NFL Power Rankings Week 15: Bengals and Ravens fall while 49ers and Broncos rise

The top and bottom teams in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings continue to solidify their spots, but both conferences still have unknowns.

The Week 15 NFL Power Rankings won’t have some of the massive swings that have occurred in recent weeks, but there is still plenty of movement as teams become more injured or continue to show their true selves. Frankly, there are a lot of bad football teams in the NFL this season. Heck, even some of the talented clubs have been unimaginably underwhelming in 2021. But there are also young and exciting teams that, while inconsistent, make for one heck of a wild ride week to week.

NFL Power Rankings Week 15 | Tier 6: The unwatchable

I do Rookie QB Rankings each week. I sit down and watch the All-22 tape of all the first-round rookie signal-callers. Each time, it takes significant years off my life. It pains me to watch Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and — at times — Justin Fields. Those quarterbacks are in this tier, and their teams’ rosters, schemes, and front offices are unserious.

32) Houston Texans

The Texans held their own against a reeling Seattle team, but they couldn’t keep that going in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks aren’t a particularly stout defense, but that doesn’t mean seeing some good play from Davis Mills means any less.

Mills made some very nice throws to the intermediate levels early on. However, in the end, Houston couldn’t run the ball at all, and they couldn’t lean on their rookie third-round pick to elevate the roster to competitiveness through four quarters.

31) Jacksonville Jaguars

This is the worst team in football, and they deserve it. They deserved it the minute they made the decision to hire Urban Meyer, and they’ll continue to reap what they sowed until they make the necessary change in leadership (more here on Urban Meyer possibly being fired, courtesy of PFN Insider Tony Pauline).

There’s no skirting the fact that Trevor Lawrence has seen disastrous results as a rookie. He’s been inconsistent in his decision-making and accuracy, but flashes of his brilliance also show themselves multiple times during most games.

Unfortunately, the product around him is so bad that their failures reflect poorly upon him. Receivers run poor routes or wrong routes entirely. They drop passes left and right. The offensive line stinks, and the scheme is pathetic.

Shad Khan owes an apology to his players.

30) Detroit Lions

Listen, we knew what we signed up for when we decided the Lions were the bad team we wanted to root for this season. They’re almost unimaginably outgunned offensively by every team they play. Against the Broncos, they were down their top two running backs, giving them precisely zero household names to catch or run the ball.

But this team has been the feistiest of the bad squads, which makes them likable. Still, they’re not just bad on offense. They have a few solid rookie interior defenders, but they lost their top cornerback before the season started, and they haven’t had an athletic linebacker in a long time.

Down their two best offensive players following an emotional first win of the season last week, the Lions got walked by the Broncos.

29) New York Jets

The Jets might be the most unwatchable product in the NFL. When they lose, they lose spectacularly. Zach Wilson continues to struggle with everything as a rookie, and the defense just doesn’t have the juice to get stops. The Texans probably have a worse roster, and their point differential is slightly worse than the Jets.

Hopefully, the New York media can have some patience with Wilson. He was always going to struggle in Year 1. Wilson was a project coming out of BYU. He lived off 50/50 balls and played in a heavy personnel offense that found ways to isolate receivers and simplify coverage options.

Let Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh build this thing before we judge them off the disaster this team was just one year ago.

28) Chicago Bears

I did not expect Chicago to compete with Green Bay the way they did in this game. I certainly never expected 27 first-half points or for Chicago to move the ball the way they did on the ground.

Fields has a lot of growth to undergo, but the foundation is there in him to be a star in this league. Things are still pretty ugly with Chicago’s passing attack, but Fields’ ability to create with his legs and his ability to attack the intermediate areas (when Rasul Douglas isn’t creeping) is ideal.

The Bears have a lot to address on this roster, but they have a talented signal-caller, which is a start.

27) New York Giants

Not having Daniel Jones is tough, but he wasn’t going to be the difference in this one. I find it hard to even attempt to place blame on the Giants’ defense because this game felt more like it was Justin Herbert pulling strings on unbelievable downfield throws. Coverage becomes increasingly more difficult the farther downfield a route goes, and Herbert’s arm makes some throws nearly impossible to defend.

New York can’t run the ball, and Mike Glennon was never going to take this passing attack anywhere, even after the team let go of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. They couldn’t even run the ball against the Chargers, who have struggled to stop the run all season.

The Giants haven’t won more than six games since 2016. If Dave Gettleman is around in 2022, it’ll say a lot about how unserious the team’s ownership group is about putting a winning product on the field.

NFL Power Rankings Week 15 | Tier 5: Shouldn’t watch, but can’t look away

Car crashes are terrible, but there is a reason why “rubbernecking” is somehow a word. People can’t look away from a possible tragedy. The teams in Tier 5 are those catastrophes.

26) Carolina Panthers

The firing of Joe Brady was a shocking development one week ago. Matt Rhule continued that hilarity by running a two-quarterback system against the Falcons. As someone who believed Rhule could make the transition from college to the NFL, I am now more worried than I was when the Panthers decided to trade draft assets for Sam Darnold rather than rebuild with a rookie.

Neither Cam Newton nor P.J. Walker played well, which is probably the least shocking development of a crazy season. Teams with two quarterbacks, in fact, have no quarterbacks. There are no exceptions.

There is a reason Bill Belichick cut ties with Newton, and it wasn’t because he was unvaccinated. It was because having someone lurking over the shoulder of a QB doesn’t push the signal-caller. It’s the most unique position in all sports. It can’t be treated as competition in the middle of a season.

My hope is that Carolina pushes hard to find their future QB, and they allow this young and talented roster to flourish. They take a deserved tumble in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings.

25) Seattle Seahawks

Seattle allowed Houston to stick around for as long as they could, but eventually, the better team was able to separate in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson still doesn’t look like himself after coming back from his thumb injury, but he’s played better over the past two weeks.

The rest of the Seahawks’ season should be about putting him in a position to succeed at the highest level because that will help his trade value in the offseason. There is no point keeping Wilson around during their inevitable rebuild, so getting as much for him as possible should be Seattle’s highest priority.

24) Las Vegas Raiders

There is not much to say about the Raiders at this point. In the end, the off-field distractions hurt the on-field product. Additionally, the early-season defensive efforts never felt sustainable given the defensive personnel. And that proved to be the case over the second half of the season.

The future for this team is cloudy. Las Vegas has a good-but-not-great quarterback. There is no offensive line. The defensive personnel is a bit of a mess, and they haven’t drafted well since Mike Mayock joined the club as general manager.

Change feels like it’s in the air. The Raiders have skill-position talent to work with. They hit on Trevon Moehrig and Nate Hobbs in the 2021 NFL Draft. Maxx Crosby is a stud. But they need to build their interior on defense, and they need multiple bodies on the offensive line. Their 1-5 skid in the past six games has them tumbling down the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings.

23) Atlanta Falcons

I was a bit surprised to see the Falcons were underdogs against the Panthers. I believed they’d win this game outright because I think they’re the better team at this point in the season. Matt Ryan isn’t worth what he is paid, but he is still a serviceable NFL quarterback.

I know there was a touchdown scored on A.J. Terrell in this one, but he deserves to be in the All-Pro discussion at cornerback, which is an outstanding development for the second-year cornerback from Clemson.

Atlanta also has Kyle Pitts to build around, and no matter what happens with Calvin Ridley moving forward, Pitts is a great building block. They’ve also struck relative gold in the running back version of Cordarrelle Patterson. This team isn’t that far away, depending on how they’re able to build in the offseason.

NFL Power Rankings Week 15 | Tier 4: Uninteresting mediocrity

The teams in this tier aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, a few of them could end up in the playoffs (at least in the NFC). But they’re boring, and in the end, is there anything worse than that?

22) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers fought as hard as they could in the fourth quarter to mount a comeback against Minnesota, but they had already given the Vikings a 29-point buffer. They’re a bad football team. They can’t run the football because their offensive line is bad, and their quarterback is well beyond the hill at this point.

But the most worrisome development from their Thursday night game was their inability to stop the run against a Vikings team that hasn’t had success running all season and was deploying a running back playing through a separated shoulder.

The upcoming Pittsburgh rebuild doesn’t have to be too ugly. They have pieces on offense and defense to build around. But they must somehow find a quarterback, improve the offensive line, and find some young blood at cornerback.

21) Washington Football Team

The Dallas defense had an answer for every question on the test against Washington this week. Terry McLaurin couldn’t get going against Trevon Diggs. After holding strong on the first few drives, the Washington offensive line — which has overperformed all season — broke down against a healthy Cowboys pass rush.

Taylor Heinicke had arguably the best month of any QB in November, but today the regression monster came calling. He didn’t have much room to operate, but aside from a beautiful sideline pass against pressure that was ultimately incomplete, he struggled both with accuracy and decision-making.

The Football Team has to rebound quickly. They play nothing but divisional games the rest of the way. Washington must take care of business against the Eagles and Giants if they want to make the playoffs.

20) New Orleans Saints

As we did with the Gardner Minshew-led Philadelphia Eagles last week, we must qualify the Saints’ offensive performance with “but it was against the Jets.”

New Orleans has an outstanding defense bogged down by a limited offense. There simply aren’t enough weapons on offense to consistently sustain drives. They have, however, been good in the red zone this season. That wasn’t the case against the Jets, where they went just 2-of-5.

Alvin Kamara’s return meant a lot to this Saints offense. Without him, they lack any semblance of a consistent offensive playmaker. It doesn’t help that Taysom Hill is also banged up and starting at a position he only plays part-time.

Still, they’re right in the NFC playoff hunt at 6-7, and they play three decently winnable games to finish the season.

19) Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles aren’t dead yet in the NFC Wild Card race. They’ll also be able to control their own destiny in regard to the Washington Football Team, who they’ll face twice down the stretch.

We just saw Gardner Minshew win a game against the New York Jets. He played well but wasn’t asked to do too much on their way to the victory. Jalen Hurts will return from injury against Washington, but now he’ll have the added pressure of Minshew Mania breathing down his neck.

NFL Power Rankings Week 15 | Tier 3: Still ugly, but playoff-caliber ugly

The teams in this tier are either surprisingly good compared to preseason rankings or underwhelming compared to expectations.

18) Minnesota Vikings

I’m not sure what Minnesota did to deserve it, but they are absolutely cursed. They’ve played in just ONE game this season that was not a one-possession contest (a 30-17 defeat of the Seahawks). The rest have all been within 8 points.

The Vikings haven’t had much success on the ground in 2021, but the injured Dalvin Cook absolutely dominated on Thursday Night Football, finishing with a 27-205-2 line on the ground.

Minnesota is currently just outside of the playoff picture in the NFC, and it could be tough to sneak in with games against the Rams and Packers still to go. They rise in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings after a big prime-time win.

17) Cleveland Browns

I do not envy media members who cover the Browns. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, either defending or criticizing Baker Mayfield’s play. No matter what side they’re on, they are wrong to about half the fanbase.

Cleveland tried to give this game away — first by allowing the Tyler Huntley-led Ravens to score the first touchdown of the fourth quarter, and then again by allowing them to march down the field late to bring the game to within 2 points. Then, a special-teams snafu gave the Ravens the ball back.

But Jadeveon Clowney had other ideas. It’s good to see the former No. 1 overall pick making big plays in massive moments across from Myles Garrett. The AFC North is back to being wide open again, and that is very good for the NFL.

16) Baltimore Ravens

There is no reason this Baltimore Ravens team should be competitive with the number of injuries they’ve sustained in 2021. Against the Browns, they even lost their franchise quarterback. When Tyler Huntley entered the game, he was able to mount a crazy comeback late that almost won them the game.

They have no sufficient offensive tackles. They’ve cycled through more running backs than the United States has had presidents, and they’re now down two top-20 cornerbacks.

One thing the Ravens may take solace in is that their undrafted quarterback looks like a great backup option moving forward. And with a QB like Lamar Jackson starting, having a good backup is incredibly important. Their drop in the NFL Power Rankings for Week 15 has more to do with their injuries than it does losing to the Browns.

15) Cincinnati Bengals

Listen, I’m not sure how good this team really is, but I’ll be darned if they aren’t an absolute joy to watch. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and Joe Burrow are about as fun an offensive group as you’ll find.

As I wrote in the game preview for the 49ers game, Cincinnati only stops themselves offensively. Burrow has been aggressive this season and has thrown the ball to the opposing team often. The offensive line is bad on the right side, so sacks kill drives.

That’s it. That’s what really stops them on offense. Defensively, the Bengals are a solid team. I’ve been complimentary of the free agency run that rebuilt this defense. They took risks, and they’ve paid off in 2021.

14) Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins were on a roll the past five weeks, winning each of their five contests following a seven-game skid. Their bye week comes at a good time. Miami’s offense is moving the ball decently enough, but there is no explosiveness whatsoever. They absolutely must find a way to get the ball downfield, at least as a change of pace.

The real reason for Miami’s turnaround has come on the other side of the ball. Their defense has played far closer to their potential since their awful start to the year. They have immense talent at cornerback, and Jevon Holland has proven to be one of the best rookies in the NFL.

13) Tennessee Titans

The Titans got reinforcements this week in the form of Julio Jones, but the offense is still very much not an appealing product. There is good news on the horizon, but it doesn’t help them much down the stretch of the regular season.

This offense needs a healthy Derrick Henry. Ryan Tannehill is good enough to win with, but the Titans won’t win because of him. Maybe they can get by when No. 1 WR A.J. Brown returns, but until then, it isn’t easy to see a path toward offensive success.

Seriously, Tennessee could barely muster 4 net yards per play against a hapless Jacksonville defense. Luckily enough for them, the Steelers are next up on their schedule, and they shouldn’t scare this Titans defense much. Tennessee should roll into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. That’s when the season really starts.

12) Denver Broncos

The Broncos played a really clean football game on offense. They weren’t particularly explosive, but they didn’t have to be. They were, however, good on third down, and they were perfect in the red zone while the game was still in the balance.

Denver’s two-headed rushing attack controlled the game offensively, and Teddy Bridgewater was efficient enough to pick up a few first downs of his own. With the Bengals, Chargers, and Chiefs still on their schedule, they needed a win to realistically keep their playoff hopes alive.

Denver accomplished that in dramatic fashion on Sunday afternoon, and they continue to be favored in the NFL Power Rankings as we head into Week 15.

11) San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are a decent yet boring football team. However, they’re better at it than the teams in Tier 4, so they find themselves in a higher spot in the NFL Power Rankings. They’re creative enough on offense to protect Jimmy Garoppolo from making mistakes on most occasions.

He still has moments where he loses his mind, especially over the middle of the field. Yet, he does things in the play-action and screen game that become highlights of the Niners’ offense.

Starting Josh Norman in 2021 is never a great option, but San Francisco’s defense survives. They get great linebacker play from Fred Warner, and their safeties are excellent. Nick Bosa is one of the best young pass rushers in a league filled with good youthful edge defenders. Add in Arik Armstead, and they’re able to do enough to find relative success on defense.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.