With Week 12 in the books, the race for the 2021-22 NFL playoffs is heating up. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, and New England Patriots are […]
With Week 12 in the books, the race for the 2021-22 NFL playoffs is heating up.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, and New England Patriots are earned big wins this week to stay on top of the playoff hunt. But did any of these teams do enough to unseat the Arizona Cardinals, who were on a bye week, from the #1 position on this week’s list?
The Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys, and Indianapolis Colts weren’t so fortunate, dropping crucial matchups that would have given them a leg up in their chase for the postseason. Which teams experienced just a hiccup this week, and which ones are ready to continue sliding in the season’s second half?
Read on for my full Power Rankings, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any rankings, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
The Arizona Cardinals didn’t take the field in Week 12, but still hold down the top spot in this week’s Power Rankings with the best record in the NFL at 9-2. Arizona went 2-1 in Kyler Murray’s absence, but should have their star quarterback back in action down the stretch as they look to hold on to the NFC’s top seed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) [Last Week: 4]
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were down 10 points at halftime, but roared back to defeat the Colts 38-31 on the heels of four total touchdowns from Leonard Fournette. While the win wasn’t the most inspiring step for Tampa Bay’s defense, the Buccaneers’ top-ranked offense still makes the team one of the toughest matchups in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers (9-3) [Last Week: 3]
The Green Bay Packers are tied for the most wins in the NFL, have beaten the #1 team on this week’s list, and just handled the Rams with a 36-28 victory at Lambeau in Week 12. So why aren’t the Packers higher? Simply put, I would take both Arizona and Tampa Bay in head-to-head matchups against Green Bay at this moment in time. But those are the only two teams in the league I would choose straight up to defeat the Packers. Green Bay’s fifth-ranked defense will be a key tool for the Packers to lean on down the stretch.
New England Patriots (8-4) [Last Week: 5]
I wish I could move the New England Patriots up even higher, but there’s not much room for improvement after their big jump last week. I moved the Patriots from #10 to #5 after last Thursday’s 25-0 win over the Falcons, but this week’s 36-13 win over the Titans was even more impressive. Mac Jones was great, completing 22-of-32 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns in New England’s sixth straight win. The Patriots hold the keys to the AFC East, with a big game against the Bills next week, and an NFL-best +146 point differential.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) [Last Week: 6]
The Kansas City Chiefs had a bye in Week 12, but still nudge upwards a spot thanks to losses by the Titans, Rams, and Cowboys. The Chiefs didn’t look good at all at 3-4, but just four weeks later, with nearly every team in the league exposing their vulnerability, Kansas City has quietly became one of the most reliable teams in the league again.
Baltimore Ravens (8-3) [Last Week: 9]
The Baltimore Ravens may have a better record than the Chiefs, and even beat them earlier in the season, but if Lamar Jackson made the amount of mistakes he made in Monday night’s narrow win over the Browns, against Mahomes and the Chiefs instead, the Ravens would not have been able to win. Still, the Ravens are trending upwards and looking down at their AFC North rivals, atop the division with six weeks left to play.
Tennessee Titans (8-4) [Last Week: 2]
I gave Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans some leeway despite an embarrassing 22-13 loss to the Texans last week, but after an even worse 36-13 loss to the Patriots in Week 12, the Titans are left searching for answers. Was beating the Rams and Saints without Derrick Henry a fluke? If not, how can they reclaim the momentum they had during those games? Tennessee has a late bye next week before hosting the Jaguars in Week 14, an important two-week stretch in which the Titans can re-focus for the rest of the season.
Los Angeles Rams (7-4) [Last Week: 7]
Things are starting to look bad for the Los Angeles Rams, who could have slid even further if not for losses by the Cowboys and Colts. Los Angeles suffered their third straight loss in Week 12, falling 36-28 to the Packers following a bye week. The Rams haven’t won a game since October 31, and to find their last win over an opponent currently over .500, you have to go all the way back to Week 3 against the Buccaneers. On the bright side, Los Angeles lost by just eight points after back-to-back double digit losses, and of their four losses this season, three have come against teams that currently rank in the Top Ten of my Power Rankings.
Dallas Cowboys (7-4) [Last Week: 8]
Dak Prescott (32-of-47, 375 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) had a fine day through the air, but Ezekiel Elliot (9 rushes, 25 yards, 1 TD) didn’t get much going on the ground, and the Dallas Cowboys‘ defense allowed 509 total yards in a 36-33 overtime loss to the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day afternoon. The loss alone wasn’t horrible, but it was the third in four games for the Cowboys.
Buffalo Bills (7-4) [Last Week: 13]
Josh Allen went 23-for-28 with 260 yards and four touchdown passes in the Buffalo Bills‘ easy 31-6 win over the Saints in the Thanksgiving evening slot, but still haven’t earned my trust just yet. Buffalo is still beating up on weak teams, but after last week’s 41-15 loss to the Colts, I can’t be confident about this Bills team until they beat more quality opponents. With the Patriots and Buccaneers up next on the schedule, they’ll have a chance to prove themselves: or prove the doubters to be correct.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) [Last Week: 15]
Just when I was ready to close the door on the Cincinnati Bengals contending chances, they come out with back-to-back solid wins to launch themselves back into AFC playoff contention. Joe Burrow and the Bengals beat the Raiders 32-13 last week, and followed it up with an even bigger 41-0 win over their AFC North rival Steelers in Week 12.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) [Last Week: 12]
Carson Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts fell to Brady and the Buccaneers 38-31 after leading 24-14 at halftime. It’s a shame the Colts couldn’t use Jonathan Taylor to put the game away, but the Colts still went toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl champions. The one-touchdown loss didn’t change my mind, I already saw it as a potential speed bump in Indianapolis’ likely road to the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers (6-5) [Last Week: 17]
Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers used a big 20-point third quarter to down the Vikings 34-26 for just their second home win of the season. San Francisco is peaking, with a positive record for the first time since they were 2-1 in Week 3. the 49ers have won three straight and four of five, with an important 31-10 win over the Rams mixed in there. With an offense that has crept up to the 11th-best in the league (with three straight 30+ point performances) as well as an 11th-ranked defense, I wouldn’t want to play the 49ers right now.
Minnesota Vikings (5-6) [Last Week: 10]
Once again, the Minnesota Vikings played to a one-score (yes, eight points does count as one-score) loss in their 34-26 Week 12 meeting with the 49ers. The loss did little to change my overall prospects regarding the Vikings: they played up roughly to expectations. Their playoff chances do take a hit though, with the 49ers picking a key head-to-head win, as well as running back Dalvin Cook reportedly set to miss most if not all of the remaining regular season schedule with a dislocated shoulder.
Los Angeles Chargers (6-5) [Last Week: 11]
Every time Justin Hebert and the Los Angeles Chargers are on the verge of greatness, they lay a dud. After Week 5’s 47-42 win over the Browns improved Los Angeles’ record to 4-1, they were dismantled 34-6 by the Ravens. Last Sunday night, the Chargers outlasted Pittsburgh 41-37 in thrilling fashion to earn a solid 6-4 record. But in Week 12, the Chargers offense was nowhere to be found in a 28-13 loss to the Broncos in Denver.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) [Last Week: 14]
After scoring 70 points in two weeks against solid Denver and New Orleans defenses, Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles somehow mustered just one score against the Giants in a 13-7 loss at MetLife Stadium. The loss was anything but encouraging, but Philadelphia maintains a built-in bumper against the next few teams on this list, by virtue of being more competitive over the past month.
Cleveland Browns (6-6) [Last Week: 18]
The Cleveland Browns defense was great on Sunday night against the Ravens, picking off Lamar Jackson four times and limiting Baltimore to 16 points. Unfortunately, with Baker Mayfield completing less than 50% of his passes and the entire team gaining just 40 rushing yards on 17 attempts, the Cleveland Browns managed just 10 points as they alternate wins and losses for the seventh straight game.
Las Vegas Raiders (6-5) [Last Week: 20]
I’m not ready to send the Las Vegas Raiders flying back up the Power Rankings, but their 36-33 overtime win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving could be a good launching point to get their season back on track. DeSean Jackson and Hunter Renfrow both went over 100 receiving yards for the game, while running back Josh Jacobs gained 87 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Denver Broncos (6-5) [Last Week: 22]
After seemingly coming back to Earth in last week’s 30-13 to the Eagles, Teddy Bridgewater and the Denver Broncos were able to handle their AFC West rival Chargers with ease in Week 12, winning 28-13. That’s three wins in four games for the Broncos, who improve to a respectable 6-5.
Miami Dolphins (5-7) [Last Week: 24]
Don’t look now, but the Miami Dolphins have won four straight games. Sure, the Texans, Jets, and Panthers might not be the strongest opponents (the Ravens upset was nice on the other hand,) but winning is winning in the NFL, and after a 1-7 start, things are turning around for Miami. Tua Tagovailoa was laser-efficient in this week’s 33-10 win over the Panthers, completing 27-of-31 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. Myles Gaskins pounded in two touchdowns on the ground and Jaylen Waddle tallied nine catches, 137 yards, and a touchdown in the win.
Washington Football Team (5-6) [Last Week: 23]
Like Miami, Washington Football Team is turning in a late-season win streak. Washington has beaten the Buccaneers (their most impressive win,) the Panthers, and now, the Seahawks to put together a nice three-game win streak and even enter the playoff picture. If the season ended today, Taylor Heincke and company would qualify for the postseason as the seventh seed in the NFC.
New Orleans Saints (5-6) [Last Week: 16]
At first, I thought Trevor Siemian and the New Orleans Saints would remain a comptitive team after Jameis Winston was lost for the season. Siemian’s first two starts were one-score losses against the Falcons and Titans. But after a 31-6 loss on Thanksgiving night at the hands of the Bills sent New Orleans to a fourth straight loss, hope is running thin for this Saints team.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1) [Last Week: 19]
Week 12’s matchup with Joe Burrow and the Bengals was a big game for the Pittsburgh Steelers: making the fact they barely showed up in a 41-10 loss even more alarming. Following a four-game win streak, Pittsburgh is now 0-2-1 in their last three games, and has given up 41 points in back-to-back weeks.
New York Giants (4-7) [Last Week: 25]
Firing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett didn’t exactly wake up Daniel Jones and the New York Giants offense, but the Giants defense returned to solid form in a 13-7 win over their NFC East rival Eagles. The win is too little too late for New York’s season, but fans have t be at least a little happy to dampen Philadelphia’s playoff odds.
Atlanta Falcons (5-6) [Last Week: 28]
After scoring just three points in the last two weeks, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons still proved they can do the bare minimum: taking care of the Jaguars with a 21-14 win on the road.
Seattle Seahawks (3-8) [Last Week: 27]
It’s hard to believe the Seattle Seahawks, my preseason pick to win the NFC West, are off to a 3-8 start and won’t have a chance to make the playoffs this season. Russell Wilson’s return hasn’t been enough for a Seattle team that’s been banged up across multiple positions.
Carolina Panthers (5-7) [Last Week: 21]
For a brief flash, it looked like the Carolina Panthers would rally around the returns of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey and make a late playoff push. But following Carolina’s 34-10 win over the Murray-less Cardinals (a game quarterbacked by P.J. Walker, by the way,) the Panthers have dropped back-to-back games, with Newton being benched after completing 5-of-21 passes with two interceptions. To make matters worse, the Panthers placed McCaffrey back on IR after the loss, and despite having five wins on the season, Carolina probably isn’t beating anyone right now.
Chicago Bears (4-6) [Last Week: 26]
Andy Dalton threw for 317 yards and a touchdown to snap a five-game losing streak for the Chicago Bears, but for some reason, their last-second 16-14 win over the Lions on Thanksgiving hardly feels like a win.
New York Jets (3-8) [Last Week: 31]
The New York Jets are 2-1 when starting a different quarterback than they did the previous game this season, Week 1 excluded. Mike White beat the Bengals, Joe Flacco nearly beat the Dolphins, and now, Zach Wilson has defeated the Texans 21-14 in his return to the field.
Houston Texans (2-9) [Last Week: 29]
Tyrod Taylor couldn’t keep the Houston Texans rolling after last week’s upset over the Titans, as the Houston Texans fell 21-14 at home against the Jets in Week 12.
Detroit Lions (0-10-1) [Last Week: 30]
The winless Detroit Lions still manage to dodge the bottom spot on this list, thanks to their knack for playing close games. Five of the Lions ten losses have come by one score or less, including a two-point loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving and a three-point loss to the Browns last week. With Detroit tying the Steelers a week before that, Detroit holds a -5 point differential over the last three weeks: far from the worst mark in the league.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) [Last Week: 32]
Trevor Lawrence threw just his ninth touchdown pass of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars 31st-ranked offense in a 21-14 loss to the Falcons this week.
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