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NFL power rankings, Week 16: Where do the hard-luck Ravens fit heading into the home stretch?

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 16:

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Super Bowl favorites

1. Green Bay Packers (12-3; No. 1 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4; No. 2)

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3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4; No. 3)

As long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, Green Bay is the Super Bowl favorite. Rodgers is making a strong case to win his second straight Most Valuable Player award and fourth overall, throwing three touchdown passes in the first half of Sunday’s 24-22 win over the Browns. The Packers haven’t blown any teams away recently, but they’ve been so good on offense that it doesn’t even matter. Once cornerback Jaire Alexander and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith come back, the defense will be better than its No. 21 ranking in Football Outsiders’ DVOA suggests.

That defense is going to be tested in the playoffs, of course. Tom Brady lost his favorite weapon Chris Godwin to a torn ACL last week, but the return of veteran Antonio Brown gives the Bucs’ offense a huge boost. Brown basically carried Tampa Bay’s passing attack in Sunday’s 32-6 win over the Panthers, catching 10 passes for 101 yards on 15 targets. The Bucs were down seven starters Sunday and still had no trouble winning, but those injuries are going to loom large in the playoffs.

What’s left to say about Kansas City at this point? The Chiefs rolled to their eighth straight win, a 36-10 rout of the Steelers behind a vintage Patrick Mahomes performance (23-for-30 for 258 yards and three touchdowns). After an early-season slump that made the Chiefs underdogs to win the AFC West, they’ve solved their issues on both sides of the ball and look just as formidable as ever since Mahomes took over as the starter. In a jumbled AFC, it’s hard to see anyone outside of Buffalo knocking off Kansas City, which, according to FiveThirtyEight, has a 74% chance of securing the first-round bye heading into the final two weeks.

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The Bills' Josh Allen remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks at creating plays out of structure.
The Bills' Josh Allen remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks at creating plays out of structure. (Steven Senne/AP)

The top contenders

4. Los Angeles Rams (11-4; No. 4)

5. Dallas Cowboys (11-4; No. 6)

6. Buffalo Bills (9-6; No. 7)

7. Indianapolis Colts (9-6; No. 9)

The Rams had to sweat out a 30-23 win over the Vikings thanks to Matthew Stafford’s three interceptions, but Los Angeles remains a formidable Super Bowl contender because of its sheer talent. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp continues to state his case as the Offensive Player of the Year with another 100-yard game, while Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller solidify one of the league’s best defenses. Stafford, however, remains the biggest question heading into the postseason. With only three career postseason starts, will he be ready for the spotlight?

The Cowboys might have a better chance of knocking off Green Bay or Tampa Bay given how well they’ve played of late. Dak Prescott threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-14 dismantling of Washington on Sunday night, while cornerback Trevon Diggs snatched his 11th interception of the season. Behind defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the Cowboys are putting talented athletes like Diggs, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the best position to succeed. That havoc-causing defense could be the difference in the playoffs.

In the AFC, there’s an interesting group emerging behind the Chiefs. The Bills seem to have finally figured it out, beating the Patriots, 33-21, on Sunday in a rematch of the infamous “three passes game” a few weeks ago. Josh Allen remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks at creating plays out of structure, something that we’ve already seen pay huge dividends when he threw for 315 yards, rushed for 59 yards and scored four total touchdowns in a 38-20 win over the Chiefs in Week 5. This Buffalo defense has also been impressive, ranking second in DVOA. The Bills spent all offseason thinking about how to beat the Chiefs in the playoffs. After overcoming a midseason slump, it looks like they’ll get their chance.

The Colts, meanwhile, find themselves in a tough spot. After beating the Cardinals on Christmas Day, 22-16, Indianapolis could be without quarterback Carson Wentz for Sunday’s potential playoff-clinching game against the Raiders after he tested positive for COVID-19. Indianapolis would still be in good position to reach the postseason with a loss, but it would find itself in a potential logjam of 9-7 teams entering the final weekend. No matter what, Wentz’s absence would derail what’s been an encouraging streak of five wins in six games for coach Frank Reich.

The Bengals' Joe Burrow eviscerated the Ravens’ backups for 525 yards and four touchdowns, continuing a sensational season for the second-year quarterback.
The Bengals' Joe Burrow eviscerated the Ravens’ backups for 525 yards and four touchdowns, continuing a sensational season for the second-year quarterback. (Aaron Doster/AP)

On the cusp of contention

8. New England Patriots (9-6; No. 5)

9. Arizona Cardinals (10-5; No. 8)

10. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6; No. 13)

11. Tennessee Titans (10-5, No. 15)

12. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7; No. 11)

Are the Patriots a legitimate threat in the AFC? After a 9-4 start that put them on the top of the AFC, they’ve lost two straight to the Colts and Bills. Sunday’s defeat likely cost them the AFC East, but their postseason odds remain high. Most discouraging, however, is the play of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who’s thrown four interceptions in his past two games after tossing just two during the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak. There’s no question this Patriots defense is championship caliber, but it’s clear that Jones is going to hold them back in the postseason against stiffer competition.

Could the Bengals be the sleeper team nobody is expecting to make a run? We’ll find out this Sunday just how good they are when they host the Chiefs. Joe Burrow eviscerated the Ravens’ backups for 525 yards and four touchdowns, continuing a sensational season for the second-year quarterback. If he continues to play this well, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded quarterback, Cincinnati has a legitimate chance to not only win the AFC North but win a playoff game or two for the first time since 1990.

It’s funny how quickly things change in the NFL. Just a few weeks ago, the Bengals looked overmatched in a 41-22 loss to the Chargers. After Los Angeles’ 41-19 defeat to the Texans on Sunday, the Chargers are suddenly on the outside of the playoff picture with two weeks to go. Coach Brandon Staley has undoubtedly been an upgrade over Anthony Lynn, but this team is still wildly inconsistent. The Chargers have just a 33% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, a disappointing turn of events for a team with a budding superstar in quarterback Justin Herbert.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon dives into the end zone for a touchdown against the Ravens on Sunday. The Ravens are this year’s version of the 2020 49ers, a team with Super Bowl aspirations that was devastated by injuries.
Bengals running back Joe Mixon dives into the end zone for a touchdown against the Ravens on Sunday. The Ravens are this year’s version of the 2020 49ers, a team with Super Bowl aspirations that was devastated by injuries. (Emilee Chinn/AP)

The wild cards

13. San Francisco 49ers (8-7; No. 10)

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-7; No. 12)

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15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7; No. 17)

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16. Miami Dolphins (8-7; No. 21)

17. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7; No. 18)

If you had to bet on one of these teams to win a playoff game, which one would it be? The 49ers might have been the easy answer before Week 16, but after a last-second loss to the Titans on Thursday night, they could finish 10-7 and still miss the playoffs. To make matters worse, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is out with a thumb injury, forcing rookie Trey Lance into the lineup at a critical time.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are this year’s version of the 2020 49ers, a team with Super Bowl aspirations that was devastated by injuries. Even if quarterback Lamar Jackson returns this week against the Rams, the Ravens face steep odds to return to the postseason. The defense will be healthier than it was in Sunday’s debacle against the Bengals, but it might be too little, too late. This hard-luck season comes at a critical time for the organization, which must figure out a long-term deal for Jackson while filling out the rest of its talented young roster.

Remember that stunning Dolphins win over the Ravens on Thursday night way back in Week 10? Miami hasn’t lost since, becoming the first NFL team with a seven-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak in the same season. The Dolphins can clinch a playoff spot by winning out, but they’ll have to get past the Titans and Patriots to do it. Even if they fall short, kudos to coach Brian Flores for pulling out of that tailspin.

Of course, the Eagles aren’t too happy about that Miami winning streak. What once looked like a sure top-five pick from the Dolphins as a result of last year’s trade has instead moved into the high teens. But Philadelphia is still in a great position. With three first-round picks coming their way in 2022, the Eagles have a 68% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. More importantly, they might have found their long-term answer at quarterback in Jalen Hurts, who has been effective leading coach Nick Sirianni’s offense.

Baker Mayfield’s four interceptions on Christmas Day against the Packers brought increased scrutiny about his long-term future in Cleveland, which could be looking for a veteran this offseason to supplant the former No. 1 overall pick.
Baker Mayfield’s four interceptions on Christmas Day against the Packers brought increased scrutiny about his long-term future in Cleveland, which could be looking for a veteran this offseason to supplant the former No. 1 overall pick. (Aaron Gash/AP)

The unsettled-at-quarterback club

18. Cleveland Browns (7-8; No. 14)

19. Minnesota Vikings (7-8; No. 16)

20. New Orleans Saints (7-8; No. 20)

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1; No. 19)

22. Denver Broncos (7-8; No. 22)

23. Atlanta Falcons (7-8; No. 25)

It’s not over yet for the Browns and Steelers, but it’s not looking good. According to FiveThirtyEight, Cleveland has an 11% chance to make the playoffs, while the Steelers are just a tick above at 12%. Baker Mayfield’s four interceptions on Christmas Day against the Packers brought increased scrutiny about his long-term future in Cleveland, which could be looking for a veteran this offseason to supplant the former No. 1 overall pick. They could be fighting the Steelers for such a player (Russell Wilson? Jimmy Garoppolo? Matt Ryan?) after Ben Roethlisberger retires.

The Saints and Broncos will likely be looking for a new quarterback, too. New Orleans could try to bring back Jameis Winston or make a move for someone like Wilson, while the Broncos could try to enter the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes to upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater. This might be the offseason the Falcons decide to kickstart their rebuild in earnest and trade Ryan for a package of picks. The 36-year-old is no longer an elite quarterback, but he’d be a major improvement for some of the league’s top contenders in no-man’s land.

After a five-game winning streak behind quarterback Taylor Heinicke brought Washington back to .500, a three-game losing streak has brought them back down to the bottom of the league.
After a five-game winning streak behind quarterback Taylor Heinicke brought Washington back to .500, a three-game losing streak has brought them back down to the bottom of the league. (Roger Steinman/AP)

The basement

24. Washington Football Team (6-9; No. 23)

25. Chicago Bears (5-10; No. 27)

26. Seattle Seahawks (5-10; No. 24)

27. Carolina Panthers (5-10; No. 26)

28. New York Jets (4-11; No. 30)

29. New York Giants (4-11; No. 28)

30. Detroit Lions (2-12-1; No. 29)

31. Houston Texans (4-11; No. 31)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13; No. 32)

After a five-game winning streak brought Washington back to .500, a three-game losing streak has brought them back down to the bottom of the league. An embarrassing loss on Sunday night featured a 42-7 halftime deficit and teammates fighting on the sideline. Coach Ron Rivera is confident this slump isn’t indicative of a larger problem, but it’s hard to be optimistic. Washington still needs to find a franchise quarterback, and a weak draft class and uninspiring crop of free agents awaits. There’s more talent on this roster than there’s been in a while, but until Washington solves its quarterback question, these mediocre seasons will be the norm.

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