NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Packers hold, Patriots and Seahawks move up
The Broncos, Packers, Patriots and Seahawks are separating themselves from the rest of the NFL. But one or more of the teams jumbled in the middle of this week’s rankings is capable of a surprise or two.
Week 14 is in the books. The Packers remain our top-ranked team after holding off the co-NFC South leading (cough) Falcons. Aaron Rodgers continued his absurd tear at Lambeau Field with a cool 24-of-36 passing for 324 yards and three touchdowns, and he still hasn’t thrown a pick at home since something like 1990 (Note: it’s actually “only” been two years, but the 396 straight pass attempts without an interception there is an NFL record). The Packers rush game looked dominant as well, running all over the Falcons for 179 yards at 6.0 yards per carry. The Falcons put up a fight despite falling behind 31-7 before halftime, but ultimately Rodgers and the Packers’ offense was too potent. This has been the case for nine of the last ten teams that Green Bay has run across.
The Patriots bounced back this week with a big win on the road in San Diego, moving up two spots to No. 2. New England has won eight of their last nine games. The Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski-led offense is humming along like a well-oiled machine, and importantly, the defense is coming on as well. The Pats held Philip Rivers and the Chargers‘ offense to 216 net yards, and if the Patriots can continue to get these types of shutdown performances from their defense down the stretch, they’ll be near impossible to beat. Brandon Browner’s jarring hit on Ladarius Green, despite the fact it got called back, could be the type of galvanizing play that raises the intensity of everyone in the group over the next three games. This type of physical play is exactly the reason that Bill Belichick took a chance on the free agent — his presence sets a tone.
Speaking of Browner, an original member of Seattle’s Legion of Boom — don’t look now, but the Seahawks‘ defense is back. Pete Carroll’s crew continues to stymie opposing quarterbacks, holding the explosive Eagles to just 139 yards of offense on their way to a convincing road win. Teams are scoring an average of 6.7 points per game against the Seahawks over the last three games, and Seattle’s offense is starting to execute at just the right time. The defending champs have their swagger back, are playing loose and confident, and once again look like the team that dismantled Peyton Manning’s Broncos in the Super Bowl last February.
Manning’s Broncos remain contenders to get back to the big game, and come in at fourth in our rankings after holding off the Bills. Peyton struggled though, throwing for just 173 yards while giving up two picks. His streak of games with a touchdown pass sadly ended at 51, three short of Drew Brees’ NFL record. Without much help from Demaryius Thomas (two catches for 11 yards) and missing Julius Thomas (active but on the sideline nursing an ankle injury), the Broncos instead turned to their run game. C.J. Anderson ran it in for three scores. Denver showed the ability to lean on that part of their offense when the pass game wasn’t clicking.
Meanwhile, the Eagles fall in the rankings after stumbling against Seattle. They still boast a strong defense and potentially electric offense, assuming Mark Sanchez can prove he has a short memory. Philly doesn’t have any time to dwell on Sunday’s game; they host the Cowboys in a crucial matchup of the NFC East leaders this week.
The Colts stick at the sixth spot after dispatching the Browns with an Andrew Luck-engineered, game-winning drive, moving to 9-4 and strengthening their hold on the AFC South. Luck struggled throughout the day against a stingy Cleveland defense, turning the ball over three times before gutting it out when it mattered. Regardless, winning on the road is always a tough proposition, and I’m sure Indy will take this win for what it was — ugly — and move forward.
The second tier
The 2014 NFL season has been a great demonstration of something the league is proud to consistently produce: parity. There are 19 teams with winning records, and the distance separating, say, our seventh-ranked team with the 13th-ranked squad is paper thin. You can make arguments for shuffling the Cardinals, Cowboys, Lions, Ravens, Chargers, Steelers, and Bengals (and I’m sure you will), but each club has distinct strengths and weaknesses that put them in this group.
Arizona got back on track this week with a comeback win at home against the Chiefs, further cementing their grip on a playoff berth. The Cards have a dominant defense, no one really questions that, but it’s their offense that many worry about. After losing Carson Palmer earlier this season, they’ll now be without Andre Ellington as well, and moving the football will be a constant battle for them. I’m not saying it can’t or won’t happen, but Drew Stanton is still a remarkably consistent 50-percent completion rate passer.
Meantime, the Cowboys stuck to their identity on offense and had no trouble taking out the Bears, setting themselves up nicely for a rematch with the Eagles this week. The Lions are starting to get some of their offensive mojo back with their second straight 34-point performance. If they can remain consistent on that side of the ball, they can contend with anybody, in my opinion. The Ravens won convincingly in Miami, setting themselves up nicely for a shot at the AFC North crown, and of course, the Steelers dismantled the Bengals to put themselves right back in the hunt as well.
The middle of the pack is all sixes and sevens
The Chiefs, Texans, Dolphins, Rams, Bills, 49ers, and Browns all have somewhat similar identities. All these teams feature ball control offenses and, with the exception of probably the Dolphins, feature either struggling or sub-par quarterbacks, buoyed by tough, physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth defenses.
Having a good-to-great defense is often not enough, though. It’s been a full year since a receiver on the Chiefs caught a touchdown. The Texans are again relying on veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick after a brief stint under Ryan Mallett was cut short by an injury. The Rams, Bills, and Browns are also doing the veteran journeyman thing with Shaun Hill, Kyle Orton, and Brian Hoyer, respectively, and we have all heard about Colin Kaepernick’s struggles of late.
Until they can capture some more consistency and effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball, these teams, all with 7-6 or 6-7 records, seem destined to remain in the middle of the pack. They all have strong, hardy defenses that could help them make some noise down the homestretch, though, so are definitely not the types of teams to overlook.
The NFC South, you guys
The co-leaders of the NFC South are now three games under .500 each. I don’t know what to tell you. The Saints got blown out at home by the Panthers and look nothing like the dangerous NFC-elite team they were last season. The Falcons have an exciting offense, but are limited by their defensive struggles. Carolina, meanwhile, is still miraculously in the playoff hunt at 4-8-1.
Despite the obvious injustice that the NFC South hosting a more-deserving Wild Card team would be, it’s definitely an interesting storyline and “Any Given Sunday” experiment we could again see a playoff team with a losing record. Get hot at the right time — and make no mistake, each of the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers have the potential to do just that — and you can make a run in the postseason. The last three weeks will sort out the winner of the NFC South, and someone, despite their best efforts, will host a home playoff game.
The bottom of the pile
The Raiders and Giants showed signs of life, and both teams are definitely worth watching despite their low rankings in this list. New York has a budding superstar in Odell Beckham Jr. The LSU product went off this week to the tune of 11 catches for 130 yards and touchdown. He also returned four punts for 49 yards and rushed for nine yards. He also just about connected on a 60-yard bomb downfield on an end-around throw, but it was broken up.
Meantime, Derek Carr looks like the real deal, and he slanged it while connecting on 22-of-29 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns in an upset victory over the Niners. He looks like the answer they’ve been looking at in terms of a franchise quarterback, so the Raiders got that going for them, which is nice.
One last thing for this week that might be noteworthy: The Jaguars aren’t the worst team in the NFL anymore, and they’re probably not even the worst team in their division at this point. That distinction might belong to the Titans, who have now lost seven straight.
|RANK||WEEK 15||SB NATION BLOG|
|1||Green Bay Packers, 10-3 (last week: 1)||Acme Packing Company|
|2||New England Patriots, 10-3 (last week: 4)||Pats Pulpit|
|3||Seattle Seahawks, 9-4 (last week: 5)||Field Gulls|
|4||Denver Broncos, 10-3 (last week: 3)||Mile High Report|
|5||Philadelphia Eagles, 9-4 (last week: 2)||Bleeding Green Nation|
|6||Indianapolis Colts, 9-4 (last week: 6)||Stampede Blue|
|7||Arizona Cardinals, 10-3 (last week: 7)||Revenge of the Birds|
|8||Dallas Cowboys, 9-4 (last week: 10)||Blogging the Boys|
|9||Detroit Lions, 9-4 (Last week: 11)||Pride of Detroit|
|10||Baltimore Ravens, 8-5 (Last week: 11)||Baltimore Beatdown|
|11||San Diego Chargers, 8-4 (Last week: 9)||Bolts from the Blue|
|12||Pittsburgh Steelers, 8-5 (Last week: 15)||Behind the Steel Curtain|
|13||Cincinnati Bengals, 8-4-1 (Last week: 8)||Cincy Jungle|
|14||Kansas City Chiefs, 7-6 (Last week: 12)||Arrowhead Pride|
|15||Miami Dolphins, 7-6 (Last week: 13)||The Phinsider|
|16||Houston Texans, 7-6 (Last week: 18)||Battle Red Blog|
|17||St. Louis Rams, 6-7 (Last week: 20)||Turf Show Times|
|18||Buffalo Bills, 7-6 (Last week: 17)||Buffalo Rumblings|
|19||San Francisco 49ers, 7-6 (Last week: 16)||Niners Nation|
|20||Cleveland Browns, 7-6 (Last week: 19)||Dawgs by Nature|
|21||Minnesota Vikings, 6-7 (Last week: 21)||Daily Norseman|
|22||Atlanta Falcons, 5-8 (Last week: 22)||The Falcoholic|
|23||Carolina Panthers, 4-8-1 (last week: 27)||Cat Scratch Reader|
|24||New Orleans Saints, 5-8 (Last week: 23)||Canal Street Chronicles|
|25||Chicago Bears, 5-8 (Last week: 24)||Windy City Gridiron|
|26||New York Giants, 4-9 (last week: 30)||Big Blue View|
|27||Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2-11 (last week: 25)||Bucs Nation|
|28||Washington, 3-10 (last week: 26)||Hogs Haven|
|29||Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-11 (last week: 28)||Big Cat Country|
|30||Oakland Raiders, 2-11 (last week: 31)||Silver and Black Pride|
|31||New York Jets, 2-11 (last week: 28)||Gang Green Nation|
|32||Tennessee Titans, 2-11 (last week: 30)||Music City Miracles|