The topsy-turvy 2021 NFL regular season continued its wild ride in Week 12, starting with Thursday’s big feast of Thanksgiving games. Some of the league’s top teams got a chance to flex a little more, while there was plenty of tumult between the best and the worst.
The No. 1 team, the Cardinals and the hottest recent risers, the Chiefs, were both on a bye. But there was plenty that got remixed behind and around them. All the way through the bottom, a few surprises changed the hierarchy.
Here’s how Sporting News sees how all 32 teams stack up against each other going into Week 13:
NFL power rankings
1. Arizona Cardinals 9-2 (previous ranking: 1)
The Cardinals rolled into their Week 12 bye with the best record in the NFL, managing their offense well without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and Chase Edmonds. They should get healthier offensively and remain well-rounded defensively. They need to focus on pulling away in their two-team NFC West race with the Rams.
2. Green Bay Packers 9-3 (2)
The Packers came out ready to take on the Rams in a critical NFC matchup, with Aaron Rodgers playing at a high level, joined by the running game and defense making supporting big plays. They keep lingering as the conference’s most complete threat to get to the Super Bowl.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-3 (5)
The Buccaneers survived a tough road matchup in Indianapolis with Tom Brady and Leonard Fournette making up for the defense’s continued struggles against the pass, even with some key defenders back. At least the run defense went back to staying strong vs. Jonathan Taylor with Vita Vea back.
4. New England Patriots 8-4 (9)
The Patriots keep going into classic Bill Belichick mode, beating opponents by exploiting their weaknesses and changing up their own strengths. Mac Jones came through with the pass-heavy approach vs. the Titans, while the defense was OK taking their chances giving up rushing yards. Belichick is a strong candidate to win coach of the year for the first time in more than a decade.
5. Baltimore Ravens 8-3 (6)
The Ravens got closer to winning the AFC North and grabbing the No. 1 seed in the conference by dispatching the Browns at home Sunday night, also staying a game ahead of the resilient Bengals. It hasn’t been pretty, but like Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh is getting the most out of his players in the right situations in most weeks.
6. Tennessee Titans 8-4 (3)
The Titans have done an admirable job trying to replace the big rushing production of Derrick Henry, but now they have little left in the passing game for Ryan Tannehill, while their major weaknesses in pass defense get further exposed. Without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, it’s hard for them to have any chance in higher-scoring games.
7. Kansas City Chiefs 7-4 (7)
The Chiefs got themselves right before the bye with a sizzling perfect November, finding both their true offensive and defensive identities at midseason, something they’ve done well in the past with Andy Reid. They will come out of it with a real chance to run the table and pile on powering back up into strong AFC title favorites again.
8. Buffalo Bills 7-4 (11)
The Bills came out and didn’t waste time dominating the Saints on Thanksgiving with Josh Allen sticking with his familiar passing game hits of Dawson Knox and Stefon Diggs. The defense also went back to necessary flexing against run and pass, taking advantage of a shorthanded team.
9. Dallas Cowboys 7-4 (8)
The Cowboys tried to beat the Raiders without Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, but by maintaining their pass-reliant ways for Dak Prescott, they are taking themselves out of key run-heavier complementary football that boosts the defense big-time. They have realized that by thinking about resting Ezekiel Elliott ahead of the key stretch run in December.
10. Cincinnati Bengals 7-4 (12)
The Bengals have come out swinging as needed after their bye, with big wins over the Raiders and Steelers to re-establish themselves as the strong AFC upstart playoff contenders they were earlier in the season before the Jets and Browns losses. The Joes, Mixon and Burrow, are carrying the offense again and the defense also has been back up to the big-play task.
11. Los Angeles Rams 7-4 (4)
The Rams take a deserved big tumble after their third consecutive losses. Matthew Stafford has turned from MVP candidate to pick-six machine, reliant too much on the big pass play with his big arm to move the ball for L.A., and that falls on Sean McVay, too. Running well and a lot of Cooper Kupp must be restored, stat, because their defense is by no means close to dominant anymore.
12. San Francisco 49ers 6-5 (18)
The 49ers stayed one step ahead of the Vikings with Jimmy Garoppolo keeping their offense hot for Kyle Shanahan. The defense is hurting and struggling still on every level, but they are stepping up with impact plays when they count most.
13. Los Angeles Chargers 6-5 (10)
The Chargers fell flat in a key division game at Denver that they needed badly with the Raiders winning and the first-place Chiefs idle in the AFC West. Justin Herbert has been a bit wild and there’s also some major defensive inconsistency tied to being poor vs. the run.
14. Las Vegas Raiders 6-5 (17)
The Raiders got a massive win to keep their fading AFC wild-card playoff hopes alive by taking down the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving with a key get-well game for Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs and the offense. Now if they can show more from defense again, they will have a real shot to steal a berth late.
15. Denver Broncos 6-5 (21)
The Broncos came out smashing the Chargers out of the bye, with more of their strong running game and their best defensive effort in weeks for Vic Fangio, controlling the action up front against the run and with the pass rush.
16. Cleveland Browns 6-6 (13)
The Browns’ offense is stuck with everyone knowing they must run well with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to have a chance, given all of Baker Mayfield’s durability concerns and his limited supporting cast. They might need to accept this much-hyped follow-up season was lost to injuries.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers 5-5-1 (15)
The Steelers are suddenly in danger of going first to worst in the AFC North as their run defense continues to be a major problem, as seen in the Bengals blowout loss. Because of that their coverage and pass rush strengths are rendered useless and the offense with a limited Ben Roethlisberger isn’t capable of delivering enough in shootouts.
18. Indianapolis Colts 6-6 (16)
The Colts fought the Buccaneers until the end, but they made too many mistakes when Taylor was contained to take down Brady with Carson Wentz at home. They are at a crossroads for their season, given they still have little shot to catch the Titans in the division and are facing a crowd for a second straight wild card.
19. Minnesota Vikings 5-6 (14)
The Vikings lost another one-possession game to a strong team. In other news, Thanksgiving is in November and Christmas is in December. The Vikings’ defense is the big concern for Mike Zimmer as they try to maintain playoff status, giving Kirk Cousins and the offense little margin for error.
20. Philadelphia Eagles 5-6 (19)
The Eagles tried to produce another victory with their newfound run-heavy approach and it almost worked in a low-scoring mess against the Giants, but Jalen Hurts, who had been better passing of late, had the worst game of the season at the wrong time. That still can’t be ruled out of a wild-card run.
21. Atlanta Falcons 5-6 (24)
The Falcons used their prime matchup against the Jaguars to get well, thanks to the return of their most reliable offensive weapon and team MVP, Cordarrelle Patterson. The results haven’t been ideal for Matt Ryan and coach Arthur Smith, but they already have improved from their 2020 four-win total.
22. New Orleans Saints 5-6 (20)
The Saints keep marching down from good-looking potential return playoff team into being depleted by offensive injuries and not having enough complementary defense to maintain their tight winning formula. A four-game midseason losing streak is a hard thing from which to recover.
23. Washington Football Team 4-6 (23)
Washington has been figuring more things out for Ron Rivera, with Taylor Heinicke’s positive QB flashes adding up to consecutive victories over Tampa Bay and Carolina. Although the playoffs feel out of reach, finishing strong all-around will be important to take into a more transitional 2022.
24. Carolina Panthers 5-6 (22)
What was that? Cam Newton needed to throw to win a game in Miami, and he wasn’t up to the task. The Panthers also created more QB confusion by putting P.J. Walker in for more work. They also fell apart defensively. This has been a tale of two seasons, one that will only get tougher.
25. New York Giants 4-7 (26)
The Giants cooled off the red-hot Eagles relying a lot more in their strong situational defense, even though there was little buzzy offense with new coordinator Freddie Kitchens calling the plays for Daniel Jones. At the very least, the team will need big changes there for 2022.
26. Miami Dolphins 5-7 (27)
The Dolphins won’t be the 10-6 team from 2020 under Brian Flores, but their four-game winning streak with Tua Tagovailoa playing better puts them closer to level at which they should be playing, boosted by more familiar defense.
27. Seattle Seahawks 3-7 (25)
The Seahawks are stuck offensively with Russell Wilson not looking right and limited help from the replacement committee in the running game. It’s led to operating poor complementary defense and not a lot of winning, with or without Wilson, going into Washington.
28. Chicago Bears 4-7 (28)
The Bears ended their losing streak in Detroit on Thanksgiving with by leaning most on their key offensive weapons, Darnell Mooney and David Montgomery. Credit their defense for fighting hard for Matt Nagy, too, even without Khalil Mack.
29. New York Jets 3-8 (31)
The Jets couldn’t finish off the Dolphins to move up in Week 11 but they did well to outslug the Texans in Houston. Zach Wilson wasn’t pretty in his return from his knee injury, but a win sparked by his rushing score will be a big confidence builder to close out the season, hopefully healthy.
30. Houston Texans 2-9 (29)
The Texans looked good early in trying to get their second consecutive win, but their big problem is simply not having enough offensive juice around Tyrod Taylor, letting down right when their defense is starting to play well on every level. David Culley is doing his best with a near-bare cupboard.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars 2-9 (30)
The Jaguars had another slow, lifeless start to give them little chance in a very winnable home game against the Falcons. They keep letting Trevor Lawrence down with an uninspiring passing game and defensively they keep going limp against the run.
32. Detroit Lions 0-10-1 (32)
The Lions have started to drag down opponents with them as their defense has overachieved of late, but unfortunately, their limited offense hasn’t been able to take advantage of it to produce a win and now D’Andre Swift is hurt.