Week 13 Power Rankings: Panthers Fall, Broncos Rise

Isaiah J. Downing – USA TODAY Sports

32. Arizona Cardinals (2-9)

After outperforming expectations against the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago, the Cardinals reverted back to form in a humiliating affair against the Los Angeles Chargers. After starting the game up 10-0, Arizona let up a 45-0 unanswered run. Josh Rosen had a great start but the rookie quarterback has not been put in a position to succeed. The Cardinals are scoring 14.1 points per game and allowing 26.6 points per game. It’s shocking that they have even won 2 games. Oh, they played the similarly inept 49ers twice. That explains it.

31. Oakland Raiders (2-9)

Last week, the Raiders edged out the Cardinals, but honestly, the Raiders weren’t really winners. Possessing the #1 draft pick is more valuable than enjoying a marginally less horrible season. Well, Gruden’s squad veered back onto the path of tanking this week in a blowout loss against the Baltimore Ravens. There’s not much good to say about the Raiders, but they do possess a solid secondary, which held Lamar Jackson to a mediocre passing performance. Jackson threw it into tight windows on 24% of his passes and had a -8.9 Completion Percentage Above Expectation. Sure, Oakland lost 34-17, but at least they’re not the worst team in the league. Too bad they’re going to get a higher draft pick than Arizona.

30. San Francisco 49ers (2-9)

The Niners’ season ended the moment Garoppolo went down. San Francisco is certainly looking to the draft at this point. However, their season has still seen numerous players impress immensely. George Kittle, for instance, has been superb. Kittle has been a top 3 tight end this year, along with Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce, despite having the worst QB out of the bunch. Interesting statistic: Kittle averages 10.2 yards after the catch per reception, despite the fact that his Expected YAC/Reception is just 7.2. Kittle’s 3.0 Average YAC Above Expectation leads the league for any player with over 50 receptions. In fact, it’s the highest in the past three years, which is how long the NFL has tracked the stat. The run game for San Francisco has been great as well. Matt Breida rushes for the second most yards per carry in the league (minimum 100 attempts), behind only Aaron Jones. Oh, and he’s facing defenses with 8 men in the box on 21% of his carries. For reference, defenses place 8 men in the box on just 9% of Aaron Jones’ carries.

29. New York Jets (3-8)

The Jets have plenty of flaws. They’re not particularly good at passing or running the football. Their defense is certainly superior to their offensive unit, though, as they’re giving up an average amount of points and yards per game. I don’t believe that there is an issue at quarterback, though, despite the offensive shortcomings. Sam Darnold is throwing it into tight windows on 18% of his throws. For reference, Patrick Mahomes’ and Aaron Rodgers’ combined percentages for throws into tight windows is just 23%. Back in 2016, Jared Goff threw into tight coverage on a whopping 25.9% of his passes. This was during his rookie season and at the same age as Darnold currently (21).

28. Buffalo Bills (4-7)

The Bills’ offense is bad. Really bad. They are scoring 14.6 points per game. That’s 0-16 Cleveland Browns levels of incompetence. The defense, on the other hand, has actually been quite solid. Against the Jaguars, they completely shutdown Blake Bortles in a 24-21 win, although that’s becoming less of an accomplishment at this point. The Bills have 2 games against the Dolphins left, along with games against the Jets and Lions. They’re not gonna end the season with 4 wins, despite scoring less than 15 points per game.

27. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

Man, what happened? Well honestly, it was probably more surprising that the Bengals were 4-1 despite having a historically poor defense than it is that they’re 5-6 and aren’t going to make the playoffs. This time, they decided to be humiliated by the Cleveland Browns. Apparently a 51-14 loss to the Saints and a 45-10 defeat versus the Chiefs was not enough. Fortunately for Bengals fans, their team overachieved just enough for Marvin Lewis to keep his job. Maybe I’m wrong and they’ll hire Hue Jackson. In any case, giving up 31.5 points per game isn’t a surefire way to win games. The last team to give up more was the 2008 Detroit Lions with 32.3 points allowed per game. Their record? You guessed it. 0-16.

26. New York Giants (3-8)

It looked like we were going to be laughing at the Eagles, but then the Giants decided to steal the spotlight. Regardless of the offensive line struggles, Eli Manning is 37 years old, not very good, and he is not getting any younger. The Giants need to look to the future and not waste the talent of Saquon Barkley, who is an absolute stud. Rushing behind a mediocre offensive line, Saquon Barkley has 4.8 yards per carry despite facing 8 men in the box on 18% of his rushes. Many questioned the decision to pick him #2 overall in the draft, but he has lived up to it. Now the Giants are looking at another season where they pick high in the first round.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)

It’s depressing how quickly the Jaguars rose and subsequently fell. Blake Bortles is simply a bad quarterback. He’s being rightfully benched after another awful performance. Cody Kessler probably won’t produce success either, but it feels like the Jags have embraced the tank at this point. Last season, the Jaguars’ were led by their defense allowing 16.8 points per game and ranking 2nd in sacks. This season, the Jaguars are allowing 22.1 points per game and rank 27th in sacks. They still have an above average defense, but the offense just hasn’t been able to get going. Against a good defense in the Bills, Leonard Fournette got hot and of course, he was promptly ejected for throwing punches in a brawl. It’s that Jacksonville luck.

24. Detroit Lions (4-7)

The Lions have lost 4 of their last 5 games. Their 7 losses this season include defeats to the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, and San Francisco 49ers. This team has plenty of issues. They’re 24th in points allowed per game and 21st in points scored per game. The Lions’ defense has forced just 4 interceptions all season. Matthew Stafford has underachieved this year and the Lions are only the 16th ranked team in passing yards per game. LeGarrette Blount particularly has been awful. He’s averaging 2.8 yards per carry. That’s not a typo. Kerryon Johnson really should be getting more touches. Earlier in the season in a 20-19 win over the Panthers, Johnson rushed 15 times for 87 yards (5.8 YPC) and a touchdown. In that same game, LeGarrette Blount had 7 carries for 1 yard.

23. Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

The Falcons should not be this bad. Sure, their defense has been decimated by injuries, but that is no excuse for the inconsistencies of this offense. Just two years ago, Atlanta boasted one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. They have similar talent this year but lack the coaching. Down by 21 points with 9 minutes to go, the Falcons got the ball at approximately the 40 yard line. Let’s paint the picture. Atlanta was down by 21 in this must-win game with 9:27 left in the 4th quarter. The Falcons received a punt at the opposing 35 yard line. In 5 minutes and 17 seconds, they advanced just 35 yards before Calvin Ridley fumbled the football. Where is the urgency? It feels like the Super Bowl window for this team has been closed by inept coaching. Dan Quinn is just Doug Pederson without a ring.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)

Jameis Winston has played his first game of the season without an interception thrown, in a 27-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Then again, the 49ers defense only has two interceptions all year. It would be more of an accomplishment to throw an interception. Kudos to Nick Mullens. The Buccaneers defense had only one interception prior to Week 12. He managed to boost that number to three. A team finally made this mediocre Buccaneers defense look good. They’re giving up 30.7 PPG now, second most in the league.

21. Miami Dolphins (5-6)

Remember when the Dolphins started the season 3-0 and then reverted back to regular form with a 38-7 blowout loss to the New England Patriots? They’ve been stuck in that form ever since, save for a win over the Chicago Bears. In any case, it’s been 5 weeks since that game and they’ve lost 4 of their last 5, with their only win coming against the lowly New York Jets. It took Sam Darnold throwing 4 interceptions, but Miami won that game 13-6. This week, they certainly had a great chance at winning the game but fell up short in a 27-24 loss to the Indianpolis Colts. The Dolphins’ passing game ranks 27th in the league. Against Indianapolis, Leonte Carroo led the team in receiving yards. He had one catch.

20. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)

What’s up with the NFC Champions dropping off every year? The Panthers went 15-1 and were eliminated from playoff contention in the regular season after a loss to the Falcons. The Falcons took the torch and boasted one of the greatest offenses in NFL history and the next season they were a wild card team that was eliminated in the divisional round by the Eagles. They also took the torch and had one great season before severely dropping off the following year. At least their great season included a championship. Philly’s defense is decimated by injury. They have Cre’Von LeBlanc starting at cornerback. Don’t act like you know who that is. There’s no excuse for their offensive ineptitude, however. Carson Wentz has not looked like the quarterback that was the favorite to win MVP last season before injury. One may wonder if this offensive drop-off can be attributed to the loss of several important assistant coaches in the offseason, such as Frank Reich and John DeFilippo.

19. Washington Redskins (6-5)

It was sad to see the Redskins take on the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Colt McCoy was just awful. Alex Smith wasn’t having an elite season at quarterback, but he’s certainly a significant improvement over Colt. This is a quite good Redskins defense and a balanced team overall which looked destined for the NFC East title until the curse of Joe Theismann struck Washington. Hopefully they can bounce back to contention within the next 33 years. It might be difficult for that to happen very soon because the Redskins lack a quarterback for the future.

18. Cleveland Browns (4-6-1)

Baker Mayfield looks like the franchise QB that the Browns have seeked for so long. Nick Chubb also looks like a stud. , putting up 5.4 yards per carry despite facing 8 defenders in the box on 33% of his carries, the 3rd highest percentage for any running back with at least 100 carries. Carlos Hyde and Alex Collins are putting up 3.4 and 3.6 yards per carry respectively. The Browns have the 18th highest scoring offense and the 22nd best scoring defense. These numbers are mediocre, but they’re a massive improvement for a team that went 0-16 last season.

17. Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)

We might eventually see Mike McCarthy depart Green Bay, but until then, Aaron Rodgers will continue to hide his horrible completion percentage with his shiny 20-1 TD-INT ratio. Out of all the QBs with at least 2,000 passing yards (Matt Ryan leads the league with 3,683), Rodgers has the third worst completion percentage, behind only Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles. Well Aaron Rodgers is throwing tough pass- nah. He’s throwing into tight windows on just 13.3% of his passes. Derek Carr and Patrick Mahomes are the only starting QBs with lower percentages. It’s not like Green Bay is leading the league in drops either. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones is a stud. He’s the running back of the future for the Packers.The defense has improved to the middle of the pack this year. This team simply shouldn’t only have 4 wins.

16. Carolina Panthers (6-5)

Three weeks ago, many discussed how those two Saints vs. Panthers games to end the season would decide the NFC South. At this point, Carolina will just be looking to spoil the Saints’ chances at the #1 seed. Despite McCaffrey playing out of his mind against Seattle, Carolina blew the game and gave up a game-winning field goal. Christian McCaffrey had 17 carries for 125 yards (7.4 YPC) and a touchdown. He also led the team in receiving as he added on 11 receptions for 112 yards and another touchdown. Is he going to start throwing touchdowns? What can’t he do? Well, I guess he can’t carry the Panthers with the way they’ve been playing.

15. Tennessee Titans (5-6)

The Titans followed up that big win over the Patriots by getting humiliated in Indianapolis. Mariota played just one half, but they were getting demolished anyway. With Marcus Mariota back from injury, the Titans traveled to Houston last night just to suffer another lopsided defeat (although Mariota was 22/23 passing for 303 yards and a 147.7 passer rating). The Titans still have playoff aspirations, especially because they don’t have a terribly difficult upcoming slate of games. If they can’t step up in the next four against the Jets, Jaguars, Giants and Redskins, they don’t deserve to play in the postseason anyway. And they’ll definitely need to step up, because they’re scoring less than 18 points per game. A great defense can only carry an offense so far in today’s league.

14. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

Baltimore just dominated Oakland in every facet of the game. Well, expect through the air. Even though Oakland has a solid secondary, it should be worrying that Lamar Jackson has looked very mediocre as a passer. Fortunately for Baltimore, he’s still winning games due to his ability to scramble out of the pocket. He hasn’t been the best offensive rookie on the team, though. Gus Edwards has notched consecutive 100 yard rushing games. Over this stretch, he has 5.8 yards per carry. It’s only his third game of the season with 10 carries. Defenses are placing 8 men in the box on approximately 17% of Edwards’ carries. He doesn’t enjoy the ease of playing in a balanced offense that Todd Gurley does, who faces 8 men in the box on just 8% of his rushes.

13. Denver Broncos (5-6)

Over the last 6 games, the Denver Broncos are 3-3. They lost those 3 games by a combined 12 points against the Rams, Chiefs and Texans — combined record of 16-6. They’re coming off of a huge win against the Steelers, a game in which the Steelers had 527 total yards to Denver’s 308. However, 4 turnovers were costly and ultimately made the difference. Don’t let the score fool you, Denver’s defense has still been statistically unimpressive. Phillip Lindsay, meanwhile, has been great. He’s rushing for 5.8 yards per carry (3rd in the league) on 135 attempts for 6 touchdowns. Lindsay is on pace for the most rushing yards in a season by a rookie undrafted free agent.

12. Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Dallas took care of business on Thanksgiving against the Redskins with a 31-23 win. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are rolling on a 3 game win streak. Dak Prescott has recently been playing at an improved level, but the real catalyst of the offense has been star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Ezekiel Elliott is leading the league in rushing yards despite facing defenses with at least 8 men in the box on a whopping 27% of his carries. Todd Gurley is close behind with 31 less rushing yards than Elliott while facing defenses with 8+ men in the box on just 9% of his rushes. Dallas’ defense has played well this year, allowing just under 20 points per game, but slowing down the historic Saints offense this Thursday will be a monumental task for the Cowboys. They’re still in position to win the NFC East regardless of the result of that game, though.

11. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

After starting the season 1-5, the Colts are now on a 5 game winning streak. They don’t have a difficult remaining schedule, with their games against the Jaguars, Texans, Cowboys, Giants and Titans. Barring a collapse, Indianapolis should take one of the two AFC Wild Card Spots (they currently sit at 2nd in their division, 2 games behind the Houston Texans). Andrew Luck has been playing at a very high level all season and will likely win the Comeback Player of the Year award.Luck has thrown the second most touchdowns in the league at 32, behind only Patrick Mahomes (37). The Colts’ offensive line has allowed the least sacks in the league (11, tied with Saints), a unit bolstered by the addition of star rookie Quentin Nelson, who was drafted in the first round. In the second round, the Colts picked Darius Leonard, who is having an exceptional rookie season and is a top candidate to be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

10. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)

Seattle fell behind early, but they bounced back to win over the Panthers despite a monstrous performance by Christian McCaffrey. Russell Wilson put together a great performance and Bobby Wagner continued to be one of the best defensive players in the league. Seattle is 6-3 since starting 0-2, and although they have no chance at winning the NFC West because of the Los Angeles Rams’ 10-1 record, their upcoming schedule gives them a very fair shot at an NFC Wild Card spot, especially now that they have the tiebreaker over the Carolina Panthers. A game against the Cardinals and two games against the 49ers are very winnable, and the game against Minnesota will be important for the NFC Wild Card race. Russell Wilson has not been quite as good as he was last season, and if he can consistently play like he did against the Panthers, the Seahawks could surprise people in the postseason.

9. Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1)

There were high expectations this season for the Vikings after their playoff run ended in the NFC title game last year and they improved the team over the offseason. Signing Kirk Cousins was supposed to make them into a real contender, but he has regressed this season. This week, however, Cousins played extremely well in a big win over the Green Bay Packers. Minnesota is still 2.5 games behind Chicago in the NFC North standings, but they are in a great position to take a NFC Wild Card spot unless an implosion occurs. The team has plenty of talent across the board and could put the elite NFC teams on upset watch.

8. Houston Texans (8-3)

The Texans lost their first 3 and have won every game since. Sure, they haven’t had the toughest schedule, but the team did their job with the schedule they were given. Last night, they dominated the Tennessee Titans, mostly via the ground. Lamar Miller had 12 rushes for 162 yards. That’s 13.5 yards per carry. Even if you take away his 97 yard touchdown run, he had a great game. Deshaun Watson is having a very solid sophomore season after suffering a season-ending injury last year while he was on pace to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Houston is in prime position to win the AFC South, especially with their remaining five games all being very winnable (Browns, Colts, Jets, Eagles, Jaguars).

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)

Just two weeks after stomping the then 6-2 Carolina Panthers, the Steelers fall short against the 4-6 Denver Broncos. Every year, Ben Roethlisberger has big games and bad games. Pittsburgh didn’t look great last week against Jacksonville as well. Their offense is 6th in points scored per game, but the team has the talent to be doing better. They have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and an elite offensive line. The defense ranks 6th in yards allowed per game and 11th in points allowed per game. These are very solid numbers for a team with an elite offense, but the Steelers’ poor performances against the Jaguars and Broncos in the past two weeks raises questions on their ability to defeat teams like the Patriots and Chiefs in the postseason.

6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)

In a 45-10 domination over the lowly Cardinals, Philip Rivers put his name in the record books with a 28/29 passing performance. Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen continued strong seasons, while Mike Williams caught 2 touchdowns, which puts his season (and career, after a quiet rookie season riddled with injury) total at 7. Mike Williams has the most touchdowns for any wide receiver with less than 600 receiving yards … and he only has 419 yards. He’s a big reason that the team’s red zone scoring percentage has jumped from 46.81% in 2017, among the worst in the league, to an above average 60.53% this year.

5. Chicago Bears (8-3)

If watching the top three teams on this list makes you miss elite defense, just watch the Chicago Bears. The Bears defense has allowed less passing touchdowns than interceptions. They rank 3rd in points allowed per game, 1st in yards allowed per carry, 1st in interceptions and 6th in sacks. The question is if they will be able to slow down the offenses of the Rams and Saints, teams which they will undoubtedly have to get through in the playoffs. Of course, Chicago’s offense will also have to play at a high level. Although they’re below average in yards gained per game, the Bears’ defense has set the offense up well, resulting in them ranking as the 5th highest scoring offense in the league. The offense did enough against the Lions on Thanksgiving, and Bears fans will hope that it does more against better teams in January with Trubisky back in the lineup.

4. New England Patriots (8-3)

The Patriots got back on track with a 27-13 win over the Jets. They’ve won 7 of their last 8, including wins over the Chiefs and Bears. Fans are excessively underestimated this team, but it’s apparent that they’re maybe not quite as good as past years. Tom Brady is definitely having a down season compared to previous seasons and may finally be declining, and the Patriots’ bend-don’t-break defense is giving up more redzone scores than usual (opponents have scored on 11.25% more redzone possessions against New England this year than in 2017).

3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)

The Chiefs had a bye week after their legendary game against the Los Angeles Rams, where they broke the record for most points scored in a loss. The 54-51 score is crazy — third highest scoring game in NFL history. Many will look at Mahomes’ statline and denounce his play, but I don’t think that’s fair. The Chiefs offensive line did the MVP candidate no favors, no less against a defensive line as scary as Los Angeles’. Yet he still continued to make amazing plays all game. It’s just incredible how good Patrick Mahomes is. There’s never been a quarterback who put up these numbers in their sophomore season (Dan Marino’s numbers were more impressive given the era, though: 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in 1984). His rookie mistakes in late game situations along with Andy Reid’s veteran coaching mistakes in those same situations may lead to an earlier playoff exit than expected, but the Chiefs are a young team with plenty of potential going forward. Their defense is obviously their weakness, but their defensive line made big plays all game against a very strong Rams offensive line.

2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1)

The Rams also did not play a game this week, coming off of the historic shootout against the Chiefs. The attention has rightfully been given to the offense, but the Rams defense is more dangerous than people realize. They’re 2nd in the league in fumbles recovered and an above average 13th in interceptions forced. Aaron Donald is having one of the greatest seasons ever by a defensive tackle and can single-handedly sway the game in a shootout like last week. Do the Rams win without Donald’s two forced fumbles? Maybe- no. Aqib Talib isn’t as good as he once was, but his return will still be an important boost to this Rams defense. The Saints held the Rams to 0 sacks in their regular season contest. I don’t think that’s going to happen again. The Rams offensive line has also been great, as the team is 11th in sacks allowed and 6th in yards per carry.

1. New Orleans Saints (10-1)

Every week, the Saints’ Week One loss to the Buccaneers becomes more and more confusing. Is Fitzmagic the only thing that can stop this dominant squad? The last time they were on a 10 game win streak was 9 years ago, when they went on to top Peyton Manning’s Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints’ strength against the Falcons this week was certainly their elite rush defense, as the Falcons’ leading rusher was quarterback Matt Ryan with just 16 yards. The Falcons exposed flaws in the Saints’ secondary, but New Orleans managed to force¬†three redzone fumbles, including Julio Jones’ acrobatic fail which ended Atlanta’s hope at a score to cut the deficit before halftime. Timely turnovers may have aided the Saints in this outing, but their defense is still certainly superior to the mediocre units of the Chiefs and Rams. And let’s not forget, the 2009 Saints defense was far from elite. They achieved takeaways in clutch moments just like this 2018 squad. There are no questions about this team’s offense. Drew Brees is going to win his first MVP and he spiced it up on Thanksgiving night with four touchdown passes to four different undrafted receivers.