NFL Week 15 Power Rankings: Lions, Jaguars among improbable playoff hopefuls entering final stretch of season

It’s December, a time for contenders to emerge and pretenders to fade away.

So go ahead and try explain what happened this past Sunday in the NFL. The Detroit Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings, who came in at 10-2. The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the division-leading Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers went on the road to beat the Seattle Seahawks, a team that appeared to be surging to the postseason.

Detroit, Jacksonville and Carolina are all alive in the playoff chase. In December? Can it be?

The Lions have won five of six to get to 6-7 and get within a game and a half of being in the playoff picture. The Lions have done it behind the offense and especially underrated quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game. The defense has also improved over the past month.

The Jaguars hadn’t won at Tennessee since 2013 before Sunday and were coming off a beat down by the Lions the week before in which they looked lifeless. So who expected Trevor Lawrence to throw for 368 yards and three touchdowns as the Jaguars won, 36-22, in dominant fashion? Lawrence has been as good as any quarterback in the league the last month of the season, putting to rest any of that dumb talk that he wasn’t a franchise passer.

Then there’s Carolina. It has run itself into the playoff chase at 5-8, one game behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South. The Panthers beat Seattle, 30-24, on Sunday and now control their own path into the playoffs. If they win out, including beating Tampa Bay in Week 17, they will be the NFC South winner. Of course, they also have a big game with the Lions in Week 16. The Lions and Panthers playing a big game in late December just isn’t something we expected six weeks ago.

To win the AFC South, the Jaguars would need to win out, including beating the Titans in the final week of the season and then also hope the Titans lose one other game. The schedule is tough with Dallas at home, the Jets on the road, the Texans on the road and then the Titans at home. But it’s possible.

The Lions are my highest-ranked team of the three in this week’s Power Rankings, up to No. 18. But the Jaguars and Panthers are also on the move up.

Sunday was once again a reminder of how crazy the NFL can be and how unpredictable it is from week to week.

Who saw the Lions, Jaguars and Panthers still alive with Christmas around the corner? Not many, that’s for sure — probably not even inside their respective buildings.

Biggest Movers








They rolled the Giants, and the offense is almost unstoppable right now. Jalen Hurts for MVP? It could happen. 12-1-0



The defense played well without Von Miller, which is a good sign. The Bills can basically lock up the division by beating the Dolphins this week. 10-3-0



They beat the Texans, but it sure was ugly. They always seem to have a game or two like that. They can’t play like that against good teams. 10-3-0



Despite some big plays, the defense has to be better than it was against Denver if they are going to be a Super Bowl team. They actually made Russell Wilson look good. 10-3-0



They have really righted things in a big way after the slow start. The defense has really stepped up in recent weeks. 1 9-4-0



Brock Purdy was really good in his first NFL start in beating the Bucs. But it’s the defense that really is carrying this team. 1 9-4-0



The defense is a major problem for this group. It can’t stop the opposition, which puts so much pressure on its offense. At 10-3, are the Vikings good or not? 2 10-3-0



That was a big-time victory against the Steelers without Lamar Jackson. The defense came up big in that one. 1 9-4-0



They are on a two-game losing streak. The concern is the offense has struggled as it readies to play the Bills. 1 8-5-0



They come off their bye with a home game against a Giants team they tied two weeks ago. Win that one, and they will have a great shot to be a playoff team. 1 7-5-1



What was that against the Jaguars? The defense is awful right now, which won’t win a lot of games going forward, and the offensive line is awful. 2 7-6-0



That was a season-saving victory against Miami. It’s nice to see the passing game finally take some shots down the field. 3 7-6-0



They blew a home game against the Panthers, dropping them out of the playoffs for now. The defense is back to being a problem in a big way, and Geno Smith made some bad throws in that game. 3 7-6-0



The offense didn’t do enough against the Bills, but that didn’t stop coach Robert Saleh from saying he would see them again come playoff time. That’s some real confidence there. 7-6-0



If the playoffs started today, they would be in. The offense got going a bit against the Cardinals, which is a good sign. 2 7-6-0



They have a tie and three losses in their last four, and that early-season success is fading fast. The defense was awful against the Eagles. 4 7-5-1



They just can’t get any momentum this season. The 49ers beat them up in every way imageable Sunday. Yet they are still in first place. 1 6-7-0



They are making a playoff push, which is impressive. Jared Goff has been outstanding. 1 6-7-0



Learning how to hold leads is a problem for this team. Losing the way it did to the Rams almost ends its playoff hopes. 1 5-8-0



They have to be concerned with what they’ve seen from Deshaun Watson so far. Rust or not, he’s not playing well. 2 5-8-0



If they win their final four games, they could be a playoff team. One loss, and it’s likely over. The question is whether they are good enough to run the table. 5-8-0



Without Kenny Pickett, they were lost against the Ravens. Mitch Trubisky turned it over way too much. 5-8-0



They are going to rookie Desmond Ridder at quarterback, which is the right thing to do. They might have waited too long. 5-8-0



Trevor Lawrence is going to keep this team relevant for a long time. He will be a star, which he showed in beating the Titans. 5-8-0



They are in the playoff mix. Think about that. With Sam Darnold, they could make the playoffs. Amazing. 3 5-8-0



They have four games left, and they are pretty much playing out the string. This has not been a good season for first-year coach Dennis Allen. 1 4-9-0



They are done for this year, but the concern now is the knee injury suffered by Kyler Murray. How severe is it, and what will it do to his career? 1 4-9-0



They come off their bye with a Saturday game at Minnesota. Is this the final four-game stretch for the Jeff Saturday experiment? 1 4-8-1



Picking up Baker Mayfield paid off for a game as he beat the Raiders. Now comes a tougher challenge for him at Green Bay, but he will know the offense better as well. 4-9-0



They come off their bye with a tough game against the Eagles. It should be a good way for Justin Fields to get an idea of what might come next year by watching Jalen Hurts. 3-10-0



The good news is the offense came alive against the Chiefs. The bad news is that it didn’t matter since they lost anyway. 3-10-0



They made it interesting against Dallas, which shows they haven’t quit. They are headed for the top pick, which is a good thing. 1-11-1

Francis McGee

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