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Monday, December 11, 2023

NFL Power Rankings: Vikings, Seahawks, Jets rise; Rams, Raiders fall


The good news is that we’ve reached the halfway point of the NFL season. The bad news is we still have no idea what’s going on.

Half of the league has taken its bye week. It’s a sufficiently large sample size to make assumptions about how the rest of the season will play out. And yet, with each passing week we’re forced to question what we know.

Ironically, we know that the two best records in the NFL are coming out of the NFC — universally acknowledged as the lesser of two conferences. Whether that winds up meaning anything is up for interpretation, but at the very least it’s easier to evaluate than the demolition derby that is the AFC.

Right, wrong or indifferent, here are the power rankings after yet another wild week shook things up.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-0)

Anyone criticizing the Eagles’ body of work needs to worry about their own house. In a league in which no one can find consistency, the Eagles are the only team that has avoided a bad day at the office. It wasn’t all pretty in Houston, but they put their foot down in the second half when it mattered. 

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Nick Wright argues that the Eagles may face some challenges against the Giants, Cowboys and Titans in their pursuit of going undefeated.

2. Minnesota Vikings (7-1)

Much like the Eagles, you can knock the Vikings for squeaking out wins if you want to, but the point is that they keep winning in a league in which few other teams can figure it out. This was once again a team effort. After Washington took a 17-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings defense held the Commanders to just 10 yards the rest of the way, providing Kirk Cousins with the opportunity to lead three straight scoring drives.

3. Buffalo Bills (6-2)

Josh Allen‘s careless mistakes felt harmless when the Bills were manhandling the Packers last week. On Sunday, an interception in the Jets’ red zone and another one on his own 22-yard line made a much bigger difference. It’s too early to be legitimately nervous about Allen, but the Bills look significantly more vulnerable when their MVP candidate isn’t playing like one.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2)

That’s the value of Patrick Mahomes. When nothing else was clicking against an inspired Titans defense, Mahomes said, “Screw it, I’ll do it myself.” That he did, providing the Chiefs just enough offense to repay their defense for limiting the Titans to three second-half points. It definitely wasn’t pretty, but it’s the type of game good teams find a way to win.

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Patrick Mahomes was stellar, leading the Chiefs on a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter and the game-clinching drive in OT. Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wildes discuss Week 9 in the NFL.

5. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)

This feels weird to type, but all of a sudden the Cowboys’ Week 10 trip to Lambeau Field looks like a trap game. The Packers are a woeful 3-6, and they’re sitting in between the Cowboys and a big-time showdown against Minnesota. But considering Dallas’ history with Aaron Rodgers, not to mention Mike McCarthy’s first trip back to Green Bay, there’s plenty of reason to remain focused.

6. New York Giants (6-2)

How’s this for a stat: Sitting at 6-2 after their bye week, the New York Giants are in third place in their own division but have a better or equal win percentage to six of the eight division leaders. They also have wins over two of those teams, Tennessee and Baltimore.

7. Miami Dolphins (6-3)

Running back Jeff Wilson looked strong in his Dolphins debut, and it’d be big for Miami if that can continue. Tua Tagovailoa and the passing game looked fantastic in Chicago, but this is an offense that could use a bit more balance. Maybe Wilson can help boost what has been a mostly pedestrian run game.

8. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

The Ravens’ pass rush doesn’t generate much excitement, maybe because the centerpieces are 33-year-old Justin Houston and 36-year-old Calais Campbell. Very quietly, though, their front four has been a big part of their success over the past month. Combine a good pass rush with an impressive run game, and you’ve got yourself a solid team.

9. Seattle Seahawks (6-3)

We’re done being surprised by the Seahawks’ success. This might not be the most explosive offense in the NFL, but it’s certainly one of the most balanced. Also, shoutout to a Seattle secondary that held Kyler Murray to a mere five yards per attempt. An international trip to face Tom Brady will give them even more of an opportunity to announce themselves.

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10. New York Jets (6-3)

If we weren’t sold on the Jets before, beating Buffalo is an awfully convincing result. It’s never flashy, but it was so impressive the way this New York defense flustered, pressured and limited Josh Allen all day. And that backfield duo of Michael Carter and James Robinson looks plenty capable of stepping in for injured rookie Breece Hall.

11. Tennessee Titans (5-3)

Rookie QB Malik Willis isn’t quite ready for primetime, and that’s OK. This Tennessee team pushed the Chiefs to the brink despite having an extremely limited offense, and the vibes are a lot better than they were last time the Titans lost a game. When Ryan Tannehill gets back in the lineup, this looks like a team that’s plenty capable of winning the AFC South.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

Like Joe Burrow said, if the Bengals are running the ball like that — 241 rushing yards on Sunday —there aren’t many teams in the league that can beat them. Of course, it’ll carry a bit more weight if they can find similar success on the ground against a better team than the Panthers. Still, no shame in getting back on track in dominant fashion.

13. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

The Niners looked like one of the scariest teams in the league prior to their bye. They come back from the break with a showcase game against the Chargers on Sunday night, so we’ll all be watching to see how they look with a chance to get healthier.

14. Los Angeles Chargers (5-3)

It’s so fitting that a game between the Chargers and Falcons came down to the wire — and it felt like each team was trying to give the win away. Ultimately, the Chargers came out on top, but injuries and playcalling have made this offense tedious to watch.

15. New England Patriots (5-4)

Bill Belichick at home against a rookie quarterback sounds as close to a guarantee as you’re going to get in the NFL. The Patriots sacked Sam Ehlinger nine times and picked him off, the Colts didn’t convert a third down, didn’t score a touchdown and finished with 121 yards of offense. That’ll do.

16. Cleveland Browns (3-5)

In the year 2022, if you take a week off from playing, you’re probably going to look better for it. The only way to avoid the chaos of this season is by not playing. I’m not really sure how good the Browns are, but they’re coming off a big win against Cincinnati, and they’ve got a big test coming up in Miami.

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5)

You could feel the tension on the Buccaneers’ sideline through your TV screen. Had the Bucs lost to the Rams, you can’t help but feel like the season might have truly gone off the rails. Instead, we got some Tom Brady magic to save the day. Let’s be clear: This was hardly an inspiring win, as Tampa Bay still can’t run the ball and still managed to find the end zone just once. But it counts in the win column, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for while you’re trying to keep your season alive.

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Tom Brady completed a game-winning drive Sunday that gave the Bucs the lead with under 10 seconds to play. The win moves Tampa Bay into first place in the NFC South. Nick Wright, Chris Broussard, Greg Jennings and Kevin Wildes discuss the Bucs’ victory over Rams.

18. Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

If DE Ta’Quon Graham manages to hold on to that fumble recovery, the Falcons have the ball at midfield with a timeout and 46 seconds to try for a game-winning field goal. The loss to the Chargers obviously isn’t all on him, but it’s another painful reminder of just how close the Falcons have been in multiple games that wound up being losses.

19. Denver Broncos (3-5)

Teams have a way of reinventing themselves during the bye week. The Broncos haven’t given cause for optimism that they can do that, but I’ll keep an open mind heading into this matchup against Tennessee.

20. Los Angeles Rams (3-5)

It would have been nice to see a bit more aggression from the Rams, needing just one first down inside the final two minutes to ice the game. Had they picked it up, they’d have felt a lot better about their woeful offense while flying back to L.A. at 4-4. Instead, they’re three games off the division lead and no closer to fixing what looks like a hopelessly broken offense.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)

Lo and behold, the Jags are capable of winning a nail-biter. Not only did Jacksonville rally for its second-biggest comeback in franchise history, but the Jaguars held on to win a one-score game after losing six this season. For such a young roster, maybe this can be a confidence builder.

22. Washington Commanders (4-5)

There’s no denying the Commanders are a more entertaining team with backup QB Taylor Heinicke, but it’s fair to wonder what his ceiling is. From the time Washington took a 17-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Commanders offense ran eight plays for 10 yards. Heinicke’s interception midway through the quarter was the turning point in the Vikings’ comeback.

23. Chicago Bears (3-6)

They might not be winning games, but the Bears are a hell of a lot more fun to watch since they started playing to Justin Fields‘ strengths. Given his athletic ability, it’s great to see Fields make things work off of bootlegs and play action — not to mention his obvious ability as a runner. If this upward trajectory continues, it’s a lot easier to stomach the losses.

24. Arizona Cardinals (3-6)

The Cardinals just aren’t a fundamentally sound team: fumble issues, untimely penalties, botched snaps, bad tackling. Despite Arizona leading for several chunks of time against Seattle, it never truly felt like the Cardinals were capable of pulling out the win.

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Kyler Murray threw for just 175 yards in Arizona’s 31-21 loss to Seattle. Murray had a heated conversation with WR DeAndre Hopkins during the first half and also had a costly fumble right before halftime.

25. Detroit Lions (2-6)

How’s that for the fightin’ Knee Cap Biters? What a moment for the much-maligned Detroit defense to hold Green Bay to nine points, picking off Aaron Rodgers three times in the process. Even better: All three picks came from the Lions’ rookie class, as DE Aidan Hutchinson and safety Kerby Joseph each had big days.

26. Green Bay Packers (3-6)

What’s left to say at this point? It’s bad enough the Packers scored nine points and Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions, but now add the fact that Aaron Jones, Romeo DoubsRashan Gary and Eric Stokes all left this game with injuries. It’s fitting that we just had the time change, because it’s getting late early in Green Bay.

27. New Orleans Saints (3-6)

The Saints have had a handful of impressive moments this season, but the bottom line is this just doesn’t feel like a very good team. The quarterback situation is inconsistent at best, awful at worst. The defense hasn’t played up to its talent level for most of the season. Outside of Alvin Kamara, every other skill player of note is injured. It’s just tough to see a way forward.

28. Las Vegas Raiders (2-6)

This is a team that defies explanation. The Raiders responded to last week’s shutout loss by jumping out to a 17-0 lead on the Jaguars in the first 19 minutes of the game — and then followed that up by managing only a field goal the rest of the way. If you’re keeping score at home, it’s the third time this season that the Raiders have given away a three-possession lead. And it makes you wonder if Josh McDaniels’ job security could be in question after just one season.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)

It feels like we can safely write the Steelers out of the playoff picture, but the second half of the season will bear monitoring. It goes against Pittsburgh’s DNA to focus on something other than the playoffs, but everything about the rest of the Steelers’ season should center around putting rookie QB Kenny Pickett in good situations.

30. Houston Texans (1-6-1)

Texans games follow a familiar script at this point. They’re always competitive, as Houston’s average margin of defeat is just 9.5 points. Talent typically wins out in the end, though, as the Eagles allowed just three points after halftime and put this group away fairly comfortably.

31. Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1)

The beauty of the NFL is that this mess of a team found a way to beat Kansas City back in Week 3. It’s tough to win in this league with a rookie quarterback, regardless. But it’s definitely not going to happen if your offensive line can’t protect him or open up space to run the ball. It just kind of feels like this roster is falling apart.

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32. Carolina Panthers (2-7)

A team with this many flaws can’t stay scrappy forever. As impressive as Carolina looked over the past month, the Bengals reminded us why this is a group that’ll be fighting for the No. 1 overall pick. The main intrigue now is whether Baker Mayfield will get another chance after the Panthers benched P.J. Walker at halftime of this loss.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter @davidhelman_.

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