Despite QB uncertainty, Ravens hanging on in crowded AFC playoff picture – The Denver Post


Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, injuries and roster depth, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders.

Here are the rankings heading into Week 15:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-1, No. 1 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3, No. 2)

3. Buffalo Bills (10-3, No. 3)

With a 48-22 rout of the Giants, the Eagles became the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season. But with the top seed in the NFC and a first-round bye in sight, they’re eyeing much more. Quarterback Jalen Hurts continued to build his Most Valuable Player case, completing 21 of 31 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 77 yards and a score. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for at least 10 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, and the Eagles have now scored at least 30 points in three straight games. They’re peaking at the perfect time.

In the AFC, it’s still Kansas City and Buffalo at the top. The Chiefs nearly let a 27-0 lead slip away in a 34-28 win over the Broncos, but Patrick Mahomes and company continued a run of dominance over Denver and the rest of the AFC West. Mahomes is now 10-0 against the Broncos, becoming the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have 10 or more wins without a loss against a single opponent, while the Chiefs inched closer to winning their seventh straight division crown. Even on a day when Mahomes threw three interceptions and the defense allowed three touchdowns in a 3 1/2-minute stretch, Kansas City came away with a victory that all but cements its chance to host at least one playoff game.

The Bills also found themselves in a slugfest with a division rival, securing a 20-12 win over the Jets. It was not an overwhelming performance from quarterback Josh Allen, who went 16-for-27 for 147 yards and a touchdown and ran for 47 yards and a score, but the Buffalo defense forced two fumbles and consistently got in the face of Jets quarterback Mike White, who was sacked twice and hit eight times before being taken the hospital for precautionary reasons for a rib injury. Even without star pass rusher Von Miller, who’s out for the season with a knee injury, the Bills showed they have the depth on the defensive line to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

The flawed contenders

4. Dallas Cowboys (10-3, No. 4)

5. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4, No. 5)

6. San Francisco 49ers (9-4, No. 7)

7. Baltimore Ravens (9-4, No. 9)

8. Minnesota Vikings (10-3, No. 6)

9. Miami Dolphins (8-5, No. 8)

10. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, No. 15)

Entering Sunday, quarterbacks facing Tom Brady in their first career start were 0-6, which isn’t all that surprising given Brady’s historic accomplishments. That only adds to the mystique of “Mr. Irrelevant” Brock Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 draft who led the 49ers to a dominant 35-7 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday. Purdy was remarkably efficient, completing 16 of 21 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for a score. It was the kind of performance that gives San Francisco hope that not only can it secure a postseason berth in the wake of Jimmy Garoppolo’s foot injury but perhaps return to the conference title game. Now all eyes are on the health of star wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who the team said is “expected to return at some point during the regular season” after he suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee and a sprained left ankle.

Thanks to wins by the Ravens, Bengals and Chargers, the AFC is even more bunched together. Let’s start with Baltimore, which had to survive yet another quarterback injury to outlast the Steelers, 16-14. With Lamar Jackson already sidelined by a knee injury and Tyler Huntley sent to concussion protocol after a big hit in the third quarter Sunday, undrafted rookie Anthony Brown stepped in to help pilot the Ravens to their seventh win in their past eight games. It was another strong performance from the defense that led the way, as the Ravens picked off Steelers backup Mitch Trubisky three times and held Pittsburgh to just 3.3 yards per carry. Perhaps even more encouraging was the play of running back J.K. Dobbins, who ran for 120 yards and a touchdown in his first game since having arthroscopic knee surgery in October. It was a win the Ravens had to have to keep pace with the Bengals in the AFC North, especially with all the uncertainty surrounding the health of their quarterbacks. If they have to turn to Brown in a short week against Cleveland, they should feel confident enough in their defense and running game to get the job done.

If the season ended today, the Ravens would open the wild-card round against the Dolphins, a team that embarrassed them in Week 2 with 28 fourth-quarter points. But on Sunday night, Miami’s offense didn’t look anything like that high-flying attack we saw in Baltimore. After playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league for much of the season, Tua Tagovailoa completed just 10 of 28 passes for 145 yards in a 23-17 loss to the Chargers, and he was fortunate enough that cornerback Michael Davis fell down on a 60-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the third quarter. If not for that play and Hill’s strange 57-yard fumble recovery for a score, it would have been even uglier. One game does not define Tagovailoa’s season, and Miami’s defense played well for stretches despite getting picked apart by Justin Herbert, who went 39-for-51 for 367 yards and a touchdown to pass Andrew Luck for the most passing yards in a quarterback’s first three seasons. But it revealed cracks in a Dolphins team that seemed poised to be a postseason contender.

The wild cards

11. Seattle Seahawks (7-6, No. 11)

12. Tennessee Titans (7-6, No. 12)

13. Washington Commanders (7-5-1, No. 13)

14. Detroit Lions (6-7, No. 18)

15. New York Giants (7-5-1, No. 14)

16. New York Jets (7-6, No. 16)

17. New England Patriots (7-6, No. 19)

No team that started 1-6 has ever made the playoffs, but the Lions could be the first after beating the Vikings, 34-23, for their fifth win in their past six games. Detroit was actually the betting favorite against a team with five more wins entering Sunday, which shows that this resurgence under second-year coach Dan Campbell is no fluke. Quarterback Jared Goff continued his hot stretch, completing 27 of 39 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns to help the Lions score 25 or more points in five straight games for the first time since 1954. With DJ Chark and rookie Jameson Williams — who caught a 41-yard touchdown for his first NFL reception — now healthy, Detroit has perhaps the deepest group of receivers in the league. Don’t forget about the defense, either, which held star running back Dalvin Cook to 1.5 yards per carry, his lowest in a game with at least 10 carries in his six-year career. Many looked toward 2023 as the year the Lions would finally be a postseason contender, but they might be ahead of schedule.

Not done yet

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, No. 10)

19. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8, No. 24)

20. Carolina Panthers (5-8, No. 26)

21. Las Vegas Raiders (5-8, No. 17)

22. Atlanta Falcons (5-8, No. 22)

23. Green Bay Packers (5-8, No. 23)

Don’t look now, but the Jaguars are just two games out of first place in the AFC South. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence delivered one of his best games as a pro in a 36-22 win over the Titans, completing 30 of 42 passes for a career-high 368 yards and three touchdowns. At 23 years and 66 days old, he became the youngest player in NFL history to record 350 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a single game, helping Jacksonville end an eight-game losing streak in Nashville. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft is living up to high expectations of late, posting the best completion rate (71.8%) in the league since November began while throwing for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns over that span. Jacksonville still has much to prove before it can be considered a true postseason contender, but Lawrence and first-year coach Doug Pederson deserve credit for turning this season around.

The basement

24. Cleveland Browns (5-8, No. 20)

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8, No. 21)

26. Los Angeles Rams (4-9, No. 30)

27. New Orleans Saints (4-9, No. 27)

28. Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1, No. 28)

29. Arizona Cardinals (4-9, No. 25)

30. Denver Broncos (3-10, No. 29)

31. Chicago Bears (3-10, No. 31)

32. Houston Texans (1-11-1, No. 32)

At least Baker Mayfield will make the Rams’ final month of the season interesting. In his first game with Los Angeles after being cut by the Panthers, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft led two late touchdown drives to deliver an improbable 17-16 win over the Raiders on Thursday night. Mayfield stepped in just two days after joining the Rams, the shortest amount of time spent with a new team before playing quarterback since at least 1995, according to NFL Research. It was a marriage of convenience after the Rams lost Matthew Stafford for the season, but it gives Mayfield a chance to rebuild his reputation entering free agency. If he can keep playing at a high level under coach Sean McVay, he could at the very least earn a nice career as a backup.



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