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Week 16 NFL Power Rankings: Jalen Hurts' Injury Shakes Things Up As The BENGALS Vault To Top Spot

Julio Aguilar. Getty Images.

Is your team lucky enough to still be in the playoff hunt, or are you already looking forward to the offseason? Regardless, hope you get a kick out of these NFL power rankings as the 2022 campaign nears its end.

We've had a lot of quarterback injuries this year. It's a bummer. Jalen Hurts is the latest guy to go down. He's led the Eagles to a 13-1 record and was the MVP front-runner prior to his injury. As fun as Gardner Minshew is, let's hope Hurts heals soon.

…Now that I've gotten that outta the way, I just wanted to take a moment and dunk on the idiots who came after me for this blog I'm very proud of when the Bengals started 0-2 because LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

My predictions of a 13-4 record and No. 1 seed in the AFC for Cincinnati are somehow still alive. Regardless of what happens from here on in, the fact that we're this deep into the season and the Bengals are atop my power rankings and several others means that the "regression" narrative is officially D-E-A-D dead. 

Thanks for playing. Or should I say, playing the fool. Usually that's my job! OK jumping in now…

The "Why Are We Still Playing So Hard?" Tier

  • 32. Houston Texans
  • 31. Chicago Bears

Maaaaan the Bears are dancing with the devil by continuing to play Justin Fields. There's a fine line between continuing his on-field development and exposing him to too much punishment with a subpar offensive line and bad skill position talent. Like obviously I get it, the season ain't over, Fields wants to play despite already being banged-up. It's a pride thing. OK. But like…make sure you don't lose that top-two pick, Chicago.

As for the Texans, I give them credit for hanging tough with the Cowboys and Chiefs the past two weeks. I also don't understand why they're all of a sudden deciding to put some higher-quality performances together when it literally couldn't matter less. On the other hand, at least the past two games have gone exactly to plan: Gain the moral victory of giving playoff teams all they can handle, but don't win to potentially harm your draft position.

The "Looking Pretty Bleak, Bloke" Tier

  • 30. Indianapolis Colts
  • 29. Los Angeles Rams
  • 28. Arizona Cardinals
  • 27. Denver Broncos

The Colts were in the throes of such an existential crisis that they hired one of their ex-players off an ESPN set to be their interim head coach, only to watch him pull off the unprecedented feat of blowing a 33-point lead. Who could've seen that coming. Also: Chris Ballard built a roster that couldn't hold a 33-0 lead. Just remember that when Indy stubbornly plows ahead with him as their GM beyond this year.

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We know the Rams' situation. I thought they'd at least cover against the Packers. Not so much. Depleted by injury and without a first-round draft pick in 2023, LA needs to get healthy and retool the o-line this offseason to have any chance of contending going forward.

Finally, the Cardinals and Broncos are very possibly in play to pay massive, premature buyouts for their head coaches. Their "star" quarterbacks are injured. They wrote long-term commitment checks they couldn't cash, as the saying goes.

The Please Don't Somehow Make The Playoffs Tier

  • 26. New Orleans Saints 
  • 25. Atlanta Falcons
  • 24. Carolina Panthers
  • 23. Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 22. Cleveland Browns 

Do you want to see Andy Dalton, Desmond Ridder, Sam Darnold, Kenny Pickett or Deshaun Watson starting a playoff game? Unless you're a fan of any of their teams, I'd suspect not! Literally no one outside of the Browns' orbit wants to see Watson, period. The first three other guys happen to play QB in the atrocious NFC South. Maybe the worst division ever. Please no thank you.

The "We're Not Who We Thought We Were" Tier

  • 21. Seattle Seahawks
  • 20. Washington Commanders

Maybe a little harsh to push the Commanders this far down considering how hosed they got in that Giants game. I don't really care, though. Taylor Heinicke is not a good quarterback. Dude is a turnover waiting to happen. I love the Commanders' skill position talent and not much else.

Feels like the Seahawks have been coming down to Earth for a while. They're 1-4 in their last five, and the brief spike of defensive improvement they showed earlier on has faded. That said, all of Seattle's losses in that span were by one possession. If they can steal one in Kansas City this week, maybe they'll run the table to go to 10-7. For now I'm not ready to say they will.

The MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND Tier

  • 19. Las Vegas Raiders
  • 18. Green Bay Packers
  • 17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What I mean by this in the case of the Packers and Bucs is, "Do Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady really care anymore, or are they just stringing us along to maintain vague, morbid interest in their shitty football teams?" I feel like at any given moment these all-time greats can take over, or elevate their teammates like they're accustomed to doing…but then it just, um, doesn't happen. 

As for the Raiders, I will say this until I'm blue in the face: I don't know how you blow as many double digit leads as they have with the NFL's leading rusher in Josh Jacobs. You almost have to try to lose with that being the case. You build a lead. You have the literal best runner of 2022 in your backfield. So…hand it to him and run out the clock? Why is this so hard!? WTF.

For all the self-destructive bullshit Las Vegas has put itself through, the pendulum swung way back in the Silver and Black's favor during that unreal, last-second win over the Patriots.

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The "Just Good Enough To Make It" Tier

  • 16. New York Giants

The G-Men are fine. They capitalized on a soft early schedule, and scrounged out a 1-0-1 mark against the Commanders to put themselves in prime position for a Wild Card spot. Good for them, Their seemingly daunting rebuild is well ahead of schedule. I'd love to see them pull a playoff upset but eh…can't say I love their chances.

The Boat Bailing Water Tier

  • 15. New York Jets
  • 14. New England Patriots 
  • 13. Tennessee Titans
  • 12. Miami Dolphins

Three consecutive defeats for the Jets. They're counting on Zach Wilson to save them. As Tony Stark said in The Avengers, "Not a great plan!"

Speaking of weird AFC East QB situations wherein the team has a great defense, the Patriots are in the same boat! Mac Jones is acting like a perpetual malcontent. I would be too if Matt Patricia were in charge of my play sheet. Nevertheless, Bailey Zappe looked far more effective than Mac when he was in. I wonder if Bill Belichick will pivot back to Zappe now that the Pats have dropped three of four.

The Titans are losing their stranglehold on the AFC South as injuries keep piling up, and it looks like Ryan Tannehill won't be under center in Week 16. That's bad news with the Jags surging up the standings.

The Sleeping Giant Tier

  • 11. Baltimore Ravens
  • 10. Los Angeles Chargers

For Baltimore, they're going to be dangerous as long as Lamar Jackson is back relatively soon. Unfortunately, the uncertainty about his future with the Ravens makes that an even more complicated situation. I'm assuming in any event this team can win at least once more to get to 10 wins and secure a top-seven spot in the AFC. From there anything can happen.

Then you have the Chargers. Provided they get any help from their coach Brandon Staley — read: no stupid game management decisions and even a top-20 run defense — Justin Herbert can drag their asses deep into the postseason.

The "Still Outside The Trust Circle" Tier 

  • 9. Dallas Cowboys

So America's Team damn near lost to the Texans, and then blew a 27-10 lead in Jacksonville this past Sunday. The Cowboys were outside the Circle of Trust entering Week 15 and did nothing to change my mind. They only vindicated my decision to remove them from the true contender tiers. When your key figureheads are Dak Prescott and Mike McCarthy, it's hard to trust ye.

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The Lovable Losers Who No One Wants Any Part Of Tier

  • 8. Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 7. Detroit Lions

Detroit is on a 6-1 run, and if the Jags win out, they win the AFC South regardless of what the Titans do. They have the head-to-head tiebreaker in tow and host Tennessee in the regular-season finale.

I would love to see both these teams in the playoffs. Hopefully they get rewarded for playing their best football at the right time. The only problem is, Jacksonville is a super hard team to read. Just when I think they're crushing it, they'll lay an egg. Danger looms Thursday night against the Jets, as the Jags must prove they won't succumb to a letdown once again.

The "YOU LIKE THAT? YOUUU LIKE THAT!?" Tier

  • 6. Minnesota Vikings

Don't know what else to say. Kirk Cousins just knows how to rally teams to obnoxious comebacks, leading an all-timer last week after being down 33-0. Overlooked in all that was how well the Vikings' maligned defense had to play in the second half to keep Minnesota within striking distance. That's either a turning point for their D, or it's more a function of how bad the Colts are. Hard to say just yet. Hence why Minnesota gets its own tier.

The Juggernauts You Can't Count Out Tier

  • 5. Buffalo Bills
  • 4. Kansas City Chiefs 

Both Buffalo and Kansas City lean so heavily on their quarterbacks. That can be said for just about any other team, but really, these supposed toasts of the AFC have serious flaws that Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen cover for. Mahomes' controlled chaos and superior pocket prowess is more sustainable than Allen's reckless, contact-seeking running style. Either of these teams could win the Super Bowl very easily. I just have a little less trust in them than the top three. 

The Most Complete Teams Tier

  • 3. San Francisco 49ers
  • 2. Philadelphia Eagles
  • 1. Cincinnati Bengals

While the Niners and Eagles have the top two defenses in terms of total yards allowed, they don't have a proven postseason quarterback. I'm not saying Brock Purdy or Jalen Hurts can't get it done in the playoffs, but Joe Burrow's experience in leading the Bengals to a Super Bowl berth is a huge edge.

Cincinnati also has a knack for second-half defensive adjustments. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo gets his guys ready to play and confuses opposing QBs by frequently dropping eight in coverage. The big guys up front execute complex stunts and can still get pressure home. Even with a myriad of injuries across the defense throughout the season, the Bengals have played well enough on that side of the ball to go 10-2 since a 0-2 start.

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I have a hard time seeing how the 49ers and Eagles won't meet in the NFC title game. While the AFC is far more competitive, the Bengals earn the No. 1 spot in part due to beating the Chiefs three straight times. They haven't even strung together a complete, two-half performance amid their winning streak of six. Look out for Cincinnati. Still lots of room to improve.

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald/TikTok

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