Like you, I didn’t really follow the plot of Inception. As insanely convoluted as the movie was, I was at least able to grasp the core concept, which centered around a dream within a dream. I only bring it up because this week I’m embracing my inner Christopher Nolan by putting Power Rankings inside of Power Rankings.
We all watched Miami shock New England Sunday on a walk-off miracle reminiscent of the unparalleled Cal/Stanford ending in 1982. Much of the discourse surrounding Sunday’s finish and its aftermath has focused on who we should blame for the Patriots’ stunning collapse. If this happened to another team, we might dismiss it as a momentary lapse in judgment. After all, flukes are a dime a dozen in this chaotic sport. But we can’t let a team quarterbacked by the greatest living American Tom Brady, and coached by ruthless football savant Bill Belichick off the hook that easy. I’m not usually one to pile on but this time, I’m putting the Pats on blast. Let the blame game begin. Here are my rankings of who should be held most responsible for Sunday’s debacle in South Beach:
1. Bill Belichick. It’s not often I question Belichick’s decision-making, but in this instance, I think he made a critical miscalculation. It’s not uncommon for teams to employ wide receivers as deep safeties in prevent formations, but why was Rob Gronkowski, slowed by years of wear and tear, the last man back on defense? Josh Gordon, who runs a 4.3 forty, would have been a far better choice than Gronk, who had no chance of chasing down elusive tailback Kenyan Drake once he shifted into high gear. Obviously, Belichick felt Gronk’s height advantage would put him in prime position to bat down a Hail Mary, but the Dolphins didn’t even attempt one. Belichick should have known that Miami was more likely to bust out its Boise State lateral play than have Ryan Tannehill throw up a prayer from midfield, especially given his recent shoulder woes.
2. Tom Brady. Brady wasn’t to blame for the final play, but he did squander a golden scoring chance late in the first half when he took a sack deep in Miami territory. If Brady had just thrown it away like he’s done dozens of times throughout his career, the clock would have stopped, giving Stephen Gostkowski enough time to boot a chip-shot, 20-yard field goal to end the half. Instead, the Patriots scored zero points and lost by one.
3. Rob Gronkowski. He should have made the tackle, but I won’t give Gronk too much grief, since he shouldn’t have been out there in the first place and had a solid game otherwise with 107 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
4. Stephen Gostkowski. Nobody’s pointing the finger at Stevie G, but I will. Gostkowski shanked a 42-yarder he usually makes in his sleep to start the second half and also biffed an extra point on New England’s opening drive. Gostkowski is only human but on an afternoon where every point mattered, his misses loomed especially large.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here are my real Power Rankings for Week 15.
1. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 2
It wasn’t their most convincing effort but the Saints still got it done, closing out Sunday’s division-clinching win by outscoring Tampa Bay 25-0 in the second half. Drew Brees looked like a shoe-in for MVP a few weeks ago but the 39-year-old has limped to the finish line with 499 yards and three interceptions over his last three games. The Saints’ final three games are against the Panthers (five-game losing streak), the Steelers (three-game losing streak) and the Panthers again in Week 17. Can you say home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? Book it.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 4
Chris Jones isn’t a household name like J.J. Watt or even teammate Justin Houston, but maybe he should be. The third-year pass-rusher is riding a career-best nine-game sack streak. Patrick Mahomes took his wizardry to new heights on Sunday, ripping the Ravens for 377 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs’ overtime win. Damien Williams wore the vulture crown proudly in Week 14, finding the end zone twice against Baltimore despite gaining just 30 yards on 12 touches. KC can lock up the division by beating the Chargers Thursday night at Arrowhead.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 1
The Rams put up their lowest point total of the Sean McVay Era in Sunday’s shellacking at Soldier Field. Jared Goff turned in a career-worst start in the loss to Chicago, setting new lows in completion percentage, quarterback rating and yards per attempt. It’s been a disastrous stretch for Goff, who has completed only 48.1 percent of his passes with five interceptions since the Rams’ Week 12 bye. Todd Gurley was also stymied by the Bears, producing his fewest rushing yards (28) since Week 13 of his rookie year.
4. New England Patriots
Last Week: 3
Rob Gronkowski could probably use a refresher on his tackling technique, but at least his hands still work, as evidenced by his eight-catch, 107-yard blow-up against the Dolphins in Week 14. That marked the tight end’s first 100-yard game since Week 1. Tom Brady hasn’t had much success in Miami throughout his career—he’s won just seven of 17 games on the Dolphins’ home turf. But Tom broke from tradition with a booming effort in Sunday’s loss, lighting up the Xavien-Howard-less Fins for a season-high 358 yards on elite 27-of-43 passing.
5. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 7
Mitchell Trubisky disappointed in his return from a two-game absence (16-for-30, 110 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions), but Jordan Howard sure didn’t, pacing the Bears with a season-high 101 rushing yards on Sunday night. Chicago's defense did well to shut down the Rams’ league-best offense, holding L.A. to a season-low six points while crushing Jared Goff’s hopes and dreams with three sacks and four interceptions. The Bears will be hard-pressed to replace Bryce Callahan (No. 8 cover corner, according to ProFootballFocus), who bowed out with a broken foot in Week 14.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 6
The cupboard is getting awfully thin at running back for the Chargers, who could be missing both Melvin Gordon (knee) and Austin Ekeler (concussion, stinger) Thursday night in K.C. Keenan Allen continues to be as steady as they come. The sixth-year assassin graced the end zone with his presence yet again in Week 14, stretching his touchdown streak to five in the process. I assume the boogeyman checks his closet for Joey Bosa (four sacks in his last three games) before he goes to sleep at night.
7. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 8
Dak Prescott moved Dallas closer to its second division title in three years by logging a career-high 455 passing yards in Sunday’s overtime win over Philly. He’s been a monster for the Cowboys, completing an outrageous 75.1 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns (seven passing, three rushing) and just two interceptions throughout their five-game winning streak. Since making his Dallas debut in Week 9, no player has put up more receiving yards than Amari Cooper, who set career-highs in both yards (217) and touchdowns (three) in Week 14.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 9
The Seahawks ran their winning streak to four despite a career-low in passing yards (72) from Russell Wilson, defeating Minnesota on the strength of 214 rushing yards. Ninety of those yards were supplied by Chris Carson, who is creeping towards 1,000 yards rushing, a mark no Seahawk has reached since Marshawn Lynch topped that figure in 2014. Many felt Seattle reached by spending a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny in April, but the rookie has rewarded their faith by averaging a robust 6.85 yards per carry over his last six contests.
9. Houston Texans
Last Week: 5
Houston’s luck finally ran out Sunday as the Texans saw their nine-game winning streak disappear at the hands of division-rival Indianapolis. The injury-weakened Texans are digging deep at wide receiver. It’s gotten so bleak that backup quarterback Joe Webb had to fill in as the No. 3 wideout in Week 14. After topping 300 yards in four of his first five appearances this year, Deshaun Watson has fallen back to earth in a major way, limping to a meager 209.7 yards per game over his last eight contests.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 13
Coming off a shutout loss to Jacksonville a week earlier, Comeback Player of the Year candidate Andrew Luck thwarted the Texans with a dominant showing in Week 14, ending Houston’s nine-game winning streak in the process. Despite injuries hampering him throughout the afternoon, T.Y. Hilton still went bonkers for the Colts, accounting for 199 of Luck’s 399 passing yards in Sunday’s victory. The Texans don’t seem to have an answer for Hilton, who has racked up a breathtaking 374 yards on 14 catches over his last two trips to Houston.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 11
Presented a golden matchup against the Chiefs’ league-worst secondary, newly-named starter Lamar Jackson couldn’t deliver, completing just 13-of-24 throws for 147 yards as Baltimore watched its three-game winning streak expire. Gus Edwards maintained his role as the Ravens’ lead back in the loss to KC but was outgained by Kenneth Dixon, who contributed 80 yards from scrimmage on only nine touches. John Brown nixed a five-game scoreless drought with his touchdown in Week 14 but was held under 30 yards receiving for the sixth straight game. He’s caught just 10-of-31 targets during that span.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 10
The Steelers have picked an odd time to go off the rails, floundering to three straight losses while losing precious ground in the suddenly wide-open AFC North. Here’s a new one—Ben Roethlisberger’s return to Sunday’s game was delayed because the X-ray machine at the Oakland Coliseum couldn’t read his results. Well played, Gruden. It seems blasphemous to put this out in the universe, but has JuJu Smith-Schuster already surpassed teammate Antonio Brown? The 22-year-old trails AB in touchdowns but holds the edge in most other categories including catches, receiving yards and yards per reception.
13. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 17
Derrick Henry, who was started in under 15 percent of ESPN leagues last week, went berserk against Jacksonville, massacring the Jags for 238 yards and four touchdowns in Thursday night’s victory. Both were career-highs for Henry, who saw his yards per carry average rise from 3.7 to 4.9 in the aftermath of Thursday’s outburst. Tennessee will be short-handed down the stretch after losing Jonnu Smith (who had been filling in for Delanie Walker at tight end) and All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin to season-ending injuries.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 12
Minnesota’s offense has circled the drain with back-to-back no-shows, the latest coming in a Monday night loss to Seattle. The Vikings responded by showing the door to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who has since been replaced by QBs coach Kevin Stefanski. Kirk Cousins hasn’t been up to snuff, struggling to a 78.3 quarterback rating with three turnovers in his last two appearances. After beginning the year with a record eight straight 100-yard games, Adam Thielen has been held to 70 yards or less in four of his last five contests.
15. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 18
One of the weirdest quirks in sports has to be Miami’s inexplicable dominance of New England, winning five of its last six home games against Bill and the boys. What’s gotten into Kenny Stills? He’s been a beast lately, soaking up 12 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns over his last two outings. Think Revenge Games are a myth? Tell that to former Patriots backup Brandon Bolden, who blasted his ex-mates for 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 14. Prior to that, Bolden hadn’t scored a regular season touchdown since Week 12 of 2015.
16. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 15
The Eagles absorbed another gut punch in Week 14, falling to division-rival Dallas in heart-breaking fashion. At least Alshon Jeffery decided to show up for once, putting a stop to his five-game scoreless drought by nabbing a two-yard touchdown in Sunday’s defeat. Zach Ertz annihilated the Cowboys (14-145-2 on 16 targets) in his first meeting with them this year, but didn’t have the same success the second time around, managing only five catches for 38 yards. Darren Sproles has scored in both games since coming back from a three-month hamstring injury.
17. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 14
Denver’s playoff hopes took a hit with Sunday’s loss to the feisty Niners, who bullied the Broncos for 332 yards through the air. Rookie Courtland Sutton couldn’t take advantage of Emmanuel Sanders’ absence, accruing just 14 yards on two catches while laboring through a painful thigh injury. With Sutton hurting, undrafted rookie Tim Patrick announced his presence with 96 yards from scrimmage while logging a career-high 64 offensive snaps. Phillip Lindsay didn’t show his usual explosiveness in Week 14 (2.1 yards per carry), but still made his token end-zone visit, scoring for the sixth time in four games.
18. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 20
Jarvis Landry did a little of everything in Week 14, collecting three catches for 57 yards and a touchdown while also dabbling as a ball-carrier with two rushes for a career-high 54 yards and another TD. He also lost a fumble and a footrace to hard-charging linebacker Luke Kuechly, but nobody’s perfect. Baker Mayfield bounced back from his Week 13 catastrophe with an encouraging performance in Sunday’s win, blasting the checked-out Panthers for 238 yards on masterful 18-of-22 passing (81.8 completion percentage). The Browns’ arrow is pointing way up after winning three of their last four.
19. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 22
Joe Philbin’s tenure as Green Bay’s head honcho got off to a predictably bizarre start as the interim coach blew both of his challenges within the first two minutes of Sunday’s game. But it all worked out in the end as the Packers snuck by Atlanta while keeping their dim playoff hopes alive. Randall Cobb remembered what it felt like to score a touchdown, finding pay-dirt for the first time since Week 1. No player has caught more touchdowns than Davante Adams (34) over the last three seasons.
20. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 16
Cam Newton recently revealed that having a family has made him a more gracious loser. That’s good because the Panthers are doing a whole lot of losing these days. Sunday’s loss to the Browns marked Carolina’s fifth consecutive defeat. Once considered a playoff lock, the struggling Panthers now find themselves in a precarious position, holding only a nine-percent chance of reaching the postseason. At a destitute fantasy position, Ian Thomas could be a name to watch at tight end. The former Indiana Hoosier set career-highs in both catches (nine) and receiving yards (77) in the loss to Cleveland.
21. New York Giants
Last Week: 24
Odell Beckham was a surprise scratch in Week 14, but his absence didn’t register as the Giants cruised to a blowout win over Washington. Saquon Barkley enhanced his Rookie of the Year qualifications by rushing for a career-high 170 yards in the victory. After spending the first three months of the season under wraps, New York finally unveiled Kyle Lauletta on Sunday, though the rookie looked like he needed more seasoning, misfiring on all five of his passing attempts. Evan Engram’s 77 yards on Sunday were his most since Week 15 of last year.
22. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 25
Frustrated by LeGarrette Blount’s lack of production, the Lions handed the backfield reins to Zach Zenner late in Sunday’s win at Arizona. Zenner didn’t disappoint, compiling 54 yards and a touchdown on 12 second-half carries. Matthew Stafford made his 128th consecutive start under center but struggled while playing through back pain, throwing for his fewest yards since the 2010 season opener. Facing shadow coverage from All-Pro Patrick Peterson, lead receiver Kenny Golladay was outgained by teammates Theo Riddick, Levine Toilolo, Bruce Ellington and LeGarrette Blount in Week 14.
23. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 19
A storm is gathering over Washington, but I don’t think they make umbrellas big enough to keep the Redskins dry. Mark Sanchez predictably flopped in Week 14, completing just 6-of-14 passes for 38 yards with two interceptions and five sacks before Jay Gruden finally benched him for Josh Johnson, who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2011. Jordan Reed is looking at a season-ending toe injury while third-year underachiever Josh Doctson is in danger of missing Week 15 with a concussion. The Redskins’ four-game losing skid is their longest since 2014.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 21
Chris Godwin saw high ownership on DFS sites like FanDuel and DraftKings last week, which made it all the more painful when he tanked against New Orleans (one catch for 13 yards on 10 targets). Who needs a goal-line finisher when you have Cameron Brate? He’s been Jameis Winston’s go-to target inside the red zone, securing three touchdowns on just eight catches over his last three games. That corresponds with the loss of O.J. Howard, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 11.
25. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 23
Julio Jones gave it his all in Week 14, corralling eight-of-11 targets for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Green Bay. Now that he’s conquered his crippling fear of the end zone, Jones has been scoring like crazy, tallying four touchdowns in his last five contests. That’s more touchdowns than he scored all of last year. Ito Smith shined in his first trip to Lambeau, tacking on a career-high 74 yards (60 rushing, 14 receiving) while out-touching teammate Tevin Coleman 14-11. The Falcons’ five-game slide is their longest since 2015.
26. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 28
Josh Allen disappointed as a passer in Sunday’s loss to the Jets (18-for-36, 206 yards, two interceptions) but dominated with his legs, hustling to 101 yards on nine carries. Allen has provided a phenomenal 335 rushing yards over his last three contests, the most for a quarterback over any three-game span in NFL history. Undrafted rookie Robert Foster has chipped in 360 receiving yards for Buffalo. That’s almost as many as he had over his entire four-year stay at Alabama (379).
27. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 26
The Bengals put a scare in the Chargers but couldn’t quite finish the job, extending their losing streak to five with Sunday’s defeat. Joe Mixon put the offense on his back, stuffing the stat sheet with 138 yards (111 rushing, 27 receiving) and a touchdown on a career-high 31 touches. Tyler Boyd enters the week just 10 yards shy of 1,000, an impressive feat for a player who went undrafted in virtually all fantasy leagues this summer. No team has allowed more yards (5,485) or points (397) than Cincinnati in 2018.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 27
Any momentum the Jaguars may have built after blanking the Colts in Week 13 was quickly lost when Derrick Henry crushed them for 238 yards on Thursday night. Cody Kessler hasn’t been the answer, averaging a pedestrian 5.82 yards per attempt in his two starts. With Doug Marrone looking like a goner, would Tom Coughlin consider leaving his front office gig for a second stint as Jacksonville’s head coach? Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says not to rule it out. Thursday’s defeat clinched Jacksonville’s seventh losing season in the last eight years.
29. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 31
Derek Carr came through in the clutch, leading a fourth-quarter comeback in Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. He’s been a man possessed, completing a ridiculous 75 percent of his passes with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a jaw-dropping 122.9 quarterback rating over his last two performances. Jared Cook cashed in with his second straight 100-yard effort in Week 14. The 31-year-old has already set career marks in catches (61), receiving yards (825) and touchdowns (six) with three games still to go. Doug Martin will take a three-game touchdown streak into this week’s encounter with Cincinnati.
30. New York Jets
Last Week: 30
Sam Darnold saved the day in his return from a three-game absence, rescuing the Jets by orchestrating a pair of late touchdown drives in a comeback victory over Buffalo. Sunday’s triumph in Orchard Park spelled the end of New York’s six-game losing skid. Elijah McGuire did the heavy lifting with Isaiah Crowell (toe) hobbled in Week 14, recording a season-high 83 yards (60 rushing, 23 receiving) while also supplying the go-ahead touchdown with 1:17 remaining. Including last week’s win, the Jets are a perfect 3-0 when Robby Anderson scores a touchdown this year.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 32
It’s been tough sledding for the Niners this year, but on Sunday, everything went their way. George Kittle burnt the Broncos to a crisp, smoking Denver’s injury-diminished secondary for 210 yards, all in the first half. It’s infuriating that Kyle Shanahan couldn’t find a way to get Kittle the record for most receiving yards by a tight end (214 by Shannon Sharpe in 2002), but at least he apologized. No quarterback has thrown for more yards than Nick Mullens (746) over the last two weeks.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 29
The Cardinals turned heads by beating the Packers in Week 13—their first victory over a non-San Francisco opponent—but the spell wore off upon their return to Arizona as the Cards managed just three points in a loss to Detroit. Undrafted rookie Trent Sherfield picked up the slack in Christian Kirk’s absence, delivering five catches for a career-high 77 yards in the losing effort. Larry Fitzgerald enjoyed another historic Sunday, becoming the league’s all-time leader for most catches with a single team. This stat line from David Johnson makes my brain hurt.
Biggest Jump: Titans
Biggest Drop: Panthers, Redskins, Texans