Packers No. 1, Patriots best in AFC

November 30, 2021
Packers No. 1, Patriots best in AFC
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NFL power rankings entering Week 13 of the 2021 season (previous rank in parentheses):

1. Packers (3): Absent a clear-cut juggernaut, Green Bay has as good a case as any club as the league’s top outfit. QB Aaron Rodgers, despite his “toe-vid,” is coming off consecutive strong performances – he looked plenty mobile in Sunday’s dispatching of the Rams – and gets a week off just in time. The Pack’s other walking wounded will also benefit from rest ahead of the stretch run, which includes a favorable schedule offering up middling-to-bad NFC North opponents. A second straight No. 1 seed is very achievable.

2. Buccaneers (2): Impressive road win at Indy included promising performance from TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Leonard Fournette running roughshod, and five takeaways … which helps mask uneven stretch for QB Tom Brady, who has six INTs in his last four games. And though Bucs are allowing 28.2 points per game on road, where they dominated during 2020 playoffs, every reason to believe they’ll get at least one playoff game at Raymond James Stadium – where they’re undefeated this season.

3. Cardinals (1): Weird to drop the NFC leaders and their league-best 9-2 record after a bye week? Maybe. But it’s still not clear if QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins are ready to return, nor is it clear if coach Kliff Kingsbury is interested in the vacant Oklahoma job or not. Potential distraction for a team that’s avoided them to this point.

4. Patriots (6): Turnover machine J.C. Jackson leads the AFC in interceptions (7) and tops the NFL charts with 16 pass breakups. He also forced a fumble Sunday for good measure. Put him on the short list of defensive player of the year candidates – right on time as the pending free agent awaits a blockbuster contract.

5. Chiefs (4): Winners of four straight, they better hit ground (still) running coming off bye week. Its AFC West lead just one game, Kansas City could just about make a sixth consecutive division title a reality by sweeping through the next three games – all against divisional foes, the first two (Denver, Las Vegas) at Arrowhead Stadium.

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6. Bengals (15): Significant course correction after trampling Vegas and Pittsburgh by a collective 73-23 score the past two weeks. QB Joe Burrow needs to take better care of the ball – he has at least one turnover in each of the past seven games – but if he does, Cincinnati could very well capture its first division crown in six years.

7. Cowboys (5): The good news? No more AFC West teams left on the schedule to beat up on Dallas. The bad news? Injuries, a billowing COVID-19 issue that ensnared coach Mike McCarthy on Monday and a short week don’t portend promising start to a three-week streak of road games.

8. Titans (7): QB Ryan Tannehill’s presence (6 INTs, 73.3 passer rating) has been quite a problem in RB Derrick Henry’s four-game absence. In fairness to Tannehill, Tennessee also has significant health issues at receiver, but he’s got to step up.

9. Rams (8): WRs Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. combined for 29 targets and 270 yards in Sunday’s loss – which was only close cosmetically – but LA clearly still hasn’t adapted to loss of Robert Woods.

10. Colts (10): Sure, they’re Indy .500, but Colts are also playing as well as anybody west of Foxborough over the past two months. Big opportunity to prove that against Patriots following the bye … but it won’t matter if Indianapolis suffers a lapse Sunday in Houston.

11. Bills (12): The turnovers continue to mount. New England continues to mount. Buffalo will now have to mount up without Pro Bowl CB Tre’Davious White. Feels like those Super Bowl hopes are slipping away.

12. Ravens (9): Their 8-3 record says they’re the AFC’s No. 1 team. Their play on the field in recent weeks, especially former MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson’s, decisively suggests otherwise. He may be the first QB in eight years to get a win despite throwing four INTs, but this obviously isn’t sustainable – especially since no team currently projected in the playoff field has a harder remaining schedule than Baltimore’s.

13. 49ers (16): In the event you suffer from East Coast bias, the franchise that popularized the West Coast offense is suddenly up to sixth place in the NFC. They’re averaging nearly 180 rushing yards during three-game win streak but must carry on in short term without top weapon Deebo Samuel.

14. Vikings (11): How long can they continue treading water without Pro Bowl RB Dalvin Cook? At least one week given Vikes’ next stop is Detroit.

15. Chargers (13): Bolts are starting to skew Buffalo West … which is to say a little too reliant on QB Justin Herbert to carry all phases of the offense.

16. Raiders (21): They just want to get you to overtime, where they’re 3-0 this season and the first team with that many wins outside regulation in four years. But if the defense continues to surrender 35.3 points per game – as it has over the last three weeks – gonna be tough to make it to bonus football.

17. Broncos (22): Only two teams have allowed fewer points, and only four have turned it over fewer times than Denver. Certainly not a sexy formula, but it’s a winning one that has this team in the wild-card mix.

18. Browns (14): Better get better during the bye week, Baker. Afterward, Cleveland is set to face the hardest remaining gauntlet (.634 opponent winning percentage) in the league.

19. Washington (23): Monday night’s escape act from Seattle vaulted the WFT from 12th in the NFC to seventh, i.e. the final wild-card spot. Those who opined this was a wasted season – me – are perusing crow options on the menu.

20. Steelers (17): They’ve given up 41 points each of the past two weeks and just put OLB T.J. Watt into COVID-19 protocol. Mike Tomlin will have to pull out all the stops to avoid his first losing season.

21. Eagles (18): Admirable of WR Jalen Reagor to face the media music after he probably dropped two TD passes Sunday in a six-point loss. Less admirable that Philly is putting him in that position and not targeting rookie DeVonta Smith instead.

22. Dolphins (26): Sweep New York’s teams in their next two outings, and the Fins – once 1-7 – are amazingly back at .500.

23. Saints (20): Winless in QB Trevor Siemian’s four starts and now outside the playoff field, time to see if Taysom Hill can ride to the rescue against depleted Dallas.

24. Seahawks (24): Appropriate time to thank the NFL for “flexing” its muscle so we don’t have to watch Seattle in prime time in successive weeks. 

25. Falcons (25): Prior to RB Cordarrelle Patterson’s 27-yard breakaway Sunday, Atlanta hadn’t had a 20-yard run all season.  

26. Giants (27): After all the criticism of deposed OC Jason Garrett not maximizing his weapons, New York’s only TD Sunday was scored by … Chris Myarick? Whatever – it worked.

27. Panthers (19): Bummer to see another abbreviated season for RB Christian McCaffrey. But in reality? Carolina has lost 15 of its last 20 with CMc in the lineup, so …

28. Bears (28): Tough break for Matt Nagy, who apparently won’t get to enjoy his Holidays and has to coach this team for six more weeks.

29. Jets (30): Costly win at Houston on Sunday dropped them to fourth in the 2022 draft order … though Week 16 date with Jacksonville could still allow NYJ to improve their position.

30. Texans (31): Valuable loss to Jets on Sunday helps them settle in to No. 2 slot in the 2022 draft order … though Week 15 date at Jacksonville looms as potential pothole.

31. Jaguars (29): They’ve lost 13 straight on road dating back to the 2019 season. Four of their final six will be played outside of Jacksonville.

32. Lions (32): You have to wonder if coach Dan Campbell, who’s now calling offensive plays, has taken on too much in his zeal to crack the win column. Detroit’s timeout management – or lack thereof – on Thanksgiving would suggest more delegation from Campbell is in order.  

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



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