Ravens slip further behind top contenders as playoffs near – 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 16:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-1, No. 1 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3, No. 2)

3. Buffalo Bills (11-3, No. 3)

The Eagles haven’t clinched the top seed in the NFC yet, but they’re within reach thanks to a 25-20 win over the Bears. After throwing two interceptions in the first half Sunday, quarterback Jalen Hurts quickly returned to his Most Valuable Player-worthy form, throwing for 315 yards and rushing for three touchdowns. He’s building one of the most impressive seasons ever for a dual-threat quarterback, pulling one rushing touchdown shy of Cam Newton’s NFL record for the most by a quarterback in a single season (14). His connection with A.J. Brown once again looked unstoppable, as the star wide receiver caught nine passes for 181 yards. The Eagles’ defense also feasted on a mediocre Bears offensive line with six sacks, including two from prized free agent addition Haason Reddick to give him 12 on the season. It wasn’t the dominant performance we’ve come to expect from Philadelphia, but it was good enough to keep the Eagles in contention for the all-important first-round bye. That could be hugely important now that Hurts is reportedly dealing with a strain in his throwing shoulder that could keep him out of Saturday’s game against the Cowboys.

In a wild slate of games that featured 12 of 15 games decided by one score, tied for the most in a single week in NFL history, the Chiefs should be happy to escape with a 30-24 overtime win over the lowly Texans. Given the way quarterback Patrick Mahomes played, it’s hard to believe it was that close. The 2018 NFL MVP finished 36-for-41 for 336 yards and two touchdowns in a surgical performance that included 19 straight completions to end the game. Two fumbles and a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by Harrison Butker in the final seconds kept the Texans’ hopes alive, but luck favored the Chiefs in overtime as a fumble by Houston quarterback Davis Mills led to a game-winning 26-yard touchdown run by Jerick McKinnon. The Chiefs’ penchant for turnovers (minus-seven differential for the season) might prove costly in the playoffs, but they can take solace in knowing that Mahomes can bail them out of any jam.

The deep postseason contenders

4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4, No. 5)

5. San Francisco 49ers (10-4, No. 6)

Just one day after the Vikings became the first NFL team to overcome a 33-point deficit in a win over the Colts, the Bengals delivered another improbable comeback. By scoring 34 straight points, Cincinnati erased a 17-0 deficit in a 34-23 win against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to take a one-game lead over the Ravens for first place in the AFC North. How unlikely was it? Brady entered Week 15 with an 89-0 record in home games he led by 17 or more points, including the postseason. Joe Burrow threw all four of his touchdown passes in the second half, including one each to Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, to deliver a sixth straight win for the Bengals. Injuries to defensive ends Trey Hendrickson (wrist) and Sam Hubbard (calf) and cornerbacks Mike Hilton (knee) and Cam Taylor-Britt (shoulder) are a concern, but Cincinnati seems to be finding the magic that propelled it to the Super Bowl last season.

If the Bengals are the biggest threat to the Chiefs and Bills in the AFC, the 49ers are the Eagles’ most dangerous foe. Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy battled through an oblique injury to throw for 217 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-13 win over the Seahawks on Thursday night that wrapped up the NFC West title for San Francisco. It was the third straight impressive performance for Purdy, who joined Packers star Aaron Rodgers as the only quarterbacks since at least 1950 to have a passer rating of 115 or higher in each of their first two career starts. If he can maintain this level of play, the Niners have a deep enough roster to be a serious Super Bowl contender in a wide-open NFC.

The flawed postseason contenders

6. Minnesota Vikings (11-3, No. 8)

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

8. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, No. 7)

9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6, No. 10)

10. Miami Dolphins (8-6, No. 9)

It was a tale of two comebacks for the Vikings and Cowboys. While Minnesota completed the biggest rally in NFL history in a 39-36 overtime win over the Colts, Dallas blew a 17-point lead in a 40-34 overtime loss against the Jaguars. At this point, the Vikings’ ability to win close games can’t be ignored. Minnesota is 10-0 in one-score games this season, with the latest victory the most improbable yet. After falling behind 33-0 thanks to a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a pick-six, the Vikings scored 36 points in the second half, including four touchdown passes from quarterback Kirk Cousins. It was the perfect encapsulation of a team that, while deeply flawed, has talented playmakers who can swing the game in an instant.

Right now, the Cowboys don’t seem to have those go-to players. Dak Prescott threw an interception in overtime that was returned 52 yards by Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins for the game-winning touchdown, continuing a rough stretch for the Cowboys’ star quarterback. Prescott has nine interceptions in his past six games and has been picked off in four straight, tying the longest streak of his career. Sunday’s collapse doesn’t fall completely on his shoulders, however, as the Dallas defense allowed 27 points in the second half and surrendered 503 total yards. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence picked the secondary apart, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns while the Jaguars averaged 7.1 yards per carry. The Cowboys still clinched a playoff spot thanks to the Giants’ win over the Commanders on Sunday night, but they need more consistency from Prescott and the defense to be a serious postseason contender.

In the AFC, it’s hard to separate the pretenders from the contenders entering the home stretch. The Ravens are especially difficult to evaluate given the absence of star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who missed his second straight game in a 13-3 loss to the Browns. But given how much the offense struggled Saturday thanks to questionable play-calling from coordinator Greg Roman and a lackluster group of receivers, it seems even a singular talent like Jackson won’t be enough to carry this team deep into the postseason. While a strong running game and talented defense have been enough to keep the Ravens afloat this season, they’ll need much more from Jackson to keep pace with the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals should they meet in January. Considering Jackson’s struggles before his knee injury, that might be asking too much.

The wild cards

11. Detroit Lions (7-7, No. 14)

12. New York Giants (8-5-1, No. 15)

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-8, No. 19)

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

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

The Lions’ improbable playoff push continued with a 20-17 win over the Jets on Sunday, their sixth victory in their past seven games. It happened in dramatic fashion, too, with a 51-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jared Goff to tight end Brock Wright on fourth-and-1 giving Detroit the lead with 1:49 to go. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the second-longest go-ahead touchdown scored in the final two minutes of regulation in the past 20 seasons. FiveThirtyEight gives the Lions a 41% chance to make the playoffs, but it increases to 73% if they can beat the Panthers and Bears.

The game with the biggest playoff implications predictably went down to the wire Sunday night, as the Giants held off the Commanders, 20-12, thanks to some help from the officials. An illegal formation penalty against wide receiver Terry McLaurin nullified a 1-yard touchdown run by Brian Robinson Jr., and defensive pass interference wasn’t called on Taylor Heinicke’s fourth-and-goal throw into the end zone to a blanketed Curtis Samuel with less than a minute left. It was a disappointing performance for Washington, which was coming off a bye and playing at home against a division rival. Instead, a breakout performance from edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux stole the show, as he became the first Giants rookie with a fumble recovery touchdown and a sack in a game since sacks became an official stat in 1982. New York has gotten more with less than any other team in the league under first-year coach Brian Daboll, and it might be rewarded with a playoff berth.

Not done yet

16. Washington Commanders (7-6-1, No. 13)

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

18. Las Vegas Raiders (6-8, No. 21)

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8, No. 18)

20. Green Bay Packers (6-8, No. 23)

21. Cleveland Browns (6-8, No. 24)

22. New England Patriots (7-7, No. 17)

23. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8, No. 25)

24. New Orleans Saints (5-9, No. 27)

25. Carolina Panthers (5-9, No. 20)

In a weekend filled with wild moments, the Raiders’ walk-off win takes the cake. In what could be described as the worst play in league history, defensive end Chandler Jones intercepted a backward lateral from wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and bowled over quarterback Mac Jones to score a touchdown as time expired, giving Las Vegas a stunning 30-24 win. Lost in all the excitement was a dispiriting performance from the Patriots, who fell behind 17-3 after allowing a blocked punt that turned into a Raiders touchdown just before halftime. Mac Jones finished 13-of-31 for 112 yards, and one point in the second quarter was averaging minus-1.8 air yards per completion. With a tough final stretch against the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills, it’s hard to envision a postseason berth for New England this season or even next year if Jones continues to struggle this badly.

The basement

26. Atlanta Falcons (5-9, No. 22)

27. Los Angeles Rams (4-10, No. 26)

28. Denver Broncos (4-10, No. 30)

29. Chicago Bears (3-11, No. 31)

30. Indianapolis Colts (4-9-1, No. 28)

31. Arizona Cardinals (4-10, No. 29)

32. Houston Texans (1-12-1, No. 32)

It’s all come crashing down on the Cardinals. After quarterback Kyler Murray was lost for the season with a torn ACL last week, backup Colt McCoy suffered a concussion Sunday against the Broncos, forcing third-stringer and former Ravens draft pick Trace McSorley into the game. It resulted in an ugly 24-15 loss that likely signaled the end for coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim. At least the Cardinals are on track to secure a top-five draft pick, which they’ll need to rebuild a roster that has holes just about everywhere. Since starting 10-2 last season, Arizona has won just five of its last 16 games.



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