The Chiefs survived Patrick Mahomes’s uncharacteristic three-interception performance―actually, they barely seemed fazed by it―and ran past a plucky Dolphins squad to hold on to the no. 1 spot on these rankings, but the rest of the NFL’s top tier got thrown for a loop following an exciting Week 14. The Bills jumped up to no. 2 with an impressive 26-15 win over the Steelers, and the Packers moved up to no. 3 by dispatching the Lions 31-24. The Saints fell to no. 4 after losing to the Jalen Hurts–led Eagles, and the Steelers dropped to no. 5 with their defeat in Buffalo. The Colts, meanwhile, beat the Raiders 44-27 to move to no. 6, and the Rams, who knocked off the Patriots 24-3 on Thursday Night Football, round out the top seven this week. With the playoffs just over the horizon, here’s this week’s updated NFL power rankings.
The Top Shelf
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1)
2. Buffalo Bills (10-3)
3. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
4. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
6. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
7. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
The Bills got a statement win over the Steelers.
The Bills haven’t exactly flown under the radar en route to a 10-3 record, but they certainly haven’t enjoyed the same level of hype that has been heaped upon the Chiefs and Steelers for most of the year, particularly during the later stages of Pittsburgh’s extraordinary run to an 11-0 start. (A red hot start that’s obviously fallen apart over the last two weeks.) There’s plenty of reasons for what seemed to be tepid belief in Buffalo, whether it was Allen’s midseason slump, the team’s narrative-shifting loss on a miraculous Kyler Murray Hail Mary pass, or just the fact that they’re the Bills. But Buffalo put themselves squarely back into discussion as the league’s best team by dispatching the Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The win, combined with Miami’s loss, puts the Bills securely in the driver’s seat of the AFC East, gives the team its best record through 13 games since 1991 (10-3), and officially renders the Patriots an also-ran in the division for the first time in over a decade.
Buffalo put together a complete team win. After going through a rough patch at the beginning of the year, the Bills’ defense has come on strong over the past few weeks and that continued against the Steelers. That unit played tough in the trenches against Pittsburgh, holding its running backs to just 47 yards on 17 carries―the fourth time in five games Buffalo has held its opponent under 100 yards on the ground. And the team’s pass defense came up big, too, limiting Ben Roethlisberger to 187 yards on 37 attempts while picking him off twice, one of which was returned by Taron Johnson for a touchdown.
Offensively, quarterback Josh Allen battled the cold, and a few snow flurries, to put together another gutsy performance (238 yards passing with two touchdowns and one pick, with another 28 yards on the ground), using his powerful arm and top-tier athleticism to keep the chains moving and create a handful of big plays against one of the best defenses in the NFL. He got some help from his superstar receiver Stefon Diggs, who got open at will for most of the second half while racking up 10 catches for 130 yards and a score. Rookie Gabriel Davis chipped in with a touchdown of his own, and the Bills got just enough from their ground game, picking up 104 yards on 27 carries. Crucially, unlike their opponent, the Bills executed on key third downs, converting 7 of 14 for first downs in those situations (the Steelers converted 1 of 10 on third down). That impressive offensive performance strengthened the Buffalo offensive unit’s résumé against some of the league’s best defenses this year: As The Athletic’s Mike Sando notes, the Bills have now gone 4-0 in games against the Rams, Dolphins, 49ers, and Steelers, with Allen posting a 14-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio in those games while averaging 8.9 yards per attempt with a 121.8 passer rating.
With a big, tough, and versatile quarterback in Allen, an elite separator and playmaker in Diggs, and a handful of talented role players in Cole Beasley, Davis, Devin Singletary, and Zack Moss, the Bills offense has the right combination of tools to excel down the stretch―whether they’re creating explosive pass plays or running the ball, whether they’re playing in cold weather or a dome. It was also pretty clear on Sunday night that this group is built to close out games. After taking possession of the ball at the 7:11 mark in the fourth quarter with a 26-15 lead, Buffalo’s offense matriculated down the field in demoralizing fashion, picking up six first downs to run the clock all the way down to triple zeros.
Add in the fact that Buffalo also came into the week ranked fifth in special teams DVOA, and it’s apparent that the Bills are more than just a talented dark-horse in the AFC; they’re a complete and balanced squad that looks like legit Super Bowl contenders―and it’s coalescing at exactly the right time.
Aaron Rodgers has the Packers’ offense playing on God mode.
The Packers can’t boast the same type of balance across all three phases as the Bills (Green Bay ranked 20th on defense and 26th on special teams at the start of the week, per DVOA), but they do have a pretty damn good trump card up their sleeve in their Aaron Rodgers–led offense―a unit that’s been more than capable of making up for the team’s other deficiencies this season. That offense was certainly the difference in Green Bay’s 31-24 win over the Lions on Sunday, a performance that served as another reminder of why the Packers are one of the clear favorites to emerge from the NFC.
It all starts with Rodgers, who’s been the most efficient quarterback in the league this year by just about every meaningful metric. After completing 26 of 33 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks in the win, the future Hall of Famer has now racked up a league-best 39 passing touchdowns. He’s thrown just four picks, giving him a 0.9 percent interception rate that ranks first among QBs with 150-plus completions. His 119.7 passer rating ranks first in the NFL. His 84.8 QBR ranks first. His 9.6 adjusted yards per attempt average ranks first. His 0.38 expected points added per play ranks first. His EPA+CPOE (completion percentage over expected) composite (0.214) ranks first. And he’s done it all with the strongest “this is so easy I could be doing this in my sleep” swagger in the league. (I think only Patrick Mahomes can give him a run for his money in that metric.)
Rodgers peppered his favorite target, Davante Adams, all game, strengthening what could be the most automatic QB-WR connection in the game right now. Adams reeled in seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, giving the prolific pass catcher at least one score in eight straight games. Rodgers spread the wealth a bit, of course, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling grabbing six passes and 85 yards and Robert Tonyan adding five catches for 36 yards and a score. The team’s run game got a chance to do some damage, too, with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combining for 107 yards on 25 totes. Oh, and Rodgers chipped in 13 yards and a touchdown on six scrambles, too.
In total, Green Bay racked up 410 yards of offense, went 8-for-11 on third downs, and converted all three red-zone trips into touchdowns. Apart from a pair of second-quarter punts and their final clock-killing drive to end the game, the Packers scored on every possession. Rodgers wasn’t sacked. It was all just so ... easy. And that’s becoming the norm. Green Bay’s impressive offensive output kept the team atop the ranks of highest scoring teams this year (31.5 per game), and pushed them past Kansas City as the no. 1 team in offensive DVOA. They may need to make some tweaks and changes to try to get more out of their defensive and special teams units down the stretch, but the Packers’ offense gives this team the ability to trade haymakers with anybody.
8. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
9. Cleveland Browns (9-4)
10. Miami Dolphins (8-5)
11. Tennessee Titans (9-4)
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)
13. Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
Ryan Tannehill is still quietly balling out.
It’s not a real mystery why Ryan Tannehill’s superb performance this year has mostly flown under the radar, considering the Titans’ two biggest playmakers are larger-than-life superstars in running back Derrick Henry and receiver A.J. Brown. Following the 31-10 win over the Jaguars, in which Henry rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns and Brown caught a highlight-reel one-hander in the end zone, there’s not a whole lot of virtual water-cooler chatter over Tannehill’s efficient 212-yard, two-touchdown passing line.
But I wanted to take a minute to point out and appreciate what the veteran quarterback has done for the Titans’ offense, not just this year, but since he took over for Marcus Mariota in Week 7 last year. After spurring an extraordinary offensive transformation for Tennessee in 2019, the newly paid franchise quarterback is quietly living up to his $118 million contract. Through 13 games, Tannehill has thrown for 3,209 yards in the Titans’ smashmouth scheme, and he’s making the most of his opportunities to push the ball down the field: His 28 touchdowns this season ranks tied for sixth, and he’s thrown just five picks. His 6.9 percent touchdown rate ranks third in the NFL, and his 1.2 percent interception rate is tied for fourth (among passers with 150 completions). He’s averaging 8.0 yards per attempt (tied for sixth), has notched a 108.0 passer rating (sixth), and a 76.6 QBR (fifth). And Tannehill ranks first in the NFL in both fourth-quarter comebacks (four) and game-winning drives (five) this season―which tells me, more than anything, that the 32-year-old passer is effective both as a game-managing distributor when the team has a lead, and as a gunslinging playmaker when the Titans are playing from behind.
With Tannehill under center, the Titans rank third in offensive DVOA and fourth in points per game (30.0). The quarterbacks helming the three teams in front of Tennessee in the latter stat have all been front-runners in the MVP discussion this year (Rodgers, Mahomes, and Russell Wilson). I figure Tannehill’s fine with simply winning (and the 9-4 Titans have done plenty of that), but it’s also pretty clear we’re not talking enough about just how incredible this dude’s late-career renaissance has been. Or maybe people just aren’t buying it.
Well, I am. With 23 starts under his belt in Tennessee, the sample is sufficiently large. Over the past two seasons, Tannehill has thrown 50 touchdowns (eighth most) to just 11 picks, compiled a 112.0 passer rating (second only to Drew Brees among QBs with 200 attempts), and has averaged 8.64 yards per attempt, tops in the NFL—just ahead of Mahomes.
The Muddled Middle
14. Arizona Cardinals (7-6)
15. Washington Football Team (6-7)
16. New England Patriots (6-7)
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)
18. Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)
19. Chicago Bears (6-7)
20. San Francisco 49ers (5-8)
21. New York Giants (5-8)
22. Detroit Lions (5-8)
23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1)
24. Denver Broncos (5-8)
Washington’s defense is scary good.
There isn’t a whole lot to feel good about when it comes to the Washington Football Team’s offense, which might be forced to make yet another quarterback switch (this time back to Dwayne Haskins) if Alex Smith’s calf injury keeps him out in Week 15. But despite the numerous, seemingly unending question marks surrounding the offensive side of the ball, Washington’s swarming defense looks capable of carrying more than its own weight in the team’s quest toward a postseason spot.
It all starts up front for Washington, whose talent-loaded front line sets the tone like few other units in the NFL. That was definitely the case in their 23-15 win over the 49ers on Sunday, when rookie Chase Young and a bevy of others controlled the game from start to finish. In total, the Washington defense sacked quarterback Nick Mullens four times, hit him another 12 times, and forced two fumble turnovers―one of which was scooped up and run back for a score by Young himself in the second quarter.
Young had a game for the ages, notching a sack, two quarterback hits, two pass deflections, a forced fumble, and that recovery touchdown. Together with Montez Sweat (one sack, two TFL, two QB hits), Da’Ron Payne (one sack, one QB hit, one pass deflection, one forced fumble), Jonathan Allen (three QB hits), and a handful of others, Washington controlled from the trenches, consistently stuffing the run while forcing Mullens off his spot and into bad decisions. That near-constant pressure paid dividends for the team’s coverage defenders: Washington racked up 11 passes defensed in the game, and rookie safety Kamren Curl took advantage of one hurried Mullens throw and returned it to the house.
Prior to the season, I wrote about how this Washington team had some similarities to the San Francisco squad that went to the Super Bowl in 2019, the most obvious parallel being the fact that both had chosen to upgrade their already talent-laden defensive lines with blue-chip pass rushers out of Ohio State (Nick Bosa for the 49ers and Young for Washington). As I expected, the Washington defense has blossomed with Young on the edge, and after finishing 2019 ranked 27th in defensive DVOA, it came into the week ranked fourth in the same metric. But while Washington’s offense (which came into the week ranked 28th in DVOA) has failed to take a jump this year, their hounding, suffocating front makes this squad a surprisingly tough out—and a team that could make wild-card weekend interesting. But first they have to win the NFC East.
Jalen Hurts gives the Eagles offense the spark it needs.
The Eagles’ quarterback switch was one of the biggest story lines of the Week 14 slate, and Hurts’s performance didn’t disappoint. Filling in for Carson Wentz in the Eagles’ shocking 24-21 win over the Saints, the rookie helmed a run-first, option-based offense for Philly that helped give the offense new life and rectify a few of the team’s most glaring and prohibitive issues―namely Wentz’s propensity to take far too many sacks and the team’s lack of dynamism in the run game.
Hurts, who completed 17 of 30 throws for 167 yards and a touchdown, remains a work in progress as a passer, and because of that, head coach Doug Pederson designed a smart scheme that didn’t ask too much of the inexperienced young pro. But where the former Alabama and Oklahoma star did stand out was his ability to not only be a factor as a runner, but in his ability to escape the rush and keep called pass plays alive. Whether he was scrambling or just resetting in the pocket, Hurts showed the ability to slide and strafe away from pressure.
Yesterday was the first time the Eagles did not take a sack since Week 2, after taking a league-high 45 sacks for -269 yards over that span.— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) December 14, 2020
The rookie was also a focal point in the team’s new-look offense, which featured a smorgasbord of read-option runs that seemed to confuse the Saints and keep them on their heels. Hurts carried the ball 18 times for 106 yards in the game, joining Lamar Jackson as the only two rookie quarterbacks to rush for 100-plus yards in their first start. And Hurts’s presence on the field seemed to be a boon for running back Miles Sanders, too: With the Saints keying in on Hurts, Sanders posted 115 yards and two touchdowns on 14 totes.
Pederson announced Monday that Hurts will be the team’s starter in Week 15, and while it’s far too early to say whether he’ll hold on to the job long term, it was clear on Sunday that the moment was never too big for the second-round rookie.
There’s Always Next Year
25. Carolina Panthers (4-9)
26. Los Angeles Chargers (4-9)
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
28. Houston Texans (4-9)
29. Dallas Cowboys (4-9)
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12)
32. New York Jets (0-13)
What does Gardner Minshew’s future hold?
It probably would’ve been in the Jaguars’ best long-term interest to stick with Mike Glennon as its starter (so it can lose its final three games, secure the no. 2 overall pick, and pick Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields as the future franchise cornerstone). But that’s not what the team’s going to do, and after benching Glennon midway through the third quarter of the team’s 31-10 loss to the Titans and handing the offense back over to Minshew, head coach Doug Marrone announced Monday that Minshew will start again for Jacksonville in the team’s Week 15 matchup with the Ravens.
My first thought is that Marrone’s putting that second overall pick in unnecessary jeopardy. But my second thought is that I’m looking forward to seeing how Minshew plays the next few games, which could provide the second-year quarterback a good opportunity to boost his trade stock and, in turn, entice the team into dealing him prior to (or after) the almost-inevitable decision to take a quarterback in the 2021 draft. It’s pretty clear that Jacksonville’s going in a different direction next year, but Minshew, at least in my opinion, is a starting-caliber passer who could provide value to a quarterback-needy team that doesn’t hold a top-five pick.
Jacksonville may end up holding on to Minshew as a backup, but I’m hoping he’ll get the chance to start for someone in 2021. The way he plays over the next few games could determine what the team decides to do with the former sixth round pick.