We have officially reached the home stretch of the 2015 NFL regular season. After tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals, all 32 teams will have one game left on their schedules. We have a pretty good idea of where the balance of power lies throughout the league. As you read on, you will notice that there was some subjectivity involved with our rankings, as we placed more of an emphasis on each team’s current level of play, rather than strictly looking at overall records. Without further ado, here are the Cheat Sheet’s NFL power rankings heading into Week 16.
32. Tennessee Titans (3-12)
The Titans are now without explosive rookie quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who was placed on the team’s season-ending injured reserve list. With the holes they have all over their roster, we believe that the Titans will ultimately “win” the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
31. Cleveland Browns (3-12)
The Browns are the most dysfunctional franchise in the league right now. Aside from dealing with the drama surrounding quarterback Johnny Manziel, they face a lot of uncertainty surrounding the futures of head coach Mike Pettine and General Manager Ray Farmer. With their remaining game coming against the Pittsburgh Steelers, we believe the Browns will finish the season with an overall record of 3-13.
30. San Francisco 49ers (4-11)
The only good news we have for the 49ers is that the 2015 season is almost over and they are going to have a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft at their disposal this offseason. Don’t be surprised if we have all seen the last of quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a Niners uniform.
29. San Diego Chargers (4-11)
Simply put, if the Chargers didn’t have Philip Rivers, then we would likely rank them as the worst team in the league in our power rankings. Expect to see wholesale changes from top to bottom – including a possible move to Los Angeles — throughout the Chargers organization this offseason.
28. Miami Dolphins (5-10)
The Dolphins spent big money this offseason, yet they will still finish the year with a double-digit total in the loss column. As a result, the organization will likely be forced to make a decision on whether or not to move forward with Ryan Tannehill as their franchise quarterback this offseason.
27. Dallas Cowboys (4-11)
The 2015 season has been nothing short of a waste for the Cowboys. They were never really able to overcome the losses of All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant and All-Pro quarterback Tony Romo for extended portions of the year, and they are now down to journeyman veteran Kellen Moore as their starting quarterback. While 2015 may have been a lost season in Dallas, they should reclaim their place among the elite teams in the NFC in 2016.
26. Baltimore Ravens (5-10)
Prior to the season, if we told you that the Ravens would be in line for a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, you probably would have laughed at us. Well, due to a rash of injuries to their core group of players, that’s exactly how the 2015 season has played out in Baltimore.
25. Chicago Bears (6-9)
The Bears are clearly in rebuild mode, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they sit this low in our rankings. With that being said, their quarterback, Jay Cutler, played some of the best football of his career in 2015.
24. Indianapolis Colts (7-8)
The Colts came away with a win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 16. However, as long as quarterback Andrew Luck (pictured above) is on the sidelines in street clothes on game days, we believe this team is going nowhere fast.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)
The Jaguars fell to the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, dropping their overall record to 5-10, but the 2015 season has undoubtedly helped restore hope in one of the NFL’s perennial bottom-feeder franchises. Moving forward, Jacksonville has one of the most talented young rosters in the AFC — led by quarterback Blake Bortles — as well as over $40 million in salary cap space to work with this offseason.
22. New Orleans Saints (6-9)
It’s safe to say that there will be major changes throughout the Saints organization this offseason. For starters, head coach Sean Payton may end up with another franchise, and even if he returns, the 2006 NFL Coach of the Year will likely clean house on his defensive coaching staff. On top of that, the Saints may part ways with All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, and start a rebuilding project from scratch — something that won’t be easy with their disastrous salary cap situation. It may be a long time before we see the Saints contending for another Super Bowl title.
21. Detroit Lions (6-9)
The Lions experienced a highly disappointing 2015 season, but this is still a team that can play with any team in the league when everything clicks for them. We’re interested to see if the team breaks up its core group of players this offseason when the franchise finally hires a new General Manager to replace Martin Mayhew.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)
The Buccaneers were in contention for a playoff spot for most of the season, which is a remarkable feat considering the fact that they were the worst team in the league in 2014. If quarterback Jameis Winston continues to develop this offseason, Tampa Bay will have a legitimate chance at making the NFC Playoffs next year for the first time since 2007.
19. Atlanta Falcons (8-7)
The Falcons finally ended their losing streak — and also ended the Carolina Panthers’ quest for a perfect season in Week 16. That said, this team is far from being ready to compete for an NFC title any time soon.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (6-9)
After Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly rocked the NFL with his unconventional approach to building his team, the Eagles went out and laid an egg on the field (for the most part). Our guess is that the Eagles will have a new starting quarterback and a drastically different roster in 2016.
17. New York Giants (6-9)
In our eyes, the Giants were one of the most disappointing teams in the league in 2015. We are expecting the franchise to move on from head coach Tom Coughlin this offseason, and with the roster that they already have in place, the Giants should attract one of the hottest names available on the head coaching market this offseason.
16. Oakland Raiders (7-8)
The Raiders have been one of the more surprising teams in the league in 2015. With an outstanding core group of young players — quarterback Derek Carr (pictured above), outside linebacker Khalil Mack, and wide receiver Amari Cooper – the future looks bright for this once-proud franchise.
15. Buffalo Bills (7-8)
The Bills would be a playoff team if only they could have played with any semblance of consistency in 2015. Nonetheless, this team can still compete against any other team in the league when they are healthy and at the top of their game.
14. St. Louis Rams (7-8)
The Rams pulled off the upset of the week when they went into Seattle and knocked off the surging Seahawks in Week 16. Despite having an unmistakably talented roster, this team continues to be the NFL’s ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team in 2016.
13. Houston Texans (8-7)
After a shaky start to the season, the Texans are now in a position to claim the 2015 AFC South crown with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17. While this team has talent all over the field, they will only go as far as quarterback Brandon Weeden — their fourth starting quarterback of the season — can take them.
12. Washington Redskins (8-7)
Entering the season, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was widely considered to be the leading candidate for the first firing of a head coach in 2015. His job is safe now, as Gruden led the Redskins to the 2015 NFC East title and developed Kirk Cousins into a franchise quarterback.
11. Minnesota Vikings (10-5)
The Vikings officially clinched a playoff spot with their impressive win over the New York Giants in Week 16. They may capture their first NFC North division title since 2009 with a win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. With a dominating rushing attack, led by a rejuvenated Adrian Peterson, and one of the league’s top defenses, the Vikings are a team that can make some noise in the 2015 NFC Playoffs.
10. Green Bay Packers (10-5)
The Packers still rank this high on our list due to the simple fact that Aaron Rodgers is the team’s quarterback. Nevertheless, if they can’t figure out a way to do a better job of protecting him up front and catching the ball, the Packers will likely make an early exit from the NFC Playoffs in 2015.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (11-3)
The Bengals are the 2015 AFC North champions, but they will be without franchise quarterback Andy Dalton for the rest of the season. While they still have the ability to play with (and beat) practically every team in the AFC, it will be much more difficult with a relatively untested signal caller in AJ McCarron as he runs the show.
8. New York Jets (10-5)
With their Week 16 win over the New England Patriots, the Jets officially put themselves in a position where they control their own destiny when it comes to landing one of the AFC’s two wild-card playoff spots. Their defense has been one of the best in the league all year, but it has been their offense, specifically quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, that sparked the Jets’ current five-game winning streak.
7. Denver Broncos (10-4)
If the Broncos had an offense that was anywhere close to being as productive as their league-best defense, then this team would be the favorite to bring home the Lombardi Trophy as the champions of Super Bowl 50. As it is, Denver often struggles to score 20 points per game on offense, which puts a lot of pressure on their defense. As a result, you can count us among those who believe they will go back to Peyton Manning as soon as the 39-year-old is healthy enough to be effective.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6)
We still believe the Steelers are one of the NFL’s elite teams, even after their stunning upset loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16. That said, they will need some help from the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 to overcome the New York Jets, as well as the Cincinnati Bengals tonight or the San Diego Chargers in Week 17 to pass over the Denver Broncos in order to get the final AFC wild-card spot.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)
The Chiefs are the hottest team in football. They are the winners of nine straight games, and with a little help, they may be able to overtake the Denver Broncos for the 2015 AFC West title. If they can get pass rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, back in time for the playoffs, this is a team that could surprise a lot of people with a deep postseason run.
4. Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
Heading into Week 16, we felt fairly confident that the Seahawks were playing well enough to make a serious run at winning their third-straight NFC title. They ended up being upset by the St. Louis Rams at home, but we still believe that this team will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, as quarterback Russell Wilson is playing the best football of his career and their defense is as strong as ever.
3. New England Patriots (12-3)
The Patriots are beat up, but they are still the team to beat in the AFC. If they can get wide receivers, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and safeties, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, healthy for the postseason, we would be surprised if the Patriots do not claim the ninth conference title in franchise history this January.
2. Arizona Cardinals (13-2)
The Cardinals may be the most complete team in the league this year. Offensively, their quarterback, Carson Palmer, is a legitimate MVP candidate; they have a deep stable of running backs and wide receivers; and their offensive line is one of the better units in the league. Defensively, the Cardinals also have few weaknesses — even after losing safety Tyrann Mathieu for the season with a torn ACL. Don’t be surprised if this team represents the NFC in Super Bowl 50.
1. Carolina Panthers (14-1)
The Panthers won’t finish the season with a perfect record, but they are still arguably the best team in the league. Their defense has two NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates leading the way in linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman, and their offense is manned by quarterback Cam Newton, who is currently the leading candidate to take home the 2015 NFL MVP award. Our guess is that this team finishes no worse than the runner-up in the NFC.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.