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NFL power rankings, Week 15: As playoff race heats up, where do the Ravens and AFC North contenders stand?

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 15:

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Super Bowl favorites

1. Green Bay Packers (11-3; No. 2)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4; No. 3)

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3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4; No. 1)

If we’re headed for a rematch in the NFC championship game, one team is trending up while the other is trending down.

The Packers nearly blew a late lead against backup quarterback Tyler Huntley and the Ravens, but their 31-30 win made them the first team to win their division and clinch a playoff spot. Aaron Rodgers’ toe injury hasn’t slowed him down, as he carved up the Ravens’ depleted secondary for 268 yards and three touchdowns. And as if he needed any more motivation this season, Rodgers is one touchdown pass away from passing Brett Favre for the most in Packers history.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, suffered a nightmare 9-0 defeat to the Saints in which quarterback Tom Brady was shut out for the first time since 2006 and wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette went down with injuries. Godwin is out for the season with a torn ACL, but Evans and Fournette should be back in time for the playoffs. Safety Antonine Winfield Jr. and cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Jamel Dean are also hurt, putting the Bucs’ chances of claiming the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in serious jeopardy.

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Injuries might be what ends up swinging the NFC race in Green Bay’s favor. The Packers might get cornerback Jaire Alexander, left tackle David Bakhtiari and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith back in time for the postseason, reinforcing the league’s best team with three of its best players. FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Packers a 23% chance to win the Super Bowl, tied with the Chiefs for the best odds in the league. If this is indeed Rodgers’ last dance in Green Bay, it could very well end with a ring.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) celebrates with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, and guard Austin Corbett after his 29-yard touchdown catch gave them the lead over the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter on Tuesday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) celebrates with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, and guard Austin Corbett after his 29-yard touchdown catch gave them the lead over the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter on Tuesday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. (Kevork Djansezian, AP Photo)

The top contenders

4. Los Angeles Rams (10-4; No. 5)

5. New England Patriots (9-5; No. 4)

6. Dallas Cowboys (10-4; No. 7)

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

8. Arizona Cardinals (10-4; No. 6)

Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp worked their magic yet again to lead the Rams to a 20-10 over the Seahawks, pulling Los Angeles into a tie for first place in the NFC West and one game behind the Packers for the No. 1 seed. With nine catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns Tuesday night, Kupp needs 339 yards over his final three games to break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record of 1,964. His connection with Stafford, who’s turned into a Most Valuable Player candidate in his first year operating coach Sean McVay’s offense, has the Rams looking like the biggest challenger to the Packers and Bucs for the NFC title.

Two teams that seemed to be in that race — the Cowboys and Cardinals — have not been impressive of late. Dallas has won three straight since losing the Raiders on Thanksgiving but hasn’t looked dominant against the Saints, Washington and Giants. Dak Prescott has just three touchdown passes and three interceptions during that stretch. Kyler Murray has been even more disappointing for the Cardinals, throwing three interceptions in his past two games, including one in an ugly 30-12 loss to the lowly Lions. For the first time in NFL history, a team with one win or fewer beat a 10-plus win team by double-digits. After looking like the clear favorite for the No. 1 seed, Arizona finds itself holding off the surging Rams and 49ers in the NFC West with three games to go.

This weekend will ultimately decide which AFC team is the Chiefs’ biggest competition. The Bills and Patriots meet on Sunday with the AFC East title hanging in the balance just three weeks after New England’s 14-10 victory on a windy night in Buffalo. Since that game, the Bills took the Bucs to overtime and dominated the Panthers, while the Patriots were run over by Jonathan Taylor and the Colts on Thursday night. Buffalo doesn’t have the impressive record many expected, but Josh Allen and Co. look as formidable as ever. The Bills rank third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and first in ESPN’s Football Power Index, but the Patriots are not far behind, coming in at fifth in both rankings. It’ll be another heavyweight fight Sunday in Foxborough.

Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) is congratulated by Kylen Granson (83) and Eric Fisher (79) after scoring on a 67-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) is congratulated by Kylen Granson (83) and Eric Fisher (79) after scoring on a 67-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots on Saturday in Indianapolis. (AJ Mast/AP)

The wild cards

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-6; No. 11)

10. San Francisco 49ers (8-6; No. 12)

11. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6; No. 9)

12. Baltimore Ravens (8-6; No. 10)

13. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6; No. 14)

14. Cleveland Browns (7-7; No. 13)

15. Tennessee Titans (9-5, No. 15)

If you’re looking for a team to pull off a first-round upset in each conference, look no further than the Colts and 49ers. Indianapolis’ 27-17 victory over the Patriots showed that it can win despite quarterback Carson Wentz, who completed just five of 12 passes and should have been intercepted more than once. It didn’t seem to matter with Jonathan Taylor rushing for 170 yards, including a game-sealing 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Not to be overlooked, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has put together an impressive unit this season, one of the many reasons why this Colts team is one to be feared come January.

The 49ers are just as threatening because of their defense and potent rushing attack, but it helps to have above-average quarterback play. A healthy Jimmy Garoppolo has provided that and then some this season, ranking second in the league in expected points added plus completion percentage over expectation composite, according to RBSDM.com, behind only MVP front-runner Aaron Rodgers. It’s not hard to imagine San Francisco pulling off another Super Bowl run under coach Kyle Shanahan when this team is at full strength.

Meanwhile, the AFC North race looks like it’s going to come down to the wire. The Ravens have lost three straight, but Lamar Jackson could return in time for Sunday’s pivotal matchup against the Bengals. Cincinnati, which dominated Baltimore in the last meeting, and can secure a one-game advantage and the critical tiebreaker with a victory, putting the Bengals in prime position to secure their first playoff berth since 2015. But the Ravens are still playing hard despite dealing with the league’s worst injury luck, and Huntley has been a revelation in his three extended appearances this season. It would be silly to count Baltimore out already — even if Bengals cornerback Eli Apple is.

Is it time to say goodbye to the Browns? Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson’s 48-yard field goal as time expired handed Cleveland and third-string quarterback Nick Mullens a gut-wrenching defeat after the defense had seemingly sealed the win with an interception of Derek Carr. The Browns likely need to go 3-0 down the stretch against the Packers, Steelers and Bengals, which is a tall task for any team, let alone one dealing with a banged-up quarterback. This could be Baker Mayfield’s last chance to prove he’s the long-term answer in Cleveland.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Football Team on Tuesday in Philadelphia.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Football Team on Tuesday in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Still hanging on

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

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17. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7; No. 18)

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18. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7; No. 24)

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1; No. 23)

20. New Orleans Saints (7-7; No. 22)

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

22. Denver Broncos (7-7; No. 17)

23. Washington Football Team (6-8; No. 19)

Good luck trying to make sense of this bunch of teams. The Vikings currently hold the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC, but the Eagles and Saints are hot on their tails. Outside of a few head-scratching performances this season, Philadelphia has been solid behind second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Eagles are the only team to rush for 200 or more yards five times this season, and Hurts has already set the single-season franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 10. The Saints, meanwhile, boast one of the league’s best defenses, as evidenced by their total domination of Tom Brady and the Bucs on Sunday night. Minnesota has tough games remaining against the Rams and Packers, which could open the door for another team to emerge.

In the AFC, it’s less clear-cut. Ten teams are within a game of each other in the standings, and all the divisions are still up for grabs. The Raiders and Steelers have refused to go away after falling below .500, while the Dolphins have made a stunning turnaround from 1-7 to playoff contention thanks to six straight wins. Even the Broncos, who lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a scary head injury in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, can’t be counted out just yet.

FiveThirtyEight gives the Saints the best chance to make the playoffs from this group at 45%, followed by the Eagles (36%), Vikings (29%), Steelers (18%), Browns (16%), Dolphins (11%) and Raiders (11%). It’s hard to argue with New Orleans, which has the league’s second best defense in DVOA.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll walks on the sideline during Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll walks on the sideline during Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California. (Ashley Landis/AP)

The basement

24. Seattle Seahawks (5-9; No. 20)

25. Atlanta Falcons (6-8; No. 25)

26. Carolina Panthers (5-9; No. 26)

27. Chicago Bears (4-10; No. 27)

28. New York Giants (4-10; No. 28)

29. Detroit Lions (2-11-1; No. 30)

30. New York Jets (3-11; No. 29)

31. Houston Texans (3-11; No. 31)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12; No. 32)

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is under contract through 2025, but could this be his final year in Seattle? At age 70, he might consider retirement or gently be pushed out the door. The Seahawks seem due for some kind of change, whether it’s a new head coach, a front-office shake-up or a trade of star quarterback Russell Wilson for multiple draft picks to accelerate a rebuild. The team is assured of its first losing season since 2011, which will undoubtedly lead to some upheaval this offseason.

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