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 established themselves as the best in the business by beating the 49ers in 2019’s Super Bowl I. And now we know their kicker is just a reliable as their quarterback.
1). Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens win over the 49ers cements it: Baltimore is the best team in the NFL. But anyone who has watched Lamar Jackson this season likely already knew that. What’s new with the MVP front runner? Well, he now has four 100-yard rushing performances this season, the most for a quarterback in league history. But as we learned on Sunday, the Ravens have many other weapons, like certain Hall of Fame kicker Justin Tucker. The guy is clutch.
2). New England Patriots
Let’s talk a little about Tom Brady. For the last three games, his completion percentage has been less than 60 percent. For the last four games, his quarterback rating his dipped under 90. There is a reason why ESPN analyst Rex Ryan called this the worst Patriots team he’s ever seen. But you know what? Nobody wants to play them in January.
3). Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson completed 18 of 25 for 234 yards and three touchdowns. If you don’t think that’s significant, you probably didn’t realize the Patriots had given up only four TD passes all season. Watson also caught that cool improvised TD pass, which makes him one of only three QBs in the Super Bowl era to make a TD catch and throw for three TDs in the same game. Good for Bill O’Brien. He finally can say he’s beaten Bill Belichick.
4). Kansas City Chiefs
Something strange is happening in Kansas City. Over the last month, the Chiefs defense has begun to play as prominent role in their success as their offense. Pat Mahomes threw his 70th career TD pass on Sunday against the Raiders. He’s now the fastest to 70 in NFL history. But he threw for only 175 yards in a 40-9 win. Meanwhile, safety Juan Thornhill had a pick six, just one of the many great plays made by Kansas City on the other side of the ball.
5). Buffalo Bills
The Bills are 9-3 for the first time since 1996. They have wrapped up just the fourth winning season for the franchise in the last 20 years. And now they are in control of the wild card race – and just one game behind the Patriots in the AFC East. While their defense continues to play well, QB Josh Allen continues to assert himself. And Buffalo’s offense has turned to some trickery to spice things up, like Sunday’s Allen to Andre Roberts to John Brown 25-yard TD pass in their huge win in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
6). Tennessee Titans
It’s time everyone starts paying attention to halfback Derrick Henry. He had 149 yards rushing in Sunday’s 31-17 win over the Colts. He gained 188 yards in Week 10 and another 159 yards in Week 12. He’s now just the fifth back in NFL history to run for at least 145 yards and score a TD in three straight games. Some of the others are named Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson.
7). Pittsburgh Steelers
Duck Hodges and his teammate, receiver James Washington, went duck hunting on the team’s off day last week. Why? Hodges was the World Junior champion in duck calling in 2009. The chemistry they built in the marsh translated to the playing field on Sunday against the Browns. They paired up for big plays, like a 30-yard TD pass that tied the game at the half. The win means Hodges is only the second undrafted QB to win his first two starts since 1970.
8). Indianapolis Colts
The home loss to the Titans has done serious damage to their playoff hopes. It was Indy’s second straight loss, its fourth in the last five. They had gone 29 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher until Henry came along. But that’s not the only reason the Colts lost. Their special teams are terrible and that goes double for kicker Adam Vinatieri, in the final throes of the precipitous decline in his Hall of Fame career.
9). Cleveland Browns
We’ve about had it with the Browns. What a bunch of dopes. Last week it was coach Freddie Kitchens wearing a tee-shirt that said “Pittsburgh Started It” – a reference to the big brawl the teams had in November. That just pissed off the Steelers for no good reason. Now Baker Mayfield may be hurt. We know Odell Beckham’s feelings are hurt. He’s gone six straight games without gaining at least 100 yards receiving. The Browns are toast.
10). Oakland Raiders
After losing 34-3 to the Jets two weeks ago, the Raiders regressed further with a 40-9 loss to the Chiefs that just about cooks their goose in the AFC West. Here’s an interesting tidbit: After opening the Jets game with a field goal, the Raiders were outscored 65-0 until they kicked another field goal to start the fourth quarter against the Kansas City. And when they finally scored a touchdown, they had the extra point blocked and returned for a safety. Not a good look.
11). Denver Broncos
Drew Lock, the Broncos second-round pick in 2019, became the seventh quarterback to start a game for this team since Week 9 of the 2017 season. He will start a few more, although he threw for only 134 yards against the Chargers with two TD passes to Courtland Sutton. No Denver rookie had won his first start since John Elway and Gary Kubiak both did it in 1983. Credit kicker Brandon McManus who booted the game-winner from 53 at the gun.
12). Los Angeles Chargers
As for the end of the Broncos game: Caught off guard when Denver decided to go for the big play from their 28 with nine seconds remaining, defensive back Casey Hayward was called for a controversial pass interference that gave the Broncos the ball on the Chargers 35 with three seconds to play. You know what came next. The Chargers are killing their fans. That’s eight losses by one score this season.
13). New York Jets
So much for the revitalization of the organization. Its three-game winning streak ended with an ignominious loss in Cincinnati. The Jets are now the first team in league history to have lost to two teams at least 0-7 coming into their game with them. You’ll recall the Jets were also responsible for Miami’s first win. How can you gain only 271 yards against the Bungles defense? Well, it could be worse. The 1980 Jets lost to 0-14 New Orleans.
14). Jacksonville Jaguars
You can understand why the Jaguars were so desperate to sign Nick Foles during the offseason. The guy is a Super Bowl MVP and Jacksonville had Blake Bortles as their starter. And to get Foles, they had to pay market value – four years, $88 million ($50.125 guaranteed). Now what? Foles was benched for Gardner Minshew against the Panthers after turning the ball over on the team’s first three drives then going three-and-out three times after that? The Jaguars have lost four straight by at least 17 points. What a conundrum.
15). Miami Dolphins
We’ll continue to credit the Dolphins for their chin-up approach to the end of the season. And we’ll congratulate them for calling the most ingenious play of the year resulting in a TD pass from their holder to their kicker Jason Sanders. A kicker hadn’t caught a scoring pass in the league since 1977. Despite 365 yards passing from Ryan Fitzpatrick in their upset win over the Eagles, we still wonder what their future will be at QB. But that’s their problem, not ours.
16). Cincinnati Bengals
Isn’t it wonderful? The Bengals will not go 0-16 this season. Coach Zac Taylor put Andy Dalton back in after a three-game benching and the most prolific passer in franchise history delivered, completing 22 of 37 for 243 yards. Combine that with three sacks from Carlos Dunlap and you get a Gatorade shower for Taylor after the final gun. Now let’s see what’s next.