Bengals in Top 10, Colts in Top 5

December 28, 2021
Bengals in Top 10, Colts in Top 5
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NFL power rankings entering Week 17 of the 2021 season (previous rank in parentheses):

1. Packers (1): A Christmas miracle? Aaron Rodgers sounded awfully thankful to be part of this franchise following Saturday’s victory. Sure seems like he and the organization are trending toward a reconciliation that just might make him the rare QB to play his entire career in one place.

2. Chiefs (2): Their league-best eight-game winning streak has been fueled by a dominant six-game defensive stretch at Arrowhead Stadium. AFC West champs won’t play there again until postseason and must do some work in Cincinnati and/or Denver to secure home-field advantage.

3. Buccaneers (3): In less than two seasons in Tampa Bay, Tom Brady has led the Bucs to consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in franchise history and is only four TD passes from second place on the club’s career list. For an encore, maybe he’ll also become their first two-time Super Bowl-winning QB.

4. Cowboys (4): QB Dak Prescott’s notion of holiday gifting? Air Jordans for all of his teammates, Four Seasons gift certificates to his offensive linemen, and four TD passes – to an RB, WR, TE and OL (something that had never happened before in the regular season) – during Sunday night’s NFC East coronation.

5. Colts (6): QB Carson Wentz’s notion of holiday gifting? Various meats, bourbon and Yeti gear to his offensive linemen, and two TD passes during Saturday night’s win in the desert. Advantage: Prescott.

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6. Rams (5): Nice (not so nice?) Griddy tribute from Odell Beckham Jr. in Minneapolis after losing his receiving record to Justin Jefferson. LA’s also proving gritty in backfield, Sony Michel and perhaps convalesced Cam Akers taking baton from injured Darrell Henderson.

7. Bills (10): They host Atlanta and the NYJ to close the regular season – meaning it’s awfully likely Buffalo hits the postseason with a four-game winning streak and the AFC East crown as had been the master plan all along.

8. Patriots (7): OLB Matt Judon landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and QB Mac Jones has been on the reserve/rookie jitters list all month. New England, which hosts Jacksonville next, is still likely to limp into postseason, but team has bled off significant momentum.

9. Titans (9): How crucial was return of WR A.J. Brown? He set league record with eight catches on third down in Week 16 upset of San Francisco.

10. Bengals (13): Meet the first team in NFL history with a 4,000-yard passer (Joe Burrow), 1,000-yard rusher (Joe Mixon) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins) all shy of their 26th birthdays. Looking like they could be kings of the jungle for a minute.

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11. Cardinals (8): Who cares that they’ve fallen off their NFC West perch? A team that’s lost four straight at home is better off hitting postseason road.

12. 49ers (11): After two months of exceptional work, will one poor game and a badly timed thumb injury end QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s Bay Area tenure?

13. Eagles (16): Pretty good holiday in Philly, the Iggles moving into a projected wild-card slot and essentially locking up the first-round pick from Indianapolis that was originally a conditional second-rounder when Wentz was traded earlier this year.

14. Vikings (15): Did you know they’ve only lost twice in their past six trips to Lambeau Field? Just sayin’ … there’s (more than) a chance.

15. Chargers (12): If their season is ultimately ruined by Davis Mills and Rex Burkhead – or generally by a defense that’s given up more points than anyone else aside from the Jets – it’s worth asking how much progress Bolts have really made.

16. Raiders (18): As badly as this locker room has felt at various points of a star-crossed season, the Silver and Black might yet wind up a feel-good playoff story.

17. Dolphins (20): They’re the first team to have a seven-game losing streak and seven-game winning streak in the same season – and could be the first team to qualify for the playoffs following a 1-7 start.

18. Ravens (14): They’ve actually weathered their quarterback issues pretty decently. What’s killing Baltimore is the worst defense John Harbaugh has ever fielded. The Ravens have allowed 30+ points six times this season, including two 41-point outbursts by Cincinnati.

19. Saints (17): Would they have started (or even drafted) Ian Book had they known he’d contribute to a 24-game losing streak by Notre Dame quarterbacks that dates to 2012?

20. Browns (21): QB Baker Mayfield has nearly $19 million guaranteed coming his way in 2022. Despite his generally uneven play through four seasons, good bet he’ll be in Cleveland for a fifth.

21. Steelers (19): Pathetic showing Sunday, but especially by a defense that adds up to far less than sum of its parts and might need free agent upgrades in 2022.

22. Broncos (22): Pathetic showing Sunday, mostly from an offense that adds up to far less than sum of its parts and desperately needs a quarterback upgrade in 2022.

23. Washington (23): WFT went full anagram Sunday night, embarrassing itself on and off the field in front of a national TV audience. And some obsolete advice? Leave those team benches in Dallas.

24. Falcons (25): Their average margin of victory in seven wins: 4.7 points. Their average margin of defeat in eight losses: 19.4 points.

25. Bears (28): Hard to believe OLB Robert Quinn’s next sack will give him 18 and a new Chicago single-season record. Less hard to believe QB Nick Foles is winning games in December.

26. Seahawks (24): They will finish in last place for the first time since they returned to the NFC in 2002. Prior to that, they finished last in the AFC West six times over 25 years.

27. Giants (26): Truly a commercial tragedy that a Jake from State Fromm ad campaign will apparently not come to fruition. (Yes, credit for this quip goes to a friend of the program.)

28. Panthers (27): Public Service Announcement: Matt Rhule has 99 Problems, but being compared to Jay-Z isn’t one of them.

29. Jets (30): Braxton Berrios is the very rare player New York took from New England’s scrap heap and turned into a valuable contributor. He has a career-best 38 receptions in 2021 and leads the league with 30.7 yards per kickoff return.

30. Texans (31): Per the NFL, Mills is the third rookie QB ever with at least 250 passing yards, two TD throws and a 130+ passer rating in multiple games. He joins Robert Griffin III and Justin Herbert … so clearly this could go one of two ways.

31. Lions (29): The best thing they’ve done in 2021 is assemble an imposing offensive line – put a pin in “Assembly Line” – that should quickly be reflective of the culture head coach Dan Campbell is trying to establish.

32. Jaguars (32): Their final two games against New England and Indianapolis, probably safe to start stitching Aidan Hutchinson jerseys in Jacksonville.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.



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