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NFL Week 15 power rankings: Tom Brady’s current team is first, and his former team is second

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers reach the No. 1 spot. (Jason Behnken/AP)
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Each week during the NFL season, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske ranks the 32 teams. This week, the Cardinals’ loss Monday night to the Rams makes it all about Tom Brady. His current team, the Buccaneers, moves up to first. His former team, the Patriots, moves up to second. The Chiefs, Packers and Cowboys also advance to round out the top five, followed by the Rams and then the Cardinals.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3) | Last week’s rank: 2

QB Tom Brady became the NFL’s career leader in completions and picked a good time for his 700th TD pass, including the postseason. It was the OT game-winner against the Bills. The Bucs squandered a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and never should have allowed it to go to OT. It doesn’t feel like the champs are playing at last season’s down-the-stretch level. But as long as they have Brady, they have a chance to be a major factor in the games that matter the most.

Bucs survive Bills in overtime; Ravens lose Lamar Jackson in loss to Browns; Chiefs crush Raiders

2. New England Patriots (9-4) | Last week’s rank: 3

The Patriots return from a very late bye week with their winning streak intact at seven and expectations soaring. The bad-weather victory in Buffalo before the bye, with rookie QB Mac Jones throwing only three passes, restored the whatever-it-takes aura of the Patriots. The defense is dominant. Coach Bill Belichick is pushing all the right buttons. But there’s no time to relax, with a key game Saturday night at Indianapolis.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) | Last week’s rank: 4

The Chiefs kept rolling with a lopsided victory at home over the Raiders. QB Patrick Mahomes played well and even went interception-free. WR Josh Gordon had his first TD catch since 2019. The defense continued to thrive, forcing five Raiders turnovers. Is this all setting up for Chiefs vs. Patriots in the AFC championship game?

4. Green Bay Packers (10-3) | Last week’s rank: 5

QB Aaron Rodgers had four TD passes, and the Packers dominated the Bears in a return-to-normal second half after trailing at halftime Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Rodgers’s postgame comments about his injured toe feeling worse were ominous. But no matter how bad it felt, he still played extremely well. The weekend got even better for the Packers when they inherited the NFC’s top seed with the Cardinals’ defeat.

With a dominant second half, Aaron Rodgers continues his ownership of the Bears

5. Dallas Cowboys (9-4) | Last week’s rank: 6

Perhaps Coach Mike McCarthy should “guarantee” victories more often. That’s not exactly what he did, and too much was made of McCarthy saying he expected his team to win Sunday at FedEx Field. But the Cowboys came out and played well most of the way. They allowed things to get far too interesting in the game’s late stages but nevertheless emerged with a road triumph that left little doubt about which team is the NFC East’s best.

6. Los Angeles Rams (9-4) | Last week’s rank: 7

Now, that was the Rams team that everyone expected to see when an already formidable roster was bolstered by the additions of LB Von Miller and WR Odell Beckham Jr. QB Matthew Stafford was sharp in the win Monday night at Arizona. Beckham and, especially, fellow WR Cooper Kupp were highly productive. Aaron Donald had three sacks, and the Rams had two interceptions. They don’t get to be trusted entirely just yet. But maybe it was a liftoff point.

7. Arizona Cardinals (10-3) | Last week’s rank: 1

The Cardinals squandered scoring chances early in the loss Monday night to the Rams. QB Kyler Murray threw two interceptions. Coach Kliff Kingsbury made a couple questionable decisions. The Cardinals made a mess of their last-gasp drive after recovering the onside kick. They still nearly pulled the game out. But they need to play far better than that when it matters.

8. Tennessee Titans (9-4) | Last week’s rank: 8

A shutout win at home over the Jaguars was routine. Beating the Jaguars barely counts these days, although the Titans have had more than their share of inexplicable missteps this season. The news that RB Derrick Henry could return this season is welcome. Without him, it’s tough to see the Titans being on even footing with the AFC’s other leading contenders.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5) | Last week’s rank: 10

QB Justin Herbert made it look easy against the Giants. The Chargers lead the way in the AFC wild-card chase and are right on the heels of the first-place Chiefs in the AFC West entering their matchup Thursday night in Southern California. A playoff appearance would be a significant achievement. Herbert deserves to be seen on a postseason stage.

10. Cleveland Browns (7-6) | Last week’s rank: 18

The Browns should have beaten the Ravens easily, given their 21-point lead and the injury to Lamar Jackson. But nothing is ever easy with the Browns, who had to hang on desperately at the end. It was still a meaningful win within the division. But the outcome probably was not so much a reason to feel good about the Browns but a cause to fret about the Ravens.

11. San Francisco 49ers (7-6) | Last week’s rank: 20

The 49ers prevailed in an OT thriller in Cincinnati with the replay reversal that gave QB Jimmy Garoppolo a winning TD pass to WR Brandon Aiyuk. The 49ers remain a factor with four victories in their past five games. No one should be particularly eager to face them down the stretch or, potentially, in the playoffs.

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12. Baltimore Ravens (8-5) | Last week’s rank: 9

Injuries are never an excuse in the NFL; everyone has them. But QB Lamar Jackson’s sprained ankle was simply one injury too many for the Ravens. It doesn’t work without him in the lineup, notwithstanding the one victory this season with Tyler Huntley filling in. This could come entirely undone if the Ravens aren’t careful. The Packers, Bengals and Rams are up next.

13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) | Last week’s rank: 11

QB Joe Burrow threw for 348 yards and two TDs even with his injured pinkie finger, and the Bengals made a great comeback late in regulation before succumbing in OT to the 49ers. They’re struggling with two straight losses, but it felt like they competed hard and played relatively well Sunday in a fairly high-stakes game.

14. Miami Dolphins (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 13

It’s time for everyone to take the Dolphins seriously as they return from their bye. They’ve won five consecutive games since a 1-7 start. The Jets and Saints are up next, meaning the Dolphins very well could be above .500 heading into their final two games against the Titans and Patriots. QB Tua Tagovailoa deserves some credit for the turnaround.

15. Indianapolis Colts (7-6) | Last week’s rank: 14

The Colts remain an interesting team as they return from their bye for a difficult closing stretch. They can be a tough matchup for anyone if they give the ball often enough to RB Jonathan Taylor and avoid putting QB Carson Wentz into too many situations in which costly mistakes can be made. But they play the Patriots on Saturday night and the Cardinals on Christmas night, so their path to remaining in playoff contention is potentially hazardous.

16. Denver Broncos (7-6) | Last week’s rank: 21

The Broncos won on a day filled with moving tributes to Demaryius Thomas. The organization handled a sorrowful and emotional situation well.

17. Minnesota Vikings (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 22

It’s difficult to take the Vikings seriously as a contender for anything, even just a playoff spot, when even a 29-0 lead late in the third quarter at home isn’t particularly safe. They did hold on Thursday night to beat the Steelers, but only by breaking up a pass in the end zone as time expired with an eight-point advantage. RB Dalvin Cook was unstoppable. Justin Jefferson remained productive even with the Steelers able to focus on him thanks to fellow WR Adam Thielen’s injury. But even the Vikings seem to realize they can’t keep being so inconsistent and unreliable.

18. Buffalo Bills (7-6) | Last week’s rank: 12

QB Josh Allen was tremendous, both as a passer and as a runner. The Bills made a spirited fourth-quarter comeback to force OT in Tampa. But they came up short again, and it’s fair to wonder if they are capable of beating the league’s best. Allen’s foot injury suffered in the fourth quarter Sunday now becomes a concern.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 17

Only NFC East matchups remain on the schedule as the Eagles return from their bye. They face the Washington Football Team twice in their next three games. The Eagles have exceeded expectations in a retooling season. A decent finish would leave hope for the future, regardless of whether the Eagles reach the playoffs in Nick Sirianni’s rookie season as an NFL head coach.

20. Atlanta Falcons (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 24

This isn’t a great team, by any means. The Falcons certainly can’t match up with the better teams. But give credit to rookie head coach Arthur Smith and his players. For the Falcons to be this close to .500 in December means Smith is getting pretty close to the maximum out of what he has on the roster.

21. Washington Football Team (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 15

Sunday’s crowd at FedEx Field was pro-Cowboys. The winning streak ended. QB Taylor Heinicke got hurt. It was a pretty dismal day for Washington. The loss probably put the NFC East title out of Washington’s reach. It remains in the wild-card mix, but that says more about the state of the NFC’s middle tier than it does about the quality of this team.

Steelers take little consolation in late comeback after troubling performance in loss to Vikings

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1) | Last week’s rank: 16

The comeback was spirited Thursday night in Minnesota. But Coach Mike Tomlin and QB Ben Roethlisberger were right to basically dismiss the late rally as mostly irrelevant. The real issue was how poorly the Steelers played to fall behind by 29 points, not how well they played to be on the doorstep of a tying TD and two-point conversion at game’s end. Time is running short if the Steelers are going to do anything positive in what could be Roethlisberger’s farewell season.

23. Seattle Seahawks (5-8) | Last week’s rank: 26

The Seahawks actually looked functional on offense in their victory at Houston. It was a better day for QB Russell Wilson. WR Tyler Lockett and RB Rashaad Penny were highly productive. There’s probably no way for the Seahawks, at this point, to save their season. But the two-game winning streak at least has kept things from getting worse.

24. New Orleans Saints (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 28

Even a triumph over the Jets feels like an accomplishment at this point. RB Alvin Kamara made a highly successful return to the lineup. QB Taysom Hill contributed both as a runner and as a passer, without any interceptions this time. The Saints won for the first time since Halloween. They’re in the wild-card mix, but that doesn’t mask the problems this team has, particularly at QB.

25. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7) | Last week’s rank: 19

Maybe the pregame gathering of Raiders players on the Chiefs’ logo wasn’t such a great idea. It’s fine if you go out and win. It’s not such a good look if you fall behind by 32 points at halftime and lose, 48-9. The Raiders were completely noncompetitive. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see them pulling things together during what remains of a rapidly unraveling season.

26. New York Giants (4-9) | Last week’s rank: 23

Mike Glennon isn’t the answer at QB, just in case anyone was wondering (and no one was). Are the Giants ever going to be good again?

27. Carolina Panthers (5-8) | Last week’s rank: 25

This is starting to look like a mess. Firing Joe Brady as the offensive coordinator and making Jeff Nixon the play-caller didn’t fix anything. Having Cam Newton and P.J. Walker split time at QB didn’t work. At some point, the blame is going to fall on Coach Matt Rhule. That point might not arrive this season. But that depends on how patient owner David Tepper wants to be. And Tepper is not exactly known for his patience.

28. Chicago Bears (4-9) | Last week’s rank: 27

The second quarter Sunday night at Lambeau Field was spectacular. Unfortunately for the Bears, the game didn’t end there.

29. New York Jets (3-10) | Last week’s rank: 29

Rookie QB Zach Wilson threw no interceptions and the Jets still were not competitive at home in the loss to the Saints. Is there any progress being made here? Is there any reason for hope?

30. Detroit Lions (1-11-1) | Last week’s rank: 30

The Lions didn’t have much of a chance Sunday in Denver. They were undermanned because of their issues with coronavirus and flu cases, and they were facing an inspired Broncos team.

31. Houston Texans (2-11) | Last week’s rank: 31

Rookie Davis Mills played fine at QB, but the Texans still were overwhelmed at home by the Seahawks. It would be less dreary to watch if the Texans could fast-forward to the offseason and see what GM Nick Caserio can get in a Deshaun Watson trade.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) | Last week’s rank: 32

The Urban Meyer situation has gotten almost comically bad. It just isn’t working. There is no immediate indication that Jaguars owner Shad Khan is ready to move on and find a new coach. But there also is no hint that this is going to get better any time in the foreseeable future.

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