2023 NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Cowboys vault to No. 2; AFC entropy is real

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Dec. 12, 2023 9:41 a.m. ET

The prevailing debate of this NFL season is shaping up to be a matter of quantity vs. quality.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the 2023 AFC is a terrifying free-for-all. Heading into Week 15, we’ve got 11 of 16 AFC teams sitting above .500, including seven of this week’s Top 10. But for all the talk of the weakened NFC, the top of the conference sure looks scary. One half of the playoff bracket might be tougher to navigate than the other, but right now, the NFL’s two best teams reside in the NFC.

Here are the Week 15 power rankings.

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-3) no change

Since returning from their bye week, the 49ers have ripped off five straight wins against teams that are currently in the hunt for a playoff spot — squads with a 30-22 combined record. They’ve won those five games by an average of 19 points. We don’t hand out trophies in December, but I’m starting to wonder if there’s a team in the league that can beat a fully healthy, fully functioning San Francisco.

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-3) +3

No win in Week 14 was more impressive than the Cowboys grinding the 10-win Eagles into a fine powder. Dak Prescott didn’t even play his best game and Dallas still managed to win by 20, with offense, defense and special teams all clicking simultaneously. There’s no time for a letdown, though. Beating Josh Allen and the Bills is the next big test.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys cruise past Jalen Hurts, Eagles

3. Baltimore Ravens (10-3) -1

It was nice to see the Ravens’ offense flex its muscles. That game-tying drive at the end of regulation was Lamar Jackson’s finest moment of the season, and his receivers are starting to really shine. Not a dominant day for the defense, but that’s why it’s so important to have an MVP quarterback who can help you overcome that.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-3) -1

I was fully prepared to drop the Eagles further than No. 4 coming off a second straight blowout loss. But following Miami’s epic collapse against Tennessee, who exactly is more deserving of this spot? This isn’t a bad team; I think they’re just exhausted — physically and mentally. It’s on them to fight through it.

5. Buffalo Bills (7-6) +4

The Bills have just a 42% chance of making the playoffs, but I have zero issues ranking them this highly. They’re obviously flawed, particularly on defense. But Josh Allen is playing at a level that will give them a chance in every game, having scored nine touchdowns in his last three outings. If they sneak in, you won’t want to play them.

Are the Bills too reliant on Josh Allen’s heroics?

6. Miami Dolphins (9-4) -2

Just to provide some context on the Dolphins’ collapse: Tennessee just became the first team in league history to trail by 14 points with less than three minutes remaining and win the game without needing overtime. Miami was missing a lot of key pieces in this game, particularly on the offensive line. But that’s a weak excuse when the game is that close to being wrapped up.

7. Denver Broncos (7-6) +7

We’re looking at an unholy jumble of .500 teams, with six different 7-6 squads in the AFC alone. But of that group, few have been as hot as Denver. The Broncos have won six of seven, and most of those have come against quality teams like Kansas City, Buffalo and Cleveland. I’m not sure how to sort out the league’s middle class, but this feels like a good place to start.

8. Cleveland Browns (8-5) +7

Kevin Stefanski named Joe Flacco his starting quarterback the rest of the way, and I can’t say I blame him. We just saw the Browns offense look better than it has all season, and it couldn’t come at a better time. I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s way too fun to imagine Joe Flacco having a huge impact on the AFC playoffs as a 38-year-old member of the Cleveland Browns.

NFL Power Rankings: Russell Wilson helps Broncos rise, Lions fall; Joe Flacco, Browns in Top 10?

9. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) -2

He might have been mad about a flag in the moment, but Patrick Mahomes’ outburst felt like something that had been building for a long time. I get it. The Chiefs have failed to score 20 points in three of their four games since the bye. The defense is good, but the Chiefs’ offense can’t keep asking them to pick up the slack.

10. Houston Texans (7-6) -2

The ugliness of the loss to New York takes a back seat to C.J. Stroud’s status after entering concussion protocol. Hopefully, he’s in good health relatively soon. The schedule looks manageable the rest of the way — though that’s what a lot of people felt about this Jets game. 

11. Detroit Lions (9-4) -5

I don’t think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to say the Lions are in trouble. Their defense is allowing an average of 363 yards and 30 points per game over the last five weeks. That’s a large sample size of subpar play. Fortunately, the offense is explosive enough to overcome that sometimes. But is it realistic to hope you can consistently score 35 points against playoff competition? Not likely.

12. Los Angeles Rams (6-7) +1

I’ve made it pretty clear throughout the season that moral victories are a thing for me. The Rams might’ve fallen back below .500 in Baltimore, but they went toe-to-toe with one of the league’s elite. Matthew Stafford isn’t getting enough credit for how awesome he’s been this year, as another dazzling day against a top-tier defense showcased. 

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5) -2

After watching the Browns pressure the hell out of Trevor Lawrence and his injured ankle to great effect, my guess is the Jags can expect everyone else to employ similar tactics. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is one of the masters of creative blitzing, so Jacksonville would be wise to study up.

14. Seattle Seahawks (6-7) -4

Very quietly, the Seahawks gave the 49ers a game for about three quarters, even with Drew Lock starting. It doesn’t count for much, but maybe it can give them confidence with another tough opponent up next. The Seahawks’ playoff odds sit at about 14%. If they can’t find a way to beat Philadelphia, that number dips to about 5%.

Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers postgame analysis

15. Green Bay Packers (6-7) -3

It turns out the Packers weren’t quite ready for primetime. Too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities. It is strangely unsurprising, though. Beating the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs and falling to the Tommy DeVito-led Giants in consecutive weeks is exactly the type of inconsistency you might expect from a young, inexperienced team.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) +4

The Buccaneers remind me of that old episode of South Park when Randy Marsh, clearly bloody and beaten, says “I didn’t hear no bell.” They just kind of hang around and take enough body blows to tire you out and hope to rally at the end. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But as of right now, it’s worked enough times to have them atop the division.

17. Minnesota Vikings (7-6) no change

Please don’t make me talk about the league’s first 3-0 game since 2007. This isn’t an inspiring team right now, but I do think it’s very interesting that two of the Vikings’ final four games are against Detroit. In what weird way might that swing the postseason picture?

18. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) +3

How many NFL fans knew who Jake Browning was 10 days ago? How many Cincinnatians knew, for that matter? You’ve got to love sports, where you’re only ever one or two great performances from being the toast of the town. With Joe Burrow sidelined, the Bengals are playing with house money. I hope they keep approaching things that way. 

19. Indianapolis Colts (7-6) -3

The Colts were underdogs in Cincinnati, but they didn’t just lose. They got their doors blown off, and it honestly wasn’t even as close as the 34-14 score made it look. They’ve lost plenty of games, but it has rarely looked that one-sided. 

20. Atlanta Falcons (6-7) -2

The box score suggests Atlanta should’ve beaten Tampa pretty easily. But Desmond Ridder’s mistakes have a nasty habit of happening at the worst possible time — in this case, in the shadow of his own goalpost. The Falcons have played nine one-possession games this season, so it’s not exactly shocking that they have a frustrating and mediocre record.

21. New Orleans Saints (6-7) +2

It’s hard to remember a fanbase (and maybe a team?) turning on a big-time addition as quickly as we’re seeing with Derek Carr in New Orleans. The Saints beat the Panthers, but it was very ugly for three quarters. And when a quarterback is arguing with his own offensive linemen mid-game, it just doesn’t present the best vibes.

22. New York Giants (5-8) +6

Only San Francisco and Dallas have longer win streaks than Tommy Cutlets and the New York Giants. I don’t know what the future holds for Tommy DeVito, but he’s got the Giants looking awfully frisky with two big games against Philly on the horizon.

Tommy Devito, Giants shock Jordan Love, Packers

23. New York Jets (5-8) +3

I still don’t think Zach Wilson has a long-term future in New York, but it had to feel good to play a great game and gain a reprieve from the haters — probably even including his own coaching staff. 

24. Chicago Bears (5-8) +5

So much of the conversation in Chicago is about Justin Fields, but let’s give some love to the defense. Since the Bears traded for Montez Sweat, they’re in the league’s top 10 in most of the meaningful metrics. On Sunday, they pitched a second-half shutout of one of the league’s best offenses. Is this rounding into a unit that will save Matt Eberflus’ job?

[Vitali: Bears’ rebuild making progress. Will it include QB Justin Fields?]

25. Tennessee Titans (5-8) +2

If we can remind ourselves for a second that the Titans were never expected to make much noise this season, then they’ve got to be feeling pretty good about where they stand right now. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Will Levis looks like a bona-fide Dude. Watching him pull off a miracle rally to beat the Dolphins as a rookie, it’s hard not to daydream about what could happen once Tennessee has a chance to build around him.

26. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) -7

Mike Tomlin said after the loss to New England that his guys would respond the right way, and maybe he’s right. But when you’ve lost back-to-back games to 10-loss teams, I’m not sure how to give you the benefit of the doubt. 

Bill Belichick, Patriots defeat Mike Tomlin, Steelers in 21-18 TNF win

27. Arizona Cardinals (3-10) -2

I’m not sure they’re up to the challenge, but the Cardinals have a really funny opportunity to play spoiler in the playoff race. Coming out of their bye week, three of their last four are against teams fighting for playoff positioning. Who doesn’t love a little chaos?

28. Los Angeles Chargers (5-8) -6

The Chargers were already one of the league’s most disappointing teams, and now they may be without Justin Herbert. If the second half of the loss to Denver was any indicator, Thursday Night Football against Las Vegas may be unwatchable.

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29. Las Vegas Raiders (5-8) -5

Get excited. A Raiders team that scored no points against Minnesota is playing host to a Chargers team that has scored 13 points over the last two weeks. I beg of you: find another way to spend your Thursday night. 

30. Washington Commanders (4-9) no change

I’ve said recently that the Commanders felt like a team circling the drain. Maybe that was partially a result of playing 13 straight games with no break. Will we see any added juice coming off the bye week, or are they truly cooked?

31. New England Patriots (3-10) +1

It was nice to see a vintage performance from Ezekiel Elliott, for those of us who were sick enough to watch Pats/Steelers. Fighting for 140 grimy yards, scoring a touchdown and saving a touchdown with a hustle play after an interception doesn’t change much about New England’s season, but it was fun.

32. Carolina Panthers (1-12) -1

There have been several weeks when the Panthers played well enough — or let’s be real, someone else played worse — that it merited bumping them out of last place. But across the entire scope of the season, they are truly the most woeful team in the NFL and it doesn’t look close.

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints postgame analysis with Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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