After another week of play, four teams have clinched playoff berths, including Green Bay and Kansas City, who have also clinched their respective divisions. Additionally, six teams have been eliminated from playoff contention, and five of those are in the AFC. The other two playoff-bound clinchers–New Orleans and Pittsburgh–suffered losses on Sunday. That could shake things up for the rest of the way.
There are nine teams above .500 in the AFC standings and only six in the NFC. One of those under the breakeven line is Washington, who is 6-7 and on a four-game winning streak. As you may have read, the NFC East is…less than stellar this year. However, one representative (either Washington or one of its rivals) will host a playoff game next month. Surely, everyone around the NFL would feel a little better about things if the NFC East champion was at least 8-8. Whether that happens remains to be seen.
32. New York Jets (0-13, Last week: 32)
If Sunday’s loss to Seattle were a meme, it would be the gif of Bart Simpson dropping a cake with “At Least You Tried” written on it into the trashcan. New York put up only 185 yards of offense while yielding 410. They caught the Seahawks at a bad time, since they were upset by the Giants last weekend, but there is no getting around how putrid this Jets team is right now.
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
— Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) December 14, 2020
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12, Last week: 31)
Gardner Minshew came on in relief of Mike Glennon against Tennessee Sunday, but Minshew Mania was no match for Henry Havoc. Jacksonville’s defense could not slow down the Titans’ rushing attack, and this game was basically over by halftime. The Jaguars are a strong contender for a top-three draft pick, and they need all the help they can get.
Next week: at Baltimore (8-5)
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1, Last week: 29)
Each of Cincinnati’s first three drives ended in a lost fumble, which should tell you everything you need to know about how their game against Dallas went. The Cowboys opened the game on a 17-0 scoring run and ended it on a 13-0 run. Other than that, the Bengals did fine.
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh (11-2)
29. Carolina Panthers (4-9, Last week: 26)
The Panthers did run for 125 yards and three scores, but they gave up four sacks and were thoroughly dissected by Denver’s passing offense. Carolina had to crawl back from a 25-10 deficit after three quarters to make this one look respectable. On the bright side, rookie safety Jeremy Chinn had another outstanding day.
Next week: at Green Bay (10-3)
28. Houston Texans (4-9, Last week: 22)
As ugly as Sunday’s loss in Chicago was, it could have been a lot worse if Deshaun Watson had suffered a serious injury. Houston’s star quarterback lay on the turf after taking a hit and was replaced by A.J. McCarron for a play. Watson returned, but the loss eliminated the Texans from the playoffs this year.
Next week: at Indianapolis (9-4)
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-9, Last week: 21)
Atlanta’s hot stretch under Raheem Morris has cooled slightly. The Falcons lost their second consecutive close game Sunday, this one a 20-17 decision against the Chargers. As crazy as it sounds, Matt Ryan’s three-interception performance was a signal that he may be nearing the end of his time with the franchise.
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay (8-5)
26. San Francisco 49ers (5-8, Last week: 23)
The 49ers’ defense held Washington’s offense to under 200 total yards, yet three turnovers from their offensive counterparts cost San Francisco a victory. Both of Nick Mullens’ turnovers–a fumbled and an interception–were returned for scores. Although winning on the stat sheet is nice, winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.
Next week: at Dallas (4-9)
25. Dallas Cowboys (4-9, Last week: 28)
In most seasons, a 3-9 team scoring a mid-December blowout win wouldn’t matter much in the grand scheme. But this is the 2020 NFC East, so Dallas’ 30-7 victory over Cincinnati kept them afloat in the playoff race. The Cowboys are two games back of division-leading Washington with three games to play.
Next week: vs. San Francisco (5-8)
24. Los Angeles Chargers (4-9, Last week: 30)
After an ugly shutout loss last weekend, the Chargers returned to their own weight class and won a tight game over the visiting Falcons. Los Angeles was plus-two in turnovers, held the ball for nearly 10 minutes longer than Atlanta, and kicked a last-second field goal to make it official. Justin Herbert has thrown for 3467 yards so far, which is nearly 800 yards more than the next-highest rookie quarterback (Joe Burrow).
Next week: at Las Vegas (7-6)
23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1, Last week: 27)
Even though it Hurts, Philadelphia did not Wentz in pain. (Thank you, thank you.) Jalen Hurts won his first professional start after supplanting Carson Wentz, edging the Saints 24-21. In fact, Hurts and the Eagles built a 17-0 halftime lead over the former NFC top seed before easing off the gas a bit. Hurts and Miles Sanders each topped 100 yards rushing, and their defensive teammates aided the cause with five sacks.
Next week: at Arizona (7-6)
22. Detroit Lions (5-8, Last week: 20)
The Lions hung with the Packers for a little over a half before losing some steam Sunday. They did manage to bring the game within a single score inside the final two minutes before an onside kick out of bounds ended their hopes for good. Detroit’s offensive line struggled to protect Matt Stafford or open running lanes, and it proved too much to overcome.
Next week: at Tennessee (9-4)
21. Denver Broncos (5-8, Last week: 25)
Drew Lock looked great in Carolina on Sunday, and it was another reminder of the young quarterback’s maddening inconsistency. Lock has as many games with multiple touchdown passes as games completing under 55 percent of his passes (four apiece, excluding his first quarter exit against Pittsburgh). If he can ever put it all together, Denver will be a problem.
Next week: vs. Buffalo (10-3)
20. New England Patriots (6-7, Last week: 16)
The Patriots lost a game and a bit of momentum Thursday night in Los Angeles. They’re now back home on the East Coast after spending a week in California for consecutive L.A. games, and they finish with three straight AFC East matchups. Whether they sneak into the playoffs will depend on their actual play as well as how the dominoes fall in front of them.
Next week: at Miami (8-5)
19. Las Vegas Raiders (7-6, Last week: 18)
Sunday’s loss to the Colts was the official end of the Paul Guenther era, and it may have also been the unofficial end of the Raiders’ playoff hopes. Guenther’s defense surrendered 456 yards and 37 points (the other 7 came off of an interception return), and Jon Gruden lamented that his team “had no answer.” Derek Carr threw two uncharacteristic interceptions, and Hunter Renfrow lost a fumble.
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-9)
18. Minnesota Vikings (6-7, Last week: 17)
Well, Dan Bailey will remember this game for a long time…as much as he might want to forget it. Bailey missed all four of his kick attempts (three field goals and an extra point), and the Vikings lost for only the second time since November started. Minnesota lost by 12, so all 10 of Bailey’s potential points wouldn’t have decided the outcome, but it definitely would have adjusted play-calling strategy as the game wore along.
Next week: vs. Chicago (6-7)
17. New York Giants (5-8, Last week: 14)
The Giants ended two streaks on Sunday: their own four-game winning streak as well as Arizona’s three-game losing streak. New York gave up eight sacks and lost three of their five fumbles in a 26-7 loss. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were also the only NFC East team to lose on Sunday, dropping a game to Washington in the standings and making their playoff hopes even slimmer.
Next week: vs. Cleveland (9-4)
16. Chicago Bears (6-7, Last week: 24)
In late October, Chicago climbed as high as seventh in our weekly rankings. Yada, yada, yada, Sunday’s win over Houston was their first since then. The Bears halted a six-game skid thanks to a phenomenal outing from Mitch Trubisky, who threw for three touchdowns and did not turn the ball over.
Next week: at Minnesota (6-7)
15. Arizona Cardinals (7-6, Last week: 19)
Here’s something you don’t see every day: Haason Reddick recorded a whopping five sacks against New York, and Arizona kept the Giants offense from ever getting off the mat. Eight sacks, three fumble recoveries, and a Minnesota loss vaulted the Cardinals back into the playoff race. With two winnable games on deck, Arizona can continue bolstering its chances before a season-ending showdown with the Rams.
Next week: vs. Philadelphia (4-8-1)
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-5, Last week: 15)
Baltimore reminded Cleveland that, even in an otherwise successful season, the AFC North is still not the Browns’ for the taking. Few pundits would have predicted five losses for the Ravens in 2020. However, the Jaguars, Giants, and Bengals are now all that stand between Baltimore and 11 wins.
Next week: vs. Jacksonville (1-12)
13. Washington Football Team (6-7, Last week: 13)
Washington has won four games in a row, including their last two over then-undefeated Pittsburgh and defending NFC champion San Francisco. Granted, the 2020 49ers are a far cry from the 2019 49ers, but Washington is surging toward a playoff berth all the same. Chase Young (fumble return) and Kamren Curl (interception return) nearly outscored San Francisco’s offense by themselves (15 points).
Next week: vs. Seattle (9-4)
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5, Last week: 12)
They may have started slowly, but Tampa Bay scored 23 straight points in the second and third quarters to blow Minnesota out of the water. The Buccaneers notched six sacks, forced two fumbles, and recovered one. It wasn’t an entirely dominating performance, but it was more than enough to make the Vikings pay for their own mistakes.
Next week: at Atlanta (4-9)
11. Miami Dolphins (8-5, Last week: 8)
The upstart Dolphins experienced their “Not so fast!” moment on Sunday, watching a 10-0 first half lead turn into a 30-10 deficit after three quarters. Kansas City swung haymakers in the second and third quarters, which is usually enough to knock out any team in the league. To their credit, though, Miami put up 17 fourth quarter points to come within a failed onside kick of completing the monster comeback.
Next week: vs. New England (6-7)
10. Cleveland Browns (9-4, Last week: 6)
The Browns have secured a winning record for the first time since 2007, but Monday night’s outcome has to be a disappointment. In order to really “arrive,” Cleveland will need to knock off Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They get their last shot against the Steelers in the season finale.
Next week: at New York Giants (5-8)
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-4, Last week: 11)
The Colts picked a great time for a huge win in Las Vegas. Tied with Tennessee in the win-loss column, Indianapolis is behind in the AFC South standings due to tiebreakers, and they cannot afford to lose ground. Jonathan Taylor and T.Y. Hilton led the way offensively, while Kenny Moore and Khari Willis were the defensive stars.
Next week: vs. Houston (4-9)
8. Tennessee Titans (9-4, Last week: 10)
If you play fantasy football and have Derrick Henry on your roster, you very likely won your playoff game this weekend. Henry rambled for 215 yards and two touchdowns, which somehow counts as another ho-hum day for the former Heisman Trophy winner. It didn’t matter against Jacksonville, but Tennessee failed to record a sack again, which is an ongoing cause for concern.
Next week: vs. Detroit (5-8)
7. New Orleans (10-3, Last week: 2)
Taysom Hill was sacked five times, threw an interception, and lost a fumble in Philadelphia Sunday. As a result, the Saints dropped from their perch atop the NFC playoff standings. With only one team receiving a first round bye, New Orleans will need to finish with a better record than Green Bay to reclaim the top spot since the Packers beat the Saints in their late September matchup.
Next week: vs. Kansas City (12-1)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2, Last week: 5)
The Steelers have lost their undefeated regular season and been bumped from the top seed in the AFC playoff picture in consecutive weeks. After their Sunday night loss to (third-seeded) Buffalo, Pittsburgh is potentially at risk to fall even further down the standings. Even worse, Baltimore may still be able to leapfrog Mike Tomlin’s team for the AFC North title, but that’s a problem for another day.
Next week: at Cincinnati (2-10-1)
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-4, Last week: 9)
Fortunately for Seahawks fans, your team was not swept by the New Yorks. After being embarrassed by the Giants, Russell Wilson and Jamal Adams took out their frustrations on the hapless Jets. Wilson threw for four scores, and Adams set the new league record for sacks in a season by a defensive back (the previous record was eight, but Adams is now on pace for 10.5).
Next week: at Washington (6-7)
4. Los Angeles Rams (9-4, Last week: 7)
It was no Super Bowl, but at least the Rams got to experience some form of revenge against New England Thursday night. Cam Akers was the star offensively, while the Los Angeles defense managed six sacks and forced a pick-six. This was the team’s first win against the AFC East after dropping earlier road losses in Buffalo and Miami.
Next week: vs. New York Jets (0-13)
3. Buffalo Bills (10-3, Last week: 4)
The Bills had already overtaken the Steelers in our previous rankings, but now they’ve done it on the field as well. Buffalo’s defense bottled up Pittsburgh’s offense, and a Taron Johnson pick-six turned momentum toward the home team heading into halftime. The Bills can’t rest on their laurels, but they would own a tiebreaker for higher playoff seeding if they and the Steelers end the season with the same record.
Next week: at Denver (5-8)
2. Green Bay Packers (10-3, Last week: 3)
By virtue of their win and the Saints’ loss, the Packers have moved into the NFC’s first seed with three weeks remaining. Detroit gave quite a fight, but Green Bay is a talented, balanced team who can fend off divisional rivals. The Titans visit on December 27th, which could shape up to be a fantastic matchup.
Next week: vs. Carolina (4-9)
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1, Last week: 1)
Kansas City’s mascot is a wolf in human clothing, which is fitting because the Chiefs often take on the role of the big, bad wolves. Sometimes, they are also known to play cat-and-mouse, which may have been the case in Miami Sunday. After spotting the Dolphins a 10-0 lead, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Mecole Hardman dropped 28 points with relative ease.
Next week: at New Orleans (10-3)