NFL power rankings entering Week 16 of the 2021 season (previous rank in parentheses):
1. Packers (1): The first team to 11 wins and first to lock up a playoff berth, Green Bay secured its third consecutive NFC North title – all under Matt LaFleur, the third coach since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to win at least 11 games in his first three seasons as a head coach. He’s a sublime 39-11, including playoffs, through 50 games. If you’re QB Aaron Rodgers, why would you ever want to leave?
2. Chiefs (4): Kansas City is the fifth team in league history to win at least 10 games in seven consecutive seasons. The Chiefs also control their fate as they seek the No. 1 seed for the third time since 2018 … though the latest rash of COVID issues, which snared TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill this week, doesn’t help.
3. Buccaneers (2): The loss of WR Chris Godwin to a torn ACL is hardly a season killer. With so many other Tampa Bay playmakers hobbled, the intervening adjustment period might hinder the reigning champs’ shot at NFC’s top playoff seed – though playing Carolina twice and the Jets once, the league’s easiest remaining schedule, might also pave the way to home-field advantage.
4. Cowboys (7): Who cares if QB Dak Prescott isn’t firing on all cylinders? When you’re the first defense in 14 years with a double-digit sack artist (LB Micah Parsons, 12) and ball thief (CB Trevon Diggs, 10 INTs), the offense enjoys some margin for error.
5. Rams (5): WR Cooper Kupp, who leads the NFL with 122 catches for 1,625 yards and 14 receiving TDs through 14 games, is in position to break some major records … with a legitimate shot to be the league’s first 2,000-yard receiver.
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6. Colts (9): It’s not all about RB Jonathan Taylor, though give the MVP candidate his flowers. But Indianapolis leads the league in takeaways (31) and turnover differential (+14) and is the only team to take the ball away in every game.
7. Patriots (3): It must be the Holidays when Bill Belichick is apologizing to the media for curt answers to postgame questions. But maybe QB Mac Jones and Co. owe BB a mea culpa after Saturday’s setback, when Jones looked every bit a rookie.
8. Cardinals (6): They’re 1-2 since the return of QB Kyler Murray, who’s got three TDs, three INTs and an 82.4 passer rating in that stretch. Kliff Kingsbury’s teams tend to be a horror show after Halloween, and Arizona has a scary matchup with Indianapolis on Christmas.
9. Titans (8): AFC South leaders remain under radar, though might have surfaced had they wrested No. 1 seed from Chiefs over the weekend. Still, don’t lose sight of a team poised to get WR A.J. Brown back soon and maybe RB Derrick Henry later.
10. Bills (11): Win in New England on Sunday, and Buffalo reclaims control of AFC East race. Bills also working on a Super Bowl era (since 1966) record, each of their past 15 victories coming by at least double-digit margins.
11. 49ers (12): Over the past five games “WR” Deebo Samuel has 12 catches for 206 yards and a TD … and 33 carries for 247 yards and six TDs. His seven rushing scores this year are three more than any other wideout has had in a season in the Super Bowl era. And just for good measure, Samuel’s 17.8 yards per catch also top the league charts. All-Pro?
12. Chargers (10): Impressive commitment to the run lately, Bolts averaging better than 130 yards over the past five weeks. And impressive commitment to analytics by coach Brandon Staley.
13. Bengals (13): Complete season sweep of Baltimore on Sunday, and Cincinnati stands a great chance to win first AFC North crown since 2015. But Ravens have won three of four at Paul Brown Stadium.
14. Ravens (14): QB2 Tyler Huntley has been quite impressive in spot duty, his efficiency and accuracy slightly better than Lamar Jackson’s. Huntley might be an intriguing option for a quarterback-needy team that’s not in the market for a veteran like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson.
15. Vikings (18): It’s not all about QB Kirk Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson. Minnesota leads league with 44 sacks and is first team in 47 years to record multiple sacks in each of its first 14 games.
16. Eagles (15): Now up to eighth place in NFC, they’re making a belated playoff run … by running. Philadelphia is first team in 36 years to rush for at least 175 yards in seven straight games, and RB Miles Sanders is the first Philly player with back-to-back 100-yard efforts since LeSean McCoy in 2014.
17. Saints (22): A defense that hung a shutout on Tom Brady for the first time in 15 years and is limiting opponents to a league-worst 43.6% touchdown rate in red-zone trips deserves more appreciation.
18. Raiders (20): Given what he’s overcome, pretty cool to see DE Maxx Crosby’s gratitude and fortitude after deservedly making his first Pro Bowl. His 25 QB hits are also pretty impressive.
19. Steelers (21): The good news? They’re a half-game out of the playoff picture. The bad news? They head to Kansas City having surrendered an average of 39.3 points over their past three road games.
20. Dolphins (23): They’ve leveled back to .500 after their 1-7 start, mostly fattening up on patsies. Currently the AFC’s 11th-place team, Miami won’t face another team with a losing record.
21. Browns (16): Instead of being in the AFC North lead, they’re in 12th place following Monday’s loss to Las Vegas. Now they must successfully navigate the AFC’s toughest remaining schedule (Green Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh) to reach the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1988-89 – though playing two division foes might actually present an opportunity.
22. Broncos (17): Vic Fangio has dialed in his defense, one that’s allowed the fewest first downs and rushing TDs in the league. But there just doesn’t appear to be sufficient offensive firepower for a team charged with sweeping through the AFC West over the final three weeks just to have a shot at postseason.
23. Washington (19): Cleveland and Washington were teams most affected by COVID in Week 15. Tuesday’s loss in Philadelphia might very well prove unsurvivable for WFT, which winds up in 10th place rather than in wild-card spot.
24. Seahawks (24): Reality settles in. Wilson’s first losing season in Seattle might also be his last. Meanwhile, at a time when Seahawks would “earn” a top-10 draft pick, it’s headed to the Jets courtesy of the Jamal Adams trade.
25. Falcons (25): Kyle Pitts update – he needs to average 51 receiving yards, about 10 shy of his weekly production so far, over the final three weeks to become the first rookie tight end in the Super Bowl era to reach 1,000 yards.
26. Giants (26): Welp, Daniel Jones, your season is over. Have this free medium soda and get healthy. Meanwhile, this organization has all the film it’s going to get before deciding whether to pick up the quarterback’s fifth-year option and commit to him financially for two more years.
27. Panthers (27): No Carolina player had notched 11 sacks since 2017 … until OLB Haason Reddick this year. With 23½ over the past two seasons, he should be a very attractive free agent in 2022.
28. Bears (28): Watching this team play can make your eyes bleed, and that air raid siren at Soldier Field has a similar effect on the ears.
29. Lions (30): Rookie WR Amon-Ra St. Brown has really come on the past three weeks, totaling 26 catches for 249 yards and two scores. Looks like the slot is one of the few areas Detroit need not worry about the next few years.
30. Jets (29): For the 11th consecutive season, they won’t be going to the playoffs. For the 54th consecutive season, they won’t have a 4,000-yard passer.
31. Texans (31): Long-departed Mark Ingram II is still Houston’s leading rusher in 2021 … with 294 yards.
32. Jaguars (32): Huge, huge game against the Jets on Sunday. A Jacksonville win threatens to drop them from picking first in the 2022 draft to fourth.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort