Week 14 has begun and the playoffs are inching closer. The first playoff spot has been clinched and the first few teams have been eliminated from playoff contention for the 2018 season, so things are starting to get intensify. Teams still fighting for their playoff lives, including the Giants, Dolphins and even the defending champions, the Eagles, are running out of games to win. Then there are teams like the Patriots and Texans are inching closer to locking up their spots. The best football of the season is here.
A few notes going forward: once a team is eliminated, they will no longer have a full look like the other teams. Once a team has clinched a playoff spot, they will automatically be in the top 12.
Also, my apologies for being late this week. I fell victim to the great Romaine plague of 2018 and could not work over the week. As such, Tennessee’s TNF win over the Jaguars is not included for these rankings. That’s a lesson for you kids. Never eat lettuce. Anyway, onto the rankings.
1. (–) New Orleans Saints (10-2)
Week 13: L 13-10 @Cowboys. The win streak is over and the #1 seed in the NFC has gone to the Rams. Drew Brees (18-28, 127 yds, TD, INT) had easily his worst game of the season, maybe in the last 2 seasons, and that trickled down to the rest of the team. Brees’ 16.3 QBR is the 3rd-worst game of his career, and a lot of that has to do with not connecting with Michael Thomas nearly as much as expected. Make no mistake, the Saints have firepower everywhere on the field, but they still live and die by the performance of their veteran quarterback.
2. (–) Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
Week 13: W 30-16 @Lions. The Rams are the first team to officially book their ticket to the playoffs, winning the NFC West with their win in Detroit. Jared Goff (17-33, 207 yds, TD, INT) was off his game all day, but Todd Gurley’s 165 total yards and 2 touchdowns were enough to offset Goff’s struggles. If LA wins out, they will have home field advantage, which might be the key to beating New Orleans in an inevitable playoff rematch.
3. (+1) New England Patriots (9-3)
Week 13: W 24-10 vs. Vikings. The Patriots once again have a stranglehold over the AFC East and look to only widen their lead in the final month of the season. New England will clinch their tenth straight division title and have clinched it15 of the last 16 seasons, a level of domination that will likely never be replicated. As for the rest of the playoff field, Tom Brady (24-32, 311 yds, TD, INT) tends to play his best football in December and January and their main competition in the AFC was just kneecapped by off-the-field issues. Once again, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxboro.
4. (+1) Houston Texans (9-3)
Week 13: W 29-13 vs. Browns. After starting 0-3, Houston looked dead in the water. Many pieces were written about how Deshaun Watson (22-31, 224 yds, TD) had severely regressed since his injury and that the Texans were going to be a basement dweller yet again, myself included. They responded by winning 9 in a row, an NFL record after a 0-3 start, and are in a position to not only win the AFC South but also earn a possible first-round bye. Behind a powerful run game that tallied another 187 yards against the stingy Browns defense and Watson playing a more conservative but accurate game than in his rookie season, it’s hard to see Houston losing any time soon.
5. (-2) Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)
Week 13: W 40-33 @Raiders. You can’t talk about the Chiefs right now without talking about the Kareem Hunt situation. There are now multiple recordings of Hunt assaulting people, including the video released by TMZ that showed him in an altercation in which he kicked a woman while she was on the ground, and both the Chiefs and the NFL have dropped the hammer hard. Hunt’s once promising career is now all but over, and the Chiefs, despite the win against Oakland, are a worse team as a result. Patrick Mahomes (23-38, 295 yds, 4 TD) will need to keep up his MVP pace to lead Kansas City to the #1 seed.
6. (+1) LA Chargers (9-3)
Week 13: W 33-30 @Steelers. Two things are true about Sunday Night’s game in Pittsburgh. #1: Philip Rivers (26-36, 299 yds, 2 TD) led the Chargers back from a 16-point deficit late in the third quarter without his star running back, and it’s one of the best comebacks of the year. #2: this was one of the worst officiated games of the season, and at least 10 Los Angeles points should have been taken away due to obvious penalties that weren’t called. Still, this was the first of two massive games that could upend the AFC playoff picture. Week 15 against the Chiefs could determine literally 5 of 6 seeds in the AFC.
7. (+1) Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1)
Week 13: L 33-30 vs. Chargers. The Steelers went home Sunday night feeling they deserved to win, but the loss isn’t just due to the officiating. Despite 3 solid quarters from Big Ben (29-45, 281 yds, 2 TD, INT) and the offense, the Steelers collapsed in the final 17 minutes and let the Chargers back in the game. The ending also perfectly sums up the Mike Tomlin Steelers: a fantastic offense that is flashy and cocky that folds when they lose control and beat themselves with stupid penalties. That’s why they can’t beat New England in the playoffs, and it’s why they won’t be able to beat the Patriots or Chiefs this year either.
8. (+1) Seattle Seahawks
Week 13: W 43-16 vs. 49ers. For a rebuilding year, Seattle is doing really well. Now 7-5, the Seahawks control their own destiny for an NFC wildcard spot. The latest installment in what should be viewed as Pete Carroll’s magnum opus was an absolute bulldozing of the 49ers. Russell Wilson (11-17, 185 yds, 4 TD) is having a resurgence in the new rush-heavy playbook, dotting up the Niners defense on the few occasions when he actually threw the ball. The main force of the Seahawks offense is the running game, which saw running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny both rack up 65 yards rushing and the team total 168 yards rushing and 5.8 yards per carry. In the playoffs, this type of offense is nearly impossible to stop.
9. (-3) Chicago Bears (8-4)
Week 13: L 30-27 (OT) @Giants. Just as the hype really started building for the Bears, a bump in the road tripped them up. Chase Daniel (26-39, 285 yds, TD, 2 INT) is obviously not a long-term answer, as his play regressed back to what we had expected before his performance on Thanksgiving, and the sooner Mitch Trubisky can get healthy, the better. The talent on this team is still obvious, coming back from 10 points down with less than 2 minutes to force overtime. The game-tying touchdown was even a kind of Philly Special, showing just how aggressive coach Matt Nagy can be. Chicago still leads the division by 1.5 games, and Sunday Night’s game against the 11-1 Rams will show us just how good the Bears really are.
10. (+4) Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Week 13: W 13-10 vs. Saints. For anyone thinking the Cowboys weren’t for real (myself included), the win Thursday night was for you. Dallas boasts arguably the best linebacker corps in football, and they hassled and confused the juggernaut Saints offense all night long. Dak Prescott (24-28, 248 yds, TD) has improved massively since the addition of WR Amari Cooper, and his production has taken a bit of the load off Ezekiel Elliot’s back. Down the stretch, this will create more opportunities for Elliot to break a game open with big runs. A team that was dead in the water a month ago now has to be looked at as a serious Super Bowl contender.
11. (–) Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
Week 13: W 26-16 @Falcons. Lamar Jackson (12-21, 125 yds, rushing TD) has breathed new life into Baltimore’s offense. His passing numbers haven’t been all that impressive, but his presence in the running game has been the key piece of the Ravens resurgence. Jackson has rushed for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns in just 3 games and has jumpstarted Baltimore to its 3rd straight 200+yard rushing performance in his 3-game win streak. Now just a half game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, the Ravens have everything to play for this week against the 10-2 Chiefs.
12. (-2) Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
Week 13: L 24-10 @Patriots. It’s always the problem with playing against a Bill Belichick defense. He takes away your best weapon and forces you to win with your plan B. Plan A (Adam Thielen) was held to just 28 yards and a touchdown on 5 catches and 10 targets. Outside of that, Kirk Cousins (32-44, 201 yds, TD, 2 INT) was all but taken out of the game. Minnesota’s loss should be put at the feet of the coaches, though. Dalvin Cook ran for 84 yards off just 9 carries, a 9.3 YPC avg. Even taking out Cook’s longest run, he still averaged 6.5 yards per carry as he ran his way through the Patriots defense. If the Vikings stuck with Cook, there’s a good chance they could have won this game. Instead, their playoff hopes are slipping fast, with Week 14’s matchup in Seattle now a must-win.
13. (-1) Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
Week 13: L 6-0 @Jaguars. For the first time in his career, Andrew Luck (33-52, 248 yds, INT) was shut out. Despite heavily outgaining the Jaguars offense in the first half, Indianapolis decided to go for it on 4th down twice instead of taking field goals. This came back to bite them, and for the second game this year head coach Frank Reich’s aggressiveness cost Indy a win. The Colts are now deep in the wildcard race, and the final month will be a dogfight to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
14. (-1) Carolina Panthers (6-6)
Week 13: L 24-17 @Bucs. Just a month ago, Carolina was in prime position to compete for the NFC South lead and a first-round bye. After losing 4 straight, Cam Newton (28-41, 300 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT) and the Panthers are letting even a wildcard spot slip through their fingers. The main cause for this is that, even though the offense puts up points in all of these close games, the defense has only held opponents under 21 points once since mid-October. Fix the defense just a little bit and these close losses turn into wins.
15. (–) Denver Broncos (6-6)
Week 13: W 24-10 @Bengals. Don’t look now, but Denver has won 3 in a row. Phillip Lindsay (19 rushes, 157 yds, 2 TD) has turned into one of the more elite running backs in the NFL, and he’s taken a pot of pressure off of QB Case Keenum (12-21, 151 yds, TD) to carry the team to victory. Keenum, for his part, hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 4 games, which is a big reason why the Broncos are right back in the wildcard race. The loss of WR Emmanuel Sanders for the season his a blow to Denver’s playoff hopes, especially since they traded Demaryius Thomas at the deadline, but as long as Lindsay stays healthy the Broncos have a chance.
16. (–) Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Week 13: W 26-22 vs. Jets. Down 16-0 late in the 2nd quarter, the game and the season both looked over for the Titans. That’s when Marcus Mariota (20-35, 282 yds, 2 TD, INT) and the offense turned things on and scored before the half en route to a huge comeback. The home fans got to see the best and worst of their Titans, and this polarization is what makes ranking Tennessee so difficult. One week they’re blowing out the Patriots or Cowboys and the next week they’ll lay an egg against the Bills. If they manage to sneak into the playoffs, the Titans could either play doormat or spoiler, and there’s no way of knowing which until the game starts.
17. (+1) Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
Week 13: W 28-13 vs. Redskins. Any hope the Eagles had for making the playoffs depended on beating Washington at home on Monday Night Football, and that’s exactly what the Eagles did. Carson Wentz (27-39, 306 yds, 2 TD, INT) had one of his better games of 2018, the rushing was solid, and the defense held the Skins in check the whole game, minus the one big touchdown run. With a remaining schedule of @Dallas, @Rams, vs. Texans, and @Redskins, the defending champions need to play like they did last year if they want to have any shot at defending their title.
18. (-1) Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)
Week 13: L 20-17 vs. Cardinals. What’s there really to say about the Packers. Aaron Rodgers’ power struggle is finally over with head coach Mike McCarthy being fired immediately after the game. A linebackers coach was also fired for tweeted that they needed a coach that would “hold #12 and everyone in the building to a Lombardi standard.” Yep. Even lightly criticize Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and you’re gone. Rodgers (31-50, 233 yds, TD) isn’t the problem on the field, but it’s looking more and more like he might be the reason for the Packers struggles.
19. (+1) Cleveland Browns (4-7-1)
Week 13: L 29-13 @Texans. Baker Mayfield (29-43, 397 yds, TD, 3 INT) had his true “welcome to the pros, rookie” moment against the Texans, tossing 3 first-half interceptions, including 2 on back-to-back passes. He responded well, being much more accurate, not turning the ball over, and throwing for over 300 yards in the second half. If WR Antonio Callaway hadn’t fumbled at the goal line early in the 3rd quarter, this game could have been way different. How many times have we said something like that about the Browns this season?
20. New York Giants (4-8)
Week 13: W 30-27 (OT) vs. Bears. The Giants aren’t quitting yet, that’s for sure. The Bears came to town, ready to lock up the NFC North and knock New York out of the playoffs, but that’s not what happened at all. Saquon Barkley had one of his better games of the season, racking up 146 yards and propelling the Giants offense to what ended up being the game-winning field goal in overtime. The G-Men are still going to miss the playoffs, barring a miracle, but their latest run of play has shown that the pieces are there for New York to get back to their Super Bowl heights. Of course, they still need to get a QB in the draft. When your wide receiver is throwing more deep touchdown passes than your quarterback, you know you’ve got a problem.
21. (–) Atlanta Falcons (4-8)
Week 13: L 26-16 vs. Ravens. This kind of season makes you wonder if things would be different if Atlanta hadn’t choked in the Super Bowl 2 years ago. Matt Ryan (16-26, 131 yds, TD) finally had a bad game, and it showed the glaring flaws on this Falcons team. Now all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Atlanta needs to start figuring out how to build a defense to help out their former MVP quarterback and their offense and start winning football games again.
22. (-3) Washington Redskins (6-6)
Week 13: L 28-13 @Eagles. Every year, there’s one team that catches a BAD case of the injury bug. Last year it was Houston. This year, it’s Washington. Both starting and now both backup guards are gone, both tackles are hurt, star QB Alex Smith got Theismanned, and now BACKUP QB Colt McCoy, who showed promise on Thanksgiving, is out for the year with a broken leg. Next man up is Mark Sanchez (13-21, 100 yds, INT), a man who needs no introduction. The offensive line is so beaten up that Adrian Peterson broke a 90-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter….and didn’t rush for 100 yards in the game. That’s impressive. Washington may be at .500 and have a relatively easy remaining schedule, but make no mistake: they’re done.
23. (+3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Week 13: W 24-17 vs. Panthers. Jameis Winston was given one last chance to prove himself, and so far he’s been taking it. Winston (20-30, 249 yds, 2 TD) has cut down drastically on the turnovers (6 TD- 1 INT in last 3 games compared to 6 TD-10 INT in first 4 games) and the rest of the offense has looked much smoother. A “run the table” scenario still exists for Tampa to make the playoffs, but with the defense still one of the worst units in the league, it’s hard to see that happening.
24. (-1) Detroit Lions (4-8)
Week 13: L 30-16 vs. Rams. Detroit shouldn’t feel bad about their loss to the Rams. The Lions were simply outmatched, and they were still able to keep the score relatively close. Their season is all but over, and Matt Patricia will need to start looking toward 2019 and which of his players will stay in the Motor City.
25. (+2) Miami Dolphins (6-6)
Week 13: W 21-17 vs. Bills. Yes, the Dolphins are .500. Yes, they’re still in a decent position to make the playoffs. And yes, they just won a hard-fought division game. Here’s the problem: Miami is just 2-4 after starting the season 4-2 and their remaining schedule is vs. Patriots, @Vikings, vs. Jaguars, and @Bills. Unless the Dolphins are able to win 2 out of their next 3 games against really good teams and/or defenses, Miami is not making it back to the postseason. That isn’t certain, either. Even though they just beat the Bills, it was very close and in warm, sunny south Florida. The same game in January up in an ice-cold, probably snowy Buffalo will yield a very different result.
26. (-4) Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)
Week 13: L 24-10 vs. Broncos. With Andy Dalton out for the year, QB Jeff Driskel (25-37, 236 yds, TD, INT) was forced to step up and lead a struggling Bengals team clinging to their playoff hopes. Driskel played about as well as you could expect, especially without having A.J. Green to throw to, but it just wasn’t enough to break through a tough Broncos defense. After starting the season 4-1, Cincy has been on a 1-6 skid that, without an incredible turnaround and some help, cost them a surefire playoff spot.
27. (-3) Buffalo Bills (4-8)
Week 13: L 21-17 @Dolphins. This loss hurt for the Bills. Down by 4 with under 2:30 left, Josh Allen (18-33, 231 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT) led the Bills on a long, methodical drive to try and win the game after struggling for long stretches of the game. Stuck in a 4th and 11 situation, Allen ran for his life to evade the rush in what looked like a replay of Russel Wilson against the Cardinals last season. He found a wide open Charles Clay in the end zone and threw it up to him. Off his back foot and throwing across his body, Allen tossed it 30 yards right to his TE. Clay dropped it and the Bills lost, showing that Buffalo has a long way to go before they find their way back to the playoffs. Hopefully this time it won’t take 18 years.
28. (–) Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)
Week 13: W 6-0 vs. Colts. Sacksonville finally showed up, completely shutting down the Colts offense that up until this game had been red hot. Blake Bortles was benched in favor of Cody Kessler (18-24, 150 yds), and he didn’t do any better than what Bortles had done up to this point. Luckily for Jacksonville, they’ll likely have a high draft pick to try and find their franchise QB. If they find that and keep the defense together, then the Jags might just return to last season’s dominant form.
29. (+1) Arizona Cardinals (3-9)
Week 13: W 20-17 @Packers. The Cardinals did something they have never done: beat Green Bay at Lambeau Field. The last Cardinals road win against the Packers was in 1949, a full 8 years before Lambeau opened and 16 years before it was even called “Lambeau Field.” As for the game itself, Josh Rosen (11-26, 149 yds) struggled but still kept the football safe while the team totaled over 180 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns by RB Chase Edmonds. David Johnson had another slow game by his standards and has to be one of the biggest disappointments of the season, especially to Fantasy owners. Really “disappointing” describes the whole season for Arizona.
30. (-1) New York Jets (3-9)
Week 13: L 26-22 @Titans. Remember when the Jets blew out Detroit on Monday Night Football in week 1 and how much promise they showed? Seems like forever ago. Sam Darnold has never looked better than he did in that game, the defense has regressed week in and week out, and now veteran QB Josh McCown (17-30, 128 yds, INT), who is filling in due to injury, can’t seem to do much of anything. They had a chance to put the Titans away but instead gave up 13 unanswered points in the 4th quarter. Because of tiebreakers, the Jets have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Time to start the Le’Veon Bell campaign.
31. (–) Oakland Raiders (2-10)
Week 13: L 40-33 vs. Chiefs. 2018 was always going to be a rebuilding year in Oakland, but even so, this has to hurt. Trading away 2 of the best players on the team has led the Raiders to a race for the #1 pick, and their latest loss has officially eliminated them from the playoffs. Derek Carr (29-38, 285 yds, 3 TD) matched Mahomes throw for throw, but he was simply outmatched by a full Chiefs juggernaut. There’s no telling whether or not Carr is around in 2019, but right now him running for his life behind a bad O-line does neither him nor the Raiders any good.
32. (–) San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
Week 13: L 43-16 @Seahawks. What started out as such a promising year for San Francisco has turned into a nightmare. The loss of star QB Jimmy Garropolo early in the season doomed the Niners playoff hopes, but from there, things have only gotten worse. 3rd string QB Nick Mullens (30-48, 414 yds, 2 TD, INT) has performed admirably, but the rest of the team still lacks a ton of talent, including cutting LB Reuben Foster for domestic violence charges and losing both Jerrick McKinnon and now Matt Breida to injury. The 49ers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention, and the goal now has to be getting the #1 draft pick.
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Photo Credits: Associated Press, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, USA Today Sports, Getty Images