Rich 10 NFL rankings: Week 18
Sean Clark lists the top 10 NFL teams heading into the season's final week.
January football has returned and so far, it has more than delivered.
Craziness ensued during the penultimate week of the NFL season. Antonio Brown ran off the field without a shirt during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 28-24 win against the New York Jets, the Cincinnati Bengals won a shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 and the Las Vegas Raiders won a thriller 23-20 at Indianapolis.
In the last edition of the Rich 10 NFL rankings for the 2021 season, I list the top 10 teams heading into the season finale.
10. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
Previous Ranking: 7
On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts’ three-game winning streak was halted by a desperate Las Vegas Raiders team looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. Hunter Renfrow caught a huge fourth-quarter touchdown and later set up Daniel Carlson’s game-winning field goal. The Colts had to face the Raiders with limited preparation as Carson Wentz was on the COVID-19 list until the day before the game. Jonathan Taylor still provided his usual production with 108 rushing yards and a touchdown. While they failed to clinch a playoff spot with a win, they still control their destiny as they head to Jacksonville to face the 2-14 Jaguars. While it may seem the scenario for the Colts to reach the playoffs seem simple, the Colts have not won at Jacksonville since 2014.
9. Buffalo Bills (10-6)
Previous Ranking: 10
Amid the snow in western New York, Josh Allen struggled through the air in the Buffalo Bills’ Week 17 game against the Atlanta Falcons. He completed only 11 of his 26 passes with three interceptions. However, the Bills took to the ground to win and clinch a playoff berth. Allen rushed for two touchdowns while Devin Singletary had one of his best games of the 2021 season with 110 yards and two touchdowns. In the 29-15 win, the Bills defense pitched a second-half shutout to keep Buffalo in control of the AFC East. All the Bills have to do in order to win the division for the second-straight year and host a wild card game is to defeat the New York Jets at home on Sunday. Buffalo trounced the Jets 45-17 in their first meeting.
8. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
Previous Ranking: 9
Who would have thought after Derrick Henry’s foot injury that the Tennessee Titans would be one win over the Houston Texans away from gaining home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs? This is the reality of the NFL as after defeating the Miami Dolphins 34-3 and the Chiefs’ loss to the Bengals, they currently hold the AFC’s top seed. On Sunday, the defense throttled Miami, holding them to three points while D’Onta Foreman continued to make the most of Henry’s absence, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown. A potential bye week is a huge opportunity for Tennessee as not only would they have home-field advantage, but also give Henry another week to rest and return healthy for the postseason. Standing in their way is the Texans, who won at Nashville 22-13 back on Nov. 21 after four Ryan Tannehill interceptions.
7. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
Previous Ranking: 2
One week after an emphatic 56-14 win over the Washington Football Team, the struggles of the Dallas Cowboys offense reared their ugly head on Sunday with another sluggish outing. Against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, they scored only seven points in the first three quarters before notching 15 points in a fourth-quarter comeback that ultimately fell short. In the 25-22 loss, the Cowboys offense suffered from the same issues that plagued them before the Washington win: a lack of confidence from Dak Prescott, an unwillingness to push the ball down the field and an inept running game. While they still have the division title wrapped up, any hopes for the NFC’s top seed has gone up in smoke. Dallas hopes to gather momentum heading into the playoffs as they travel to Philadelphia and battle the Eagles on Saturday.
6. Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
Previous Ranking: 8
What a way to stop the bleeding. In possibly the biggest win of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure with the Cardinals, Arizona went to Dallas and picked up a huge win 25-22 to have a chance at the NFC West title during Week 18. Kyler Murray maintained his undefeated record at AT&T Stadium (9-0) with 263 passing yards and two touchdowns. Even without DeAndre Hopkins, the receiving corps picked up the slack, including Antoine Wesley catching both of Murray’s touchdown passes. Arizona can win the NFC West over the Los Angeles Rams with a win on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks and a loss by the Rams against the San Francisco 49ers.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
Previous Ranking: 5
Throughout his entire career, Tom Brady has consistently broken the hearts of New York Jets fans as the quarterback of the New England Patriots. In his first matchup against the Jets as the quarterback of the Buccaneers, Brady had to rally from a 14-point deficit in the second half as one of his top targets, Antonio Brown, ran off the field without a shirt in the middle of the third quarter. Brady led the Bucs on a nine-play 93-yard drive in the final three minutes, capping it off with a go-ahead 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds remaining. The win allows Tampa Bay to fight with the Rams for the second seed, an opportunity to host a divisional playoff game after a potential wild card win. To end the season, the Bucs host the Carolina Panthers, who they defeated 32-6 back on Dec. 26.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
Previous Ranking: 6
When surveying the teams who either have clinched or are in contention for their respective division titles, one surprise sticks out: the Cincinnati Bengals. For the first time since 2015, the Bengals will not only play postseason football, but also can celebrate a AFC North title. On Sunday, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase put on a vintage 2019 LSU performance against the Kansas City Chiefs for many to witness. Burrow followed his 525-yard outing against the Baltimore Ravens with 446 yards and four touchdown passes, outdueling Patrick Mahomes. Chase put on a historic performance in the 34-31 win with 11 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns, breaking Chad Johnson’s record of receiving yards (260) in a single game. Cincinnati has gathered red-hot momentum for not only the postseason, but also the franchise going forward. Burrow and several other starters are most likely going to rest in their season finale against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
3. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)
Previous Ranking: 4
When the Los Angeles Rams picked up Odell Bechkam Jr. on Nov. 11, it was considered to be a luxury and unnecessary signing. Now, the signing has paid its dividends after two season-defining receptions on Sunday. Against the Baltimore Ravens, the Rams were trailing for nearly the entire game. Down 19-14, the Rams needed a touchdown to take the lead on the Ravens and stay in control of the NFC West title race. On fourth-and-five from the Ravens 12-yard line, Beckham caught a five-yard reception in traffic to move the chains. The next play, Bechkam stretched the ball over the pylon to give the Rams the game-winning touchdown. Midseason trade acquisition Von Miller sealed the game with a sack on the Ravens ensuing drive, giving the Rams a hard-fought 20-19. While criticisms of Matthew Stafford linger with two more interceptions on Sunday, the Rams continue to extend their winning streak to five games. However, they will be tested on Sunday as they host the 49ers, who have won their last five meetings against the Rams.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Previous Ranking: 1
While the Chiefs eight-game winning streak ended at the hands of Cincinnati on Sunday, there is little reason to think less of the Chiefs and their Super Bowl aspirations. Burrow and Chase needed an historic performance to come back after the Chiefs led for most of the game. Yes, their secondary showed some flaws but as of late, few teams have been able to contain the Bengals when clicking. Offensively, the Chiefs showed balance with 259 passing yards to go with 115 rushing yards, including 88 from Darrel Williams. The bad news for the Chiefs is they have now lost control of the AFC’s top seed with the Titans holding the tiebreaker for their 27-3 win over the Chiefs back in Week 7. To stay alive for the top seed, they must defeat the Denver Broncos on Saturday at the Mile High City.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Previous Ranking: 3
After the Cowboys fell on Sunday against the Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers seized the NFC’s top seed for good on Sunday Night Football against the short-handed Minnesota Vikings. In one of their most complete performances of the season, the Packers gained 481 yards of offense while holding the Vikings to 206 yards. Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers continued to show the NFL they are in prime form with Adams catching 11 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. With the NFC’s top seed locked up, the Packers get to enjoy home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the second year in a row. The Packers will face the Detroit Lions in Week 18 with a decision to make on whether they should rest their starters to get healthy for the divisional playoff round.