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NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, 49ers enter conversation as serious Super Bowl contenders


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It’s Thanksgiving week, which gives every team in the NFL a nice opportunity to take stock of what they’re thankful for as Week 11 rolls over to Week 12 and we get the best slate of turkey day games we’ve had in a long time.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-2)

(Last week: 1)

Thankful for: Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes

It’s easy because it’s true. They’re the reason it felt like a fait accompli that the Chiefs would score the go-ahead touchdown when they got the ball on their own 25-yard line down four points with 1:46 to go Sunday night — and it only ended up taking them six plays to get it done. Kelce has already tied his career high with 11 receiving touchdowns and is on track to set a career high in receiving yards. Though Kelce has now passed Rob Gronkowski for the No. 5 spot in receiving yards among tight ends (and is 101 yards away from passing Shannon Sharpe for No. 4), he and Mahomes are still quite a bit away from catching up to the Gronkowski-Tom Brady duo for touchdown receptions. Kelce has caught 45 touchdowns from Mahomes in the regular season, 56 including the playoffs. Gronkowski had 90 regular-season touchdown receptions from Brady, 105 including the playoffs.

Up next: vs. Los Angeles Rams, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)

(Last week: 2)

Thankful for: The moves they didn’t make

At different points this offseason, the Eagles made pitches for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson to replace Jalen Hurts as their quarterback. Before trading for A.J. Brown, they looked into Calvin Ridley, Allen Robinson and Christian Kirk. Some combination of luck and discipline led them to where they are now, with the best record in the league after their narrow, uneven win in Indianapolis. And with impressive debuts by Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, the Eagles’ string of successful Plan Bs continues.

Up next: vs. Green Bay, Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET

3. Miami Dolphins (7-3)

(Last week: 3)

Thankful for: Two bye weeks in a row

Though, to be fair, a difficult three-game road stretch follows this week’s “game” against the Texans: at San Francisco, at Los Angeles Chargers, at Buffalo.

Up next: vs. Houston, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

4. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

(Last week: 8)

Thankful for: The best pass rush in the league

The Cowboys have a lot to be thankful for after a dominant 40-3 win in Minnesota that showcased why they have as high an upside as any team in the league. Dak Prescott looks great and Tony Pollard has finally been allowed to fully shine. But the Cowboys’ pass rush is why they’ll be such a feared opponent come playoff time. Micah Parsons made an early play that started the snowball downhill, culminating in a single-game pressure rate of 60 percent, according to Pro Football Focus — the highest rate in a game this season. The Cowboys lead the league in pressure rate, sacks and quarterback hits. Watch out.

Up next: vs. New York Giants, Thursday 4:30 p.m. ET

5. Buffalo Bills (7-3)

(Last week: 5)

Thankful for: A home away from home

After a slow start in their thundersnow-forced home game in Detroit, the Bills settled in behind a non-Josh Allen running game for the first time in a while. Devin Singletary and James Cook combined for 172 rushing yards on 29 carries while Allen rushed just three times — his fewest since Week 2. Then again, this was against the Browns’ run defense, which is among the worst in modern history. Maybe snowblowers are the answer.

Up next: at Detroit, Thursday 12:30 p.m. ET

6. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)

(Last week: 6)

Thankful for: Good vibes

Everything seems peachy for the Niners after their 38-10 blowout of the Cardinals in Mexico City. Jimmy Garoppolo threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a game for the second time in his career (also against the Cardinals, back in 2019) and ranks fourth in the league in EPA (expected points added) per dropback, according to TruMedia. The suddenly spry George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk each had two touchdowns while Elijah MitchellChristian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel all made things happen in the backfield. The defense looks scary and things seem to be shaping up well for Kyle Shanahan and company. While the Eagles and Vikings hit something of a dip, the Cowboys and Niners have entered the conversation as serious Super Bowl contenders.

Up next: vs. New Orleans, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET

7. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

(Last week: 7)

Thankful for: A fourth-quarter shutout

It was against one of the worst offenses in the league, but the Ravens finally kept an opponent from scoring in the fourth quarter when they beat the Panthers 13-3 on Sunday. They were apparently hoping for a full-game shutout, but it was nice for the Ravens to prove they could win on the backs of their defense. Roquan Smith had seven tackles and a sack and continues to impress early on in his Baltimore tenure.

Up next: at Jacksonville, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

8. Tennessee Titans (7-3)

(Last week: 11)

Thankful for: An identity

There might not be a team in the league that is more itself than the Titans, who continue to overachieve relative to the name recognition of the players on their roster. With the league’s No. 1 DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) run defense and a grind-it-out style that drags opponents into the mud with them, Mike Vrabel has another case for coach of the year. But if the Titans are going to do more in the playoffs this time around, they probably need one extra element on offense. Which is why Treylon Burks’ performance against the Packers was such a welcome sight.

Up next: vs. Cincinnati, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

9. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

(Last week: 9)

Thankful for: The best young quarterback in football?

If we semantically define “young” as 25 or under, Joe Burrow is only eligible for another two weeks or so. For now, the attention paid to breakout players such as Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa or the sparkle of Lamar Jackson can distract from the quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl last season behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Burrow has excelled of late, even without Ja’Marr Chase (who will return to practice this week), and ranks fifth in EPA per dropback.

Up next: at Tennessee, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)

(Last week: 12)

Thankful for: Not following Tom Brady’s investment advice

No wonder he threw those tablets.

Up next: at Cleveland, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

11. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)

(Last week: 13)

Thankful for: The Broncos’ first-round pick

Of the five teams that traded away their 2023 first-round pick, only one — San Francisco, which gave up its pick in the trade-up for Trey Lance — is in the current playoff picture. The other four — Denver (owned by Seattle), the Rams (owned by Detroit), Cleveland (owned by Houston) and New Orleans (owned by Philadelphia) — would all be top-10 picks if the season ended today. Right now, the Broncos’ would be the highest: No. 5 overall.

Up next: vs. Las Vegas, Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET

12. New England Patriots (6-4)

(Last week: 16)

Thankful for: Marcus Jones, and the Jets for kicking to him

Jones’ game-winning 84-yard punt return in the final seconds continued the Patriots’ domination of the Jets. It was also, apparently, precisely what Bill Belichick had in mind when the Patriots used a third-round pick on a return specialist who could moonlight as a nickel corner. Thanks to Jones, the Patriots would be a wild-card team if the season ended today. If only Jones could help their 26th-ranked offense (by DVOA).

Up next: at Minnesota, Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET

13. New York Jets (6-4)

(Last week: 10)

Thankful for: Taking the gloves off

After another Zach Wilson performance that left his teammates and Jets fans wondering how good the team could be with just league-average quarterback play, head coach Robert Saleh told reporters Monday: “We’re keeping everything on the table,” regarding the position moving forward. Wilson completed 9 of 22 passes for 77 yards and led an offense that gained 2 total yards in the second half of the 10-3 loss to the Patriots. Bad quarterback performance early in a player’s career is not necessarily prohibitive of them becoming a functional player eventually — Eli Manning has the worst completion percentage for any quarterback this century in the first two years of his career, for instance — but Wilson has definitely been bad. He ranks 32nd of 34 qualifying quarterbacks in EPA per dropback. Saleh owes it to his players to prioritize what’s best for them over what’s best for Wilson.

Up next: vs. Chicago, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

14. New York Giants (7-3)

(Last week: 14)

Thankful for: December games that matter

The Giants haven’t been over .500 in December since 2016, so even after their disappointing 31-18 home loss to the Lions, these are relevant times. With a four-game stretch starting this week against all NFC East teams, the Giants don’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for how injured they are.

Up next: at Dallas, Thursday 4:30 p.m. ET

15. Los Angeles Chargers (5-5)

(Last week: 15)

Thankful for: The combined 31-40-1 record of their final seven opponents

The Chargers looked better with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams back on the field, but better wasn’t good enough against one of the league’s best teams. Only two of the Chargers’ remaining opponents have a winning record and they’re done seeing Mahomes for the year.

Up next: at Arizona, Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET

16. Washington Commanders (6-5)

(Last week: 18)

Thankful for: A drama-less quarterback decision

Ron Rivera’s decision to continue riding with Taylor Heinicke was an easy one from the outside. Washington was 2-4 before Carson Wentz was placed on injured reserve with a finger injury. The Commanders are 4-1 in games since, including Sunday’s blowout win in Houston. Heinicke is not solely responsible for that turnaround — the defense ranks fifth in TruMedia’s defensive EPA per drive over that span. And now that Chase Young is coming back, the Commanders are real playoff contenders (and just a half-game from the No. 7 seed). But odds are we haven’t heard the last from Wentz just yet.

Up next: vs. Atlanta, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

17. Detroit Lions (4-6)

(Last week: 23)

Thankful for: Whatever changed on defense

The Lions had far and away the worst defense in the league over the first eight weeks of the season. Over the course of their three-game winning streak (their first since 2017), they’ve been positively average, which has made all the difference.

Detroit's Defensive Improvement
  WEEKS 1-8 WEEKS 9-11
DVOA
32nd
11th
EPA/drive
32nd
15th
EPA/play
32nd
16th
Success %
30th
21st

It’s hard to tell from the outside what’s responsible for that improvement. They’re playing a little bit more zone coverage (65.3 percent of the time, up from 54.3 percent in Weeks 1-8) and are blitzing at about the same rate. One common denominator of their opponents during this streak (Green Bay, Chicago, New York Giants) — unscary wide receivers. That won’t be the case on Thanksgiving, but we can all be grateful the Lions are relevant this year.

Up next: vs. Buffalo, Thursday 12:30 p.m. ET

18. Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

(Last week: 25)

Thankful for: April 15, 2021

That’s when the Falcons signed Cordarrelle Patterson as an unrestricted free agent, a month after the start of the first league year with general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith in charge. Patterson has been the focal point of the Falcons’ point-scoring success since. A trivia question for die-hard Falcons fans: Of the 10 veterans signed or re-signed during the free-agency period before Atlanta added Patterson, who is the one still with the team? That would be safety Erik Harris, another special teams standout.

As for Patterson, his 103-yard kickoff return against the Bears helped turn the tide of their 27-24 win and set the NFL record for career kickoff return touchdowns. It also produced this touching vulnerability: “Honestly, I was trying to cry, but all the guys were running up on me. It felt good. I was trying to shed a tear, but they wouldn’t let me.”

Up next: at Washington, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

19. Green Bay Packers (4-7)

(Last week: 17)

Thankful for: An open January calendar

It’s cold up there! At least now no one has to wait to find out when the 49ers’ playoff game is to make their getaway plans.

Up next: at Philadelphia, Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET

20. New Orleans Saints (4-7)

(Last week: 30)

Thankful for: Chris Olave

The 11th overall pick has been awesome. His 760 receiving yards on 51 catches are 10th among all players and best among rookies. He ranks eighth in the league in receiving yards per route run (2.49) thanks in part to the second-deepest average depth of target in the league (14.65 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, behind only Buffalo’s Gabe Davis). Just as impressive is how good Olave has been for an otherwise bad Saints offense. Only Washington’s Terry McLaurin plays for a worse passing unit than Olave among the league’s top-10 receivers.

Leading receivers
PLAYER
  
TEAM
  
REC. YDS
  
PASS DVOA
  
MIA
1,148
1
MIN
1,093
23
BUF
1,033
4
LV
925
18
MIA
878
1
KC
855
2
LAR
812
22
WAS
792
28
PHI
785
5
NO
760
24

Up next: at San Francisco, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET

21. Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1)

(Last week: 28)

Thankful for: A quiet week

On behalf of our Colts’ writers, at least. The series of quarterback benched, offensive coordinator fired, head coach fired, Jeff Saturday hired and Jeff Saturday wins came to an end Sunday with their disappointing but familiar 17-16 loss to the Eagles. One more defensive stop or one more red zone touchdown conversion, or even one more made field goal, would have made the difference and given Saturday his second straight feel-good victory. What happened instead was a reminder of the team’s fatal flaws and a reason to not like Nick Sirianni anymore.

Up next: vs. Pittsburgh, Monday 8:15 p.m. ET

22. Arizona Cardinals (4-7)

(Last week: 19)

Thankful for: Midseason exhibition games in other countries

Hold on. That game counted?

Up next: vs. Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7)

(Last week: 21)

Thankful for: Not having to eat their own stadium food

According to Action News Jax, “Inspectors looked at 29 concession stands and found 129 violations, including two dead rodents, 159 rodent droppings and seven concession stands that were operating with an expired license.” That inspection occurred during the Jaguars’ Nov. 6 matchup against the Raiders, which also happens to be their only win of the past seven games. Which begs the question: Would you knowingly eat food prepared next to a dead rat if it meant your team would win?

If Jaxson de Ville doesn’t show up this weekend with a chef’s hat calling himself “Catatouille,” mascot humor is dead.

Up next: vs. Baltimore, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

24. Cleveland Browns (3-7)

(Last week: 22)

Thankful for: Being so bad the spotlight on Deshaun Watson’s return might not be so bright

What else is there? This was about the most realistic scenario for the Browns given their offseason decisions. The question now seems to be whether the coaching staff will be around long enough to see how Watson fares in Year 2.

Up next: vs. Tampa Bay, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

25. Chicago Bears (3-8)

(Last week: 24)

Thankful for: The best of both worlds

Realistically, the Bears foster no playoff aspirations. So maybe it’s for the best to find out they have a quarterback, play an entertaining style of football and then maximize draft position by losing those games? With the big picture in mind, though, it might be prudent to make sure they do everything to keep Justin Fields healthy.

Up next: at New York Jets, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

26. Las Vegas Raiders (3-7)

(Last week: 32)

Thankful for: The Broncos’ offense

The Raiders’ defense held an opponent under 20 points for the first time all season in Sunday’s come-from-behind 22-16 overtime win in Denver. The game plan? A massively disrespectful amount of man coverage. According to TruMedia, Las Vegas played zone just 19.4 percent of the time on Sunday, the lowest rate for any defense in a game this season. Davante Adams rules, too.

Up next: at Seattle, Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET

27. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-7)

(Last week: 26)

Thankful for: Signs of life from the offense

The Steelers scored a season-high 30 points in the loss to Cincinnati, which came into the game with a top-10 DVOA defense. Their two best performances of the season by EPA per drive have come over the past two weeks after returning from the bye, so there’s reason to believe they’ve figured some things out with a jump-started running game and the Pickett-to-Pickens connection. It was the high-priced defense that let Pittsburgh down against the Bengals.

Up next: at Indianapolis, Monday 8:15 p.m. ET

 

28. Denver Broncos (3-7)

(Last week: 20)

Thankful for: Solving the problem

Now that Melvin Gordon has been waived, surely the Broncos’ issues are solved. Gordon fumbled again in Denver’s 22-16 overtime loss, which was the difference in the game even though it was recovered by the Broncos. Right? Look over there, not at the quarterback who looks broken or the head coach who looks lost. Maybe be thankful for the promise of an uncertain future.

Up next: at Carolina, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

29. Carolina Panthers (3-8)

(Last week: 27)

Thankful for: Beefy ball hawks

Baltimore’s mounting injuries aside, the Panthers held Lamar Jackson and company to their season-low in points in Sunday’s 13-3 loss, and there seems to be no question Steve Wilks’ team is well-prepared on that side of the ball. Most fun of all was the interception by 330-pound nose tackle Bravvion Roy. He and teammate Derrick Brown (320 pounds) are the two heaviest players with an interception this season.

Up next: vs. Denver, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

30. Los Angeles Rams (3-7)

(Last week: 29)

Thankful for: Flags flying forever

The good news for the Rams is all the injury luck regression seems to be hitting at once. Better to bottom out than slowly fade away. Now all eyes turn to Matthew Stafford’s future after the veteran left Sunday’s loss to be evaluated for a concussion one week after missing a game for being in the concussion protocol.

Up next: at Kansas City, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET

31. Houston Texans (1-8-1)

(Last week: 31)

Thankful for: A good-looking quarterback draft class

The Texans are a game and a half clear of the teams with the next-fewest wins, and they don’t exactly look on the precipice of making up that difference any time soon. Good! Because Davis Mills has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league by any measure, and one of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Will Levis seems destined to be the new face of the franchise. How do y’all like cowboy hats?

Up next: at Miami, Sunday 1 p.m. ET

32. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)

(Last week: 4)

Thankful for: This bulletin board material from a know-nothing nitwit

Sorry, but rules are rules. When you suffer the most lopsided loss of the NFL season to date, you have to spend a week in the ceremonial back of the line.

Up next: vs. New England, Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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