NFL ratings have taken a big hit recently, and it’s been one of the main talking points of the season. Numbers have so been poor this year that rumors are spreading about the NFL looking to do away with Thursday night games altogether. Many reasons have been identified for football’s 2016 decline, likely with various degrees of truth. These include the presidential election, the MLB playoffs, poor officiating, national anthem protests, and several rules and league policies that have led to the NFL being dubbed the “No Fun League”. However, these all neglect to mention the on-field product itself, especially during primetime games.
This week’s Sunday night matchup saw the Panthers make the trip to Seattle to take on the Seahawks, while on Monday night the Jets hosted Andrew Luck and the Colts. While not exactly blockbuster matchups heading in, these would’ve both sounded like intriguing games before the year started. Still, I tuned into both expecting competitive affairs, and like millions of other people, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Seahawks intercepted surprise starter Derek Anderson on the first play of the game and never looked back en-route to a 40-7 win, and Luck scored on seven of his nine drives at quarterback while the Jets looked unprepared on both sides of the ball in a 41-10 rout. Essentially, both games were done by halftime, and unless you really wanted to see how Jets’ backup quarterback (now starter) Bryce Petty would look after replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick in the third quarter, there was no real reason to watch either game in its entirety.
It hasn’t been just this week, either. Primetime games this season as a whole have felt underwhelming, a combination of lackluster matchups, poor play, and one-sided results. In fact, just as many Monday night games this season have been landslide victories of over 20 points as there have been games decided by single digits.
All byes completed, we now head into the last quarter of the NFL season, and with just four weeks remaining, there is still much to be decided. The Jaguars, Jets, 49ers, and Browns have all been eliminated from playoff contention, while last week the Cowboys became the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason. Here are this week’s power rankings.
1. Cowboys (11-1, LW: 1) Dallas nearly saw their incredible win streak come to an end on a short week in Minnesota. Fumbles were a huge issue, as the team fumbled four times, losing two and nearly losing another when the ruling was reversed on Ezekiel Elliott’s cough-up. However, even on a bad day, the Cowboys converted touchdowns following two huge plays- a 56-yard bomb to Dez Bryant that accounted for over 40% of Dak Prescott’s passing yards and a muffed punt by the Vikings’ Adam Thielen. Can “America’s Team” get avenge their only loss against the Giants in week 14?
2. Patriots (10-2, LW: 2) Finally established as the workhorse back in New England, LeGarrette Blount is having one heck of a year for the Patriots. Blount leads the league with 13 rushing touchdowns and has overpowered defenses with powerful runs such as his 43-yard burst to the end zone on 4th and 1 early in the game against the Rams. Oh yeah, and Tom Brady kind of set the record for most wins by a starting quarterback…that’s pretty good too, I guess.
3. Raiders (10-2, LW: 3) When the Bills took a 24-9 lead over the Raiders in the third quarter, it seemed as if the Raiders’ five-game win streak was coming to an end. But, if you’re the Raiders, a deficit like that only means one thing- time to score four touchdowns in the next 15 minutes and 27 seconds and then coast to an easy victory. I’m not quite sure how they do it, but the Raiders have won 10 games this season and can clinch a postseason birth this week. The only problem is that they play on Thursday night in Kansas City, facing the Chiefs who had their way with Oakland in a 26-10 win earlier in the season.
4. Seahawks (8-3-1, LW: 4) Welcome back, Thomas Rawls. Sunday night was Rawls’ third game back from a fibula injury suffered in week 2 that kept the Seahawks’ running back out for two months, but the first time he was really able to get things going, picking up 106 yards on the ground and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. A balanced offense is key for Seattle to open up Russell Wilson’s play-action, so you can bet Rawls will continue to be fed the ball the rest of the season.
5. Chiefs (9-3, LW: 5) The Chiefs just have to win in dramatic fashion, huh? Just a week after Cairo Santos’ pinball field goal to defeat the Broncos as time expired in overtime, Eric Berry intercepted a Matt Ryan two-point conversion intended to put the Falcons up three points late for a touchdown, earning the Chiefs the points instead. Instantly, the scoreboard swung giving Kansas City a 29-28 lead which they would hold on to for the win. It wasn’t even Berry’s first trip to the end zone as he had a pick-six at the end of the first half. Talk about making an impact on defense.
6. Broncos (8-4, LW: 6) The Broncos survived Paxton Lynch’s second start of the season, using a strong defense to put away the Jaguars 20-10. Lynch completed just 12 of 24 passes for 104 yards, essentially ending the conversation of if Lynch should replace Trevor Siemian when both are healthy. Coupled with a Dolphins loss, Denver reclaimed the #6 seed in the AFC, but must travel to Tennessee to face the Titans who are in a three-way tie for the AFC South lead with Siemian’s status for the matchup still uncertain.
7. Lions (8-4, LW: 10) Coming into the week 13, all seven of the Lions wins came after trailing in the fourth quarter. Naturally, this led to many concerns on if Detroit were really contenders or had just benefitted from Matthew Stafford’s late-game heroics. A dominant, 28-13 victory in New Orleans was just what the doctor ordered. Stafford played another great game, and the defense intercepted Drew Brees three times while holding the future Hall-of-Famer without a touchdown, ending an incredible 60-game home passing touchdown streak. Now with a two-game lead, the Lions are in command of the NFC North.
8. Steelers (7-5, LW: 11) The Steelers made one thing very clear against the Giants- they might be just a 7-5 team, but they can unquestionably be one of the best teams in football. The Giants offense was stifled, and Pittsburgh’s offense wasn’t scared at all of the Giants’ top-10 defense. Le’Veon Bell led the way with 182 total yards, but Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of the Giants’ poor tight end coverage, and LaDarius Green exploded for 110 yards and a touchdown. The AFC North will most likely come down to the week 16 game between the Steelers and Ravens.
9. Falcons (7-5, LW: 8) It was another heartbreaking loss for the Falcons, who now have dropped three games by three points or fewer. This one particularly stings, because they actually came from behind to take the lead on a touchdown drive with under five minutes remaining, but gave it right back on a two-point conversion returned for a score (pick-2?). The Falcons never saw the ball again, and are now tied with the Bucs for the NFC South lead. At least the Saints and Panthers are basically out of the picture.
10. Giants (8-4, LW: 7) On a day where the Giants had the opportunity to earn a huge statement win against a strong opponent and show they’ve fixed their biggest problems, the haters were proved right. The Giants’ offensive line struggled, left tackle Ereck Flowers especially, they only rushed for 56 yards, and the entire offensive strategy seemed to revolve around just getting the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. The defense forced two turnovers, but the Giants came away empty twice in the red zone and were thoroughly beaten on both sides of the ball. Can they beat the Cowboys a second time to keep a strong wild card lead?
11. Buccaneers (7-5, LW: 12) I told you guys I wasn’t being premature with my Bucs ranking last week. All of a sudden, Tampa Bay is tied for their division lead and owners of a wild card spot in the NFC. It’s been anything but easy- they took down the Seahawks at home in between road victories against the Chiefs and Chargers. The Bucs suffered a big injury scare with Doug Martin, but it appears the Muscle Hamster (one of my favorite nicknames in sports) will be ready for an important game against the Saints in week 14.
12. Redskins (6-5-1, LW: 9) I’ll be perfectly honest- I was blindsided by the Redskins’ loss to the Cardinals. Arizona had been struggling while Washington looked strong in wins against the Vikings and Packers, and even their loss to the Cowboys. However, it seems I hadn’t properly accounted for the David Johnson factor. Sorry, Ezekiel Elliot: David Johnson is simply the best running back in the NFL. He’s incredibly versatile, and has over 700 yards receiving to go with over 1,000 rushing. He’s unstoppable, a fantasy legend, and he propelled the Cardinals to victory while helping Carson Palmer get back on track.
13. Ravens (7-5, LW: 18) The Ravens made the biggest jump this week (five spots) for their 38-6 demolition of the Dolphins. Well, that’s one way to kill a six-game winning streak. Joe Flacco exploded for 381 yards and four touchdowns, including two to his old friend Dennis Pitta, whose career has unfortunately been harmed by horrible injury luck. And if you told me the Ravens, with one of the league’s worst rushing attacks, would gain 48 more yards than the Dolphins, led by Jay Ajayi on the ground, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I didn’t even know the Ravens had a game like this in them.
14. Vikings (6-6, LW: 15) The Vikings really should’ve defeated the Cowboys on Thursday Night. Overall, they played like the better team and shut down the Cowboys offense for most of the game. However, they settled for three field goals, and gave the Cowboys a first-and-goal off a muffed punt. Still, the Vikings were a two-point conversion away from sending the game to overtime. Ultimately, they didn’t quite the job done, and are now in poor playoff position.
15. Bills (6-6, LW: 13) And all of a sudden, Tyrod Taylor’s days might be numbered in Buffalo. The dual-threat quarterback has electrified with some brilliant plays in his Bills career, but the team ranks dead last in the NFL in passing. Taylor has thrown for 200 or more yards just four times this season and has yet to eclipse the 300-yard mark. At 6-6, the Bills are desperate for wins, but run into one of the league’s hottest teams in the Steelers. A loss might just do it for their playoff hopes.
16. Packers (6-6, LW: 20) The numbers weren’t flashy, but Aaron Rodgers had a solid game in the snow to send the Texans back to Houston with a loss, giving both teams a 6-6 record. I still don’t understand what the Packers’ plan is at running back, but the committee of running backs, wide receivers, and fullbacks, and Rodgers’ scrambles seems to be producing good results. The biggest problem with a 6-6 record is that any loss might be the nail in the coffin, and if that’s true, the Packers will need a complete team effort against the Seahawks this week.
17. Dolphins (7-5, LW: 14) Practically nothing went Miami’s way in a 38-6 collapse against the Ravens, but I’d like to focus on the play calling. Baltimore does have the #1 running defense in the NFL, conceding just 3.4 yards per carry and 74 yards per game. However, you’ve got Jay Ajayi, who’s burst onto the scene as a top-10 rusher in the league this season. You’ve got to find a way to give him more than 12 carries. Ajayi did well when given the rock, and picked up 61 yards for more than five yards per carry. Despite this, the Dolphins had a 42-16 split of passes and runs, and Ryan Tannehill ended up with three interceptions.
18. Texans (6-6, LW: 17) The Texans are the first of three straight AFC South teams in the power rankings, all tied for the division lead at 6-6. By passer rating, the 21-13 loss to the Packers was Brock Osweiler’s best performance of the season, but despite this, Houston moved to just 1-5 on the road this season. The Texans need to find a solution for their road woes fast, as they travel to Indianapolis this week in perhaps the most important of the season thus far. Houston won the first matchup 26-23, but this time are playing for the division lead.
19. Colts (6-6, LW: 23) Andrew Luck played nearly flawless football against the Jets, including completing nine passes for 146 yards to T.Y. Hilton, hitting tight end Dwayne Allen for a career-high three touchdowns, and making an unbelievable throw to the far sideline to Donte Moncrief for a first down while facing tremendous pressure. Unfortunately, things won’t always be this easy. Still, three wins in four games has thrown the Colts into a strong position, where if they beat the Texans on Sunday, they’ll be strong favorites to win the division.
20. Titans (6-6, LW: 22) The Titans, along with the Browns, had the last bye week of the season in week 13. This leaves me in a predicament: Tennessee’s last four wins came in weeks 6, 8, 10, and 12. Does this mean that they’ll win in week 14 because it’s an even week, or do they still need to lose first because they’re coming off a bye? They get the Broncos at home this week, and their chances depend heavily on who the Broncos start at quarterback. Even with a win, the Titans will remain behind the division leader on tiebreakers. To remain in the picture, they need to win either this week or next week against the Chiefs.
21. Chargers (5-7, LW: 19) Philip Rivers threw two more interceptions against the Buccaneers to bring his season total to 14, second-most in the league. The Chargers led by seven at halftime, but dropped the matchup at home to all by end their season. In reality, it’s been over for a while now given how impossibly good the other three teams in the division seem to be. However, there have been some positive takeaways from this season, such as takeaways. The Chargers’ 24 turnovers forced are second in the league, and Casey Hayward’s seven interceptions are two more than any other player. Melvin Gordon has also found pay dirt 12 times this year after going failing to score as a rookie.
22. Cardinals (5-6-1, LW: 24) I already talked about David Johnson in the Redskins section, but that guy is really something else. On Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald moved into third place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list with 10 catches for 78 yards. The 13-year veteran and nine-time Pro-Bowler has spent his entire career with the team, and is a true Cardinal legend. You better believe Canton’s in his future.
23. Eagles (5-7, LW: 16) What’s happened to the Eagles? I’ll tell you what- injuries, suspensions, arrests, a young offense led by a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach, it’s not exactly the recipe for success. Still, the Eagles looked their worst in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals, who entered the game 3-7-1. Just how far down the depth chart has Philadelphia gone? The team’s leading receiver in the defeat, rookie Paul Turner, had recorded zero catches entering the game. ZERO. Turner’s six receptions for 80 yards was far from enough.
24. Saints (5-7, LW: 21) If the Dolphins pass/run ratio seemed lopsided to you, the Saints managed to call 45 passes compared to just 12 runs against the Lions. Drew Brees still completed 70% of his passes for 326 and managed to get Brandin Cooks back in the game plan a week after failing to target his #2 receiver, but the interceptions proved costly. On defense, I guess there’s some positive in that the Lions were held to five field goals (including four red zone stops), but the Saints must now win their final four games for any chance at playing past Jan. 1.
25. Bengals (4-7-1, LW: 26) Andy Dalton had struggled with accuracy in recent weeks, and saw several passes batted down as he attempted to lead the Bengals on a game-winning drive against the Ravens in week 12, but finally got his protection and his groove back against the Eagles for the team’s first win since Oct. 23 against the Browns. Cincinnati will look to build on this momentum and pick up the season sweep of the Browns on Sunday.
26: Panthers (4-8, LW: 25) I have a few thoughts on Cam Newton’s benching on the opening series against the Seahawks for not wearing a tie on the team flight. If that’s a team rule, and being benched for a series is a known punishment for breaking that rule, then I have no problem with Ron Rivera’s decision to follow through and sit his star quarterback for the beginning of the game- you can’t treat Cam different than another player. However, having that punishment seems a bit ridiculous to me. Either way, maybe it’s a good thing this story is getting so much press and taking focus away from a disastrous 40-7 loss.
27. Rams (4-8, LW: 27) It was another rough game in the early career of #1 overall pick Jared Goff. But really, who’s to blame the young QB for struggling? The team around him lacks weapons, and Todd Gurley has not shown the ability to control a game the way we thought he might from his performance in 2015. Much of this is due to the offensive line, which allowed four sacks on Goff against the Patriots. As FiveThirtyEight’s Chase Stuart put it, The Jeff Fisher Rams Are An Offensive Tragedy, yet the coach received a puzzling two-year extension.
28. Bears (3-9, LW: 29) The Bears and 49ers were so conservative in their play calling early on that quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Colin Kaepernick combined to go 0/3 passing in the first quarter. However, things eventually picked up and Barkley impressed, leading the Bears on three consecutive touchdown drives in the second and third quarters to take a commanding lead against a pathetic 49ers team and go on to win 26-6. Maybe Matt Barkley isn’t that bad?
29. Jaguars (2-10, LW: 28) Blake Bortles now has more pick-sixes (11) than career wins (10). The third-year quarterback has regressed significantly in what was supposed to be his breakthrough season, and the Jaguars are heading for a top-five draft pick for the fifth consecutive season. It’s a miracle that Gus Bradley, who has a 14-46 record since taking over in 2013, still has his job.
30. Jets (3-9, LW: 30) The Jets lost 41-10, and it could’ve been worse. Colts tight end Jack Doyle fumbled the ball into the end zone late in the second quarter, and the team decided to run with Josh Ferguson on 4th and 12 late in the game instead of kicking an easy field goal. The Jets have been disappointing, to say the least, this season, but this one really takes the cake. Now, the Jets are underdogs on the road against the 49ers. Underdogs t0 a 1-11 team…that pretty much sums things up.
31. 49ers (1-11, LW: 31) Nothing was more stunning in week 13 than Colin Kaepernick’s abysmal stat line (that may be too weak of a word, but I don’t think words do it justice). In three quarters of action, Kaepernick completed just one of five passes for a grand total of four yards. He was also sacked five times for a loss of 25 yards, meaning on San Francisco’s 10 designed pass plays with Kaepernick at QB, they lost 20 yards, for an average of -2 yards per play. And that’s all you need to know about the current state of the 49ers.
32. Browns (0-12, LW: 32) For the first time all season, the Browns did lose last week. It’s an incredibly overused joke about their bye week, but a great one nonetheless. All of a sudden, Cleveland is one of the most interesting teams in football. Will they go 0-16, or is some poor franchise out there about to earn the distinction of being the team that lost to the Browns? They have the Bengals, Bills, Chargers, and Steelers left, and haven’t scored 14 points in a game since October.