NFL Power Rankings Week 15 | Tier 2: Fun to watch but sometimes frustrating
A few of these teams could be possible Super Bowl contenders. But there are some frustrating flaws that — although fixable — are still very real.
10) Buffalo Bills
For three quarters against Tampa Bay, the Bills looked like the fraudulent team we’ve seen during all of 2021. But they turned it on in the fourth, giving themselves a chance to win after going down 24-3 at halftime.
But even though it was close in the end, this game just made me feel worse about Buffalo. They needed a Herculean effort from Josh Allen to get the game back in their grasp, and he got absolutely blasted as he willed them to a close loss.
After losing Tre’Davious White to an ACL tear, it’s tough to believe the Bills will be able to overcome their inconsistency on both offense and defense to compete for a Super Bowl in 2021.
9) Los Angeles Chargers
I’m not sure if the Chargers are a really good football team or not. What I do know is that Justin Herbert is really good at football. In fact, he’s good enough to elevate those around him, as any franchise quarterback dreams of doing. He actually had to go through the process of getting his Class III firearms stamp because his arm is too dangerous for the average human to handle.
Herbert alone is responsible for what feels like 60% of the 10 best throws in the NFL this season. He has examples of jaw-dropping ball placement and velocity downfield everywhere you look. While he still needs to improve his down-to-down consistency, Herbert is also practically a genius, so I’m not too worried about him developing as a processor.
I just can’t believe we were all duped into doubting Herbert as a prospect — myself included. That’s why we can’t have nice things.
8) Indianapolis Colts
Prior to the season, I thought the ceiling for the Colts would be a Wild Card spot. Although that may be where they’re relegated to because of their slow start to the year, they’ve really figured out their identity throughout the 2021 campaign.
Carson Wentz has always been a volatile player. However, Frank Reich and company seem to have really pounded into his head that he doesn’t need to go out and win every single down. He’s gotten better at rolling with the punches, and he’s making far fewer mistakes.
Defensively, the Colts are a bit boom-or-bust at times, but they boom quite a bit. Darius Leonard is a ball-hawking linebacker, and the rest of the defense feeds off that. Their 29 takeaways are the most in the NFL.
7) Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas defense is the strength of their football team. If someone had told you that in August, you would have laughed very loudly right into their face. Now, nearly midway through December, it is the truth.
Micah Parsons might not win Defensive Player of the Year, but I’m not sure if any player in the NFL means more to a defense, given his versatility. I believe T.J. Watt has an argument, but Parsons might be the league’s defensive MVP. I also understand that’s not what the DPOY is for, and Myles Garrett is certainly deserving. The trio of Parsons, Randy Gregory, and DeMarcus Lawrence rushing the passer is terrifying.
The Cowboys have the talent to be in Tier 1, but their offense is holding them back. They’re not playing to their potential. They’ve turned bland schematically, receivers are on different pages than Dak Prescott, and the veteran quarterback hasn’t played well since returning from his calf injury.
6) Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford, Sean McVay, and the Rams receivers were absolutely brilliant against Arizona. Stafford took over in the second half, completing some incredibly difficult tight-window throws. It’s all about keeping consistent now. They have a legitimate shot at the first seed not only in the NFC West but in the NFC as a whole.
At 9-4, the Rams are in fifth place in the conference. They finish the year with a home bout against Seattle, road trips to Minnesota and Baltimore, before hosting San Francisco in the season finale.
NFL Power Rankings Week 15 | Tier 1: Appointment television
I love watching these five teams play football. Aside from the Cardinals, they’ve each had their ups and downs in 2021. Yet, each team is playing at a high level as we head further into December.
5) Green Bay Packers
Chicago got up early on the Packers, but like in many games where the lesser team competes early, it was a different story in the second half. The Bears’ defense didn’t pose any threat to the Packers’ offense. Despite missing almost all of their offensive linemen, Green Bay dominated on the ground.
The Packers continue to lose key contributors, and yet they continue to tick on, adding to their win column.
4) New England Patriots
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are playing better than any team in the NFL during their six-game win streak. In that time, they rank first in offensive and defensive EPA/play. They’ve beaten the Chargers, Browns, and Bills over that stretch.
They’ll face the Colts, the Bills again, the Jaguars, and then the surging Dolphins over their final four-game stretch. New England has found their stride offensively, working off the strength that is their outstanding offensive line.
Defensively, J.C. Jackson is proving his status as not just a playmaking cornerback but a lockdown one. But the rest of the defense is playing outstanding football as well. Lawrence Guy is an underrated playmaker in the middle, and the linebackers defend the run at a high level.
3) Kansas City Chiefs
I honestly am not sure I’ve ever seen such a thorough arse-kicking in one half of NFL football. The Raiders might as well have been playing an entirely different sport. The first play of the game was a fumble recovered for a Kansas City touchdown, and that was all she wrote.
Las Vegas’ defense has given up on the season, and they were already a bad schematic matchup against the Chiefs. In the first half, Patrick Mahomes and the passing attack averaged nearly 11 net yards per pass and finished 5-of-6 on third down. The game was over at 35-0, but this story was published when the Raiders decided to kick a field goal to make a five-score game a four-score game right before the half.
There will be defenses that have better schematic answers. We can’t proclaim the Chiefs’ offense back until they answer against those teams.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay was the far better team for three quarters, but the Bills decided they would play to their potential in the fourth. The Buccaneers were getting great looks in the first half, but the offense sputtered in the second.
We’ve seen the Bucs play some inconsistent football, but they completely collapsed defensively in the fourth quarter. That allowed Josh Allen to will his team downfield twice and make it a 3-point game, with a chance for him to complete the comeback after a phantom holding call took away a first down.
Tampa Bay might be the best team in the NFL, but they aren’t playing like it yet.
1) Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals played in the biggest game of the season so far on Monday Night Football against the Rams. They throttled their NFC West rival earlier in the year, and that was when Los Angeles was on a roll on offense.
Both teams looked unstoppable at times offensively. In fact, were it not for a few awful INTs from Kyler Murray, there’s a good chance Arizona scores more points than LA. But when I wrote about him earlier this season, mistakes were the only thing that could slow down the young quarterback.
Against the Rams, Murray made the mistakes, and Matthew Stafford did not. That said, the Cardinals have still been the best team in the NFL over their 13-game stretch. And I’d still take them over any team in the league in a seven-game series — if that were a realistic option.