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NFL power rankings, Week 17: Bills join top tier, Bengals rise, Ravens cling to hope as playoffs near

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 17:

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Super Bowl favorites

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3; No. 1 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5; No. 2)

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3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4; No. 3)

4. Buffalo Bills (10-6; No. 6)

The Packers are the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to win his second straight NFL Most Valuable Player award. You can’t ask for a better season for Green Bay, which might finally break through in the postseason thanks to clinching the first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NFC.

The path to a championship looks even clearer for the Packers now that the Buccaneers will be without Antonio Brown for the rest of the season. Coach Bruce Arians said the wide receiver is no longer on the team after he took off his jersey and left the field in the middle of Sunday’s 28-24 win over the Jets, costing the team one of its best offensive players. Tampa Bay has already lost wide receiver Chris Godwin to season-ending knee injury and has seen Mike Evans hobbled by a hamstring injury, which means Brady will be relying on veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski and backup wideouts Cyril Grayson, Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson down the stretch. Brady’s worked wonders with an average group of receivers before, but there’s no doubt that Brown’s absence will severely hurt the offense in the postseason.

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In the AFC, the pecking order is a little less clear. The Chiefs’ 34-31 loss to the Bengals opened the door for the Titans, Bengals and Patriots to win the No. 1 seed in one of the most wide-open races in years. According to ESPN, the AFC’s eventual top seed will have at least five losses, tied for the most for the AFC’s top team since the NFL began the seeding process in 1975. Kansas City’s offense is still playing at a high level behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the defense showed why it can’t be trusted Sunday by allowing Joe Burrow to throw for 446 yards and four touchdowns and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase to set the single-game rookie record with 266 receiving yards.

The Bills, meanwhile, have won three straight to climb back into the mix of Super Bowl contenders. Quarterback Josh Allen has not been very effective throwing the ball lately — as evidenced by his 11-for-26 performance with three interceptions in Sunday’s 29-15 win over the Falcons — but has become a dangerous weapon in the running game. The Bills’ defense has been the real star, however, ranking third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. If Buffalo can get the best version of Allen this postseason, it has a good chance of making the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, right, threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, left, set the single-game rookie record with 266 receiving yards in a 34-31 win over the Chiefs.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, right, threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, left, set the single-game rookie record with 266 receiving yards in a 34-31 win over the Chiefs. (Jeff Dean/AP)

The top contenders

5. Los Angeles Rams (12-4; No. 4)

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

7. Arizona Cardinals (11-5; No. 9)

8. Dallas Cowboys (11-5; No. 5)

9. New England Patriots (10-6; No. 8)

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

The Rams’ 20-19 win over the Ravens on Sunday was a perfect encapsulation of the Matthew Stafford experience. The star quarterback threw an ugly pick-six early in the game and followed it up with another interception into triple coverage, but he rallied the offense down the stretch to finish with 309 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score with less than a minute left to Odell Beckham Jr. The Rams might have the most high-end talent of any roster in the league, and it showed when it mattered most Sunday as trade acquisition Von Miller came up with the game-sealing sack off the edge. This Rams team is far from perfect, but it has the firepower to keep up with the top contenders in the NFC if Stafford can avoid costly turnovers.

Of course, the Rams aren’t the only talented team in the NFC. The Cardinals, once considered the best team in the league in these rankings, ended a three-game losing streak with a 25-22 win over the Cowboys to show once again why they need to be taken seriously. Former Texas high school star Kyler Murray remains undefeated at AT&T Stadium, which might be the site of a first-round matchup between these teams. For all its faults under coach Mike McCarthy, Dallas is still one of the best teams in the league, ranking first in DVOA. But the offense can be stagnant at times, as it showed in the first half Sunday. The Cowboys need Dak Prescott, who set a career high Sunday with his 32nd touchdown pass, to play at an elite level to make a deep playoff run.

For all the attention on the Chiefs and Bills in the AFC, the Titans currently hold the No. 1 seed. Tennessee just needs to beat the Texans this Sunday to clinch the first-round bye and home-field advantage, which would be a massive boost for a team that has not been very impressive for most of the season. The Titans rank 19th in DVOA, behind three teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention (Seahawks, Browns, Vikings) and two that are barely still alive (Ravens, Saints). Tennessee’s rushing attack has surprisingly been just as effective since star running back Derrick Henry’s injury, but the Titans need more from quarterback Ryan Tannehill if they want to make a Super Bowl run.

The Bengals, meanwhile, made a big statement Sunday with a victory over the AFC-leading Chiefs. Coach Zac Taylor continues to be aggressive, going for it on fourth down and letting Burrow attack the defense through the air. The offensive line has struggled, but the Bengals can take a victory lap for selecting Chase over a top offensive lineman in the 2021 draft. The rookie has been a difference-maker for what’s turning into the best group of wide receivers in the league.

The Colts are a tough matchup for any team because of their dominant rushing attack behind star Jonathan Taylor and sound defense, but they still have to beat the Jaguars to clinch a playoff spot.
The Colts are a tough matchup for any team because of their dominant rushing attack behind star Jonathan Taylor and sound defense, but they still have to beat the Jaguars to clinch a playoff spot. (AJ Mast/AP)

The wild cards

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

12. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7; No. 12)

13. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7; No. 15)

14. San Francisco 49ers (9-7; No. 13)

15. Las Vegas Raiders (9-7; No. 17)

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1; No. 21)

If one of these teams reaches a conference championship game, it wouldn’t be shocking, especially given how unpredictable this season has been. The Colts are a tough matchup for any team because of their dominant rushing attack behind star Jonathan Taylor and sound defense, but they still have to beat the Jaguars to clinch a playoff spot. The Chargers have shown flashes of brilliance, beating the Chiefs and Bengals earlier this season, but have been maddeningly inconsistent despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Justin Herbert. They still need to beat the Raiders to clinch a playoff spot.

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The Steelers’ win over the Browns on Monday night was not only a nice sendoff for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field, but kept Pittsburgh alive in the playoff hunt. The Steelers need to beat the Ravens in Week 18, get a Jaguars win over the Colts and not have the Raiders-Chargers game end in a tie to make the postseason. Stranger things have happened, but asking the 2-14 Jaguars to beat a 9-7 Colts team with a playoff spot on the line feels almost impossible. At least coach Mike Tomlin can hang his hat on 15 straight seasons without a losing record.

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It’s only fitting that the Ravens and tight end Mark Andrews enter the last week of the regular season with seemingly insurmountable odds.
It’s only fitting that the Ravens and tight end Mark Andrews enter the last week of the regular season with seemingly insurmountable odds. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Still hanging on

17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8; No. 14)

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

There’s a reason the Ravens’ playoff chances are only 2% heading into Week 18, according to FiveThirtyEight. They need a win over the Steelers, plus a Chargers loss to the Raiders, a Colts loss to the Jaguars and a Dolphins loss or tie against the Patriots to make it in. But it’s only fitting that the Ravens enter the last week of the regular season with seemingly insurmountable odds.

Season-ending injuries to running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, plus Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, in the preseason put Baltimore a step behind before it even took the field. Then the Ravens lost left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety DeShon Elliott, among others, and finally saw quarterback Lamar Jackson miss three crucial games with an ankle injury. Despite it all, the Ravens lost four of their past five games by a total of just five points. It’s hard not to wonder “what if” for a team that was 8-3 and atop the AFC with a healthy Jackson.

Browns guard Wyatt Teller (77) and offensive tackle James Hudson (66) pick up quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after Mayfield was sacked during Monday night's loss to the Steelers.
Browns guard Wyatt Teller (77) and offensive tackle James Hudson (66) pick up quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after Mayfield was sacked during Monday night's loss to the Steelers. (Don Wright/AP)

Entering an uncertain offseason

19. Miami Dolphins (8-8; No. 16)

20. Cleveland Browns (7-9; No. 18)

21. Minnesota Vikings (7-9; No. 19)

22. Denver Broncos (7-9; No. 22)

23. Atlanta Falcons (7-9; No. 23)

24. Seattle Seahawks (6-10; No. 26)

25. Chicago Bears (6-10; No. 25)

With the offseason fast approaching, get ready for the coach and quarterback carousel. Will the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and the Browns’ Baker Mayfield start the majority of the 2022 season? Will the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson be traded? Will the Bears’ Matt Nagy, the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer and the Broncos’ Vic Fangio be fired? Is Denver going to land a star quarterback to round out one of the league’s best young rosters?

When it comes to the draft and free agency, these are going to be the teams to watch.

Continuing a forgettable season, the Giants and coach Joe Judge suffered their fifth straight loss Sunday.
Continuing a forgettable season, the Giants and coach Joe Judge suffered their fifth straight loss Sunday. (Matt Rourke/AP)

The basement

26. Washington Football Team (6-10; No. 24)

27. New York Jets (4-12; No. 28)

28. Carolina Panthers (5-11; No. 27)

29. Houston Texans (4-12; No. 31)

30. Detroit Lions (2-13-1; No. 30)

31. New York Giants (4-12; No. 29)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14; No. 32)

Continuing a forgettable season, the Giants suffered their fifth straight loss Sunday, 29-3 to the Bears. But this was no ordinary defeat. The Giants recorded minus-10 passing yards — the lowest total in an NFL game since 1998 — committed four turnovers and finished with a season-low 151 total yards.

After the game, coach Joe Judge went on an 11-minute rant about the state of the team, pointing out that “this ain’t some clown show organization.” He said there are players on the team begging him to come back, and that some former Giants are calling him “twice a week” wishing they were still in New York. He even implied that the Patriots coaches feared for their jobs during a 2018 season that ended with a Super Bowl title.

Since ESPN reported Dec. 26 that Judge and quarterback Daniel Jones were expected to be brought back for the 2022 season, the Giants have been outscored 63-13. General manager Dave Gettleman has long been expected to be fired once the season ends, but it’s hard to see what Judge has done to deserve another chance. A team that entered the season with playoff expectations is instead going to have a top-10 draft pick for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. Thanks to a first-round pick from the Bears in the Justin Fields trade, the Giants have a great opportunity to rebuild this offseason. Sticking with Judge could derail any chance at progress.

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