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NFL

NFL power rankings, Week 18: Ravens on shaky ground heading into regular-season finale

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, injuries and roster depth, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders.

Here are the rankings heading into Week 18.

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The top contenders

1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-3, No. 2)

2. Buffalo Bills (12-3, No. 3)

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3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4, No. 4)

4. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3, No. 1)

5. San Francisco 49ers (12-4, No. 5)

What started as an exciting matchup between two of the NFL’s best teams quickly turned into a scary situation Monday night when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and needed CPR and an automated external defibrillator to be resuscitated before being taken off the field in an ambulance to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he remains in critical condition “with signs of improvement,” the Bills said Wednesday. The game between Buffalo and Cincinnati, who are jockeying with Kansas City for the AFC’s top seed and a first-round bye, was suspended Monday night and the league has not yet said when or if it will be resumed. The Bills are expected to resume practicing Thursday in advance of their regular-season finale against the visiting Patriots on Sunday, while the Bengals held a walkthrough Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s home game against the Ravens.

It’s an unprecedented situation for the league, which has not announced any changes to its Week 18 or postseason schedule. While teams resumed practicing this week, Hamlin’s health remained at the forefront, as all 32 franchises changed their social media avatars to Hamlin’s No. 3 jersey number with the words “Pray for Damar.” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said Wednesday that “everything is being considered” regarding the remainder of the NFL schedule.

On Sunday, the Chiefs kept themselves in the hunt for the AFC’s top seed with a closer-than-expected 27-24 win over the Broncos. Kansas City trailed 17-13 heading into the fourth quarter, but two touchdown passes from quarterback Patrick Mahomes — who finished 29-for-42 for 328 yards — put the Chiefs on top for good. While Kansas City has lost to both the Bills and Bengals this season and has yet to beat a division opponent by more than six points, it has won four straight and nine of its past 10 thanks in large part to their MVP front-runner at quarterback.

In the NFC, the top of the standings are a bit murky. After suffering back-to-back losses without star quarterback Jalen Hurts, the latest a 20-10 setback against the Saints, the Eagles could potentially lose their grip on the No. 1 seed. While Hurts is reportedly expected to return from a right shoulder sprain this week against the Giants, Philadelphia has left itself vulnerable to not only missing out on the first-round bye but putting Hurts in danger of reinjuring his shoulder before the postseason.

The 49ers are among the teams who could potentially swoop in and steal the top spot after securing a 37-34 overtime win over the Raiders on Sunday. While getting pushed into overtime by a losing team is never a good sign for a Super Bowl contender, it did allow rookie quarterback Brock Purdy to experience some late-game pressure. He responded by leading three fourth-quarter scoring drives and nearly helped end the game in regulation with a fourth, but kicker Robbie Gould missed a 41-yard field goal attempt as time expired. The Niners’ playoff hopes rest on Purdy’s shoulders, and his performance Sunday — 22-for-35 for 284 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — should provide confidence he can handle the spotlight.

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Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, left, is greeted by coach Brian Daboll while leaving in the second half of Sunday's game against the Colts in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The flawed contenders

6. Dallas Cowboys (12-4, No. 7)

7. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6, No. 9)

8. Minnesota Vikings (12-4, No. 6)

9. Baltimore Ravens (10-6, No. 8)

10. New York Giants (9-6-1, No. 12)

Minnesota looked like one of the biggest threats in the NFC before suffering a 41-17 blowout loss to the Packers on Sunday. It’s fair to say the Vikings were due for a letdown after so many close wins — 10, to be exact — but a performance that ugly raises some serious questions about the team’s postseason bonafides. Few teams are going to be able to take out star wide receiver Justin Jefferson the way Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander did, but a banged-up offensive line down to its third-string center and backup right tackle will only make things more difficult for Jefferson and quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw three interceptions.

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Perhaps the Giants are the NFC team everyone is overlooking. In an impressive 38-10 win over the Colts, New York provided a glimpse of what it can look like when firing on all cylinders. Quarterback Daniel Jones threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for two more and the defense held Indianapolis to 4.5 yards per play while helping the Giants clinch their first postseason berth since 2016. While this roster isn’t going to strike fear into any of the top contenders, the Giants have continued to exceed expectations behind Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and first-year coach Brian Daboll.

For the Ravens, Sunday night’s 16-13 loss to the Steelers was a reminder of their biggest concerns on both sides of the ball. Not only did quarterback Lamar Jackson miss his fourth straight game with a sprained knee, but the defense once again failed to get off the field during critical moments. The Steelers piled up 198 rushing yards and went 10-for-16 on third down while putting together a pair of 80-yard scoring drives in the fourth quarter to take the lead. Things aren’t nearly as bad as they were during last year’s six-game losing streak to end the season, but the Ravens’ struggles are deep enough to warrant serious concern. Jackson was struggling even before his knee injury, making it foolish to believe his return will fix everything on offense. Linebacker Roquan Smith has been a game-changer since coming over in a trade, but he can’t improve the pass rush or secondary by himself. With Jackson’s health situation still unresolved, there isn’t a team on more shaky ground entering the postseason.

Packers running back AJ Dillon (28) conducts his orchestra after scoring a touchdown against the Vikings during Sunday's game in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The wild cards

11. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8, No. 10)

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8, No. 13)

13. Green Bay Packers (8-8, No. 14)

Given the way this season has gone, would it be all that surprising if one of these teams reaches their respective conference championship games? All three were at least two games under .500 this season — with the Jaguars and Packers both slipping four games below at one point — and yet have found themselves on the verge of securing a playoff berth. Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers have both struggled mightily at times this season but are still considered all-time great quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence is growing into his own at the position, serving as the catalyst for Jacksonville’s four-game winning streak. Oddsmakers consider these teams a longshot to make the Super Bowl — the Jags and Packers still need to win to get into the postseason — but there’s a path for success if they can get a favorable matchup in the wild-card round.

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Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) throws a touchdown pass in the final minute of a win over the Ravens on Sunday night.

Not done yet

14. Detroit Lions (8-8, No. 15)

15. Seattle Seahawks (8-8, No. 16)

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8, No. 19)

17. New England Patriots (8-8, No. 20)

18. Miami Dolphins (8-8, No. 11)

19. Tennessee Titans (7-9, No. 21)

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is one win away from securing his record 16th straight season without a losing record to start his NFL career. Sunday night’s win over the Ravens was an old-school performance from Pittsburgh, which beat Baltimore at its own game by relying on its defense and running game. The Steelers were 0-7 this season when trailing by double digits, according to ESPN Stats & Info, but overcame a 13-3 deficit to keep their postseason hopes alive. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett might be turning a corner, as he led an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the final minutes capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Najee Harris. Pittsburgh does not have the look of a deep postseason contender, but just putting itself in a position to make the field is an impressive achievement after starting 2-6.

Seahawks defensive end Darrell Taylor, left, forces Jets quarterback Mike White to fumble during a game Sunday in Seattle.

Better luck next year

20. New York Jets (7-9, No. 18)

21. New Orleans Saints (7-9, No. 22)

22. Cleveland Browns (7-9, No. 26)

23. Washington Commanders (7-8-1, No. 17)

24. Las Vegas Raiders (6-10, No. 25)

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25. Carolina Panthers (6-10, No. 23)

Where do the Jets go from here? New York fell out of playoff contention with a 23-6 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, its fifth straight defeat following a promising 7-3 start. Quarterback Mike White wasn’t much better than benched starter Zach Wilson, completing 23 of 46 passes for 240 yards and two interceptions and losing a fumble while being outplayed by former Jets draft pick Geno Smith. It’s a disappointing finish for second-year coach Robert Saleh, who saw major improvement from his defense but couldn’t find a way to overcome Wilson’s struggles. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft might return as the starter, but the Jets’ best path toward ending what’s now an 11-year postseason drought might be acquiring a veteran quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s familiar with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s scheme. New York has too much young, promising talent on both sides of the ball to pin its hopes on Wilson.

Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. runs past the Texans defense during a game Sunday in Houston.

The basement

26. Atlanta Falcons (6-10, No. 27)

27. Los Angeles Rams (5-11, No. 24)

28. Denver Broncos (4-12, No. 32)

29. Indianapolis Colts (4-11-1, No. 28)

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30. Arizona Cardinals (4-12, No. 30)

31. Chicago Bears (3-13, No. 29)

32. Houston Texans (2-13-1, No. 31)

The only thing that matters in Week 18 for these teams is where they’ll fall in the draft order. Unfortunately for the Rams and Broncos, that means potentially giving away a top-five pick thanks to their blockbuster quarterback trades. The Rams won a Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford, while the Broncos fired their first-year coach after Russell Wilson struggled through the worst season of his career, so one team is a little more upset about it. The Texans are on track to get the No. 1 pick and select their quarterback of the future, whether that’s Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Kentucky’s Will Levis. It should provide intrigue for a franchise still recovering from trading away its disgraced franchise player.


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