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NFL power rankings, Week 14: Ravens in limbo in chaotic playoff race, while four top contenders emerge

Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders, regardless of win-loss record.

Here are the rankings after Week 14:

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Super Bowl favorites

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3; No. 2 last week)

2. Green Bay Packers (10-3; No. 3)

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3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4; No. 5)

4. New England Patriots (9-4; No. 4)

This far into the season, it’s still pretty difficult to get a handle on the league’s hierarchy. Just look at the standings. According to ESPN Stats & Information, each conference has a three-way tie for the best record through Week 14 for the first time since 1970, 13 teams in a playoff spot or within one game of one and five teams with the same record vying for a wild-card spot.

So why are there just four Super Bowl favorites this week? Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes are the three best quarterbacks in the league, and the Patriots have the best defense and an all-time great coach. The betting market agrees, with Tampa Bay solidified as the Super Bowl favorite by most sportsbooks, followed by the Chiefs, Packers and Patriots.

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The Buccaneers’ 33-27 overtime win over the Bills on Brady’s 58-yard touchdown pass to former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman keeps Tampa Bay in the hunt for the NFC’s top seed and the crucial first-round bye. The Packers are also in play for the No. 1 spot thanks to a 45-30 win over the Bears led by Rodgers’ four touchdown passes. The Chiefs’ 48-9 dismantling of the Raiders marked their sixth straight win, led by another dominant performance from a defense that has improved dramatically after a dismal start.

In a jumbled playoff picture, these four teams have separated themselves. Now the race is on for the first-round bye.

The top contenders

5. Los Angeles Rams (9-4; No. 9)

6. Arizona Cardinals (10-3; No. 1)

7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4; No. 6)

8. Buffalo Bills (7-6; No. 8)

9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5; No. 11)

Perhaps the biggest game of Week 14 is the one freshest on everyone’s mind. The Rams’ 30-23 win over the Cardinals on Monday night knocked Arizona out of the top spot in the NFC, catapulting the Rams back into the spotlight while raising questions about the Cardinals’ legitimacy as Super Bowl contenders. Arizona is strangely just 3-3 at home this season, and yet another poor performance in prime-time won’t win quarterback Kyler Murray or coach Kliff Kingsbury any support when it comes to the end-of-season awards. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald reminded everyone he’s still one of the league’s best defenders with three sacks, while quarterback Matthew Stafford delivered the type of performance that makes this Rams team more formidable than any version that featured Jared Goff. Not to mention, Los Angeles still flummoxed Murray without star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. When the Rams are playing at their best, they’re legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the New York Giants on Sunday in Inglewood, California.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the New York Giants on Sunday in Inglewood, California. (Gregory Bull/AP)

The team they share a stadium with is getting hot at the right time, too. Quarterback Justin Herbert delivered another masterful performance in a 37-21 win over the Giants, including a 59-yard touchdown pass you need to see to believe. In just his second season, Herbert has a claim to be ranked in the same top tier as Brady, Rodgers and Mahomes. The Chargers are wildly inconsistent and prone to mistakes on defense and special teams, but when it comes to their quarterback and offensive weapons, they have the firepower to beat any team in the league.

Dallas is just as formidable thanks to its star talent. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons is putting together a Defensive Player of the Year case with dominant performances week after week, including a strip-sack of Taylor Heinicke that led to a touchdown in the Cowboys’ 27-20 win over Washington. Dak Prescott is mired in a bit of a slump and left tackle Tyron Smith is out for at least a week with an ankle injury, but this Cowboys team is awfully good when healthy, as evidenced by its third overall ranking in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

The wild cards

10. Baltimore Ravens (8-5; No. 7)

11. Indianapolis Colts (7-6; No. 12)

12. San Francisco 49ers (7-6; No. 14)

13. Cleveland Browns (7-6; No. 15)

14. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6; No. 13)

15. Tennessee Titans (9-4, No. 10)

The Ravens can’t catch a break. Quarterback Lamar Jackson left Sunday’s 24-22 loss to the Browns with an ankle injury, putting his status in doubt for the stretch run as Baltimore tries to hold off Cleveland and Cincinnati for the AFC North title. The Ravens have been decimated by injuries, yet somehow remain in playoff contention. It’s a testament to coach John Harbaugh and his staff that this team remains competitive, including fighting back from a 24-3 deficit Sunday behind backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. But how much longer can they keep this up? A brutal finishing stretch against the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers will ultimately decide this team’s fate. Are the Ravens a middling team just barely hanging on, or can Jackson return healthy enough to make them a playoff contender?

The Browns and Bengals aren’t taking advantage of a depleted Baltimore roster just yet. Cincinnati lost its second straight, 26-23 to the 49ers in overtime, while the Browns nearly blew a huge lead behind hobbled quarterback Baker Mayfield. To make matters worse, Cleveland put eight players on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, including wide receiver Jarvis Landry and guard Wyatt Teller. A Week 17 game between the Browns and Bengals might decide which team advances to the postseason.

The 49ers, meanwhile, are starting to look like the NFC contenders many thought they would be before the season started. Jimmy Garoppolo has played as well as any quarterback in the league since Week 8, thanks in large part to the star duo of tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The defense has come on strong of late too, with defensive end Nick Bosa adding two sacks Sunday. San Francisco ranks eighth in DVOA, which shows that they’re a legitimate threat to knock off one of the league’s top teams in the postseason.

The messy middle

16. Minnesota Vikings (6-7; No. 22)

17. Denver Broncos (7-6; No. 19)

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18. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7; No. 21)

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19. Washington Football Team (6-7; No. 17)

20. Seattle Seahawks (5-8; No. 25)

21. Miami Dolphins (6-7; No. 18)

22. New Orleans Saints (6-7; No. 23)

23. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1; No. 16)

24. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7; No. 20)

25. Atlanta Falcons (6-7; No. 24)

The race for the final playoff spots is going to be tight. Washington currently holds on to the seventh and final spot in the NFC, but the Vikings, Eagles, Saints and Falcons are all breathing down their neck. Minnesota might be the best bet to emerge from this dog pile thanks to a talented offense that can keep up with just about anyone. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson is on pace to break Odell Beckham Jr.’s NFL record for the most receiving yards through a player’s first two seasons, and with running mate Adam Thielen out, he’ll be leaned on heavily.

Washington Football Team center Keith Ismael (60) waits for the snap against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Landover.
Washington Football Team center Keith Ismael (60) waits for the snap against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Landover. (Julio Cortez/AP)

However, the Eagles have the best chance to jump into that final playoff spot in the NFC. FiveThirtyEight gives Philadelphia a 37% chance to make the playoffs, while Pro Football Focus and ESPN’s Football Power Index have the odds at 32%. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has struggled of late, but his running ability gives the Eagles’ offense an added dimension that’s hard to defend. Philadelphia also has two games left against Washington, its direct competition for the seventh seed.

The bottom of the AFC standings is just as messy, with the Colts and Bills now occupying the sixth and seventh spots, respectively. Of the AFC teams currently outside the playoff picture, FiveThirtyEight gives the Browns the best chance to emerge at 40%, followed by the Bengals (29%) and Broncos (21%). The Dolphins (10%) and Steelers (10%) are still hanging on, but they’ll need some help to break through. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger delivered a vintage performance in Thursday night’s huge comeback against the Vikings, but Pittsburgh’s struggles on defense this year might keep them out of the postseason.

The basement

26. Carolina Panthers (5-8; No. 26)

27. Chicago Bears (4-9; No. 28)

28. New York Giants (4-9; No. 27)

29. New York Jets (3-10; No. 29)

30. Detroit Lions (1-11-1; No. 32)

31. Houston Texans (2-11; No. 30)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11; No. 31)

What exactly is Carolina’s plan? In Sunday’s 29-21 loss to the Falcons, coach Matt Rhule juggled quarterbacks Cam Newton and P.J. Walker, who combined for two interceptions and a lost fumble. The Panthers have won just two games since late September and are on the hook for quarterback Sam Darnold’s $18 million fifth-year option next season. The defense is loaded with young talent, but until Carolina finds a long-term answer at quarterback, this team is going nowhere fast. To make matters worse, this year’s draft class is lacking top-tier passers. Luring a big free agent or swinging a trade for someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson might be Rhule’s only hope to keep his job beyond next season.

Speaking of coaching upheaval, will Jaguars coach Urban Meyer last one year? Reports of dysfunction and turmoil inside the organization — including Meyer calling out the coaches he hired to defend their resumes — make it seem all the more likely this experiment will be over soon. Jacksonville only gets one chance to build a contender around No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. Finding a suitable replacement for the former college coach is the only way to get things back on track.

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