Sunday was a reminder that the NFL is different than other sports leagues. The same four teams aren’t going to rule the sport year after year like it’s the College Football Playoff.
The worst team in the NFL can go on the road and beat a strong contender. The New York Jets weren’t just a bad team, they looked like one of the worst teams ever. They beat the Los Angeles Rams, and now everyone will forget the 2020 Jets, like we do with all 1-15 teams (sure, the Jets could win another, but it really doesn’t matter much unless Trevor Lawrence is reading this).
Even if the NFL is competitive every week, there are different levels of losses. And this was a bad one for the Rams.
It wasn’t a fluky home loss to an 0-13 team. The Jets and Rams were practically even in yards and first downs. The Rams turned it over just once, so it wasn’t a weird comedy of errors. The Jets went out to an early 13-0 lead and never trailed. The Rams simply got beat by a winless team.
"This loss will demoralize us only as much as we allow it to. It's going to be embarrassing, sick to your stomach about it," coach Sean McVay said afterward, via NFL.com. ”That was very humbling, it's going to be humbling, but we're going to move forward. That's exactly what we'll do. That's all I know how to do."
The good news is the loss didn’t matter too much for the Rams in terms of standings or playoff positioning. The path is still mostly the same, and it starts this weekend in Seattle.
The Rams are still NFC West champions with two more wins. With a victory over the Seahawks on Sunday, the teams will be tied at 10-5 but the Rams will have the tiebreaker. A loss to the Seahawks and Seattle wins the division. The Rams are still in very good shape for a wild-card berth even if that happens. They had a shot at the No. 1 seed before Sunday and that’s likely gone, but the chances of that were small anyway. The Rams could still blow the division by beating the Seahawks but losing to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, and that’s the biggest potential fallout from Sunday’s loss. Aside from the embarrassment.
Los Angeles is still a good team, regardless of what happened Sunday. The Rams have good balance on offense and defense, something not all NFC contenders can say. They are in the top 10 in yards on offense and first in the NFL in yards allowed on defense. There is still top-end talent on both sides of the ball and they have mostly played well this season, including a dominant win over the Seahawks in the first meeting. That’s part of what made Sunday’s loss so confusing.
The goal is clear. Beat the Seahawks on Sunday in what amounts to the NFC West championship game, finish with a home win over the Cardinals and host a playoff game. That doesn’t mean anyone will forget about the loss to the Jets, but it will take away the sting. No matter how bad Sunday was, the Rams are still capable of getting to where they want to go.
Here are the NFL power rankings after Week 15:
32. New York Jets (1-13, Last Week: 32)
You can’t tell players and coaches to tank, and they presumably feel great to avoid 0-16 infamy. It’s also true that in 15 (20? 30?) years you’ll be reminded about the afternoon when the Jets somehow beat the Rams and it cost them the great Trevor Lawrence.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13, LW: 31)
The Jaguars finish the season against the resurgent Bears and a very good Colts team. Anything can happen, as we saw Sunday, but it looks like the Jaguars will be picking first.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1, LW: 30)
I don’t believe Zac Taylor was in much trouble. If he was, Monday night should save him. That’s a great win near the end of a season.
29. Carolina Panthers (4-10, LW: 28)
The Panthers firing GM Marty Hurney now was more about what has happened around the rest of the league. The Falcons, Lions, Texans and Panthers are already looking for GMs, too. The Panthers knew a move was coming, so it’s better to do it now and not be behind four other teams in line.
28. Detroit Lions (5-9, LW: 26)
Matthew Stafford’s reason for playing through injury on Sunday in a lost season is commendable. “Because I’m the quarterback of the Detroit Lions, and it was Sunday, and I got a bunch of teammates out there that work their ass off,” Stafford said, via MLive.com. “They fight to be available, fight to get out there and play and try and help us win. If there’s any way I can play, I’m never going to not, you know? It’s just I feel like I owe it to those guys. I owe it to the game. I owe it to this organization — everybody. If I’m good enough to play, healthy enough to play, my ass is going to be out there.”
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-10, LW: 24)
Cue the jokes about the Falcons blowing another lead. It’s amazing, after all the blown leads that cost Dan Quinn his job, that Atlanta could lead 24-7 on Sunday and lose. This franchise needs a total reset.
26. Dallas Cowboys (5-9, LW: 29)
After Tony Pollard had a very good game Sunday, you’ll hear a lot about the Cowboys maybe trading or cutting Ezekiel Elliott next offseason. It probably won’t happen because the Cowboys don’t want to admit a huge mistake on his contract, but the deal is looking like a bad investment, especially with Dallas’ other needs.
25. Houston Texans (4-10, LW: 27)
Deshaun Watson trails only Patrick Mahomes in yards and Aaron Rodgers in passer rating. You’ll hear people argue that Player A should get MVP votes because his supporting cast isn’t as good as Player B. Given that, Watson should get MVP consideration because he has the worst supporting cast of all. He won’t, but he is having that type of individual season.
24. San Francisco 49ers (5-9, LW: 23)
Brandon Aiyuk might be overshadowed by some other rookie receivers, but the 49ers have to be thrilled with him. He had 73 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Between Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, the 49ers have some great pass catchers for the future.
23. Denver Broncos (5-9, LW: 21)
It was an ugly performance against the Bills, getting outgained 534-255. Vic Fangio doesn’t seem to be on the hot seat, but two more games like that could cause the Broncos to have a long discussion about their coaching situation.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1, LW: 25)
Jalen Hurts looked good in his first start, a win. He looked great in Sunday’s loss. Hurts made many plays and kept the Eagles in the game with clutch plays. It’ll be fun to see him the rest of this season, before the offseason questions begin.
21. New York Giants (5-9, LW: 20)
The Giants likely aren’t beating the Ravens with or without Daniel Jones. The most prudent move, assuming Jones isn’t 100 percent by Sunday, might be to sit him in Week 16 and see if they’re alive going into Week 17 and decide how to proceed.
20. Washington Football Team (6-8, LW: 18)
A second-half comeback by Dwayne Haskins Jr. was nice, but Washington will feel better when Alex Smith is back. If WFT beats a reeling Panthers team and the Giants lose to a surging Ravens team, Washington will clinch the NFC East and be the most improbable division champion of this season.
19. New England Patriots (6-8, LW: 17)
Cam Newton put a message on Instagram that said this season was unacceptable, and that some players, including himself, have not lived up to the Patriots’ standard. He said the answers are in the locker room, including him. With the way Newton has played this season, it’s very hard to imagine he will be back.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9, LW: 22)
Justin Herbert has already tied the rookie record for passing touchdowns with two games to go. He needs 594 yards to break the NFL rookie record for passing yards. Even the most optimistic Herbert projections didn’t have him challenging those marks.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7, LW: 16)
Marcus Mariota’s play off the bench last week was a fun story. He made one mistake, an ill-timed interception, but otherwise played very well in relief of Derek Carr. If Carr misses more time with a groin injury, it’ll become a very important audition for Mariota, who is still just 27 years old.
16. Minnesota Vikings (6-8, LW: 15)
The Vikings’ playoff hopes aren’t dead, but they’d need a miracle to get in after two straight losses. Minnesota will still want to finish strong because digging out of a 1-5 hole had it on the right trajectory, and it doesn’t want to waste that momentum going into the offseason.
15. Chicago Bears (7-7, LW: 19)
The Bears aren’t dead yet. If they tie the Cardinals for the last wild-card spot, they will win the tiebreaker. The Bears are a game behind Arizona. Chicago gets the Jaguars this weekend and the Packers in the finale. Green Bay might have a No. 1 seed clinched by then. The Cardinals face the 49ers and then finish at the Rams, who could be trying to clinch a division title. Things might get really interesting heading into Week 17.
14. Arizona Cardinals (8-6, LW: 14)
This season hasn’t been easy on Larry Fitzgerald. His play has trailed off at age 37 and he battled COVID-19. Scoring a touchdown in a win over the Eagles on Sunday was a nice highlight in what could be a legend’s last season. And if this is the end, at least it looks like Fitzgerald will get one more chance to play in the postseason.
13. Miami Dolphins (9-5, LW: 13)
The Dolphins have a game at Las Vegas on Saturday and then finish at Buffalo. The Raiders are falling apart. The Bills, who clinched the AFC East and have little shot at the No. 1 seed, could be sitting key players before their first playoff game. The path to the playoffs might not be as hard as it looks.
12. Los Angeles Rams (9-5, LW: 6)
The loss to the Jets can be forgotten if they win the division, but to do that Jared Goff is going to have to play up to his salary. He wasn’t terrible on Sunday, but the Rams didn’t give him a $134 million deal to be average. He has thrown for 209 yards or less in three of the Rams’ past four games. He has four touchdowns and four interceptions in the past four games. That’s not going to be good enough.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5, LW: 12)
The Buccaneers’ win over the Falcons was buried on NFL Sunday, noted only because the Bucs came back to win. That means Tampa Bay’s surprising struggle in the first half will be forgotten. Maybe we should focus on the comeback, but it still seems like Tampa Bay is still not close to what it was early this season.
10. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, LW: 10)
The Ravens are playing well lately. The problem is Miami is still ahead of them for the seventh seed. Football Outsiders gives Baltimore an 85.4 percent chance to make it to the playoffs. It would be stunning if the Ravens weren’t in the field. And they could be a tough out if they make it.
9. Cleveland Browns (10-4, LW: 11)
Baker Mayfield’s hot streak has been a great sign for Cleveland. It doesn’t seem like coincidence that Mayfield’s play has taken off since Odell Beckham Jr.’s season-ending injury. Perhaps once Mayfield stopped forcing the ball to Beckham, he saw more of the field.
8. Seattle Seahawks (10-4, LW: 9)
Russell Wilson is averaging just 210.8 passing yards over his past six games, including just 121 yards on 27 attempts Sunday. Seattle is still dangerous in the NFC, but it’s hard to believe the Seahawks go that deep in the playoffs unless the offense refocuses on Wilson and gets more production out of the passing game.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3, LW: 4)
There were some serious 2015 Peyton Manning vibes with Ben Roethlisberger on Monday night. He looked like he’s near the end for a lot of the game. Now we know why the Steelers were hardly ever throwing it deep.
6. Tennessee Titans (10-4, LW: 8)
Titans at Packers on Sunday is a huge game for Tennessee. If the Titans lose, they could let the AFC South title slip away to Indianapolis. A win means that Tennessee clinches the South with either a season-ending win over Houston or one Colts loss. It’s not easy to win at Green Bay and it would be a big step for Tennessee.
5. Indianapolis Colts (10-4, LW: 7)
Darius Leonard’s forced fumble of Keke Coutee inside the 10-yard line to seal the Colts’ win was one of the most clutch plays you’ll see out of a defender. Leonard is a phenomenal player, and it seems like only health will keep him from being a Hall of Fame candidate some day. He’s that good.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-4, LW: 5)
Maybe the fourth quarter was a sign that Drew Brees was knocking the rust off and will be fine. He played better late. But he also started Sunday’s game 7-of-24 passing, and given the injury he had and his age, there has to be concern that Brees won’t rebound the rest of the season.
3. Green Bay Packers (11-3, LW: 2)
The Packers didn’t play their best in the second half on Saturday night, but it doesn’t matter much. It was still a great week. Losses by the Saints and Rams on Sunday, coupled with Green Bay’s win, give the Packers an even easier path to the No. 1 seed. It would be a shock if they don’t get the bye.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3, LW: 3)
The Bills get a small bump up the power rankings, not because of the Packers but because Buffalo continued to get better as the season goes on. This is an impressive team without one bad loss all season.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-1, LW: 1)
The bye became more important for the Chiefs when Clyde Edwards-Helaire hurt his ankle and hip. If CEH misses the rest of the regular season, Kansas City will be hoping he is ready for its first playoff game. An extra week would give him a better chance.
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