Just when we believed things couldn’t get any sillier, Week 18 of the NFL season punched us in the chest and hit the Power Rankings over the head with a steel chair as we approach the playoffs. Teams in must-win situations decided to take a week off, spiraling this season further into the depths of pure madness. The football gods gave us a memorable, hair-pulling year where nothing made sense and everything was dramatic — even when it didn’t need to be.
NFL Power Rankings Playoffs | Tier 5: The NFL Draft is the Super Bowl
A lot of these teams need help rushing the passer and defending the pass. It’s a good thing the 2022 NFL Draft looks filled with difference-making players at both spots!
32) New York Jets
The Jets finished the season by producing one of the most hilariously bad offensive outputs of all time. They managed just 4 total first downs on the night and were a similarly laugh-inducing 1-of-14 on third down. Seriously, the team had just 53 net yards for the entire contest.
I’m not calling any rookie quarterback a bust after one season. However, we’ll need to see some development quickly from rookie QB Zach Wilson, or the NFL and New York media will eat him alive.
31) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars beat a good football team today rather handily. They didn’t just defeat the Colts – they thoroughly demoralized them. Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars’ passing attack has looked inept for the entire season. But today, that changed in a massive way.
Lawrence ended his rookie year on a high note. He desperately needed a win on the scoreboard heading into Year 2. There is a long road ahead for this Jacksonville franchise, but it was important to see Lawrence end the season on a good performance.
30) Detroit Lions
The Lions were winning at halftime with Aaron Rodgers still playing football. Sure, the game didn’t mean a whole lot for Green Bay, but you never want to lose to an inferior divisional opponent, even when home-field advantage is locked up. Jared Goff and Detroit’s offense outpaced the Rodgers-led Packers in the first half.
The Lions are building something that’s not quantifiable right now. What is real was their 2021 NFL Draft. Ifeatu Melifonwu hasn’t consistently been in the lineup, but he’s flashed. Both rookie defensive linemen have played well, and Penei Sewell is already one of the best right tackles in the NFL. Amon-Ra St. Brown was always going to be a steal where Detroit got him, but they got him.
29) Houston Texans
Houston has been a fun team to watch from time to time in 2021. Honestly, it’s a miracle they matched their 2020 win total without their franchise quarterback. Now, we wait for the fallout of Deshaun Watson’s legal case. Then, we’ll find out where he’ll be off to next, depending on the outcome.
David Culley and the Texans can thank the Jaguars for two wins, but they also beat the top-seeded Titans earlier this year and the Chargers just two weeks ago. Houston’s roster is still a complete wreck that will take time to rebuild. Culley most likely won’t be around to see the finished product, but if they found even a little something in Davis Mills, the Texans should see this season as a step in the right direction.
28) New York Giants
Was there a more embarrassing team in the final half of the NFL season? The only time the Giants scored 20 points after their Week 10 bye was against the Chargers, a game New York lost by 16 points. In those eight contests, the G-Men scored more than 10 points just twice. They were without Daniel Jones, and with his absence came an absence of hope.
If the reports are true, and John Mara truly believes Joe Judge is his version of the great Bills (Belichick and Parcells), then they better start turning this franchise around. No team has a worse record over the past five seasons than the Giants. That’s sustained ineptitude.
27) Carolina Panthers
If Matt Rhule survives this ordeal to see a third season in Carolina, it’ll be because he’s built a reputation as a three-year program builder and not for what he’s done as an NFL head coach. The entire 2021 season was grossly mismanaged.
Opting to trade for Sam Darnold was the first mistake. Then, he fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady in the middle of the season. In Week 18, with Cam Newton on the sideline and 1 yard to gain, Rhule allowed Darnold to run the QB sneak instead of the 260-pound freak of nature.
If things go poorly in Carolina next season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Rhule be the first NFL head coach fired in 2022.
26) Chicago Bears
The Bears need a new direction. Fans will almost undoubtedly get their wish on Monday after they announce the firing of Matt Nagy. Fortunately for the team, there will be some cap space to work with, which they should use to bolster the offensive line and grab a complimentary weapon for Darnell Mooney. Chicago must do whatever it takes to make Justin Fields comfortable.
Robert Quinn continues to play good football late in his career. Roquan Smith is a stud at linebacker, and Jaylon Johnson took some necessary developmental steps in 2021. Depending on what happens with Aaron Rodgers in the offseason, the Bears could be much closer to playoff contention than it seems.
25) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are in an incredibly tough spot. They’re in desperate need of a rebuild, yet Matt Ryan will count $40 million against the cap in 2022. Despite winning seven games in 2021, they possessed one of the worst point differentials in the league. That means when they were losing, they were doing it dramatically. When they won, it wasn’t by much.
Kyle Pitts will quietly become a superstar on a bad team if Atlanta can’t quickly rebuild this roster. The issue is they don’t really have the money for a quick, veteran-led turnaround. The Falcons must draft well and come up with a game plan to be more consistent on both sides of the ball in 2022.
NFL Power Rankings Playoffs | Tier 4: Bad now, but fixable
I’m not sure what’s in store for the future of the teams in Tier 4, but they aren’t lying on their proverbial death beds. With a few tweaks, these nine teams could be playoff contenders in 2022.
24) Seattle Seahawks
The Rashaad Penny comeback tour has been wild to watch over the past six weeks or so. He had yet another game of more than 150 yards on the ground, and he broke off a 62-yard touchdown that effectively ended the contest against Arizona.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Russell Wilson. Can a new coaching staff entice him to stay past this season, or is he off to a bigger city with Ciara and the rest of his family? The offense certainly played better once Tyler Lockett returned and Wilson finally started looking healthy again.
23) Washington Football Team
It’s pretty easy to see that Washington is held back by mediocre quarterback play. Not having Logan Thomas is a tough loss, and they could really use a legitimate complement to Terry McLaurin. Nevertheless, this roster isn’t filled with holes. Heck, just about 18 weeks ago, many thought this team could win the division with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm.
Luckily for them, they could have their pick of the litter when it comes to the 2022 NFL Draft’s QB prospects. However, with nearly $60 million in cap space heading into 2022, Washington could alternatively make a push for a veteran looking for a new situation. But until they get the position fixed, they’ll play second or third fiddle to the Cowboys and Eagles in the NFC East.
22) Minnesota Vikings
As with most Minnesota games, it was ugly for a while, but the Vikings weren’t going to let Mike Zimmer out of the stadium on a loss to a bad Chicago Bears team. Zimmer deserved a better sendoff, and he got one in the form of a 31-17 win against Chicago.
Minnesota only ran 44 offensive plays, but they averaged 7 net yards per play. Kirk Cousins had an efficient day averaging 11.4 yards per attempt. The defense let the Bears move the ball a bit, but the Vikings were strong on third and fourth down. They also shut Chicago down in the red zone.
21) Cleveland Browns
It was a disappointing year for a talented Cleveland roster. In no world is 8-9 acceptable, but when your quarterback plays most of the season almost completely broken, it’s difficult to expect too much.
Next season is for all the marbles. Baker Mayfield tried to play the warrior in 2021, but he must be their knight in shining armor in 2022. Otherwise, he’ll be updating his Linkedin after the season. The roster is not without holes, but they shouldn’t struggle as much as they do offensively with that front five, a top pick at QB, and two very good backs.
Defensively, they have an abundance of talent that needs to play more consistent football next season. Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome must also remain healthy.
20) Denver Broncos
Vic Fangio and the Broncos gave it their best shot, but their inability to find a signal-caller good enough to consistently win them games backfired. Fangio should find his feet as a defensive coordinator for a team looking to pair an experienced DC with a young head coach. But the reality is Fangio’s defensive services could be used almost anywhere.
Denver’s roster is incredibly close. They have four great receivers locked in for years to come, and they have a talented secondary with some outstanding youngsters as well. If they can make a trade for a veteran QB, the Broncos could conceivably compete in a talented AFC West next year.
19) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens failed us all in Week 18. Nobody needed the corpse of Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense crawling into the playoffs like a scene from The Walking Dead. Baltimore could have ended our horror, but they were unable to drive down the field in overtime.
The Ravens just need to get healthy. They need to head into 2022 with that on their mind. Baltimore missed so many important pieces down the stretch that it’s a relative miracle they won as many games as they did. They’ll be fine in 2022 for as long as they don’t lose Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Marlon Humphrey, and Marcus Peters.
18) New Orleans Saints
The Saints made a valiant effort in 2021. They lost their new quarterback just eight games into the year, and their offense never found any sort of groove after that point. But it didn’t matter because New Orleans’ defense played so well throughout the year.
In a week where so many teams fell short when they needed a win, the Saints went out and dominated a divisional opponent, even after losing Taysom Hill to a Lisfranc injury in the first half. I’m not sure what the future holds for New Orleans. They pushed money around for a very long time trying to win a Super Bowl for Drew Brees.
Let’s hope they can keep this defense together in 2022. With Jameis Winston under center, this is a legitimate playoff team.
17) Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins took control of their game against the Patriots almost immediately. They came out and scored against a good New England defense, then took a Mac Jones interception back for 6 points to go up by 14. They spent the rest of the game defending that lead.
Tua Tagovailoa threw for barely over 100 yards, but the Dolphins didn’t need more than that. They ran the ball down New England’s throat, putting up just shy of 200 yards on the ground at 4.5 yards per touch.
There could be some turnover on this roster heading into 2022. They need to revamp their offensive line, but this team isn’t very far away from seriously contending in the AFC East.
16) Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers had one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Raiders defense has struggled mightily since their hot start to the season. But none of that mattered on Sunday night. LA couldn’t find any sort of groove offensively until the end of regulation.
Drops and penalties were also a factor against Las Vegas. It felt like the Chargers dropped more passes on the final drive alone than some teams have all season. But Justin Herbert wrote the first chapter of his biography tonight. Unfortunately, when it looked like the Raiders might be playing for the tie, Herbert’s head coach called a timeout for some reason. Then, the Raiders decided to send them home, even if it meant risking a missed kick returned for a TD.
15) Indianapolis Colts
What in the hell was that? Not only did the Colts fold under the pressure of a win-and-in situation, they got walked by a team with as inept a passing attack as I’ve ever seen. Trevor Lawrence threw just 2 touchdowns over the past nine weeks. And he just blasted this Colts defense.
Then there’s Frank Reich’s job, which he decided to tie to Carson Wentz. It was always going to be tough getting Wentz to revert back to what he was in 2017, mostly because he played at an unsustainable level that year. He’s a touchdown-to-turnover player. Indianapolis hid it for most of the season, but when it mattered most, Wentz curled up into a ball and hurled interceptions to the league’s 31st-most efficient defense in terms of expected points added per play.
There’s a “reap what you sow” meme out there exactly for this moment.
NFL Power Rankings Playoffs | Tier 3: Playoff-caliber ugly
The teams in Tier 3 will probably go one-and-done in the playoffs, but they snuck into the dance.
14) Pittsburgh Steelers
Congratulations are in order for the Steelers. I know that what Mike Vrabel and the Titans were able to do was outstanding, given the injuries they faced. But Mike Tomlin took a team with next to nothing to be excited about to the playoffs. Pittsburgh will finish in the 20s in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. They’re not a good football team.
But they’re 9-7-1 and barring a dirty, dirty tie in the Sunday Night Football game, they will be a playoff competitor. Tomlin should be the Coach of the Year. Now, the Steelers must figure out how they’re going to steal a game away from the Chiefs, a task much more difficult than beating the endlessly injured Ravens. But what a way that would be for Big Ben to go out!
13) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles were without a ton of their firepower in Week 18 against Dallas, but they probably weren’t too upset with the loss. Jalen Hurts did not play, stayed healthy, and the Eagles remain the seventh seed in the NFC. That’s actually probably a good thing because they’ll likely face the LA Rams instead of the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As a dominant rushing team, the Eagles would rather face Los Angeles in the playoffs because the Rams aren’t quite as effective against the run as Tampa Bay..
12) Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders played in what was a top-five game of all time for me personally. In what looked like a sure win for the Raiders, the Chargers came back down 15 with just over four minutes left in the game. It came down to the final seconds of regulation when Justin Herbert willed his team to the tie.
Las Vegas got the ball first in overtime but only managed a field goal on their first drive, allowing Herbert the opportunity to win the game for Los Angeles. Maxx Crosby was outstanding all night, as he has been all season.
11) San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers don’t make any sense. Trailing 17-0 against the Los Angeles Rams, they took the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands and placed it in the hands of Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell.
The defense stepped up in a big way. Arden Key has been … the key … to much of their pressure outside of Nick Bosa. Key and Arik Armstead have been outstanding as complements to Bosa.
Meanwhile, San Francisco’s great safety tandem of Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward – plus one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL in Fred Warner – has helped the 49ers make up for starting Josh Norman at cornerback. Rookie Ambry Thomas had the game-clinching INT in overtime against Matthew Stafford and the Rams.