Week 16 NFL power rankings

What once was an ever-shuffling deck of cards has since been sorted into the aces, kings, and jokers of the league.

With playoff implications abound in almost every matchup of Week 15, the league's better teams generally kept themselves afloat, whether by squeaking out a victory against the lowly Jaguars or dismantling the pathetic Raiders. When push came to shove in battles between two playoff hopefuls, some clarity emerged for which team rose to the occasion and delivered.

As the regular season draws to a close, teams will continue to fall off the map as the time ticks down on each game's clock. Those left standing will round out the year competing in a makeshift tournament before ever reaching the postseason. With only two games left for each team, division and playoff races are sure to go down to the wire.

That's what makes football season 'the most wonderful time of the year.'

NFL Week 16 Power Rankings
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Week 16 NFL power rankings

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Week: 31)

It was a valiant effort, but the Jaguars were never destined to pull off the upset in Baltimore. Quite frankly, they are rarely destined to pull off any upset. With yet another season of utter failure, Jacksonville’s offseason can’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, the Jaguars can’t even get any excitement from their last two games, as they won’t be able to play ‘spoiler’ to either team, assuming the Texans are eliminated from playoff contention by Week 17.

Photo Credit: Patrick Smith, Getty Images

30. Washington Redskins (Last Week: 28)

The Redskins may have one more win than four other teams, but they are currently playing some of the worst football on the planet. It almost seems as if Washington is only sending ten guys onto the field on any given play, as the team is thoroughly over-matched in every aspect of the game. Cycling through three quarterbacks – due to both injury and ineffectiveness – is an absolute recipe for disaster, and the Redskins are clearly suffering from this Merry-Go-Round. At this point, someone needs to pull the plug so everyone can get off the ride.

Photo Credit: Alex Goodlett, Getty Images

29. Oakland Raiders (Last Week: 29)

In defense of the Oakland Raiders, they had probably already exceeded all expectations by beating both the Chiefs and 49ers in a span of three weeks. Knocking off rivals is a sure sign that the team can rise to the occasion, but Oakland is so terrible that it can’t be expected to play at such a high level for a prolonged period of time. Week 15’s thumping in Kansas City was three weeks in the making, and the Raiders will likely suffer the same fate when they round out the season against playoff hopefuls from Buffalo and division winners from Denver.

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire, Getty Images

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Week: 27)

It’s hard to argue what is more embarrassing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: sharing the worst record in football or being the only team eliminated from playoff contention in a division led by a team with six wins. Opportunities don’t often come around that allow teams without a winning record to still make the playoffs, and the Buccaneers squandered a year in which a few more wins could have actually helped make December interesting. At least, if they grab the top overall pick in this year’s draft, their biggest need – quarterback – could instantly be filled.

Photo Credit: Grant Halverson, Getty Images

27. New York Jets (Last Week: 30)

Of course they’d win that game. Not any of the games played between mid-September and Halloween. Not anything that might actually make this season a salvageable affair. No, instead of winning games that actually matter to the team’s chances to not become a laughingstock of the league – a notion that has long since passed – the Jets win arguably the game that will push them out of the running for Marcus Mariota in next year’s draft. Granted, the current regime of Jets personnel does not care about this – although, with how sickeningly poor they played, even that is debatable – but the team has proven to be one of the worst in the league, and won’t even reap the benefits of doing so.

Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images

26. Chicago Bears (Last Week: 26)

Officially clinching their first losing season since 2009, the Chicago Bears have managed to crumble in epic proportions. While other teams may consider a 5-9 campaign a ‘down year,’ there is legitimate concern that this season is more closely related to the future direction of the franchise than an anomaly. With an uncharacteristically terrible defense and a question as to whether or not Jay Cutler can lead the team in the coming years, the Bears may be ready to tear down and rebuild starting in a few weeks.

Photo Credit: Brian Kersey, Getty Images

25. New York Giants (Last Week: 25)

Even when the Giants are absolutely horrible, they exhibit a calm stability that tends to return them to the norm. Only once since 2004 did the Giants fail to reach eight wins – last year’s 7-9 campaign – and even in their worst seasons, they tend to go on miniature winning streaks. Back-to-back wins against the Titans and Redskins are nothing to consider ‘special,’ but it helps keep their general trend alive. While the year will end up being almost completely lost, at least the Giants are constantly a topic of discussion thanks to electric wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Photo Credit: Al Bello, Getty Images

24. Carolina Panthers (Last Week: 24)

As long as the Panthers play the Buccaneers every week and Derek Anderson starts the game at quarterback, they should never lose. Two of the team’s five wins have come under these conditions, and with the Panthers’ fifth win, they move back into the hunt for the NFC South title. Because, of course they would. While Carolina continues to be one of the worst teams in football, it remains alive due to the rest of division playing nearly as nauseating football, as well. If nothing else, at least three-team races are more exciting to watch, although it’s clear that none of them deserve to win.

Photo Credit: Grant Halverson, Getty Images

23. Atlanta Falcons (Last Week: 21)

It seems to be said on a nearly weekly basis, but the Atlanta Falcons, with a loss, are still alive in the NFC South race. The Falcons are about as poor as their record would indicate – only one of their five wins has come against a team with a winning record. When they face better talent, they simply can’t survive, despite playing well of late, especially against the Packers and Steelers. With the ‘someone has to win and probably go on to win the NFC South’ showdown between the Falcons and Saints upcoming, a resolution to the pitiful division should not be far off.

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

22. Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 22)

The eventual close of the Minnesota Vikings’ season will do little to tell the story of how opposite the two halves of the year really were. Going 4-3 in their last seven games and outscoring opponents by a combined 20 points over that stretch, the Vikings played another solid game on Sunday, agitating and threatening a now ten-win team from Detroit. Even with the loss and the team’s record falling to 6-8 on the year, Minnesota looks like the prime candidate not only for a ‘spoiler’ as this season winds down, but an early favorite for a 2015 ‘sleeper’ team in the making.

Photo Credit: Leon Halip, Getty Images

21. San Francisco 49ers (Last Week: 20)

It was a long time coming, but the 49ers have completely crumbled via their first three-game losing streak under head coach Jim Harbaugh, officially eliminating them from playoff contention. While the team battled and competed throughout the year, seemingly staying alive each time it was nearly pronounced ‘dead’, this mountain proved too tall to climb. When all is said and done, 2014 will not only have been a season lost, but likely will mark the end of one regime and a transition into the next.

Photo Credit: Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images

19. St. Louis Rams (Last Week: 18)

It couldn’t last forever. St. Louis’ dream of turning its season around and possibly ending with a winning record officially came to a close on Thursday Night Football with a home loss to the Cardinals. Once again, the Rams defense was stellar, not allowing a touchdown for the third straight game. Unfortunately, a better Cardinals team gained the edge and handed the Rams their first home loss since Week 6. Head coach Jeff Fisher has his team performing at as high a level as a 6-8 team could, and, with the avoidance of a non-losing season for the first time since 2006 being the only obtainable goal, the Rams will aim to close their season on a high note.

Photo Credit: Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images

18. Cleveland Browns (Last Week: 16)

So, about that quarterback change from Brian Hoyer to Johnny Manziel. As poorly as Hoyer had played in recent weeks, Manziel actually found a way to perform worse – 80 passing yards, two interceptions, and a boatload of ‘rookie mistakes.’ Cleveland will obviously stick with Manziel to round out the season and get a glimpse to the potential starter for next year’s team. But the worst-case scenario would be two more losses to round out the year, pushing the team to a losing record after starting the season 6-3.

Photo Credit: Jason Miller, Getty Images

16. Miami Dolphins (Last Week: 15)

If there’s one thing New England does extremely well, it’s exact revenge. After the Dolphins began the season with a 13-point victory against the Patriots, there was a sense that maybe the tide of the AFC East had shifted. When they met again on Sunday, New England ensured that no such transition had occurred. With Miami’s loss – its second consecutive and third in its last four games – the team has effectively surrendered its edge in the AFC playoff race, and will likely be eliminated this week. The formerly stout defense from the first half of the season has since been compromised, and the Dolphins – perhaps originally operating from a position of a sneaky sleeper – have simply failed to meet their raised expectations.

Photo Credit: Jim Rogash, Getty Images

15. Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: 14)

That was to be expected. Avenging their Week 12 loss in Oakland, the Chiefs pounded the Raiders at home to stop their three-game losing streak and re-enter the AFC playoff race. Little should be taken away from destroying the terrible Raiders, but Kansas City needed to get back on the winning track before heading to Pittsburgh next week. At least, if things break the right way, they may enter the final week of the season with an opportunity to control their own destiny for a Wild Card berth in a home game against the Chargers.

Photo Credit: Peter Aiken, Getty Images

14. San Diego Chargers (Last Week: 12)

They knew it would be difficult, but the Chargers had an almost impossible task, facing the Patriots and Broncos in consecutive weeks. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, they lost both games and dropped just outside the AFC Playoff Picture. Still with two road games ahead – in San Francisco and Kansas City – the Chargers have yet another uphill battle if they want to recapture the magic that led to a 5-1 start and slip into the playoffs.

Photo Credit: Harry How, Getty Images

13. Baltimore Ravens (Last Week: 13)

Don’t make it too easy, Baltimore. When handed an almost free win by hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens turned what should have been a blowout into a nail-biter. In the end, the Ravens improved to 9-5 and slid into the sixth seed in the AFC, but it wasn’t without its share of concerns. Thankfully for the Ravens, they have the opportunity to stabilize themselves heading into late December, as they will face two rookie quarterbacks – Tom Savage in Houston and Johnny Manziel from Cleveland – in their final two games.

Photo Credit: Rob Carr, Getty Images

11. Cincinnati Bengals (Last Week: 11)

Thank you, Cincinnati. In beating the Browns on Sunday, you not only maintained your slim division lead, but also held off the madness that would have ensued had the Browns – led by polarizing quarterback Johnny Manziel – made strides in the playoff race. We should all be grateful. On the field, the Bengals continue to perform as one of the AFC’s best teams, removing themselves further from the poor stretch of play that coincided with wide receiver A.J. Green‘s injury. Cincinnati, winners of six of its last eight games, still has a rough pair of games ahead to close out the season – Denver and Pittsburgh – but now is the time of year when great teams emerge.

Photo Credit: Jason Miller, Getty Images

10. Philadelphia Eagles (Last Week: 7)

Most teams go through their ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phase’ early in the season, as they try to muddle through their personnel and determine an identity. Not the Philadelphia Eagles. One of the league’s best teams for the better part of the year, the Eagles now appear to be on uneven ground. Unfortunately, it has come at a terrible time and against key opponents. With critical conference losses to the Cardinals, Packers, Seahawks, and Cowboys, Philadelphia may have just found its way out of the playoffs, considering it would lose any tiebreaker against these teams for a Wild Card berth.

Photo Credit: Mitchell Leff, Getty Images

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Week: 10)

They couldn’t lose to three NFC South opponents, could they? Fresh off a victory in Cincinnati, the Steelers traveled to Atlanta to knock off the ‘somehow still alive’ Falcons in their typically friendly home. Pittsburgh, largely criticized for inconsistent play, has now won back-to-back games for only the third time all season – both on the road, no less. Returning home for two games to close out the season, Pittsburgh will first have to hold serve against the visiting Chiefs before hosting the Bengals in what will likely be a division-deciding game.

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

8. Detroit Lions (Last Week: 9)

With three consecutive wins, the Lions have effectively erased their two-game stumble from a few weeks ago, held off the vastly improved Vikings, and look to be on a collision course with the Packers for a winner-take-all showdown in Week 17. At this point, the NFC North has to come down to this matchup and, with the Packers’ loss in Buffalo, Green Bay, and Detroit both sit atop the division with identical 10-4 records. Quite frankly, fans should rejoice if the NFC North ends up being decided by a battle between the Packers’ offense and the Lions’ defense to close out the season.

Photo Credit: Leon Halip, Getty Images

7. Dallas Cowboys (Last Week: 8)

Maybe this isn’t your older brother’s Cowboys. Typically believed to crumble at the end of seasons – despite numerous opportunities to secure playoff berths, Dallas hasn’t reached the postseason since 2009 – the Cowboys won a critical Sunday Night Football game in Philadelphia to regain its lead in the NFC East. More impressively, the Cowboys showed some resiliency in the process, not only rebounding from a Thanksgiving blowout at the hands of these same Eagles, but recovering mid-game from a blown lead. In the crowded NFC playoff picture, it is growing more likely that a double-digit win team may miss the playoffs. With a one-game lead in the division with two to play, the Cowboys suddenly look like the most likely NFC East representative.

Photo Credit: Mitchell Leff, Getty Images

6. Arizona Cardinals (Last Week: 5)

Even with sole possession of first place in the NFC West for weeks, the Arizona Cardinals are playing every game as if elimination is on the line. Losing in St. Louis is no longer as unacceptable as in recent years, but the Cardinals are trying to hold off the Packers and Seahawks in the conference and division races, respectively. Despite yet another quarterback injury, Arizona held on for its eleventh win of the season, and is still one of the best teams in the league, even though the risk of relying on a backup quarterback throughout the playoffs brings danger. It is, unfortunately, unavoidable.

Photo Credit: Michael Thomas, Getty Images

5. Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 6)

It seems as if no one will fully believe in the Indianapolis Colts until they win in the playoffs. Playing in what is possibly the weakest division in football – with two teams combining for four wins – each time Indianapolis racks up another victory, no one is impressed. In essence, the Colts were crowned AFC South champions before the season began, and it was their title to lose. Now, with the crown locked up and, in the end, most likely the third seed, Indianapolis may coast to the end of the year. Winning its remaining two games would probably not earn the Colts a first-round bye, and losing them – despite how meaningless the games are – would further the suspicion that they have yet to really prove anything. However, with a top-five defense and the league’s best passing attack, it’s easy to believe the Colts may light up the league in January.

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons, Getty Images

3. Green Bay Packers (Last Week: 1)

Everything eventually comes to an end. For the Packers, it was not only a five-game winning streak, or string of play featuring nine wins in ten games, but an unbelievable run of dominance. During the loss in Buffalo, even the superhuman quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a few interceptions. In the long run, the loss may be in the best interest for the team, allowing the Packers to step back, reassess, and possibly recreate another hot streak. With a near-freebie in Tampa Bay next week, the battle for the NFC North will likely be decided in Week 17 against the Lions.

Photo Credit: Brett Carlsen, Getty Images

2. Denver Broncos (Last Week: 3)

Methodical and consistent, the Denver Broncos won their eleventh game on Sunday and clinched their fourth consecutive division title. They still remain behind the Patriots for the AFC’s top seed – something that should be of paramount importance for a Broncos team that already lost in New England this year – but the Broncos will almost certainly earn a first-round bye. With a top-five offense and a defense allowing the fourth fewest yards in the league, Denver is a complete and dominant team, now simply waiting for redemption in January.

Photo Credit: Harry How, Getty Images

1. New England Patriots (Last Week: 2)

Same old Patriots. Pencil in New England for double-digit wins before the season starts and you will have been right every year since 2003. Do the same for a playoff appearance and, again, only once since ’03 will you be wrong. In what is becoming a yearly ritual, the New England Patriots clinched the AFC East and, with a loss by the Packers in Buffalo – a team New England already beat this year – the Patriots retake their seat atop the Power Rankings. They have the quarterback, coach, winning pedigree, top scoring offense, and a top-ten scoring defense, still with two games remaining and the edge for the AFC’s top seed. The only thought worth considering as New England heads into next week’s matchup with the Jets is whether or not a ‘Mercy Rule’ will be instituted.

Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, Getty Images


Related links:
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For more sports coverage, please visit XNSports.com

Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioMergola

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