NFL Power Rankings Week 16: The Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Packers were inevitable

The NFL Power Rankings for Week 16 look a lot like the preseason. After a crazy season, the best have risen back toward the top.

The Week 16 NFL Power Rankings are beginning to shape up in a similar fashion to how we viewed the NFL before the season began. This NFL season has been Thanos. We couldn’t deal with our own failures. So, where did that lead us? It led us back to the Buccaneers, Chiefs, Packers, Rams, and Cowboys. We thought that by eliminating some of those teams, others would thrive. Instead, both positive and negative regression reared its powerful head, and the cream rose back to the top.

NFL Power Rankings Week 16 | Tier 6: The NFL Draft is the Super Bowl

When football teams are bad, hope is a fan base’s only salvation. Unfortunately for Chicago, they traded their 2022 first-round pick to draft Justin Fields, so their salvation must wait until Day 2 of the draft.

32) Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville is a mess. They did the right thing earlier in the week when they fired Urban Meyer, but that was never going to magically fix their offensive woes or lack of defensive talent.

Trevor Lawrence is not playing well. It doesn’t hurt to admit that. He flashes all the same traits that made him one of the most likable QB prospects in a long time, but the situation around him has caused accuracy issues and bad habits to pop up.

Jacksonville needs an offensive mind to come in and completely revamp this offensive attack. Getting DJ Chark back next season will help, but they have schematic issues as well. They don’t necessarily need an offensive head coach. The Jaguars just need to help make things easier for Lawrence in his sophomore campaign.

31) Houston Texans

In the battle of the terrible, the Texans were less terrible than the Jaguars on Sunday. Neither offense was particularly good, but Houston was far better on third down, converting 10 of them throughout the game. That helped them rise out of the basement of these NFL Power Rankings.

Brandin Cooks showed his worth, as he was the best player on the field for either team in this game. The Texans probably didn’t deserve the 32nd spot in the NFL Power Rankings prior to this week, but things had looked ugly for them on both offense and defense since their surprise win against Tennessee in Week 11.

30) New York Jets

The Jets are a tough watch on both sides of the ball. They’re horrific defensively. They don’t have sufficient talent at cornerback, and they can’t seem to generate consistent pressure as a unit.

Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have a long way to go with this roster. But don’t fret, Jets fans — this defense could find an influx of talent at the top of the draft, depending on which direction they want to go.

Ultimately, Zach Wilson’s development is all that really matters. The problem is, he hasn’t shown consistent development as a rookie. When he does have a decent game, he’s persistently fallen prey to pathetic outings the following week. He has a long road ahead of him, but his physical tools and demeanor lend me to believe he’ll “get it” in time.

29) Detroit Lions

I absolutely adore the Detroit Lions. Dan Campbell has a roster full of finished hot wing bones. I’m not talking about those heathens that leave 30% of the meat on the bone, either. We’re talking picked clean by a professional wing eater.

Still, they’ve gone out on most weeks and played their backsides off. They’re feisty, which is exactly the message Campbell tried to send in his inaugural press conference. His team does, in fact, bite at the kneecaps and claw at the thighs like a ghoul in the night. He’s building a culture, and as long as the message continues to resonate, the roster should eventually come around.

28) Chicago Bears

The Bears are a horrifically-coached squad. They consistently shot themselves in the foot in the second half against the Vikings.

What stinks is that for the first time in weeks, the defense showed up and played their tails off. There were still mental mistakes that cost them, but they played with their pants on fire. Robert Quinn has endless bend, and Akiem Hicks came up big on multiple occasions.

But their offensive line is terrible, and Justin Fields made too many rookie mistakes, taking some awful sacks and not taking care of the ball as a runner.

27) New York Giants

If one thing was evident from this game, it was that Kenny Golladay doesn’t seem to be having fun playing football — even with the large paycheck awaiting him after the game. Maybe money can’t buy happiness after all.

With Mike Glennon starting at QB, no Kadarius Toney, and a lackluster offensive line, this was the most probable outcome. After all, New York was facing a Dallas defense that’s played incredibly well in the 2021 NFL season under Dan Quinn.

The worst part of the Giants isn’t that they’re bad. It’s that they’re bad, and they’re uninteresting in the most populated city in America. And that wouldn’t be any different even if Daniel Jones was playing.

26) Carolina Panthers

I’m still confused about what happened in Carolina with former offensive coordinator Joe Brady. The reported problem was that he didn’t run the football enough. Well, now their franchise runner is hurt again, and an almost unwatchable Cam Newton threw it 38 times against the Bills. What looked like a team that might be building in the right direction under Matt Rhule now looks lifeless. They continue to tumble in the NFL Power Rankings as we head toward Week 16.

Even if Sam Darnold returns before the end of the season, nothing will really change. They’ve wasted a defense that ranks in the top 10 in EPA/play and success rate. Jeremy Chinn and Brian Burns are cornerstones, and Jaycee Horn will return in 2022. But the Panthers must find a way to improve an offensive line that was inept before the season started and has only become worse as the year has progressed.

25) Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons performed to expectation against the 49ers. They seem to either win close games or get blown out. Atlanta possesses — by far — the largest point differential of any six-win team in the league. Grady Jarrett and A.J. Terrell are outstanding defenders, but the rest of the unit struggles to defend the pass.

Losing Calvin Ridley was a big blow to the team, but they’ve found some fun in Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back, and Kyle Pitts has flashed as a rookie tight end. But Arthur Smith hasn’t found the offensive success in Atlanta that he did as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator.

NFL Power Rankings Week 16 | Tier 5: Time to rebuild

The teams in this category are bad and have veteran QBs, making the situation even worse. Each team needs a reset, and it will be interesting to see where Russell Wilson ends up if the Seahawks do trade him.

24) Seattle Seahawks

Losing Tyler Lockett is a massive blow to Wilson, whose relationship with the receiver may only be rivaled with the QB-WR relationship in Green Bay. DK Metcalf wasn’t enough to make up the difference against the Rams, and the offensive line struggled up front. For some reason, Wilson also continuously tried throwing in Jalen Ramsey’s direction.

23) Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas almost lost to a completely depleted Browns roster early Monday evening. Their offense just doesn’t have the juice it had before losing their head coach and most explosive receiver. The loss of Darren Waller has been felt as well. On the other side of the field, for as productive as edge rusher Maxx Crosby has been, there is only so much one player can do to keep this defense afloat.

NFL Power Rankings Week 16 | Tier 4: Can still somehow make the playoffs

The teams in this category don’t really deserve a spot in the playoffs, but with seven teams now making the postseason, more mediocrity has the ability to sneak in. When we combine that with the wacky happenings in the 2021 NFL season, their playoff contention makes slightly more sense — even if it feels wrong.

22) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have no business being over .500, and Mike Tomlin deserves an award named in his honor for “doing more with less” over the past two seasons. There’s a chance that this team will end the year with a winning record despite an incompetent offensive line and bottom-five QB play.

To put their mediocrity in perspective, Pittsburgh ranks 24th in defensive EPA/play and 23rd in offensive EPA/play. Football Outsider’s DVOA ranks them as the 24th-most efficient team in the league.

The Chiefs will most likely dismantle the Steelers next week, but Pittsburgh ends the year against two injury-depleted AFC North teams. They may finish 8-8-1, but even that should be seen as a win given their lack of offensive firepower.

21) Washington Football Team

The Football Team was ravaged by positive COVID tests in the past two weeks. They needed a few more days to simply field a functioning team.

Washington must at least split the season series with the Eagles if they want a chance to make the playoffs. Their COVID-depleted roster was unable to secure a win against the Eagles in their first matchup, but Philadelphia didn’t go out and dominate the game from start to finish.

20) Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia should have dominated their game against Washington. Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ passing attack averaged nearly 12 yards per attempt against a depleted Washington secondary. It was a poor red-zone effort that kept this game as close as it was throughout.

NFL Power Rankings Week 16 | Tier 3: Playoff-caliber ugly

While many teams in this category are playoff hopefuls, each club has a fatal flaw that precludes them from being serious contenders in the postseason.

19) Minnesota Vikings

Once again, things were ugly at times for the Vikings. The only real difference in this game, besides Justin Jefferson, was the Bears’ inability to control themselves. This could have been a tightly contested game if not for multiple personal foul penalties by Chicago. They certainly didn’t do enough to rise in the NFL Power Rankings.

18) New Orleans Saints

Dennis Allen and the Saints defense have Tom Brady’s number. Sometimes, some teams just have something over the other. That appears to be the Saints against the Brady-led Buccaneers. On Sunday Night Football, they beat arguably the most complete roster in the NFL and completed the shutout in the process.

The Saints still have no offense. Taysom Hill isn’t going to carry them to a playoff run. If they sneak in, they might win a Wild Card game, but they can’t score enough to consistently compete. Nevertheless, they can beat the brakes off the Bucs. Football is a beautiful mystery.

17) Tennessee Titans

Somehow, a football game between two unbearably bad football teams (HOU vs. JAX) was more entertaining than a game between two potential playoff clubs. Tennessee’s offense simply cannot function without A.J. Brown or Derrick Henry.

Ryan Tannehill has real flaws in his game that were covered up by a great rushing and play-action attack. Brown is outstanding over the middle, and Henry takes a physical toll on a defense unlike anybody else in the league. This isn’t meant to degrade Tannehill — he’s a fine QB. He’s just not the kind of signal-caller that can elevate subpar talent around him.

The Titans are so injured that the rest of the regular season doesn’t even matter. They just need to bleed and crawl to the playoffs and hope that Henry can heal enough for him to be a factor on Wild Card weekend. Tennessee is a team built to compete in January if their offensive playmakers can get healthy.

16) Denver Broncos

The Broncos’ defense gave their offense more than enough opportunities to win this football game. This Denver offense feels like an analytical anomaly. They rank highly in advanced efficiency metrics, but nothing about them makes me feel like they’re anything but mediocre. They rank 16th in points per drive, and that makes a ton of sense. But we’ve also seen them succeed against some good defenses.

When I look at this team, I’d think the defense is the strength, but it ranks in the 20s analytically. Except that also feels like a lie because they rank third in points allowed per drive. So, the Broncos lie to us in a bunch of different ways. The truth is, they feel like the type of team that battles for a playoff spot but eventually falls short because of lackluster quarterback play.

Still, some things are more important than wins and losses. Hopefully, Teddy Bridgewater is okay after taking an incredibly scary hit during the game.

15) Cleveland Browns

Cleveland was forced to play against the Raiders despite losing their top two quarterbacks and a plethora of other contributors because of COVID-19 protocol. There is truly nothing to learn from this loss because this team was barely recognizable, particularly on offense. However, they were able to keep the game close, which might be more of an indictment on Las Vegas than anything.

14) Baltimore Ravens

Tyler Huntley showed a lot of guts in his start against the Packers. He was efficient enough to keep the Ravens in the game, and unlike many young backup quarterbacks, he never made a critical mistake.

Part of the difference in this game was the Ravens’ inability to score touchdowns when they got inside the 20-yard-line. However, their most prominent issue was their inability to cover Green Bay’s receivers. They’re too injured to truly compete, even against a Packers team that’s seen its share of injuries to key players.

The Ravens very much embody the city in which they reside. They’re blue-collar. They battle even when they’re dealt a bad hand. Sunday was more proof that John Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the NFL.

13) Miami Dolphins

I won’t lie — Tua Tagovailoa looked mentally lost at times today. Some of his decisions and throws were hilariously bad. I’ll freely admit that the Dolphins’ offensive line is a pathetic excuse for a pass-protecting unit, but at some point, Miami fans will have to find some culpability with Tua.

He’s going to be fine if the Dolphins address the offensive line in the offseason as they go into Year 2 with Jaylen Waddle. This isn’t meant to demean the young quarterback. I liked him coming out of Alabama, and I still believe in him moving forward. But on this occasion, he’s one of the only reasons the Jets kept the game close.

Tagovailoa also made a great throw downfield to DeVante Parker and threw him the eventual game-winner. It’s certainly not all bad, and his struggles are not all his fault. Next week will be a big test against a great Saints defense. If Waddle returns from the COVID-19 protocol, I expect Tua to have a much cleaner game. Their rise in the NFL Power Rankings continues after a hard-fought win against a divisional opponent.

12) Cincinnati Bengals

Winning NFL games isn’t something to take lightly. When a team doesn’t have their “A” game, are they still able to emerge with a victory? Despite not having their best on offense, the Bengals fought their way to a 15-10 victory over a Broncos team that had just as much to play for.

The win keeps Cincinnati sitting as the fourth seed in the AFC playoff race. The Broncos were a difficult matchup for the Bengals. Denver’s strength on defense directly defends Cincinnati’s biggest strength, which is their wide receivers. Aside from a massive Tyler Boyd touchdown, the Broncos did an outstanding job of limiting the Bengals’ passing attack.

11) San Francisco 49ers

When the 49ers play at peak efficiency on offense, there aren’t many more well-oiled machines out there. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel are two of the best at their respective positions, and Brandon Aiyuk should officially be out of Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse for the foreseeable future.

As always, it doesn’t seem to matter who is taking the handoffs or pitches. Trent Williams might be the best player in the NFL, and the rest of San Francisco’s offensive line has played well. Laken Tomlinson and Alex Mack have flourished in Shanahan’s scheme.

On defense, they rely on Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead as pass rushers. Additionally, the 49ers boast one of the best coverage units in the league up the middle. Fred Warner is possibly the best coverage linebacker in the NFL, and the safety tandem of Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt play incredibly well off one another.

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.

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