NFL Power Rankings Week 16 | Tier 2: Dangerous playoff teams
The NFL is wide open this season — at least through 15 weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of the teams in Tier 2 make a run in January.
10) Buffalo Bills
I still don’t know what to do with the Buffalo Bills in our NFL Power Rankings. Even without Tre’Davious White, they’re one of the most talented rosters in the league. They have their flaws, but they also have enough juice to mount a late fourth-quarter comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the sheer will of Josh Allen.
But like some other talented football teams in 2021, there’s simply something missing from Buffalo’s makeup that hasn’t allowed them to play consistent football despite playing one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. They need a win at New England next week to retake the division lead and get a home playoff game.
9) Los Angeles Chargers
We can sit on our $75 gaming chairs on Friday morning and scoff at Brandon Staley’s decisions to go for it as much as we want, but it doesn’t change anything. At its very base, a fourth-down model should calculate a team’s win probability if they go for it as compared to kicking. It should also provide historical data for how often teams convert in specific situations.
Staley also wins the admiration from everyone on his football team — aside from maybe kicker Michael Badgley — because of his undying confidence that his team will pick up fourth-down conversions.
After the Chargers’ loss and the Colts’ impressive win, they flipped spots in the AFC Wild Card hunt. Yet, with games against the Texans, Broncos, and Raiders still on the schedule, LA has three pretty winnable games left to improve their conference record and try to sneak back into the fifth seed.
8) Arizona Cardinals
I’m not sure what I did to deserve this, but the football gods have cursed these NFL Power Rankings. It’s reminiscent of the Nilfgaardian throne prior to Emhyr Var Emreis. It’s all just usurpers and pushes for power from smaller factions. There is no powerhouse. They all fall and rise.
The Cardinals’ fall from grace was spectacular. They didn’t only lose to a previously one-win Lions team — they were thoroughly dismantled! Arizona must quickly learn how to survive on offense without DeAndre Hopkins. They struggled on third down, fourth down, and in the red zone against Detroit, who entered the game with the 30th-ranked defense in EPA/play.
But this is more likely an anomaly. The NFL season has been one long DMT trip, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cardinals beat the Colts by 20 just because the football gods are punking us all.
7) Indianapolis Colts
The Colts play an old-school, smashmouth style of football. And teams that can dominate on offense like that are endlessly fun to watch. Frank Reich continues to steal scraps off Carson Wentz’s plate simply so his QB won’t overreact and break the table. That’s an acceptable method when the offensive line dominates, and Jonathan Taylor is on the roster.
Indy’s offense is paired perfectly with a defense that — aside from the Cowboys — takes the ball away better than anybody in the league. It’s all led by their star linebacker Darius Leonard, who has made play after play since he entered the league.
Defense and a rushing attack are crucial for bad-weather playoff atmospheres, and the Colts have both in spades. Their success will ultimately come down to their quarterback.
6) New England Patriots
The Patriots finally showed some warts for what felt like the first time this season. Before their loss to the Colts, they’d won six games in a row. They’re still a dangerous football team with a well-coached defense and good offensive line.
But they do have weaknesses. Mac Jones has had an outstanding rookie campaign, but he is not a QB that can will a team back to victory on the strength of his arm alone. That’s not to say he won’t or can’t get there. But the Patriots simply don’t have the firepower on the outside to sling it around the yard. That’s not how they win games.
They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves next week against the Bills. Just two weeks prior, they threw the ball only 3 times the entire contest to log a win against Buffalo. If they want a chance at the top seed in the AFC, they’ll need to win out because the Chiefs don’t seem keen on giving up much ground with how they’ve played recently.
5) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys thoroughly dominated the Giants, even more so than the score indicated. Dan Quinn’s defense flies around the field, and no unit in the NFL is better at taking the ball away. DeMarcus Lawrence is back healthy and had a huge game, and one of Dallas’ defensive backs seems to step up in each contest.
The passing game still has no verticality. It was windy in the Meadowlands, but this has been a theme of the Cowboys’ offense for quite some time now. However, they inserted Connor Williams back into the lineup at left guard, and despite Tyron Smith missing the game with an ankle injury, Dallas’ rushing attack looked better than it had in weeks.
4) Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ COVID-19 breakout was probably the most confounding because it appeared their entire linebacking corps and all their defensive backs sat in a ventless room together until they all tested positive.
LA’s offense hasn’t looked as dangerous in the second half of the season, but the Seattle game was a reminder that Cooper Kupp is one of the best football players in the world. He’s about as unguardable as they come. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Donald is similarly unblockable, and Jalen Ramsey is still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The Rams have the star power to win, but Matthew Stafford and the offense must play better heading into the postseason.
NFL Power Rankings Week 16 | Tier 1: Super Bowl Contenders
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This tier is filled with the same teams we’ve seen compete for years now. They’ve gone through ups and downs in 2021, and yet here we are.
3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers spent the afternoon at the top of the NFL Power Rankings, but they couldn’t end the night there. The curse of the top spot lives on. For some reason unbeknownst to us, New Orleans owns Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Losing Mike Evans and Chris Godwin hurt the passing attack, but they were already disjointed before the talented WRs had to leave the game. Sometimes, a team just has another’s number. The Saints play defense differently — and largely better — than most NFL teams.
The Bucs will be fine. But they don’t get to spend the week in the top spot, even if they’re still probably the most complete team in the NFL. It’s incredibly hard to win football games. This season has taught us all that.
2) Green Bay Packers
Packers players continue to get injured, and it continues not to matter all that much. If I had an MVP vote after 15 weeks, I’d begrudgingly hand it to Aaron Rodgers. Most of his offensive line is a M.A.S.H. unit, and aside from Davante Adams, there isn’t much to write home about on the outside.
Green Bay can still get healthier as they head into the playoffs. They’ve been one of, if not the most consistent team in football. What makes that even more impressive is their special teams unit is a joke, and their defense falls outside the top-10 in efficiency.
They just keep winning. I just think the Chiefs and Buccaneers are more talented. The end of the Baltimore game showed some of the Packers’ flaws.
1) Kansas City Chiefs
Thursday Night Football games are not normal. No matter the final result, the path is always as tumultuous as it is quirky. The Chiefs’ Thursday night matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers was no different. Both teams scored 4 touchdowns and at least 28 points. Additionally, both clubs missed many opportunities to score more.
Patrick Mahomes had a monster game by the numbers, but he’s still not even playing consistently good football. His fourth-and-1 throw to the left side magnified the mechanical wilderness he’s always played in, but his accuracy issues have been real at times in 2021.
The Kansas City defense played well against the big plays Justin Herbert can generate with his right arm. They allowed yards but made drive-saving and game-winning stops on fourth downs.