Every week during the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will present our conference power rankings. The AFC will be on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.
This week in the AFC, the Ravens continued to march to home field in the playoffs, led by Lamar Jackson and a cornerback you’d want at your next party.
1). Baltimore Ravens
The best team in the NFL had an expectedly easy time dispatching the Jets 42-21. Jackson threw another five touchdown passes and broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for quarterbacks. And if you’re ever having a Ravens watch party after he retires, you might want to invite Marcus Peters, who was fined $14,037 by the league for shot-gunning beer in the stands with fans.
2). New England Patriots
Enough about the anemic Patriots offense. It’s obviously good enough to bring them to the brink of another AFC East championship, which they will win if they beat the Bills again on Sunday. The best player on the team this season might be defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who had another pick six in the 34-10 win over the Bengals. There’s talk he could be defensive player of the year.
3). Kansas City Chiefs
They played Christmas carols before the Chiefs and Broncos kicked off in a Kansas City snowstorm on Sunday. And it was clear from the start that the Chiefs were the most adaptable. They rolled to an easy win and their fourth straight AFC West championship. Hats off to tight end Travis Kelce. He is now the first tight end in NFL history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons in receiving yards.
4). Houston Texans
Give the Texans credit. They went into Tennessee and beat one of the hottest teams in the league to take temporary control of the AFC South. The division is now for the Texans to win. Two things that might make the difference for them: Carlos Hyde finally gained over 100 yards rushing and that might continue to open up the passing game. And we’re hearing J.J. Watt might be able to return for the playoffs after being out since Week 8 with a torn pectoral muscle.
5). Buffalo Bills
Buffalo’s win in Pittsburgh on Sunday catapults it to the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons – and 20 years. That’s not a drought. It’s a famine. They’ve also won 10 games for the first time since their 11-5 team in 1999. Coach Sean McDermott has changed the culture. Now, if they could only beat the Patriots.
6). Tennessee Titans
Remember what we said about the Texans taking advantage of their opportunity to take control of the AFC South? Well, it’s just the opposite for the Titans, who were 6-1 since Ryan Tannehill became their quarterback. The Titans came back from a 14-0 deficit, but they couldn’t finish the job and their four-game winning streak was over. Tennessee hasn’t won the division since 2008.
7). Pittsburgh Steelers
The Duck callers were out on Sunday night, there to cheer the city’s newest cult hero, quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges. Too bad the Bills didn’t give a quack about all that. They forced the QB into four interceptions, two late in the game. Pittsburgh’s three-game winning streak might be history, but at 8-6 their hopes for a wild card are still very much alive.
8). Cleveland Browns
At the end of their catastrophic 38-24 loss in Arizona, a couple of Browns players, notably receiver Jarvis Landry, were overhead yelling at the Cardinals bench to “come and get me.” This was not an invitation to fight. Landry obviously wants out of Cleveland, which was plainly obvious watching him jaw with overmatched coach Freddie Kitchens during the game. Only two games left in this season of unmet expectations and unresolved issues.
9). Indianapolis Colts
Not only was Monday night a history-making one for the Saints, it was one for the Colts. Their 34-7 loss was the largest in Frank Reich’s coaching career and it might have been worse had Drew Brees and Michael Thomas not tired of toying with their secondary. And to think the Colts were 5-2 on Oct. 27. Now they are 6-8, out of ideas and eliminated from the playoffs.
10). Oakland Raiders
Raiders fans have always been known for their counter-culture look and behavior. They are one scary bunch, the kind of people you cross the street to avoid running into on the sidewalk. And after the Raiders blew a 16-3 lead to the hapless Jaguars and lost the final league game ever to be played in their city, their venom was on full display as their rained garbage and vile language down on QB Derek Carr. What else would you have expected from them?
11). Los Angeles Chargers
This has been a very disappointing season for this team, particularly for its offense which has had a constant problem with ball control. During their 39-10 loss to the Vikings, they committed seven turnovers on their 12 possessions. Philip Rivers threw three more interceptions. Melvin Gordon fumbled twice. It will be a surprise if either is with the team next season.
12). Jacksonville Jaguars
Thank goodness for Gardner Minshew’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Conley, which provided the margin of victory over the Raiders. If the Jaguars had lost again, coach Doug Morrone might have had to Uber back to Florida. As the Jags move into 2020, you wonder what the future has in store for the QB battle between Minshew and veteran Nick Foles. And you wonder where the team would be without young stars like Josh Allen, the first-round pick with 10 sacks.
13). Denver Broncos
Time for some word play: Despite his performance against the Chiefs (18 of 40, 208 yards) we’re betting Drew has a Lock on the team’s QB job as it moves forward. The veterans seem to like the kid’s gumption. Nevertheless, this will be the third straight losing season for the Broncos and four consecutive years out of the playoffs since the 2015 Super Bowl. Did you know the Broncos have not beaten the Chiefs since Peyton Manning retired?
14). New York Jets
The Jets are in the midst of their fourth straight losing season, their longest slide in the Super Bowl era. Where have you gone, Emerson Boozer? The loss in Baltimore was not a good luck; you never had the feeling the Jets could stay on the field with the Ravens. Worse yet, it appeared like Sam Darnold, just 22 years old, was having words with coach Adam Gase after failing to convert a fourth-and-1 with four minutes to play in the game. It’s a wonder Gase didn’t just send the kid to his room.
15). Miami Dolphins
Back in the days when the Dolphins played in the Orange Bowl, the team had a pool behind the end zone where a trained dolphin swam around. When a kick would land in the pool, which happened quite often, the dolphin would quickly flip it out of the water with a twitch of its nose. What this current team wouldn’t give for that type of performance.
16). Cincinnati Bengals
After being dispatched 34-13 by the Patriots, Bengals coach Zac Taylor admitted his receiving corps had been bullied around by New England’s secondary. Taylor insinuated his wideouts didn’t compete hard enough for catches, didn’t fight hard enough to prevent the career-high four interceptions Andy Dalton tossed. The Bengals are 1-13. Does Taylor think he has a bunch of gladiators? Give us a break.