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Del Pilar's Diatribe: NFL Power Rankings Week 14 Broken Down!

We kick off this week's NFL power rankings with another week of terrible calls in a season filled with them, and refs influencing the outcome of critical games!
Published on December 5, 2023

NFL Power Rankings

Again, we kick off this week’s NFL power rankings forced to talk about another week in a season filled with referees heavily influencing games (some would say giving wins) through blatantly wrong calls, non-calls, and even inequitable treatment of players caught fighting. Too many games had to deal with it. Worse? The NFL has done and will do nothing to fix this issue. They’re more about gender equality and getting women who are just as bad as the men with terrible officiating on the field! The teams affected heavily by terrible officiating:

  • Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks
  • Houston Texans vs. Denver Broncos
  • Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers
  • Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers

Those are just the ones I know of. Who knows how many others there were? We have some shakeups this week with some big upsets and some teams, once thought done, reanimating back to life better than zombies on the bomb that was the “Resident Evil” series on Netflix.

Our weekly reminder: we are coming to the end of the Bye Weeks (weeks 5-14) soon, but they’re still with us for one more week. The teams on bye this past week:

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Chicago Bears
  • Las Vegas Raiders
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New York Giants

Note: Numbers in parentheses by team name; note their ranking last week.

The Elites

1. San Francisco 49ers (2) Record: 9-3 (win vs. Philadelphia Eagles 42-19) – I’ve been stating that the Niners are a behemoth and unstoppable when healthy. This week, they didn’t beat our No. 1 NFL power rankings team, the Eagles – a position held most of the season – they destroyed them. It wasn’t a contest after the first few drives.

The Niners came out throwing, but after settling down, they focused on the pass, opening everything in the air.

QB Brock Purdy went 19 of 27 for 314 passing yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. That was after the rushing attack forced the Eagles back on their heels. Led by Christian McCaffrey’s 17-93-1 rushing, the team gashed the Eagles’ staunch run defense for 146 yards. Defensively, they got to QB Jalen Hurts three times but managed to hurry him and keep the pressure on him all game.

Over the past three games, the Niners rank No. 2 in offensive yards per game. In that span, they rank No. 3 in passing and No. 7 in rushing. Defensively, in that period, they rank No. 6 overall, No. 15 against the pass (one below their season ranking), and No. 2 against the rush. They are a machine and fatal when all the parts work in sync.

They’ve beaten the Steelers 30-7, the Cowboys 42-10, the Jaguars 34-3, the Seahawks 31-13, and now the Eagles 42-19 by a combined score of 179-15. Those teams are a combined 40-20, all vying for the playoffs.

They went into Philadelphia and didn’t just beat them – embarrassed them, showing homefield has no relevance when they’re healthy. They’re one game behind the Eagles and hold the tiebreaker if they can catch them. They still must face the Seahawks, Cardinals, Ravens, Commanders, and Rams, with the Ravens being the most brutal battle, but they’re at home. The Eagles themselves face the Cowboys, Seahawks, Giants, Cardinals, and Giants (again). Both teams face a couple of games that aren’t guaranteed. The Niners retake after many weeks out – the top spot in our NFL power rankings.

Elitism is on their Radar!

2. Dallas Cowboys (5) Record: 9-3 (win vs. Seattle Seahawks 41-35) – The Cowboys and Seahawks combined for 817 offensive yards, and despite the Seahawks’ 6-6 record, they can compete and play with the elite teams in the league – for the most part. This shootout is a testament to the power these offenses can generate, regardless of how good the defense is.

This game isn’t good or bad in any shape or form as it was a tremendous gladiatorial battle where the better team emerged. One could surmise the Cowboys should’ve taken care of business, and they did in the end. The defense stood firm and kept the Seahawks out of the endzone at the end of the game.

For the record, the Cowboys have ranked No. 5 in passing and No. 17 in rushing over the past three games. Those numbers will keep this team in every game regardless of defense, mostly (think Niners). They can improve their rushing attack as they have the talent to; thus, they could become an even deadlier force and possibly break their early playoff exit history.

Defensively, they may have some problems as they ranked No. 19 the past three games, allowing 226.3 passing yards per game, up from their season ranking of four when they only allowed 181.1 yards per game. While they have the firepower to win shootouts, their defense is now in a position where they could allow a big play to lose the game.

Against the rush in that span, they rank No. 10, and they’ve played steadily at that level all season. This team is in a good spot with play calling and execution. However, you can rattle Prescott with big-game pressure. Prescott can only conquer that by winning big games, and two of their losses have come against top-tier opponents, the Niners and Eagles.

The Cowboys are a top-tier team but have an extremely rough stretch. They’ll face the Eagles, Bills, Dolphins, and Lions before what should be a yawner against the Commanders. They control their fate and can beat and tie the Eagles for the division lead. However, it’s tough to believe they can come out of this unscathed, but the good news is that they remain a top-tier team in our NFL power rankings.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (1) Record: 10-2 (loss vs. San Francisco 49ers 42-19) –Fanboys will claim that QB Jalen Hurts left the game, so their team lost. Hogwash – The team doctors examined Hurts and deemed him okay, and his play didn’t look for the worse upon his return. After settling down and establishing their running game, the Niners opened their passing game, and they dominated, steamrolled, and embarrassed the Eagles at home, showing they’re the better team.

This loss could carry over as it was that bad of a beatdown. After the Eagles made it 21-13, the Niners said enough, and many don’t realize they marched for six straight touchdowns in this game. It wasn’t a fluke – the Niners have steamrolled eight teams, posting over 30 points in those outings, with six of the eight teams being playoff contenders and two being top-tier to elite. The Eagles have soul-searching to do and to ignore the score but use this game to figure out how to counter them next time. 

The Eagles rank for the season No. 4 in overall offense, No. 12 in pass offense, and No. 9 in rushing. Defensively, they rank No. 24 overall, No. 5 against the rush, but No. 30 against the pass. That’s the Achilles’ heel that destroyed them this week, but overall, sans the passing rank, they are excellent numbers.

While their season rankings look nice, there’s a “but” here and why you should never use them when analyzing teams. Instead, look for trends within the last few games, injuries, and storylines affecting the team. Over the past three games, they rank No. 20 in pass offense, No. 16 in rushing, and defensively they rank No. 28 against the pass and run. You can see the differences here. After too many weeks to count, the mighty Eagles get knocked off their perch in our NFL power rankings.

4. Baltimore Ravens (4) Record: 9-3 (Bye Week) 

5. Kansas City Chiefs (3) Record: 8-4 (loss vs. Green Bay Packers 27-19) – The Chiefs are now human. QB Patrick Mahomes is in his sixth season and is now a veteran. They’ve had enough roster turnover and statistical data to realize they’re not the elite team they briefly were for a couple of seasons – especially the receiver corp. This team blew its load on Mahomes, and rightfully so, as he’s why they’ve won their last two Super Bowls. However, everything has a cost, and their receivers are a shell of what they once were. Even TE Travis Kelce looks old, and his wear and tears affect his play. He’s still elite but not the player he once was.

Then there’s the referees. Referee Brad Allen, after the Chiefs’ loss to the Packers, discussed the no-call where the Packers defender ran through – yes, ran through – the Chiefs’ receiver. Allen dared to say the refs were in a “good position” and determined there was no pass interference.

That said, the Chiefs no longer being elite means they can’t start slow and then try to survive turnovers and penalties. We know they can’t survive the refs. This game started slow with critical turnovers and penalties, with one resulting in a crucial ejection of RB Isiah Pacheco.

The Chiefs have lost three of their last five and have fallen behind in the race for homefield advantage. Over their past three games, they ranked No. 15 in passing and No. 12 in rushing.

The rush attack is improving from a season rank of No. 16, but the passing attack must get back on track to its No. 8 season rank. They have the talent to do it, but the receivers must get in sync and stop dropping passes. The last count had them with about 26 drops so far this year. It’s not an official stat, so the numbers will vary depending on the source.

Defensively, over the past three games, they rank No. 21 against the pass and No. 16 against the run. The latter is a tick-up from a season rank of No. 19, but the major problem is stopping the pass as they’re playing well below the season rank of No. 6. They have their work cut out for them.

This team can play with anyone, and their offense has more balance than most quasi-West Coast schemes. Don’t count them out of anything; they still have enough to reach the Super Bowl. However, they’re no longer elite and fall hard in our NFL power rankings.

6. Miami Dolphins (6) Record: 9-3 (win vs. Washington Commanders 45-15) – The Dolphins beat up on another sub-500 team and yawn, so what? Look, you’re going to hear how this defense rose to the occasion without LB and pass-rush specialist Jaelan Phillips (Achilles), but come on – they were facing a passing offense ranked No. 20 over their past three games and once they took the lead, it was never in doubt. The Commanders have the No. 27 ranked scoring offense the past three outings, and in that span, they’re also the No. 26 ranked team in sacks allowed, giving up nearly four per game.

This game did nothing but show the Dolphins can beat up on “Jayvee” NFL teams. It’s not their fault, but the hype is over the top until they beat a legitimate powerhouse.

Unsurprisingly, they mauled the Commanders’ defense for 406 offensive yards – a seven-yards-per-play average and got to QB Sam Howell thrice. There are three teams with only three losses, so they’re still battling for playoff-field advantage. Their remaining schedule has them facing the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets as tune-ups, and then they face the Cowboys, Ravens, and Buffalo Bills. Their final three games are phenomenal opportunities to prep for a playoff run mentally. However, their Achilles’ heel will likely be the weather, as they’ve not played many cold-weather games. Overall, this game does nothing to warrant a move up the NFL power rankings.

Better than Average but Still has Kinks to Work Out.

7. Detroit Lions (8) Record 9-3 (win vs. New Orleans Saints 33-28) – The Lions looked dominant early this past week but then, like a team that doesn’t know how to put their foot down on their opponent’s neck to take them out. They should’ve beaten the now 5-7 Saints much easier than they did. However, their lack of discipline in putting a team away almost returned to haunt them and will eventually doom them in the playoffs if they don’t learn how to deal with it now.

The Lions have allowed the Chargers, Bears, Packers, and now Saints to hang around until the end, and while they escaped against three teams with a combined record of 14-22 and lost to the surging Packers (6-6), who are now in the playoff hunt.

Despite that, they won and appeared to be getting back into sync. Offensively, they rank No. 9 in passing over the past three games, down from their No. 4 season ranking. In that span, they rank No. 10 in rushing, down from their No. 4 season ranking. They’ve dropped a few ticks but still play at a top-tier level. So they can continue to improve as they sync back up. Defensively, in that same period, they ranked No. 17 against the pass, a few ticks up from their season No. 21 ranking.

Here’s the giant negative: against the rush in their last three outings, they rank No. 23, a massive letdown from their No. 6 season ranking. This example is another reason not to use season rankings throughout the season but trends over the last 3-to-5 games. Detroit was only allowing about 93.1 yards per game, but that’s now up to 135, and they must fix that dilemma if they plan on going deep into the playoffs.

They have a three-game cushion in the NFC North and are still in the hunt for homefield advantage but face down the stretch: the Bears, Broncos, Vikings, Cowboys, and Vikings (again). They can win every game based on their talent on both sides of the ball, but the Cowboys and Broncos will have something to say.

Their playoff destiny is not a lock yet, but they control their fate. They’ve been a top-10 team for the most part in our NFL power rankings, and that continues this week.

8. Houston Texans (11) Record: 7-5 (win vs. Denver Broncos 24-21) – The Texans didn’t win this game as much as the Broncos did, enough to lose, as head coach Sean Payton stated — too many sloppy plays. However, a win is a win, and this Texans team is creating their breaks too. The Texans overcame the better team because the Broncos began believing their press clippings. I say this because the Broncos had the chance to win at the end, but their Achilles’ heel all game long reared its head with a final turnover.

A team that gives the ball over four times and almost wins leaves one thinking, they got luck or does it. The Texans created the turnovers, and their youth haven’t learned how to put their foot on their opponent’s neck and end them. That will come in time.

They capitalize every break, and their offense can play with anyone. Defensively, they got to QB Russell Wilson, where their pass rush excelled to sack him three times, but more importantly, they pressured him into bad throws. They also controlled the time of possession (33:04 to 26:56). That was the key to winning this game.

However, they lost a significant cog in WR Tank Dell (fractured fibula) as he was the leading pass-receiver with touchdowns (7) and their No. 2 receiver. The NFL is a league of attrition, and this doesn’t bode well going into the home stretch.

Overall, coaching and the play of rookie QB C.J. Stroud have this team believing. Offensively over the past three games and for the season, their passing offense ranks No. 2 – 0.3 yards behind the Dolphins. How does the loss of Tank change that moving forward? Their rushing attack is a weakness at No. 24 over the past three games, and they are rushing for less than 100 yards per game (97.0).

Defensively, they’re ranked No. 13 in their last three games, down from their No. 9 average, allowing about ten more yards per game. That isn’t very important, but their pass defense in that span is a concern, with a rank of No. 26 the past three games and for the season. In the playoffs, this will haunt them if they make it.

The Jets, Titans, Browns, Titans (again), and the Colts are on tap, and this is one of the easiest schedules any team could ask for. Their final matchup against the Colts is potentially for a playoff spot. The Texans continually surprise, but even a bigger surprise is a team so young in our top-10 NFL power rankings.

9. Buffalo Bills (12) Record: 6-6 (Bye Week)   

NFL Power Rankings: Pretenders or Contenders?

10. Indianapolis Colts (14) Record: 7-5 (win vs. Tennessee Titans 31-28 – OT) – I’m like a broken record, but the Colts should be 8-4 and one game back of the division-leading Jaguars. Sure, it’s the hapless Tennessee Titans they faced, but they were without RB Jonathan Taylor (thumb). When QB Gardner Minshew doesn’t turn the ball over, this team can compete and arguably beat anyone in their weight class.

Minshew went 26 of 42 for 312 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Luckily, the Titans have the No. 24 ranked pass defense over the past three games to show the Colts the way to victory. In that same span, the Titans rank No. 9 in rush defense, and without Taylor, their key to winning was through the air; thus, the 24-55-0 rushing attack was predictable.

Entering the home stretch over their past three games, they rank No. 10 in passing and No. 26 in rushing, which won’t cut it. Their overall rushing rank for the season is No. 12, so they can improve significantly once Jonathan Taylor returns. In scoring offense in that span, they’re No. 10 averaging 22.7, a slight tick down from their No. 8 season average and 25 points per game.

Defensively, for the season, they’re No. 17 against the pass, but in the past three games, they’re No. 6 allowing 183.3 passing yards per game, well down from their 222.1 season average. Against the rush, they’re a horrific No. 25 the past three games and No. 26 for the season. It appears it is what it is, and improvement is not likely.

Their home stretch has them facing the Cincinnati Bengals, Steelers, Falcons, Raiders, and Texans. This schedule is winnable but fierce. They’re a middle-weight club trying to make it to the heavyweight division (playoffs). This schedule is a tremendous growth experience – win or lose, and their matchup with the Texans in Week 17 could determine a wild-card seed. This team ceases to amaze us so far. There is no starting quarterback, and their stud running back is having a very disappointing season.

11. Green Bay Packers (18) Record: 6-6 (win vs. Kansas City Chiefs 27-19) – You’ll hear me always say that developing chemistry and learning the playbook are things you watch grow throughout the season. It’s happening here with the Packers. Sure, the refs helped deliver the win against the Chiefs. Ironically, two of the Chiefs’ losses this year can be attributed directly to referees giving the victory to their opponents via horrific non-calls or bad calls.

QB Jordan Love is growing into the position. It’s too early to tell if he’s a “franchise” quarterback, but everything points to him heading that way. He went 25 of 36 for 267 yards and three touchdowns. The rushing attack was outstanding as well, going for 129 yards.

Offensively, this team is improving and has the No. 5 ranked passing offense over the last three games, way up from their No. 18 season ranking. Their rush attack is relatively similar at No. 18 (20-season rank).

Looking at their rush attack, that’s why, despite two hall-of-fame quarterbacks this franchise has fielded for 30 years in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, they have only two Super Bowl rings. The West Coast offense relies on running backs in the short passing game and having one on the roster who can still rush between the tackles. They rarely ever implemented that. It’s a common issue with these young whiz kid coordinators who want big play after big play only to see their magic always fall short.

Defensively, in the past three outings, they rank No. 6 against the pass, and that’s an improvement from their No. 10 season rank. Against the rush, they’re a sad  No. 25, but even that’s an uptick from their No. 30 season rank.

This team is gelling and has won four of their last five, including against the Chiefs, Lions, Chargers, Steelers, and Rams. All these teams are still in the playoff hunt, with the Chiefs and Lions seen as top-tier. They’re for real. At their current level of play and facing the Giants, Bucs, Panthers, Vikings, and Bears, they may control their destiny with the ability to win out, end up at 10-6, and see what the pigskin Gods hold for them – a playoff spot or not. George Jefferson once said, and it fits here, that the Packers are “Movin’ on Up” in our NFL power rankings.

12. Denver Broncos (9) Record: 6-6 (loss vs. Houston Texans 22-17) – This game was a brutal loss to a team that is better than the Texans. Head coach Sean Payton stated it best with “sloppy play.” When penalties cost you points in a 22-17 game, that’s giving your opponent the game winners. They forgot fundamentals and discipline. The worst part? A win here would’ve put them one game behind the Chiefs and given them a realistic shot to win the division. The Chiefs are struggling in all facets of their game, with a 2-3 record their past three outings and looking vulnerable.

This loss was a learning experience at a time they couldn’t afford to lose. Offensively, they still have significant room to improve, as their passing attack in the past three games ranks a paltry No. 24 with 179.3 yards. Their rushing attack in that span is No. 20, down from their No. 13 season ranking.

Defensively, they’re No. 14 against the pass the last three games, versus their No. 24 season ranking, and against the run, they’re No. 18, massively up from their No. 32 season ranking.

This data tells us the key to their winning ways is team football, efficiency, discipline, and a rejuvenated and surging defense. That was lacking this week, and why they lost. Can they recover? Yes, as their playoff hopes aren’t done yet with how the Chiefs are playing.

The Broncos have yet to come: the Chargers, Lions, Patriots, Chargers (again), and close out with the Raiders. They can win every game in that schedule, but the Lions are not a “gimme” and arguably the favored team when they face. They constantly battle the Chargers fiercely, as most division rivalries go, but they’ll have to win out to keep their playoff hopes alive. Their initial foray into our NFL power rankings top ten has ended, at least for now.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (7) Record: 8-4 (loss vs. Cincinnati Bengals 34-31 – OT) – What separates elite teams from top-tier teams is the ability of an elite team to put their foot on their opponent’s neck, step on it, wait for the “snap,” and dominate their opponents. The Jaguars are not that type of team, so they’ve suffered losses to the Bengals and Texans. Saturday Night Live had the motto, and now these Jaguars have it too: they’re “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”

This lack of ability to win crucial games is why the AFC South could go to the Texans or even the Colts. By not putting this team away, they had to fight it out and lost QB Trevor Lawrence (ankle) to a high ankle sprain. The season’s likely over if he misses multiple games and the schedule without him becomes brutal.

They face the Browns, Ravens, Bucs, Panthers and Titans. It’s brutal because, without Lawrence, they likely don’t get past the Browns, and while we say, any given Sunday, without Lawrence, the odds to beat the Ravens will be as close to nill as possible. You then look at the rest as potentially competitive games.

Can the defense carry this team? In the past three games, they ranked No. 7, way up from a season rank of No. 30. However, they just gave up 335 passing yards to a “Burrow-less” team. I’d say not likely. Against the rush in that span, they are No. 15, down from a season rank of No. 5, so they have their work cut out for them.

Offensively, their numbers no longer matter because it’ll be backup QB C.J. Beathard handling the reins if Lawrence is out long-term, so we look toward the rushing attack, and over the last three outings, they rank No. 28, so that’s a big no in this analyst’s eyes.

If Lawrence is out, you must look at the Colts or Texans taking that division, as each is only one game back, and honestly, the referees gave a Colts win away against the Browns, so the Jaguars are lucky they’re not in first place with them. Look, it will take a miracle if Lawrence is out. This week’s ranking leans towards the team not having Lawrence. If they had a healthy Lawrence, they’d be right outside the top 10. This could be the beginning of a freefall for this team in our NFL power rankings.

The Rest of the Best or Pretenders

14. Los Angeles Rams (15) Record: 6-6 (win vs. Cleveland Browns 36-19) – Okay, I’ll admit I didn’t see this coming, and the Rams are slowly climbing back up our NFL power rankings. Not to take away from this win, but they were facing a gassed Browns team that’s getting worse as the season progresses. They have a hole at quarterback, and the defense has been carrying this team, but with crucial Browns players hurt or out – Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Myles Garrett, Amari Cooper, and Denzel Ward – it was the perfect setup for the Rams.

QB Matthew Stafford went 22 of 37 for 279 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. They also put up a team total rushing of 120 yards. What’s always impressive is when you see a quarterback distribute the ball as Stafford did, going to seven players with three receivers making impactful plays.

Weeks ago, I said to put a fork in the Rams, but they’re in the playoff hunt now, and offensively, over the past three games, they rank No. 11 in passing and No. 8 in rushing. They’re starting to come together in this three-game winning streak.

Defensively, in that same span, they’re No. 20 against the pass, but statistically, they’ve played all season at about the same level. Against the rush in that same period, they’re No. 4, well up from their No. 16 season ranking and holding opponents to 76 rushing yards per game – a 25.1-yard improvement.

They’re peaking offensively and making strides defensively. A couple of notes: this three-game win streak includes the Seahawks and Browns; thus, it’s not chump teams they beat up outside the Cardinals. They have yet to face the Ravens, Commanders, Saints, Giants and 49ers. They likely have to win out, and that schedule makes that a difficult predicament. Then again, who saw them beating the Browns or Seahawks? The Rams keep inching up our NFL power rankings.  

15. Cleveland Browns (10) Record: 7-5 (loss vs. Los Angeles Rams 36-19) – Sure, this loss to the Rams is surprising, but last week, I noted to my co-host Eddie Aparicio on Points on the Board this vaunted elite defense is not elite right now. Too many people use their perception of the situation as their truth. Perception is how someone views or sees the scenario. In turn, they interpret their perception of it as their truth. Too many perceive this defense as elite when it’s not.

On offense, they rank No. 1 for the season but No. 11 the past three games, going from allowing 260.5 yards to 314 yards. Against the pass, they’re still studly with a No. 1 season ranking and No. 2 the past three games.

Here’s where it gets ugly: against the run, their season rank is No. 14, but in the past three games, it’s No. 26, at one time only allowing 107.1 yards per game; they’re now allowing 153.7.

Even worse? Their season rank in points allowed per game is No. 10 (20.4 per game), but it’s dropped to No. 23 (25.0 points per game) in the past three games.

Overall, the loss of stability at the quarterback position is altogether wearing this defense down. The NFL is a game of attrition, and with the fact the Browns blew their load on a $230 million bust of a quarterback, and while no one wants to say it, you lose the ability to build quality depth, and that always comes back to haunt a team, especially at this point of the season. They could do much worse than veteran QB Joe Flacco, a Super Bowl winner, and MVP. Maybe there is hope? Sure, if Flacco can show enough savvy to manage a game and not turn the ball over, and if DE Myles Garrett (shoulder) can get back to health.

The Browns are still in the mix but face the Jaguars, Bears, Texans, Jets, and Bengals. While three of the five would appear to favor them – with their quarterback woes, “any given Sunday” comes to mind. Then you have the Texans and Jaguars battling for their own playoff lives. The Browns exit our top-ten NFL power rankings for now.

16. Seattle Seahawks (16) Record: 6-6 (loss vs. Dallas Cowboys 41-35) – WOW, what a game. What an offensive performance by both teams, generating 817 yards of offense. Overall, the Seahawks offense finally showed up. In the four games before this, they failed to score 16 points or more in three of them (3, 16 and 13). To do this against a vaunted Cowboys team is something to grow from. They’re still not out of the playoff hunt, and now they know they can compete and hang with the big boys in a shootout.

QB Geno Smith went 23 of 41 for 334 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions while chipping in 2-6-1 rushing. It was indeed a monster fantasy football game for his owners. However, how many started him? DOH!

Over the last few weeks, Smith has not been his usual efficient self. He wasn’t this game come the final drive, yet instead of turnovers, he showed he can put the team on his back and give them a chance. Despite the final drive, this game was a learning experience and confidence-builder for him as they have a rough stretch to close the season.

They face the Niners, Eagles, Titans, Steelers, and Cardinals to close it out. If they lose the first two, their season is over, so entering this two-game stretch with an offensive output like this week bodes well for their confidence despite the loss.

Let’s take a look at the statistics. Over the past three outings, they rank No. 12 in passing, which aligns with their seasonal output, but they rank a paltry 31 in rushing, and that’s a few ticks down from their paltry No. 27 season ranking. That’s why they’re 6-6 as Smith’s role is more of a game manager than an elite player who can put the team on his back. He can’t, and having a physical, savage rush attack has been the Seahawks’ trademark that’s missing.

Defensively, they rank No. 23 against the pass and No. 20 against the rush. The stat in passing is another big issue as a tough, physical, but fast secondary is another trademark they’re lacking this season.

Without their physicality and trademark rushing attack and secondary, this team is not likely to go anywhere this season and likely out of playoff contention. However, never say never, but for this week, they remain a lower-mid-tier team.

17. Atlanta Falcons (17) Record: 6-6 (win vs. New York Jets 13-8) –  While everyone talks about the Jets’ supposedly elite defense, the Falcons also played solid defense that held the Jets without a touchdown. They sacked the quarterbacks four times and forced three turnovers. It was an ugly game, but it brought the Falcons to .500, and they are now in possession of first place.

They’re not a very good team, as the past three outings have them ranked No. 32 in passing and, to flip it, they’re No. 1 in rushing. Their strength is their rushing attack, which can be inconsistent even then.

Defensively, they rank in that span No. 23 in pass defense and No. 15 in rush defense, and as you can see, these rankings on both sides of the ball are a big reason they’re 6-6. However, this season is a rebuild continuing from last season. However, they should be farther ahead with the growth of their offense. Regardless, they’re in first, and down the stretch, they’ll face the Bucs, Panthers, Colts, Bears, and Saints, and all are difficult for this team but winnable.

They control their fate, and with this schedule, there is reason for nervous optimism. They’re a mid-tier team at best in our NFL power rankings.

NFL Power Rankings: Get it Together and Overachievers

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (13) Record: 7-5 (loss vs. Arizona Cardinals 16-10) – What a storyline this game represents. Any given Sunday, Cardinals RB James Conner gets revenge, multiple storm delays and the Steelers lose their starting quarterback.

No one saw this coming, and the key to this loss was that the Steelers were out-muscled. The Cardinals were the more physical team and pounded the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Chicago Bears destroyed any hope of QB Mitch Trubisky ever being successful. He has happy feet; he throws when not set, and, in essence, he plays scared – a clear-cut product from a team with a record of not developing and destroying quarterbacks. Trubisky shouldn’t be on an NFL field at this point.

Trubisky went 11 of 17 for 117 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions, but he lost a fumble. While 130 rushing yards sound nice, the Steelers needed their rush attack to dominate and couldn’t because they couldn’t count on the passing attack and their defense. Well, let’s break this down.

Over the past three games, the Steelers rank No. 25 passing and No. 5 rushing, and as I said, they needed the rushing attack to go off because once they lost QB Kenny Pickett (high ankle sprain), that No. 25 passing turns into dead last with Trubisky. Pickett underwent surgery to speed up the healing process, but they don’t know when he’ll return. That may as well be a death knell for this team.

Defensively, in the past three games, they ranked No. 3 (No. 19 season rank) in passing and No. 7 (No. 22 season rank) against the rush. This growth is typical of a Mike Tomlin-led team where they improve as the season progresses, but without Pickett, they need a lifeline.

The Cardinals wanted this game more, especially with home-grown Pittsburgh native and former Steeler RB James Conner playing with the Cardinals. Conner went 25-105-2 rushing and pounded the defenders. Again, the fact the Cardinals were more physical was critical to their win.

The Steelers are in the middle of the playoff hunt, but with a schedule against the Patriots, Colts, Bengals, Seahawks, and Ravens, without a legitimate starting quarterback, every game becomes a gladiatorial battle they’re not guaranteed to win or even be favored, going in. Hell, the Cardinals were 2-9 entering this game. The Steelers move down in our NFL power rankings.

19. Los Angeles Chargers (19) Record: 5-7 (win vs. New England Patriots 6-0) – I keep riding the Chargers, and it’s either a head coach who should already be gone in Brandon Staley or a $262.5 million quarterback who can’t win a big game against top-tier talent but has a contract that will impede the team from building a championship squad. I’m changing until they show me better. In their defense, this week the weather was terrible with rain and cold, which always makes the football live up to its name of “pigskin” if you lose control of it.

That said, why did the Chargers throw it 37 times and only run it 24 times? We know why – the Chargers rank the past three games No. 29 in rushing. Their vaunted offense can’t run the ball.   

This team’s always a Super Bowl contender on paper, and why not? They have a high-powered offense. Yet faced one of the league’s worst teams and barely won. The Patriots are ranked No. 30 in passing and No. 3 in that span in rushing. However, they played the Colts and Giants – not the type of teams you talk about as top-tier or elite at the water cooler. Then, the Patriots lost their top running back, Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle), who also fumbled on the play that injured him. That negated a big chunk of the Patriots offense right there.

Yet, the No. 14 (No. 11 for the season) ranked offense in that span could only muster six points. This team is hopeless, and they still have a playoff shot due to sheer luck. The only bright spot on this team has been the recent play of the defense and a rejuvenated 32-year-old LB Khalil Mack and 15 sacks. However, he got six against the Raiders. Look for him to get a big raise based on this season; some team will fall for it.

However, their pass defense in the last three games is ranked No. 9 (31-season ranking), and their rush defense is No. 26 (17-season rank). I make fun of this team, but what’s impressive about this defense playing lights out the past three games is their pass defense, as they did face the Ravens and a rejuvenated Packers. This defense must carry them until the offense can right the ship because they can’t keep up with any top-tier teams and any hopes, regardless of how dismal it is for the playoffs, that must change.

They face the Broncos, Raiders, Bills, Broncos (again) and the Chiefs. They must win out and will unlikely make it through that gauntlet unscathed. The Chargers get a reprieve this week in our NFL power rankings and maintain their status quo.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (20) Record: 5-7 (win vs. Carolina Panthers 21-18) – Players will tell you they’ll take a win no matter how ugly it is. This one was ugly from the perspective of the Bucs, almost letting the worst team in the league beat them. It’s embarrassing because Tampa Bay is in the playoff hunt with a legitimate shot to win the division.

The Bucs and Saints are second at 5-7 and one game behind the division-leading Falcons at 6-6. Yes, it’s a terrible division with only one team coming out of there for the playoffs – the division winner. Sadly, the NFC South is one of the weakest sports divisions!

A significant negative is turnovers trending up. In the past three games, it has gone from a season average of 1.1 and a No. 9 ranking (least turnovers) to 1.7 and a No. 21 ranking. In 12 games, Mayfield has an interception in eight. That must improve, but at this point, despite chemistry still building in Mayfield and his receivers and learning a new playbook, how much improvement can we expect?

Over the past three games, the trends show the Bucs passing attack ranked No. 21, and their rushing game is at No. 22, an improvement from their season rank of No. 30.

Defensively, they’re trending the past three games at No.  21 against the pass and No. 22 against the run. These statistics make us realize why they’re 5-7 but have shown improvement despite mediocrity with the coaching staff and front office.

A couple of positives are that they control their destiny, and if they win out, they take the division. They also have a playmaker in WR Mike Evans. The connection between QB Baker Mayfield and Evans continues as Evans has his 10th straight season receiving yards over 1,000. Jerry Rice has the record with 11 consecutive seasons.

They face the Falcons, a rejuvenated Packers team, Jaguars, Saints, and Panthers. It is a challenging schedule for them, but they control their fate. Despite being in the playoff hunt, the Bucs have lived in the lower tiers for much of our NFL power rankings.

21. Minnesota Vikings (21) Record: 6-6 (Bye Week)   

22. New Orleans Saints (22) Record: 5-7 (loss vs. Detroit Lions 33-28) – Can the Saints do anything right? They ranked No. 27 (that’s bad) in penalties per game their past three games, a drop from their No. 17 season ranking, but that’s just one part of their troubles. They’re No. 26 in turnover differential in that span, too. They’re at a -1.3 per game, down from a +0.3, and it’s a big reason they’re 5-7. You combine that with some of the most inept play calling from an offensive coordinator, and this team will not go anywhere, even if they make the playoffs.

In that period, they also ranked No. 8 in passing, a by-product of some shootouts, and No. 21 in rushing. Statistically, on offense, they mimic other teams in the hunt who have better records. Defensively, in the last three games, they rank No. 13 against the pass, but their Achilles’ heel lies in their No. 31 against the rush, averaging 165 rushing yards allowed per game.

The Lions rushed for 142 yards as a team, and when combined with the passing attack of 347 yards, it’s a bit shocking they only lost 33-28, but that’s on the Lions not knowing how to a team away.

At 5-7, they’re still in the playoff hunt for the division title, as they’re only one game back of the 6-6 Falcons. Down the stretch, they face the Panthers, resurgent Giants, in the playoff hunt Rams, division foe, Bucs and division leader Falcons. If they win the rest of their games, there’s a great chance they will take the division, but that’s still far away.

23. Cincinnati Bengals (28) Record: 6-6 (win vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 34-31 – OT) – Last week, I said that without QB Joe Burrows (wrist), this team’s toast. Yes, they likely still are overall, but I also noticed backup QB Jake Browning played well enough in the Steelers’ loss last week, but I ignored it, and for that, I apologize. Browning may be the real deal, but we need more time.

He was lights out, going 32 of 37 for 354 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He also chipped in 2-22-1 rushing. RB Joe Mixon also saw the rock, which is a reason I don’t think highly of Zak Taylor because he only uses the position actively when he doesn’t have Burrows (their post-Super Bowl playbook), and it’s cost the Bengals many critical games.

His performance to help take pressure off Browning is one reason he was so efficient. Over the past three outings, the Bengals rushing attack ranks No. 23, and that’s way up from their No. 32 ranking. They’re now averaging 105.7 yards per game versus 82.5 (season average), and there’s no excuse for that except for inept play calling.

Can their defense help get them there? Well, the past three games, their pass defense, essentially to use a 12-year-old’s term – sucks. They rank No. 30, and that’s down from their pathetic No. 27 season rank. Against the rush, they rank No. 19 in that span, up from their No. 27 season rank. No, it’s not like this defense can carry the offense. It’s also one reason I used to say that this team can’t win without Burrows. Browning looks to prove me wrong.

Browning completed 86.5 percent of his passes and wasn’t just throwing short, high-percentage dump-offs. He was going deep. We must rethink our outlook on this team as they’re back in the playoff hunt. They face the Colts, Vikings, Steelers, Chiefs and Browns. They likely have to win out, and that schedule isn’t favorable to them, especially the final three games. We’ll see if Browning can continue his magic, but right now, he has the Bengals trending up in our NFL power rankings.

NFL Power Rankings: Rebuild and Retool Teams

24. Las Vegas Raiders (23) Record: 5-7 (Bye Week)  

25. Chicago Bears (24) Record: 4-8 (Bye Week)  

26. New York Giants (25) Record: 4-8 (Bye Week)  

27. Tennessee Titans (26) Record: 4-8 (loss vs. Indianapolis Colts 31-28 – OT) – What can you say? It’s another game to evaluate QB Will Levis and other young players. He had a solid game, going 16 of 33 for 224 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He also distributed the ball well to seven receivers and had the connection with WR DeAndre Hopkins, who went 5-75-1-12.

However, he did go down six times, and that’s on him and the offensive line. Management has their work cut out in the offseason to fix both sides of the trenches. Efficiency is a trait to work on, especially in the red zone and all the other schemes that data geeks orgasm over. He’s a work in progress, but will he show enough for the team to view him as the future? Time will tell.

Then there’s Hopkins, who got into it with Levis, and Levis stood his ground and publicly fought back (argument, not fisticuffs), and that’s the sign of a potential leader staring down a player, making him look bad. It’s not the first time – Levis stood up for backup QB Malik Willis earlier in the season. Let’s not forget that Hopkins is and always has been about Hopkins. Standing up for himself is a big positive because veterans and a terrible offensive line can destroy a young quarterback’s psyche with antics like Hopkins displayed. Take that behind closed doors.

Then came the loss of RB Derrick Henry, who had a stellar day, going 21-102-2 rushing and chipping in 1-18-0-2 receiving. Based on the team’s update, he went out for a possible concussion, but it doesn’t seem to be holding him back from playing next week. While it’s now evaluating time for management and the coaching staff, injuries are always a concern and a reason some players check out or take their time to return from an injury. In their minds, the season is over, and they don’t want to risk injury.

The Titans can’t drop much lower than they already are in our NFL power rankings because, as bad as they’ve played, there are worse teams!

Playing for Draft Positions: NFL Power Rankings Worst of the Worst

28. Arizona Cardinals (29) Record: 3-10 (win vs. Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10) –  After a beat down by the Rams, 37-14 last week, no one thought the Cardinals could take out the Steelers. However, any given Sunday is the NFL’s motto, and this game exemplifies why.

Statistically, there wasn’t much of a difference between the teams. The Cardinals reeled off 282 offensive yards to the Steelers’ 317, but the critical difference was in passing yards. Ironically, the pathetic duo of QB Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky combined to outplay him on paper (187 yards to 132), but QB Kyler Murray discovered a new weapon – second-year TE Trey McBride, who went 8-89-1-9 and is going to be a key cog for Murray going forward.

However, there are a couple of issues: Murray plays well early on, but as seasons progress, he is too small to handle the NFL pounding. Combine that with an arrogant attitude and not wanting to study the playbook as he should. His 2-2 start since returning is not the positive most believe it will be for this team. It more likely fools the team into a lull, thinking they did make the right choice for a franchise quarterback.

He’s not an NFL-quality quarterback in the long term, and this team will continue to pay the price for that – the only unknown – his relationship with current head coach Jonathan Gannon, a defensive-minded specialist. If Murray can beat the odds and be an NFL quarterback, it will take the doing of a strong head coach.

Outside of that, this team has to rebuild on both sides of the ball, along with a cohesive offense that has been anything but in 2023.

29. Washington Commanders (27) Record: 4-9 (loss vs. Miami Dolphins 45-15) – Let’s be realistic. Anyone who thought firing defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had to happen because the Commanders’ losses were because of him is an idiot. When you don’t have a quality NFL-caliber defense and trade the players that are, this is the result.

This team can’t protect the quarterback, score, or stop any offense. In the past three games, they rank No. 26 in sacks allowed, giving up 3.7 per game, and for the season, they’re even worse, allowing 4.5 and ranked No. 31. This team is terrible. The fear Commander fans should have is the psyche of QB Sam Howell giving him happy feet, rushing, and becoming scared to stand in the pocket.

This team can’t score either, with the No. 27 ranked scoring offense averaging 14.7 points over their past three games, well down from their 20.1 and No. 21 ranking for the season. They’re worsening, and it’s no surprise.

Finally, they can’t stop anyone, and the past three games and all season, they rank dead-last at No. 32 with a season average of 30.4 points per game allowed, blowing up the past three games to 40.3 yards allowed.

Regardless of the lie head coach Ron Rivera keeps saying about not being worried about getting fired, he will become former head coach Ron Rivera, and rightfully so. This team has a potential franchise quarterback but will need a heavy rebuild, if not a complete one around him, and a new defense. At No. 27 last week in our NFL power rankings, they haven’t hit bottom yet but are trying.

30. New York Jets (30) Record: 4-8 (loss vs. Atlanta Falcons 13-8) – This team has become a joke, especially on offense. I would say disgusting, but watching this game was a horror of comedies. The Falcons got to the quarterback four times and forced three turnovers. The penalty war was also awful, with the Jets flagged 11 times.

Reports will state the “Gang Green” defense was back and, technically, true as they held the Falcons to 194 offensive yards – 104 passing and 90 rushing but let’s be honest, the Falcons rank No. 22 in passing and No. 6 in rushing so the fact they held the Falcons to 90 rushing yards is a win. That’s about it.

I’m a broken record, but this offense and its struggles fall on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who owes his NFL career to his father, Paul Hackett, and future hall-of-fame QB Aaron Rodgers. There are a lot of off-season decisions for this team to make from their head coach, Robert Saleh, and determining if Rodgers forces them to keep Hackett or move on.

31. New England Patriots (31) Record: 2-10 (loss vs. Los Angeles Chargers 6-0) – The quarterback woes continue for the Patriots, but the good news is they’re now in line for the No. 2 overall draft pick. Sadly, I’m hearing the name of vajayjay QB Caleb Williams as a potential Patriot. Talk about “out of the frying pan and into the fire!” WOW. Any team that thinks Williams can be an NFL franchise quarterback with the current state of his maturity – momma’s boy who can’t take criticism and losing. Again, it is a nightmare waiting to happen.

This week was no different for this team despite another quarterback. Some analysts will tell you QB Bailey Zappe, who went 13 of 25 for 141 yards and had no touchdowns and no interceptions, showed some promise. Maybe, but promise from what? The kid has been on the field enough he should be well past the point he’s at now as a player.

At some point, you have to look at this coaching staff and what it’s doing. This season is the second offensive inept after QB Mac Jones had a solid rookie season. Maybe it’s time for ownership to put the scrutiny on head coach Bill Belichick, but that likely won’t happen, even though without Tom Brady, Belichick’s a loser. Now, do I dislike Belichick? No, he’s earned his rings and power but not his reputation now that we’re seeing who is responsible for all those Super Bowl rings in New England.

Belichick’s team ranks over the last three games No. 30 in passing, with the bright spot being ranked No. 3 in rushing, but they lost their top back, Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle), to an ankle sprain so who knows how quickly their rushing attack drops.

Defensively is where this team is shining, but like the Jets, they can’t carry offensive stupidity. In the past three outings, they ranked No. 8 against the pass and No. 1 against the rush. There are positives here, and they can use the final stretch to evaluate and continue to build on their defense as they plot how to bring their offense back to life. The Patriots may not be the “worst” team in the league, but they’re right next to them in our NFL power rankings.

32. Carolina Panthers (32) Record: 1-11 (loss vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-18) – Look, the Panthers can go through whatever coaching change they want to, but until this team gets rid of the league’s next Daniel Snyder-style owner, they won’t win. That said, this was a game the Panthers could have won. If not for the fact that rookie QB Bryce Young, on his way to potential bust status, couldn’t generate a comeback. That further fuels those who know fired head coach Frank Reich wanted C.J. Stroud more than Young and knowing this team’s failure is on the shoulders of owner David Tepper.

The fact the Panthers didn’t quit and are still fighting isn’t a testament to them. It’s what usually happens when an interim coach takes over. There’s a lot of fight to get that coach a win. Obviously, they failed.

I know, I sound like a broken record, but what’s worse is that they’re in the lead for the overall No. 1 pick that will go to the Chicago Bears because the billionaire hedge fund owner forced a trade to take a player, right now more aligned with Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning!

I also keep stating this team is in the bottom rankings in most categories. They have no playmakers – absolutely no one. Their best wide receiver is a 33-year-old who was the No. 2 wideout on his previous team – Adam Thielen. This team has never left the bottom tier of our NFL power rankings and will likely reside here for the next few years at least.