The Chiefs remain our clear-cut No. 1 in the latest edition of the NFL Power Rankings, but there's a rising superpower in the East gaining speed like Kris Kringle in full flight. Puff out your chests, denizens of Western New York. Your time may be now.
Meanwhile, we have a new No. 32 for the first time in three months -- but it's not exactly cause for celebration in New York. The experience of being a Jets fan is like no other.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all the Power Rankings readers ... even you rotten little elves on Twitter.
Let's get to it.
Previous rank: No. 1
The Chiefs can do on an average day what most teams are unable to do at their best. Kansas City accumulated more than 400 yards of offense and 32 points on Sunday, a workmanlike (by their standards) performance in a narrow win over the Saints. K.C. did it playing with a patchwork offensive line that left Patrick Mahomes feeling the heat of the New Orleans pass rush for much of the day. Mahomes threw three touchdown passes anyway, and the Kansas City defense was aided by an extremely rusty version of Drew Brees, playing his first game in a month. A health concern to watch: Clyde Edwards-Helaire exited late in the fourth quarter with ugly-looking hip and ankle injuries. If the talented rookie running back is forced to miss time in the playoffs, Le'Veon Bell will suddenly be front and center in the backfield.
Previous rank: No. 4
When you haven't won a division title since "Wonderwall" was on the charts, you don't go in through the back door. The Bills announced themselves as AFC East champions with authority, bludgeoning the Broncos in a 48-19 coronation at Mile High. Josh Allen accounted for four more touchdowns in his latest superstar-level performance, while the rising Buffalo defense continued its December surge. Buffalo piled up 534 yards of total offense, led by playmaking wideouts Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, who will soon become the first Bills receivers to go over 1,000 yards in the same season since Peerless Price and Eric Moulds back in 2002. The Bills are a rising tidal wave headed for the great wall that is the Kansas City Chiefs.
Previous rank: No. 2
Aaron Rodgers has been so consistently brilliant this season that it was odd to watch the Packers win without a monster day from the MVP front-runner. Rodgers was held to just 143 passing yards and a touchdown on Saturday (he added a rushing score), so it was the defense that handled the task of closing out the Panthers in a 24-16 victory. Coordinator Mike Pettine's group got it done, forcing a huge goal-line turnover on a Teddy Bridgewater QB sneak that changed the game. Rookie linebacker Krys Barnes poked the ball away from Bridgewater, and Kevin King returned it 48 yards to set up a Packers touchdown. The defense will face a much stiffer test against Derrick Henry and the Titans on Sunday night.
Previous rank: No. 3
Drew Brees returned to the lineup, but he wasn't really back. The veteran quarterback, who missed the previous four weeks with broken ribs and a collapsed lung, started 0-for-6 passing with an interception and looked like a diminished version of himself for most of Sunday's 32-29 loss to the Chiefs. Brees did improve as the game went along, but not enough to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, who rolled up over 400 yards offense in a ho-hum performance by their standards. How Brees progresses over the next three weeks will likely decide whether the Saints belong in the conversation of Super Bowl contenders. That road just got a lot tougher: Back-to-back losses likely take New Orleans out of the running for a first-round bye and the home-field advantage that comes with it.
Previous rank: No. 8
After Week 14's epic prime-time win over the Browns, the Ravens could've used a bye. That wasn't possible, so they settled for the next best thing: a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lamar Jackson accounted for four more touchdowns (he's up to 10 in the past three games since returning from the COVID-19 list) and Baltimore took a 26-point lead into halftime before cruising to a 40-14 win. The Ravens have won three straight games and suddenly look like a major player in the AFC playoffs -- if they get there, of course. The Browns, Colts and Dolphins all also won on Sunday, keeping Baltimore locked into the eighth seed for the time being. Don't let them in, AFC. Consider this your warning.
Previous rank: No. 9
You have to give the Browns credit: When a winnable game has presented itself on their schedule this season, they take care of business. It happened again on Sunday night in a smooth 20-6 victory over an undermanned Giants team that moved the Browns one step closer to their first playoff appearance since 2002. Baker Mayfield continued a recent run of strong play with another efficient performance, throwing for nearly 300 yards with two touchdown passes and zero turnovers. Mayfield's rise has lifted the ceiling of this Browns team. They're no longer winning games with their QB along for the ride -- he's become the leader of the offense. This locked-in version of Mayfield, paired with a killer running game, makes Cleveland truly, well, dangerous.
Previous rank: No. 7
The defense continued its rise on Sunday, shutting out the Washington Football Team for most of the first half, then coming up with three sacks on Washington's final possession of the game to ensure a 20-15 win. It's pretty amazing to look at the game flow of this one compared to the incessant shootouts that marked the first half of Seattle's season. On Sunday, Russell Wilson didn't cross 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter as the Seahawks leaned on a quick-strike approach to negate Washington's pass rush. The strategy made sense, given the opponent, but it's hard not to get nostalgic thinking about the excitement of the Let Russ Cook era. Is it already over?
Previous rank: No. 11
Derrick Henry rushed for 147 more yards on Sunday, moving him ever closer to the hallowed 2,000-yard rushing club. But the real star against the Lions? Ryan Tannehill, who accounted for five touchdowns in a 46-25 win for the AFC South leaders. Tannehill threw for three scores and rushed for two more, the latest money performance by a guy who went from odd rman out in Miami to one of the most productive QBs in football. Reminder: The Titans gave up fourth- and seventh-round picks to acquire Tannehill (and a sixth-rounder) from the Dolphins in March 2019. The change of scenery was a huge help, as is -- of course -- the presence of a transcendent talent like Henry, but Tannehill deserves more acknowledgement for his role in turning the Titans into a Super Bowl contender.
Previous rank: No. 10
For the second time in three weeks, the Colts needed a near-miracle fumble recovery in the final minute to close out the Texans. This is not the most effective way to build your case as a legit Super Bowl contender, but Indianapolis has nothing to apologize for. To quote the great, late Jim Valvano: survive and advance. The big stars on defense stepped up: Darius Leonard forced the game-deciding fumble, surging from behind to punch the ball away from Texans receiver Keke Coutee inside the 5-yard line. Then there's DeForest Buckner, the Jenga piece of this defense, who played through an ankle injury to record three sacks of Deshaun Watson. Jim Irsay should float GM Chris Ballard a hefty Christmas bonus for his brilliant Buckner trade in March.
Previous rank: No. 6
What? How? Huh? The Rams welcomed the 0-13 Jets into their shiny new building on Sunday and somehow found a way to get beat by the worst team in football. The Rams dug themselves a double-digit hole, then watched their comeback attempt get short-circuited by miscues and penalties in the biggest upset of the NFL season. "This loss will demoralize us only as much as we allow it to," Sean McVay said after the game. "It's gonna be embarrassing, sick to your stomach about it ... But very humbling." It's a hideous setback for an inconsistent team, but there is a clear path to recovery. Beat the Seahawks and Cardinals in the final two weeks, and the Rams are NFC West champions. Bury the ball and move on.
Previous rank: No. 5
“We’re not a good football group right now.” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t pull any punches after Monday night’s ugly 27-17 loss to the Bengals, Pittsburgh’s third consecutive defeat after 11 straight wins to open the season. The offense was in full meltdown mode early, finishing with more turnovers (three) than first downs (two) in a first half that ended with the Bengals holding a 17-0 lead. Ben Roethlisberger played a central role in the struggles, and after the game he was answering questions about his arm and the deep passes that wobbled through the Cincinnati night like ducks that waited too long to fly south for winter. The chance of a playoff bye is all but history. Now the Steelers need to worry about holding off the charging Ravens and Browns in the AFC North.
Previous rank: No. 12
We got to see both sides of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coin on Sunday. In the first half, there was the ugly, rusted, scuffed-up side of the currency: missed tackles, blown coverages, errant throws and dropped passes as Tampa Bay fell behind 17-0 by halftime. In the second half, we saw the gleaming, freshly circulated, unblemished side of the coin: Tom Brady and the Bucs scored on their first five possessions, including four TDs, to secure a 31-27 comeback win over the eternally tragic Falcons. So, which side of the coin more accurately reflects who the Bucs are? Which side will it land on if Tampa Bay finds its way into the postseason, as expected? What's it going to be, Bruce: Heads or tails?
Previous rank: No. 14
Playing without DeVante Parker or Mike Gesicki, the Dolphins knew it was going to be difficult to attack the Patriots through the air. Enter the run game, which delivered big performances from Salvon Ahmed and Matt Breida in a 22-12 win that knocked the once-mighty Patriots out of the playoff picture while keeping Miami alive and well in the AFC wild-card race. It's hard to deny Brian Flores' credentials in the Coach of the Year conversation; his leadership turned the Dolphins' rebuild into the NFL's version of Operation Warp Speed. His team is always prepared, he finds contributors up and down the roster and he's done expert work nurturing rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Flores is proof that installing the right man on the sidelines is half the battle.
Previous rank: No. 13
The Cardinals have survived their funk. Arizona is back to looking like a dangerous NFC upstart, and Kyler Murray has regained his form as a young superstar who can take out any conference superpower if the stars align. The quarterback set a career high with 406 yards passing, racking up four total touchdowns (three through the air, one on the ground) in a 33-26 win over the Eagles that keeps the Cards in playoff contention with two weeks to play. Murray's favorite target was, of course, DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with 169 yards and a touchdown. Hopkins went over 100 receptions for the third straight year and has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark seven times this season. Look up No. 1 Receiver in the football dictionary, and you'll see a picture of Nuk.
Previous rank: No. 15
Dwayne Haskins got the start in place of an injured Alex Smith on Sunday, and for the first half, it felt like more confirmation that Washington erred badly by selecting Haskins in the first round of last year's draft. But Haskins improved as the game progressed, leading the team on two second-half touchdown drives before taking Washington deep into Seahawks territory with a chance to win in the final minute. A trio of Seattle sacks on that last possession squashed hopes of a dramatic comeback, but Washington held its own against another quality opponent. If Ron Rivera's team can close out the NFC East, we're likely to see a similar game script play out in the postseason: Washington's defense throwing sand in the gears of a powerful offense while praying for enough production from the other side of the ball.
Previous rank: No. 26
Earlier this month, the Bears were an also-ran, a pretender that got off to a fast start before cratering when the competition improved. And sure, wins over the middling Texans and Vikings in the past two weeks don't exactly scream, "Super Bowl Shuffle reboot!" But let's give credit where it's due: This offense is suddenly fun to watch. The occasional head-scratching turnover aside, Mitch Trubisky is playing with as much confidence as we've ever seen during his time in Chicago. Then there's running back David Montgomery, who has a touchdown in four straight games and just ripped up the Vikings' defense for a career-high 146 yards and two scores. With the dreadful Jaguars on deck, Chicago should continue to light up the scoreboard and keep itself in the playoff race. Who saw that coming?
Previous rank: No. 22
The Chargers followed that humiliating 45-0 home loss to the Patriots in Week 13 with back-to-back wins, including an overtime thriller to bury the Raiders' playoff hopes on Thursday night. Justin Herbert emerged from a mini-slump to light up the Raiders' undermanned secondary in a 314-yard passing day that included a 26-yard scoring pass to Tyron Johnson to tie the NFL's rookie passing TD record. You wished the Chargers' coaching staff would have allowed Herbert to finish off the Raiders in regulation, but some conservative play-calling -- and, of course, the perfunctory special teams meltdown -- made the game more interesting than it had to be. There's a good team buried in the mix here. Can the Bolts find the person who can bring it out?
Previous rank: No. 16
The Raiders completed their free fall out of the AFC playoff picture with another terrible loss, this time an overtime setback at home against the Chargers on Thursday Night Football. The Raiders had first-and-goal on the opening possession of OT, but -- true to form over these past two Decembers -- Jon Gruden's team was unable to make the big play when it counted. It's a shame, too, because Marcus Mariota replaced an injured Derek Carr in the first half and was excellent, making big-time plays with his arm and legs. He performed like a guy who was ready to save the season, but the Raiders can't seem to get out of their own way once the holidays roll around. Bah humbug.
Previous rank: No. 19
Joe Judge coached on Sunday night with an almost admirable level of desperation. Injuries took away his quarterback (Daniel Jones), while COVID-19 designations sidelined his top cover man (James Bradberry) and offensive coordinator (Jason Garrett). So Judge opted for fourth-down gambles in two first-half red-zone trips against the Browns, hoping to steal points and put New York in position for the upset. Sadly, these cowboy maneuvers only make a coach look good when they work. Both plays ended in failure (the first on a fake-field-goal throw by punter/holder Riley Dixon that went incomplete, the second with Wayne Gallman being stuffed at the Cleveland 5), and Big Blue never really threatened after that in a 20-6 loss. New York hasn't scored 20 points in a game in over a month. That's not going to cut it, even in the NFC East.
Previous rank: No. 17
The midseason resurgence is ancient history now. In truth, the Viking were running out of juice earlier this month, even as they were still finding ways to win. But this team has been exposed as the middling outfit it is in back-to-back losses to the Bucs and Bears, setbacks that remove any realistic path to the postseason. Sunday's defeat was a microcosm game: The run defense was gashed by David Montgomery, the pass rush failed to make Mitch Trubisky uncomfortable, and Kirk Cousins too often had defenders invading his space. Throw in some curious in-game decision-making by the coaching staff, and it was the perfect stew for more disappointment in Minneapolis.
Previous rank: No. 18
For the first time since 2008 and the third time in the past 20 seasons, the NFL playoffs will not include the New England Patriots. That became official after another listless loss on Sunday. Cam Newton again struggled to make impact plays, while the defense faltered in the second half against a Miami offense that was missing several playmakers due to injury. The Pats also lost Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who exited the game with what was later diagnosed as a partially torn quad. As the Dolphins and Bills rise as contenders in the AFC East, Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots brain trust have an offseason filled with difficult decisions. Reload or rebuild?
Previous rank: No. 24
The Cowboys, almost impossibly, are not dead. A 41-33 win over the 49ers, paired with Washington's Week 15 loss to the Seahawks, keeps Dallas in contention for the NFC East title entering Week 16. Who would have guessed that after Mike McCarthy's team got its doors blown off by the Football Team on Thanksgiving? We saw a big performance from Tony Pollard against the Niners, who looked better in his starting debut than Ezekiel Elliott has all season. Would the Cowboys think about sticking with the hot hand for Sunday's must-win matchup against the Eagles? At the very least, Pollard deserves a role in the game plan if Elliott were to return from a lingering calf injury.
Previous rank: No. 23
You know, Falcons, it brings us no joy to consistently reference the tragic events of Super Bowl LI ... but you have to work with us. If you want people to truly move on from that game, you need to stop doing things to remind them what happened that night in Houston. Let’s use Sunday as an example: When you build a 17-0 halftime lead against the Bucs -- a Bucs team led by quarterback Tom Brady -- you’re going to want to make sure the team led by Brady doesn’t stage the second-largest rally in franchise history. Your defense can’t allow four touchdown drives and a field goal in the final two quarters, and your offense cannot go into hibernation mode for the final 20 minutes of game time. The football gods help those who help themselves.
Previous rank: No. 25
The comeback bid fell short against the Cardinals, but the Eagles have to be feeling great about what they've seen from Jalen Hurts so far. The rookie ended his second career start 24-for-44 passing for 338 yards with 63 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in the 33-26 loss. That's monster production from any QB, let alone one who's supposed to be taking his first tentative steps into the world of professional football. As expected, Doug Pederson announced Monday that Hurts will remain the team's starter when the Eagles meet the Cowboys in a Week 16 elimination game for both teams. If Hurts continues to produce in the season's final weeks, it could very well seal Carson Wentz's departure from the team in the offseason. Change comes fast in the NFL.
Previous rank: No. 20
The hope was that Drew Lock would build off his four-touchdown explosion in Week 14 against the Panthers and roll into the offseason with a strong finish to his second NFL campaign. Those hopes were deflated some in a 48-19 blowout by the Bills, who had their way with Lock for most of the afternoon. Lock lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and fired two passes into the hands of Buffalo defenders that were dropped. His final numbers were OK, but Lock was far from good. Of course, quarterback isn't the only issue facing Broncos GM John Elway this offseason: Denver's defense allowed more than 500 yards to the Bills. Another disappointing day in a disappointing season.
Previous rank: No. 21
"This year was the most disappointing one." That was Kyle Shanahan's take on the 2020 season following a 41-33 loss to the Cowboys that officially eliminated the 49ers from playoff contention. Shanahan has had just one winning season in four years in San Francisco, but this season came on the heels of a near Super Bowl win last February. The Niners were supposed to finish the job in 2020 -- at least until a wave of injuries and COVID-19-related madness ruined everything. The good news? The Niners should have a top-15 pick in the 2021 draft to add to a roster that is excellent when at full health. It's been an ugly year by the Bay, but a return to championship contention in 2021 would not be a surprise.
Previous rank: No. 27
The Panthers have now lost eight games this season by one possession. That sustained level of competitive play shows fighting spirit, sure, but also exposes the inability to close out games and make the big play in critical situations. Which takes us to Saturday night, a 24-16 loss to the Packers, in which Teddy Bridgewater's goal-line fumble acted as Carolina's latest "What if?" moment. "I told him from Day 1, we don't reach the ball across the goal line," Matt Rhule told NFL Network's Melissa Stark at halftime. It was a frustrated lament from a head coach who believes his team is better than its 4-10 record indicates.
Previous rank: No. 29
Two weeks ago, after a low snap fired at his shins led to the crushing turnover in a last-minute loss to the Colts, Deshaun Watson spent the next several minutes alone on the Texans bench with a towel draped over his head -- total dejection for one of the game's great competitors. On Sunday, after another crushing goal-line turnover buried the Texans once more against the Colts, Watson walked off the field with an almost bemused look on his face. You could picture what the Pro Bowl quarterback was thinking in that moment: This year has been profoundly, irrevocably, undeniably f-----. To hell with 2020. Amen, brother.
Previous rank: No. 28
Matthew Stafford is one tough dude. The veteran quarterback knew the Lions needed a win on Sunday to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, so he decided to play through a painful rib injury sustained a week earlier against the Packers. Stafford delivered a strong performance despite his physical issues, but it wasn't near enough for a Lions team that was outclassed in a 46-25 loss to the Titans. There will be waves of speculation surrounding Stafford and his future this offseason, but the Lions would be wise to put the lion's share of their focus on how to fix their putrid defense. It was exposed again by an explosive Titans offense, which piled up 463 yards and six touchdowns in Detroit's ninth loss of the season.
Previous rank: No. 30
What a nice moment for the Bengals and their fans on Monday night. A once-promising season turned painful in the aftermath of Joe Burrow’s terrible knee injury, but beating up the Steelers and sending thousands of Pittsburgh fans out of Paul Brown Stadium with scowls on their faces was a special kind of Christmas present for the people of Cincinnati. After all, the Bengals didn’t just beat the mighty Steelers -- they sent the entire organization into a state of panic. That’s the good stuff. "We needed this,” quarterback Ryan Finley said after a solid two-touchdown performance. “We needed to have this feeling. We needed to share that in the locker room." We get it.
Previous rank: No. 32
Good on the Jets -- the players and the coaching staff -- for putting together their best effort of the season in a stunning upset win over the Rams in Los Angeles. These people wanted nothing to do with 0-16, and they’ve successfully avoided joining that ugly little club of two. As for Jets fans? Their panic is understandable, especially with a player as special as Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence possibly sitting atop the list of next year’s crop of draft prospects. There’s always been a cosmic cruelty to Jets fandom; being put in the position to root for your own team to go 0-16 is some next-level misery that no fan base deserves. The Jets sit behind the Jaguars in the draft pecking order, but this “race” to the bottom isn’t over yet.
Previous rank: No. 31
The Jaguars won by losing on Sunday. The Ravens blasted Doug Marrone's team into orbit in a 40-14 loss, but when Jacksonville returned to Earth they learned that the Jets had shocked the Rams for their first win of the season. Both teams are now 1-13, with Jacksonville holding the all-important strength of schedule tiebreaker. Two more losses and the Jags will hold the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Gardner Minshew did his usual thing against the Ravens, putting up pretty-looking stats in a blowout loss. In a weird twist of fate, many Jags fans will be rooting against their mustachioed folk hero this week against the Bears.