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NFL Power Rankings Week 14: 49ers make a statement, plus worst-case scenarios

Last week, the Power Rankings looked at the best-case scenario for all 32 NFL teams, but it’s late in the season and we’ve had to watch so many bad Jets quarterbacks that it’s taken all the optimism out of us. So this week, we’re looking at the worst-case scenario for each team as the season heads down the stretch.

Obviously, the real answer for most teams would be an injury to their starting quarterback and/or superstar, but we don’t want to jinx anyone (and we certainly don’t want to hear about it in the comments) so we’re trying to be more creative than that in most cases.

In the case of our new No. 1, though, we couldn’t come up with anything because, man, the 49ers looked like a monster on Sunday.

1. San Francisco 49ers (9-3)

(Last week 4)

Sunday: Beat Philadelphia Eagles 42-19

Worst case: Bumps and/or bruises

When the 49ers are healthy, they are scary. They hoped to prove that Brock Purdy’s injury in the NFC Championship Game was the only reason they didn’t beat the Eagles and advance to the Super Bowl last season. Mission accomplished. Deebo Samuel, who talked the most trash coming into the game, scored three touchdowns. When he, Purdy and left tackle Trent Williams are all healthy, San Francisco has scored at least 27 points this season.

Up next: vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday

GO DEEPER

The MVP race through 13 weeks and Brock Purdy’s growing case: Sando’s Pick Six

(Last week: 2)

Sunday: Bye

Worst case: Roquan Smith regression

Since the Ravens sent the Bears second- and fifth-round picks for Smith on Oct. 31 last year, Baltimore is first in the NFL in yards per play allowed (4.5), third in defensive success rate (62 percent) and third in EPA per snap (12.8). In that span, the linebacker is fourth in the league in defensive splash plays (66), according to TruMedia. Sure, Lamar Jackson is integral to Baltimore’s success, but don’t overlook Smith’s impact.

Up next: vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m. ET Sunday

(Last week: 5)

Thursday: Beat Seattle Seahawks 41-35

Worst case: Down day from Dak

The Cowboys can beat anybody when Dak Prescott plays like he did Thursday night against the Seahawks. Prescott was 29-for-41 for 299 yards and three touchdowns, and Dallas scored on eight of its nine possessions. For the season, he is second in EPA per attempt (0.30) and passer rating (108.3). However, Dak does have “those days.” He’s had a negative EPA per attempt twice this year. The Cowboys have lost both games (to Arizona and San Francisco).

Up next: vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday

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Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill has 21 career touchdowns of 60 yards or longer, including two on Sunday. (Al Diaz / Miami Herald / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

(Last week: 6)

Sunday: Beat Washington Commanders 45-15

Worst case: Any tweak for Tyreek

Tyreek Hill remains on pace to be the first player in league history with more than 2,000 receiving yards in a season after catching five passes for 157 yards Sunday. He had 78- and 60-yard touchdown catches and leads the NFL with 1,496 yards from scrimmage. More than half of his touches go for a first down or touchdown, but he’s such a finely tuned speed machine that you constantly worry that even the slightest imbalance might throw the whole thing out of whack.

Up next: vs. Tennessee Titans, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

What we learned in Week 13: The 49ers’ playoff potential, Tyreek’s target in sight and more

5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)

(Last week: 1)

Sunday: Lost to San Francisco 49ers 42-19

Worst case: Run game reversal

Philadelphia is third in the league in rushing EPA this season, according to TruMedia, but when its run game falters, it usually isn’t pretty. The Eagles have been held to a total of 126 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry in their two losses. The results were a loss to the Jets and Sunday’s drubbing by the 49ers.

Up next: at Dallas Cowboys, 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday

(Last week: 7)

Sunday: Beat New Orleans Saints 33-28

Worst case: It was all a mirage

After losing to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, Detroit had to hold on to beat reeling New Orleans on Sunday. The Lions are probably fine. They remain fourth in the league in touchdowns per drive (29.3 percent). Rookie tight end Sam LaPorta had nine catches for 140 yards Sunday, and he’s tied for the most touchdowns by a tight end (six) and has the fourth-most receiving yards among tight ends (679). But it would be cruel to this team’s fan base if it doesn’t finish strong.

Up next: at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET Sunday

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The inconsistency of the Chiefs’ receivers continues to hamper Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense. (Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

(Last week: 3)

Sunday: Lost to Green Bay Packers 27-19

Worst case: Patrick Mahomes can’t do it all alone

It sure looked like he could when Kansas City won the Super Bowl the year after trading Tyreek Hill, but the Chiefs slipped to 11th in the league in scoring Sunday (22.9 ppg). The Chiefs have scored fewer than 20 points in six games this season. That happened only six times total in Mahomes’ first five seasons as the starter. Inconsistency at receiver is the main culprit. Justin Watson, a fifth-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2018 who signed as a low-money free agent in the offseason, is the second-leading wide receiver with 332 yards on 20 catches.

Up next: vs. Buffalo Bills, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Jones: NFL officials face impossible task — we or league must make change

(Last week: 9)

Sunday: Bye

Worst case: They’re living it

This team was 13-3 last season and came into this season with similar expectations, but Josh Allen has had some rough moments and the defense has lost pillars Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano for the season because of injury. In fact, more than 16 percent of Buffalo’s salary cap is on injured reserve, according to Spotrac. The Bills could still make the playoffs, but the Chiefs, Cowboys and Dolphins all remain on the schedule.

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

(Last week: 10)

Sunday: Beat Denver Broncos 22-17

Worst case: C.J. Stroud and the rookie wall

It’s easy to forget that Stroud is a rookie. He overtook Sam Howell for the league’s passing lead Sunday, throwing for 274 yards to get to 3,570 for the season. He and Dak Prescott are the only quarterbacks in the league with a passer rating above 100 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of four or higher. We’re getting into uncharted territory for Stroud, though. He never played more than 13 games in a season at Ohio State. His next one in Houston will be No. 13.

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

(Last week: 19)

Sunday: Beat Cleveland Browns 36-19

Worst case: San Francisco playing for home-field advantage

There’s a decent chance the Rams will head into Week 18 having to beat the division-rival 49ers to get into the playoffs. San Francisco will have a playoff spot locked up by then and will be tempted to rest its stars unless it has a first-round bye on the line. That got closer to reality when the Niners beat the Eagles on Sunday. Why is this such bad news? The Rams have lost nine of their last 10 to the 49ers.

Up next: at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET Sunday

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

NFL playoff picture after Week 13: Jaguars lose control of AFC’s top seed

(Last week: 15)

Sunday: Beat Tennessee Titans 31-28

Worst case: Wasting a year

The Colts could make the playoffs this season. They would be the sixth seed if the season ended today, and their five remaining games are winnable (Houston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Cincinnati). But what this year was really supposed to be about was developing Anthony Richardson. If Gardner Minshew leads the Colts to the playoffs this year, then the pressure is really on Richardson next season.

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

12. Green Bay Packers (6-6)

(Last week: 16)

Sunday: Beat Kansas City Chiefs 27-19

Worst case: Flipped turnover luck

The Packers have turned their season around with three straight wins, the most recent two coming against Super Bowl contenders. It might be a sign of great things to come. Or it might just be turnovers. The Packers are second in the league in turnover margin in the last three weeks (plus-five). The remaining schedule is in the Packers’ favor as 6-6 Minnesota is the only team that doesn’t have a losing record.

Up next: at New York Giants, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday

13. Seattle Seahawks (6-6)

(Last week: 12)

Thursday: Lost to Dallas Cowboys 41-35

Worst case: They missed their chance

Seattle needed to steal at least one game during this current four-game stretch that includes the 49ers twice, the Cowboys and the Eagles. It missed the chance against Dallas, wasting a 406-yard offensive day and a six-catch, 134-yard, three-touchdown effort from DK Metcalf. Seattle now gets the 49ers and Eagles back-to-back while sitting one spot out of the playoff race.

Up next: at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday

(Last week: 8)

Monday: Lost to Cincinnati Bengals 34-31 (OT)

Worst case: It happened late Monday night

Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft and one of 10 quarterbacks to throw for more than 3,000 yards this season, went down with what appeared to be a significant injury after his right ankle was stepped on by one of his offensive linemen. Lawrence slammed his helmet to the turf and then made a slow and painful walk to the locker room with lots of help. If Lawrence is done for the season, so are the Jaguars. Backup C.J. Beathard has a career passer rating of 80.3.

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

(Last week: 13)

Sunday: Lost to Houston Texans 22-17

Worst case: Running out of gas

The Broncos came back from the dead thanks to a five-game winning streak, but that took a lot of energy and the tank finally ran dry Sunday. They were plus-13 in the turnover margin during their winning streak. Against the Texans, that number flipped and the Broncos lost the turnover battle 3-0. They play only one more team with a winning record (Detroit), so they’re still alive, but they’ll have to get their momentum back.

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

(Last week: 14)

Sunday: Lost to Los Angeles Rams 36-19

Worst case: Exposed defensive weaknesses

Since Week 10, the Browns and their formerly fearsome defense are 26th in the league in points allowed (26.5 ppg) and 28th in point margin (minus-29), according to TruMedia. With Joe Flacco now the quarterback (23-for-44 for 254 yards, two touchdowns and an interception Sunday), Cleveland needs this defense more than ever. It has given up five yards per carry in the last month, which ranks 26th in the league while recording only seven sacks (20th).

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

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The Jets held Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson to 2.9 yards per carry on Sunday. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

17. Atlanta Falcons (6-6)

(Last week: 17)

Sunday: Beat New York Jets 13-8

Worst case: Unfulfilled promise

Tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson — all drafted in the top 10 in the last three seasons — were supposed to be a three-headed monster. Each has been electric at times, but it has never happened simultaneously, and Atlanta’s offense certainly isn’t scaring anyone. Robinson surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage on Sunday (1,022, which ranks 13th in the league and second among rookies), but the Falcons are 24th in scoring (18.8 ppg).

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

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

(Last week: 11)

Sunday: Lost to Arizona Cardinals 24-10

Worst case: Matt Canada wasn’t the problem

Pittsburgh got a bump the first week after firing its beleaguered offensive coordinator, but it was back to business as usual Sunday. The Steelers scored 10 points against an Arizona defense that ranks 30th in points allowed (25.5 per game). On top of that, quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered an ankle injury that is expected to keep him out multiple weeks. The AFC North lead looks a long way away now.

Up next: vs. New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m. ET Thursday

19. Cincinnati Bengals (6-6)

(Last week: 20)

Monday: Beat Jacksonville Jaguars 34-31 (OT)

Worst case: A quarterback controversy

Just kidding, but Jake Browning was excellent on Monday night against a decent Jacksonville defense. Browning was 32-for-37 for 354 yards and a touchdown in his second game since replacing Joe Burrow. If he keeps playing like that, the Bengals can get back into the playoff mix and also could attract something on the trade market once Burrow is healthy. Cincinnati racked up a season-high 491 yards behind Browning.

Up next: vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET Sunday

20. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

(Last week: 18)

Sunday: Bye

Worst case: Kirk doesn’t come back

Since Kirk Cousins became a regular starter in 2015, he is sixth in the NFL (among quarterbacks with more than 1,000 attempts) in passer rating (99.9) and 10th in EPA per pass attempt (.21). After beating two NFC South teams in the first weeks without Cousins, the Vikings have lost their last two, and it’s clear how much they miss Captain Kirk. There’s every reason to believe Cousins will return at basically full strength from his torn Achilles, but he’s scheduled to be a free agent in 2024. Minnesota should fix that.

Up next: at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

(Last week: 22)

Sunday: Beat Carolina Panthers 21-18

Worst case: Losing Mike Evans

The Buccaneers didn’t get a contract extension done with Evans this offseason, and he is the best thing this team has going right now. On Sunday, he extended his own NFL record of most consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to begin a career with 10. Evans had seven catches for 162 yards Sunday, accounting for 80.2 percent of Tampa Bay’s passing game. A Buc since the team drafted him in 2014, he should stay a Buc, but he might want a shot at another ring.

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

(Last week: 24)

Sunday: Beat New England Patriots 6-0

Worst case: Wasting Justin Herbert

There are a lot of people who aren’t Herbert believers because he’s .500 in his career, 31-31 after Sunday. That’s not on Herbert, though. He’s as physically talented as any quarterback in the league, and he already has 11 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, which is only two fewer than Patrick Mahomes and more than Lamar Jackson, Geno Smith, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow among others. He starts getting really expensive in 2025, though, and it’s going to be even harder for the team to win then.

Up next: vs. Minnesota Vikings, 4:05 p.m. Sunday

(Last week: 23)

Sunday: Bye

Worst case: Quarterback conundrum

The Raiders are already there. The benched Jimmy Garoppolo counts $28.5 million against the cap for the next two seasons and would cost $33.7 million to cut before June 1. Rookie Aidan O’Connell is 2-3 as a starter, 26th in the league in yards per attempt (6.7) and has more interceptions than touchdowns (six to four). However, if Las Vegas wins a couple more games, it’s going to be outside the ideal spot to draft a sure-fire quarterback prospect this offseason.

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

24. New Orleans Saints (5-7)

(Last week: 21)

Sunday: Lost to Detroit Lions 33-28

Worst case: Paying their credit card bill

The Saints keep kicking the salary-cap can down the road. It hasn’t gotten them double-digit wins since 2020, and that isn’t changing this season. New Orleans is $71 million over the 2024 salary cap at the moment and looks like it will be starting Jameis Winston at quarterback for a while after Derek Carr was injured Sunday. That might not be so bad considering Saints fans booed loudly this week when Carr replaced Taysom Hill at quarterback during the game.

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

(Last week: 25)

Sunday: Bye

Worst case: NFC East obscurity

Division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas already have doubled up New York in wins this season. They have franchise quarterbacks on (Jalen Hurts) or about to be on (Dak Prescott) long-term deals. Even the Commanders have new ownership and some juice. What do the Giants have? A big question about what to do with Daniel Jones when he’s healthy and a hometown, feel-good quarterback fill-in in Tommy DeVito who is due to turn into a pumpkin at any time.

Up next: vs. Green Bay Packers, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday

26. Arizona Cardinals (3-10)

(Last week: 30)

Sunday: Beat Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10

Worst case: Winning more games

Seriously, this is enough. The Cardinals are third in the draft order after winning Sunday for the second time in four games. That might be right on the borderline to acquire an elite player in this draft, and Arizona needs elite players, whether that’s a quarterback or not. Since returning in Week 10, Kyler Murray is 10th in the league in passing yards (864) and seventh among quarterbacks in rushing yards (106). Unfortunately for Arizona, that’s been good enough for a couple of wins.

Up next: Bye

27. Chicago Bears (4-8)

(Last week: 27)

Sunday: Bye

Worst case: A bad quarterback choice

It’s looking like Chicago will have its choice of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or … Justin Fields. The incumbent has thrown for 386 yards and rushed for another 163 in two games since returning from a thumb injury. He’s undeniably dynamic and will be tough to give up on, but he’s also 50th in the NFL in passing EPA per dropback (0.07) in the three seasons he has been Chicago’s starter, according to TruMedia.

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

(Last week: 28)

Sunday: Lost to Indianapolis Colts 31-28

Worst case: Will Levis is not the guy

There was a brief glimmer of hope when Levis took over in Week 8 and beat the Falcons. He had four touchdowns that day. He’s had three since, and he’s 32nd in the league in completion percentage (56.4 percent) and 29th in passer rating (77.6). On Sunday, he completed 16 passes and was arguing with DeAndre Hopkins on the sideline. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are Ryan Tannehill (who may want out of town) and Malik Willis (who isn’t the answer).

Up next: at Miami Dolphins, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday

29. Washington Commanders (4-9)

(Last week: 26)

Sunday: Lost to Miami Dolphins 45-15

Worst case: A distracted new owner

Josh Harris, who bought the team this offseason, has a lot on his plate. He might change the team name again, and he has to get a new stadium built somewhere. It’s possible all this would prevent him from moving on from Ron Rivera. Possible, but not likely. Since a surprising 2-0 start, Washington is 2-9 and last in the NFL in point margin (minus-140).

Up next: Bye

30. New York Jets (4-8)

(Last week: 29)

Sunday: Lost to Atlanta Falcons 13-8

Worst case: Another Aaron Rodgers issue

Look, the guy is 40 years old. He’ll be coming back from a torn Achilles whenever he does come back. It will probably be fine, but we’ve seen what it looks like when Rodgers is not fine. The Jets played Tim Boyle and Trevor Siemian against the Falcons on Sunday, and it was so bad they might go back to Zach Wilson this week. New York is 30th in the league in scoring (14.25) and hasn’t topped 13 points in a game since Oct. 15.

Up next: vs. Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET Sunday

(Last week: 31)

Sunday: Lost to Los Angeles Chargers 6-0

Worst case: Bill Belichick staying stubborn

Bill Belichick has earned the right to have a large say in how he exits New England after six Super Bowl titles. He could make it difficult on owner Robert Kraft if he wants to, but that would be a shame. The Patriots, and probably Belichick, need a change. New England is 30th in offensive EPA per play and 31st in special teams EPA in the league. It’s gotten bad enough that drafting Caleb Williams or Drake Maye is an option, but the Patriots don’t appear to be a young-quarterback-friendly environment.

Up next: at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:15 p.m. ET Thursday

(Last week: 32)

Sunday: Lost to Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-18

Worst case: Ruining Bryce Young’s confidence

The No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft hasn’t been good, but it’s not all his fault. Carolina has given up 47 sacks this season. Only three teams have given up more. Thirty-three-year-old Adam Thielen is the only wide receiver on the team with more than 34 catches. Next year’s coach will be charged with developing Young, but it’s going to be tough if he’s beaten down before this season ends.

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

(Top photo of Deebo Samuel: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)


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