With Ravens in limbo, Bengals surge toward the top – 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 14:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-1, No. 2 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3, No. 1)

3. Buffalo Bills (9-3, No. 3)

4. Dallas Cowboys (9-3, No. 4)

A.J. Brown reminded the Titans why it was such a mistake to trade him. The star wide receiver caught eight passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 35-10 win over his former team, including a spectacular 29-yard grab over cornerback Tre Avery in the end zone. He finished with more receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns than all Titans wide receivers combined in the game, while quarterback Jalen Hurts strengthened his Most Valuable Player case by throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns and running for a score. The Philadelphia defense was just as impressive, holding star running back Derrick Henry to 30 yards on 11 carries and limiting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to 141 yards and a touchdown while sacking him six times. There’s still a long way to go before the Eagles clinch the top seed in the NFC, but it looks like their conference to lose.

Nipping at Philadelphia’s heels are the Cowboys, who made a big statement with a 54-19 win over the Colts on Sunday night. Behind a dominant defense, Dallas became the third team in NFL history to score 33 or more points in the fourth quarter of a game, joining the 2007 Lions and 1925 Cardinals. The avalanche was spurred by two interceptions and two forced fumbles, one of which former Colts safety Malik Hooker returned 38 yards for a touchdown. On offense, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb flashed his game-breaking ability while running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 168 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Free-agent wideout Odell Beckham Jr. could be on his way to Dallas soon, bolstering the Cowboys’ chances of finally making a Super Bowl run.

The flawed contenders

5. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4, No. 9)

6. Minnesota Vikings (10-2, No. 6)

7. San Francisco 49ers (8-4, No. 7)

8. Miami Dolphins (8-4, No. 5)

9. Baltimore Ravens (8-4, No. 8)

If Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have a weakness, it might be Joe Burrow and the Bengals. With Cincinnati’s 27-24 come-from-behind win over Kansas City on Sunday, Burrow became the first quarterback to defeat Mahomes in three straight head-to-head matchups and joined Tom Brady (3-3) as the only quarterbacks to defeat Mahomes at least three times in his NFL career. With star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase back in the lineup, the Bengals’ offense looked unstoppable, as Burrow completed 25 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. They didn’t miss a beat without star running back Joe Mixon, either, as Samaje Perine rushed for 106 yards and added six catches for 49 yards. With four straight wins punctuated by a victory over one of the best teams in the league, the Bengals have officially put the rest of the AFC on notice that a return trip to the Super Bowl is possible.

The team Cincinnati will be fighting to get there was dealt a huge blow Sunday, as quarterback Lamar Jackson exited the Ravens’ 10-9 win over the Broncos with a knee injury. Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Jackson is “week to week,” though it’s unlikely he plays Sunday against the Steelers. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for the Ravens, who desperately need to fix an offense that has struggled to score of late. With their star quarterback ailing and offensive coordinator Greg Roman rumored as a candidate to become Stanford’s next coach, Baltimore is at a crossroads. Last season, Jackson missed the final four games with an ankle injury as the Ravens lost six straight to fall out of the playoff race. Their schedule is much more favorable this season, though four of their last five games are against AFC North rivals, including a huge regular-season finale at Cincinnati that could determine the division champion. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley and a strong defense might be enough to carry the Ravens into the postseason, but the team’s ceiling is limited without a healthy and effective Jackson. Right now, they’re simply not on the same level as the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals.

Another team facing similar questions is the 49ers, who rolled to a 33-17 win over the Dolphins on Sunday but lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the season to a broken foot. Rookie backup Brock Purdy played well in relief, finishing 25-for-37 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but it’s asking a lot of the last pick in the 2022 draft to lead a deep playoff run. It’s the ultimate test of the offensive infrastructure coach Kyle Shanahan has built. Is his play-calling and a deep group of talented players — not to mention perhaps the league’s best defenses — enough to knock off some of the best teams in the league? It was Sunday, but it remains to be seen how long that will last.

The wild cards

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6, No. 16)

11. Seattle Seahawks (7-5, No. 14)

12. Tennessee Titans (7-5, No. 10)

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

14. New York Giants (7-4-1, No. 15)

15. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6, No. 11)

16. New York Jets (7-5, No. 12)

The NFC playoff picture is crowded, and that was before the Giants and Commanders battled to a 20-20 tie. It effectively keeps both teams in the race until they meet again in Week 15, though New York has to take on Philadelphia next week while Washington rests comfortably at home during its bye. It’s an uphill battle from here for the Giants and first-year coach Brian Daboll, who face the Eagles twice as well as the NFC North-leading Vikings to close the season. Given how much attrition the roster has seen this season — the Giants needed to rely on a practice squad call-up at slot corner Sunday — it would be a surprise for New York to crack the postseason field. But even if the Giants crumble down the stretch, they can take pride in being competitive with a young roster in the midst of a rebuild. While running back Saquon Barkley has shown his worth with a bounce-back season, quarterback Daniel Jones has five more weeks to prove he’s the long-term answer.

If the regular season ended today, the Chargers would be on the outside of the playoff picture for the second straight season under coach Brandon Staley. Given how well quarterback Justin Herbert has played and the substantial investments the team has made in upgrading its roster, that’s a huge disappointment. Los Angeles had a golden opportunity to gain ground Sunday and fell flat, losing 27-20 to a Raiders team that was 2-6 just a few weeks ago. Herbert threw for 335 yards and a touchdown and it didn’t matter, as Davante Adams torched the Chargers’ secondary with eight catches for 177 yards and two scores. At a certain point, the results speak for themselves, and Staley simply hasn’t delivered on the promise he showed in his first season. Los Angeles is a late touchdown and 2-point conversion against Arizona away from being mired in a four-game losing streak, and things don’t get any easier with Miami and Tennessee up next. Injuries have taken their toll, but the Chargers can ill-afford to squander another standout season from Herbert while he’s still on a cheap rookie contract.

Not done yet

17. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7, No. 19)

18. Detroit Lions (5-7, No. 20)

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

20. Cleveland Browns (5-7, No. 22)

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7, No. 23)

22. Atlanta Falcons (5-8, No. 21)

23. Green Bay Packers (5-8, No. 24)

Don’t bury the Lions yet. After a 1-6 start, Detroit has won four of its past five games to climb back into the NFC playoff race, with the latest win a 40-14 drubbing of the Jaguars. The offense was unstoppable Sunday, as the Lions scored on each of their first eight drives before kneeling the clock out in the final seconds. According to NFL Research, that is the most consecutive scoring drives to start a game by Detroit since at least 1993. In his last five games, quarterback Jared Goff has thrown seven touchdown passes to just one interception while completing 66.7% of his attempts. The Lions also have the NFL’s best goal-line running back in Jamaal Williams, who scored his league-leading 14th rushing touchdown of the season Sunday. If first-round draft pick Jameson Williams can find the form that made him a standout wide receiver at Alabama, the Lions have a puncher’s chance of not only sneaking into the postseason field but maybe pulling off an upset.

In the AFC, the race for the seventh seed should be a tight one. The Jets have pole position thanks to a strong midseason run, but it’s unclear if quarterback Mike White or the recently benched Zach Wilson will be enough to carry the team the rest of the way. There’s a dangerous group emerging behind them, with the Raiders, Patriots, Steelers and Browns all within striking distance entering the home stretch. Pittsburgh has taken advantage of a soft schedule to win three of its past four and gets to host a banged-up Ravens team that will likely be without its star quarterback. Cleveland has won three of its past five and should only improve if quarterback Deshaun Watson can return to his old form after an 11-game suspension. New England has lost two straight but has stacked enough wins to stay in the mix. It should make for a fascinating December.

The basement

24. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8, No. 18)

25. Arizona Cardinals (4-8, No. 25)

26. Carolina Panthers (4-8, No. 27)

27. New Orleans Saints (4-9, No. 28)

28. Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1, No. 26)

29. Denver Broncos (3-9, No. 30)

30. Los Angeles Rams (3-9, No. 29)

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

32. Houston Texans (1-10-1, No. 32)

The Colts took a chance on another veteran quarterback this season, but it’s time to officially declare the Matt Ryan experiment a failure. The 2016 NFL MVP isn’t totally to blame for the team’s many failures, but it was clear in Sunday night’s blowout loss to the Cowboys that he can no longer play at a high level. With a potential top-10 pick looming — they currently sit No. 9 — the Colts should finally look to the draft to build around a young quarterback. Outside of Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, there are some intriguing prospects this year, including a pair of dual-threat players in Florida’s Anthony Richardson Jr. and Kentucky’s Will Levis. The roster is far from barren, which should help ease the transition for a young quarterback. Indianapolis first has to figure out its coaching situation, but among the teams at the bottom of this list, it’s fair to say the Colts might have the most potential.



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