The Saints have a big opportunity Monday night to take advantage of three of their five closest Super Bowl 53 competition losing this week. They were No. 1 going into the week and can be absolute bullets going into Week 16.
Behind them, it’s becoming a wide-open race for best of the rest of the NFC, while the AFC might have a new favorite emerging. Here’s how the supremacy structure looks in our latest NFL power rankings.
NFL power rankings
1. New Orleans Saints 11-2 (last week: 1)
The Saints march into Monday night with total control of the top seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. They are clearly the most complete team in the NFL.
2. Los Angeles Chargers 11-3 (last week: 4)
The Chargers were Sporting News’ pick to play the Saints in Super Bowl 53, and it has all come full circle with their back-to-back comeback wins in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. No AFC team is playing better all-around football.
3. Kansas City Chiefs 11-3 (last week: 2)
The Chiefs’ defensive issues resurfaced, as they couldn’t stop the run or pass when they needed to against the Chargers. They are suddenly facing a tough task to keep the AFC West lead with a trip to the Seahawks next on Sunday night.
4. Chicago Bears 10-4 (last week: 5)
The Bears’ defense keeps getting the job done, and Matt Nagy has continued to show his coaching prowess by adjusting to a more running back-oriented attack in December. This team has a bit of a 2017 Eagles feel developing.
5. Los Angeles Rams 11-3 (last week: 3)
The Rams are in an offensive funk with Jared Goff slumping, as defenses have kept it simple and solved them in many ways. Sean McVay needs to find a new level in a hurry, especially with his own defense getting gashed on the ground once Aaron Donald is double-teamed.
6. Houston Texans 10-4 (last week: 7)
They almost stumbled against the Jets, but their quartet of superstars who have carried them all season —— Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney — made sure they took care of business. They are right there with the Chargers as a sneaky AFC title threat.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-5-1 (last week: 10)
The Steelers needed to throw that Patriots monkey off their back to get back on track, especially defensively. Their offense needs to find a way to rev up again quickly, however, with the trip to New Orleans on deck.
8. New England Patriots 9-5 (last week: 6)
One week it’s their defense. Another week it’s their offense. Tom Brady looks off, Rob Gronkowski still looks slower and their running game hasn’t come through the way they like late in the season. Identity crisis is the fundamental part of their Super Bowl hangover.
9. Baltimore Ravens 8-6 (last week: 11)
See Lamar Jackson run. See Lamar Jackson run some more. See their power running backs run a lot, too. John Harbaugh deserves more attention for coach of the year for successfully pulling off an identity shift from too much passing to plenty of good running.
10. Indianapolis Colts 8-6 (last week: 12)
Speaking of coach of the year, if it weren’t for Matt Nagy or Anthony Lynn, Frank Reich would get some strong consideration, too. The shutout of the Cowboys and the joy showed in the locker room after the victory were equally impressive.
11. Seattle Seahawks 8-6 (last week: 8)
The Seahawks’ defense is young and can still make mistakes on the back end, and that’s the takeaway from the overtime loss to the 49ers. This is still a team that will go as far as Chris Carson’s running and Russell Wilson’s passing will take them. At least that’s a formula that can work against the Chiefs.
12. Tennessee Titans 8-6 (last week: 14)
They’ve suddenly gone back to exotic smashmouth with Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur, as the Derrick Henry Heisman Throwback Tour has taken them strong into the final two weeks. That physical offense also has helped the defense respond, a la the Ravens’ situation.
13. Dallas Cowboys 8-6 (last week: 9)
What was that? The Cowboys need their defense and Dak Prescott to be consistent in order to be anything more than a one-and-done division winner in the playoffs.
14. Minnesota Vikings 7-6-1 (last week: 15)
The Vikings went to Dalvin Cook-ing with gas under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, and it opened things up nicely for a scoring output that’s more in line with their talent. Getting off to fast starts and big leads is nice for the defense, too.
15. Philadelphia Eagles 7-7 (last week: 19)
What was that? It was more of Super Nick Foles and a suddenly jacked-up running game, plus Alshon Jeffery throwing it back to the good vibes of last January. Maybe the defense can save them yet, too.
16. Miami Dolphins 7-7 (last week: 13)
The Dolphins are dangerous at home but weak on the road. That pretty much sums up a team stuck just above or below .500 under Adam Gase.
17. Cleveland Browns 6-7-1 (last week: 18)
Gregg Williams is certainly the interim coach of the year, with a big assist from new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. The playoff hopes remain slim to none this year, but watch out for a big 2019 in Cleveland.
18. Washington Redskins 7-7 (last week: 21)
Josh Johnson doesn’t really change who the Redskins were when they were winning with Alex Smith. They are still bent on making games ugly and stealing close ones in the end by running the ball as best they can and stopping the run.
19. Carolina Panthers 6-7 (last week: 16)
Other than the Seahawks losing, the Panthers had a bad weekend with the Vikings, Eagles and Redskins all winning. That makes “Monday Night Football” a playoff game for Carolina.
20. Denver Broncos 6-8 (last week: 16)
There was a glimmer of hope to save Vance Joseph’s job, but then came the bad, one-point home loss to the Browns. Now the decision could go either way for John Elway.
21. Cincinnati Bengals 6-8 (last week: 24)
The Bengals don’t get many style points for their home win against the Raiders, but with a limited passing game and no defense, it was a reminder of Joe Mixon’s special sophomore season.
22. Green Bay Packers 5-8-1 (last week: 17)
As expected, Aaron Rodgers’ efforts were not good enough to save the season with the Packers’ running game, defense and special teams letting them down in Chicago. They’ll need a great coaching hire to contend in a much tougher NFC North in 2019.
23. Atlanta Falcons 5-9 (last week: 26)
The Falcons saved some face in their final home game of the season, releasing all their passing, running, defensive and injury frustrations from the previous games at once. They’ll be in for a natural rebound next season.
24. Buffalo Bills 5-9 (last week: 28)
The lack of healthy running backs has allowed Josh Allen to let loose as a runner and also show what he has as a downfield passer. And Robert Foster looks a long-term go-to guy for the QB.
25. New York Giants 5-9 (last week: 22)
The Giants were rolling with Pat Shurmur before they slammed into the wall of elimination with zero points against the Titans. Now the question is whether they will take a look at Kyle Lauletta in the final two games.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-9 (last week: 25)
Jameis Winston is playing better, and the Bucs have been more committed to the run, but it’s impossible to overcome their issues with what is a shell of a defense.
27. Detroit Lions 5-9 (last week: 23)
The Lions’ defense is starting to respond under Matt Patricia, but the offense continues to look lost in transition. Not having Kerryon Johnson as the centerpiece has really hurt.
28. San Francisco 49ers 4-10 (last week: 30)
The 49ers are shell of what they expected to be offensively and are still looking good, and the defense continues to overachieve. Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh have done some of the best shorthanded coaching you’ll ever see.
29. New York Jets 4-10 (last week: 27)
Sam Darnold is back to giving the Jets a few more positive offensive vibes to close the season. But what might cost Todd Bowles his job is a pressure-less, ineffective pass defense.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-10 (last week: 29)
The Jaguars’ plan of being run-heavy again this season fell apart once their quarterback play wasn’t respectable, Leonard Fournette got hurt and their offensive line fell to injuries. At least their defense has proved it can still be an asset in the future.
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW:
Biggest takeaways from Week 15 in NFL
31. Oakland Raiders 3-11 (last week: 31)
The Raiders lost the home mojo they had against Chiefs and Steelers when they went long road tripping against the Bengals. They need the draft to stockpile defensive talent.
32. Arizona Cardinals 3-11 (last week: 32)
Josh Rosen keeps making mistakes, and his lack of steady development this season is a little worrisome. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals need to make fixing the run defense a priority.