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Week 16 NFL power rankings: Buffalo Bills rise, Steelers and Cowboys drop in Week 15

Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 of the NFL season is in the books and the playoff race has taken a distinct shape. There’s a clear pecking order of the best NFL teams in 2023 versus the worst teams in the NFL, with Saturday and Sunday’s games shaping our Week 16 NFL power rankings.

It’s safe to say Week 15 had a domino effect on the entire league. The Los Angeles Chargers fired Brandon Staley after a historic loss on Thursday Night Football then Miek Tomlin put himself on the hot seat in a poor showing against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. As for Sunday’s action, the matchups lived up to the hype.

Related: NFL coaching candidates

Let’s dive into our latest NFL power rankings after Week 15.

Week 16 NFL power rankings: Worst NFL teams

32. Carolina Panthers

  • Previously: 32nd in NFL power rankings

The Carolina Panthers did the improbable, winning a second game this season. If we’re strictly focusing long-term, Bryce Young really didn’t show anything to generate positive buzz heading into the final three weeks of the season. Still, a win means a little more for a Panthers franchise without much hope and missing its first-round pick in 2024.

Related: Carolina Panthers coaching candidates

31. Washington Commanders

  • Previously: 31st in NFL power rankings

The remainder of the Washington Commanders season doesn’t really matter. They have too many wins to have a shot at drafting Caleb Williams or Drake Maye and this locker room isn’t fighting for a head coach who has already been confirmed to be fired on Black Monday. Just run out the clock on the Commanders’ 2023 campaign and let us see who takes over this spring.

Related: Washington Commanders coaching candidates

30. Arizona Cardinals

  • Previously: 30th in NFL power rankings

At least the Arizona Cardinals made it entertaining. After weeks of the San Francisco 49ers blowing out opponents, Arizona actually kept it within a score entering halftime. The wheels came off after that, but the bright spot is a higher draft pick and tight end Trey McBride proving he’s a star in the making.

Related: 2024 NFL Draft order, picks by team

29. New England Patriots

  • Previously: 29th in NFL power rankings

Bill Belichick needed to win out to have any shot of remaining the New England Patriots coach in 2024. A change of scenery is truly what everyone needs. Belichick will be one of the most coveted head coaches available and New England will likely promote Jerod Mayo to head coach, while bringing in normalcy to this front office with a separate head coach and general manager.

Related: New England Patriots coaching candidates

28. Los Angeles Chargers

  • Previously: 24th in NFL power rankings

This is rock bottom for the Los Angeles Chargers. Brandon Staley was the first to go, but we’re realistically looking at a team that might not have Austin Ekeler or Keenan Allen for long either. Justin Herbert makes this an appealing landing spot for head-coach candidates, but there are a lot of other factors in Los Angeles that might influence top candidates to look elsewhere.

Related: Los Angeles Chargers coaching candidates

27. New York Jets

  • Previously: 28th in NFL power rankings

The New York Jets are effectively eliminated from playoff contention, thus erasing any more foolish talk of Aaron Rodgers returning from a torn Achilles this season. Ultimately, this is the best thing that could happen to the Jets as it will put the franchise in a position to land one of the top offensive tackles in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Related: 2024 NFL salary cap projection

26. Tennessee Titans

  • Previously: 27th in NFL power rankings

We should’ve seen this coming with the Tennessee Titans. Mike Vrabel got his team to pour out everything it had on Monday Night Football against the Miami Dolphins. Evidently, that was everything Tennessee had in the tank because it looked lifeless against a Houston Texans team starting a lot of backups. For as good of a coach as Vrabel is, performances like this raise questions about what he’s truly worth if another NFL team wanted to trade for him this spring.

Related: NFL coaches fired

25. Atlanta Falcons

  • Previously: 23rd in NFL power rankings

The Atlanta Falcons weren’t going to fire head coach Arthur Smith as long as the team didn’t embarrass itself at the end of the season. Not winning the weakest division in the NFL even wouldn’t have been grounds for the Falcons’ ownership to cut ties with Smith. After losing to the worst NFL team in the last three years, though, there’s a legitimate chance Smith is fired after Week 18.

24. New York Giants

  • Previously: 25th in NFL power rankings

Sunday aligned more with the version of the New York Giants we’ve seen for the majority of the season. Tommy DeVito (7 sacks) held onto the ball too long and showed his limitations as a passer, while Saquon Barkley (14 rushing yards) couldn’t do anything on the ground. One thing is clear, the Giants are numerous pieces away on both sides of the ball from playoff contention in 2024.

Related: Heisman Trophy candidates 2024

23. Las Vegas Raiders

  • Previously: 26th in NFL power rankings

Maybe Antonio Pierce isn’t the Las Vegas Raiders head coach in 2024, but he knows how to motivate a team and get them to rally when their backs are against the wall. That’s not the case in Los Angeles. Las Vegas still has a lot of work to do and it’s likely two years away from contention, but Pierce provides a culture in the short term and that’s worth something.

22. Chicago Bears

  • Previously: 20th in NFL power rankings

Darnell Mooney had the win in his hands and he let it slip away. Justin Fields wasn’t perfect in this game, but he delivered a potential game-winning drive against the No. 1 defense in the NFL, Mooney just couldn’t hold onto the football. It’s a heartbreaking loss for Chicago, but everything this team has shown in the last two months creates confidence in this team’s future.

Related: Chicago Bears coaching candidates

21. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Previously: 16th in NFL power rankings

Mike Tomlin isn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest problem or even close to it, but it’s fair to wonder if both sides would benefit from a change in scenery. The Steelers’ franchise isn’t going to take a positive step forward without addressing its quarterback problem, but its draft positioning means a top prospect isn’t coming. If the Steelers aren’t going to go all-out to upgrade at quarterback, Tomlin might as well look for other jobs.

Related: NFL defense rankings

20. Green Bay Packers

  • Previously: 14th in NFL power rankings

The Green Bay Packers had a golden opportunity to make the playoffs, riding a wave of momentum into January. After circling matchups against the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs on their calendar and winning, it sure seems like Matt LaFleur and Joe Barry overlooked the Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One thing is clear, Barry can’t be back in 2024.

Related: Comparing Jordan Love’s first season to Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre

NFL power rankings after Week 15:

19. Minnesota Vikings

  • Previously: 17th in NFL power rankings

It’s all come unraveled pretty quickly for the Minnesota Vikings. In the last four games, Minnesota is 1-3 but only has a -3 point differential. Of course, the lone victory came in an ugly 3-0 game against the Las Vegas Raiders, while this offense came up flat twice. Minnesota is still holding out some playoff hope, but looming matchups against the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers could easily drop this team to 7-10.

18. New Orleans Saints

  • Previously: 21st in NFL power rankings

The New Orleans Saints didn’t need to do much offensively in Week 15 with the defense playing so well. New Orleans held the Giants to 193 total yards on 61 plays, meaning the Saints only needed two scores to secure the win. We’ll hold off on completely buying into the Saints until they show something next week against the Los Angeles Rams.

Related: NFL QB rankings

17. Seattle Seahawks

Related: NFL playoff predictions

  • Previously: 22nd in NFL power rankings

Drew Lock gave new life to the Seattle Seahawks and they definitely needed it. A game-winning drive saved the Seahawks’ season, keeping the NFC’s Wild Card race interesting and providing hope that this team can turn it around on both sides of the ball. It does get easier from here with three games against the Titans, Steelers and Cardinals, but Seahawks games are never a given. However, this boost of confidence could carry Seattle to a four-game win streak to close out the regular season.

16. Denver Broncos

  • Previously: 12th in NFL power rankings

Saturday represented a massive step backward for the Denver Broncos. Defensively, Vance Joseph’s group performed like the same unit that was off to a historically alarming pace in the first half of the season. Offensively, there are clearly strong restraints on this passing game with Russell Wilson under center. Sean Payton deserves credit for this team’s late-season turnaround, but it’s also clear Denver has plenty of moves it needs to make before it’s a serious playoff contender.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Previously: 19th in NFL power rankings

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look a lot more like the team we saw in the first month of the season, when they jumped out to a 3-1 record. Baker Mayfield was phenomenal in Week 15, carving up the Packers’ defense for nearly 381 yards in a game that was one-sided for nearly three quarters. The Buccaneers certainly look like the best team in the NFC South and a division crown should preserve Todd Bowles’ gig.

Related: History of Heisman Trophy winners

14. Los Angeles Rams

  • Previously: 15th in NFL power rankings

The Los Angeles Rams made that way closer than it needed to be and two fumbles by Kyren Williams nearly cost this team dearly on Sunday. We continue to be amazed by what Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford are doing this year in Los Angeles. While making the playoffs is an uphill climb for the Rams, this team is good enough to accomplish it.

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13. Indianapolis Colts

  • Previously: 18th in NFL power rankings

It’s never flashy, but Shane Steichen keeps finding ways to win with the Indianapolis Colts. Already missing Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor, Steichen’s offense lost Michael Pittman Jr. to a concussion in Week 15. Indianapolis still won, with Gardner Minshew taking advantage of the schemed-up looks Steichen created. No one could’ve predicted the Colts would be an eight-win team in 2023 and there’s a realistic shot Indianapolis finished the regular season 11-6.

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12. Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Previously: 10th in NFL power rankings

There’s just no consistency with the Jacksonville Jaguars and it might cost them the AFC South. Doug Pederson’s refusal to take over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Press Taylor is one of this team’s biggest problems. Jacksonville had this division and a home playoff game in hand, but defensive regression and inexplicable offensive issues might prove costly.

11. Houston Texans

  • Previously: 11th in NFL power rankings

Without Will Anderson Jr., Nico Collins, C.J. Stroud and Tank Dell, we didn’t give the Houston Texans much hope for a win. Sunday was a victory that belonged to the coaching staff. DeMeco Ryans’ defense and Bobby Slowik’s offense made it happen, taking advantage of the Titans’ mistakes and overcoming some early struggles by the Texans’ backups. With Stroud back in Week 16, Houston’s playoff hopes are promising.

Week 16 NFL power rankings: Best NFL teams right now

10. Cincinnati Bengals

Syndication: USA TODAY
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: 13th in NFL power rankings

Jake Browning and Zac Taylor deserve endless credit for their work throughout this three-game winning streak. When Joe Burrow went down, we were convinced Cincinnati would finish the season as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Instead, Cincinnati has roared back up the AFC standings and there’s a legitimate chance the Bengals finish with 10 wins.

Related: NFL Defensive Player of the Year race

9. Cleveland Browns

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns
Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 9th in NFL power rankings

The Cleveland Browns survived in Week 15, a description that is fitting for their 2023 season. Cleveland has lost a quarter of its impact players to injured reserve, yet it’s just one victory shy of double-digit wins. If that doesn’t warrant Kevin Stefanski earning some NFL COY votes, we’re not sure what purpose the award serves anymore.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 6th in NFL power rankings

In an unsurprising turn of events, putting Matt Patricia in control of the defense didn’t fix anything. While the box score might not say much, allowing a game-winning drive to Drew Lock and 10 fourth-quarter points tells us everything we needed to know about whether or not the Eagles’ defense can turn things around. On the other side of the ball, things keep deteriorating. Once viewed as a Super Bowl contender, the Eagles now look like a team that could suffer a first-round knockout.

7. Detroit Lions

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: 8th in NFL power rankings

The Detroit Lions desperately needed that one across the board. Week 15 didn’t just represent a rebound performance from Jared Goff against a quality defense, it showed this Lions’ offense firing on all cylinders. Not only that, Detroit’s defense was given a 21-point lead and didn’t have nearly as much trouble protecting it as it did a few weeks ago. This is one game, but Detroit would’ve been in a dire position had it lost. Now, the NFC North firmly belongs in the Lions’ control.

Related: Fastest NFL players

6. Kansas City Chiefs

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 7th in NFL power rankings

It still wasn’t the crispest performance from the Kansas City Chiefs offense but it was a nice step forward. Against a top-10 defense, Patrick Mahomes picked his spots, displaying his rapport with Rashee Rice has never been better. Clyde Edwards-Helaire stepped up as well, providing a nice check-down option. Of course, this Chiefs’ receiving corps remains a big concern and the long-term absence of Isiah Pacheco heightens worries with this offense.

5. Miami Dolphins

Syndication: Palm Beach Post
Credit: Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: 5th in NFL power rankings

No Tyreek Hill, no problem for the Miami Dolphins. This certainly looked like an offense that was more well-prepared for Hill’s absence a week after his injury cost them against the Tennessee Titans. With that said, blowing out bad teams won’t silence the critics who rightfully point to the Dolphins’ record versus winning teams. Miami can answer that question in the next three weeks (Cowboys, Ravens, Bills).

Related: NFL expert picks

4. Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills
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  • Previously: 3rd in NFL power rankings

A close loss for the Dallas Cowboys would’ve been fine, it could be chalked up to an illness impacting the team. Instead, Dallas had its doors blown off in Week 15 with James Cook running all over them. While we’re not going to overreact to a single game, what Buffalo did to the Cowboys’ defense is a reminder of why there’s a gap between the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

3. Buffalo Bills

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills
Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 6th in NFL power rankings

The Buffalo Bills are back and they’re shaping up to be a dangerous team that should make the playoffs. Losses to Cincinnati and Denver, dropping Buffalo to 5-5, seemingly signaled the end of times. Instead, the Bills took the Eagles to overtime then came out of the bye with victories over Dallas and Kansas City. If the Bills make the playoffs, the rest of the AFC will regret letting it happen.

2. Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
Credit: Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 2nd in NFL power rankings

The Baltimore Ravens came away from Sunday Night Football with a victory but the season-ending injury to Keaton Mitchell that this offense couldn’t afford. Baltimore certainly has the defense to keep things interesting in Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers, but not having Mitchell or Mark Andrews might ultimately be what cost the Ravens a victory.

1. San Francisco 49ers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously:1st in NFL power rankings

The San Francisco 49ers are the best team in the NFL right now and Brock Purdy is the heavy favorite for MVP, those are the definitives coming out of Week 15. If there’s one team that would match up best against San Francisco, it’s the Ravens and we can’t wait for their primetime showdown next week.

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