It wasn’t the greatest week for the teams at the top of the power rankings. Three of the teams in the top five a week ago — the Patriots, Vikings, and Rams — all lost in Week 14. But the Eagles, despite locking up the NFC East on Sunday, may have suffered an even more devastating blow with the loss of Carson Wentz to an ACL tear.
The carnage at the top shuffled fortunes and paved the way for new teams to climb to the top of the rankings. That left a golden road for the Steelers to move into the No. 1 spot.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia currently own the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences, but the Steelers clearly have more reason to feel more confident about their chances.
Blake Bortles is the only reason to not fully jump on the Duval bandwagon, but if he plays like he has lately, the Jaguars may be the best team in the NFL. His latest performance was one of his best yet: 268 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Seahawks.
This Jaguars defense is ridiculously good — even if it gave up some big plays against Seattle — and Leonard Fournette is looking healthy again. With the Patriots dropping a game, there’s a real chance Jacksonville could even earn a first-round bye.
The Jaguars are guaranteed a winning season for the first time in a decade, but they can and should hope for a whole lot more.
The Panthers battled through some tough times early in the year, but their only loss in the last six games came against the Saints — one of the best teams in the league. Why is Carolina ahead of New Orleans now? Because a win over the Vikings launched the Panthers’ hopes through the roof.
Winning the NFC South is a long shot after losing twice to New Orleans, but Carolina is all but locked in to one of the NFC Wild Card spots now. And the win also suggests the Panthers have the firepower to hang with anyone.
Are the Chiefs back? That might be premature after just one win that snapped a four-game losing streak. But it was a really impressive win and came after a huge offensive explosion in the week prior.
The Chiefs are back in business now and can all but clinch the AFC West with a win at home against the Chargers, who they dominated on the road in Week 3. If Kansas City look anything like it did in Week 13, it’d be the toughest team Los Angeles has played in a while.
There have been plenty of reasons to doubt the Titans, and they showed every damn one of them in Week 14 against the Cardinals. Tennessee couldn’t run the ball and Marcus Mariota didn’t do anything right as he battled through a knee sprain.
It’d take a lot to knock the Titans out of the AFC Wild Card race, so they’re probably in a safe spot. But it’s just impossible to get that jazzed about Tennessee’s chances in the playoffs when the team was blown out by the Steelers recently and can’t even comfortably win the games it should.
Getting dominated by the Chiefs means the 2017 season is pretty much a wrap for the Raiders. Finish strong and a spot in the postseason is still a possibility, but Oakland just doesn’t have the same offensive explosiveness it did a year ago and the defense still isn’t close to capable of carrying extra weight.
The Raiders end the year with a home game against the Cowboys and road battles against the Eagles and Chargers. Winning even two of those could be tough.
Full hope rankings
Weekly disclaimer: These aren’t your average power rankings and are instead an attempt to measure the current state of mind — or “hope” — for each team and fan base.
The NFL can be an emotional roller coaster, and one big week can shoot a team’s spirits through the roof and tank another’s hopes of finishing with the Lombardi Trophy in February or beyond. Teams near the top are feeling great after Sunday, while those at the bottom aren’t feeling too optimistic.
If you’re looking for a ranking of who would beat who, this isn’t always going to be the best gauge:
Hope rankings, Week 15
|4||New England Patriots||1|
|8||New Orleans Saints||6|
|9||Los Angeles Rams||5|
|10||Los Angeles Chargers||9|
|12||Kansas City Chiefs||22|
|15||Green Bay Packers||18|
|19||San Francisco 49ers||26|
|26||New York Jets||15|
|27||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||24|
|31||New York Giants||31|