2015 NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

Week 16 Game Balls

Offense — Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons. One of the highlights of the year, reaching over Luke Kuechly to grab a reception, then running it in for a 70-yard touchdown. But Jones had over 100 yards even without that play, catching 9 passes for 178 yards in total.

Defense — William Hayes, DL, St. Louis Rams. Team-leading 7 solo tackles, 6 quarterback hits, 4 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks for 24.5 yards. That's a brilliant performance, against an excellent opponent.

Special Teams — Marquette King, P, Oakland Raiders. 400 yards of gross punting, with a 49.8 net average. Six of his eight punts were down inside the 20, and only one was returned — for two yards.

Rookie — Preston Smith, LB, Washington. Three sacks and a forced fumble in Washington's playoff-clinching win on Saturday.

Honorable Mentions — TE Jordan Reed, DL Calais Campbell, K Robbie Gould

Five Quick Hits

* I don't understand why FOX's national broadcast stuck with the blowout in Arizona until the bitter end, rather than switching to a competitive contest with playoff implications in Rams/Seahawks. The Cardinals game was over halfway through the third quarter. That was a mistake by a network that usually handles those situations better.

* Three teams were double-digit favorites this week. None of them covered, and two of the three lost outright (Seahawks and Steelers). That doesn't even include the Panthers (-7) and Patriots (-2½) losing.

* You know what I'm a little tired of? That commercial where the announcer says, "No gimmicks!" right before people start slicing their cell phone bills in half with swords and chainsaws.

* Starting quarterbacks with more TD passes than sacks: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, and Cam Newton. Fitzpatrick (+11) has the best differential in the league. Teddy Bridgewater (-27) is worst, but just barely ahead of Alex Smith (-26), and the 49ers' combination of Colin Kaepernick (-22) and Blaine Gabbert (-15) would be untouchable if either one had started all season.

* Marcel Reece has been suspended four games for use of performance-enhancing substances. Reece will miss the season finale, the Pro Bowl, and the first three games of 2016.

Peyton Manning and HGH

I don't know. You don't know. Let's take it easy on this story. It's easy to be skeptical about pro athletes' claims of innocence about the use of performance-enhancing substances. So many people have sworn up and down that they would never use PEDs, and it turned out to be a lie. But the initial source for the allegation against Manning has recanted, and Peyton's denial didn't include any weasel words or margin for error. There's no "depending on your definition" deception: either he's telling the truth or he's lying. This is a developing story, and we don't know very much about it yet. No one credible can say with confidence, at this point, that Manning is innocent or guilty. Let's learn more before we leap to judgement.

Two more points:

1. I don't really care if Manning used HGH in 2011. He didn't play any football games that season, and it wasn't against NFL rules at the time.

2. If Manning is lying, he has really screwed up. Using HGH in the year he didn't play football should not be a big deal, but if he can issue an angry, forceful denial while lying through his teeth, it casts doubt on whether his PED use was limited to that one time.

Manning has been a great player, and you hope this all turns out to be a mistake, but for the moment, let's enjoy the playoff race, and we'll see where this thing eventually ends up.

2015 Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate last week's rank. As always, these rankings are for right now, not season-to-date strength.

1. Arizona Cardinals [5] — Nine-game win streak includes victories over the Bengals with Andy Dalton, and at Seattle, plus blowouts over the Rams, Eagles, and Packers. When they limit turnovers, the Cardinals are the best team in the league.

Bruce Arians said of Week 17, "I don't think you get anything out of resting guys." Amen. Resting your starters the week before a bye just makes the team rusty. The Cardinals are playing great, and it doesn't make sense to let so much time off disrupt their rhythm.

2. Seattle Seahawks [2] — What is it about the Rams that gives them trouble? The Rams swept Seattle, ending Seattle's six-game streak, ever since the bye, of more than 28 points in every game. This was probably a fluke, rather than a cause for serious concern.

3. Kansas City Chiefs [3] — Ninth straight win, but no style points in this one. The Chiefs have to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender, but I'd really like to see a team with a more dynamic offense win. Teams like the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs, who were very good but pretty limited in what they did, were uninspiring champions.

4. Carolina Panthers [1] — Abandoned the run (13 handoffs), and Cam Newton was under pressure all day, with a noticeable effect on his accuracy. They got outgained by over 100 yards, and they could not stop Julio Jones.

I will never understand this about football: two weeks ago — Week 14 — the Panthers beat the Falcons 38-0. How do you face the same team two weeks later and lose? That's a 45-point swing, in a matter of days.

5. New York Jets [8] — They've won five in a row, and they're top-10 in points, yards, points allowed, and yards allowed. I think they're a more complete team than the Steelers.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers [4] — Were they still celebrating the win over Denver? Did they overlook the Ravens? Or was this just one of those anything-can-happen-in-a-rivalry games? DeAngelo Williams was terrific, but Ben Roethlisberger threw 2 picks, Antonio Brown couldn't keep his feet in bounds, Martavis Bryant was invisible, and they went 2/8 on third downs. The defense was unable to rattle Ryan Mallett, playing his first game with Baltimore, who had 1 sack, no interceptions, and a 95.0 passer rating.

7. Minnesota Vikings [11] — Got their injured stars back, and won in dominant fashion. The first time they played Green Bay, the Vikings seemed intimidated. Now, the Packers are reeling, and I think Minnesota goes into Green Bay with confidence in Week 17.

8. Cincinnati Bengals [7] — Gimmicky offense struggled to produce. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard averaged 2.85 yards per carry, and AJ McCarron only produced 186 net passing yards. Denver has a tough defense, but you have to think this would have gone differently with Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert healthy.

9. Denver Broncos [10] — Tenth straight home win against Cincinnati. The Bengals haven't won in Denver since 1975, with Ken Anderson at quarterback, and Floyd Little as Denver's leading rusher.

10. New England Patriots [6] — As best I can tell, here's what happened at the beginning of overtime. Matthew Slater said he wanted to kick off, rather than specifying which end zone he wanted to defend, so the Jets got the ball and their choice of direction.

The more I think about it, the more I agree with Bill Belichick's decision to kick off in overtime. Look at the Patriots' offensive day. They had under 300 yards of offense, went 1/10 on third downs, and scored as many TDs on defense as offense. You've gone 60 minutes and your offense only scored 10 points. What makes anyone think you'll score a TD on your first possession of overtime? I understand why Belichick would be more comfortable letting his defense try to set up a win.

The Patriots began this season 10-0. They've lost three of their last five games.

11. Washington [14] — Kirk Cousins' fifth straight game with a passer rating over 100. He's thrown a touchdown in every game this year, including three 4-TD games. I guess we can forgive that kneel-down at the end of the first half. If I were coaching defense against Washington, I'd let them run the ball. So what if they have 2nd-and-6 instead of 2nd-and-8? Jordan Reed scares me a lot more as a receiver than a blocker. Take away the pass, make them run.

12. Oakland Raiders [12] — Watching an incredibly dull game go into overtime was not the way I wanted to spend Christmas Eve. Carl Cheffers' officiating crew was too hands-on, and it really broke up the rhythm of a game that wasn't exactly Ghost to the Post anyway.

13. Detroit Lions [13] — Caught the 49ers offside seven times. Matthew Stafford has played much better toward the end of the season. Passer rating by month:

September: 78.7
October: 94.4
November: 96.1
December: 110.5

The Lions are 5-2 since the bye.

14. Green Bay Packers [9] — Horrendous performance by the offensive line, including 9 sacks, two holding penalties, and three more declined penalties called on the offensive line. Aaron Rodgers passed for 151 yards and lost 70 yards on sacks. Green Bay's offense has struggled badly for the last month; I can't see the Packers winning a playoff game with the state of their passing offense.

15. Houston Texans [16] — Clinched the AFC South. They're 5-2 since the bye, including wins over the Bengals and Jets. On Sunday, their defense forced 4 turnovers and 9 punts, losing a shutout on the meaningless final drive of a 34-6 victory.

16. Buffalo Bills [17] — Mike Gillislee had another long TD run on Sunday, his second consecutive week with a 50-yard score. A 5th-round draft choice out of Florida in 2013, Gillislee has 3 touchdowns in 23 rush attempts this year.

17. San Diego Chargers [18] — It's easy to second-guess the accepted penalty that took points off the board. I can see both sides.

18. St. Louis Rams [24] — Only 207 yards of offense, but they were +3 in turnovers, and Akeem Ayers scored on a fumble return. The Rams swept Seattle, and they're now 4-1 in the NFC West, compared to 3-7 outside the division. How do you win as many games against the Cardinals and Seahawks as you do against the rest of the league combined?

19. New York Giants [15] — Down 49-17 with 1:54 remaining, they attempted an onside kick. Look, obviously you're not going to recover four onside kicks, score four touchdowns, and convert four two-point conversions in under two minutes. Why on earth are you kicking onside? This is not the first time Tom Coughlin has done this. What is wrong with your brain, old man?

20. New Orleans Saints [23] — Broke the all-time record for passing TDs allowed, with a game left to play. The Saints allow 7.8 net yards per attempt, and 38.1 first down percentage, both worst in the league. If the Saints' defense were a quarterback, he would rank 1st in TDs (43), TD/INT differential (+35), and passer rating (117.1), and would probably be the front-runner for league MVP.

21. Atlanta Falcons [26] — Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin are the front-runners for all-pro running back, but Peterson has 7 fumbles and Martin has 5. Devonta Freeman has 2. Freeman is within 100 yards of scrimmage of both Peterson and Martin, and he has more TDs (13) than either (10 and 7, respectively). I'm leaning towards Peterson as my all-pro RB, but Freeman deserves serious consideration.

22. Philadelphia Eagles [19] — Allowed at least 4 TDs in five of their past six games. Against Washington, they had seven fumbles (two lost), several key drops, and they couldn't cover RBs in pass routes.

23. Chicago Bears [21] — Beat Lovie Smith's Buccaneers. That's got to be satisfying, but in nine seasons with the Bears, Smith went 81-63 and won three division titles. Chicago was a combined 29-19 in Lovie's last three seasons. Since he was fired, the Bears are 19-28, with no winning seasons. The Bucs are trending in the right direction, while the Bears are just treading water.

24. Dallas Cowboys [20] — Awful game by Kellen Moore (13-of-31, 48.6 rating), but that's understandable when you're passing to Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, and James Hanna. Those were the only Cowboys with more than two targets on Sunday. The Cowboys have nothing to gain by going back to Matt Cassel in Week 17.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [22] — Doug Martin is having a great season, but he's lost 5 fumbles. That includes two against the Bears, which led to 10 points for Chicago and was probably the difference in the game.

26. Baltimore Ravens [29] — Since 2008, when John Harbaugh joined the team as head coach, the Ravens have met the Steelers 19 times, the most meetings of any teams:

2008: PIT swept, 3-0, including 23-14 in AFC Championship Game
2009: 1-1 split, both games by a field goal
2010: 2-1 PIT, including 31-24 in divisional playoff game
2011: BAL swept, 2-0
2012: 1-1 split, both games by a field goal
2013: 1-1 split, both games by a field goal or less
2014: 2-1 BAL, including 30-17 in wild card playoff game
2015: BAL swept, 2-0, both games by a field goal

Harbaugh is now 10-9 against the Steelers.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars [25] — Allowed touchdowns on the Saints' first three drives and fell behind 24-0. They gained 412 yards, but allowed 537. The offense has made huge strides this year, but the Jags need to improve their defense this offseason. They rank 29th in passing yards allowed and 31st in points allowed.

28. San Francisco 49ers [27] — The offense went 1/9 on third downs. The defense was offside seven times. Blaine Gabbert lost a fumble at the 1-yard line. This is the 2015 San Francisco 49ers.

29. Indianapolis Colts [32] — Kendall Langford, Robert Mathis, and T.Y. McGill all had multiple sacks against Miami. It's not clear who will start at QB in Week 17. Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, and Charlie Whitehurst are all dealing with injuries.

30. Cleveland Browns [31] — Johnny Manziel was the second-leading rusher in the NFL this week, 108 yards. But he went 13-of-32 as a passer, with a 40.6 rating.

I don't believe in Manziel, but I saw some joker suggest that Cleveland's biggest need this offseason is a QB. Manziel has started eight games in the NFL. You want to give up on this kid after half a season? Who's he been throwing to all year? Where's the running game to take some pressure off? How about a defense that keeps games close to prevent obvious passing situations? The offensive line isn't anything special. If the Browns draft a new QB every two years, they'll never break the cycle, because their passers will never be in a position to succeed. Build the supporting cast, and give Manziel another year.

31. Miami Dolphins [28] — Ryan Tannehill took 6 sacks, including a safety on their first possession. The Dolphins had five red-zone possessions, compared to only one for the Colts, but they only managed one touchdown. Dan Campbell made a huge mistake, kicking a field goal from the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter. If the Dolphins get a TD there, they probably win the game.

32. Tennessee Titans [30] — Lost each of their last three games by at least 17 points.

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