NFL Nation: 2013 NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

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

Preseason: 29 | Last Week: 28 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Raiders were six minutes away from slipping into the AFC’s No. 6 seed for the playoffs.

But a deflating 80-yard game-winning drive by the Tennessee Titans set in motion a four-game losing streak for Oakland, and having dropped six of their past seven games, the Raiders now sit at a season-low 30th in our Power Rankings.

The wheels appear to have fallen off the defense, which was once not only the heart and soul of the team but also its strength as a top-10 unit. No more. The defense is gassed. Special teams are sputtering. The offense shows flashes but turns the ball over too much. Or did you miss the five interceptions and two lost fumbles the Raiders had as a team in allowing a franchise-record 56 points to the Kansas City Chiefs this past weekend?

The Raiders may not have quality depth or the best talent level in the NFL, and owner Mark Davis has said he’s patient with this “deconstruction” phase of the franchise, but such embarrassing performances are not good for Dennis Allen’s coaching health.

Power Rankings: No. 29 Jacksonville

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Jaguars' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

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

The Jaguars’ 27-20 loss to Buffalo this past Sunday snapped a three-game winning streak, but it didn’t affect their spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

The Jaguars are 29th for the second consecutive week. Washington (3-11), Oakland (4-10) and Houston (2-12) are Nos. 30-32.

Five of the six voters had the Jaguars 29th. Jamison Hensley ranked them 28th.

The Jaguars (4-10) finish the season against No. 21 Tennessee and No. 10 Indianapolis, but they could be without receiver Cecil Shorts and running back Maurice Jones-Drew because of injuries.

Power Rankings: Miami Dolphins No. 14

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Dolphins’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 20 | Last week: 16 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Miami Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They improved to 3-0 in December with a landmark 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots.

The Dolphins' win could propel them into the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins control their own destiny and need to win their final two games against the Buffalo Bills (5-9) and New York Jets (6-8).

But how much did the Dolphins’ win over New England register in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings? According to our panel, Miami moved up just two spots this week to No. 14. It’s not a bad ranking, but the win didn’t get the Dolphins as much respect as I expected.

There are only a handful of teams playing better football right now than Miami. The Dolphins proved this year they could compete with anyone. But there also have been times when they played down to their competition. Miami cannot have a letdown this week against the Bills, who beat the Dolphins earlier this season.

Power Rankings: No. 22 New York Jets

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Jets' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 32 | Last Week: 21 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

For three-plus quarters, the Jets fought the good fight against the heavily favored Carolina Panthers, trailing by only three points. That apparently carried some weight with the ESPN.com panel, as the Jets dropped only one spot in the rankings with their 30-20 loss.

Evidently, the panel ignored the four-minute, 39-second meltdown that included a blocked punt and two touchdowns allowed.

After 14 games, it has become pretty apparent that the Jets (6-8) have settled into the 20-23 range in the power poll, putting them in the bottom third of the league. Surely, no team aims to be a bottom-third team, but consider where they started: 32nd. Does this make the Jets overachievers? In some respects, yes.

Power Rankings: No. 15 Chargers

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Chargers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason ranking: 23 | Last Week: 17 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A surprising road victory over the Denver Broncos last week moves the San Diego Chargers up two spots in ESPN.com's Power Rankings to No. 15. The Chargers (7-7) won two straight games for just the second time this season. And by ending the year with two more wins, San Diego can finish above the .500 mark for the first time in four seasons.

While San Diego’s chances of making the playoffs remain slim, the Chargers still have something to play for, according to quarterback Philip Rivers: building character.

“We want to finish winning four in a row and five of the last six,” Rivers said. “That’s the mindset. You can still look back and be sick about some things that happened earlier in the season, but it will say a lot about our team if we can finish it the right way. We have to beat Oakland first, but to get these last two would be a heck of a finish.”

Power Rankings: No. 32 Houston Texans

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Houston Texans' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

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


It took nine losses in a row before ESPN.com's power rankers decided the Texans deserved to be ranked last in the NFL. It took another week still before the rankers unanimously agreed that the Texans were No. 32.

After losing their 12th straight this past weekend, Houston continues to hold firmly to that spot.

Each of the six voters -- Ashley Fox, Mike Sando, Kevin Seifert, John Clayton, Dan Graziano and Jamison Hensley -- ranked the Texans last. All but Sando ranked Washington 31st. Sando instead had Oakland 31st and Washington 30th.

The Texans have played two of the top three ranked teams in No. 1 Seattle and No. 3 San Francisco. With a first-place schedule, the Texans have played six of the top 10. This weekend they will host the No. 2 Broncos.

Elsewhere in the AFC South, the Jaguars rank 29th, the Titans rank 21st and the Colts rank 10th.

Power Rankings: No. 2 Denver Broncos

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Broncos’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 3 | Last week: 2 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Broncos stumbled in their final home game of the regular season in a 27-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday. But when a couple more of the AFC’s front-runners -- the New England Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals -- lost as well this past weekend, the Broncos held on to the No. 2 spot in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings.

And after this past week’s games, the Broncos also kept their spot at the front of the line for home-field advantage in the playoffs. With wins over the 2-12 Houston Texans and the 4-10 Oakland Raiders in the last two weeks of the regular season, the Broncos will have the conference's top seed for the second consecutive season.

Still, the Broncos had a couple of red flags go up in their loss to the Chargers, most notably 177 yards rushing for San Diego, including 127 for Ryan Mathews, making him the first back to top 100 yards against the Broncos this season.

That performance on run defense -- the Broncos allowed the Chargers to keep the ball for 38 minutes, 49 seconds and keep Peyton Manning on the sideline -- was a big reason the Broncos agreed to terms with veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey on Tuesday morning.

The Broncos know offenses and, hoping to duplicate the approach, will try to pound away at their defense, especially when the postseason opens. But overall, the Broncos say the next two weeks are all about handling their own business and keeping their eyes on the prize.

“For us, fortunately, we’re still No. 1 in our conference and we’ve got two weeks left to make sure that we keep it that way,’’ said wide receiver Eric Decker. “We’ve got to come out stronger this week against Houston, play better -- play better all-around to make sure that we control our own destiny.’’

Power Rankings: No. 20 St. Louis Rams

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Rams' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 15 | Last Week: 20 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

For the third consecutive week, the Rams stayed stagnant at No. 20 in the Power Rankings. Of course, there's a big difference between this week and the previous two. Instead of staying put after convincing losses to good teams, the Rams stayed where they are despite yet another convincing win against a top opponent in the New Orleans Saints.

The victory was nearly enough to get the Rams a boost this time around, though. The six-member voting panel all thought more of the Rams this week than last week with none voting them lower than Dan Graziano's No. 20. When votes were tallied, the Rams' total actually averaged out to No. 19, but Pittsburgh earned the tiebreaker to remain at 19.

It's once again fitting that the Rams stayed at 20. A loss leaving them in the same spot last week and a win keeping them there this week is actually a pretty good indicator of how this season has been for them. Counting Sunday's win against New Orleans, the Rams now have wins against the teams ranked Nos. 5, 8, 10 and 13.
A weekly examination of the Cardinals' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 26 | Last Week: 10 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

It’s one thing to be No. 10 in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, but it’s an entire new ballgame to be inside the top 10. There’s a sense of accomplishment, a here-we-are feeling -- even if the players don’t pay one bit of attention to any rankings. Arizona proved it could withstand an off day by its defense and recover from almost an epic collapse in the fourth quarter to win in overtime. It’s a sign of a good team and a trait those who are capable of making a deep run into January all have.

But here's the catch. As of this week, Arizona isn't in the playoff picture, a product of being in the NFL’s toughest division. Of the top 13 in this week's Power Rankings, just one doesn't own a top-six seed in either the NFC or AFC: the Arizona Cardinals. What’s worse? Two of the top three teams are sitting above them in the NFC West: No. 1 Seattle and No. 3 San Francisco. If Arizona was in the NFC East or North or any AFC division, its playoff chances would be much improved.

Power Rankings: No. 25 Buffalo Bills

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Bills' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 30 | Last Week: 26 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

They're just playing for pride at this point.

With a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills jumped up one spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings. They're now ranked No. 25, and like most teams in their neighborhood in the rankings, they have been eliminated from the playoffs.

Next up for the Bills are the No. 14 Miami Dolphins, before they finish on the road against the No. 7 New England Patriots.

There's a fairly good consensus among our six voters on this one, who ranked the Bills No. 23, No. 24, No. 25, No. 26 (twice) and No. 27.
A weekly examination of the Steelers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 16 | Last Week: 19 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Pittsburgh Steelers stood pat in the rankings despite their most impressive win of the season. The Steelers tied a franchise record by scoring 21 first-quarter points Sunday night, and they rolled to a 30-20 win over the No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers had seemingly little to play for, but they summoned up their most inspired performance of the season in improving to 6-8 and averting a season sweep at the hands of the Bengals.

Here's how the panel voted Pittsburgh:

Ashley Fox: 20

Mike Sando: 16

Kevin Seifert: 20

John Clayton: 20

Dan Graziano: 19

Jamison Hensley: 10

The Steelers are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but their odds actually got worse despite their win over the Bengals. Victories by the Dolphins and Ravens only added to the number of things that have to happen for the Steelers to sneak into the playoffs. Their resounding win over the Bengals at least showed that the Steelers are not just going to play out the string. Next up is a visit to Lambeau Field, where the No. 16 Packers could play quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time since he broke his collarbone.
A weekly examination of the Bears' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

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

The Chicago Bears remained at No. 13 in the ESPN.com Power Rankings after a 38-31 win on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

Although the Bears didn’t move in the rankings, the club hopped up a spot where it counts the most: the NFC North standings. Chicago now sits atop the division after Detroit’s 18-16 loss to Baltimore, meaning the Bears now control their own postseason destiny.

That development comes at a time when the Bears appear poised to play some of their best football.

Jay Cutler returned to lead an offense that was already rolling Sunday at Cleveland, and the defense is starting to show signs of life, in part because defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff is finally beginning to settle in along with rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is beginning to catch a groove as a playcaller.

In back-to-back outings, the Bears have put up more than 400 yards of offense, and the defense has shut down two of the game’s best receivers over the same span. (The defense should also be getting back veteran linebacker Lance Briggs in time for Sunday's matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.)

As we said last week, for a good portion of the season, the Lions have helped along the Bears by slipping in what appeared to be winnable games. That’s exactly what the Lions did Monday night in falling to the Ravens, while the Bears took care of business against the Browns. Chicago needs to keep up the momentum Sunday night at Philadelphia.

Elsewhere in the division, the Lions dropped five spots to No. 17, while the Packers -- now in second place in the NFC North -- moved up two spots to 16th. The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, jumped up four spots from No. 27 to 23rd.

The Bears received one 11th-place vote, two for 12th, one for 14th and two for 15th.

Chicago closes out back-to-back road games Sunday at Philadelphia before hosting the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field for the regular-season finale.
A weekly examination of the Browns' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 28 | Last Week: 27 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The voters were kind to the Cleveland Browns. A pretty one-sided loss to the Chicago Bears did not drop them in the ESPN.com Power Rankings. The Browns were 27 last week; they’re 27 this week.

Holiday gifts can be sent to ESPN.com national writer Kevin Seifert, who has the Browns at 23rd.

The question now becomes where they wind up. With road games against the Jets and Steelers, the Browns could at best finish 6-10 and win more than five games for the first time since 2007 (Hoo hoo!), or they could lose both and at worst finish 4-12.

That 4-12 finish might put the Browns among the top three teams in next year’s draft -- because they would be among the teams with the worst record.

Only twice since the Power Rankings were started in 2002 have the Browns been ranked in the 30s -- and that was the previous two seasons.

It’s pretty much up to the Browns whether they want to move up to the mid-to-high 20s with a couple wins, or if they want to make a three-year trend in the 30s.
A weekly examination of the Falcons' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 30 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

It might not be the direction some fans want them to go, but Atlanta Falcons moved up two spots to No. 28 in the ESPN.com Power Rankings after Sunday’s 27-26 win over the imploding Washington Redskins.

Now at 4-10, the Falcons sit fifth overall in the NFL draft order. Another win could knock them out of the top five and possibility out of position to draft a player such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews.

Head coach Mike Smith promised the team is not concerned about its draft status. But the Falcons no doubt realize the difference a player such as Clowney or Matthews could make, based on the team’s issues up front on both sides of the ball.

Realistically, the Falcons seem destined to finish the season 4-12. They face the No. 3 team in the Power Rankings when they travel to San Francisco for an ESPN "Monday Night Football" matchup with the 49ers. Then the Falcons conclude the season against the No. 4 team, the Carolina Panthers, who are battling for playoff positioning.

More than anything, the final two games give the Falcons' coaching staff a chance to get a longer look at the young players. Six rookies started the last game against the Redskins, and four of them played every snap.

Maybe the Falcons haven’t given up on the season in terms of effort, but they’ve certainly started the process of looking ahead to next year.

Power Rankings: No. 4 Carolina Panthers

December, 17, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Panthers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 6 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera insists he hasn't looked at playoff scenarios with two games remaining in the regular season.

"No," he said. "The only thing I do see is it's about winning, and every time we do win we get closer to it. I'm trying to stay focused and I won't talk about it. I want to focus on the next game."

The Panthers are fourth in the latest ESPN.com Power Rankings with a 10-4 record. Their next game is a rematch with the New Orleans Saints, which beat them 31-13 in the Superdome two weeks ago for their only loss in the last 10 games.

And they still aren't guaranteed a playoff spot with Arizona (9-5), New Orleans (10-4) and San Francisco (10-4) still in the mix.

All Rivera knows for sure is that a win against New Orleans would clinch at least a wild-card spot and wins against the Saints at home and the Falcons in Atlanta would clinch the NFC South and a first-round playoff game.

"Where the league is headed ... it's crazy," Rivera said. "There is a lot of parity, and I think it makes for an exciting season, but it most certainly gives you heartburn."

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