Goodbye bye weeks, hello final stretch. As we finally start to get a better idea of what they playoff picture looks like, we realize that it’s not really that much clearer at all. Only three AFC teams have a losing record, and only one division leader has a lead of more than one game on that side of the bracket. Meanwhile, in the NFC, there are five teams with a clear cut playoff spot, and the roads are muddy for everyone else. We try once again to understand what’s going on in the TSW NFL Power Rankings: Week Fifteen.
1: (1) Green Bay Packers (11-3)
Green Bay’s offense did exactly what was asked of them, but their defense showed us some problems. Narrowly avoiding being bested by the Baltimore Ravens, with no Lamar Jackson, they can thank a failed two-point conversion as one of their defense’s few highlights. That being said, the Packers are the lone team atop the entire NFL, the only team to have clinched a playoff spot so far, and they have given us exactly no signs they’re going to slow down now.
2: (2) Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
Cooper Kupp is a little over 300 yards away from Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving record mark, and he’s earned every one of them. In a solid effort, the Rams did all that they needed to in order to win. Was the blatant uncalled pass interference a factor? Sure, but not a major one when it comes to the final result. The Rams have proven themselves this season, despite a slump, and are going to do a lot of damage when the playoffs roll round.
3: (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)
The unending shuffle of top teams continues, as Tom Brady’s Buccaneers were shut out by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. There were a lot of things that went wrong, almost all of them offensively, but amidst Brady’s latest sideline meltdown lies a bigger issue: Injuries. A whole host of hurt was delivered to Tampa Bay, including two season-ending injuries. Suddenly, their offense is handicapped, which could cause some issues going forward.
4: (1) Arizona Cardinals (10-4)
Arizona entered the week coming off a tough loss where they were beaten soundly and came apart at the seams against a tough division rival. They bounced back by getting dominated by the Detroit Lions, looking absolutely lifeless. Have they gone cold at the wrong time, or was this just what they needed to put a fire under themselves? We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not encouraging.
5: (2) Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
Nothing about this game was surprising. Dallas did enough, but didn’t blow anyone away, and let the Giants beat themselves in a game that required no more game-planning that getting ready to make toast. Peanut butter, honey, or jam? They had all the options.
6: (3) Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
Yep, they’re back. They’ve got plenty of valid points for criticism, but they don’t need to worry about them for now. As long as their offense is back to making insane plays with consistency, they can beat anyone in the NFL.
7: (2) Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
The Chargers were the best team on the field for a lot of Thursday night, but were dismantled when it mattered most. Their defense on the game-winning touchdown by Travis Kelce was as bad as it could be, but they’d been solid for most of their night. The big question mark had been their willingness to put it all on the line on fourth downs, and fail over and over again. Statistics may have supported the decision, but failure to execute under pressure cost them the game, and dealt a huge blow to their playoff hopes.
8: (2) New England Patriots (9-5)
New England was taken to the cleaners, as their failure to move the ball against the Colts’ front seven put them in the hole, and they were unable to dig themselves out of it. Mac Jones looked like a rookie, his weapons were ineffective, and the defense was left clueless against an MVP-worthy Jonathan Taylor. They face another test next week, as the Bills come back to town for a chance to take the lead in the race for the AFC East crown.
9: (1) Buffalo Bills (8-6)
Why did Buffalo completely change their style of game for the middle of the season? Who’s to say, but when they resorted to old tricks, they excelled against an extremely difficult defense. Buffalo can feel good about this win, but they can’t rest. Their mid-season slump has removed the room for error they might have wanted, and now they need to keep the train rolling forward. The Bills have immediately burst back, but they need to prove it against the Patriots next week. Fun fact: Despite having six losses, Buffalo leads the NFL in point differential. All eight of their wins have come by 15+ points, and 5 of their six losses have been by one score or less.
10: (1) Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
The Colts looked great, and they’re proven themselves capable even without good quarterback play; A rarity in today’s NFL. They went up against one of the league’s best defenses and this powerhouse offensive line carved holes so big they could drive a bus through. They played like they knew how much this game meant, and came out on top because of it.
11: (3) Tennessee Titans (9-5)
The Titans are getting healthier, and less healthy, at the same time. With his inability to stay on the field, they need to keep Julio Jones on a limited snap count if they plan to get an almost-healthy offense going in the playoffs. They’ve done a great job staying afloat this year after their hot start, but can’t rush these final few weeks. They were dominated by the Pittsburgh defense, and desperately need to keep their composure.
12: () San Francisco 49ers (8-6)
Now truly in the thick of the Wild Card fight, San Francisco are resembling the 2019 49ers that bust their way into the Superbowl. Admittedly, they aren’t as good as that legendary season was, but against the Falcons it didn’t matter. The defense got it done spectacularly, and the offense made up for their slow start by wearing down the Falcons front seven and pouring on the points as the sun hung low.
13: (1) Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
Baltimore looked as good as any team with a backup QB ever has, and it’s by some miracle/curse that they don’t have another win in the column right now. The analytics support the two-point conversion for the win decision, but they’ve lost a major game on it twice so far this season; Perhaps the Ravens should put it on the shelf for now. Huntley was incredible, but their hospitalised defense couldn’t do their part in a game that was surprisingly one of the best of the year.
14: (1) New Orleans Saints (7-7)
New Orleans clearly drinks their ‘Secret Stuff’ before their matchups against Brady’s Bucs, as they allowed no points. Taysom Hill played like garbage, and instead of taking out the trash he left it all over everything he touched. If it wasn’t for Cam Jordan, Marshon Lattimore, and friends, this game gets out of hand quickly. Credit to them, they did a phenomenal.
15: (1) Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)
Welcome back to the playoff race, Pittsburgh. It’s been a tough, up-and-down kind of season, but on the backs of their defense and new Steelers single-season sack record holder T.J. Watt, they’re back in the running. They’ve been one of the NFL’s most dominant pass-rushing units, and it helps to make up for their other issues, but they need to figure out how to move the ball with some consistency if they want to get much further.
16: (3) Cleveland Browns (7-7)
Yes, we know, Cleveland got a raw deal, but they were afforded two extra days of potential recovery time, and they looked like they didn’t use any of it to get the replacements settled in. Their defense was still clicking in all areas, but they weren’t enough as Daniel Carlson put his game-winner through the uprights. This was a heartbreaker they couldn’t afford, but they’re still in control of their own destiny with three weeks left in the season. They’re dead last in the AFC North, but still only one game out of first place, somehow.
17: () Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
This brutal defensive bout was won by the better team, but they kept it far too close. Their offense was handled, and if Denver was able to move the ball even a little, they could have run away with this one. Instead, Cincy took the ‘W’, which was crucial to their playoff race, and can thank a clutch play from Tyler Boyd for it all. If not for his heroics, they might be having a very different conversation today.
18: (1) Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
Vegas is back in the race- at least for now. They could make the playoffs, but it’s still a long shot. The team that survived so much hardship this year survived a late Cleveland comeback, and have proven once more that they have plenty of value to a prospective coach ready to build a winning team.
19: (1) Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
The Vikes are an enigma of epic proportions. Simultaneously bewildering, baffling, and breathtaking, they confound their opponents, the fans, and themselves at every turn. Kirk Cousins threw for 87 yards in the win, and the rest of their team was held in check just as well, but unbelievable errors from both the Bears and the officials left them with a win anyway. The fans didn’t suffer heart attacks in this one, as they have in just about every other game all season, but it was no less unpredictable.
20: (1) Miami Dolphins (7-7)
The Fins now continue their hot streak, but they’re hardly blowing anyone away. They have a lot to feel good about, but this season isn’t about trying to win and make the playoffs anymore, and even if they do pull it off, what will they accomplish? They should be wholly aware of the talent on their roster and, after a disappointing 2021 offseason, they could make a few moves to try and contend in 2022. A good win against a divisional opponent, but one that should have been expected, no more.
21: (3) Washington Football Team (6-8)
With a starting quarterback that had only been on the team for six days, people didn’t expect much out of this Washington offense. They were right, and it was disappointing, but their defense did a good job of containing an often-underrated Eagles offense. The team was battered and bruised, but with their starting QB under centre they would have been that much closer. Stay safe, kids, things are scary out there.
22: (2) Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
Philadelphia have been a lot of fun this season, for better or for worse, and can still blow us away. One of the strangest interceptions we’ve seen in quite some time, followed by the ball hitting the dirt on a sack, put them down two quick scores, but they responded well and looked calm and poised as they took the game back with apparent ease. Under normal circumstances, they’re likely inferior to Washington, but not this weekend.
23: (2) Seattle Seahawks (5-9)
Seattle should be upset about the missed PI call, sure, but it didn’t make a difference in the end, and they should be almost thankful that their season is officially a losing one, as they can focus on fixing the team instead of trying to win games. That gets harder without a first-round pick, but it’s doable. They’ve got what they need to win next year, if they would just address the offensive line.
24: (2) Denver Broncos (7-7)
Keep Teddy Bridgewater in your thoughts, as another potentially life-changing injury has intervened in his season. In purely football terms, this team is lost without him, as Drew Lock’s ineptitude was the only reason they lost this game in the first place. Tragically, they may need more from him is Teddy is set to miss any time.
25: () Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
To be fair, the Falcons weren’t made to beat teams like the 49ers, but they weren’t made to beat many teams at all. The Falcons probably do have a star in Kyle Pitts, but much like the Giants taking Saquon Barkley second overall in 2018, they had plenty of QB talent left on the board and much bigger needs than an exciting athletic playmaker.
26: () Carolina Panthers (5-9)
The Panthers efense did everything they could on Sunday, and they got after Josh Allen behind a battered Bills offensive line with consistency. It wasn’t enough, and their offense couldn’t take advantage of the few chances they were able to give them. Cam isn’t the answer, and you can feel the frustration coming off his receivers. Next season, when they’re paying Sam Darnold big money, they won’t be happy either.
27: (3) Detroit Lions (2-11-1)
Oh, Detroit. Every week, a team really surprises everyone, and ruins my parlays, and I am so very thankful that it was you again. This team manhandles one of the NFL’s darlings and almost had the opportunity to rest their starters against the former league-leading Cardinals. Who are the Lions’ benchwarmers? We’re not sure, but once we find their names we’ll be sure to forget them as fast as possible. There are far more useful things to devote our time to, such as watching paint dry, or trying to catch popcorn in our mouths during a bad movie.
28: (1) New York Giants (4-10)
New York has officially lost Daniel Jones for the season, largely in part to the franchise understanding that their season is done as well. They have some tough questions to ask, like ‘What do we do with Saquon Barkley?’ and ‘Is Daniel Jones the answer?’. With no shortage of queries, they need to find answers, fast.
29: (1) New York Jets (3-11)
The Jets are bad, really bad, but they did hold the Dolphins right up until the very end. Miami would have been a good win for the Jets, but their true goals lie in the offseason now, and the loss ultimately serves to better them in the future. For now, they look poorly coached, but rookie HC Robert Saleh has what he needs to start making things work next year.
30: (1) Chicago Bears (4-10)
Chicago has never fired a head coach during the season, but they may be about to. Nagy has thrown it all down the drain since his 2018 Coach of the Year award, with baffling roster moves, decisions, play calls and lack of overall player development in his tenure. Sure, this defense is a monster on some days, but defense alone is no longer enough to win a championship in today’s NFL. He likely doesn’t finish the season, but if he does he should still be looking for a new job this offseason, perhaps as a defensive coordinator?
32: (1) Houston Texans (3-11)
The Texans are the eventual winners of the Garbage Bowl. Their win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was watched by a whopping eight people, three of whom were even in the stadium. After a whole slate of good games to talk about, this one doesn’t even interest me.
32: (1) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
How do you truly determine the cream of the crop when the NFL’s two worst teams go head to head? Simply put, you don’t. This game was entirely meaningless for both sides, and the only reason it’s even worth writing about is because this list needs to end somewhere. Here it is: The End.
Don’t forget to check out last week, and come back next time to see how another week of NFL action changes the board.