NFL Nation: 2013 NFL Week 15 Power Rankings

A weekly examination of the Bears’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 15 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Chicago Bears moved up two spots in the ESPN.com Power Rankings from No. 15 to No. 13 after Monday night’s 45-28 destruction of the Dallas Cowboys.

The meager climb seems to be about right for the Bears, considering they faced a Cowboys defense that was actually worse than their own struggling unit. With the win, the Bears moved to within a half-game of first place in the NFC North, behind the Detroit Lions. So Chicago still needs some help to advance to the postseason, and the club likely will get it if it can just maintain the momentum down the stretch.

For a good portion of the season, the Lions have helped along the Bears by slipping in what appeared to be winnable games. Detroit, which remained at No. 12 in this week’s rankings, lost at Philadelphia on Sunday to bring the Bears right back into the NFC North race. The Lions face Baltimore and the New York Giants over the next two weeks before playing the finale at Minnesota on Dec. 29. So there’s a good chance the Bears can make up some ground on the Lions, but they must keep winning.

They’ll also need to figure out what to do at quarterback once Jay Cutler is medically cleared to play. Cutler returned to the practice field last week and took part in two workouts but was declared out for Monday’s game. In relief, backup Josh McCown produced his third 300-yard passing day in throwing for four touchdowns, in addition to rushing for a fifth.

Bears coach Marc Trestman reiterated that Cutler is the starter once he’s medically cleared, but it’s difficult to argue with McCown’s hot hand at this point. The club could also be getting back linebacker Lance Briggs, who hasn’t played since Oct. 20.

Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Atlanta Falcons to win their first game without quarterback Aaron Rodgers to move up a spot from No. 19 to No. 18, but signs point to the quarterback returning soon.

Minnesota, meanwhile, despite running back Adrian Peterson suffering a foot injury, moved up a spot from No. 28 to No. 27.

The Bears received one 12-place vote, two for 13, two for 15 and one for No. 16.

Chicago plays the first of back-to-back road games on Sunday at Cleveland before a matchup at Philadelphia. The Bears close the regular season hosting the Packers on Dec. 29.

Power Rankings: No. 15 Dallas Cowboys

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A weekly examination of the Cowboys' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 20 | Last Week: 11 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Dallas Cowboys tumbled in the ESPN.com Power Rankings to No. 15 after their embarrassing 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on ESPN’s "Monday Night Football."

It is a wonder they did not slip further. And their main competition in the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles, climbed into the top 10 at No. 9 thanks to their fifth straight win. At this point, you have to wonder whether the Week 17 finale against the Eagles at AT&T Stadium will be for anything more than pride.

A week ago, Mike Sando and Kevin Seifert were the biggest believers in the Cowboys, moving them up to No. 9. This week they have them at No. 16 and Jamison Hensley gave the Cowboys the lowest grade, dropping them to No. 17.

The defense continues to be a mess and might not have Sean Lee or Bruce Carter this week. The offense has to play near perfectly to have a chance, and it has been close to perfect just once this year against the Denver Broncos.

If there is a good note for the Cowboys, it is that the No. 18 Green Bay Packers visit AT&T Stadium this week.

Wait, Aaron Rodgers might play? Never mind.

Power Rankings: No. 32 Houston Texans

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A weekly examination of the Texans' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 7 | Last Week: 32 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

It should come as no surprise that after last week's uninspired performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Houston Texans remain at the bottom of our Power Rankings. This time, all six voters ranked the Texans last.

Houston first dove to the bottom after their first loss to the Jaguars, who had held that spot for most of the season. The Jaguars, though are rising, having won four of their last five games. Jacksonville is now ranked 29th.

The Texans travel to Indianapolis next, with the Colts ranked 11th. Houston's following opponent is second-ranked Denver in the season's last home game. The Titans, whom the Texans play in their season finale, rank 22nd.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 12 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Detroit had its struggles in the snow against Philadelphia in the second half on Sunday afternoon, but it had little bearing on this week’s Power Rankings. The Lions did not move at all from where they were a week ago, still sitting at No. 12. Unfortunately for Detroit, Power Rankings are just that -- rankings -- and the Lions are in a stickier position when it comes to their playoff hopes.

Their loss to Philadelphia placed them back in the middle of a tight NFC North race. Yes, Detroit still controls its own fate -- win out and the Lions are in the playoffs -- but there is much more pressure involved again. Chicago is tied with Detroit in the NFC North at 7-6 -- and one spot behind the Lions in the Power Rankings -- so if the Lions end up losing any games, they turn into scoreboard watchers and will have to pay closer attention to what the Bears -- and to some extent the Packers -- are doing.
A weekly examination of the Steelers’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 16 | Last Week: 18 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a spot after nearly pulling out a win over the Miami Dolphins in miraculous fashion. A series of laterals on the final play of the game sprung Antonio Brown, and the Steelers wide receiver would have scored the winning touchdown had he not stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line. Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that Brown did step out of bounds, if only by a couple of inches, and the Steelers are 5-8 after the 34-28 loss to the Dolphins.

Here's how the panel voted Pittsburgh:

Ashley Fox: 19

Mike Sando: 18

Kevin Seifert: 23

John Clayton: 21

Dan Graziano: 19

Jamison Hensley: 20

The Steelers are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but there isn’t much hope they will avoid missing the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time under Tomlin. The seventh-year coach said the focus is still squarely on winning, starting Sunday night against the visiting Bengals. Tomlin also said he would go with his best players down the stretch and not experiment with younger ones with an eye toward next season.
A weekly examination of the Chargers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 16 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

With the team’s most impressive win of the season, the Chargers rose in the rankings, right? Wrong. ESPN’s panel of NFL experts actually dropped the Chargers down a spot to No. 17 in this week’s Power Rankings. However, San Diego’s drop might have more to do with who they beat on Sunday (the New York Giants) than how they are playing at this point of the season.

San Diego doesn’t have time to celebrate after Sunday’s win, with three days to prepare for perhaps the best team in the AFC in a nationally televised game at Denver. And the Chargers will get Denver’s best because the Broncos are still playing to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs.

At 6-7, the Chargers have an outside shot at earning the No. 6 AFC wild-card berth. But the Chargers likely have to win out, and also need teams in front of them like Baltimore (7-6) and Miami (7-6) to stumble in the last three games.

Power Rankings: No. 24 Buccaneers

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A weekly examination of the Buccaneers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 19 | Last week: 26 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A late-season surge has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers climbing in the ESPN.com Power Rankings. The Bucs jumped from No. 26 to No. 24 this week.

That came after Sunday's 27-6 victory against Buffalo, and the ranking is Tampa Bay’s best since Week 1. The Bucs spent a large chunk of the season in the 30s and upper 20s. But wins in four of their last five games have brought the Bucs to a respectable level.

The Bucs aren't going to the playoffs. But if they can win two of their final three games, they should have a decent shot to be ranked in the top 20.

Power Rankings: No. 16 Miami Dolphins

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Dolphins' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 20 | Last week: 17 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Miami Dolphins are 2-0 in the crucial month of December. Miami has beaten the New York Jets (6-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8) in back-to-back weeks, which has improved the Dolphins' standing in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings.

Miami jumped up one spot to No. 16 on Tuesday. The Dolphins have moved up five spots in the past two weeks.

The Dolphins are playing solid in all phases during their push for the playoffs. Miami has a similar record with the Baltimore Ravens (7-6), who hold the final wild card in the AFC due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Miami's opponent only gets tougher on Sunday. The Dolphins will host the New England Patriots (10-3), who are going for the season sweep. The Patriots beat the Dolphins 27-17 in October at Gillette Stadium. The Dolphins have a chance to take an even bigger jump if they can upset the defending AFC East champions.
A weekly examination of the Chiefs' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 19 | Last Week: 7 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

These are the perils of playing one of the NFL's worst teams. The Kansas City Chiefs went on the road Sunday and returned with a 45-10 victory. But because it happened against the feeble Washington Redskins, it was almost as if it didn't happen in the ESPN Power Rankings.

The Chiefs retained their No. 7 spot. Even with the lopsided win against the Redskins, the Chiefs are where they belong in the rankings. They're immediately behind the No. 5 San Francisco 49ers, who beat the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend, and the No. 6 Carolina Panthers, who lost at the New Orleans Saints, but have recent victories over the 49ers and New England Patriots.

The Chiefs have just one victory over an opponent currently ranked in the top 10 -- a September win against the No. 9 Philadelphia Eagles.

The Chiefs may not move in the rankings even if they beat the Raiders in Oakland on Sunday. The Raiders are 28th in this week's rankings.

Power Rankings: No. 31 Washington

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A weekly examination of the Redskins' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 10 | Last Week: 29 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Washington Redskins have reached a new low. Given the rough seasons they’ve endured in the past, that’s quite a point they’ve hit.

They’re now ranked 31st in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, which is their lowest ever. Even during the 2009 Jim Zorn debacle, the Redskins never dropped lower than 29th (their final ranking). And even in Steve Spurrier’s “five and 11, not too good” final season of 2003, they finished 24th. They're now two spots below a team that lost its first eight games this season (Jacksonville).

If this is the right direction, I’d rather be wrong. Which pretty much sounds like a country song, but let’s move on.

So let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for both Houston and Washington to see which team will finish last. All it would take is one win by Houston and three more losses by the Redskins to have them swap spots.

The Texans already have their interim coach in Wade Phillips. The Redskins still might have one at some point before the season ends, perhaps even this week, depending on what happens with Mike Shanahan. Heck, they might have a new quarterback if Robert Griffin III is benched to, uh, keep him healthy.

Still, I think it’ll be tough for Washington to pass Houston for the cellar. Houston still has games remaining at Indianapolis, Denver and at Tennessee. The first two are a combined 19-7 while the Titans are 5-8 and only 2-4 at home, so perhaps the Texans could spring an upset.

Meanwhile, the Redskins’ final three opponents -- Atlanta, Dallas and the New York Giants -- have a combined 15-24 record. Atlanta is only one spot ahead of the Redskins. So if the Redskins don’t win again, they will really have earned the No. 32 ranking.

Power Rankings: No. 21 New York Jets

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Jets' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 32 | Last Week: 23 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

It was a crazy week of scoring in the NFL, but it was a relatively static week in terms of the power rankings, as no team rose or dropped more than four spots. That's what happens this time of year. The New York Jets inched up two spots with their 37-27 win over the Oakland Raiders (4-9), who haven't finished above .500 since 2002.

The Jets (6-7) are right about where they should be in the rankings, although it has to irk them that the St. Louis Rams (5-8) are one spot ahead of them -- the same Rams who are starting Jets castoff Kellen Clemens at quarterback.

This week, the Jets wrestle with the big boys -- the Carolina Panthers (9-4), the No. 6 team.

Power Rankings: No. 6 Carolina Panthers

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Panthers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 3 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

No time to panic. Not the end of the world. The sky isn't falling.

The Carolina Panthers pulled out all the clichés after their eight-game winning streak ended with a 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.

But if you look at the big picture, a 9-4 record and No. 6 ranking in ESPN.com's latest Power Rankings isn't so bad for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs or had a winning record since 2008.

That the voters didn't drop Carolina more than three spots in the rankings shows a respect for what was accomplished during their winning streak that included victories over No. 4 New England and No. 6 San Francisco.

The Panthers easily could have been placed behind the Chiefs at No. 7 and Cincinnati at No. 8.

The loss stung. It was humbling and embarrassing for the players and coaches the way it happened in a prime-time telecast.

But as coach Ron Rivera reminded, Seattle lost a week after looking unbeatable in a 34-7 victory over the Saints.

The Panthers remain solidly in position for a wild card if they win two of their last three. One more win possibly could do it. There's still an outside shot at the NFC South title if the Saints stumble on the road the next two weeks, including a rematch with Carolina in Charlotte on Dec. 22.

At least players aren't pulling out the cliché they could have used at any point over the past four seasons.

Wait till next year.

Power Rankings: No. 1 Seattle Seahawks

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Seahawks' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 1 | Last Week: 1 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

In college football, you can’t lose a game and stay No. 1. But the Seattle Seahawks just proved you can in our Power Rankings.

Despite Seattle's 19-17 loss at San Francisco on a field goal in the final seconds, our voters still believe the Seahawks are the top team in the NFL.

Sunday was a game the 49ers had to win to stay in strong playoff contention, playing at home against a division rival. They held serve, barely, but the lead changed hands six times and neither team led by more than six points.

The Seahawks played well, but penalties at key moments killed potential scoring drives.

Seattle and Denver have the best record in the league at 11-2 and appear to be on a collision course for the Super Bowl. The Broncos zoomed past Tennessee in the second half to win 51-28 at Denver on Sunday, but our voters felt the Seahawks' close loss to a much better team made for a better argument in keeping them No. 1.
A weekly examination of the Vikings' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 17 | Last Week: 28 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A wild road loss to the Baltimore Ravens, coupled with the woes of a few teams around them, actually moved the Vikings up a spot in this week's Power Rankings. The Oakland Raiders skidded down four spots in the standings after their loss to the New York Jets, which helped the Vikings move up.

They'll have to dig deep to coax another win or two out of their final three games of the season, however; all three games are against teams currently leading their divisions (Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Detroit), and it appears the Vikings may play this week without running back Adrian Peterson, who sprained his right foot Sunday in Baltimore. The Vikings could also be without backup running back Toby Gerhart because of a strained hamstring, and though coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings won't shy away from the run even if Peterson and Gerhart sit out, they could be forced to ask for more from their passing game if they want to keep up with Nick Foles and the Eagles' high-scoring offense.

Frazier hasn't announced who will start at quarterback on Sunday, and all three of his quarterbacks could make a case this week. Christian Ponder is back from a concussion and played well against the Green Bay Packers in his last full game before getting hurt. Matt Cassel relieved Ponder against the Chicago Bears, directed a comeback victory and threw for 265 yards on Sunday in Baltimore -- the most by a Vikings quarterback this season. And Josh Freeman, who hasn't played since a dreadful Monday night performance on Oct. 21, could get another look now that the Vikings, at 3-9-1, have officially been eliminated from the playoff race.

Power Rankings: No. 26 Buffalo Bills

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Bills' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 30 | Last Week: 24 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

How low can they go?

That's the question for the Buffalo Bills, who fell to No. 26 on the ESPN.com Power Rankings this week. After losing five of their past six games, the Bills are lucky to be ranked where they are.

Yet despite their 27-6 loss Sunday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there is more disagreement among our voters than last week. One voter has the Bills still ranked at No. 24, where they sat last week, while another has them ranked as low as No. 29.

At this point, though, it doesn't really matter where the Bills are ranked. Whether they finish No. 23, No. 28 or No. 31, or somewhere in between, they have plenty of work to do.

Next up for the Bills are the Jaguars, ranked No. 29 this week.

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