Week 15 NFL Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (12/12/17)
The Week 15 NFL schedule features three huge matchups with playoff ramifications. On Saturday night, the Chargers play at Kansas City where the winner stakes claim to the AFC West's top spot. On Sunday, Seattle hosts the Rams. If the Seahawks win, they'll have swept Los Angeles and take over sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
Also during Sunday's late-window, the top two teams in our Week 15 Power Rankings – the Patriots and Steelers – take the field in the Steel City with the AFC's No. 1 seed up for grabs. With the Steelers win and Patriots loss in Week 14, Pittsburgh leads New England by one game. However, that cushion in the standings is a moot point if the Steelers can't hold serve at home.
Despite the fact the Patriots (+275) and Steelers (+350) are the top two favorites to win Super Bowl 52, both teams displayed familiar flaws on the defensive side of the ball. For New England, we hadn't witnessed the issues since Week 4, while Pittsburgh can't seem to defend deep.
Before Week 14's game against the Steelers, Baltimore's offense averaged roughly 4.6 yards per play, which ranked last in the league. On Sunday night, against the Steelers, the Ravens averaged 6.7 YPP. Not only did Alex Collins run over them for 120 yards on 6.7 per attempt, but Pittsburgh's secondary continues to get torched on the long ball. Joe Flacco completed passes of 20-or-more yards to five different receivers and Jeremy Maclin caught one for 19 yards. For those reasons and for the third time in five games, the AFC's No. 1 seed required a fourth-quarter rally and last-second Chris Boswell field goal.
Although he passed for more than 250 yards for only the second time this season, it wasn't like Jay Cutler overwhelmed the Patriots. The Dolphins averaged 5.2 yards per play compared to 4.8 YPP average. Two Tom Brady interceptions (see: short fields) and Kenyan Drake's high-volume of carries watered down the per attempt metric a tad. However, the loss brought back memories of Weeks 1-4 when the Pats allowed more than 30 points per game. In fact, the Dolphins' 27 points marks the first time in the past nine games a Patriots' opponent has scored more than 17. Cutler's three touchdowns was only the second in nine games New England allowed the opposing QB to toss multiple touchdowns. The Patriots are now 1-4 in their last five games at Miami.
If you removed Russell Wilson's two backyard, run-for-your-life, busted coverage, fourth quarter Hail Mary's, Jacksonville's defense held him to 15-29 passing for 136 yards, one touchdown with three interceptions. In other words, the final score was not indicative of how well the Jaguars played the majority of the game.
Possibly lost in all of Jacksonville's success on defense has been the play of Blake Bortles. Without his Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson, his TD:INT ratio is 16:8 and he's tossed eight touchdowns with only three interceptions over the past six games. His completion percentage is (finally) over 60% this season as Marqise Lee has transformed into a true No. 1 receiver, while rookies Keenan Cole and Dede Westbrook continue to become more involved in the offense.
We probably won't learn how bad Leonard Fournette's ankle is injured until after the season. Playing on the bad wheel against the Seahawks, he rushed for 100+ yards for the fifth time this season and averaged better than 4.0 YPR for the second time in his past five games.
Over the past three games, the Chargers defense has held the opposition to 4.7 yards per play – eighth-best in the NFL. Winners of seven of their last nine, they've only allowed 14.6 points per game during that stretch.
Offensively, their 7.0 yards per play leads the NFL over the past three weeks. Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen have truly picked up where they left off two seasons ago where - before his season-ending injury - Allen was on pace for what seemed like 200 targets. The receiver has averaged 136.8 yards per game with four scores over the past month.
The Packers have Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer to thank for keeping their playoff hopes alive. They have Aaron Rodgers' pending return to thank for the Week 15 power ranking. Reports suggest Rodgers has a “50-50” shot to suit up against the Panthers. Carolina just limited Vikings' running backs to 60 rushing yards. So, if Rodgers is out, the onus falls on the shoulders of Brett Hundley who has looked both great and mediocre over the past month.
A Panthers win and Saints loss would hand first place over to Carolina with two weeks to go.
Before his season-ending ACL tear, Carson Wentz handed Nick Foles a division title, guaranteed playoff spot and three games to knock the rust off.
Foles, best known for his 2013 season in Philadelphia when he passed for 27 touchdowns with only two picks in 13 games, did start in 12 games for the Rams (11) and Chiefs (1) over the past two seasons. Aside from the 2013 feel-good story, Foles has been quite average behind center. In 33 games (26 starts), he's completed 59.3% of his passes with 29 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
The good news is he'll ease into the starting gig with matchups against the Giants and Raiders over the next two weeks.
The offense remains a monster and Robert Woods is on track to return Week 15 after missing several games with a shoulder injury.
Although ugly to look at, the 43 points scored by the Eagles isn't a huge concern. In the previous eight games, Los Angeles had allowed only 14.6 points per game. With the Seahawks, Titans and 49ers to close out the season, we should expect Los Angeles to maintain 30+ points per game, while holding the opposition under 20.
The once feared “Legion of Boom” defense is no more. Seattle must now pray for enough healthy starters to slow opposing offenses down. On the heels of losing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor for the season, comes Week 14 injuries to Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright (concussion). Wagner had been dealing with his injury for a few weeks before checking out during the Jaguars game.
Also, remember Ezekiel Elliott is eligible to return Week 16 when Seattle travels to Dallas for a game that WILL impact the NFC West standings and playoff seeding. So, whatever is left of the defense after Jared Goff and the 30-point-per-game Rams are through with them will be tested again the following week.