1. Baltimore Ravens (10-2) ↑
Amid wind and rain, the Ravens grabbed their eighth win on the bounce. The 20-17 victory against fellow Super Bowl hopefuls the 49ers was sealed with a Justin Tucker field goal as the clock ticked down to zero (somewhat ironically from 49 yards). If this proves to be a preview of the season’s showpiece finale, we’re in for a corker. There were five fourth-down conversions, a solid San Fran run defense, and Lamar Jackson doing his thing, running (101 yards) almost as much as throwing (105 yards) and scoring TDs both ways. Baltimore face another toughie – the Bills – this week but they’ve already beaten the Patriots, 49ers, Texans, Seahawks and Rams without missing a step.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2) ↑
The third Thanksgiving Day game saw the Saints see off the Falcons and clinch the NFC South for the third year running – not bad for November! Their 26-18 victory was sweet revenge for the surprising loss to Atlanta three weeks ago, and came less from Drew Brees and Michael Thomas, but from TE Jared Cook (three catches, 85 yards) and jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill, who blocked a punt, caught a TD pass and then ran one in from 30 yards while deputising for Brees at QB. Beating San Fran next week would really boost the Saints’ chances of a first-round bye and home field advantage in the post-season.
3. San Francisco 49ers (10-2) ↓
The last-second loss to the Ravens drops the Niners down the seedings in the NFC and makes the playoff picture a little murkier. It was Raheem Mostert’s turn to shine in the offense (146 yards, including a blistering 40-yard TD catch-and-run) and Deebo Samuel also snagged a 33-yard score. They held up pretty well against the bulldozing Ravens attack too, and even stripped the ball off Lamar Jackson for his first lost fumble this season. But they had issues of their own, including a Jimmy G fumble and a tipped FG attempt. The race to the NFC West title is hotting up, and games against the top teams keep on coming – it’s the Saints next.
4. Seattle Seahawks (10-2) ↑
What did we learn from the Seahawks’ thrilling Monday night win over playoff rivals Minnesota? That they can maintain a winning streak (five and counting) against strong opposition… that they triumph in close games (nine of their wins have been by one score)… and that thanks to their running game – Chris Carson (23 carries, 102 yards, 1 TD) and Rashad Penny (19 carries, 107 yards, 2 TDs) – they can dominate the clock: they had almost 40 minutes of possession. The ‘Hawks now have the edge over the Niners in the AFC but they play each other again in Week 17 – that’s another mouth-watering prospect.
5. New England Patriots (10-2) ↓
The Pats slip for the second consecutive week after their 28-22 loss to the Texans. The rapport between QB and receivers is clearly a sticking point with only Julian Edelman and James White doing anything of note, while Tom Brady completed fewer than 60% of his passes again. With the defeat, New England have lost the AFC No.1 seed to the Ravens, and with the Chiefs next up, they will need to hit their stride soon. They’ll also need a kicker, having waived Kai Forbath after just one game. Any replacement will be their fifth(!) of the year, with Stephen Gostkowski (hip), Mike Nugent (released) and Nick Folk (appendicitis) all coming and going.
6. Green Bay Packers (9-3) ←
Everyone loves NYC in December: rain, hail, snow – perfect conditions for football. Still, the weather didn’t stop Aaron Rodgers from throwing four TD passes in a 31-13 win over the Giants. With the Packers run game spinning its wheels in the snow, Davante Adams grabbed two touchdowns and Allen Lazard went all out too, gaining 103 yards on just three catches. The Pack are due to face three more teams with losing records so they should ease into the playoffs without breaking sweat.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) ←
Refreshed after their bye, KC dismantled a poor Raiders team 40-9 on Sunday. It was actually more of a defensive performance, complete with sacks, interceptions and a blocked PAT attempt. Patrick Mahomes was held to just 15-of-29 for one TD and 175 yards passing (half of which went to TE Travis Kelce) but he also ran in a score, as did running backs LeSean McCoy and rookie Darwin Thompson. Having opened up a two-game lead on Oakland, the AFC West is all but theirs, but can they beat the Patriots and snaffle that first-round bye?
8. Houston Texans (8-4) ↑
Head Coach Bill O’Brien turned the tables on his former boss Bill Belichick with a four-TD, 28-22 win over the Patriots, while Deshaun Watson got the better of Tom Brady. It was sealed by a trick play when a handoff from Watson to RB Duke Johnson ended up with receiver DeAndre Hopkins passing to back to Watson for a touchdown. Despite a late Pats comeback, Houston held on for their fourth win in five, giving them a one-game lead in the AFC South. Two of their last three games are against their closest rivals – the in-form Titans – so nothing is written in stone yet. Before that, the Broncos come to town.
9. Buffalo Bills (9-3) ↑
On Thursday, Buffalo fans would have been giving thanks for Josh Allen after the 26-15 road win at Dallas. His efforts were exemplified when he fumbled a 4th-and-1 QB sneak, but recovered the ball, dived forward and still earned a first down. On the next play, a double-handoff left the ball with receiver John Brown, who lobbed it to Devin Singletary for a 28-yard score. Impressive stuff. Now just a game behind the Patriots, Buffalo need one more win for their best regular-season record this century. Alas, they’re facing the rampant Ravens this week, so that W – and a confirmed playoff place – may have to be put on ice.
10. Minnesota Vikings (8-4) ↓
Minnesota almost managed another amazing second-half comeback on Monday Night Football at Seattle. Having led 17-10 at the break, they conceded 24 unanswered points before staging a fourth-quarter resurgence. Two consecutive TD drives got them to within four points with three minutes left, only to turn the ball over on downs. Kirk Cousins’ record for MNF now stands at 0-8, but he at least led a valiant fightback (despite the continued absence of Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook leaving mid-game with a shoulder injury). The Vikes still hold a playoff spot and with three games against teams with a .500 record at best, starting with the Lions, they could yet win the NFC North.
11. Los Angeles Rams (7-5) ↑
What a win for the Rams against the Cardinals… Jared Goff threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns, and TE Tyler Higbee had a career day (seven catches, 107 yards, 1 TD) – I hope you fantasy fans took up our top tip to that effect! The Rams’ 20-0 half-time lead turned into a 34-7 final score, thanks also to an effective pass rush, Todd Gurley rushing for 95 yards and Robert Woods racking up 172 more. With a prime-time game with the Seahawks next, the Rams will need to replicate this performance to realise any lingering post-season aspirations.
12. Tennessee Titans (7-5) ↑
The Titans’ third consecutive win, this time against divisional rivals the Colts, had a bit of everything. There was a significant second-half comeback, Ryan Tannehill played well again (I know!), Derrick Henry ran for a yard shy of 150 (and scored a TD), Jacoby Brissett was intercepted twice, and Houston ran a blocked FG attempt back for a score. The Texans sit on top of the AFC South but with two clashes against Tennessee still to come, the Titans aren’t out of it yet.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) ↑
Credit to Mike Tomlin. His team were 0-3 and 1-4. They are playing without the Killer Bs, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Maurkice Pouncey. And they are now reliant on their third-string QB, Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges. But the Steelers haven’t quacked yet (sorry, couldn’t resist it…). Hodges’ ball security (superior to Mason Rudolph’s) plus the efforts of James Washington (four catches, 111 yards, 1 TD) and Benny Snell Jr (63 rushing yards and a TD) yielded a 20-13 win over the Browns. It keeps Pittsburgh in the hunt for a Wild Card spot and pretty much does for the playoff ambitions of a divisional rival.
14. Dallas Cowboys (6-6) ↓
Despite topping their division, the misfiring Cowboys may not be playing in January. Unusually, in Thursday’s game with the Bills, the ‘Boys scored first but then watched Buffalo stampede all over them. Under Jason Garrett, Dallas are making too many errors. Exemplifying their woes, Dak Prescott had a third-down TD overturned, then – from six yards out – threw the 4th-and-goal attempt into the ground rather than to Zeke Elliott. Dallas also tried out some kickers this week but won’t be replacing Brett Maher, despite him missing almost a third of his field goal attempts this season. Next up, it’s the 6-6 Bears and Dallas really need to get back to winning ways if they are to prevail in the shockingly weak NFC East.
15. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) ↓
The Colt will rue their 31-17 loss to playoff rivals the Titans, not least because they were 17-7 to the good in the third quarter. But instead of holding on for a much-needed win, they collapsed. A field goal attempt was blocked and run back for a score, and Jacoby Brissett coughed up a turnover soon after. The injuries on offense are having an effect and Indy seem like they are running out of juice down the stretch.
16. Chicago Bears (6-6) ↑
The Thanksgiving triple-header last Thursday began with Mitchell Trubisky leading a second-half revival to slay the Lions 24-20. His first 300+ yard game of the season saw WR Anthony Miller claim nine catches for 140 yards, while Allen Robinson grabbed a TD and 86 yards. Trubisky wasn’t perfect – he miscued several passes and threw an interception – but ugly wins still count. They face the Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings yet so while you can’t rule Chicago out of the playoffs just yet, you wouldn’t put your house on them either.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) ↓
The Eagles’ playoff odds lengthened again with a 39-31 loss to the Dolphins in South Beach. Carson Wentz’s early touchdown pass to Miles Sanders hinted at what might be but despite looking OK on paper – 310 yards and three TDs – and ably supported by Alshon Jeffery (nine catches, 137 yards, 1 TD), his last-second Hail Mary interception was more representative of how Philly’s day went. Their third defeat in a row – peppered with mistakes – means another missed opportunity to overhaul the equally error-prone Cowboys. The winners of the AFC East might do so with a losing record… embarrassing.
18. Carolina Panthers (5-7) ↓
Stretching their losing streak to four games, the Panthers let a two-score lead slip against the Redskins, eventually going down 37-31. Summing up their day, they conceded a TD run in by kicker Jason Sanders. Yes, a kicker. Ouch! After this galling loss, the inevitable happened on Tuesday: Carolina relieved Ron Rivera of his duties, suggesting the Panthers are done for 2019 and already looking ahead to their next HC. Owner David Tepper had already denounced ‘long-term mediocrity’ and, despite Rivera winning three NFC South titles, reaching the playoffs four times and contesting Super Bowl L, their current losing streak – and their run of seven defeats last year – were probably weighing heavier on his mind.
19. Cleveland Browns (5-7) ↓
HC Freddie Kitchen’s mindless ‘Pittsburgh started it’ t-shirt suggested they were fired up for their rematch with the Steelers but they played like they had already surrendered. Nick Chubb: 58 yards? Kareem Hunt: 46 yards? Odell Beckham: 29 yards? Eek! Despite building a 10-0 lead, Cleveland’s eventual 20-13 capitulation was reflected in some ‘unexpected’ play calls by Kitchens. Sliding to 5-7, the Browns are all-but-out of the running now, even with a date with the Bengals on the horizon.
20. Oakland Raiders (6-6) ↓
After losing 34-3 to the Jets last week, Oakland lost by 31 points again, going down 40-9 to Kansas City. Derek Carr’s only TD, which ended nearly 10 quarters without one, came with just 39 seconds left: garbage in garbage time. The bright spots were Josh Jacobs breaking 1,000 yards in his rookie season with a 104-yard game and tight end Darren Waller catching seven passes for a round 100. The loss leaves the Raiders two games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West so it’s almost time to pull up the shutters on the 2019 season.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) ↑
In my previous column, I said that this week’s star performer was anyone’s guess. Well, after sacking Atlanta QB Matt Ryan twice last week, I should have predicted Devin White. In the Bucs’ straightforward 25-11 win over Florida neighbours the Jaguars, the rookie linebacker recorded seven tackles, claimed his first career interception and took a fumble recovery back to the house. He also kept former LSU teammate Leonard Fournette largely in check (Peyton Barber’s two rushing TDs should probably get a mention too). Tampa’s season may be on auto-pilot now but their defense looks like it’s going to be the foundation to build on for 2020.
22. Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) ↓
The Chargers’ third consecutive defeat – 23-20 to the Broncos – was yet another heartbreaker (or farce, depending on your view). They went 14 points down to a rookie QB (Drew Lock) making his NFL debut, and Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram et al never got to him. Mike Williams made a spectacular, one-handed grab to set up an equalising Mike Badgley FG with 19 seconds left but scholars of the hapless Bolts will know that’s more than enough time for them to screw things up. And screw things up they did. Lock threw a Hail Mary towards Courtland Sutton, who earned a pass interference call and set up a 53-yard FG by Brandon McManus – his second 50+ yarder in five minutes. Another one-score defeat means the Chargers have nothing to look forward to in the new year except the January sales.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) ↓
Foles. Minshew. Foles. And now Minshew again. Apparently, the Jags are starting with Gardner Minshew at QB against the Chargers this week after Nick Foles was benched after a point-less, three-turnover first half against the Buccaneers. The 28-11 defeat was Jacksonville’s fourth straight loss – and all have been by at least 17 points. Foles has led an insipid attack since returning for injury and it was hardly Minshew Mania after the break, but at least he steered the Bucs to 11 points. How well The Moustachioed One fares from here on in could determine what happens to him, Foles and possibly HC Doug Marrone long term.
24. Denver Broncos (4-8) ↑
Denver are officially out of the playoff race, despite debutant QB Drew Lock leading them to a 23-20 win over the LA Chargers. He’d thrown for two scores by half-time but after the break, he completed just 6-of-9 for a paltry 13 yards – and gave up a pick. The Broncos relied on their running game to hold on but even that requires a caveat, with just 218 net yards achieved. It’s all pretty meaningless from here on in, which is just as well as they face the Texans this weekend.
25. New York Jets (4-8) ↓
Just as the Jets were taking off, they came back down to earth with an unexpected 22-6 collapse to previously winless Cincinnati. That makes the 2019 Jets the only team in NFL history to be beaten by two teams with a record of 0-7 or worse (having lost to the Dolphins already). Maybe he wasn’t seeing ghosts but Sam Darnold had Carlos Dunlap (three sacks) in his face all game and after scoring 34 for three straight games, New York had to settle for two FGs. Their 10 penalties for 106 yards nullified a 101-yard day by Robbie Anderson, and they couldn’t get their run game going against the league’s worst run defense. A footballing masterclass with the Dolphins is the next installment in a very odd season for Gang Green.
26. Atlanta Falcons (3-9) ↓
As expected, the Falcons had their wings clipped again, going down 26-18 to NFC South rivals New Orleans just three weeks after upsetting them on home (astro)turf. Not only was he missing the injured Julio Jones and Austin Hooper, Matt Ryan was also hassled by the Saints’ D-line, taking nine (oof!) sacks, losing a fumble and throwing two interceptions. The rest of their schedule, starting with the Panthers, will determine nothing more than where the Falcons land in the 2020 draft pecking order.
27. Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1) ↓
The Cardinals’ slump continued with a fifth loss on the trot. In their 34-7 thrashing at the hands of the LA Rams, the Cards got burned for 549 total yards… and they still can’t cover tight ends! Young QB Kyler Murray got rushed all game and Arizona just couldn’t get their run or passing game going. Hosting the steadily improving Steelers on Sunday, I’d be more interested in draft pick order and the ongoing rebuild than anything else if I were a Cards fan.
28. Washington Redskins (3-9) ↑
Amazingly, the only team in the NFC East to win either last week or this are the Redskins – and they won both. Having seen off the Lions, Washington took on more big cats – the Panthers – and came out 29-21 victors, despite going 14 points behind on Carolina’s first two drives. But if you can limit Christian McCaffrey to 44 yards rushing, sack QB Kyle Allen seven times, and force seven punts and an interception from eight consecutive possessions, your defense is doing something right. As for the offense, Dwayne Haskins was turnover-free and Derrius Grice rushed for a career-high 129 yards and two TDs. Alas, the winning run may hit the buffers at Lambeau Field this weekend.
29. Miami Dolphins (3-9) ↑
They say you can’t trick a tricker but Philadelphia – exponents of a classic in Super Bowl LII – were undone by one in their 37-31 loss to Miami. Facing a 4th-and-1 at Philly’s 1-yard line, ‘Fins punter Matt Haack shovel-passed to kicker Jason Sanders for the TD (he kicked the PAT too). Despite an interception with his very first play, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 365 yards and three TDs – making Miami the seventh team he’s made a TD pass for against the same opponent (an NFL record) – while DeVante Parker had a career day with seven catches for 159 yards. The Dolphins are quite the offensive treat at times and their upcoming games against the Jets and Bengals could be meaningless fun.
30. Detroit Lions (3-8-1) ↓
Detroit served up another turkey on Thanksgiving Day, losing 24-20 to the Bears; that’s five losses in a row and eight of the last nine. With Jeff Driskel joining Matt Stafford on the treatment table, undrafted free agent David Blough (no, me neither) stepped in at QB – and absolutely flew out the gates. His first NFL completion was a 75-yard TD toss to Kenny Golladay (four catches, 158 yards) and Blough also found Marvin Jones for another score. The attack then fizzled out with an interception, some missed passes and several three-and-outs but Blough did OK for someone no one’s ever heard of. Now we know his name, we assume he’ll be back to face the Vikings.
31. New York Giants (2-10) ↓
Thanks to the Bengals’ first win of the campaign, the Giants have the dubious honour of holding the worst active losing streak. Their eighth straight defeat – 31-13 to Green Bay – was another big loss for Big Blue. And with Golden Tate and Evan Engram missing, and Daniel Jones throwing three interceptions, it was never likely to be anything other than a big fat L. With all their remaining opponents holding losing records – the Eagles (twice), Dolphins and Redskins – New York could yet end the season on a (relative) high, and leave the Bengals to pick first in April. Lose them, however, and HC Pat Shurmur’s seat might start warming up.
32. Cincinnati Bengals (1-11) ←
After the three-week Finley Fiasco, during which the rookie QB completed just 47% of his passes, Andy Dalton came back in from the cold to steer the Bengals to their first win since mid-December last year. In their dominant 22-6 victory over the Jets, Dalton passed Ken Anderson as the all-time Bengals leader in TD passes (198) by threading a needle to Tyler Boyd (he also broke the franchise record for completed passes), Joe Mixon added another rushing score, Sam Darnold got sacked four times and HC Zac Taylor got drenched by a barrel of Gatorade as a ‘reward’ for his first NFL win. And Washington won too – happy days (at last). With three more games against sub-.500 teams to come, starting with the first of two Battle of Ohio games against the Browns, could Cincy get a taste for victory?