NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Brock Purdy-led 49ers vault to No. 2; surging Lions crack top 10!

Published: Dec 13, 2022 at 08:31 AM

The top 10 is getting weird again.

It’s been a chaotic campaign in the upper reaches of the NFL Power Rankings, where only a few teams have managed to maintain top-10 residence for the duration of the season. A year that began with the likes of the Rams, Bucs, Packers and Broncos in the Power Rankings’ version of first class has shifted in surprising ways and made way for erstwhile have-nots like the Jets, Giants, Dolphins — and now even the Lions.

And so, while I continue to have faith (to varying degrees) in the Stacked Six — Eagles, 49ers, Bengals, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys — the back end of the top 10 has turned into a revolving door of mystery and intrigue.

Who will be the next team to crash this wine-and-cheese party? Stay tuned.

Don’t forget to check out the NFL Power Rankings Podcast with Dan Hanzus and Colleen Wolfe. New episodes every Tuesday all season long.

NOTE: Up/down arrows below reflect team movement from the Week 14 Power Rankings.

Philadelphia Eagles

Previous rank: No. 1

The punishing versatility of the Eagles’ offense is a sight to behold. Nick Sirianni’s team did whatever it wanted against an overmatched Giants defense, piling up 253 yards on the ground and 217 through the air in a 48-22 wipeout of Big Blue at the Meadowlands. Jalen Hurts‘ magnificent season — he’s up to 32 total touchdowns against just five turnovers — is worthy of NFL MVP honors, but a stellar year from Miles Sanders shouldn’t be overlooked. The running back scored twice and set a career high with 144 ground yards against New York, and he’s over 1,000 yards rushing with four games to play. The Eagles are going to beat you when they have the ball — it’s just a matter of how they choose to do it.

San Francisco 49ers

Previous rank: No. 7

There will be life after Jimmy Garoppolo for the 49ers. Perhaps even football immortality, come the second Sunday in February. Brock Purdy stepped into the starting lineup on Sunday and easily outplayed Tom Brady in a 35-7 win over the Bucs at Levi’s Stadium. Purdy was a natural in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, looking very similar to the hyper-efficient distributor Jimmy G had become in this attack before breaking his foot. Purdy will have to show he’s more than a one-hit wonder, but his performance fuels legitimate optimism that San Francisco remains a serious title contender despite rotten injury luck at the game’s most important position. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Previous rank: No. 3

Joe Burrow’s greatness can be explained in part by how the Bengals can stay afloat so long as he is at the center of their world. Cincinnati lost wide receivers Tyler Boyd (finger) and Tee Higgins (hamstring) on their first possession on Sunday, but Burrow — with a helping hand from fellow superstar Ja’Marr Chase — was able to lift all boats in a 23-10 win over the Browns. The win allowed the Bengals to keep pace with the Ravens atop the AFC North while putting to bed the notion that Burrow couldn’t beat Kevin Stefanski’s Browns (the QB is now 1-4 lifetime against the coach). After the game, Burrow was quick to point out how well the Bengals are playing in all facets: “We’re just a complete team right now.”

Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: No. 4

With Von Miller out for the year, the Bills will need others to step up and fill the void of their “closer.” Sunday’s 20-12 win over the Jets was extremely encouraging from that perspective. Buffalo’s front seven made life miserable for quarterback Mike White, who was punished for four quarters before leaving Highmark Stadium in an ambulance for precautionary tests. Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa and Shaq Lawson combined for four sacks, and Buffalo forced two critical fumbles to seal another win. The D provided cover for an offense that continues to operate at a pedestrian level: The Bills punted on their first five possessions and were held to a season-low 232 yards. The opponent and weather conditions should be factored in, but there are issues to be resolved.

Kansas City Chiefs

Previous rank: No. 5

The Chiefs opened Sunday’s matchup with the Broncos by scoring the game’s first 27 points, including the latest absurd Patrick Mahomes TD pass for the Canton reel. Then … things got weird. Mahomes threw an interception … then another … then one more, and Kansas City’s defense was left to fight off an unlikely Denver rally. A late third-quarter scoring pass from Mahomes to JuJu Smith-Schuster provided some breathing room, and the improving Chiefs pass rush (season-high six sacks) finished things off. “We beat them in the first half; they beat us in the second half,” defensive end Frank Clark said. “We just won the game. That’s the perfect way to describe it.” Thank you.

Dallas Cowboys

Previous rank: No. 2

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys woke up just in time against the Texans. After a goal-line stand by the defense, Prescott completed 6 of 7 passes and added two scrambles (including one for a first down) on a 98-yard drive that culminated with Ezekiel Elliott’s 2-yard game-winning touchdown run with 41 seconds on the clock. The 27-23 win was dramatic, but barely finding a way to get past the one-win Texans tells the story of a Dallas team that needs to tighten things up. The remaining schedule is tough, starting with a road matchup against a fast-improving Jaguars team.

Minnesota Vikings

Previous rank: No. 6

The Vikings’ quest to clinch the NFC North is on pause for another week. A trip to Ford Field proved to be as difficult as advertised for Kevin O’Connell’s team, which struggled to slow a roaring Lions offense in a 34-23 loss. Kirk Cousins did his best to keep Minnesota alive, delivering on-target throws all afternoon in his best performance of the season. His top receiver? Justin Jefferson, of course, who piled up a franchise-record 223 yards on 11 catches. Still, questions will continue about this team as the defense continues to get torched regularly. Minnesota will enter Week 15 dead last in football in yards allowed. This is not the recipe for postseason glory.

Baltimore Ravens

Previous rank: No. 11

J.K. Dobbins returned just in time for the Ravens. Dobbins was back in the lineup for the first time since Week 6 and rushed for 120 yards on just 15 carries to help carry a banged-up Baltimore team to a gutty 16-14 road win over the Steelers. The Ravens triumphed despite the absence of Lamar Jackson (knee) and the loss of backup QB Tyler Huntley, who exited late in the third quarter with a concussion. The Ravens finished the game with undrafted rookie Anthony Brown under center and might be forced to roll with Brown on a short week against Cleveland. Expect a lot more Dobbins, no matter who’s at quarterback.

Los Angeles Chargers

Previous rank: No. 18

You couldn’t draw up a more rewarding win for head coach Brandon Staley. The Chargers’ shorthanded defense befuddled Mike McDaniel’s potent Dolphins attack, while Justin Herbert played at the peak of his powers in a 23-17 win that moved Los Angeles to the edge of playoff position with four games remaining. Herbert thoroughly outplayed Tua Tagovailoa, hitting on a collection of absurd throws that showed off his elite arm strength and accuracy. He also benefited greatly from the return of Mike Williams, his big-play wideout who dominated on the outside. Said a beaming Staley when it was over: “It was an incredible team win.”

Detroit Lions

Previous rank: No. 17

These Lions are for real. Dan Campbell’s team continued to roll the opposition on Sunday, this time piling up 464 yards on the NFC North-leading Vikings in a 34-23 win at raucous Ford Field. The offense is led by Jared Goff, who is playing quarterback at a very high level right now. The veteran threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, and he has not tossed an interception in five weeks. Goff and Co. will face a stiff test with a Week 15 trip to the Meadowlands to face the Jets. If this offense proves it can travel against a tough defense in the elements, we’ll be talking about a playoff team in Detroit come January.

Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: No. 8

Tua Tagovailoa is in an ill-timed funk. The Dolphins quarterback struggled mightily for the second consecutive game, a prime-time loss to the Chargers in which he was badly outplayed by fellow Class of 2020 alum Justin Herbert. Tagovailoa started with three completions in his first 17 attempts and continues to look out of sync with the rest of the Miami offense. The Dolphins are now 0-2 in December, and it won’t get any easier, with a Week 15 matchup on tap in Buffalo. “I would say the defenses that we’ve played have been playing exactly what we’ve expected them to play,” Tagovailoa said of the two-game slump. “It really just goes back to the details of how we play our offense, and we’re not all dialed in with that.”

New York Jets

Previous rank: No. 10

No one will ever question Mike White‘s toughness after Sunday. The quarterback was knocked from the game twice on crushing hits from Buffalo defenders, only to make his way back to the field each time. After the 20-12 loss, White left the stadium in an ambulance for a precautionary exam on his ribs. On Monday, Robert Saleh praised White’s performance and expressed optimism the QB would be on the field for a pivotal Week 15 matchup against the surging Lions. The Jets have lost four of six with just two touchdowns in the past two games. This is a feel-good story that ends with disappointment (and more QB health concerns) if the offensive line can’t be more competitive. 

New England Patriots

Previous rank: No. 19

The Patriots went to Arizona and secured a win they absolutely had to have. As a result, New England will enter the final four weeks of the season in playoff position as the seventh seed in the AFC. The Pats beat the Cardinals because their defense delivered a dominant performance: The night turned on a Raekwon McMillan fumble recovery TD in the third quarter before Josh Uche and Matthew Judon (combined 4.5 sacks) put the game away with their relentless pursuit of Arizona backup Colt McCoy, who took the field after Kyler Murray’s early knee injury. With a rugged schedule ahead, the Pats couldn’t afford to let this one slip from their grasp. You could sense that urgency in a season-saving win.

Washington Commanders

Previous rank: No. 13

It’s all in front of the Commanders now. The Giants were pasted by the NFC-leading Eagles in Week 14, putting Washington in position to leave New York in its dust in the wild-card standings with a win on Sunday night at FedExField. The Commanders officially made a depth-chart change ahead of the pivotal showdown, activating erstwhile starting QB Carson Wentz from injured reserve to serve as Taylor Heinicke‘s backup. Said Ron Rivera of the QB pecking order: “I feel comfortable with Taylor.” The decision was a no-brainer for the head coach. Heinicke is a popular player, both in the locker room and amongst the fanbase. Wentz can’t be thrilled to lose his job because of injury, but his understudy took an opportunity and ran with it. That’s football.

Tennessee Titans

Previous rank: No. 9

After a blowout loss to the Eagles in Week 13, Mike Vrabel told reporters the Titans were at a crossroads. On Sunday against the Jaguars, Tennessee looked like a team that has stumbled down a dark path to nowhere. The shorthanded defense was lit up by Trevor Lawrence, while the offense turned the ball over four times in a 36-22 drubbing by the Jaguars. Three consecutive losses, combined with last week’s stunning dismissal of general manager Jon Robinson, paint the picture of a team in serious trouble. Said Vrabel: “Nothing was good enough today.” The boo birds in Nashville that came out in force by the third quarter strongly agree.

Seattle Seahawks

Previous rank: No. 12

The Seahawks have lost three of four and don’t look the part of a playoff contender as the season reaches its most critical juncture. Pete Carroll’s defense — so improved during a four-game winning streak at midseason — has come apart in December and was run over by the Panthers for 223 ground yards in Sunday’s damaging 30-24 loss. The defensive struggles and injuries at running back put too much pressure on Geno Smith to play at an MVP level on a weekly basis. Geno is one of the NFL’s best stories this season, but it’s unfair to ask him to carry the team like a superstar. It doesn’t get any easier with the division-leading Niners coming to town on Thursday night.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Previous rank: No. 24

Trevor Lawrence didn’t play like a quarterback with a bum toe on Sunday. The second-year passer continued to build on his hugely encouraging sophomore season, throwing for 368 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-22 win over the reeling Titans in Nashville. Lawrence’s top target was Evan Engram. Long an enigma during his time with the Giants, the tight end looked like a fully realized force in a monster 11/162/2 effort. The win moves Jacksonville within two games of Tennessee in the AFC South with four to play — still long-shot odds, but a situation worth monitoring. Lawrence and Co. are peaking at the right time.

Las Vegas Raiders

Previous rank: No. 15

It’s going to be hard to take the 2022 Raiders seriously after Thursday night, when they allowed Baker Mayfield to march 98 yards in 95 seconds without the aid of a timeout (or, presumably, any real knowledge of the Rams’ playbook). The end result — a grotesque 17-16 loss after leading 16-3 with less than four minutes to play — snapped a three-game winning streak and likely ended any thoughts of a late playoff push. The Raiders have now blown four games this season in which they had a multi-score lead in the second half. This latest setback was the true debacle, however, one that could potentially be pointed to as a catalyst for change for an organization stuck in neutral.

New York Giants

Previous rank: No. 14

The Giants welcomed the Eagles into their building on Sunday and found out they weren’t in the same weight class as the rampaging NFC East leaders. The obvious talent disparity between the two teams, made greater by a tidal wave of Big Blue injuries, gave the game a David-vs.-Goliath feel — Philly dominated New York in all three phases and scored the game’s first 21 points en route to a 48-22 win. Up next is a crucial Sunday night matchup against the Commanders with a wild-card spot possibly hanging in the balance. Not-so-fun fact: The Giants have not won a game in a month.

Green Bay Packers

Previous rank: No. 21

Though still technically in playoff contention, the Packers already appear to have an eye on next year. That starts at the quarterback position with Aaron Rodgers, who will turn 40 next December. Asked about Rodgers’ future during the bye week, GM Brian Gutekunst said the team “surely” wants the reigning MVP back — while also leaving the door open for an alternate reality. “We made a big commitment to him this offseason, so that was obviously something that was really important to us,” he said of the three-year, $150 million contract Rodgers signed last March. “But like we’ve talked about in the past, this is something we’ll sit down with him after the season and it will be something we do together and move forward that way.” Hmmmm.

Cleveland Browns

Previous rank: No. 20

Deshaun Watson‘s second start went better than his first, but he still has plenty of work to do to start resembling the $230 million QB the Browns paid for — dearly, some would say — in the offseason. Watson threw his first touchdown pass in 707 days on a connection to tight end David Njoku (the pair showing instant chemistry in their first action together), but that would be the only touchdown for Cleveland in a 23-10 loss to the Bengals. The Browns were stopped on three fourth-down attempts and were penalized nine times for 98 yards. With the playoffs a distant long shot, the rest of this season is about getting Watson back up to NFL game speed, with an eye on 2023.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Previous rank: No. 22

The Steelers had a faint pulse in the playoff chase after three wins in four weeks, but their chances of relevant January football likely died with Sunday’s narrow loss to the Ravens at Acrisure Stadium. Kenny Pickett exited the game after a hard hit by Roquan Smith and is in the concussion protocol for the second time in as many months — an ominous development. If Pickett misses time, Mitch Trubisky will step back into the starting lineup. The veteran provided some spark to the offense against Baltimore, but he also threw three interceptions. Get well soon, rookie.

Atlanta Falcons

Previous rank: No. 25

This was not the move that Arthur Smith wanted to make. The head coach made a quarterback switch during the bye week, swapping out ineffective veteran Marcus Mariota for rookie Desmond Ridder ahead of Sunday’s gotta-have-it game against the Saints. The sad state of the NFC South has kept the Falcons in the playoff conversation even after four losses in five weeks, but Mariota’s accuracy issues, failure to consistently lead the offense to points and a knee injury forced a pivot. Turning to a completely untested third-round pick in the middle of December is the type of gamble a team takes when it has no other recourse. Good luck, kid.

Los Angeles Rams

Previous rank: No. 29

This season will be remembered as an epic disappointment for the defending champions, but the Rams and their fans will always have that Thursday night game. The Baker Game. Baker Mayfield led Los Angeles on two touchdown drives in the final five minutes to crush the spirit of the Raiders and the tens of thousands of Silver & Black supporters who invaded SoFi Stadium for a presumed prime-time Bacchanalia. “I don’t know if you could write it any better than that,” said Mayfield, claimed off waivers from the Panthers two days earlier. “Obviously, we’d like to be a little bit more stress-free, but it’s a pretty damn good story, I’ll be honest with you.”

New Orleans Saints

Previous rank: No. 26

The Saints have already guaranteed their first losing season since 2016. The struggles will surely prompt big internal questions for the organization moving forward — even as the unsightly nature of the NFC South as a whole keeps New Orleans (barely) alive in the division race. Dennis Allen might be coaching for his job in the final four weeks of the season. Then there’s the quarterback position: Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill were previously identified as rightful successors to Drew Brees, but now both are on the bench in favor of Andy Dalton — now several years deep into the “veteran wanderer” portion of his NFL life. Everything in the league starts with stability at coach and QB — the Saints are wobbling in both categories.

Chicago Bears

Previous rank: No. 28

The rebuilding Bears entered the season with more rookies on their Week 1 roster than any team in football. The biggest surprise of the bunch through the bye week? Chicago-area native Jack Sanborn, an undrafted linebacker who has thrived since replacing Roquan Smith as the starting middle linebacker. Over the past month, Sanborn has largely equaled the production of Smith, who has thrived in his own right since his trade to the Ravens. “Sometimes good football players are overlooked because their arms aren’t 32 (inches) or their hands aren’t 10 (inches) and you’re not running 4.4 and all those things,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said last month. “That doesn’t mean you’re not gonna be a really good football player. And so (Sanborn) transcends that.”

Arizona Cardinals

Previous rank: No. 23

A lost season in the desert reached rock bottom on Monday night against the Patriots. Kyler Murray crumpled to the turf on the third offensive play of the game with a non-contact knee injury that is feared to be serious, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Arizona had no choice but to trudge on after that devastating gut punch, but the team was undone by the same issues we’ve seen all season: too many penalties, sloppy execution and a general listless vibe that’s come to define the Kliff Kingsbury era in Arizona. With Murray’s status for this season and 2023 unknown, the Cardinals now exist in a suspended state of organizational uncertainty.

UPDATE: Tests confirmed Tuesday that Kyler Murray tore his ACL during Monday night’s loss to New England ending his season, Rapoport reported.

Denver Broncos

Previous rank: No. 30

Russell Wilson was down on the turf at Mile High, his day suddenly over in what had been his most productive performance of the season. It was a cruel twist for the embattled quarterback, who exited after sustaining a concussion in the fourth quarter at the opponent’s 1-yard line with a dramatic comeback win within reach. “He was stepping up and making plays and putting his body on the line, man,” backup QB Brett Rypien said after the 34-28 loss to the division-leading Chiefs. “We can say all we want, but we were 3-9 and they (were) 9-3, and the guy is battling his ass off to try to win the game. That, to me, is someone I want to follow.”

Indianapolis Colts

Previous rank: No. 31

The Colts got a bye week to sit with their embarrassing 54-19 prime-time loss to the Cowboys in Week 13. How pleasant. Interim coach Jeff Saturday started a new week with optimism — claiming Indianapolis has “four winnable games” to close the season with matchups against the Vikings, Chargers, Giants and Texans. Expect Matt Ryan to take this team to the finish line if his body allows it. “He has battled. He is a realist,” Saturday said. “We talked about it about Dallas and even about our game vs. Pittsburgh not being what we want, and I think he shoulders a lot of the burden.” Added the coach: “If we are going to win, we need Matt playing his ‘A’ game.” Ryan hasn’t had his “A” game in several years now, of course, but he still profiles as the best option in a lost year.

Houston Texans

Previous rank: No. 32

The Texans are still sitting on one win, but they haven’t quit on their coach. Lovie Smith deployed a two-quarterback rotation against the Cowboys and nearly pulled off a huge upset before Houston let the game slip away in the final minutes. Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel each saw extensive action — with Mills in a passing role and Driskel primarily serving as a runner — while the Houston defense forced three turnovers, including two Dak Prescott interceptions. “I liked what happened today,” Smith said. “We used the best options we had. We have to figure out how to finish.”

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