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NFL Week 16 power rankings: The Chiefs and Packers take their turn leading the way

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have found their footing again. (John Cordes/AP)
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Each week during the NFL season, The Post’s Mark Maske ranks the 32 teams. This week, the league is back in scramble mode after a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. The schedule was juggled, and roster and competitive issues arose for some teams. That will probably be the norm for the rest of the season. The Buccaneers and Patriots drop with their losses as the prospects for a Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick Super Bowl took a hit. The Chiefs, Packers, Cowboys and Rams move up.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) | Last week’s rank: 3

The Chiefs remained on a roll with a tough overtime victory Thursday night over the Chargers at SoFi Stadium. QB Patrick Mahomes, TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill put up huge numbers. The defense made some big plays at key moments. The Chiefs have won seven straight, and another run deep into the postseason seems ever more probable. But there are coronavirus issues this week, with Kelce and Hill among those placed on the covid-19 reserve list.

2. Green Bay Packers (11-3) | Last week’s rank: 4

The Packers denied the Ravens on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute to hold on and win in Baltimore. The NFC North title is secured, and the Packers remain in position for the No. 1 seed in the conference. QB Aaron Rodgers was very good again as he continues to play with a fractured toe. The Packers close with the Browns, Vikings and Lions. They should be able to run the table, if that ends up being needed, with so much at stake.

3. Dallas Cowboys (10-4) | Last week’s rank: 5

The offense still isn’t entirely revved up. The running game was reasonably productive in Sunday’s victory over the Giants. QB Dak Prescott was decent. But it was nothing spectacular, and the kicking misadventures of Greg Zuerlein remain an issue. But the defense was terrific in the Meadowlands, generating four turnovers. The Cowboys have won three straight entering Sunday night’s rematch with the Washington Football Team.

4. Los Angeles Rams (10-4) | Last week’s rank: 6

All three teams with major coronavirus issues that led to postponed games were competitive. But the Rams, unlike the Browns and Washington, actually won. WR Cooper Kupp’s ceaseless production continued with his nine-catch, 136-yard, two-TD performance in the victory Tuesday over the Seahawks.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4) | Last week’s rank: 1

QB Tom Brady fumed as he suffered his first home-game shutout Sunday night against the Saints. He smashed a tablet on the sideline. He directed words at the opposing sideline. He was left with far too little help on offense when RB Leonard Fournette and WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans exited with injuries. The Bucs must regroup quickly, with Godwin’s season done. They get WR Antonio Brown back this week from his suspension.

Tom Brady suffered his first home shutout in the NFL, and he didn’t take it well

6. New England Patriots (9-5) | Last week’s rank: 2

Nothing was good enough about how the Patriots played Saturday night in Indianapolis, as Coach Bill Belichick said repeatedly afterward. The defense couldn’t stop Colts RB Jonathan Taylor. The offense was shut out for three quarters, and QB Mac Jones threw two interceptions. The special teams made calamitous blunders. Their fourth-quarter rally was spirited, but the Patriots still lost for the first time since mid-October and now must gather themselves for this weekend’s rematch with the Bills.

7. San Francisco 49ers (8-6) | Last week’s rank: 11

The 49ers continued to get it done with a victory at home over the Falcons. They’ve won two straight and five of six. In the bigger picture, this complicates things at QB as rookie Trey Lance continues to wait his turn while San Francisco succeeds with Jimmy Garoppolo. But for now, the job belongs to Garoppolo and the 49ers certainly look like a playoff team.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) | Last week’s rank: 13

The Bengals didn’t play all that well in Denver, but QB Joe Burrow made the one big play that mattered with his long TD pass to WR Tyler Boyd. There was some good fortune involved: The Bengals benefited from an instant-replay reversal that negated their lost fumble on what would have been a crazy double-turnover play. But good luck is part of being a good team. And the Bengals undeniably qualify. Burrow will be playing big games down the stretch in his second season. He is indeed the franchise savior the Bengals envisioned when they drafted him.

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-6) | Last week’s rank: 15

It’s a QB-centric league, for sure, but Taylor reaffirmed that he’s a viable MVP contender with another brilliant performance in Saturday night’s triumph over the Patriots. The Colts certainly resemble a playoff team. They played well on defense until the fourth quarter Saturday. QB Carson Wentz has done far more good than bad. Still, his interception against New England was a reminder that he still cannot be fully trusted.

Jonathan Taylor runs wild as the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak comes to a crashing halt

10. Arizona Cardinals (10-4) | Last week’s rank: 7

The loss to the Lions was stunning. The Cardinals were not even particularly competitive. They seem to be regressing, having posted losses in two straight and three of five. Playing without WR DeAndre Hopkins is an issue, for sure. But it shouldn’t have led to a performance that dreadful.

11. Tennessee Titans (9-5) | Last week’s rank: 8

The Titans were upset about the measurement on the failed fourth down at the end of their loss to the Steelers. In truth, the measurement shouldn’t have mattered. The Titans were well short of the first-down marker, and only a ridiculously favorable spot made the measurement an issue. The puzzling defeats continue to pile up for the Titans. They’ve lost three of four heading into Thursday night’s meeting with the 49ers.

12. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6) | Last week’s rank: 9

The Chargers just missed a season sweep of the Chiefs with the overtime loss Thursday night. Coach Brandon Staley’s fourth-down gambles backfired; he continually opted against field goals that could have been the difference and given the Chargers a win. Staley was unbowed, defending his go-for-broke approach. No one is saying he should make huge changes. What he’s doing is working, mostly, as the Chargers move toward being an elite team. But it might help if he dials it back a bit toward slightly more traditional sideline decision-making.

The Chiefs’ championship fortitude is on full display in overtime victory over the Chargers

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

Make it six straight victories since a 1-7 start. Sunday’s triumph over the Jets probably was more interesting than it needed to be, but the Dolphins managed to do what was required. They’ve made the long climb back to .500 and have one more relatively favorable matchup, Monday night at New Orleans, before a tough closing stretch against the Titans and Patriots.

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-6) | Last week’s rank: 12

Coach John Harbaugh remained consistent, going for the go-ahead two-point conversion in the late stages Sunday against the Packers, just as he had done two weeks earlier in Pittsburgh. The Ravens failed for the second time and now find themselves on a three-game skid. Tyler Huntley played very well at QB while filling in for Lamar Jackson. The Ravens simply were too shorthanded, particularly in the secondary.

John Harbaugh went for the win, and the Ravens suffered a cruel loss

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

The Vikings won Monday night in Chicago with QB Kirk Cousins throwing for only 87 yards. They’re right in the thick of the wild-card chase. But they’ll need WR Adam Thielen back in the lineup, and they’ll need Cousins to get back to being productive. The schedule toughens from here, with the Rams and Packers next.

16. Buffalo Bills (8-6) | Last week’s rank: 18

QB Josh Allen played well despite his foot injury and the Bills took advantage of the Panthers’ shortcomings to win at home. This team has not lived up to expectations. But the Bills still have a chance to make this right, beginning with this weekend’s rematch with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.

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

The Eagles made early blunders but shook them off and rolled up 519 yards in the triumph Tuesday over the Washington Football Team. QB Jalen Hurts excelled as both a passer and a runner. The Eagles are in a virtual tie for the No. 7 playoff spot in the NFC and have a favorable closing schedule with the Giants and Washington before a Week 18 game against a Cowboys team that could be resting starters.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) |Last week’s rank: 22

CB Joe Haden made the big tackle to deny the Titans on their fourth-down attempt and seal the victory Sunday. Every time it feels like the Steelers should be finished, they find a way to make things interesting. But it will be difficult to sustain any momentum with a daunting game at Kansas City looming this weekend.

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

That was a tremendous defensive performance in the shutout victory Sunday night in Tampa. The Saints continued their regular season dominance of the Bucs since Tom Brady’s move to Florida. They won even with Coach Sean Payton missing the game following his positive coronavirus test. The offense needs to play better going forward. But that was the type of triumph that not only could spark a late-season run into the playoffs — it also made Brady really mad.

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

The Raiders spent far too much time worrying about whether the game in Cleveland should have been rescheduled instead of focusing on simply beating an undermanned opponent. They did pull out the victory, although just barely, on a field goal as time expired.

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

The Browns nearly got it done against the Raiders even with all their coronavirus issues. They were without Coach Kevin Stefanski and a lengthy list of players that included QB Baker Mayfield and his backup, Case Keenum. But such competitive discrepancies will probably be commonplace as the NFL tries to complete its season amid the surge in omicron cases.

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

Backup QB Drew Lock had the big fumble as the Broncos could not pull it out against the Bengals after Teddy Bridgewater’s injury. This team hasn’t played poorly. There just isn’t much to get excited about, with the next franchise QB still not in place.

23. Atlanta Falcons (6-8) | Last week’s rank: 20

Their loss to the 49ers was nondescript in what is becoming an increasingly nondescript season.

24. Washington Football Team (6-8) | Last week’s rank: 21

Garrett Gilbert played reasonably well as the emergency starter at QB. But the early 10-point lead dissipated Tuesday night in Philadelphia, and the defense simply could not hold up. Playoff hopes are not extinguished, but they are looking increasingly far-fetched.

25. Seattle Seahawks (5-9) | Last week’s rank: 23

That missed pass interference call hurt the Seahawks. But the lack of production on offense again was the major culprit in their defeat Tuesday to the Rams. A losing season is ensured, and the speculation has begun about whether Coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson will return. They’ve had a fantastically prosperous run in Seattle, but it does seem major changes are in store.

26. New York Giants (4-10) | Last week’s rank: 26

There’s not much good going on here. But anyone who thought good things might happen with Mike Glennon at QB was expecting far too much. Daniel Jones is done for the season, so it’s Glennon or Jake Fromm the rest of the way.

27. Carolina Panthers (5-9) | Last week’s rank: 27

The pregame injury to kicker Zane Gonzalez certainly complicated matters against the Bills. But the bigger issue is an offense that’s going nowhere, even after the ouster of coordinator Joe Brady. The Panthers are going to remain limited with RB Christian McCaffrey done for the season. But Cam Newton has not been the answer at QB, and the play at that position needs to be better. Coach Matt Rhule faces an interesting decision if Sam Darnold is deemed ready to play after another week of practice.

28. Chicago Bears (4-10) | Last week’s rank: 28

The Bears came undone during the defeat Monday night to the Vikings at Soldier Field, with four personal fouls plus an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Coach Matt Nagy for disputing a call. Disagree with the calls if you like. But questionable calls happen. Downright bad calls occur occasionally. The good teams maintain their composure, move on and overcome. The Bears unraveled instead. The only question now, it seems, is when Nagy will be dismissed, not if.

The Vikings reach .500 as Matt Nagy and the Bears come unglued

29. Detroit Lions (2-11-1) | Last week’s rank: 30

The Lions at least showed they aren’t tanking.

30. Houston Texans (3-11) | Last week’s rank: 31

The Texans at least showed they aren’t tanking.

31. New York Jets (3-11) | Last week’s rank: 29

The real issue here is whether, by season’s end, the Jets justifiably can feel secure and hopeful about Robert Saleh as their coach and Zach Wilson as their QB. It’s debatable, at the moment, whether that will be the case. But both deserve every opportunity to prove themselves.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) | Last week’s rank: 32

The coach was different. The result was the same. The Jaguars fired Urban Meyer and turned things over to Darrell Bevell on an interim basis. The defeat Sunday at home to the Texans was appropriately dreary.