The NFL Power Rankings undergo a bit of a makeover as we head into Week 17 of the 2021 season. A few top-10 teams lost, and the playoff picture is starting to take shape. We saw some outstanding quarterback play this week, and we also saw quite a few teams suffer unsustainable losses to COVID protocols. But the good news is we got to watch some good football.
NFL Power Rankings Week 17 | Tier 6: The NFL Draft is the Super Bowl
The teams in Tier 6 are in desperate need of a rebuild.
32) Jacksonville Jaguars
In a battle between “the bad”, the Jaguars proved to be the best of the worst in Week 16 against the New York Jets. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown a touchdown since Week 12, and that was his only score since Week 8 against Seattle. Yes, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has ONE TD pass in his last SEVEN games!
To call this season a disaster in Jacksonville would be an insult to disasters everywhere. It started with Shad Khan making a poor hire and continued with him sticking by that hire for too long.
The Jags need an entire cultural shift. Getting DJ Chark back next year will be big, but they need so much help to be competitive moving forward.
31) New York Jets
Zach Wilson still has a terribly long road ahead of him before he’s a viable NFL starter. Still, it must feel good to get a win, even though he averaged only 4.6 yards per attempt and threw for just over 100 yards.
The Jets rushing attack had their way with the Jaguars, and that included a 52-yard scamper from Wilson. Michael Carter was always going to be great in New York’s offensive scheme. He’s outstanding at manipulating second-level defenders in wide zone, and his ability to change direction makes him a difficult tackle.
Corey Davis and Elijah Moore are awesome starting points in the offensive weaponry. If the Jets get a few more pieces ironed out and Wilson progresses in the offseason, this offense could hum along nicely in 2022.
30) Detroit Lions
Once again, the Lions scratched, clawed, and bit their way through a football game in which they were thoroughly outmatched on the depth chart. Amon-Ra St. Brown appears to have officially ascended into a WR1 role in Detroit, as well.
It’s amazing to see how this roster has responded to the coaching of Dan Campbell, who was almost universally mocked after his hire.
Jared Goff isn’t good, but if he’s available against the Falcons, the Lions would have probably won their third game of the season. It’s better this way because draft position is imperative.
29) Houston Texans
This team makes no sense. They were down Brandin Cooks and still somehow walked up and down the field against the Chargers defense. Davis Mills has flashed a few times in 2021. His first “wow” game came against the Patriots. He also had a big game against the Rams, and he was efficient once again against the Chargers.
His situation is as ugly as Zach Wilson and Lawrence, but he’s somehow flashed more than either, despite not being as heralded. We haven’t seen so much that the Texans shouldn’t look for the future of the franchise in the draft, but if they don’t love this class, Houston could organically tank 2022 to set themselves up for what appears to be a better QB class in 2023.
But there was a reason Mills was so highly recruited. The physical tools are there. If he can develop despite a lack of talent around him in 2022, the Texans may have gotten lucky.
28) New York Giants
The Giants were once again without Daniel Jones, and they decided to give Jake Fromm the nod over Mike Glennon to see what they had in the young quarterback that started over Justin Fields at Georgia.
It turns out they’re still looking for a backup QB heading into 2022 because Fromm had a rough go of it. He’s simply too physically limited to play in a starting capacity at the NFL level.
Patrick Graham and the defense held out for as long as they could, but Philadelphia’s physicality was the difference.
27) Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are in a really difficult position. Sam Darnold was obviously the better passer against Tampa Bay, but Cam Newton was the only rushing threat on the team. Carolina is a mess, and their direction is … foggy at best.
That’s worrisome because of the young defensive talent they possess. If they can’t fix that offensive line and find a legitimate franchise QB, Matt Rhule will be looking for a soft landing in the college ranks sooner rather than later.
26) Chicago Bears
The Bears dominated time of possession against the Seahawks, keeping the ball away from Russell Wilson and Seattle’s offense. Chicago was 7-of-14 on third down, and they absolutely dominated the fourth quarter, much like sir Nick Foles has done in the past as a backup quarterback.
The Bears never allowed Seattle to sustain drives. Even though Foles took a lot of shots, the team still produced when they needed to. Chicago put together a few outstanding drives late to snatch a win from an utterly disappointing 2021 Seattle team. For their efforts, the Bears move up a few spots in the NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 17.
25) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons struggled to run the ball against Detroit and were only able to convert two third downs. In fact, this team was outplayed by the Lions. The difference came in the red zone, where the Falcons went 2-for-2 compared to the 0-for-4 effort of the Lions.
Atlanta is in a rough spot. Their 7-8 record is not indicative of where this team is as a franchise. They’ve been outscored by 122 points this season, which is only outdone by Detroit in the NFC.
24) Seattle Seahawks
On a per-play basis, the Seahawks were the better team on Sunday. However, a pedestrian effort on third down didn’t allow for any wiggle room, and they allowed Chicago to crawl back in and take the advantage late.
Even with Tyler Lockett’s return, Russell Wilson hasn’t been his old self. It can’t be easy playing on a struggling team for the first time in his NFL career, but I didn’t expect him to look so unlike himself after returning from injury.
This roster has a long way to go, and getting as much value for Wilson as they can is important. However, he’s not in a position to command a king’s ransom after the product on the field this season.
23) Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh’s offensive woes were magnified when they were forced to try and keep up with an opponent that could actually score points. They don’t do well in the run game. Their quarterback tumbled down the hill long ago and is now resting in the valley of imminent retirement, and their defense isn’t up to snuff in 2021.
In addition, the Steelers’ point differential is worse than the Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins, and Broncos. That’s accomplished despite having a positive turnover differential and having the fourth-best penalty yard differential in the league. What Mike Tomlin did with this roster is impressive because it should never have looked this good in 2021.
NFL Power Rankings Week 17 | Tier 5: Bad now but fixable
The Raiders aren’t that far away from being a playoff team. Some key changes to the coaching staff and a revitalization of the offensive line could make them a Wild Card contender in 2022.
22) Washington Football Team
The Football team was embarrassed by Dallas on national television Sunday night, and it was evident that the team had lost all will to fight early on in the contest. It got to the point where teammates came to blows. Daron Payne made the mistake of poking at the temple of captain and potential All-Pro Jonathan Allen. Allen cocked back and threw a haymaker at his former college teammate.
It’s safe to say that things aren’t going well in Washington. However, if they can reconcile their differences, this team is talented enough to compete for the playoffs in 2022 … if they can find a quarterback.
21) Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders find themselves on a winning streak for the first time since October. They beat two teams without their starting quarterbacks to get there, but as the great Dominic Toretto would say, “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning.”
If Las Vegas can bring in a coach to rebuild the culture and a defensive coordinator that can call a game from this century, this team is not that far off. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Derek Carr is plenty good moving forward with an offensive line not made up from spare parts.
If Las Vegas does a few things right, they should be back in Wild Card contention next season.
NFL Power Rankings Week 17 | Tier 4: Can still somehow make the playoffs
The Vikings are incredibly frustrating nearly every Sunday, but they can still punch their ticket to the dance if everything goes right.
20) Minnesota Vikings
The least surprising outcome of the day was Minnesota losing in a one-score game against the Rams. Despite Matthew Stafford playing the role of Santa on Christmas, the Vikings were unable to truly take advantage. They scored 10 points off his 3 turnovers, but they were unable to sustain drives until the end of the game.
The Vikings’ final three drives resulted in 27 plays for 207 yards. Their first nine drives resulted in 39 plays for 147 yards. I’ve read quite a bit about the frustrations of Vikings fans despite the relative success of the Mike Zimmer era. This season has essentially encapsulated everything they’ve felt for years now. This team plays safe and down (or up) to their opponent’s ability, and they run the ball too much in neutral situations.
Minnesota still has only played one game that wasn’t a one-score contest.
19) New Orleans Saints
New Orleans’ defense is phenomenal. They’re talented and complex, which allows them to better match up against the league’s best. Their problem has been on offense, at least since Jameis Winston’s season-ending injury.
With Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill unavailable due to COVID protocols, Ian Book got the nod against Miami on Monday Night Football. It was an even uglier game than normal for the offense. There was no explosion present, and Book looked like a fourth-round rookie QB that was probably overdrafted.
But even with a 7-8 record, there is still a path to the playoffs for the Saints. They only allowed 1 offensive touchdown against the Dolphins. If they can find some semblance of offense, they could sneak in.
NFL Power Rankings Week 17 | Tier 3: Playoff-caliber ugly
The teams in this tier have critical flaws precluding them from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Yet, they could sneak into the dance through the vents.
18) Denver Broncos
No Teddy Bridgewater means no offense for the Broncos. They’ll take a tumble down the NFL Power Rankings as we head into Week 17 because of it. Drew Lock wasn’t dealt a fair hand in his fight to show he’s worth trying to develop, but he also hasn’t shown the upside Denver hoped for when they drafted him.
You can’t go out against the Raiders defense and only score 13 points. Denver must fight tooth and nail to find their answer at quarterback moving forward. They cannot afford to waste the plethora of talent on their wide receiver corps.
17) Cleveland Browns
It pains me to say this as someone who’s supported Baker Mayfield for a long time, but he is broken. Physically, his shoulder is legitimately broken. He’s endlessly banged up even aside from that, but those injuries can only excuse so much. Currently, his eyes and feet are lying to each other. He’s continuously out of sync and trying to make up for it with his arm alone. Baker is either too physically broken to make those throws consistently, or he’s simply not Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Justin Herbert.
The Browns ran all over Green Bay and almost won. They’re in a tricky situation this offseason. Mayfield was a warrior for them this year. But he may have created so many bad mechanical habits that will be difficult to fix in a condensed offseason coming off shoulder surgery. It would shock me to see Cleveland and Mayfield come to terms on a long-term deal, and it appears he’ll play on the fifth-year option in 2022.
16) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are too banged up. The Titans may have played the most-ever players throughout the course of a season, but Baltimore lost everything early on, including their top two running backs and their CB2. They’ve played multiple games without their quarterback and lost Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey for the season, too.
They just lack talent at this point. Baltimore is too injured to compete consistently, and against a talented Bengals team, they couldn’t get stops. Mark Andrews has elevated his status as one of the biggest stars at the tight end position as he’s played with Tyler Huntley and journeyman Josh Johnson.
15) Philadelphia Eagles
It took the Eagles offense a while to assert their dominance, but they did just that in the second half. Admittedly, the Giants are a dumpster fire, but the Eagles still needed to go out and get the job done scoring points – because realistically, New York wasn’t going to.
Philadelphia’s offensive line might be the best in football. They’re dominant running the ball. But today was more about the defense, or maybe more accurately, the ineptitude of the Giants offense without Daniel Jones.
Philly’s real test will be the next two weeks as they try to sweep Washington and make the playoffs off the back of five straight wins if they can beat Dallas in Week 18.
14) Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans had no business beating the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football, but the football gods had other plans. Tennessee – aside from losing what feels like a record number of players this season (including, at times, both of their top receivers and their offensive engine in Derrick Henry) – feels like a team of destiny.
They’ve won a ridiculous amount of ugly games, including against the Rams and Saints post-Henry’s injury. If they get Henry back healthy for the postseason, they could make a legitimate run. Tennessee’s defense has played above expectations this year, and if they can bring back their efficient play-action passing attack, they’ll be a tough out in January.
13) San Francisco 49ers
It finally happened. We got a Jimmy Garoppolo game with all his flaws magnified. He lost a linebacker in coverage and narrowly escaped an interception. Then, he forced a pass to George Kittle into a nonexistent window in the red zone that led to an INT. And to top it all off, we got a layered throw over the middle that he floated way too high leading to another pick.
When people wonder why San Francisco drafted a QB with the third overall pick despite Garoppolo’s success, that’s why. Kyle Shahanan runs a tailor-made passing attack to hide his flaws. Still, despite that, Jimmy G is a bus driver for an offense built on yards after the catch. But he’s a bus driver that occasionally devours shrooms before getting behind the wheel, careening over the guard rail, and falling down the mountain.
The point of a bus driver is safety. Garoppolo’s ability to lose games is why he’s being replaced by Trey Lance in 2022.
12) Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have won seven games in a row, and they need to win nine straight if they realistically want a chance to make the playoffs in the AFC. With Tennessee and New England still on the docket, their win on Monday night against the Saints was imperative.
Jaylen Waddle had a nice game against New Orleans. He once again recorded double-digit catches and was clearly the leading option in Miami’s passing attack. The Dolphins’ defense suffocated the rookie QB on the opposite side, who clearly was not ready for the assignment.
11) Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargering was inevitable, but they have some excuses for this game. They were without Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, and Corey Linsley on offense and missed Joey Bosa and Justin Jones on defense.
But the game was indicative of their season-long defensive issues. They can’t stop the run to save their lives. They let Rex Burkhead put up nearly 150 yards and 2 TDs against them in the year of our lord 2021! Los Angeles came into the game third-worst in expected points added (EPA) per play and worst in success rate against the run, and I can’t imagine they didn’t extend their lead against Houston.
Brandon Staley and the front office need to invest in some premium grass-fed beef in the offseason.
10) Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are broken right now. They’re on a three-game skid where they’ve averaged just 17 points per game. For the first two, the offense looked completely broken without DeAndre Hopkins. They moved the ball against the Colts, but they only made it into the red zone twice, and they went 1-for-3 on fourth-down attempts.
Aside from the 57-yard scamper from Kyler Murray, the Cardinals struggled to run the football effectively. The Colts also did a great job limiting explosive plays in the passing attack. Murray averaged just 3.4 completed air yards per attempt despite having an average depth of target (aDOT) more than double that figure.
It would take a monumental collapse and some terrible luck for Arizona to miss the playoffs in the NFC with 10 wins. But they appear to be limping into the postseason after looking like a complete team through 13 weeks.
9) Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals’ offense needed to show some life against a depleted Ravens defense, and they did not disappoint. Joe Burrow and the passing attack was about as perfect as you could ask. Ja’Marr Chase got back on track and Tee Higgins went berserk.
But more importantly, the Ravens were unable to get home on Burrow, which has been a continuous issue for Cincinnati since they selected him first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Bengals didn’t have their strongest outing on defense, but sometimes game flow can create funky outcomes, like a journeyman QB having a good day against a top-10 unit.