NFL Power Rankings Week 18: Browns and Packers move up, plus a lesson from every team


Like the rest of you, the Power Rankings are trying to make some sense of this NFL year as we head into the final week of the regular season. Nine playoff spots are spoken for — by the Ravens, Dolphins, Chiefs and Browns in the AFC and 49ers, Cowboys, Lions, Eagles and Rams in the NFC. That leaves five more to be decided by the results of Week 18.

Before all that, though, we’re going to try to take a lesson from each team’s season, even those seasons that are basically over.

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)

(Last week: 1)

Sunday: Beat Miami Dolphins 56-19

The lesson: Hire great assistants

John Harbaugh hit back-to-back home runs by hiring defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald in 2022 and offensive coordinator Todd Monken in 2023. As a result, his Ravens clinched the AFC’s top seed by thumping the Dolphins on Sunday. Well, that, and having Lamar Jackson, who was 18-for-21 for 321 yards and five touchdowns against Miami. Jackson’s plus-28.2 passing EPA was the best single-game performance since Joe Burrow against the Ravens in 2021 (plus-34.1), according to NextGenStats, and probably clinched the MVP award.

Up next: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)

(Last week: 2)

Sunday: Beat Washington Commanders 27-10

The lesson: Star power matters

The 49ers have made a quarterback nobody else in the league wanted look like a superstar by surrounding him with stars. On Sunday, San Francisco became the first team in league history to have a running back (Christian McCaffrey), two wide receivers (Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk) and a tight end (George Kittle) all surpass 1,000 yards in a single season. The 49ers also clinched the top seed in the NFC, meaning teams that love playing at home on turf (looking at you Dallas and Detroit) probably will have to win in the elements to get to the Super Bowl.

Up next: vs. Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

3. Cleveland Browns (11-5)

(Last week: 8)

Thursday: Beat New York Jets 37-20

The lesson: They didn’t even need Deshaun Watson

The Browns would be one of the feel-good stories in the league this year if not for the fact that they still have a scar from their pursuit of Watson, and it looks like it was a misguided self-inflicted wound. Cleveland has won seven of its last nine games, the last five of which have come with 38-year-old Joe Flacco at quarterback. Flacco has topped 300 yards passing in each of the last four games. He had 309 and three touchdowns against the Jets on Thursday. Why did they do all they did to get Watson again?

Up next: at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

GO DEEPER

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4. Detroit Lions (11-5)

(Last week: 5)

Saturday: Lost to Dallas Cowboys 20-19

The lesson: NFL Draft maxims are flawed

Remember all the grief Detroit got for taking running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 and inside linebacker Jack Campbell at No. 18? Since Week 14, Gibbs is ninth in the league in rushing (72.25 yards per game). Campbell is second on the team in tackles for the season (77). Tight end Sam LaPorta, the No. 34 pick, hasn’t been bad either, catching 81 passes for 860 yards and nine touchdowns. (Sorry about the ref thing guys. We hope leaving you ahead of the Cowboys in these rankings makes it all better.)

Up next: vs. Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

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Reporting eligible: What to know about the under-the-radar task and why it cost the Lions

5. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

(Last week: 6)

Saturday: Beat Detroit Lions 20-19

The lesson: Throw the ball to your best players

Dallas has lost only once this season when CeeDee Lamb gets more than 10 targets in a game. Lamb averaged seven targets and 5.7 catches per game through Week 6, and the Cowboys were 4-2. Since then, he has averaged 12.6 targets and 8.8 catches per game, and Dallas is 7-3 in that span. Saturday night, he had a career-high 227 yards on 13 catches against the Lions.

Up next: at Washington Commanders, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

6. Miami Dolphins (11-5)

(Last week: 3)

Sunday: Lost to Baltimore Ravens 56-19

The lesson: Speed kills

Six of the top 10 speeds achieved by ball carriers in the NFL this year have been by Dolphins — Tyreek Hill three times, Devone Achane twice and Raheem Mostert once. They have enough speed that they’ve been able to survive injuries to all three of those players at some point this season and still get to 11 wins. It didn’t help much Sunday, but Achane did have 107 yards on just 14 carries against one of the NFL’s best defenses.

Up next: vs. Buffalo Bills, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET

(Last week: 4)

Sunday: Beat New England Patriots 27-21

The lesson: Josh Allen is the MVP runner-up

All the hand-wringing after Allen’s four-turnover start to the season is long gone as the second-most unique player in the league behind Lamar Jackson has the Bills sitting at No. 6 in the AFC playoff race after their fourth straight win Sunday, and Buffalo can win the AFC East by beating Miami on Sunday. Despite a pedestrian statistical performance against the Patriots, Allen is seventh in the NFL in passing yards (3,947) and second in scramble EPA per game (3.47), according to TruMedia.

Up next: at Miami Dolphins, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET

8. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

(Last week: 9)

Sunday: Beat Cincinnati Bengals 25-17

The lesson: There are no sure things

The Chiefs may win another Super Bowl, but it’s going to be an uphill climb. All of Patrick Mahomes’ magic could only generate one touchdown against the Bengals on Sunday. Kansas City got the win thanks to six Harrison Butker field goals, and Rashee Rice, who had five catches for 127 yards, remains the only reliable wide receiver. That’s a problem that is made worse by the fact that Travis Kelce had only three catches for 16 yards against the Bengals and hasn’t topped 45 yards in any of the last three games.

Up next: at Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

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9. Los Angeles Rams (9-7)

(Last week: 10)

Sunday: Beat New York Giants 26-25

The lesson: Sean McVay shouldn’t do TV

After flirting with retirement and a high-paying television job, McVay has proved he’s still really good at his current high-paying job. Los Angeles has won six of its last seven after holding off the Giants on Sunday, and the Rams will be a tough out in the playoffs as long as Matthew Stafford is playing like this. Stafford had another 317 yards Sunday and is eighth in the league in passing yards per game (264.3).

Up next: at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

(Last week: 13)

Sunday: Beat Tennessee Titans 26-3

The lesson: The right quarterback fixes everything

This was supposed to be a throwaway year in Houston. Instead, rookie C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 pick, is fourth in the NFL with 274.57 passing yards per game, and Houston is in the eighth spot in the AFC, still very much alive in the playoff race. After missing two games because of a concussion, Stroud returned Sunday to complete 24 of 32 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. Defensive end Will Anderson set the Texans’ rookie sack record with his seventh.

Up next: at Indianapolis Colts, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

11. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

(Last week: 7)

Sunday: Lost to Arizona Cardinals 35-31

The lesson: Matt Patricia is never the answer

The Eagles have won 11 games this season and still can’t seem to help but panic. Their most recent abrupt move was to elevate Patricia to defensive play caller. On Sunday, the Eagles’ defensive success rate (40.8 percent) was their worst in a game since 2006, according to TruMedia. The Cardinals finished with 449 yards and marched 70 yards on their fourth-quarter, game-winning drive. The Eagles have lost four of their last five. (More lessons learned about former Patriots assistants below.)

Up next: at New York Giants, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

(Last week: 14)

Sunday: Beat Las Vegas Raiders 23-20

The lesson: Shane Steichen has been as good as any new hire

Steichen didn’t get the headlines among this offseason’s hires, but he’s playing Sunday for a spot in the playoffs despite losing starting quarterback Anthony Richardson for the season and not having Jonathan Taylor for seven games. Indianapolis is 10th in the league in scoring (23.56) with the former Eagles offensive coordinator in charge.

Up next: vs. Houston Texans, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET


Quarterback Jordan Love has the Packers on the verge of the playoffs. (Nick Wosika / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Last week: 20)

Sunday: Beat Minnesota Vikings 33-10

The lesson: Draft quarterbacks early

Jordan Love is third in the NFL in touchdown passes (30) and ninth in EPA per attempt (.19) in his first season as the full-time starter. That’s after spending two seasons on the bench before replacing Aaron Rodgers, who spent three seasons on the bench before replacing Brett Favre. The Packers look like they’re going to end up having three good to very good, long-term quarterbacks, and there’s no secret to why. They draft the quarterbacks they like when that player is available and are patient enough to let him sit until the right time.

Up next: vs. Chicago Bears, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

(Last week: 15)

Sunday: Beat Seattle Seahawks 30-23

The lesson: Mike Tomlin is historically steady

After Sunday’s win, Tomlin is guaranteed his 17th straight season with a .500 or better record. Only Tom Landry (21) and Bill Belichick (19) have more. Steelers fans will point out that Tomlin has missed the playoffs in the last two seasons and in four of the last six. Even after Sunday’s win, in which George Pickens had 131 yards, Pittsburgh is only ninth in the AFC.

Up next: at Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

(Last week: 11)

Sunday: Lost to New Orleans Saints 23-13

The lesson: The right timing and situation matter

Baker Mayfield didn’t play his best game Sunday, finishing 22-for-33 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he’s been a season-saver for Tampa Bay. Playing on a one-year, $4 million contract, Mayfield is tied for fourth in the NFL in touchdown passes (28) and eighth in EPA per attempt (.19). If he can lead the Buccaneers past Bryce Young and the Panthers, he will take Tampa Bay to the playoffs.

Up next: at Carolina Panthers, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 12)

Sunday: Lost to Pittsburgh Steelers 30-23

The lesson: Pete Carroll can really coach

Seattle still has a 23.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to The Athletic’s projections, despite Sunday’s loss. If the Seahawks can get there, it will be Carroll’s 10th trip in his last 13 seasons as head coach. There’s a lot of angst in Seattle right now because the Seahawks gave up 468 yards to Mason Rudolph and the Steelers on Sunday, but Seattle could do a lot worse than being in the mix every year under Carroll.

Up next: at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET


Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen padded his sacks total Sunday against Bryce Young and the Panthers. (Morgan Tencza / USA Today)

(Last week: 16)

Sunday: Beat Carolina Panthers 26-0

The lesson: There are two star Josh Allens

The Jaguars linebacker sacked Bryce Young three times on Sunday and now has the team’s single-season record with 16 1/2, which ranks third in the NFL. Allen is second in the league in quarterback hits (33) and eighth in hurries (53), according to TruMedia. He led a defensive effort Sunday that held the Panthers to 124 yards and also had six tackles, and probably should be getting more attention in the defensive player of the year conversation.

Up next: at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 19)

Sunday: Beat Los Angeles Chargers 16-9

The lesson: Sean Payton is the dictator

This was mostly known when Payton took the job in the offseason, but the head coach made it official this week when he benched Russell Wilson in favor of Jarrett Stidham. Payton insisted it was a move made for football reasons only, and the Broncos did snap a two-game losing streak Sunday, but the move really was Payton officially winning the power play. Denver general manager George Paton, who gave Wilson his huge contract extension last year, may be next.

Up next: at Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

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Broncos’ silence after Russell Wilson’s benching is deafening: Sando’s Pick Six

(Last week: 24)

Sunday: Beat Atlanta Falcons 37-17

The lesson: Justin Fields isn’t a quitter

The Bears might still fire Fields, but he’s going to make it as difficult a decision as he can. On Sunday, he made plays with his arms and legs and led Chicago to its fourth win in five games. Falcons defensive end Calais Campbell, a 16-year NFL veteran, said “give him his respect. I think he flashed a lot today. Obviously, it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, so he could have a bad game next week and nobody cares, but today he was a premier NFL quarterback.”

Up next: at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

20. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)

(Last week: 17)

Sunday: Lost to Kansas City Chiefs 25-17

The lesson: Magical runs eventually end

It took a lot longer than we all thought, but Cincinnati was eliminated from the playoff race Sunday. Everyone assumed that had happened in Week 11 when Joe Burrow was lost for the season with a wrist injury. Instead, backup Jake Browning went on a tear. On Sunday, though, Browning had his lowest-output game since replacing Burrow, completing 57.6 percent of his passes for 197 yards. That came on the heels of a three-interception game. Burrow will be back next season and so will the Bengals.

Up next: vs. Cleveland Browns, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 21)

Sunday: Beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-13

The lesson: The NFC South is a wreck

There’s just nothing else to be taken from this Saints’ season. They have gotten up-and-(mostly)-down play from free-agent quarterback Derek Carr. Alvin Kamara is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and still is New Orleans’ leading rusher. And yet, New Orleans will head to the playoffs if it beats Atlanta and Carolina beats Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Up next: vs. Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 18)

Sunday: Lost to Green Bay Packers 33-10

The lesson: Kirk Cousins is going to get paid

Viking coach Kevin O’Connell is 17-9 with Cousins as his starting quarterback. He is 3-5 without Cousins and is now very aware of what life is like in the NFL when you’re in quarterback limbo. Minnesota has cycled through Jaren Hall, Joshua Dobbs and Nick Mullens since Cousins tore his Achilles. That memory is going to loom large when Cousins, who will be a free agent, asks for his next deal.

Up next: at Detroit Lions, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 22)

Sunday: Lost to Indianapolis Colts 23-20

The lesson: Hiring Josh McDaniels is a bad idea

The Raiders hired McDaniels after his 11-17 run in Denver, and he went 9-16 in Las Vegas before being fired. The Raiders fell to 4-4 under interim coach Antonio Pierce with Sunday’s loss, but that’s still a better career winning percentage than McDaniels has. Davante Adams was targeted 21 times Sunday against the Colts, catching 13 passes for 126 yards. His 21 targets are the most by any player this season. Second most were Adams’ 20 targets in Week 3.

Up next: vs. Denver Broncos, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

24. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

(Last week: 23)

Sunday: Lost to Chicago Bears 37-17

The lesson: Quarterback still counts the most

The Falcons paid their offensive line, improved their defense and spent three straight top-10 picks on offensive skill players and still are 26th in the league in scoring (19 points per game). The reason is their quarterbacks — Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke — have turned the ball over 21 times. Coach Arthur Smith, hired for his offensive acumen, is on the hot seat after Sunday’s stinker.

Up next: at New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

25. New York Jets (6-10)

(Last week: 25)

Thursday: Lost to Cleveland Browns 37-20

The lesson: Don’t be stubborn

The Jets tried so hard to prove they could make Zach Wilson work that they ruined their season. Aaron Rodgers’ injury was bad luck. Keeping Wilson as the backstop for a Rodgers injury was just hard-headed. Wilson was 34th in the league in EPA per attempt (.04) and 37th in passer rating (77.2) in 12 games before finally being benched. Remember, Joe Flacco was on the Jets’ roster last year and was available with just a phone call until six weeks ago.

Up next: at New England Patriots, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET


Quarterback Tyrod Taylor gave the Giants a chance against the Rams on Sunday. (Brad Penner / USA Today)

26. New York Giants (5-11)

(Last week: 26)

Sunday: Lost to Los Angeles Rams 26-25

The lesson: Don’t pay big money for average QB play

Tyrod Taylor and Tommy DeVito both have a better EPA per attempt than Daniel Jones’ minus-.12 this season, according to TruMedia. Jones’ number ranks 44th among quarterbacks who had more than 100 pass attempts this season. Not many people thought it was a good idea for the Giants to give Jones a four-year, $160 million contract in the offseason. New York proved all those people right by playing just as well using players it picked up for next to nothing.

Up next: vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

27. Arizona Cardinals (4-12)

(Last week: 31)

Sunday: Beat Philadelphia Eagles 35-31

The lesson: We’ll see

The Cardinals are getting a pat on the back for beating a playoff team, but they also moved themselves from the No. 2 pick in the draft to the No. 4 pick for now. If that holds, it could be a costly turn of events even if the Cardinals want to hold on to Kyler Murray. A top-two pick in this draft means being able to take Caleb Williams or Drake Maye or shop the pick to someone who wants to do that. That might be worth more in the long run than feeling good on the last Monday of the regular season.

Up next: vs. Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

28. Tennessee Titans (5-11)

(Last week: 27)

Sunday: Lost to Houston Texans 26-3

The lesson: Competitive rebuilds are hard

After three straight trips to the playoffs, Tennessee is 12-21 in the last two seasons. The Titans went back to Ryan Tannehill on Sunday, but it didn’t bring back the good ol’ days. Tennessee had 187 yards of offense, was 1-for-12 on third down and didn’t manage a touchdown against the division-rival Texans, who swept Tennessee this season.

Up next: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

29. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)

(Last week: 28)

Sunday: Lost to Denver Broncos 16-9

The lesson: Coaching hires are a crap shoot

This is not a new lesson. The Chargers are just the most recent team to highlight it. They hired Brandon Staley in 2021 because he was the hot defensive name. They fired him after 14 games this year because he was 5-9 and his defense stunk. The coaching change hasn’t changed the team’s luck. The Chargers have lost four straight and seven of their last eight heading into the season finale against the Chiefs.

Up next: vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

30. New England Patriots (4-12)

(Last week: 29)

Sunday: Lost to Buffalo Bills 27-21

The lesson: Bill Belichick shouldn’t get another GM job

Taking Mac Jones with the No. 15 pick of the 2021 draft is what got the Patriots into this mess, but Belichick’s drafting miscues don’t stop there. New England used a fourth-round pick on kicker Chad Ryland and he’s 15-for-24 after missing again Sunday. Belichick’s future hasn’t been discussed much of late. Is it possible he stays as head coach in New England but gives up personnel responsibilities?

Up next: vs. New York Jets, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

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Why the Patriots’ Bill Belichick-Robert Kraft partnership is on the verge of a breakup

(Last week: 30)

Sunday: Lost to San Francisco 49ers 27-10

The lesson: The Sam Howell talk was a smokescreen

It seems pretty clear that Ron Rivera was hoping that convincing everyone Howell was the long-term answer at quarterback would buy him some more time in Washington. Howell isn’t and it won’t. After Jacoby Brissett played well in Weeks 15 and 16, Howell was forced back into the lineup Sunday because of Brissett’s hamstring injury. The result was a 17-for-28 day with 169 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown. The Commanders will have a new coach and a new quarterback next season.

Up next: vs. Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

32. Carolina Panthers (2-14)

(Last week: 32)

Sunday: Lost to Jacksonville Jaguars 26-0

The lesson: The coach and QB are not the problem

Owner David Tepper appears to have been busted tossing a drink on a fan late in Sunday’s loss. The NFL is expected to respond with some sort of rebuke for the owner, but the biggest penalty for Tepper is that the incident confirms what everyone had expected — he’s the problem in Carolina. Hiring a coach just got harder and more expensive for the NFL’s heir apparent to Daniel Snyder.

Up next: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Top photo of Joe Flacco: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)


“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, is on sale now. Order it here.





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