Denver Broncos (7-10)

Denver was enticing but disappointing, as Vic Fangio’s farewell tour ended with a soft cloud of dust. They almost pulled off the upset, which was as much about getting Fangio a new job on the way out as it was about actually trying to beat a good team. Goodnight, Denver. You make a great destination for a new head coach, but they’ll have to bring their QB from home.

25: () Atlanta Falcons (7-10)

Atlanta still has some great pieces, but the loss of Calvin Ridley lost their season. As he’s expected to part with the franchise, they’ll need major compensation to replace him, if they can. They also need to repair about half the roster, and the job is simply too large for one offseason. The rebuild is underway, keep your eyes peeled for them to sell.

26: () Chicago Bears (6-11)

Goodbye, Nagy. No-one will miss you but your NFC North rivals. The coach had been on the chopping block for years, and the only question remaining is “Why didn’t they pull the plug earlier?”. Two more seasons have been wasted, and Chicago looks about as defeated as any team in the league. However, they did well against the Vikings right up until the end, and perhaps a competent coach can make Fields into a star under the right conditions. Until they do that, this team remains in the NFL’s basement.

27: (1) Houston Texans (4-13)

It’s hard not to be impressed with some of what we’ve seen from Davis Mills in this late stretch of the season. He made some excellent plays throughout this near-comeback, and the Texans should be happy to see how he’s come along. They still likely don’t have the answer to their problems, but the fact that they could is encouraging. We’ll see how this all comes around, especially with that one particular big question needing answering in Houston this offseason.

28: (1) Carolina Panthers (5-12)

Darnold got a lot of unearned money when the Panthers picked up his guaranteed fifth-year option, and he’s laughing all the way to the bank. The experiment failed and the Panthers’ massive mismanagement of their offense and staff will mean long-term detriment for this team. They had a playoff window open, and if they can make the offense even just mediocre it’ll be good enough with this deadly secondary to help, but they won’t. They don’t know how to fix it and they’re quickly losing respect league-wide.

29: (1) Detroit Lions (3-13-1)

Funnily enough, the win didn’t change the Lions’ draft pick, and they keep the second-overall selection to themselves. A stunning return to the winner’s circle with exciting play-calling, risk-taking, and general good-natured football was in the works, and Detroit delivered. Who can truly say what lays in store, but everyone who is anyone is rooting for the Lions and Dan Campbell to win this offseason and come back swinging. They’re so fun to watch.

30: (1) New York Jets (4-13)

These poor, unfortunate souls. They put out a miserable show, but at least their draft pick holds some real value. Saleh has earned his tenure with an awful roster, and this offseason he can start to truly build the team he wants to lead. With plenty to work with, expect major changes in New York. Whether they work out or not is still a question unanswered.

31: (1) Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)

We really didn’t see this coming. It’s happened how many times this season already? Now, it happens again, and we’re blown away once more. With a shocking upset by the Lions, this win didn’t even cost the Jaguars their new first-overall pick, and this end to the year couldn’t have been any more favourable to them. Congratulations, Jaguars, you’ve won the tankathon in epic fashion. See you in April.

32: (1) New York Giants (4-13)

We’d like to congratulate the Giants on openly rolling over and dying right before our very eyes. They didn’t want to win on Sunday and they couldn’t have made it more apparent. If Joe Judge still has a job by the time this article is posted, then New York will have failed the people who put faith in them once again.

Don’t forget to check out last week, and thank you all for tuning in to our TSW NFL Power Rankings for the 2021-22 season. We’ve got plenty of postseason coverage coming up, so stay tuned!

Iestyn Harris
One of the owners at The Sports Wave, I live in Canada and follow the NFL and NBA closely. Check out my articles regularly here.

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