With the playoffs just over the horizon, the Chiefs have moved into no. 1 place on my power rankings for the first time all year. Kansas City collected a complete and utterly dominant victory over the Steelers on Sunday, where he got his sixth AFC West title in a row on his shoulders from yet another strong defensive performance and an ever-returning to normal Patrick Mahomes. However, the Packers are not far behind after their win over the Browns, and the Buccaneers and Cowboys both took care of business this week with blowout wins over their own. The Rams (who beat the Vikings), the Colts (who beat the Cardinals) and the Bills (who overpowered the Patriots) round out the NFL’s elite lineup of teams – by smaller margins than ever before. With 16 weeks in the books, here are my updated power rankings.
The top shelf
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
2. Green Bay Packers (12-3)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4)
4. Dallas Cowboys (11-4)
5. Los Angeles Rams (11-4)
6. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
7. Buffalo Bills (9-6)
The Cowboys offense came back to life.
Dallas put an emphatic end to its offensive downturn on Sunday, where they jumped out to a massive early lead before running out to an easy 56-14 victory over Washington. Dak Prescott looked all the way back from the calf injury that had hampered him for the past two months. He dissected the football team’s unhappy (albeit injury- and COVID-depleted) defense and spread the ball out among all the team’s talented playmakers. He got Amari Cooper (seven receptions at 85 yards and one score) involved early and often, gave CeeDee Lamb (four catches, 66 yards) and Dalton Schultz (eight catches, 82 yards and a score) their much-needed look and connected with Ezekiel Elliott for a score. He even got the offensive tackle Terence Steele in the action – the cherry on top that helped Prescott note a peculiarity of a record as first quarterback in league history to throw a touchdown to a receiver, a running back, a tight end and an offensive lineman in the same game. That tidbit shows how Prescott looked to do what he wanted in the win, a 330-yard performance, four touchdowns (with almost everything that came in the first two quarters) that marked the end of his most recent games.
That show comes as a huge relief for Cowboys fans. After returning from a calf injury in Week 9, Prescott struggled to replicate his early season line: He threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in his first six games (while averaging 302 passing yards per game and 8.4 yards per game). . attempts) but had combined to throw just nine touchdowns and six interceptions in his seven starts after injury (down to 255 passing yards per game and 6.5 yards per attempt). On Sunday, however, Prescott looked like a man who had cast out his demons (or maybe just felt completely healed for the first time in months) as he merrily pushed the ball down the field. The newfound spirit could promise very well for a Cowboys team that starts shooting on all cylinders as the off-season approaches.
Dallas’ defense has quickly proven to be one of the NFL’s best over the past few months, and that group did its thing again on Sunday: Trevon Diggs got another pick, his league-best 11th; DeMarcus Lawrence produced one ridiculously athletic pick-six; and playmaking rookie Micah Parsons got another layoff, his 13th of the year. Combine that entity with a misdemeanor that seems to have regained its mojo, and the Cowboys look more and more like a legit Super Bowl team.
Josh Allen put together a masterful performance.
The chips were stacked against Allen in the Bills’ crucial matchup with the Patriots in Foxborough on Sunday, with the talented fourth-year passer down two of his top-flight captured goals in Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis (both of whom went to the COVID list last week). But Allen rose to the occasion and then some against a tough New England defense, producing one of his best matches as a pro in the critical 33-21 victory. Allen put the team on his back and completed 30 of 47 passes in 314 yards and three touchdowns while adding a team height of 64 yards on the ground. And those numbers do not even really do his performance justice; Seeing the end-zone view of a couple of his toughest throws helps give you a better idea of how called he was last Sunday.
Allen led the Bills offense to 428 total yards in the game and took zero sacks, helping Buffalo convert three out of four crucial attempts on the fourth down. He got away with what could have been an interception on the team’s central fourth quarter drive (Patriots corner JC Jackson dropped it), but immediately returned to ice the game. With the bills leading 26-21, Allen completed 13 games, the 75-yard scoring drive, and made a handful of bold plays along the way – including a ballsy fourth-down naked bootleg run and an off-script shovel pass touchdown to Dawson Knox, who put the game away.
With the win, Buffalo moved back to first place in the AFC East. Bills has a strong defense. They have shown that they also have some much-needed depth in attack: Devin Singletary (12 rush, 39 yards, one touchdown) has come strong through the last few weeks; Knox (two catches, 11 yards, one touchdown) has been a factor in the red zone; and Isaiah McKenzie (11 catches for 125 yards, one touchdown) grabbed Davis and Beasley out. If Allen can keep playing, as he did on Sunday, he will make the Bills one of the most fearsome teams in a wide-open AFC playoff field.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
9. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
10. New England Patriots (9-6)
11. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
12. San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
13. Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
15. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
The young core of the Bengals gives them a chance.
The typically run-heavy Cincinnati offense took a pass-happy blow in the team’s 41-21 win over the Ravens on Sunday, with second-year quarterback Joe Burrow clearing a beaten Baltimore secondary for 525 yards with four touchdowns and no pick. Burrow spread the love between Tee Higgins (12 catches, 194 yards, two touchdowns), Ja’Marr Chase (seven catches, 125 yards), Tyler Boyd (three catches, 85 yards, one touchdown) and Joe Mixon (six catches, 70 yards) , a touchdown), among a few others, and nothing that the Ravens could do defensively seemed to surprise Burrow.
It has been par for the course for Burrow over the past five weeks, a stretch where he ranks top among all qualifying NFL passers i yards (1,520), yards pr. trials (9.2), big-time throw (15) and big-time throw speed (8.5 percent). Burrow has been magnificent in his ability to navigate in his pocket, shelling and climbing up away from pressure to deliver lasers down the field, and he has played as a cunning veteran over the last month plus. In short, the guy has noticed it.
Higgins’ big day in the office put him at 1,029 yards on the season, just behind Chase, who is up at 1,163 yards as a rookie. Together, they are the first teammate duo in the league’s history to both pitch 1,000 yards in the same season before any of them turn 23. With the 25-year-old Burrow at the helm and throwing to Higgins and Chase, this team has perhaps the league’s best young offensive core – a group , which is set to dominate in the passing game in the coming years.
Of course, with the playoffs just around the corner, Burrow, Higgins, Chase, Mixon and the rest of Cincy’s offensive foundation definitely have their minds set on the short term. The Bengals have a few holes (like their offensive line) and they have been a hot and cold team from week to week this season (it’s hard to forget that they lost to the Jets and they are in a 26th place in DVOA variance on crime). But when everything clicks, especially with attacks – as we saw on Sunday – they are capable of being a buzz saw. It makes them an interesting dark horse down the stretch.
The Confused Center
17. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7)
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
19. Cleveland Browns (7-8)
Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
21. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
22. Denver Broncos (7-8)
23. Atlanta Falcons (7-8)
Washington Football Team (6-9)
The Steelers offensive needs an overhaul.
Ben Roethlisberger’s swan song gets harder and harder on the ears.
If we feel generous, Big Ben have produced a handful of aggressively average excursions this year. But overall, the Pittsburgh offense has been a huge anchor holding the team’s talented defense down. The offense fought mightily again in the team’s blowout loss to the Chiefs on Sunday, with Roethlisberger posting a cruel 159-yard, one-touchdown and one-interception line in the defeat. The veteran mustered an average goal depth of 5.7 yards, while he had an average of a paltry 4.5 yards per game. attempt, and leaned back again on a soul-crushing dink-and-dunk strategy best visualized by this passing chart from Sunday.
The Steelers offensive has zero vertical passing element. The running game has been just as bad at creating explosive games. Rookie defender Najee Harris has been a versatile basic piece for the team’s ground attack this year, but if he’s lacked in one area, it’s his ability to create great games. Harris has only six rushes on 15 plus yards this year on 269 attempts, according to the PFF, and with only 12.4 percent of his yards coming on the big runs, he ranks dead last among 50 qualifying backs this year. For the record, Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny has six rushes on 15 plus yards this season… on 71 attempts.
Pittsburgh simply cannot produce enough explosive plays. The Steelers have achieved 39 explosive passing games (20-plus yards) on 574 attempts, a rate of 6.8 percent, which is number 28 in the NFL. The team’s explosive running rate of 10 percent (running at 10 plus yards) is number 25. It’s awful, especially for a team with as much talent-player talent as Pittsburgh. There is plenty of guilt to go around. Roethlisberger will almost certainly ride away at sunset this offseason, but the team must sit down to straighten out its leaky offensive line, get its talented group of receivers to look deeper into the field and perhaps find a lightning element to mate with Harris on earth. Whether they stick with offensive coordinator Matt Canada after 2021 or not, the Steelers’ no. 1 priority for 2022 should be to create more chunk plays.
There is always next year
25. Chicago Bears (5-10)
26. Seattle Seahawks (5-10)
27. New York Jets (4-11)
28. Houston Texans (4-11)
29. Carolina Panthers (5-10)
30. Detroit Lions (2-12-1)
31. New York Giants (4-11)
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)
The Panthers’ offseason should be interesting.
The Panthers season is a reality version of the unfinished horse character: After starting the year 3-0 on the back of a seemingly rehabilitated Sam Darnold and the team’s exciting, rising defense, Carolina has imploded and gone 2-10 since. .
The Panthers have hysterically mixed their quarterback successor plan under second-year coach Matt Rhule, moving from Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater to Darnold to PJ Walker and back to Newton over the last two seasons. After making offensive coordinator Joe Brady the scapegoat for the team’s offensive games and firing him mid-season, Rhule has now somehow come to the conclusion (along with new OC Jeff Nixon) that a committee approach to QB the situation is the way to go. This error comedy will put Rhule, who is now 10-21 since the takeover in early 2020, under the scrutiny of team owner David Teppers. And while there’s still plenty to hope for if you’re a Panthers fan – as the fact that the defense is a young team with a high upside and the attack is full of talented players – the team’s pronounced lack of realized potential this year may be another reason why Carpets decide to clean and start over. Rhule expressed confidence in the foundation he is laying in Carolina this week, but there is plenty of reason to be skeptical of the results of the past two years. The Panthers are a team I will follow closely as the offseason approaches.