NFC North Preview: Off-season Recap and Predictions

NFC North preview

The NFC North has been dominated by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for a while now. With big time players moving in-division, the NFC North could be close this year. Here’s a look at what each team did this offseason, and how I believe they will finish in this NFC North preview.

NFC North Preview

4. Chicago Bears

Key losses – RB Damien Williams, WR Jakeem Grant, P Pat O’Donnell, QB Nick Foles, WR Allen Robinson, DE Bilal Nichols, OG Alex Bars, QB Andy Dalton, OG James Daniels, CB Artie Burns, DE Akiem Hicks, OT Jason Peters, DE Khalil Mack

Key additions – HC Matt Eberflus, DT Justin Jones, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, C Lucas Patrick, WR Byron Pringle, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Riley Reiff, OLB Nicolas Morrow, TE Ryan Griffin, WR N’Keal Harry, CB Kyler Gordon, S Jaquan Brisker, WR Velus Jones Jr.

Re-signed – S DeAndre Houston-Carson (1-year)

Extensions – LS Patrick Scales (1-year, $1.2 million)

After going 6-11 in the regular season, the Bears fired head coach Matt Nagy after four seasons. Matt Eberflus takes over after spending last season in Indianapolis as defensive coordinator. The rookie head coach will try to turn the franchise around with Justin Fields going into his second NFL season.

Fields came in looking like a rookie last season, and it didn’t help that Nagy was calling the plays, as they finished 24th in total offense. They ranked even worse in points, as they were 27th in the NFL. They didn’t do much in the offseason to fill those holes, either.

We’ll have to see if Justin Fields makes the leap in with a new coach, but the offensive line won’t help. They rank in the bottom five of the league in the NFL, and could be dead last. However, David Montgomery is back with Khalil Herbert in the backfield — but I don’t expect much from them.

The last part of the offense is the receiving corps, and it is easily the worst in the NFL. Darnell Mooney is still there and still has potential, but isn’t close to a #1 wideout. Behind him they have Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, and Velus Jones Jr. Those three have combined for 37 receptions in a combined six seasons. They can still prove to be weapons on an NFL offense, but I don’t expect it.

With Khalil Mack gone, that leaves Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith as the leaders of this defense. Quinn leads a defensive line that is one of the worst in the league, and will most likely fall lower than their ranking of 23rd against the run last season. Smith will help that cause and newly acquired Nicholas Morrow will fill in nicely next to him. It’s an, at-best, average linebacker group in the NFL.

The final part of this team is the secondary. You’re probably thinking there has to be one good part of this team. Well… there’s not. The secondary is very young with two rookies starting. One of those players is Kyler Gordon, who will be opposite of Jaylon Johnson at cornerback. They can eventually both grow to be a great duo, but are too inexperienced and young right now. Jaquan Brisker is the other rookie starting at safety alongside Eddie Jackson, who is the oldest in the secondary.

Prediction

I expect another long season for Bears fans with a new regime. I have them going 3-14, and 1-5 against the NFC North. With Nagy now gone, they will be looking to rebuild the right way.

3. Detroit Lions

Key losses – OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, DE Trey Flowers, DT Nick Williams

Key additions – WR DJ Chark, CB Mike Hughes, LB Chris Board, ILB Jarrad Davis, OT Kendall Lamm, S Deshon Elliott, RB Justin Jackson, DE Aidan Hutchinson, WR Jameson Williams, DE Josh Paschal, S Kerby Joseph

Re-signed – FB Jason Cabinda (2-years), K Riley Patterson (1-year), LB Alex Anzalone (1-year), S Tracy Walker (3-years), C Evan Brown (1-year), OLB Charles Harris (2-years), WR Kalif Raymond (1-year)

The first season since 2008 without Matthew Stafford went about as you’d expect for the Detroit Lions. They finished 3-13-1, earning the first overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. They ended up drafting twice in the top ten and are looking to start moving in the right direction this year in head coach Dan Campbell’s second season.

They’re tied to Jared Goff for a little bit longer, after ranking 22nd in total offense last season. D’Andre Swift looked solid in his second season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and will look to improve with a top five offensive line. It’s an offensive line that includes three first round picks that Detroit nailed.

Tight end features T.J. Hockenson, who hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, but has still been a quality starter. Amon-Ra St. Brown shined towards the end of last season, and now has some quality counterparts. DJ Chark comes over from Jacksonville and will help open up the field along with rookie Jameson Williams. However, Williams is still recovering from a torn ACL, but should be ready a few weeks into the season.

The defense ranked 29th last year, but is getting a big boost from #1 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. He joins a defensive line that has potential, but will still be a bottom-ten unit in the league. They won’t be getting a lot of help from linebackers Alex Anzalone and Chris Board, either. Both players have been unable to prove to be quality starters in this league.

The secondary will still rank towards the bottom of the league, but it will be interesting to see if cornerback Amani Oruwariye can build off a good 2021. Jeff Okudah is still coming back from an Achilles injury, so Mike Hughes will be opposite Oruwariye. The safety tandem of Tracy Walker and DeShone Elliott is average, so I wouldn’t expect too much from this defense.

Prediction

I like the direction Dan Campbell is taking this team, but they need to put some wins up this year. I believe they will, finishing the season 7-10, and 1-5 against the rest of the NFC North.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Key losses – S Xavier Woods, OLB Anthony Barr, OLB Nick Vigil, TE Tyler Conklin, C Mason Cole

Key additions – HC Kevin O’Connell, OLB Za’Darius Smith, DT Harrison Phillips, ILB Jordan Hicks, OG Chris Reed, OG Jesse Davis, TE Johnny Mundt, S Lewis Cine, CB Andrew Booth Jr., OG Ed Ingram, LB Brian Asamoah

Re-signed – CB Patrick Peterson (1-year)

Extensions – QB Kirk Cousins (1-year, $35 million)

The Vikings missed the playoffs for the second straight season, going 8-9 and finishing second in the NFC North. They fired Mike Zimmer and decided to bring in Kevin O’Connell, former Rams offensive coordinator. O’Connell will look to lead the Vikings to the playoffs, and hopefully farther.

Last year’s offense ranked 12th in the NFL, but could take a jump this year. O’Connell is bringing a Super Bowl-quality playbook to help quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins is also getting help from amazing offensive weapons. Dalvin Cook is back to take the load off of Cousins’ plate, looking for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

However, Cook is running behind a below-average offensive line. If Christian Darrisaw can improve off of a good 2021 as a rookie, this line can move to top 15 in the league. The receiving corps is loaded, with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen starring. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is looking to make a jump and open up the field for Jefferson and Thielen. It should be a top-10 offense this year with O’Connell at the helm.

The defensive side of the ball struggled last season, finishing 30th in the NFL. They got some help up front with edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. It’s now a top-15 defensive line in the league. Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks help create a top ten linebacker corps in the league and will look to fill the lanes.

The secondary is slightly above average after adding two players in this year’s draft. Lewis Cline is one of them who could start along side Harrison Smith to create a nice safety tandem. The cornerbacks feature Patrick Peterson, who is aging, and Cameron Dantzler, who looks to shine this season. It is a much-improved secondary looking to be a top-15 group in the league.

Prediction

I believe the Vikings did well this offseason and will make it back to the playoffs this season. I have them finishing 10-7 after going 4-2 in the division. Expect a monster season from Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson.

1. Green Bay Packers

Key losses – C Lucas Patrick, P Corey Bojorquez, OT Billy Turner, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, OLB Za’Darius Smith, CB Chandon Sullivan, ILB Oren Burks, WR Davante Adams

Key additions – P Pat O’Donnell, DE Jarran Reed, WR Sammy Watkins, LB Quay Walker, DL Devonte Wyatt, WR Christian Watson, WR Romeo Doubs, OL Sean Rhyan

Re-signed – CB Rasul Douglas (3-years), Robert Tonyan Jr. (1-year), LB De’Vondre Campbell (5-years)

Extensions – CB Jaire Alexander (4-years, $84 million), QB Aaron Rodgers (3-years, $150 million), LB Preston Smith (4-years, $52 million)

The Packers ran away with the NFC North last year and earned the #1 seed in the NFC all-together. They finished 13-4, before losing in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers. They traded away superstar wideout Davante Adams, so we’ll see if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can win his third straight MVP without him.

The offense ranked tenth last year, and is now without its top target from a year ago. Rookie wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson will have to step up to carry the load. Tight end Robert Tonyan is looking to shine again after a breakout season with 11 touchdowns, and could help Rodgers make the passing game top ten.

Rodgers will be protected by a top-tier offensive line. There is a minor worry at tackl,e with Elgton Jenkins still working back from an ACL tear. The running back room is phenomenal with AJ Dillon being the bruiser, and Aaron Jones being a quality dual-threat back. This offense will be scary as long as they have #12 under center.

The defense was phenomenal last season, as they ranked ninth in total defense. They lost Za’Darius Smith to the Vikings, but still bring in a great front seven. The defensive line ranks in my top five, while the linebacker unit is in the top ten. De’Vondre Campbell leads the linebackers, alongside rookie Quay Walker. The defensive line includes superstar Kenny Clark, who gets help from pass rusher Rashan Gary.

The secondary could be the biggest strength of this team. With superstar Jaire Alexander, they have lockdown ability along with a top-flight safety tandem in Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos. This defense should be elite this season, as they don’t have a major weakness.

Prediction

The Packers have the back-to-back MVP, so I don’t expect them to lose this division. I have them finishing 12-5, and 6-0 against the NFC North. Expect a superstar to emerge on that offense.

Atlanta Falcons Rebuild: This Team is Similar to the 2021 Lions

As the 2022 Atlanta Falcons prepare for their first preseason game, their opponent might have more in common with this current regime than people think?

The rebuild for the Atlanta Falcons in Flowery Branch has reached new levels of optimism. Even I have succumbed to looking at this season through training camp goggles. But deep below the surface of A.J. Terrell pass breakups and Feliepe Franks truck sticks is a reality that has not changed: this is still a rebuilding roster.

They are taking proper steps towards competency in the NFC, but there’s still much to do before they’re ready to take that next step. But, when you mix the current quarterback situation with the insane strength of schedule (10th in the league), this step in the rebuild will not be measured in wins and losses.

The Falcons have been preaching competitiveness for the better part of this off-season, a very similar focus made by a team last season that most pundits feel is moving in the right direction: The Detroit Lions.

Comparing the 2021 Detroit Lions and the 2022 Atlanta Falcons

Both teams have not seen a .500 record since 2017. They also both recently let go of their long-time franchise quarterbacks, thus causing uncertainty at the position. Finally, both teams have recently brought in a new head coach to give them an identity.

To add to the similarities, three players highlight the similarities of their respective situations. Three heroes of their rebuilds, if you will.

The Unlikely Hero

For Detroit, the unlikely hero last season was wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The fourth-round pick out of USC came into the league as a surprisingly complete receiver. He needed his time to get acclimated to the speed of the NFL, and for St. Brown, it took only 11 games. St. Brown’s final six games of his rookie campaign ended with 51 receptions on 67 targets and 560 yards, which accounted for about 60% of his production receiving for the year.

For Atlanta, expect that unlikely hero to be rookie running back Tyler Allgeier. The Falcons were 30th in yards per attempt last season and 31st in total rushing yards. They also did not get much push from the offensive line as they were 29th in yards before contact.

The offensive line has remained about the same, unfortunately. However, mobile quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder open up another aspect of the offense — the run/pass option that Ryan Tannehill ran so well when Arthur Smith was in Tennessee. And with Tannehill came a running back that got better as the game progressed with his physicality.

This is not implying that Allgeier is Derrick Henry; nobody will ever be Derrick Henry. But Allgeier can alleviate some of the carries from Cordarrelle Patterson, allowing him to be more of an offensive weapon than a traditional running back. He will have to beat out Damien Williams, the free agent from Kansas City that shined in Super Bowl LIV. But make no mistake, Allgeier has been brought here to be the feature back for years to come for the Falcons, and it starts with this year.

The Antihero

The comparisons between the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons don’t stop with the unlikely hero. Both teams have an antihero to deal with despite their shortcomings as players. In Detroit, the antihero was quarterback Jared Goff.

The Los Angeles Rams traded Jared Goff in the offseason going into the 2021 season. Goff didn’t have that X-factor to take Sean McVay’s offense to the next level. He doesn’t add anything to the offense past what is on the play-call sheet. But he did keep the ball out of harm’s way, was 12th in completion percentage, and the bottom quarter in interceptions — but dead last in intended air yards per pass attempt. With Goff, you take the good with the bad.

Atlanta will have to do the same with Deion Jones this season. Jones’ production had been steadily declining since his foot injury in 2018. In the Atlanta defense, Deion Jones was known for his coverage ability. However, starting with 2019, his quarterback rating when targeted has been 92.3, 114.0, and 115.5, according to Pro Football Reference.

However, he does still have the speed to go sideline-to-sideline. He was hurt last year, which could explain his hesitancy to seek out contact. Since the Falcons couldn’t trade Jones this offseason, they are ultimately stuck with the seventh-year linebacker. Let’s hope that he can resemble his former self.

The Superhero

Finally, we have the superhero. The most vital hero of the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons rebuilds. For Detroit, the war hero is D’Andre Swift. Don’t let last year’s performance fool you about Swift; he is still the same dawg that came out in 2019. His workload dipped due to a lingering injury, but he has some durability concerns. They stem mainly from him having to shoulder so much of the load offensively.

But all of that is about to change. The Lions have outfitted themselves with D.J. Chark, St. Brown, and rookie Jameson Williams to ease the carry load. The Lions are doing what they can to elongate the career of their feature back. 

For the Falcons, their superhero is none other than the unicorn himself, Kyle Pitts. He ran out of gas and pulled his hamstring with how much of the offense he had to shoulder last season. The only two players that were legitimate threats on the Falcons offense in 2021 were Cordarrelle Patterson and Pitts, which is insane to think about when you see that Pitts only registered one touchdown the entire season.

Defensive coordinators keyed in on Pitts and forced them to go to any other option in that barren offense. But, just like Swift, the Falcons decided to outfit the rest of the offense around Pitts. Drake London, Bryan Edwards, and Auden Tate to the passing game and Allgeier and Damien Williams to a physical running game as a complement. Making Pitts the focal point of this offense and allowing him to be the superhero of the team should make for an exciting brand of Falcons football in 2022.

Senior Bowl Watchlist: American

senior bowl watchlist
Photo Credit: Getty Images Don Juan Moore

This is the first Senior Bowl watchlist by the Around the Block scouting department. By this time next week, over 100 prospects will be in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl is the most prestigious collegiate all-star game for draft prospects.

They will practice with NFL coaching staffs during the week then play in a game on Saturday, February 5th. The Senior Bowl provides a fantastic opportunity for prospects from diverse backgrounds to prove themselves on a level playing field.

This year, the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets will be coaching up the players. The scouting department for Around the Block put together a watchlist of players from each Senior Bowl team, the American and the National. This Senior Bowl watchlist will preview the players on the American team, coached by the Detroit Lions.

Quarterback – Malik Willis, Liberty

The American team roster probably has the more diverse group of quarterbacks. Among the ATB staff, however, there was near consensus that Malik Willis is the most intriguing of the trio. Willis began his career at Auburn but elected to transfer when true freshman Bo Nix won the starting job.

He had two great seasons at Liberty but still has a lot of room to grow as a passer. The Senior Bowl provides a great opportunity for quarterbacks at lower-level schools to prove they can run an NFL offense. 

Offense – D’Vonte Price, Florida International

D’Vonte Price is a pretty deep sleeper in a running back class chock full of talent. Price is a bigger back that does everything pretty well. On an FIU squad devoid of NFL talent, he consistently performed above his expectations. Price started this season off strong but faded down the stretch due to injury. He’ll be playing alongside three SEC running backs on the American squad so if he can keep up with them, he could significantly improve his draft stock. 

SMU Trio (Reggie Roberson, Danny Gray, Grant Calcaterra)

This is a bit of a cop-out but all three names were mentioned among the staff. Roberson was a hot name a few years ago. However, season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons forced him back to school. But in his absence, Danny Gray stepped up to become the Mustangs’ leading receiver the last two seasons. Additionally, Grant Calcaterra came out of retirement after a stellar but short career with Oklahoma to earn several All-AAC honors. 

Offensive Line – Max Mitchell, Louisiana

Over the past few seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns have been one of the best running teams in college football. One of the biggest reasons for their success is their offensive line. Two former Louisiana linemen are starting in the NFL right now (Robert Hunt, Dolphins; Kevin Dotson, Steelers).

The next player in their lineage is Max Mitchell. Mitchell earned the highest Offense and Run Blocking grades among all tackles in college football, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s started at both tackle spots and even played guard at times. If he can hold up in 1-on-1s and continue his dominance in the game, he could solidify himself as a top-100 pick.  

Defensive Line – Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

At the end of this process, Kingsley Enagbare could be the highest drafted player on the American squad (quarterbacks excluded). Despite having a relatively down year in terms of sacks in 2021, Enagbare consistently put pressure on the quarterback. He will have ample opportunity to display his skills in the individual drills, typically where the defensive linemen can shine the most. If he puts together a good week of practice in Mobile, he could cement himself as a first-round pick. 

Linebackers – Quay Walker, Georgia

At 6’4” and 240 pounds, Quay Walker is among the most imposing and physically terrifying prospects. He’s an extremely versatile defensive chess piece that can fill a variety of roles. In the modern NFL that requires linebackers to do so much, Walker is the prototypical linebacker for a new age of football. Thanks to his incredible physical gifts, he should be able to excel during practices and demonstrate that he is worthy of being selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. 

Defensive Backs – Tariq Woolen, UTSA

Even with the Legion of Boom long disbanded, the age of the tall, long cornerback is far from over. Tariq Woolen, listed at 6’4” and 205 pounds, is among the biggest cornerbacks in recent memory. He’s actually a converted wide receiver and has only been playing defense for about two years.

Woolen is still far from a finished product as a cornerback but getting coaching from an NFL staff should help him fix some of those issues. He needs to show he can stick with receivers off the line of scrimmage and stay in phase down the field.

Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

Week 16 NFL Power Rankings
Mike Mulholland – Getty Images

The Week 16 NFL Power Rankings are a mess. It’s kind of fun because we have a new No. 32 and a new No. 1 team this week. But, the middle of the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings are a total log jam. It was really difficult to sort through everything after the results came in this week. But, as always, we’re going to do our best to try to sort through this mess.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Last week: 31

Last week, I lamented the fact that I couldn’t move this dumpster fire of a team down to No. 32. But, the week Urban Meyer gets fired the waters of the basement parted like the red sea. Now, I have every excuse to put this team where they belong in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. Let me know when you’re ready to talk about what you’ve done, Jaguars. Until then, you can stay in timeout.

31. New York Jets (3-11)

Last Week: 29

Zach Wilson running for a touchdown was kind of cool. And, hey, the Jets looked like they were going to bring the Miami Dolphins back down to earth there for a little while. But, this is a bad football team. It was really only a matter of a time until they showed their true colors. For that reason, I have to send them hurtling down in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings.

30. New York Giants (4-10)

Last Week: 28

What is going on out there in New Jersey? Seriously, both of those teams play football like they’ve just ingested some toxic water or something. I don’t know what to say about the Giants at this point. But, playing Mike Glennon at quarterback certainly isn’t going to make it better

29. Detroit Lions (2-11-1)

Last Week: 32

The Detroit Lions are 2-3-1 since their bye week. Somehow, they’ve almost become a .500 team after that god awful start. Is Dan Campbell the answer? He sure made Kliff Kingsbury look like a fool this week. Man, if the Lions keep winning they might get themselves out of the bottom five despite sitting at No. 32 most of the season.

28. Carolina Panthers (5-9)

Last Week: 26

The memories of the Panthers’ 3-0 start seem like a distant memory. Now, they’re hanging out in the bottom five of the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. Sam Darnold was clearly the wrong choice. Cam Newton isn’t what he used to be. PJ Walker definitely isn’t the answer. At this point, might as well bunker down and embrace the tank because there’s nothing left to play for this year.

27. Chicago Bears (4-10)

Last Week: 27

Is Matt Nagy gone yet? This season had so much potential to build something special. But, it’s all looking like a waste. Hopefully Justin Fields can take a step forward next year. Right now, there’s not a lot to look forward to in Chicago.

26. Houston Texans (3-11)

Last Week: 30

Nobody expected this season to be worth much for the Houston Texans. They pretty much had to take a hard reset on the Watson/O’Brien era. Not just because of the drama, but also because there’s not much to build on. It might be a few years before this team is relevant again. But, at least they’re still chugging away and dominating true cellar dwellers like the Jaguars. Rest assured, Texans fans. It might never get THAT bad.

25. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

Last Week: 24

The dream of making a miracle playoff run is close to dead at this point. The new seventh playoff seed means they’re still technically only a game behind in the standings. But, come on. They would have to beat a resurgent Lions team, the Bills, and the Saints to get there and even then they’d need a bit of help. I don’t see that happening. Better luck next year, Falcons.

24. Seattle Seahawks (5-9)

Last Week: 23

The Seahawks probably got screwed a little by a bad DPI call this week against the Rams. But, that fact doesn’t do much but disguise the fact that this Seahawks team has been dead in the water for a while. It felt like they might breathe new life when Russell Wilson came back to start over Geno Smith. But, I don’t think there’s any saving this football team. Enjoy the draft picks you’ll get for Russ in the offseason.

23. Washington Football Team (6-8)

Last Week: 20

Last week Washington let their slim chances of taking the division slip out of their grasp against the Cowboys. This week, they fell asleep against the Philadelphia Eagles. In a two week span, they went from one of the more exciting teams with momentum to a team that looks like they have no chance to make the playoffs. They’re plummeting in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings as a result.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)

Last Week: 25

The Steelers making the playoffs after the way this season has gone seems like a fool’s dream. But, somehow, they’re still alive. Insanely, winning the AFC North might be the path of least resistance versus winning a wild card seed. But, after pulling a win out of nowhere against the Titans I don’t think anything would surprise me at this point.

21. New Orleans Saints (7-7)

Last Week: 22

I wanted to give the Saints more of a boost in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings for knocking off the Bucs. Most of the time, that would be a huge statement that this team will not go quietly into the night. But, it seems pretty par for the course. No matter how bad the Saints are and how dominant the Bucs look, it seems like the Saints always have their number. Now, if they find a way to win out, I’ll be forced to sing a different tune.

20. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

Last Week: 21

The Raiders are still alive in the playoff race. I gotta admit, every time I think they’re dead, they rise like a zombie. “Don’t count us out yet” they say. Beating the injury and COVID riddled Browns on a last second field goal might not be the most impressive way to win. But, it’s a win nonetheless and it keeps them only one game out of the playoff race with three games left to play.

19. Miami Dolphins (7-7)

Last Week: 19

Barely beating the Jets keeps the Dolphins’ slim hopes of making the playoffs alive. But, when I say slim I mean SLIM. An ugly win is a win nonetheless, but it didn’t inspire much confidence in the Dolphins’ ability to actually win out. 9-8 is unlikely to be enough to make the dance. So, the margin for error remains super tight. Hence, why I’m not moving them up in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. 

18. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

Last Week: 18

I’m keeping the Vikings in the same spot in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings because I really wasn’t impressed with their win over the Bears. They’re back in control of the No. 7 seed right now. But, the way they’ve been playing I really have trouble believing they can win out against the Rams, Packers, and Bears again.

17. Denver Broncos (7-7)

Last Week: 16

The Broncos may have lost their best shot at making the playoffs this week in a 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have a great defense, but that Broncos offense is broken. With a three game stretch against the Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs remaining, the razor thin hopes of bouncing back to steal a playoff spot seem virtually extinct.

16. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

Last Week: 17

Right now, the Eagles are tied for the No. 7 playoff spot. Not to mention, that tie is with the Minnesota Vikings, who almost definitely will not hold on to that spot. I’ve got them just on the edge of the playoff picture in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings because, honestly, they could be part of it next week. They beat the Washington Football Team by double digits this week and now only need to finish strong against other NFC East competition. Shouldn’t be too tough.

15. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

Last Week: 15

Losing Lamar Jackson for a critical two-week stretch may have doomed the Ravens’ season. I know Tyler Huntley has been fine. But, with a tough matchup against the Bengals this week, the Ravens are in danger of failing to win a football game the entire month of december.

14. Cleveland Browns (7-7)

Last Week: 13

Losing the way the Browns lost this week has to sting if you’re a Browns fan. They had momentum and a chance to take control of the AFC North. But, the decimated state of their roster proved to be too much to overcome. And even then, still barely! They feel like a team that should be in the playoffs this year. Unfortunately, there is a strong possibility they won’t be if they don’t finish strong. That could be tough with the Packers, Steelers, and Bengals coming up.

13. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

Last Week: 14

The Cincinnati Bengals are back in control of the AFC North after a hard-fought win over the Denver Broncos. But, they can’t get too comfortable with that win. A pivotal game against the Baltimore Ravens looms this week. The Bengals beat the hell out of the Ravens earlier this year in Baltimore. So, doing it again in Cincinnati shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Problem is the Bengals’ record at home hasn’t been quite as impressive as on the road this year.

12. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

Last Week: 9

The Arizona Cardinals are cooling off at the exact wrong time. Are they in danger of being another one of those teams that gets off to a hot start only to look like minced meat by the time the playoffs start? Hopefully they’ll be getting a couple of guys back by the time the playoffs get here. But, they have to play the red-hot Colts next week and are only a tiebreaker ahead of the Los Angeles Rams. Their stranglehold on the NFC West now appears to be more of a light tug.

11. Tennessee Titans (9-5)

Last Week: 7

Speaking of teams barely holding onto their division, the Titans might be in some serious trouble. They’re only a game ahead of the Indianapolis Colts when we all thought they’d run away with the division weeks ago. They still hold a season sweep over the Colts, so it would take the epic collapse continuing for another couple of weeks to lose control of the division.

But, the way the Titans have been playing lately, does anyone think that’s out of the question? Hopefully the Titans aren’t dead in the water by the time King Henry comes back.

10. Buffalo Bills (8-6)

Last Week: 12

The Bills got back on track this week against the Panthers. Also, they got some help against the Colts. So, they could actually take back control of the AFC West with a win over the Patriots this week. Then again, they’ll need to put up more of a fight than they did when they let Mac Jones beat them by only throwing three passes and two completions.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)

Last Week: 8

The poor Chargers had the division in front of them until the mean old Chiefs had to go spoil their fun. They’re in danger of falling out of the top 10 of the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings this week because of it. With a win over most of their wild card competition in their back pocket, they should be able to coast to a playoff berth. But, crazier things have happened. So, don’t get lazy.

8. San Francisco 49ers (8-6)

Last Week: 10

Wow. The team that started 2-4 is now in firm control after a playoff seed after winning six of their last eight games. Truly remarkable. The job isn’t done yet, though. They’re still only a game ahead in the Wild Card race and need to finish strong against the Titans, Texans, and Rams to get where they want to be.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)

Last Week: 4

I don’t know what it is about the Saints, but the Bucs seem to rarely ever be able to knock off the Saints. You know, other than last year in the divisional round. But, still, it seems like the Saints are always there to deal a blow when the Bucs aren’t prepared. It’s not going to hurt their playoff chances too badly. But, it does hurt their quest for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Now, they slide all the way down to No. 3 and once again need some luck to get other teams out of their way.

6. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

Last Week: 11

The NFL season is a long season. So, the Colts turning around their season still seems unlikely to bring them a division championship, even though the Titans are floundering. I’m giving them the credit they can’t get from the standings in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings, though. Someone has to recognize this team deserves to be considered the best in the AFC South.

5. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

Last Week: 6

Regardless of the Cowboys’ skid back in November, they’re reestablishing themselves in December. They’ve now won three in a row since their disappointing outing on Thanksgiving. Also, the win clinched the NFC East, which looked to be a bit in doubt there for a minute. The NFC East isn’t very good. But, they’re still one of only two teams to clinch their division as of the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. That deserves some credit.

4. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)

Last Week: 5

After getting some help from the Lions, the Rams are now back to being competitive for the NFC West. As of right now, they hold the same record as the Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cardinals hold the tiebreaker due to their division record. The Rams still need a little bit of help. But, it seems likely they’ll get it. All they need to do is keep winning and they have a really good shot at the division crown.

3. New England Patriots (9-5)

Last Week: 1

The party had to come to an end at some point. The Patriots are still a dangerous team in the AFC right now. But, they might not be the best after losing to the Colts. In fact, they could end up not even being the best in their division if they fall to the Bills next week. After starting 2-4, the margin for error was always super thin. But, you gotta give them credit for that incredible run they went on.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

Last Week: 3

The Chiefs seem like an unstoppable force at this point. Their win over the Chargers solidified them as the dominant force we all feared they’d return to being eventually. One more win and they’ll probably clinch the division. They’re holding a slim lead for the AFC’s No. 1 seed right now. But, they seem like the most likely team to take it home.

1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)

Last Week: 2

The Green Bay Packers are back to being on top in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. It was looking rough there for a minute as they squandered a lead against the Baltimore Ravens. But, I think John Harbaugh made the decision he made because we all knew Aaron Rodgers was going to go win it in overtime. The Packers are now the team to beat in the entire NFL.

NFL Power Rankings: Week 7

NFL Power rankings Week 7
Emilee Chinn, Getty Images

The NFL Power Rankings Week 7 are seeing quite a bit of movement. Basement teams are shuffling around, the top 10 is shuffling around, and we even have a new No. 1 this week! The Detroit Lions had the biggest fall this week all the way down to the bottom spot in the NFL. The Las Vegas Raiders saw the biggest climb after overcoming their head coach drama to put away the struggling Broncos.

32. Detroit Lions (0-6)

Last Week: 29

The bottom fell out. The Detroit Lions are the last winless team in the NFL and they got there in absolutely embarrassing fashion this week. They were completely shut out in their own home stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals. That is, until the Bengals started playing prevent defense and allowed the Lions to march down the field and put 11 garbage time points up against their backups. Dan Campbell is no longer crying for his players. Now he’s just disappointed in them. That hurts worse, and that’s why they’re now at the bottom of the NFL Power Rankings.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5)

Last week: 32

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally snapped their 20-game losing streak. It figures it would happen in London, their second home, where they’ve played more than any other team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still worried about how this locker room feels about Urban Meyer. But, for this week, they got the job done and earned a bit of credit on the NFL Power Rankings.

30. Houston Texans (1-5)

Last Week: 31

Trust me, I don’t feel good elevating the Houston Texans a spot after being blown out 31-3 by a team that came in with the same record as them. Unfortunately, that’s how things go sometimes when you’re down this deep in the Power Rankings. Sometimes you get dropped for looking awful, and sometimes the ineptitude of your peers makes you look slightly better.

29. Miami Dolphins (1-5)

Last Week: 27

Currently, I don’t believe the Miami Dolphins are a fundamentally more flawed team than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Miami’s quarterback situation is a mess and their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed. But, Brian Flores still has to be a better coach than Urban Meyer, right? Flores’ fall from grace has been spectacular. But, at least his players still respect him. I think.

28. New York Giants (1-5)

Last Week: 28

Hey. They had a lead through the end of the first quarter. That’s progress right? Nevermind the fact that they let the Rams score 38 unanswered points after a pretty good start. I’m joking, of course. They’ve been absolutely spanked both of the last two weeks. You thought they were making progress when they upset the Saints after two close losses. But, it’s starting to feel a bit hopeless in Jersey.

27. New York Jets (1-4)

Last Week: 30

Sometimes one of the best things you can do is nothing. That’s what the Jets did this week on their bye week. In the process, they capitalized on an opportunity to not embarrass themselves, as they’ve done quite a few times this season. Luckily for them, a bunch of their peers on this end of the NFL Power Rankings had really bad weeks. So, the Jets end up with a large climb due to simply not looking worse than teams like the Dolphins, Texans, and Lions.

26. Atlanta Falcons (2-3)

Last Week: 26

The Falcons don’t get quite as lucky as the Jets on their bye week. Unfortunately for them, nobody in their area of the Power Rankings embarrassed themselves as badly as the teams in the bottom five. They’ll have an opportunity to get back to .500 against the lowly Dolphins next week, but for now they stay put.

25. Washington Football Team (2-4)

Last Week: 25

That was an admirable performance by Washington. They bullied Patrick Mahomes and went into halftime with a lead. Unfortunately, Mahomes decided to stand up for himself. Washington allowed the Chiefs to score three touchdowns on three drives after a missed field goal. Taylor Heinicke completed the meltdown with an interception thrown late in the fourth quarter. The game was probably already out of hand at that point, but that sealed it.

24. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4)

Last Week: 23

For a brief time, the Eagles turned a stinker of a Thursday Night Football game into a briefly watchable affair. They weren’t able to finish out the comeback due to a completely dead looking defense on the Buccaneers’ final drive. But, Jalen Hurts looked great on those final three drives.

23. Indianapolis Colts (2-4)

Last Week: 24

After nearly upsetting the Ravens last week, the Colts showed they’re still a dangerous team this week. They did it with a 31-3 drubbing of the struggling Houston Texans. Running back Jonathan Taylor exploded for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He was matched by Carson Wentz in the air, who had a very efficient night. When the Colts play like this, it makes you think they could do something exciting. The problem is, games like this have been few and far between in Indy this year. 

22. Denver Broncos (3-3)

Last Week: 19

RIP to that much talked about 3-0 start. The Broncos have gone from one of the most hyped teams in NFL Power Rankings to a “bad” team. In theory, they had a devastated Raiders team delivered, like lambs, to the slaughter. In reality, the Broncos were completely outclassed by a far more talented Raiders team that looked motivated to overcome their coaching woes.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)

Last Week: 22

I can’t say I’m exactly impressed after the Steelers ground out wins against a hilariously overrated Broncos team and the Geno Smith Seahawks. But, a win is a win, no matter how ugly. And boy, was that an ugly win. The Steelers subjected America to an overtime nobody wanted. They pulled it off in the end, but this Steelers team still has way more questions than answers.

20. New England Patriots (2-4)

Last Week: 20

You have to give it to the Patriots: They played the Cowboys much closer than any other team has since Week 1 when Tom Brady beat them. It seems like ol’ Bill Belichick is inching this team closer and closer to contention every week. But, they had a tough task against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys this week. Still, they had a lead late and almost broke it in overtime. Patriots fans have to feel like they’re right there.

19. Chicago Bears (3-3)

Last Week: 18

As a fan of a team that has been owned by a hall of fame quarterback for the last decade or so, I feel for Bears fans. They won’t stop hearing “I still own you!” all week and possibly all year. They seem like they’re good enough to turn their season around and make the playoffs. But, they did this one to themselves. They’re going to have to get out of their own way if they want to play with the big boys.

18. Las Vegas Raiders (4-2)

Last Week: 21

I did not see that coming. Last week, the Bears were absolutely mauled by the Chicago Bears in the midst of the Jon Gruden fiasco. This week, they managed to put the drama behind them and play mostly flawless football en route to a huge win. It proved they are not pretenders of the same kind as the Broncos. Was it real, or was it an emotional reaction to their awful week? Their next three games are against the Eagles, Giants, and Chiefs. So, they could easily work their way back into the top 14 if they take advantage.

17. Seattle Seahawks (2-4)

Last Week: 15

Thank God Russell Wilson is coming back eventually. They aren’t going to do much winning with Geno Smith at quarterback. He almost brought them back at the end, but it was clearly a struggle to get there. Then, he fumbled the ball away at the critical moment. Just like the interception last week. Is this what Jets fans had to deal with? Poor suckers.

16. San Francisco 49ers (2-3)

Last Week: 17

The 49ers are probably happy that the Seattle Seahawks fell just short of a victory this week. The season is still early, so you could easily see their 2-3 start flip to 4-3 with games against the Colts and Bears coming up. Then again, they could easily plummet in the power rankings if they fail to win those games.

15. New Orleans Saints (3-2)

Last Week: 16

The New Orleans Saints also benefit from Geno Smith’s ineptitude on their bye week. Then again, this is two positive results in a row for the Saints. That seems pretty unsustainable considering their run of form this year. Is that a bad omen for their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks this coming week?

14. Carolina Panthers (3-3)

Last Week: 12

Broncos fans are probably looking at this list thinking I’m an idiot for putting them so low and the Panthers, who also blew a 3-0 start, still in playoff range. Rest assured, if the Panthers put up another bad performance next week, they will be plummeting down these Power Rankings. The difference, however, is the Broncos dominated three awful opponents then got exposed when they played real teams. The Panthers at least beat the Saints and have made each of their losses interesting. Sam Darnold is starting to fall back down to earth, but they still managed to force overtime against the Vikings. They didn’t even get the ball in overtime, but you feel like they might have won the game if their offense got the ball first.

13. Minnesota Vikings (3-3)

Last Week: 14

The Vikings’ luck in their 1-3 start was absolutely brutal. But, two solid wins since have brought them back to .500. Their schedule is absolutely brutal the next four weeks as they play the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, and Packers. But, they’ve proven they can hang with anyone. If they can even go 2-2 in that stretch, you have to feel good about their playoff chances.

12. Tennessee Titans (3-2)

Last Week: 13

The Titans beat the team that I considered to be the most dangerous in football, so you can’t deny they look like a bona fide playoff team. Their offense is still heavily reliant on Derrick Henry continuing to be an absolute force. But, Ryan Tannehill came up clutch down the stretch too. He kept the Titans driving late in the game, allowing Derrick Henry to save his angry runs for big situations.

11. Cleveland Browns (3-3)

Last Week: 9

The last two weeks haven’t been great for the Browns. You could sort of look past that loss to the Chargers. Herbert’s gonna Herbert, but at least Baker Mayfield and the offense kept up and participated in a wild shootout. This week, Baker Mayfield couldn’t stop turning the ball over and the Browns’ offense simply could not keep up with the Cardinals. The Browns turn around on a short week to host the sputtering Broncos before getting 10 days of rest to host the Steelers. Hopefully that’s enough to shake off a rocky couple of weeks, because they need it.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)

Last Week: 11

The Cincinnati Bengals are a top-10 team in the NFL through six weeks, just like we all expected. Ok but seriously, did anyone see this coming? Granted, it’s not like the Steelers, Jaguars, and Lions are exactly difficult outs. But, they’ve been beating the teams they’re supposed to beat and that’s not nothing. Hell, they would have beaten the Packers if one of those field goals went in. They proved themselves this week by dismantling the Lions. Maybe not as efficiently as you’d hope, but it was still a blowout.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)

Last Week: 10

I was ready to move the Chiefs out of the top 14 after halftime. The Chiefs were sloppy in that first half and looked to be confirming the doubts of many with their play. But, they turned things around in the second half to the tune of a 21-0 shutout on the road. This is why I never moved the Chiefs out of the top 10. Because they’re still capable of stuff like this.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)

Last Week: 6

That was a bad loss. The Los Angeles Chargers’ vaunted offense was completely shut out in the second half and most of the first half. The missed extra point on their lone touchdown near the end of the second quarter perfectly encapsulated a day where almost nothing went right for the Chargers. The Chargers have had some close calls this year against less-than-stellar competition. But, this is also the same team that dropped 47 points on the Cleveland Browns last week. So, I’m not ready to demote them to pretenders in the NFL Power Rankings just yet. We’ll see how they respond to this setback.

7. Green Bay Packers (5-1)

Last Week: 7

Do your victory lap, Aaron Rodgers. When you’re 22-5 against an opponent, I think you have every right to claim you own them. For the most part, the Packers played pretty average football against the Chicago Bears. They held Justin Fields under 200 yards passing, but they allowed 140 yards on the ground. However, Mason Crosby hit all of his kicks and Aaron Rodgers personally scored all three of the Packers’ touchdowns against a Bears team that looked like it was turning a corner.

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-1)

Last Week: 8

How many times is Lamar Jackson going to overcome being super reckless with the football and end up looking good by the end of it? He had a bad day (167 yards passing, one touchdown, two interceptions). The Ravens STILL blew out a Chargers team many consider to be dark horse Super Bowl contenders. When they’re firing on all cylinders like this, Lamar can afford to be less than perfect. The Ravens look as tough as anybody right now despite some close games against bad teams earlier in the year.

5. Los Angeles Rams (5-1)

Last Week: 5

The Rams went into New Jersey to face off against a Giants team missing all of their legitimate offensive weapons. I can’t say this is the most legitimizing win of all time, considering many already consider the Rams to be Super Bowl contenders. But, they got the job done against an obviously inferior opponent and they absolutely deserve credit for that. There’s not much room to move around this high in the power rankings. Especially, when everyone else up here also won their games. But, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald both showed exactly why many value them so highly.

4. Dallas Cowboys (5-1)

Last Week: 4

It was getting tense there for a minute in Foxborough. The Cowboys came in against a below average Patriots and almost fell victim to what could be argued as a trap game and a plunge in the NFL Power Rankings. But, Dak was electrifying as ever. He overcame a boneheaded interception where he tried to force a touchdown pass into really tight coverage to wind up throwing for 445 yards and three touchdowns. 

3. Buffalo Bills (4-2)

Last Week: 1

Don’t feel bad, Buffalo. Everyone struggles against Derrick Henry. The Bills ended their run of dominance this week that had me claiming them as the best team in football despite the Week 1 loss. Josh Allen tried his hardest with 379 yards of total offense, three touchdowns, and only one interception. The problem is, his bowling ball style of scrambling couldn’t get the job done on a questionable 4th and one call. I get the Bills were trying to go for the win, but you could have lived to see overtime. I imagine they’ll take their frustrations out on the Dolphins after their bye week. But, another stumble and they could see a sharp fall in the NFL Power Rankings.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1)

Last Week: 3

If you turned the Thursday Night Football game after halftime, no one could blame you. The Bucs were dominating the Eagles through the first half after the Eagles’ first drive. If you kept watching, you saw the Bucs somehow let the Eagles back into the game, even after extending their lead to 28-7 in the third quarter. A missed Eagles field goal takes away from just how close the Eagles were to breaking through. But, the Bucs got their act together on the final drive and ran the clock out. Overall, it was a pretty solid win that shouldn’t have been a game.

1. Arizona Cardinals (6-0)

Last Week: 2

The Arizona Cardinals continued to make their case as the best team in the NFL Power Rankings as they dominated the Cleveland Browns from start to finish. A second quarter rally by the Browns gave them a fighting chance, but the Cardinals completely shut the door in the second half. Coffin nails were arguably achieved late in the third quarter when Deandre Hopkins reeled in a touchdown pass from Kyler Murray to make it 30-14. But, all hope was extinguished when AJ Green went in the endzone against his familiar foe with just under five minutes left in the game.