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NFL power rankings 2015, Week 16: Steelers, Packers up; Broncos dropping

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The Steelers beat the Broncos to move up, while Green Bay knocked off Oakland to strengthen its hold on the NFC North.

The Panthers weathered a wild 28-point comeback by the Giants, but a Graham Gano field goal sailed through the uprights as time ran out to keep Carolina perfect on the year. With the big win, the Panthers became just the fourth (!) team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 14-0, joining the 1972 Dolphins, 2007 Patriots and 2009 Colts. That's obviously rare company. For those of you wondering, all three of those clubs ended up advancing to the Super Bowl in their respective years, but only the '72 Dolphins were able to finish off a completely perfect season by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. We'll see where the Panthers go over the next month and a half, but in the meantime, a few other teams may have a word or two to say about it.

The Cardinals may be a real threat. They blew out the red-hot Eagles to move to 12-2 on the year, dethroning the Seahawks as the NFC West champions. It could prove to be a Pyrrhic victory in the end, though, as Arizona lost Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL during garbage time snaps. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate will be pretty impossible to replace -- he plays safety, corner, linebacker and a little bit of everything else for the Cardinals -- so a number of depth players will have to step in in relief. They've weathered losses in the past, though, and I have the feeling that Arizona is going to keep making noise once the playoffs roll around.

It's a similar story for the Patriots, who easily defeated the Titans at home despite a litany of injuries. The Patriots have now lost a starting player in each of their past six games, and Sunday was no different. While the severity of the injuries to Danny Amendola, Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung are still unknown, the battle of attrition has been especially difficult in New England this year. Will they be able to overcome all this? It doesn't seem too hard to imagine.

The Steelers look pretty damn impressive as well now that they've gotten Big Ben back into the fold and fully healthy. Antonio Brown put on a show again this week in Pittsburgh's win over the Broncos, racking up 15 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns against the best pass defense in the league. Pittsburgh showed a lot of guts in coming back from down 17 points and proved that it's still a threat in the AFC playoffs.

So are the Chiefs, who blew out the hapless Ravens to win their eighth straight game and become the first team in NFL history to win eight in a row immediately following a five-game losing streak. It's been a tale of two teams this season for Kansas City, but the important thing is that they're playing great ball late in the year. I'm guessing no one's going to want to face these guys once the wild card round rolls around. The same could be said of the Seahawks, who blew out the Browns en route to a playoff berth. Seattle seems to be firing on all cylinders -- offensively Russell Wilson is on a historic hot streak and defensively the Legion of Boom is starting to look more like the group it had been the last two seasons. Pete Carroll has his team peaking at the right time, like clockwork.

We obviously can't forget about the Bengals, who still have the deepest roster in the NFL and boast incredible balance in all three phases. The big issue, of course, is the question of whether or not Andy Dalton will return in time for it to matter. A.J. McCarron looked competent out there in Cincy's win over the Niners, but things don't get easier for him going forward and we may know more of what to expect after watching him take on the Broncos next week. I'm still bullish on the Bengals even without Dalton, but it's very, very tough to win in the playoffs without a very good quarterback running things.

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Slipping:

The Broncos surprised me with a pretty impressive offensive output in the first half of Sunday's matchup with the Steelers as they jumped out to a big lead, but they failed to hold that lead before succumbing to Pittsburgh's offensive onslaught. They drop a bit this week -- part of a longer trend over the past month and a half -- but I am definitely not counting Denver out come January. With that defense, I think the Broncos can play with anyone.

The Raiders gave the Packers a run for their money on Sunday as well, but dropped to 6-8 and were eliminated from playoff contention. The future remains bright for this team. Reggie McKenzie has put together a nice nucleus of players on both sides of the ball.

The Eagles got blown out by the Cardinals at home on Sunday Night Football, also dropping to 6-8 on the year, but by virtue of being in the NFC East, the team remains in the hunt for a playoff spot. Philly trails Washington by a game. I'd love to give you some analysis about why the Eagles should or should not be the favorites in that division, but it seems like a different team shows up every game. I got no clue.

Meanwhile, the Bills were eliminated from playoff contention for the 16th straight season with their loss to Washington. I'm not going to rub it in anymore.

Moving on up:

Once again, it wasn't pretty for the Packers, but they held onto a slim lead in the NFC North by knocking off the Raiders in a sloppy game in Oakland. The Vikings kept pace with a win of their own over the Bears, seeing some very encouraging production out of Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy finished 17-of-20 passing for 231 yards and four touchdowns through the air, then added a rushing score just for kicks. If this is the guy that the Vikings can get down the stretch, seriously watch out for this Minnesota team.

The same could be said of Washington and Kirk Cousins. The formerly embattled quarterback has silenced his critics and has been on an insane tear over the last month. He finished 22 of 28 for 319 yards and four touchdowns in Washington's win over the Bills, adding his own "just for kicks" rushing touchdown as well. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- if you find yourself with a red-hot quarterback in January, anything can happen.

Still in the hunt:

You have got to give it to the Giants, who battled back after falling behind by 28 points early on to Carolina. Many teams would've thrown in the towel at that point -- they were losing big to an undefeated and seemingly invincible team -- but they didn't fold. Behind Eli Manning, New York scored 28 unanswered points to draw the game back into a tie with 1:46 remaining. They couldn't hold on for the win, but I came away impressed regardless. Now, don't ask me if they can ride that silver lining to real actual wins over the next two weeks for a division win, but they moved up a bit in our rankings anyway.

Odell Beckham Jr. deserves upcoming suspension following Sunday's dirty play

Meantime, the Texans won a key victory over the Colts to take over sole position of first place in the AFC South. They'll have to hold on to that slim division lead with one of the approximately one million starting quarterbacks they've had this year (Brian Hoyer has a concussion and T.J. Yates tore his ACL, leaving them to Brandon Weeden as starter), but with a strong defense as their identity, they look poised to do just that.

Jockeying for that first pick:

At this point, I would have to assume there's a decent amount of scoreboard watching for fan bases of the 49ers, Browns, Titans, Chargers and Ravens. The No. 1 pick is still very much up for grabs and there are no clear "favorites" at this point. If I had to guess, it will end up with the Browns.

RK WEEK 16 SB NATION BLOG
1 Carolina Panthers, 14-0 (Last Week: 1) Cat Scratch Reader
2 Arizona Cardinals, 12-2 (Last Week: 2) Revenge of the Birds
3 New England Patriots, 12-2 (Last Week: 3) Pats Pulpit
4 Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-5 (Last Week: 7) Behind the Steel Curtain
5 Seattle Seahawks, 9-5 (Last Week: 5) Field Gulls
6 Kansas City Chiefs, 9-5 (Last Week: 6) Arrowhead Pride
7 Cincinnati Bengals, 11-3 (Last Week: 8) Cincy Jungle
8 Denver Broncos, 10-4 (Last Week: 4) Mile High Report
9 Green Bay Packers, 10-4 (Last Week: 10) Acme Packing Company
10 New York Jets, 9-5 (Last Week: 9) Gang Green Nation
11 Minnesota Vikings, 9-5 (Last Week: 12) Daily Norseman
12 Washington, 7-7 (Last Week: 14) Hogs Haven
13 Houston Texans, 7-7 (Last Week: 16) Battle Red Blog
14 Oakland Raiders, 6-8 (Last Week: 11) Silver and Black Pride
15 Philadelphia Eagles, 6-8 (Last Week: 13) Bleeding Green Nation
16 Buffalo Bills, 6-8 (Last Week: 15) Buffalo Rumblings
17 New York Giants, 6-8 (Last Week: 18) Big Blue View
18 Detroit Lions, 5-9 (Last Week: 20) Pride of Detroit
19 St. Louis Rams, 6-8 (Last Week: 22) Turf Show Times
20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 6-8 (Last Week: 17) Bucs Nation
21 Atlanta Falcons, 7-7 (Last Week: 26) The Falcoholic
22 Chicago Bears, 5-9 (Last Week: 19) Windy City Gridiron
23 Indianapolis Colts, 6-8 (Last Week: 21) Stampede Blue
24 Jacksonville Jaguars, 5-9 (Last Week: 23) Big Cat Country
25 New Orleans Saints, 5-9 (Last Week: 24) Canal Street Chronicles
26 Miami Dolphins, 5-9 (Last Week: 25) The Phinsider
27 Dallas Cowboys, 4-10 (Last Week: 27) Blogging the Boys
28 Tennessee Titans, 3-11 (Last Week: 28) Music City Miracles
29 Baltimore Ravens, 4-10 (Last Week: 29) Baltimore Beatdown
30 San Diego Chargers, 4-10 (Last Week: 32) Bolts from the Blue
31 Cleveland Browns, 3-11 (Last Week: 30) Dawgs by Nature
32 San Francisco 49ers, 4-10 (Last Week: 31) Niners Nation