Jesse Pantuosco

Power Rankings

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Week 15 Power Rankings

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


In a year with much uncertainty in the NFL, the Patriots have been a guiding light, a faint flicker of normalcy in an ever-changing football landscape.

 

While perennial contenders like the Falcons and Chiefs have shown cracks in their armor, it’s been business as usual in Foxboro. Tom Brady is still the greatest, Bill Belichick is still a hoodie-wearing genius and Rob Gronkowski remains the league’s golden goose at tight end. There was a mini-slump in September but the Pats quickly overcame it, bludgeoning teams with their powerhouse offense while patching up most of their holes on defense. If the NFL were a Bingo card, the Patriots would be a free square, the high-water mark that all NFL teams are measured against.

 

So you can understand why the football world devolved into a state of panic when the Patriots face-planted in humiliating fashion Monday night in Miami. The final tally had New England losing by seven but it felt like more. Teams play down to their opponents all the time, but not the Patriots. This was a layup and New England doesn’t miss layups. They dunk on teams like the Dolphins. Jay Cutler, a man who laughs in the face of cardio, has no business running circles around the greatest quarterback who ever lived.

 

It’s one loss and the Patriots still control their own destiny. If they take care of business against the Steelers on Sunday, they’ll be back on top of the AFC and we’ll forget this debacle ever happened. No team makes adjustments like New England. But if they don’t, we’ll be left to wonder if this Patriots team has what it takes.

 

We know New England can put up points with the best of them, but will it be enough to overcome a defense that ranks dead-last in passing yards allowed? And what if teams start replicating Miami’s approach by bringing constant heat on Tom Brady? Will the Pats adjust or keep hitting their head against the wall like they did for four quarters on Monday night?

 

Monday had all the familiar symptoms of a trap game. After beating the Dolphins senseless in Week 12, you could understand why the Patriots may have been looking ahead to Sunday’s battle of AFC heavyweights in Pittsburgh. But it was still unusual to see the Patriots, a team that traditionally saves its best football for late in the year, lose in such mystifying fashion in a game that should have been a freebie. The Patriots are still Vegas favorites, but now when teams face them in the playoffs, they can say to themselves, If Smokin’ Jay can clown Belichick and the boys, why can’t we?

 

Luckily the Pats didn’t fall too far in my rankings as many of the league’s heavy-hitters including the Rams, Vikings, Saints and Seahawks also lost in Week 14. That paved the way for my new No. 1, the 11-2 Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Record: 11-2

 

Last Week: 4

 

A wide receiver has never won MVP but will Antonio Brown be the one to finally buck that trend? I don’t see why not. He’s averaged a preposterous 156.8 yards with six touchdowns over his last four games and is now on pace for the third-most receiving yards in NFL history. Sunday was Ben Roethlisberger’s third career 500-yard passing game. Know how many other quarterbacks have reached that milestone three times? Zero, my friends.

 

2. New England Patriots

 

Record: 10-3

 

Last Week: 1

 

I wanted to drop the Patriots lower, but deep down, don’t we still expect them to beat the Steelers on Sunday? Then again, Ben Roethlisberger just threw for more yards against Baltimore (506) than Tom Brady has in his last two games combined (491). Seriously Tom, would it kill you to eat a strawberry? Miami’s 27 points on Monday night were the most allowed by the Patriots since Week 4 against Carolina.

 

Editor’s Note: FanDuel is hosting their Super Duel for a Difference contest this Sunday, where you can win tickets to the Big Game in Minneapolis! Support a good cause and compete for an unforgettable grand prize.

 

3. Philadelphia Eagles

 

Record: 11-2

 

Last Week: 2

 

I’m not saying it will happen again but Nick Foles did produce the third-highest quarterback rating in NFL history during his last stint as the Eagles’ starter, so maybe he has a few more tricks up his sleeve. In the two games Zach Ertz has missed this year, Trey Burton has caught seven-of-10 targets for 111 yards and three touchdowns including a 71-yard, two-touchdown gem against the Rams in Week 14.

 

4. Minnesota Vikings

 

Record: 10-3

 

Last Week: 3

 

Minnesota’s eight-game winning streak vanished in a flash Sunday against Carolina. Case Keenum’s three turnovers may have played a role in the streak ending, though he still delivered the goods in fantasy by rushing for a career-high 40 yards while also reaching 280 yards passing for the fifth time in six games. The touchdowns keep coming for Kyle Rudolph, who has visited the end zone four times over his last three games.   

 

5. Los Angeles Rams

 

Record: 9-4

 

Last Week: 5

 

Christmas came early for Cooper Kupp owners in Week 14 as the rookie shredded Philadelphia for a career-high 118 yards and a touchdown. That TD was his first since Week 7. Sammy Watkins continues to be a touchdown-or-bust fantasy producer, but with five touchdowns in his last six games, the busts are becoming much less frequent. The Rams should be well-stocked for the stretch run with lead receiver Roberts Woods (shoulder) on track to return against the Seahawks in Week 15.

 

6. New Orleans Saints

 

Record: 9-4

 

Last Week: 6

 

You think you know heartbreak? Try owning Alvin Kamara in fantasy. I can’t imagine how many fantasy seasons were ruined when Kamara went down with a concussion early on in Week 14. Michael Thomas scored for the second week in a row while matching a season-high with 117 receiving yards in Thursday’s loss to Atlanta. He’s closing in on his second straight 1,000-yard season and needs just 15 catches to eclipse Jimmy Graham’s team record of 99.

 

7. Carolina Panthers

 

Record: 9-4

 

Last Week: 9

 

Jonathan Stewart sank the Vikings with a season-high three touchdowns in Sunday’s victory. He’s been a scoring machine with five touchdowns over his last three games. Devin Funchess overcame a difficult matchup with Xavier Rhodes to score his team-leading seventh touchdown on Sunday, giving him four TDs in his last four games. Who wore it better, Cam Newton or Mustafa from Austin Powers?

 

8. Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Record: 9-4

 

Last Week: 8

 

Blake Bortles knocked Seattle down a few pegs in Week 14 (four spots in my rankings, if you’re keeping track), leading the Jags with 268 passing yards and two touchdowns. One of his touchdowns went to rookie Dede Westbrook, who has averaged just under 80 yards per game over his last two contests. The Jags drafted a winner in Leonard Fournette. The rookie has either scored a touchdown or rushed for 100 yards in nine of 11 games this year.

 

9. Atlanta Falcons

 

Record: 8-5

 

Last Week: 11

 

Sometimes, you have to win ugly. It doesn’t get much uglier than throwing three interceptions in a span of four passes, but somehow Matt Ryan survived it, leading a late comeback in Thursday’s win over New Orleans. Devonta Freeman did the heavy lifting for Atlanta, rumbling to 91 rushing yards while scoring his first touchdown since Week 4. With Tevin Coleman in the concussion protocol, we could be seeing a lot of Freeman Monday night in Tampa Bay.

 

10. Los Angeles Chargers

 

Record: 7-6

 

Last Week: 10

 

Make it four straight for the surging Chargers. Philip Rivers has been money over his last three games, sporting a ridiculous 122.7 quarterback rating with six touchdowns and no interceptions during that span. Tyrell Williams has mostly taken a backseat to Keenan Allen this year but he’s come around by scoring in two of his last three games. The 132 yards he tallied Sunday were his most since Week 7 of 2016.

 

11. Seattle Seahawks

 

Record: 8-5

 

Last Week: 7

 

Repeat after me, “Do not fade, Russell Wilson.” Say it long and loud because Week 14 proved once and for all that Wilson, who is more magician than quarterback at this point, cannot be benched under any circumstances. By the way, has anyone seen Jimmy Graham lately? He wasn’t even targeted in Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville.

 

12. Baltimore Ravens

 

Record: 7-6

 

Last Week: 13

 

Alex Collins went nuclear against the Steelers in Week 14, blowing up for a career-high 166 yards from scrimmage on 20 touches. Sunday extended his touchdown streak to four games. The Ravens hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passing game all season before Ben Roethlisberger’s eruption on Sunday Night Football. How did Chris Moore celebrate his latest end-zone visit? By doing the dead fish from FIFA, of course.

 

13. Dallas Cowboys

 

Record: 7-6

 

Last Week: 14

 

Dak Prescott was an assassin on Sunday, ripping the Giants for a career-high 332 passing yards as the Cowboys stayed alive in the NFC Wild Card race. Dez Bryant scored for the second time in as many weeks but the real hero was Rod Smith, who exploded for a career-best 160 yards from scrimmage including an 81-yard touchdown to put the game on ice. Sean Lee had a busy Sunday, delivering 18 tackles and an interception over 66 defensive snaps.

 

14. Kansas City Chiefs

 

Record: 7-6

 

Last Week: 18

 

Kareem Hunt put the Chiefs on his back in Week 14, rolling to 138 yards from scrimmage in a win over Oakland. Hunt’s touchdown Sunday was his first since Week 3. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are both nearing 1,000 yards receiving for the year. The last time the Chiefs featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers was with Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez in 2008. Kelce has been a model of consistency this year, notching 70-plus yards in five of his last six outings.

 

15. Green Bay Packers

 

Record: 7-6

 

Last Week: 16

 

The prodigal son has returned as Aaron Rodgers will be activated for Sunday’s game in Carolina. It’s not the easiest matchup to come back to and CT scans show that Rodgers’ broken collarbone is only about 80 percent healed. But when every game left is a must-win, bringing back a two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer is a risk well worth taking. Nobody is happier to see Rodgers than Jordy Nelson, who averaged an embarrassing 21.9 yards with no touchdowns in seven games with Brett Hundley as the starter.

 

16. Detroit Lions

 

Record: 7-6

 

Last Week: 17

 

The middle of a playoff push is a risky time to switch running backs, but it worked for the Lions as Theo Riddick led the way with 93 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against the Bucs in Week 14. It’s probably curtains for Ameer Abdullah now that Riddick has emerged as Detroit’s top back. Matthew Stafford was a question mark for Sunday after injuring his hand a week earlier but impressed with 381 yards on 36-of-44 passing. He’s completed a remarkable 82.2 percent of his passes over the past two games.

 


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Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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