The Los Angeles Rams lost their fifth straight game on Thursday Night Football against the Seattle Seahawks, keeping them near the bottom of the NFL Power Rankings Week 16 edition.
New coach, same old results for the Los Angeles Rams as their offense failed to score a touchdown against the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense.
There were actually some who thought the Rams would give the Seahawks a challenge, which was ridiculous to even consider after watching the Rams play lifeless offense all season.
Despite firing head coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams looked like nothing had changed and scored just three points against an elite Seahawks defense. Adding injury to insult, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman destroyed Rams quarterback Jared Goff during his attempt to scramble for a touchdown, which ended in Goff getting a concussion and being knocked out of the game.
The Rams have now lost five straight contests and it’s abundantly clear nothing is going to get better before the end of season. Now all that’s left is to pick up the pieces from another failed campaign and hope a new head coach in 2017 can get this team on the right track.
Now that we’ve broken down the mess that is the Rams, it’s time to take a look at the rest of the league and see where they rank going into Week 16. It’s hard to believe we are just a few weeks away from the playoffs, but plenty of things can happen between now and then to drastically change the playoff picture.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-14)
Another week came and went and Cleveland Browns fans are still waiting for their first win of the 2016 season. The Browns went into the half down two scores, but were able to pull to within a touchdown deficit early in the third. Then, as per usual, the wheels came off. The Buffalo Bills finished the game outscoring the Browns 16-3 and Bills running back LeSean McCoy helped put the Browns to bed for their 14th loss of the season. Quarterback Robert Griffin III was sacked five times and survived, but he posted lackluster numbers with 17 completions on 28 attempts for 196 yards. He was the team’s leading rusher with 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground in what was another sorry afternoon for the Browns on both sides of the ball.
To be fair to Griffin III, it’s hard to evaluate any quarterback the Browns put in there with an offensive line that can’t block. If this team is serious about getting better, its focus has to be on more than just finding a quarterback. The offensive line needs major help and the Browns defense can’t stop an opposing offense to save its life. Head coach Hue Jackson should and will keep his job after this season, but he has a tall order ahead of him in trying to make this roster better. The good news for Jackson is that there’s nowhere to go from here but up, so he does have that going for him.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-13)
The San Francisco 49ers’ one-win season continues after a loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. San Fran was getting blown out right from the start, as the Falcons scored 21 first quarter points on a touchdown run from Devonta Freeman and two touchdown passes from Matt Ryan. The Niners did come back in the second quarter and put 13 points on the board, but that was all the scoring San Fran would do for the game. The Falcons outscored the Niners 13-0 in the second half and the Niners will go into Week 16 with just a single “W” on the season.
On the bright side, the Browns also lost so the Niners are still one game ahead of the worst team in the NFL. All kidding aside, this is just a bad team and it comes as no surprise they got destroyed by a Falcons team battling to make the playoffs. The last two weeks of the season will see the Niners take on two division foes, the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. The Niners got their only win of the season against the Rams, and with the way Los Angeles is stinking it up this season, the Niners could be in-line for win No. 2. While it appears head coach Chip Kelly is safe for 2017, he’s going to need a vast improvement to keep his job beyond that, although that shouldn’t be hard with the Niners playing some of the worst football this franchise has ever seen.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
After Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler was pulled from the game following two first half interceptions, it looked like the Jacksonville Jaguars were on their way to an actual win. That is, until backup quarterback Tom Savage lit the Jags up in the second half, totaling 260 yards through the air en route to handing Jacksonville its 12th loss of the season. Blake Bortles failed to complete 50 percent of his passes and compiled a pathetic 92 yards and one interception for a Jaguars offense that gained 150 total yards of offense. The end of the season can’t come fast enough for this dreadful bunch and the end of the 2016 campaign will finally put this team out of its misery.
It’s nearly impossible to point out any bright spot on the Jaguars this season. Bortles and wide receiver Allen Robinson have both regressed – Robinson is mostly a victim of Bortles’ horrific season – and this defense has fallen well below expectations from the start of the season. The Jags will hope to find an impact player early in the draft and a new head coach is a certainty after Jacksonville fired Gus Bradley after the loss to the Texans. This team went from having playoff aspirations to hoping they just don’t get embarrassed on a weekly basis. Whoever takes over this mess will have quite the job on their hands, but there is enough young talent to turn this thing around sooner rather than later.
29. Chicago Bears (3-11)
Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Barkley is doing his best to make the case that he should retain the starting job for the team beyond this season. Barkley threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns, but was tarnished by three picks. Still, he has gotten slightly better in every game in which he’s played. The Bears looked dead in the dirt after falling behind 27-10, however this team showed fight and battled back to tie the game late with just over one minute remaining. Sadly for Chicago, the defense was unable to stop a 60-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, and a Mason Crosby field goal got the Packers out of Chicago with a victory.
Now, we’re not anointing Barkley this team’s starter moving forward, but he has to have at least garnered some consideration for next season. It will all depend on what the Bears do with Jay Cutler, who had his season ended early due to a shoulder injury. Unless the Bears keep Cutler or make a big splash in free agency, Barkley figures to at least have a chance to compete for the starting job should the Bears bring him back. If the Bears can figure things out behind center, this team does have a solid defense and a franchise running back in Jordan Howard to build around. Bringing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery back will be a major key to the offseason as well, but the Bears will have a ton of competition for their star wideout.
28. Los Angeles Rams (4-10)
If you somehow missed the news that head coach Jeff Fisher was fired, you might not have known anything changed for the Los Angeles Rams. Led by interim head coach John Fassel on Thursday night, the Rams were once again overmatched by an opponent, this time the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams only tallied a field goal in the game, and rookie quarterback Jared Goff got rocked by cornerback Richard Sherman, which led to an early exit for the No. 1 overall pick.
The Rams defense actually played well in holding the Seahawks to under 300 total yards of offense, but it’s hard to win games when the offense posts 183 total yards and can’t put points on the board. This loss was a microcosm of how things have gone in Los Angeles this season and only a new direction following the 2016 campaign can breed hope for the future.
The Rams reportedly began their head coach search on Friday and several names have come up in rumors. Clearly the Rams need a new direction on offense and the team is wisely leaning towards hiring an offensive-minded coach. Beyond that, the Rams need to rebuild their horrific offensive line and revamp a receiving corps that is short on talent. If there’s anything to point to, it’s the Rams’ defense, but even that unit has had its fair share of issues this season. The Rams are a mess and it’s going to take a lot to turn this team around in 2017, but at least the franchise is moving in the right direction by firing Fisher before things get more out of hand.
27. New York Jets (4-10)
Things went from bad to worse for the New York Jets on Saturday night. Not only did they completely stall offensively after grabbing an early lead, but quarterback Bryce Petty was the meat in a sandwich, with Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake being the bread. Petty was ultimately unable to finish the game due to injury. One of the lone bright spots in this game for New York was running back Bilal Powell, who caught 11 passes and totaled 162 yards from scrimmage. However, that only helped fantasy football players as the Jets once again looked like a team that has given up on its coach and is just playing out the string.
While all indications are that head coach Todd Bowles will keep his job, the Jets have to at least be considering a change after this season. Bowles has clearly lost this team and the franchise has taken a giant step back after going 10-6 in 2015. Petty doesn’t appear to be the answer after another uninspiring performance, and there are also doubts about rookie quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who has yet to take a snap in the NFL this season. Regardless of what the Jets do at head coach, it’s clear major changes are afoot for this lost organization and there could be plenty of veterans on their way out the door, with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall being among them. Bottom line: it’s back to the drawing board for Gang Green.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (5-9)
The Philadelphia Eagles were just a two-point conversion away from upsetting the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15, but it just didn’t happen for them. Carson Wentz was unable to convert on the attempt to win the game, which was a bold but understandable move from a team with nothing to lose. Surprisingly enough, the Eagles were actually able to move the ball on the ground against an elite run defense, but it was another poor showing by Wentz that did the Eagles in. After a strong start to the season, Wentz appears to have regressed, and that isn’t entirely surprising since he set the bar so high in the first weeks of the season.
While their playoff hopes were quite slim to begin with, the Eagles were officially eliminated with this loss and have nothing to play for the rest of the season. Well, that’s not entirely true because the Eagles would love to see Wentz have two strong games to close out the season. It has been a crazy campaign for a team that had low expectations but started off 3-0. Once that record was established, expectations became unrealistically high for Wentz, who has since seen his level of play dip significantly.
This kind of inconsistent play is what we should have expected from a rookie quarterback in the first place. Now all that’s left is to continue to develop Wentz and try to build a better offense around him in order to put him in the best position to succeed in 2017. Don’t be worried just yet, Eagles fans. Wentz still has time to improve and hitting the panic button at this point would be unfair to the young quarterback.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1)
The Cincinnati Bengals’ nightmare season is officially over. Granted, it was a pretty slim chance Cincy had to make the playoffs anyway, but it is over nonetheless. The Bengals actually led for most of the game and carried a 20-15 lead into the final quarter, however Steelers kicker Chris Boswell nailed one of his six field goals on the afternoon and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed a late touchdown to give the Steelers the lead and the win. After a strong first half, the Bengals failed to score a single point in the second half and an offense that looked to be clicking to start the game completely disappeared. You know things are bad in Cincy when their entire offense was almost outscored by the opposing kicker.
Now that the playoffs are an afterthought, the Bengals will start looking to 2017, with one major question afoot: will head coach Marvin Lewis be retained beyond this season? That remains to be seen, but all indications thus far point to him returning. One has to wonder exactly what the Bengals head coach has to do to get fired, considering the Bengals went from a 12-4 playoff team a season ago to one that has totally collapsed in 2016. Aside from retaining some key free agents, the Bengals must look to improve an offensive line that has failed to protect its quarterback. In the grand scheme of things, the Bengals aren’t that bad off, but this team won’t return to AFC North prominence if nothing is done about the offensive line.
24. San Diego Chargers (5-9)
Another week, another close loss for the San Diego Chargers, which has been the story of their 2016 season. Head coach Mike McCoy’s squad held a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but was unable to answer the Raiders’ two field goals. With that said, the Chargers still had a chance to even the game late when facing a field goal deficit with under three minutes remaining, but the Chargers’ final drive ended with a Phillip Rivers interception in what has became an all too familiar situation during San Diego’s disappointing season.
With the Chargers playing out the string, the Chargers will meet the Cleveland Browns in Week 16, followed by a contest against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. The best the Chargers can hope for is to play spoilers against the Chiefs, but perhaps more importantly, the Chargers will want to avoid being the first team to lose to the Browns this season. At this point, moral victories are all the Chargers can hope for. Looking forward, McCoy is likely coaching his last two games as the lead man in San Diego, but beyond that nothing is certain for the Chargers.
This is a team in a tough spot that could either choose to rebuild or stick with its main pieces in the hopes of turning it around with a new head coach. Regardless, it’ll be a tall order for the Chargers to compete in what is arguably the best division in the NFL.
23. Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1)
It’s all over for the Arizona Cardinals’ 2016 season following a horrific defensive showing that led to a loss to the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees and company scored 48 points on the Cards and while Arizona did its best to keep up, it simply wasn’t enough. Arizona actually tied the Saints with under nine minutes left to play following a David Johnson touchdown run, but the Saints would go on to score two straight touchdowns to give them a two-score lead that the Cardinals were unable to overcome.
By the way, Johnson totaled over 100 yards from scrimmage and became the first player in NFL history to break the century mark for total yards in each of his first 14 games to start a season.
Now that the Cardinals have been officially eliminated, this team has a ton of questions to answer during the offseason. Will Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald return, or is this team looking at a full rebuild on offense with no quarterback and no No. 1 receiver? Head coach Bruce Arians will surely be returning next season and improvements need to be made on both sides of the ball. How many improvements will be dependent upon what the aforementioned veterans do. Two NFC West opponents remain on the Cardinals schedule, as Arizona will hit the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 and the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17.
22. Carolina Panthers (5-8) (Play on MNF)
Head coach Ron Rivera’s team snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 14. The Carolina Panthers jumped out to a 23-0 second quarter lead before the Chargers finally got on the board, but San Diego was never able to overcome its early deficit. The biggest key to this win was the Panthers defense forcing five turnovers, all of which came from quarterback Phillip Rivers (three picks and two fumbles). Other than that, there wasn’t really much to be excited about for the Panthers, as Cam Newton and company gained only 272 total yards and failed to get either facet of the offense going.
The Panthers haven’t officially been eliminated from the playoffs thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers loss on Sunday night. Carolina will have to deal with the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football in what will be a matchup against a team that is battling for a playoff spot as well. It’s a bad matchup for Carolina, as the Redskins can air it out and take advantage of what has been a major weakness for the Panthers this season. The Redskins are going to put up points, but the question remains if can the Panthers do enough on offense to match and surpass what the Redskins can do. Based on what we’ve watched this season, that isn’t likely and this game is shaping up as another loss for the Panthers.
21. New Orleans Saints (6-8)
After two weeks of offensive ineptitude, the New Orleans Saints came alive and dropped 48 points on the Arizona Cardinals in a winning effort on Sunday. Drew Brees was red-hot from the jump and totaled 389 yards and four scores through the air, while Tim Hightower scored another two touchdowns against his former team. The Saints defense didn’t have an answer for Carson Palmer and company, but it didn’t matter with their offense looking unstoppable. With the game tied at 34 with under nine minutes left in the fourth, the Saints scored two unanswered touchdowns before a late fourth quarter pass from Palmer found John Brown in the end zone. Even then, it wasn’t enough as the Saints finished it off and grabbed the win.
Slim playoff hopes and all, the Saints came out motivated on Sunday and had one of their best showings of the season on offense. Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost, there is still a slight hope for the Saints to make the playoffs, but a win by the Redskins on Monday night would officially end that. Looking ahead, the Saints have matchups with the Bucs and the Atlanta Falcons to close out the season, but chances are the Saints are going to miss the playoffs yet again. Earlier in the day, there was a rumor circulating that head coach Sean Payton could be dealt during the offseason, so major changes could come at the end of the season.
20. Buffalo Bills (7-7)
The Buffalo Bills will not be the team that hands the Cleveland Browns their first win of the season. Things were a bit scary for a minute there, though, as the Browns pulled to within a single score in the third quarter. However, Shady McCoy scored two touchdowns on consecutive drives and buried Cleveland with 153 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Buffalo also gave a spirited effort on defense, albeit against the worst team in the NFL. The Browns totaled just 269 yards of offense and the Bills were all over Robert Griffin III with five sacks, exploiting a Browns offensive line that needs to be put out to pasture after this season.
The win keeps the Bills’ slim playoff hopes alive when combined with the Broncos’ loss, but it will take nothing short of a miracle for Buffalo to make this happen. The Bills will have to win their next two games against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, while also needing a handful of teams to lose in the process. Reports are suggesting head coach Rex Ryan is on his way out the door if the team doesn’t make the playoffs, which again isn’t likely to happen. Ryan better enjoy these next two weeks as a head coach because it might be his last lead job for a very long time, and quite possibly forever.
19. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
Despite still having at least a shot at the playoffs, the Minnesota Vikings played like a team who was out of it during their brutal Week 15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Minny only gained 34 yards on the ground, which wasn’t entirely surprising considering that has been the story all season and the Vikings were trailing big for almost the entire contest. Adrian Peterson’s return did nothing to spark the Vikings offense and anytime you have to rely on Sam Bradford to carry a team behind that offensive line, it’s never going to end well. Once the Vikings defense looked overmatched, there was zero hope the Vikings were going to win this game.
The loss moves the Vikings back to .500 and all but crushes their hopes of making the playoffs. The division is now out of reach and the Vikings would need a trio of teams to collapse in front of them while also running the table. Minnesota has games left with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears left, and could potentially end the Packers’ hopes of winning the division in Week 16. Still, with the way this team is playing offensively and its defense no longer able to carry it, chances are the Vikings aren’t going to be pulling off any upsets anytime soon.
18. Tennessee Titans (8-6)
The Tennessee Titans played a sloppy game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15, but a win is a win and it helped keep the Titans tied atop the AFC South. A 17-7 first half deficit had the Titans looking like a team in trouble, but the Titans defense was able to come on strong in the second half and shut out the Chiefs offense. One of Derrick Henry’s two touchdown runs on the day came late in the fourth quarter to help the Titans pull to within one, and Ryan Succop’s 53-yard field goal as time expired enabled Tennessee to pull off a stunning come-from-behind win over KC.
The win helped the Titans stay ahead of the Indianapolis Colts and even with the Houston Texans, who also won on Sunday. Now all the Titans have to do is stay even with Houston in order to setup a Week 17 showdown for the division title. Before that, the Titans have to take care of business in Jacksonville in Week 16, which shouldn’t be too difficult to do considering the Jaguars are a team that looks like it is mailing it in to close out the season.
Even with a Titans win and a Texans loss next week, Tennessee still has to win in Week 17 to secure the division or else the Texans will win the AFC South via tiebreaker. Regardless, the Titans find themselves in a great position for the final two weeks of the season and they might just be able to pull this off and get into the playoffs.
17. Indianapolis Colts (7-7)
A fantastic effort in a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday might be too little too late for the Indianapolis Colts. The game was never close, as the Colts jumped out to a 27-0 lead after a great first half that was all Indy. The Vikings managed only two field goals on offense and the Vikings run game was silenced completely on the same week that Adrian Peterson returned to action. Andrew Luck was brilliant, throwing for 250 yards and two scores, while Frank Gore broke 100 yards during a game in which Indy led the entire way.
With a crowded AFC playoff picture, the Colts’ best chance remains winning the division, which is also almost out of reach. The Colts would have to win out against the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars over the next two weeks, while also needing the Texans to lose both of their games and the Titans to lose in Week 16 and win in Week 17.
While possible, it’s a tall order for the Colts considering they have to beat one of the better teams in the league, the Raiders, just to have a chance to accomplish this feat. If it goes as we all think it will and the Colts miss out on the playoffs, it could spell the end of the Chuck Pagano era in Indianapolis; although owner Jim Irsay has said he expects Pagano back after this season. Only time will tell if he was truthful in saying that.
16. Houston Texans (8-6)
The Tom Savage era has begun in Houston! The Houston Texans backup quarterback relieved a struggling Brock Osweiler after he tossed two first half picks, and Savage ended up leading the Texans to a huge win in Week 15 over the Jaguars. Savage completed 23 of 36 attempts for 260 yards, and perhaps more importantly he helped wideout DeAndre Hopkins come back to life. Granted, the Texans offense was only able to score one touchdown and needed a safety and four field goals to outscore the Jags, but Savage looked to have a better command of the offense than Osweiler has all season long.
While it remains to be seen what the Texans will do at quarterback moving forward, one thing is clear: Savage earned the right to start next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Osweiler has been a nightmare all season and Savage did what he needed to do to help the Texans win when they needed it most. Head coach Bill O’Brien’s move was a smart one and it helped the Texans maintain control of their own destiny. At 8-6 and in first place in the AFC South, no other team in the division can catch Houston if it just wins its next two games, which will come at home against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16 and on the road in Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans.
15. Denver Broncos (8-6)
The Denver Broncos are in huge trouble following their Week 15 loss to the Patriots. Their offense struggled as usual and the Broncos only put three points on the board. After a first quarter field goal, the Broncos went scoreless the rest of the game and wasted a great defensive effort that led to Tom Brady throwing for 188 yards and no touchdowns.
This should have been an ideal scenario to beat the MVP candidate and the AFC-leading Patriots, but the Broncos offense failed to take advantage of such an opportunity. To their credit, the Patriots defense came to play on Sunday and there was nothing the Broncos could do about it.
Denver’s loss puts them in dire straights for the playoffs. Not only does Denver have to win out against teams like the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, but the Broncos will also need some help as they have to jump over the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, and Miami Dolphins, who currently own the final wild card spot at 9-5. It’s a difficult pill to swallow for a team that won the Super Bowl last season and owned a playoff spot for much of the season, however it’s the reality Denver faces going into Week 16 after squandering their game against the Pats.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a tall task ahead of them in Week 15, with the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys standing in their way. Despite a valiant effort that saw the Bucs come alive in the second half, it simply wasn’t enough to get it done. After falling behind 17-6 in the first half, the Bucs stormed out of the gates in the third quarter and scored 14 unanswered points. It was only in the fourth quarter that the Cowboys were able to slow them down and put up three field goals that ultimately made the difference. Even with their lackluster effort in the fourth quarter, Jameis Winston could have won the game on the final drive, but threw a pick to end the Bucs’ upset bid.
The loss to Dallas snapped Tampa Bay’s five-game winning streak and knocked them out of the final wild card spot. Furthermore, the Bucs now sit in second place behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. The Bucs’ wild card position can change on Monday night if the Washington Redskins lose to the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs will close out their season against two NFC South opponents, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, and there’s a good possibility the Bucs are playing for the division title in Week 17 against Atlanta.
13. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
The Baltimore Ravens were able to overcome two turnovers en route to a 27-26 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Baltimore looked to be in firm control of this game in the fourth quarter with a two-score lead, but one field goal and a touchdown later and the Ravens were hanging on for dear life. After a Carson Wentz four-yard touchdown run with four seconds remaining, the Eagles went for a two-point conversion to win the game, but failed in their attempt to take the lead. On the strength of two Joe Flacco touchdowns and a defensive stop at the end, the Ravens narrowly escaped with a win.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers also emerged victorious in Week 15, leaving the Ravens looking up at their division rival and trailing by one game. Thankfully for head coach John Harbaugh’s team, owning the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh means a win over the Steelers next week puts them in first place, effectively meaning the Ravens still control their own destiny. If Baltimore can accomplish that, it’ll setup a Week 17 showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals that would put the Ravens in the playoffs with a win regardless of what the Steelers do. Everything comes down to next week, though, as the Ravens must win or their hopes of winning the division are officially finished.
12. Washington Redskins (7-5-1) (Play on MNF)
Following a Week 14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington Redskins righted the ship and broke their two-game losing streak. Quarterback Kirk Cousins wasn’t great by any stretch, but his 234 yards and two touchdowns were enough to get the job done. After trailing 13-7 at the half, the Redskins woke up and scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter, while the Eagles mustered up just nine total points in the last two frames. Cousins almost gave the game away by throwing a pick-six, but he made up for it with a late drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown run by Chris Thompson to help stave-off an upset.
Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped their game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the Redskins have temporarily moved into the final wild card spot. Of course, the ‘Skins must win on Monday night to retain that spot. Washington will face the Carolina Panthers this week and it’s a matchup the Redskins should be able to take advantage of. The Panthers have been dreadful at stopping the pass all season, which is perfect for a Redskins offense that loves to throw the ball. After Week 15, the Redskins will have a road game against the Chicago Bears and then a season finale at home against the New York Giants, a team Washington has already beaten this season.
11. Miami Dolphins (9-5)
After falling behind early to the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins stormed back to torch their division rivals, 34-13. Quarterback Matt Moore, who was filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill, put up a solid performance with 236 yards through the air and four touchdowns to help keep the Dolphins firmly in the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture. On defense, the Dolphins sacked Jets quarterback Bryce Petty three times and compiled three interceptions, one of which came from the hand of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had to relieve Petty after he was sandwiched by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake.
Next week the Dolphins will have a meeting with the Buffalo Bills as they look to push their winning streak to three. In an earlier meeting this season, the Dolphins edged the Bills 28-25 in what was the second win of their season-changing six-game winning streak. It’s hard to believe after the way they started, but the Dolphins are owners of the final wild card spot and can automatically make the playoffs with a win over the Bills in Week 16 and a victory against the New England Patriots in Week 17. It won’t be easy, but all the Dolphins could have hoped for when the season started is happening.
10. Green Bay Packers (8-6)
Just when it looked like the Green Bay Packers were going to cruise to victory with a 27-10 lead in the third quarter over a Chicago Bears team that is going nowhere, things got really hairy, really fast. The Bears stormed back with 17 unanswered points and this game looked to be heading to overtime. Then, Aaron Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 60-yard completion that helped put the Packers in field goal range. From there, Mason Crosby did the rest and nailed a 32-yard field goal to help the Packers stave-off a potential upset defeat at the hands of the Bears.
What a huge win for the Packers. Combined with a loss by the Lions, the Packers are now just one game behind the NFC North leading Detroit Lions, and could take control of the division with a Week 16 win over the Minnesota Vikings and a loss by the Lions to the Dallas Cowboys. Regardless, it looks like Week 17 will be a do-or-die, win or go home scenario for Green Bay as it travels to Detroit for the final game of the season. Before we can even talk about that, the Packers have got to take care of business at home against the Vikings in Week 16 because a loss and a Lions win will end Green Bay’s hopes at the division.
9. Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
The Atlanta Falcons were expected to go into their game against the San Francisco 49ers and dominate, and they did exactly that. The Falcons staked themselves to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Atlanta generated 550 total yards of offense en route to dropping 41 points despite not having Julio Jones active. Devonta Freeman had a monster game against the lowly Niners with 139 yards on the ground and three scores. You aren’t going to get any brownie points for beating a team that had lost 12 straight coming into Week 15, but the Falcons did exactly what they were supposed to and then some.
Atlanta’s victory keeps them atop the NFC South and thanks to a loss by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they hold a one-game lead over their division rival. The Falcons now just have to win their game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 and can clinch the division should the Buccaneers drop their contest with the New Orleans Saints. Even if the Bucs don’t lose, the Falcons can win out and not have to worry about the Bucs at all thanks to their one-game advantage, but will have to also beat a dangerous Saints team in Week 17 in order to do that.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
It wasn’t pretty, but the Pittsburgh Steelers escaped Cincinnati with a win on Sunday. The Steelers offense was sluggish for the entire game and needed six field goals from Chris Boswell just to have a chance. Trailing 20-18 late in the fourth quarter, the Steelers orchestrated a 69-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers that proved to be the game-winner. Without a great effort from Pittsburgh’s defense in the second half that led to the Bengals posting a donut in the final two quarters, the Steelers would have had a major letdown loss.
Now that the Steelers secured their ninth win of the season, they hold a one-game lead over the Ravens and control their own destiny in the AFC North. With a huge matchup in Week 16 against the Ravens, the Steelers can wrap up the division with a win before hosting the lowly Cleveland Browns in Week 17. Should Pittsburgh drop its game to Baltimore, the Ravens would own the tiebreaker and the Steelers would need help to win the division at that point.
The last thing the Steelers want to do is depend on someone else and have to rely on the crowded wild card picture in the AFC. Still, with the way things have gone down this season, the Steelers could not ask for much more than the position they are currently in.
7. Detroit Lions (9-5)
The Detroit Lions got off to a slow start against the New York Giants on Sunday and were never able to get anything going on offense. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pick and the Lions offense coughed up the ball twice, one of which led to points. Despite looking inept on offense, the Lions were still in the game late in the fourth quarter, however a touchdown pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. ended any hopes the Lions had of winning this game. Not only was this an ugly loss, but it will have major implications for the Lions’ playoff hopes.
With the loss and a Green Bay Packers win, the Lions hold a slim one-game lead for the NFC North title, with the Packers owning the tie-breaker right now. This division will likely come down to the final week of the season when the Packers and Lions meet in Detroit. Before then, the Lions have a date with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 and can clinch the division with a win and a Packers loss. The last thing the Lions want is a showdown with the Packers in a do-or-die situation, but they’ll need some help from the Minnesota Vikings in order to avoid such a scenario.
6. New York Giants (10-4)
As has been the norm for the 2016 campaign, the New York Giants leaned on their defense to beat the Detroit Lions in Week 15. The G-Men forced two turnovers and held the Lions to just six points in the 17-6 victory. Quarterback Eli Manning threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns and the Giants took care of the ball after not surrendering a single turnover.
A sick one-handed grab by wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. sealed the deal for the Giants and the ground game actually showed some signs of life with 114 yards on 32 attempts. Granted, it wasn’t exactly an encouraging offensive showing from head coach Ben McAdoo’s squad, but the defense continues to be the driving force behind the Giants’ playoff push.
The Giants have now won their last two games and eight of their last nine as they continue to make their march towards the playoffs. New York’s remaining schedule consists of the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, and a win in either game will put the Giants over-the-top and into the playoffs. If the playoffs started today, the Giants would be facing a first-round matchup with the same team they beat in Week 15, the Lions.
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)
It’s funny to think there were some out there who thought the Los Angeles Rams could give the Seattle Seahawks a run for their money. Anybody who has paid attention to the Rams this season knew that was a pipe dream and the Seahawks proved that. The Rams were only able to total 183 yards of offense and cornerback Richard Sherman made Jared Goff rue the day he tried to scramble for a touchdown. Granted, the Seahawks didn’t look great offensively, but it doesn’t take much to outscore the Rams nowadays. With the victory, the Seahawks clinched the NFC West and now have their sights set on obtaining a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Even after Sunday’s action, the Seahawks sit in second place in the NFC and control their own fate for a first-round bye, although Seattle does have the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons breathing down their neck. All it will take is one slip-up and the Seahawks could find themselves playing in the wild card round. After beating the Rams, the Seahawks now have meetings with the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, two teams with nothing to play for. As long as the Seahawks take care of business in both of those games, head coach Pete Carroll’s team will be resting during the first week of the playoffs.
4. Oakland Raiders (11-3)
Nothing ever comes easy for the Oakland Raiders and the same can be said for their victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week 15. Down 16-13 going into the fourth quarter, the Raiders defense stepped its game up and held the Chargers scoreless in the final frame. It was then in the hands of the Raiders offense, which failed to find paydirt in the second half. Derek Carr led the Raiders on a drive late in the fourth quarter that ended with a field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, which broke a 16-16 tie. Phillip Rivers and the Chargers had just under three minutes to even the score, but the Chargers signal-caller threw a pick on the team’s final drive to help the Raiders secure the win.
For the first time since 2002, the Raiders are back in the playoffs and have control of the division thanks to a Kansas City Chiefs loss at the hands of the Tennessee Titans. If the Raiders can beat the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in their final two games, Oakland won’t have to worry about losing a tiebreaker to the Chiefs, as they’ve lost both meetings to KC this season. Furthermore, the Raiders still have a shot at home-field advantage, but it’s going to take some help from the New England Patriots in order to achieve that. Still, Raiders fans are just happy to see their team back in the playoffs again and a first-round bye or home-field advantage would just be icing on the cake at this point.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
After staking themselves to a 17-7 lead over the first two quarters, the Kansas City Chiefs looked to have a firm hold on the game against the Tennessee Titans. Then the second half happened and the Chiefs were unable to muster up a single point, allowing the Titans to crawl back into the game. The sad thing for Kansas City is that its defense played great, but zero offensive support in the second half was the Chiefs’ death knell.
Still, KC had an opporunity to close the game out on its final drive, but posted a three-and-out, giving the Titans the ball back. From there, the Titans drove 40 yards down the field in a little over a minute and sealed the Chiefs’ loss with an improbable 53-yard field goal into the wind by Ryan Succop that otherwise wouldn’t have happened if head coach Andy Reid didn’t try to ice the kicker.
This loss by the Chiefs has now allowed the Oakland Raiders to take first place in the AFC West, and two more wins by the Raiders will clinch the division regardless of how KC finishes. Fortunately for the Chiefs, the division isn’t their only route and with the top wild card seed firmly in their grasp. The Chiefs have meetings with the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers left on their schedule, so things are still looking good for Reid and company.
2. Dallas Cowboys (12-2)
While the Dallas Cowboys have already clinched their spot in the playoffs, a win on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was important to keep a two-game lead on the New York Giants. It was close, but the Cowboys enjoyed a great effort from their rookie duo, as Dak Prescott silenced his critics by completing 32 of his 36 passes for 279 yards, while Exekiel Elliot torched the Bucs for 159 yards and a score on the ground. The Bucs had a chance to win the game on their final drive, but an interception thrown by Jameis Winston ended their hopes of doing that.
With the win, the Cowboys inch closer to winning the NFC East, with the pesky Giants still keeping pace. Regardless, the Cowboys just need one more win to secure the NFC East crown and home-field advantage, in which case it doesn’t matter what the Giants do. Thanks to losing the tiebreaker with the G-Men, a loss in Week 16 to the Lions and a win by the Giants would keep the division title up for grabs heading into the final week of the season. That’s the last thing the Cowboys want, but it’s a side effect of having dropped a pair of games to Eli Manning and company.
1. New England Patriots (12-2)
Tom Brady didn’t dominate and the New England Patriots still managed to beat the Denver Broncos thanks to their defense that forced three turnovers, two of which came from Jordan Norwood himself. The Pats totaled just 313 yards from scrimmage and Brady didn’t even surpass 200 yards through the air. The Patriots did most of their damage on the ground with 136 yards on 39 carries, and LeGarrette Blount scored the Pats’ only touchdown as New England leaned on Stephen Gostkowski for three field goals to help secure the win in Denver.
In what is a shock to nobody, the Patriots are once again AFC East champs for the eighth straight season and they have also clinched a first-round bye. The only thing left to secure is home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, which is well within their grasp. In that regard, the Pats control their own destiny and won’t have to worry about being passed for the best record if they can win their last two games. Their remaining schedule consists of the lowly New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins, both teams the Pats have already beaten this season. It’s safe to say the Patriots will be able to take care of business and enjoy home games all the way through the AFC playoffs.
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