Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys continue to run away from the competition. (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports)
There were a few minor shakeups at the top and bottom, but, as has been the case this season, the good teams just aren’t losing unless it’s to another good team. We saw a great game in Atlanta as a fairly new NFL rule decided the outcome of another game this season. With the win, the Chiefs kept themselves in the top five. The Giants suffered a big drop, falling from four all the way to 10. The Lions have continued their steady climb up the rankings, and Calvin Johnson has to be wondering if he retired a year too early. Baltimore crawls into the top 10 for the first time this season, but the Steelers are hot on their heels.
Just when the Dolphins were starting to believe in themselves, they were absolutely steamrolled by Baltimore, dropping them four spots and out of the top 10. Toward the bottom of the list, we’ve had the same eight teams all year, and it was the Jets’ futile effort on Monday Night Football that was the most alarming. First Darrelle Revis quit, and now the rest of the team has followed suit. Bryce Petty is going to have a hell of a time not getting killed over the next four weeks as he tries to prove he’s good enough to play in the this league.
1. (1 last week) Cowboys (11-1) — The train keeps on rolling. With its 11th win in a row, this Cowboys team now has the longest win streak in team history. The two-point win over the Vikings was Dallas’ smallest margin of victory this season, and frankly, the Cowboys benefited from a missed call on the crucial two-point conversion in the closing minutes. Next up, they head to the Meadowlands to play the Giants, who gave them their only loss in Week 1.
2. (2) Patriots (10-2) — The Patriots defense did what it was supposed to do and held a garbage offense to a paltry 162 yards. The Pats also held the Rams to just one third third-down conversion in 12 tries. Tom Brady completed 72 percent of his passes in his first game without Rob Gronkowski, but he and Josh McDaniels will have their work cut out for them in their pursuit of a fifth Super Bowl title.
3. (3) Raiders (10-2) — Things were looking a little dicey on Sunday when the Bills were up 24-9 with 9:01 left in the third quarter. Fortunately for Raider Nation, Derek Carr snapped back to reality and threw for three TDs in a six-minute span to give his team the lead, and he added another one for good measure. Only Atlanta and New Orleans are scoring more points per game, but Oakland is winning the turnover battle (plus-7) and has the inside track for a first-round bye.
4. (5) Chiefs (9-3) — Eric Berry’s pick-two was the best play of the weekend. The Chiefs now have won seven of eight and get a chance to even the season series with the Raiders at home on Thursday night. A win would put them in first place since they own the tiebreaker over Oakland with a better division record.
5. (6) Seahawks (8-3-1) — A week after scoring just five points on the road against the Buccaneers, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks returned home to pour 40 on the Panthers. Seattle still leads the league in points against (16.2 per game) but the loss of Earl Thomas is a big blow. The offense has been pretty mediocre over the course of the season, but Thomas Rawls could emerge out of Marshawn Lynch’s shadow if he continues to play like he did on Sunday night.
6. (8) Lions (8-4) — For the first time this year, the Lions were NOT trailing in the fourth quarter. Matt Stafford beat the Saints at their own game and threw for 341 yards and two TDs on the way to a fourth straight win. Detroit now has a two-game lead in the NFC North, but it has a tough schedule down the stretch with games at the Giants and Cowboys before finishing the season at home vs. what will be a very desperate Packers team.
7. (10) Broncos (8-4) — Trevor Siemian needs to stay healthy. In his absence, Paxton Lynch was just 12-of-24 for 104 yards and no TDs. As usual, the defense came up big with two INTs, including a pick-six by Bradley Roby. Everyone knows this defense is great, but it’s dangerous to rely on it to win games week after week.
8. (12) Ravens (7-5) — Baltimore has won four of its last five, including a 38-6 thrashing of the Dolphins on Sunday. At 7-5, the Ravens are tied with the Steelers for the lead in the NFC North. They’re 4-0 in the division and already beat Pittsburgh earlier in the year, so tiebreakers are in their favor.
9. (13) Steelers (7-5) — The offense has been pretty good all year (although Le’Veon Bell is fumbling the ball these days) but it’s been the improvement of the defense that has helped Pittsburgh crawl back into contention. Sunday’s win over the Giants was crucial to keep pace with the division-leading Ravens.
10. (4) Giants (8-4) — What the hell was that? Things were going so well for the Giants as they rolled into Pittsburgh with a six-game winning streak. Odell Beckham Jr. was scoring touchdowns every week and the defense was making plays to justify the group’s huge contracts. The final score makes it look like it was just a 10-point game, but one of New York’s two TDs came with just 30 seconds left in the game. Three of the G-Men’s final four games are divisional battles, including a rematch with Dallas this Sunday night.
11. (16) Buccaneers (7-5) — Jameis Winston led a fourth-quarter comeback to take the lead over the Chargers, and the defense forced a late-game turnover to seal it. Winston now has a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio, which could be better, but he’s doing enough to give his team a chance each week. He’ll likely have to score a lot more when he faces the Saints, the Cowboys and the Saints again over the next three weeks.
12. (7) Falcons (7-5) — Even if that two-point conversion attempt DIDN’T end in a total disaster, there still was 4:32 on the clock, which was more than enough time for the Chiefs to come back and win it, or at least tie. The Falcons still have the best offense in the league, but now they’ve got to fend off the red-hot Bucs, who are tied with them for the lead in the NFC South.
13. (9) Dolphins (7-5) — Miami’s six-game winning streak was snapped on Sunday, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the Dolphins hadn’t lost in such embarrassing fashion. A closer look at that winning streak reveals they only beat ONE team with a winning record in that stretch. In fact, all seven of their wins (save for Pittsburgh) have come against awful teams (a combined .301 winning percentage).
14. (11) Redskins (6-5-1) — A few weeks ago this team was trending in the right direction with back-to-back wins over the Vikings and Packers. Now it’s flipped and the Redskins are reeling from back-to-back losses at the hands of the Cowboys and Cardinals. They’ve got a few winnable games down the stretch but will need some help to make the final game against the Giants mean something.
15. (21) Packers (6-6) — A 21-13 home win against the Texans doesn’t do much to make me think the Packers have turned things around. It’s unlikely they go undefeated in their last four games (Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit) and even if they do, it might not be enough.
16. (23) Colts (6-6) — The return of Andrew Luck was the difference between scoring seven points on Thanksgiving and scoring 40 points on Monday night. Maybe the Jets just forgot to cover him, but Dwayne Allen scored three TDs and could give opposing defensive coordinators something to worry about down the stretch. Hopefully for the Colts they can keep Luck upright for the rest of the season, but that’s been a real problem for this offensive line.
17. (19) Titans (6-6) — A win over the Bears technically keeps them tied for the division lead at 6-6 with the Colts and Texans, but things don’t look promising. They lose to Indy via tiebreaker since they were swept in the season series. The Texans beat them once already and have a spotless 3-0 record in the division. Apart from that, they play the Broncos and Chiefs in the next two weeks. Marcus Mariota is only a second-year QB at this point and has made some good strides, so the team could make a few moves in the offseason and should be ready to contend for the AFC South title in 2018.
18. (14) Bills (6-6) — Buffalo’s 32nd-ranked passing attack couldn’t keep up with Oakland down the stretch. It’s not 1963, so the Bills’ top-ranked rushing offense doesn’t really matter when the team is 6-6.
19. (15) Vikings (6-6) — At one point this season the Vikings were 5-0 and everyone was saying that trading a first-round pick for Sam Bradford actually was a smart move. Now Minnesota has lost six of seven and is 1-3 in the division. The Vikings will need some serious help in the final weeks of the season to make the playoffs, and since they were swept by Detroit, it’s likely they’ll be golfing in January.
20. (24) Cardinals (5-6-1) — After a slow start to the season the Cardinals aren’t done yet, but they’re on life support. They’re three games behind Seattle in the NFC West. With four games left in the season (three of them on the road) they’ll likely have to win them all and hope Seattle stumbles. That’s a lot to ask for a team that’s underperformed all season.
21. (17) Texans (6-6) — Another loss on Sunday pushes Houston’s losing streak to three. With 14 TDs and 13 picks on the year, Brock Osweiler might be the worst offseason signing in the league.
22. (20) Saints (5-7) — It’s hard to imagine Drew Brees throwing for 326 yards with no TDs, but he did it. He also threw three interceptions, so all-in-all not a great day for the future Hall of Famer. With just 13 points scored on Sunday, the Saints tied their season low.
23. (22) Chargers (5-7) — Philip Rivers had an unusually poor performance against the Bucs on Sunday, throwing for just 225 yards and two TDs with two picks, including one in the final minutes of the game that iced the win for Tampa Bay. San Diego fans are going through a tough time off the field as well, as the team prepares to leave the city again, with hopes of joining the Rams in Inglewood.
24. (18) Eagles (5-7) — Philly has an almost impossible schedule in the second half of the season, but the Bengals are a team the Eagles should have beaten. Instead, the defense was carved up for 34 points, and the Eagles now are in sole possession of last place. It gets even harder, as their four remaining games are against the Redskins, Ravens, Giants and Cowboys. If they’re lucky, the Cowboys will have wrapped up home field and Philly can play a few snaps against Tony Romo.
25. (27) Bengals (4-7-1) — Andy Dalton had one of the best games of his career against the Eagles on Sunday, throwing for 332 yards and two TDs while not getting sacked or turning the ball over. The Bengals snapped a three-game losing streak, but since they’re just 4-7-1 their Week 15 matchup with the Steelers has been flexed OUT of prime time.
26. (25) Panthers (4-8) — Can someone get Cam Newton a damn tie? He said in his postgame presser that because he’s 6-foot-5, it would have been really hard to find him a shirt and tie to wear on the team bus, which is ridiculous considering there are 18 players on the roster who are pretty much the exact same height as him. Regardless of a supposed dress-code violation, the Panthers had plenty of chances to bounce back after Derek Anderson threw a pick on the first play of the game, but this team quit weeks ago. Some would say they’ve been phoning it in since Newton failed to jump on that fumble in Super Bowl 50.
27. (26) Rams (4-8) — Shortly before Sunday’s blowout loss to the Patriots, news emerged that the team had extended Jeff Fisher’s contract. The players rewarded him with 162 total yards of offense, including just 25 in the first half. The return of professional football is off to a roaring start in L.A.
28. (30) Bears (3-9) — When the 1-10 49ers come to town, you’re supposed to win. However, in doing so, the Bears likely have lost their chance at one of the top two picks in next year’s draft. They’ll need a quarterback in 2017. Jay Cutler, who had surgery scheduled for Saturday, will either be traded or waived in the offseason.
29. (29) Jaguars (2-10) — Blake Bortles played one of the worst games of his career on Sunday, and after a breakout season in 2015, he seems to be trending in the wrong direction. In Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Broncos, Bortles was just 19-of-42 with two picks and a career-worst 37.9 QBR. The team will eventually have to think about moving on from a guy with 11 career pick-sixes and just 10 career wins.
30. (28) Jets (3-9) — Monday night was an absolute embarrassment. The entire team has quit. It was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s LAST chance to prove he can be a starter in the NFL, and he blew it. Bryce Petty, who isn’t ready, will start for the remainder of the season.
31. (31) 49ers (2-10) — I’m sure you’ve seen this stat already, but it’s staggering and bears repeating: On Sunday, Colin Kaepernick became the first QB in history to be sacked five times and throw for just four yards.
32. (32) Browns (0-12) — In their finest performance of the season, the Browns stayed at home and got healthy during their bye week. In the next four weeks they play the Bengals, Bills, Chargers and Steelers. If they go 0-16, do the 2008 Detroit Lions pop champagne?