Dallas Cowboys Insider
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, yes; it’s obviously the holiday season, and hopefully you’re primed to spend the next week surrounded by friends, family and food. But as much as we might all be looking forward to that, don’t let it distract from what figures to be another NFL playoff preview weekend. This past weekend was truly one of the most memorable in modern memory. Don’t be surprised if the NFL manages to replicate the feat over Christmas weekend.
Between Thursday and Sunday, we’ll see nine different matchups between teams that still have a shot at a playoff spot. Three of those games will be between teams that are currently part of the playoff field, giving us a nice taste of what’s to come in January.
The centerpiece, obviously, is a Cowboys-Eagles Christmas Eve kickoff (4:25 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX and the FOX Sports app) that’s been circled on the calendar for two months at this point. There’s no better illustration of how close the margins are in the NFL. Had they managed to hold on to a three-score lead in Jacksonville on Sunday, the Cowboys would be two games back of the Eagles with three to play — just in time for Jalen Hurts to potentially miss time with a shoulder injury. This game came devastatingly close to swinging the top of the NFC playoff picture. Even still, it should serve as a hell of a teaser for the playoffs, which feel so close we can taste them. Here are this week’s NFLpower rankings. Enjoy the football — and the holidays!
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-1): It speaks to the dominance we’ve seen from Philly this season that they could potentially lose Jalen Hurts for a game or two in December and still hang on to the No. 1 seed. Having Hurts healthy for the playoffs should be the top priority.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4): We’ve known all about Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense forever, but what about this defense? Without much in the way of star power, Cincinnati is 12th overall in defensive efficiency and forced four turnovers to lead the comeback against the Buccaneers. This is a team that’s humming on both sides of the ball.
Jalen Hurts leads the Eagles to a hard-fought 25-20 win against the Bears
Jalen Hurts leads the Philadelphia Eagles to a 25-20 win against the Chicago Bears. Hurts had 315 passing yards and added 61 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
3. Buffalo Bills (11-3): The epitome of a Josh Allen Game in the biggest of spots. You could argue that Saturday night’s Snow Bowl was the first time we’ve seen the Bills look like fire-breathing monsters since before Halloween. That centered around Allen once again playing like an NFL MVP. This is the version of the Bills every other team should be scared to see in the postseason.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3): The same principle as last week applies: if you go down to the wire against the one-win Texans, you drop a tad. Aside from Houston’s feistiness, though, it’s hard to say enough about just how excellent Patrick Mahomes has been. The Chiefs’ sneaky effectiveness running the ball is a sidenote worth watching.
5. San Francisco 49ers (10-4): There’s almost an air of inevitability with this 49ers team. They never completely pulled away from Seattle, but when their defense is dictating the game so effectively, it doesn’t even matter. What they’re currently getting from Brock Purdy is more than enough to beat most teams in the league. Because, honestly, how many squads are putting up more than 17 against these guys?
6. Detroit Lions (7-7): Don’t you dare laugh. Sunday’s win against the Jets gave the Lions six in their last seven attempts. They’ve beaten four playoff contenders during that stretch, and the one loss was at the gun to Buffalo. Outside of Philly and Cincinnati, no one in the league is hotter than Detroit.
7. Dallas Cowboys (10-4): Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. The Cowboys have been flirting with disaster for three weeks, and they finally went full send in Jacksonville. It takes a full team effort to blow a 17-point lead in the second half, and everyone was happy to oblige. This defense has some serious issues to address, and Dak Prescott has got to do something about the turnovers. His 3.9% interception rate in 2022 is double his career rate of 1.9%.
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Dave Helman weighs in on Dak Prescott’s pick-six in OT that cost the Dallas Cowboys a win in Week 15 and says he does not blame Dak entirely for the loss. The Cowboys defense did not show up against the Jacksonville Jaguars, allowing them to score a season-high 40 points.
8. Minnesota Vikings (11-3): Say what you will about the Vikings, but they’re going to keep it entertaining. We’ve played 14 games to this point, and 10 of Minnesota’s have been decided by one possession. Even more incredible, the Vikings are a perfect 10-0, and none was crazier than the biggest comeback in league history.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6): Are you ready to believe? The Chargers aren’t exactly known for their consistency, but that’s two-straight wins against playoff-caliber opponents. Bit of a clunky outing for the offense, but all of a sudden, this defense is picking up some slack. They control their playoff destiny, and their three remaining opponents are a combined 12-29-1. Do you dare to dream?
10. Miami Dolphins (8-6): That’s right, the Dolphins climb in the rankings after a loss. It’s not so much about moral victories, but it was just nice to see Miami rediscover the things that worked so well when they were winning games. If they can play that well the rest of the way, they’ve got a shot to win out.
11. New York Giants (8-5-1): Just like that, the Giants have an 87% chance of making the playoffs (per Fivethirtyeight) after winning in Washington. That’s obviously the short-term goal. Long-term, they’ve got to be feeling awfully happy about drafting Kayvon Thibodeaux.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-8): It’s not quite a Lions-caliber hot streak, mainly because they got blown out by the Lions. But the Jags are quietly on a heater of their own. That epic comeback against Dallas gives them three wins in their last four games, and all of a sudden, winning the AFC South feels possible. Trevor Lawrence sure is starting to look the part.
13. Baltimore Ravens (9-5): The Ravens have scored two touchdowns in the three games they’ve had to play without Lamar Jackson. Largely thanks to their defense, that’s been good enough to get them to 2-1. But Saturday’s abysmal performance in Cleveland was a brutal reminder that this team — as middling as its been in the second half of the season — isn’t going anywhere without its MVP QB.
14. Washington Commanders (7-6-1): Here’s guessing Ron Rivera sent a few video clips to the league office for explanations on officiating. If you’re a Commanders fan, it’s perfectly rational to feel jobbed by the way that Sunday night loss wrapped up. The team itself can’t afford to dwell. Washington still has somewhat of a wildcard chance if they can handle business. Rooting for a Lions loss or two wouldn’t hurt, either.
15. New York Jets (7-7): That final sequence against the Lions is probably going to sting for a while, but it follows a pattern: this team is just a slight offensive improvement from making some serious noise. Unfortunately, that might not be coming in 2022, and all three of the Jets’ remaining opponents are fighting for playoff spots. It might not be in the cards this year.
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The New York Jets needed a win in Week 15 against the Detroit Lions, but Zach Wilson just couldn’t get it done. Craig Carton shares his disappointment at this hit to the Jets’ playoff chances and discusses whether the amount of blame placed on Wilson is unfair.
16. Seattle Seahawks (7-7): We can give the Seahawks some grace for struggling with San Francisco’s defense, because so has everyone else. The problem is that offense is just about the only thing Seattle has going right now, as multiple rough lapses on defense reminded us once again.
17. Cleveland Browns (6-8): It’s fair to point out that Deshaun Watson took two literal years off of getting live NFL reps. Given the $230 million price tag, it’s also fair to point out that nothing about the Browns offense has looked fun or easy since he returned from a suspension. With this season going nowhere, the Browns are looking for incremental steps like a sign of life in the last three weeks.
18. New England Patriots (7-7): The Patriots didn’t exactly look inspiring in their comeback to almost force overtime against the Raiders, and then they provided us arguably the funniest and most indefensible gaffe of the entire season. It’s a shame, because — much like the Jets — this defense is good enough to make some noise with a more competent offense helping them out.
19. Green Bay Packers (6-8): It might be too little, too late. But back-to-back wins for the first time since Oct. 2 at least give the Packers a mathematic hope. Granted, that hope hinges on going down to Miami and beating a Miami team that looks to have rediscovered its mojo. But they can cross that bridge when they get there.
20. Tennessee Titans (7-7): It’s crazy to think we could be heading toward a winner-take-all game between Tennessee and Jacksonville in Week 18. No, we’re not quite there yet, but this Titans team looks like a shell of the group that was coasting toward the division title a month ago.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8): There’s almost always a team that benefits tremendously from playing in a bad division, and go figure that Tom Brady would be lucky enough to be that guy despite suffering through the worst season of his career. No matter how bad it gets, there’s still time to shake out of it.
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22. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8): It might be a long shot, but it’s still mathematically possible Mike Tomlin could maintain his streak of never finishing a season with a losing record. At the very least, it’s a reason to keep an eye on a team that just hasn’t been very fun to watch most of this year.
23. Carolina Panthers (5-9): It feels hard to care after such a forgettable performance, but the Panthers do, in fact, control their destiny in the lowly NFC South. Hard to imagine they can win three-straight with what we’ve seen recently — but then, it was hard to imagine they’d ever be in this position in the first place.
24. New Orleans Saints (5-9): They’re a boring team in a bad division and their playoff odds feel all but shot. But don’t discount what it means in New Orleans, for the team and the fanbase, that the Saints got a season sweep over the hated Falcons.
25. Atlanta Falcons (5-9): Not exactly a memorable debut for Desmond Ridder, who didn’t crack 100 passing yards. For all the fun we had with the Falcons’ playoff odds, their current chances sit at about 3%.
26. Los Angeles Rams (4-10): This is what we expected Baker Mayfield and the Rams offense to look like against the Raiders. It might’ve been delayed by a week, but it’s just tough to expect much from such a decimated unit. There can’t be many teams more eager for this season to be over than the Rams.
27. Las Vegas Raiders (6-8): Don’t let the hilarity of the Patriots’ epic brain fart distract you from the fact that the Raiders were well on their way to blowing another multiple-possession lead. In a year with so much parity, it’s downright painful to think about where this team could be had it played even moderately better football in the fourth quarter of games.
28. Denver Broncos (4-10): It speaks to the Cardinals’ current situation that the Broncos were able to put up a decent offensive performance — and in a game that didn’t include Russell Wilson. For that matter, it probably doesn’t sit well with Russ that one of Denver’s best outputs of the season happened without him.
29. Chicago Bears (3-12): This is all still good for Chicago in the long run. The Bears currently hold the No. 2 overall pick, Justin Fields is genuinely breaking out and the outlook for the future is at least intriguing. Still, seven straight losses is tough to stomach, and at some point it’d be nice to see Fields’ obvious talent translate to winning football.
30. Houston Texans (1-12-1): Their record is still the worst in the league, but the Texans deserve some kind of credit for the way they keep battling. To take Kansas City to overtime, one week after a heartbreaker in Dallas, says something impressive about this group’s fortitude. It’s worthy of not being ranked last.
30. Indianapolis Colts (4-9-1): Behold, an L for the ages. You give up the biggest lead in NFL history, you deserve to drop a bit. Add in the fact that the Colts are just one of two teams in the NFL this year that hasn’t been able to beat Houston, and they deserve this lowly spot.
32. Arizona Cardinals (4-10): It speaks to how bad the vibes are in the desert that they’d be ranked below the Colts, but this is brutal stuff. This team was already bad, and now Colt McCoy is hurt after losing Kyler Murray for the season. It feels like a cruel joke that their next game is slated for primetime on Christmas Day.
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David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. 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 @davidhelman_.
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