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NFL power rankings: Packers go to No. 1 as Buccaneers, Cardinals drop; Chiefs, Cowboys rise for Week 16


The final month of the expanded 2021 NFL season has begun. Only three weeks of action are now left and all nearly half the league —14 teams —want to do for Christmas is secure their playoff positions to play a little longer into 2022.

Unfortunately, a little more than half the league — 18 teams — will be staying home for the postseason. With a Week 18 happening this season, every team has a chance to finish strong.

With Week 15 in the books, here’s how every team ranks in relation to the others 1-32 in turning the corner to holiday-powered Week 16.

MORE: Updated NFL standings, playoff picture from Week 15

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NFL power rankings

1. Green Bay Packers 11-3 (previous ranking: 2)

The Packers keep building their solid resume, headed to another 13-win season, three-for-three there with the combination of Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur. Although their defense has struggled a bit the past few weeks and the running game has been more limited, they have been strong there to support Rodgers lighting it up more in the passing game. They have a better shot to solve the Buccaneers this postseason.

2. Kansas City Chiefs 10-4 (4)

The Chiefs’ defense cooled off without Chris Jones against the Chargers, but they took full advantage of their offense getting on track with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce all playing together again like the superstars they are. Kansas City is back flexing as a Super Bowl favorite.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-4 (1)

The Buccaneers continued their regular-season slump against the Saints, losing their first home game of the season after dominating there. The wide receiver injury mess dragged down Tom Brady. But they have good closing schedule fortune in the final three weeks with the Panthers, Jets and Panthers again. Brady can now put all his competitive energy into his second career repeat with his second team.

4. Dallas Cowboys 10-4 (7)

The Cowboys had a get-well offensive game for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott against the Giants, even though it wasn’t always pretty. Their defense is still getting it done big-time as the backbone with Micah Parson and Trevon Diggs. They are a shade off the Packers and the Bucs in the NFL.

5. Arizona Cardinals 10-4 (3)

What was that? The Cardinals would be dropped lower after losing to the lowly Lions on the road, but several teams right behind them lost, too. The offense lacked identity and explosiveness for most of the game while the swarming defense wilted. The Cardinals are limping into the playoffs with little chance to stay there long.

6. Los Angeles Rams 9-4 (8)

The Rams have gotten back on track with their running game making it more natural for Matthew Stafford to hit on big shots downfield with his big arm. They want Aaron Donald and the defense to keep it up and make a statement vs. the Seahawks, too.

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7. New England Patriots 9-5 (5)

The Patriots’ offense hit an early wall in Indianapolis and couldn’t recover in time. Their run defense weakness also was exposed again by Jonathan Taylor with the Colts’ relentless dedication to the rushing attack. Mac Jones remains a gamer, but his limitations as a rookie are becoming more evident.

8. Tennessee Titans 9-5 (6)

The Titans have managed to piece together a pretty good running game without Derrick Henry and their defense is becoming more complete with each passing week, both results of their physical mentality under Mike Vrabel. But they are really missing their former offensive explosiveness.

9. Indianapolis Colts 8-6 (11)

The Colts needed to beat the Patriots to keep their AFC wild-card playoff hopes alive and well and they didn’t waste the opportunity. They have a strong physical identity of pounding Taylor behind their elite offensive line and also controlling action with their defensive front seven. Frank Reich has done another a good job to put his team in postseason position.

10. Los Angeles Chargers 8-6 (9)

The Chargers might be in the first place in the AFC West had they executed better in the red zone and fourth downs against the Chiefs. Instead, they are clinging to a wild-card playoff spots. Regardless, they remain a very dangerous playoff team because Justin Herbert’s big arm and Austin Ekeler’s quickness.

11. Buffalo Bills 8-6 (12)

The Bills got well against the Panthers as Josh Allen was sharp passing to his outside receivers and got some help from the traditional running game to boot. The defense also got back on track against a limited Carolina offense to rebuild its confidence at the right time before a Patriots rematch.

12. San Francisco 49ers 8-6 (13)

The 49ers continued their methodical return to playoff relevancy on the strength of a dynamic, versatile and multiple offense in which all the playmakers and healthy and clicking for Kyle Shanahan again. Their defense is feeding off that energy now, too, to make them a dangerous wild-card team.

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13. Cincinnati Bengals 8-6 (14)

The Bengals took big hits at home against the Chargers and 49ers but grinding through a much-needed road victory with their defense setting the tone in Denver. There weren’t a lot of style points for the offense, but Joe Burrow still made sure he enough plays to win. The reward was a return to first place.

14. Baltimore Ravens 8-6 (10)

The Ravens lost a third consecutive game in frustratingly close fashion to the Packers. As much as the focus has been the offense down key running backs and Lamar Jackson, the real problem has been a decimated defense, from the ravaged secondary to no Calais Campbell up front.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6-1 (17)

The Steelers got a much-needed comeback grinding win over the Titans to stay in the AFC playoff picture and AFC North race, despite still being last in the division. The defense had a key containment performance to lift the offense.

16. Cleveland Browns 7-6 (15)

The Browns are trying to piece together enough of a passing game in Week 15 but they still have a strong rushing attack again with Nick Chubb up without Kareem Hunt and the defense is finally looking complete at the right time powered by Myles Garrett.

17. New Orleans Saints 7-7 (24)

The Saints have done well trying to win a lot of games as battles of attrition. That was the case in another big regular-season upset of the Buccaneers on Sunday night, with their defense standing on its head to shut out a shorthanded Brady and the Bucs. Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara are providing just enough offense.

18. Miami Dolphins 7-7 (21)

The Dolphins didn’t look great against the Jets early, but they dug deep to overcome mistakes using all their healthy playmakers, including some new ones, around Tua Tagovailoa. This should only make Miami rue its 0-7 start a lot more.

19. Denver Broncos 7-7 (16)

The Broncos started 3-0 but much of their resume is beating up on bad teams, save for key wins over the Cowboys and Chargers. They saw their offense go into the tank against the Bengals as their attempt to hide their quarterback play with either Teddy Bridgewater (get well soon) or Drew Lock has failed, despite their defense and running game strengths.

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20. Minnesota Vikings 6-7 (20)

The Vikings can still make up for their roller-coaster season full of close losses with a strong finish in the final month to steal a wild card, perhaps saving Mike Zimmer. They need to lean a lot on Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook to get it done with offense because the defense is unreliable now.

21. Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (19)

The Eagles didn’t like the extra break after their bye before hosting Washington, but it did also ensure that both Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders would be at the forefront of their run-heavy offense in trying to save their NFC wild-card chances against a fading division foe. The defense will be key to a good closing stretch.

22. Washington Football Team 6-7 (18)

Washington is struggling to keep things together between persistent injuries and developing COVID-19 issues, now affecting suddenly overwhelmed QB Taylor Heinicke. The defense is offering too little, too late, as well.

23. Las Vegas Raiders 6-7 (22)

The Raiders have lost five of six games after their bye and their lack of coaching cohesiveness has caught up to them, as well as a streaky Derek Carr struggling with his execution while down to limited weapons and an inconsistent rushing attack. The defense that flashed is now gassed.

24. Atlanta Falcons 6-8 (23)

The Falcons have done their best to stay competitive with Arthur Smith and Matt Ryan but their offensive limitations and defensive inconsistency makes them the classic up-and-down team in transition.

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25. Seattle Seahawks 5-8 (25)

The Seahawks need to win out to make it 10-for-10 in winning seasons with Russell Wilson starting at quarterback, in the first season Wilson missed starts. They are overachieving defensively and underachieving offensively.

26. Carolina Panthers 5-9 (26)

Cam Newton did a few more positive things for their offense but not nearly enough as they miss Joe Brady badly. The defense for Matt Rhule is lost everywhere after starting hot long ago.

27. Chicago Bears 4-9 (27)

The Bears need a win for some respectability in what’s left of the Matt Nagy era. They’ve been trying their best with Justin Fields providing a spark, but their bigger issue has been a worn-down defense.

28. New York Giants 4-10 (28)

The Giants are a shell of a team at the moment with their quarterback mess minus Daniel Jones. Their defense has fallen apart a little as well because of injuries. That might not prevent big changes ahead of the 2022 season.

29. Houston Texans 3-11 (30)

The Texans are short on talent and their defense has plenty of issues. But they might have a potential replacement for Deshaun Watson in promising rookie Davis Mills. He’s showing off a strong arm and better decision making, providing a nice finishing spark to a trying season.

30. New York Jets 3-11 (29)

The Jets are trying to start hot and stay competent with Zach Wilson at quarterback, but he’s bit of a wild card in terms of his passing and running in a rookie season full of hiccups. Robert Saleh’s defense has had flashes but it needs more stability.

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31. Detroit Lions 2-11-1 (32)

The Lions got their second win, a feel-good major upset over the Cardinals at home to stamp their season and make them feel good about Dan Campbell’s leadership going forward once the rebuild turns the corner. It’s off to a better start than many would think.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars 2-12 (31)

The Jaguars got rid of Urban Meyer but they couldn’t shake off some of the residual effects of his dysfunctional leadership with Darrell Bevell at the helm, although they showed better offense. The defense and special teams need a lot of work.



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