Published: Dec 27, 2022 at 10:05 AM
The San Francisco 49ers are No. 1.
For the first time this season, Kyle Shanahan’s surging NFC West champions have claimed the top spot in the NFL Power Rankings. The Niners’ easy win over the Commanders, coupled with the Eagles’ narrow loss to the Cowboys, was enough to bump San Francisco into the throne. The uncertain timetable of Jalen Hurts and sudden absence of Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson puts Philadelphia in a more vulnerable state than we’ve seen this year, even if the No. 1 seed in the NFC remains just one victory away.
Elsewhere in the top 10, the Jaguars have crashed the party for the first time after drubbing the Jets on Thursday Night Football for their fifth win in seven games. Putting a sub-.500 team in the top 10 of a rankings exercise like this might seem absurd … but let’s be honest: This has been an absurd 2022 NFL season.
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NOTE: Up/down arrows below reflect team movement from the Week 16 Power Rankings.
Previous rank: No. 2
The 49ers are a fully-formed death machine destroying everything in their way. The defense is led by Nick Bosa, who likely clinched NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with a dominant performance in Saturday’s 37-20 win over the Commanders. Bosa finished with two sacks and a forced fumble and now has a career-high 17.5 sacks with two games to play. Brock Purdy, meanwhile, is 3-0 as starter after another productive game that featured two long TD passes to George Kittle. “He’s just getting the ball to us,” Kittle said. “He’s great with the football. He puts it on target. He allows guys to run with it.” This is exactly what Kyle Shanahan asks from his QB in this offense.
Previous rank: No. 1
The Eagles delivered a competitive effort with Jalen Hurts sidelined on Saturday, but the Gardner Minshew-led offense was unable to close out the NFC East (and clinch the conference’s No. 1 seed) with a 40-34 loss at Jerrah World. Star right tackle Lane Johnson was forced out of the lineup late in the game, and on Monday it was learned that Johnson will miss the rest of the regular season — and perhaps more time — after suffering an injury in his abdominal area. Replacing one of the game’s elite tackles will be a major challenge for the Eagles, who are also waiting to see if Hurts (sprained shoulder) will be able to return to action on Sunday against the Saints.
Previous rank: No. 3
The Bills won in the trenches at frigid Soldier Field to clinch another AFC East title. Devin Singletary and James Cook combined for 205 rushing yards and two scores, while the Buffalo defense clamped down on Justin Fields, holding the 1,000-yard rushing quarterback to just 11 yards on the ground. The Bills coasted to the win in the second half, but keep an eye on Josh Allen‘s propensity for making dangerous throws. The star QB threw two interceptions on Saturday and could have had at least two others if the Chicago defense had been more opportunistic. It’s an area of Allen’s game that needs to be cleaned up ahead of playoff football.
Previous rank: No. 4
A very strange Christmas Eve for the Bengals, who dominated an overmatched Patriots team in the first half, then needed a New England red-zone fumble in the final minute to escape with a 22-18 win at Foxborough. Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell forced the Rhamondre Stevenson fumble that sealed the victory, which keeps the Bengals in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Cincy needs to get better results on the ground to keep the offense balanced: The Bengals averaged just 3.0 yards per attempt on 24 carries against the Pats after averaging 2.5 yards per carry in Week 15’s win over the Bucs. Depth on the offensive line will be tested with the news that right tackle La’el Collins is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Previous rank: No. 5
The Chiefs played clean football in Saturday’s workmanlike 24-10 win over the Seahawks at Arrowhead. It’s a welcome change for a team that hasn’t always been on top of its game, even as it has continued to win. The offense finished without a turnover for the first time since Week 5, while a young K.C. defense yielded few big plays to Geno Smith and Co. “I mentioned it the other way the last couple of weeks, that they need to get better,” Andy Reid said of his defense. “They’re making progress and I thought they did a nice job today.” Kansas City can still claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC with two wins and a loss by the Bills.
Previous rank: No. 6
The Cowboys fell behind by double-digits early on Saturday against the Eagles, but a relentless offense and opportunistic defense ensured the fight for the NFC East will continue for at least one more week. Dak Prescott shook off a first-quarter pick-six to put up a stellar performance (three touchdown passes and 9.9 yards per attempt), and CeeDee Lamb delivered a true No. 1 WR effort with 10 catches for 120 yards and two scores. One mystery to unlock: What has happened to the Dallas pass rush? The Micah Parsons-led unit has one sack in the past three weeks after being shut out by Philly’s offensive line.
Previous rank: No. 8
While doubters keep wondering when regression will take hold, the Vikings keep winning. Minnesota triumphed in yet another one-score game on Saturday, getting a walk-off 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph to beat the Giants, 27-24. Joseph got his chance thanks to Justin Jefferson, whose 17-yard catch-and-run in the final minute moved the ball into Giants territory and capped another dominant day from a player who absolutely deserves to be in the MVP conversation. The Vikings are 11-0 in one-score games this season, and Jefferson has been in the middle of the action during every crucible moment. A true difference-maker.
Previous rank: No. 9
The Chargers are in the playoffs for the first time in the Justin Herbert era. Monday’s 20-3 win over the Colts was far from a thing of beauty, but the Bolts deserve credit for taking care of business and removing any anxiety ahead of the final two weeks of the regular season. (This was hardly presumed, given the sordid history of the franchise in similar situations.) Austin Ekeler scored two more touchdowns, and the Los Angeles defense held a tepid Colts attack to just 173 total yards with seven sacks (a season high for the Bolts), three interceptions and zero first downs allowed on 10 third-down conversion attempts. If the Chargers can get both sides of their game synced up, they will be a very tough out in January.
Previous rank: No. 11
Jacksonville remains on the come-up. The Jaguars looked like the better, more prepared team in the wind and rain of the Meadowlands on Thursday night, coasting to a 19-3 win — their first prime-time road victory in 22 years. Trevor Lawrence easily outplayed Zach Wilson in a showdown of the top two overall picks of the 2021 NFL Draft, while the improving Jags defense allowed a single field goal on a drive that started deep in their own territory. Now tied in the standings with the lifeless Titans, Jacksonville feels like a team destined to win the AFC South. What a difference a year makes.
Previous rank: No. 12
Get well soon, Lamar Jackson. That feels like the general vibe around the Ravens after a 17-9 win over the Falcons that featured more subpar play by the offense. Ty Huntley has led Baltimore on just two touchdown drives in three weeks despite getting significant help from a ground game that continues to produce. Jackson is the X-factor of the Baltimore attack, and the Ravens will need the former MVP healthy and performing at a high level if they want to be serious Super Bowl contenders. With a playoff spot secured, it will be interesting to see how John Harbaugh manages his quarterback ahead of the postseason.
Previous rank: No. 7
The Lions came down to Earth in grim fashion on Saturday, run over by a relentless Panthers attack in a 37-23 loss in Charlotte. The tone was set in the first drive as Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman ran through truck-sized holes in Detroit’s front seven. When it was over, the Lions had surrendered 320 ground yards and 570 yards overall (both Panthers records). It was a terrible look for Aaron Glenn’s defense, which needs to flush this effort and get ready for Justin Fields and the Bears on Sunday. “That was a hungry team that we played,” Dan Campbell said of the Panthers. “And we didn’t look as hungry. That’s the bottom line.”
Previous rank: No. 17
The Packers aren’t going away. Green Bay went to Miami and kept its playoff hopes intact with a 26-20 win, powered by a defense that stepped up in crunch time. Jaire Alexander, De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas all had interceptions in successive Miami possessions in the fourth quarter, a stunning turn of events after the Packers surrendered 20 points in the first half. The offense remained efficient even after breakout wide receiver Christian Watson exited at halftime with a hip issue. Watson’s availability will be crucial for a team that has come to rely upon the rookie’s big-play ability during its winning streak.
Previous rank: No. 10
The Dolphins entered Sunday with a chance to take firm control of a playoff spot, but let it slip away in a 26-20 loss to the Packers. Tua Tagovailoa threw interceptions to end three consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, dooming Miami to its fourth consecutive defeat. While a postseason berth remains within reach, Monday’s news that Tagovailoa is in the NFL’s concussion protocol only further clouds the immediate outlook for this team. Given the QB’s previous time in the concussion protocol this season, it would not be surprising if he’s held out of at least this weekend’s critical matchup with the Patriots. If Tua misses time, the team’s playoff hopes will rest in the hands of Teddy Bridgewater, winless in his limited appearances this season.
Previous rank: No. 14
Zach Wilson had the chance to silence doubters with a strong showing in prime time against the Jaguars. Instead, he authored a performance that could seal his fate with the organization. Wilson was dreadful in a 19-3 loss to the Jaguars, benched in favor of Chris Streveler, a fourth-string quarterback who had been on the practice squad days earlier. On Monday, it was reported Mike White (ribs) has been cleared by team doctors and will start Sunday’s do-or-die road contest against the Seahawks. It’s possible Wilson, who was benched for a second time this season, has already started his final game with the Jets.
Previous rank: No. 15
Ron Rivera pulled the trigger on Saturday, benching Taylor Heinicke in favor of Carson Wentz in a 37-20 loss to the 49ers. Heinicke is a fiery competitor but also plainly inconsistent, and his struggles in the red zone might have been the final straw for Rivera, who will likely stay with Wentz in the final two weeks of the regular season. Now the Commanders must hope that Wentz can overcome the hot-and-cold style of play that has defined most of his own career. A sour end to the season under center could prompt a complete reboot at the position in the offseason.
Previous rank: No. 22
The Steelers will enter the new calendar year in playoff contention in the AFC, a huge victory for Mike Tomlin and Co. Pittsburgh continued its strong surge to the finish line with a 13-10 win over the Raiders on the night the late Franco Harris’ No. 32 was retired. Kenny Pickett checked another box in his quest to be seen as The Guy in Pittsburgh, leading the Steelers on a 76-yard drive in the final minutes that culminated with the go-ahead touchdown pass to breakout rookie George Pickens. A win over the Ravens would put the Steelers in position for a playoff return. Who would have guessed that back in November?
Previous rank: No. 24
The Panthers manhandled the previously red-hot Lions in Charlotte, piling up a franchise-record 320 rushing yards in a 37-23 win. Carolina had more than 100 ground yards within its first two possessions and piled up 240 by halftime in a game that featured wide-open running lanes for D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard. The blowout win was an emphatic bounceback effort for a Carolina team that managed just 21 rushing yards in Week 15’s loss to the Steelers. The NFC South is likely on the line in Sunday’s showdown with the division-leading Bucs.
Previous rank: No. 16
A frustrating, sometimes-incomprehensible season for the Raiders moved closer to an unfulfilling conclusion on Saturday night with a 13-10 loss to the Steelers. Derek Carr’s third interception of the game was the nail in the coffin, and it’s fair to wonder how many more passes Carr will throw for the Silver & Black moving forward. With playoff hopes on life support, it’s not crazy to think the Raiders might want to see what they have in Jarrett Stidham ahead of a potential trade of Carr in the offseason. It feels like big changes are afoot in the desert.
Previous rank: No. 21
Life without Tyler Lockett started poorly for the Seahawks, who punted on four of their first five possessions (the other ended via turnover on downs) in a 24-10 loss to the Chiefs on a brutally cold afternoon at Arrowhead. On the positive side, Kenneth Walker III broke out of a personal slump with his first 100-yard game since Week 9. Five losses in six games took the Seahawks out of the NFC West race, but a playoff spot is still within reach. Any hope at a course correction must begin with a win over the slumping Jets on Sunday at Lumen Field.
Previous rank: No. 25
The Saints are still alive in the NFC South after squeaking out a 17-10 win over the Browns that served as a battle against both the opponent and the elements in frigid Cleveland. Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara both scored on the ground and the New Orleans defense made a final red-zone stand, helped by some butterfingers — or, perhaps frozen fingers — by Cleveland pass catchers in and around the end zone. The Saints have won two straight for the first time this season, but the real test is just ahead with a road matchup against the mighty Eagles. Dennis Allen’s team could catch a break if Jalen Hurts (shoulder) is forced to miss another week.
Previous rank: No. 19
The Titans are in deep, deep trouble. On Saturday, the season reached a low point with a loss to a Texans team that entered action with one win. Malik Willis provided little spark to the offense starting in place of an injured Ryan Tannehill (ankle), and even Derrick Henry — a running back who has mercilessly bullied the Texans in the past — was held to just 3.5 yards per carry outside his 48-yard score in the first quarter. The Titans can still win the AFC South, but it might be more probable they don’t win another game this season. The vibes around their Thursday Night Football matchup against the Cowboys are not good.
Previous rank: No. 27
Baker Mayfield delivered another fine effort for the Rams on Sunday, completing 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-14 drubbing of the Broncos at SoFi Stadium. Mayfield led an unstoppable Los Angeles attack that never punted and scored on every drive other than the final series, which ended with a Mayfield kneeldown. The key question: What does this mean in the big picture? Matthew Stafford said last week he plans to return in 2023, but Mayfield will surely want to test the market for another starting job if he continues this strong finish. Mayfield in a backup role behind Stafford would be a huge win for the Rams entering next season.
Previous rank: No. 20
The Browns’ playoff hopes died Saturday in fitting form — a frustrating one-score loss that came down to a lack of execution in the game’s most important moments. Deshaun Watson led the Browns to just one touchdown drive in miserably cold conditions, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: Amari Cooper slipped and was unable to catch a surefire touchdown pass in the first half, while Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku both failed to come up with potential touchdown catches on accurate Watson throws during Cleveland’s final drive. The last two weeks become fully about getting Watson up to speed ahead of 2023 and beyond.
Previous rank: No. 32
The Texans have played competitive football all month. On Saturday, they finally got credited with a win for their efforts. Lovie Smith’s defense allowed just 272 yards and forced three turnovers in the 19-14 win over the Titans, Houston’s first victory in over two months. Derrick Henry had dominated this rivalry with a slew of 200-yard games, but the dynamic running back was mostly contained outside of his 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Smith could make a real case for another year on the sideline if Houston can finish the season with two more strong efforts.
Previous rank: No. 26
The Falcons’ chances to win the undercooked NFC South evaporated in a 17-9 loss to the Ravens that eliminated Atlanta from playoff contention. The Falcons have a lot of work to do to contend in a meaningful way, and that starts with identifying a solution behind center. Desmond Ridder‘s second start went much better than his first, and he’ll get two more opportunities to pitch himself for the 2023 starting job. Given his status as a third-round pick in a “weak” quarterback draft class, it would not be surprising to see the Falcons aggressively target another option in the offseason.
Previous rank: No. 29
Facing a stout Bills defense keyed to stop his scrambling and playing with a wide receiver group thinned out by injuries, Justin Fields had nowhere to go on Saturday at the ice box also known as Soldier Field. The result was a 35-13 loss to Buffalo that served as another reminder of how much work Chicago must do to get on the level of the best teams in football. Fields aggravated his left shoulder injury and got his foot stepped on during the loss, but Matt Eberflus dismissed the idea of shutting down the young quarterback for the final games of the season. “Absolutely not,” the coach said.
Previous rank: No. 30
Trace McSorely vs. Tom Brady wasn’t as one-sided as you’d expect. The Cardinals’ defense did fine work against the G.O.A.T., holding a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before letting another victory slip away in a 19-16 overtime loss. The game swung when running back Keaontay Ingram fumbled a pitch from McSorley with less than five minutes to play, a turnover that allowed Tampa Bay to tie the game with a field goal. With no Kyler Murray on the field, it’s extremely difficult to evaluate much on the Cardinals’ offense right now. The uncertainty surrounding Kliff Kingsbury’s future only compounds the unease in the desert.
Previous rank: No. 31
This will all be over soon. The Colts played another prime-time game on Monday and once again looked the part of an overmatched mess in a 20-3 loss to the Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Indy defense did its part to keep things competitive, but the Colts’ offense, led by an inept Nick Foles, was unable to get much going. Foles threw three interceptions by the end of the night, the type of performance that typically gets a declining veteran a ticket for the bench. It’s not quite that simple for the Colts, who have already benched current backup Sam Ehlinger and former starter Matt Ryan (twice!). A reminder that Jeff Saturday signed up for this.
Previous rank: No. 28
The wheels came all the way off for the Broncos on Christmas Day in an embarrassing 51-14 loss to the Rams that served as a final straw for new ownership. On Monday, Nathaniel Hackett was fired after less than a season on the job, a necessary move for a team that knows major changes are necessary to get the Broncos back on the right path. Monday’s decision means Russell Wilson will operate under a new coach and new offense in what could be a make-or-break Year 2 for the embattled QB. Wilson was a mess on Sunday, throwing three interceptions before a meaningless touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The Broncos average 15.5 points per game, their lowest since 1971 (14.5 points per game). Hackett deserves blame for the intense struggles, but Wilson’s sudden decline cannot be ignored.