As we reach the home stretch of the regular season, it's still hard to believe either the Cowboys or Eagles (two sub-.500 teams) will get to play January football, while a 10-6 or 11-5 NFC team sits at home. A far better idea would be to use the top 12 teams in my Power Rankings to build a truly fair postseason bracket. Here's how the first round of the playoffs would look using this week's rankings:
Throw out the NFC East, throw out conferences altogether ... just the best teams in the game battling it out for pro football supremacy. Next time I see Rog at a league social event, I'm pitching this hard. "Sir, this is in the best interest of OUR LEAGUE." Don't see how it fails.
On to the rankings ...
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 14 Power Rankings.
Previous rank: No. 1
Sunday's win won't land much airtime in what one can imagine will be an immensely impressive end-of-season highlight reel for the Ravens. But style points are overrated, especially at this time of year. In a game where Lamar Jackson threw for just 145 yards and rushed for less than 4 yards per carry, Baltimore still got it done, because John Harbaugh fields a complete team every week. The defense stepped up in Orchard Park, holding the Bills' offense to just 209 yards while making life miserable for Josh Allen. After a slow start, Wink Martindale's D has allowed just two of its past nine opponents to reach 20 points. "We want to be the heroes sometimes," Matt Judon said, per The Athletic. "It's usually Lamar and the offensive line are the heroes of the game, and they milk the clock. Today, we were called upon." They answered.
Previous rank: No. 3
If the 49ers end up hoisting the Lombardi in February, Sunday will be remembered as the day they proved their championship mettle. The Niners outlasted the Saints in an epic 48-46 shootout at the Superdome. It was -- yeah, I'll say it -- The Game Of The Year. Heroes were plentiful, but let's start with Jimmy Garoppolo, who never blinked in a treacherous road setting. He finished with four touchdown passes and coolly marched his team down the field in the final minute to set up Robbie Gould's 30-yard game-winner. The big play of that final drive was the 39-yard reception by George Kittle, who ransacked his way down the sideline as helpless New Orleans defenders attempted to drag him to the turf. Kittle is a star, and he's been ideally complemented by Emmanuel Sanders, who went off for 7/157/1 plus a perfect 35-yard touchdown pass. John Lynch made The NFC's Trade Of The Year when he acquired Sanders in October.
Previous rank: No. 2
The Seahawks lost Sunday's game -- and an opportunity to inhabit the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- because the Rams were able to push Seattle out of its comfort zone. This is a Brian Schottenheimer offense through and through; everything flows through the running game. But the Seahawks' defense struggled, allowing four long touchdown drives that forced the Seattle attack into pass-heavy mode. Russell Wilson is a great ally at any juncture, but he doesn't have the type of playmakers around him right now to mount a substantial comeback. We saw what happens when Wilson tries to do too much: He was sacked five times and took 11 hits as he scanned the field for open receivers. Painful drops from the likes of Malik Turner and Jacob Hollister didn't help matters. It was an ugly night, but the 'Hawks remain in solid position, with a massive Week 17 grudge match against the 49ers looming over everything.
Previous rank: No. 4
If someone told you the Saints would score 46 points against the 49ers' top-ranked defense on Sunday at the Superdome, you'd be smart to assume a blowout. Instead, the Saints lost the game -- and their grip on the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- because their defense had no answers for Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners' attack in a 48-46 loss. New Orleans' D had a chance to salvage a difficult afternoon in the final minute, after Drew Brees (brilliant all afternoon) threw his fifth touchdown pass to put the Saints ahead with 53 seconds to play. But Garoppolo marched San Francisco into field-goal range on a seven-play drive, which was capped by Robbie Gould's game-winner as time expired. The Saints already have the NFC South title and home playoff game that comes with it, but a path to the No. 1 seed now requires outside help. This was a shootout loss with potentially huge ramifications.
Previous rank: No. 5
Another week, another four quarters of evidence the Patriots' lack of firepower could be a fatal flaw. The Chiefs became the latest team to shut down New England's offense, as Tom Brady was limited to just 169 yards passing (his second-lowest total of the season) in a 23-16 loss at Foxborough that snapped a 21-game home winning streak. The Pats are 2-3 since ending the first half of their schedule a perfect 8-0. Brady struggled to make things happen against an aggressive K.C. defense that brought an array of blitz packages. That two of New England's biggest gains (including one of its touchdowns) came on trick plays feeds into the idea that the Pats are incapable of landing chunk plays without deviating from their standard offense. We know better than to count this team out ... but there is legitimate cause for concern that feels different than what we've seen during past years in New England.
Previous rank: No. 6
The Packers received a gift from the schedule gods with back-to-back December matchups against the woeful Giants and Redskins, and they took care of business with wins in both games. But Green Bay didn't look particularly impressive in either victory, prompting concerns about where this team truly fits in the NFC landscape. We'll get that answer in time, but for now, the Packers sit at 10-3 with possession of the second seed and the all-important bye that goes with it. The schedule tightens up in the next two weeks, with matchups against the resurgent Bears and second-place Vikings. The biggest positive to come out of Sunday? A return to form for Aaron Jones, who finished with 192 total yards (134 rushing, 58 receiving) and his team-leading 15th touchdown. Jones is the Jenga piece of this offense: Remove him from the mix, and the Green Bay attack will topple.
Previous rank: No. 9
These are good days to catch the Lions on your schedule, and the Vikings handled their business in a 20-7 win. At 9-4, the Vikings remain in second place in the NFC North but still have a head-to-head matchup remaining with the division-leading Packers. As expected, the Minnesota defense dominated a Lions offense led by third-string quarterback David Blough. Detroit didn't reach 100 yards of total offense until its 40th snap of the game and avoided a shutout thanks only to a garbage-time touchdown reception by Kenny Golladay. The star on defense was Danielle Hunter, who had three sacks in the first half, giving him 12.5 on the season and 52.5 in his five-year career. At 25 years old and 40 days, Hunter is the youngest player to reach 50 sacks since the NFL started tracking the stat in 1982. Not a bad return on investment for a third-round pick.
Previous rank: No. 11
What an impressive turnaround. Seven weeks ago, the Titans were the epitome of mediocrity, a middling team destined to play out the string come December. But then Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota, and the offense went nuclear. On Sunday, the Titans rolled up 552 yards on the Raiders in a 42-21 win, their highest yardage total in a game since the team moved to Nashville. Ryan Tannehill was brilliant once again, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns, including a perfect 91-yard touchdown strike to A.J. Brown that showed off the QB's accuracy and arm strength. Derrick Henry, meanwhile, is making a late push for the rushing title. He went over 100 yards again and is now just 38 yards behind Nick Chubb for the league lead. The Titans will welcome the Texans into their building on Sunday, with first place in the AFC South on the line.
Previous rank: No. 7
Beat the Patriots one week, get your doors blown off by the Broncos the next. The Texans are a hard team to make sense of right now ... and a difficult team to trust after a 38-24 loss. This was a dark day at NRG Stadium. Houston went into the half down 31-3; by the end of Denver's first possession of the third quarter, it was 38-3. The Texans did some cosmetic work after that, but it didn't matter how much lipstick you put on this pig. The Texans and Titans are now tied atop the AFC South with two head-to-head meetings in the next three weeks. On Sunday, Houston's defense was a mess ( get well soon, J.J. Watt), and the offense was out of sync. Will Fuller missed another game with a hamstring issue; the Texans' offense is simply not the same without their downfield threat. Uneasy times in Houston.
Previous rank: No. 10
It was another near miss against a conference powerhouse, but moral victories only go so far at this time of year. Credit the Bills' defense for an inspired effort, limiting Lamar Jackson to just 145 yards passing and less than 4 yards per rush (Jackson entered the game averaging over 7.0 yards per carry in his likely MVP season). The problem for Buffalo was the offense. The Bills' attack entered Sunday averaging more than 400 yards per game over the previous three weeks. But moving the ball was a chore against a strong Ravens defense: Josh Allen fumbled twice (losing one) and had just 89 yards passing with 10 minutes to play. Even Buffalo's march into the red zone in the final minutes was entirely aided by 56 yards of Ravens penalties. The defense did its part on Sunday -- Allen and the offense took a step back.
Previous rank: No. 12
Another week, another win for the Steelers, who have put themselves in prime playoff position with three weeks to play. More than likely, it will come down to Pittsburgh and the AFC South runner-up for the final wild-card spot. You feel good about the Steelers' chances for two reasons: 1) As we saw again in Sunday's 23-17 win over the Cardinals, the Steelers have an aggressive, ball-hawking defense that consistently makes game-changing plays; and 2) Devlin "Duck" Hodges continues to show us he is capable of piloting an offense that can score enough points to carry the day. Hodges threw just three incompletions and finished with a passer rating of 117.5, delighting the thousands of Steelers fans who invaded State Farm Stadium. Hodges makes smart decisions and doesn't turn the ball over. He's been the opposite of Mason Rudolph ... and it probably saved Pittsburgh's season.
Previous rank: No. 13
I loved this stat from NBC, delivered late in the Rams' impressive 28-12 win over the Seahawks on Sunday night at the Coliseum: Todd Gurley, Tyler Higbee and Robert Woods are the first teammate trio with 100-plus scrimmage yards each in consecutive games since the 2000 Vikings and their great troika of Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Robert Smith. Sunday night was essentially a playoff game for the Rams, and the pressure will remain at that level for the balance of the regular season as they chase the 9-4 Vikings for the NFC's final wild-card spot. Los Angeles might have to win out for a chance to defend its NFC title in January, but it suddenly doesn't feel like an impossible ask, with Jared Goff playing confidently and Gurley suddenly moving like the Gurley of old. The Rams are peaking at the right time.
Previous rank: No. 17
The Bears know they've disappointed their fanbase this season, so they've splurged on a thoughtful Christmas gift: relevant football in December. Chicago kept itself alive in the NFC playoff hunt with an impressive 31-24 win over the Cowboys that was far more one-sided than the final score indicates. Mitchell Trubisky continued his late-season resurgence, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another score. The former first-round pick has clearly regained his confidence, and it's resulting in the type of play that made the Bears so optimistic coming out of last season. It wasn't all good news, though: Linebacker Roquan Smith exited the game with a pectoral injury that ends his season. Above .500 for the first time since mid-October, the Bears head to Lambeau Field for a meeting with the NFC North-leading Packers. A win there, and Chicago becomes a big story in the NFC.
Previous rank: No. 21
Who knows what finally woke up the Eagles? In the first half, Eli Manning -- with the smell of mothballs clinging to his uniform -- carved up the Eagles (OK, Darius Slayton carved up Ronald Darby) for two touchdowns. The Eagles jogged off the field trailing 17-3 as a chorus of boos rained down upon the home team. But luckily for Philly, the alarm activated in the second half. Manning and the Giants' offense regressed into nothingness, while Carson Wentz led the Eagles on three touchdown drives, two in regulation and a game-winner in overtime. Credit the Eagles for their resourcefulness: By overtime, they were down to just one healthy wide receiver -- the immortal Greg Ward Jr. But they got contributions from unlikely sources (hello, Boston Scott) and the veteran pairing of Wentz and Zach Ertz handled the hero work. From down and out to first place in one night. Strange times.
Previous rank: No. 14
The Cowboys are in the ultra-rare First-Place Death Spiral. We thought the home Thanksgiving loss to the Bills was rock bottom for the Jason Garrett era, but then came Thursday's grim setback against the Bears at Soldier Field. The Cowboys began the game with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that consumed nearly nine minutes of game time, but the offense didn't show up again until garbage time. The defense also started well, forcing its first turnover in four games on Chicago's opening drive ... before allowing the Bears to score on each of their final three possessions of the half. Watching Dallas come apart makes me think back to what a team source told NFL Network's Jane Slater about the Cowboys last month: "Too early to jump ship, too early to build one, too."
Previous rank: No. 18
The Browns kept their faint playoff hopes alive on Sunday with a win over the Bengals, but controversy continues to be what this team does best. Baker Mayfield threw his training staff under the bus after the game, telling reporters he didn't believe Odell Beckham Jr.'s core injury has been handled correctly by the team. It felt like an atrociously misguided attempt at teammate support by the quarterback, who quickly walked the comments back on social media. Speaking of Beckham, reports by Yahoo's Charles Robinson and FOX's Jay Glazer fuel the fire that the wide receiver could be one-and-done in Cleveland. You would imagine the Browns would be able to get good value for Beckham on the open market, but would it match what they gave to the Giants to land the enigmatic star? Beckham is under contract through 2023, but he holds the cards.
Previous rank: No. 19
In a rough season for the Chargers and the greatest quarterback in their history, Sunday served as an exhale. Philip Rivers celebrated his 38th birthday with 314 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 45-10 win over the Jaguars. Who cares if the Bolts were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday? The Chargers have all offseason to try and figure out how to fix this team. For now, this is the time to appreciate Rivers, who might be playing his final games as a Charger. Whomever is behind center next year will be lucky to have Austin Ekeler on his side. The versatile running back became the first player in the NFL this season to finish a game with 100 yards rushing and receiving. Most of that receiving damage came on an 84-yard touchdown reception off a bubble screen. The man is instant offense.
Previous rank: No. 16
The Colts have run out of horsepower. A 38-35 loss to the Bucs is the third straight defeat for Indianapolis, and the team's 6-7 record all but eliminates the Colts from postseason contention. Put this one on the defense, which came up with four turnovers, including a pick-six -- these things happen when the other quarterback is Jameis Winston -- but also surrendered 542 yards of total offense. Both sides of the ball share fault for an inability to close. Tampa Bay scored the final 17 points of the game. Sound familiar? On Monday, we learned that Adam Vinatieri will undergo knee surgery, ending his difficult 24th season. The Colts would probably still be in playoff hunt with a more accurate kicker this season, but there will be time to address that in the offseason. It's coming fast.
Previous rank: No. 22
I'll remember the 2019 Bucs as the team that gave us The Jameis Winston Season on steroids. The only thing that's been consistent about Winston since he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 has been his inconsistency -- and this year, the ups and downs are more pronounced than ever. Sunday's 38-35 win over the Colts was a microcosm. 33-of-45 passing for 456 yards and four touchdowns! Also ... three interceptions, including his league-high fifth pick-six. Winston is on pace to throw for 5,065 yards with 32 touchdowns and 28 interceptions! What?!? If you're Bruce Arians and Bucs management, how in the hell do you make sense of all this? Has Winston helped his cause this season or hurt it? DO YOU WANT THIS MAN AS YOUR STARTING QUARTERBACK? It will all make for delicious theater when we reach the offseason. For now, enjoy the madness.
Previous rank: No. 23
After Sunday's impressive 38-24 win over the Texans in Houston, a reporter asked Von Miller what he thought about the performance of rookie quarterback Drew Lock. "Incredible," Miller replied. "That guy's a f---ing rock star." Drew Lock went 22 of 27 for 309 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Broncos build a 35-point lead early in the third quarter. Lock played with easygoing confidence, delivering the type of QB competence the Broncos haven't seen much of in recent years. Could the second-round pick be the team's answer behind center? The final three weeks will be important in the audition process. Lock wasn't the only person enjoying himself out there. Safety Kareem Jackson -- who played the first nine seasons of his career in Houston -- had a huge game. Jackson had 11 tackles, a 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown, an interception and a jarring hit on DeAndre Hopkins to prevent a long completion. That's a homecoming.
Previous rank: No. 15
The Baby Raiders' magic has run out. On Sunday, Oakland absorbed its third consecutive lopsided defeat, this time a 42-21 setback at the Black Hole. Now 6-7, the Raiders' playoff hopes are essentially extinguished with three games to play. Their divisional path is already sealed off after the Chiefs clinched the AFC West with a win over the Patriots. Derek Carr and the offense were shut out in the second half against Tennessee, but it was Oakland's defense that shoulders most of the blame for the latest defeat. The Titans rolled up more than 550 yards of total offense, turning a game that was tied 21-21 at the half into a blowout by the fourth quarter. Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock have done great work finding young players to build around, but the Raiders have plenty of holes to fill as they look ahead to the offseason.
Previous rank: No. 25
Matt Ryan is, somewhat quietly, putting together one of the greatest statistical careers of all time at the quarterback position. Ryan threw for 313 yards in a blowout win over the Panthers on Sunday, putting the 34-year-old QB over 50,000 passing yards in his career. He's now 10th on the all-time list and could pass John Elway with a big finish to this season. Ryan's continued excellence and the stability he brings stand in stark contrast to what's going on with the Panthers, who are also suffering through a down season but have a huge question mark under center. It's on Falcons management to retool the roster with the kind of expediency that will allow the team to make the most of Ryan's remaining prime years. With an elite franchise quarterback, Atlanta still has the most important piece of a roster. Get Matty Ice the help he needs.
Previous rank: No. 27
Although the rivalry has fallen on (very) hard times, the Jets did not want to get swept by the Dolphins ... especially not this season. So they'll take the 22-21 last-second win at the Meadowlands, even if Miami coach Brian Flores had every right to go berserk after a controversial pass-interference call gave New York new life in the final minute. The Jets found a way playing without Le'Veon Bell (illness) and Jamal Adams (ankle). Sam Darnold also lost security blanket Ryan Griffin in the first quarter after the tight end suffered an ankle injury. Darnold wasn't at his best, missing too many open receivers and making several ill-advised decisions; it was the first sub-standard Darnold game where you couldn't put blame on his offensive line or subpar receiver group. To the quarterback's credit, he threw two touchdown passes and moved the Jets into field-goal range ahead of Sam Ficken's game-winner.
Previous rank: No. 20
The Panthers fired Ron Rivera on Tuesday. In their first game without the longtime coach, the leadership void was on full display. After a 40-20 blowout loss to the Falcons, cornerback Donte Jackson blasted the staff led by interim coach Perry Fewell for "two horrible calls" that led to Atlanta touchdowns in Jackson's coverage area. It speaks to the frustration and unrest behind the scenes in Charlotte as team owner David Tepper begins the process of retooling -- and perhaps completely rebuilding -- the Panthers after a long run of stability and periodic success with Rivera. Speaking of retooling and rebuilding, does it really make sense for Carolina to move on from Cam Newton? That seems to be the direction this is heading, but Kyle Allen has shown over the past five weeks (all losses) that he's closer to a solid backup than a legit starter.
Previous rank: No. 26
Brian Flores believes his team was robbed against the Jets on Sunday. In reality, the Dolphins were just the latest team to be seriously impacted by the byzantine nature of the new pass-interference review rule. With the Dolphins ahead 21-19 with 47 seconds to play, officials stopped play to review a third-and-18 incompletion by the Jets. Nik Needham was subsequently flagged for PI, a play that wiped away a fourth-and-forever scenario for the Jets near midfield. Four plays later, Sam Ficken won the game with a 44-yard field goal, and Flores looked like a man ready to explode. The Dolphins wouldn't have needed that final stop had they performed better in the red zone: Miami had seven scoring drives in 10 possessions -- the net result being 21 points on seven Jason Sanders field goals. Per NFL Media Research, this was just the sixth time since 2000 where a team punted just once and didn't score a touchdown.
Previous rank: No. 28
Give the Redskins credit: As we approach mid-December of another lost season, they could have mailed in the final three quarters after the Packers took a 14-0 lead at Lambeau Field on Sunday. What's another blowout loss under an interim head coach, anyway? But the Redskins battled, holding Aaron Rodgers in check and actually drawing within one score late in the 20-15 loss. It's tough to evaluate Dwayne Haskins right now, but he showed toughness in playing through an ankle injury in the second half. Running back Derrius Guice wasn't so lucky: The second-year running back suffered his third knee injury in seven career pro games (including the preseason) and was unable to return. Guice shows flashes that explain why the Redskins were so high on him in the 2018 draft, but you reach the point where it becomes difficult to count on a player who can't stay on the field.
Previous rank: No. 29
Kyler Murray had a rookie moment to forget on Sunday. Trailing the Steelers by 10 points and facing a fourth down near the goal line, Kliff Kingsbury opted to leave his offense on the field. Murray took the snap, drifted to his right, then fired a spiral directly between the numbers of Steelers defensive end T.J. Watt for a crushing interception. It was one of three interceptions on the game for Murray, a career high. Murray showed his resiliency on the next drive, floating a perfect 24-yard touchdown pass to David Johnson to draw Arizona back within three points. It was as close as the home team would get. (Can you still be the home team when it sounds like your building is filled with fans of the opponent?) Speaking of Johnson, the running back came out of witness protection and finished with 53 total yards. If Johnson is healthy, he should be part of the backfield rotation.
Previous rank: No. 30
The Lions weren't expected to compete on the road in Minnesota this week. And while the game wasn't as lopsided as expected, Detroit never seriously contended in a 20-7 loss, the team's sixth consecutive defeat. David Blough had some nice moments in his Thanksgiving debut, but on Sunday, the third-string QB was less impressive, throwing two interceptions and taking five sacks as the Lions managed a season-low 231 total yards. Blough did have one garbage-time passing score to Kenny Golladay, which put the wideout over 1,000 yards on the season. Per NFL Media Research, Golladay is the fifth player in Lions history with 1,000 receiving yards and at least 10 touchdowns in a season, joining Calvin Jones (four times), Herman Moore (two times), Terry Barr (1963) and ... come on ... you know this ... it's on the tip of your tongue ... last chance now .. Cloyce Box back in 1950.
Previous rank: No. 32
Just as expected, the return of Andy Dalton has injected life into the Bengals' offense. The veteran passer played well in the Week 13 win over the Jets, and he had the Cincy attack moving again in Sunday's loss to the Browns. The Bengals finished with 451 total yards, the most by the team since Week 7 of 2016. It's also the most total yards in a game that the Bengals lost since Week 9 of the 2013 season. Such is life when you're 1-12. The offense was powered by Joe Mixon, who enjoyed a career day. The running back finished with 23 rushes for 146 yards and Cincinnati's only touchdown. The arrow is pointing up for the AFC's 2018 rushing champion, who has averaged 109.5 scrimmage yards per game over the past four weeks. As for the big picture, the Bengals remain on track for the No. 1 overall pick with three games to play. And you thought there was nothing left to play for?
Previous rank: No. 31
If only the game would have ended after two quarters. A lightning strike. A violent hail storm. A rogue cat ... this time rabid as hell. In that case, Eli Manning would have had a storybook ending to his Giants career ... or as close to storybook as the Giants can get at this juncture. Manning and Darius Slayton torched Ronald Darby for two touchdowns and Big Blue skipped into the tunnel with a 17-3 lead after two quarters. But all semblance of an offensive attack disappeared after halftime. Manning threw for just 24 yards in the second half, Saquon Barkley was again stuck in neutral, and the Giants couldn't make a big play on defense to thwart an Eagles rally that felt preordained by the overtime coin toss. The Giants have now tied a franchise record with nine consecutive losses. This one stung.
Previous rank: No. 24
The Jaguars free-fall to the bottom of the Power Rankings for a simple reason: If they're not going to bother showing up on Sundays anymore, why should I do any mental gymnastics trying to figure out where they belong in the NFL pecking order? Jacksonville has now lost five consecutive games by at least 17 points. You have to go all the way back to the 1986 Buccaneers to find an NFL punching bag that managed those same results. We take no joy in stating the obvious here: This is what it looks like when an NFL team quits on its head coach. This extended stretch of ineptitude has sealed the fate of Doug Marrone, but the head coach isn't the only one likely to be shown the door. A great purge is coming in Duval.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.