We’re well into the second decade of the cultural phenomenon known as Brady/Belichick and it seems like we’re still trying to pinpoint why the pairing works so well. How do the Patriots, year after year with almost an entirely different roster (save for Brady, of course), continue to get the same results? One word: resiliency.
Every year the Patriots find themselves shorthanded. Rob Gronkowski, the best tight end in football but also one of the most fragile, has been in and out of the lineup all year. Dion Lewis missed the first two months while recovering from knee surgery and now Danny Amendola is out with a high-ankle sprain.
Not to mention that the best player in football, Tom Brady, served a four-game suspension earlier this year for his role in the most overblown sports scandal in recent memory. And on top of that, Brady’s replacement during that suspension (Jimmy Garoppolo) got hurt almost immediately, forcing third-round rookie Jacoby Brissett into a starting role.
For the Patriots, the obstacles have been endless. That’s not to say other teams don’t face similar hurdles. The difference is that the Patriots almost always win, no matter what roadblocks they encounter.
Take Monday night’s game, for example. The Patriots were on the brink of blowing a huge lead against the Ravens. Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater had botched two returns in a row, leading to a pair of easy Baltimore touchdowns.
But as usual, the Pats answered. It was Chris Hogan, an undrafted Monmouth product with 10 career touchdowns, who rescued New England with a 79-yard score late in the fourth quarter.
We can keep counting the Pats out, but what’s the point? They always find a way. That’s why they’re the clear choice for No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings. Now for the other 31 teams …
1. New England Patriots
Last Week: 2
The Patriots made some rare mistakes against Baltimore (two muffed returns and a red-zone interception) but Tom Brady was still remarkable, matching a season-high with 406 yards on 25-of-38 passing. Chris Hogan gashed the Ravens for a career-high 129 yards in the victory while Malcolm Mitchell scored his fourth touchdown in as many games. Even Martellus Bennett chipped in with his first touchdown since Week 5.
Fantasy Tidbit: LeGarrette Blount has established new career-highs in rushing yards (1,029), touchdowns (14) and carries (248).
2. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 1
The cries for Tony Romo are getting louder after another lackluster performance by Dak Prescott Sunday against the Giants. He’s completed just 52.7 percent of his throws for 304 yards and two interceptions over his last two games. Janoris Jenkins got the better of Dez Bryant, limiting him to just one catch for 10 yards on Sunday. Bryant also committed a costly fumble late in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end.
Fantasy Tidbit: Bryant has reeled in just 46.9 percent of his targets from Prescott this season.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 5
Alternate-timeline Alex Smith had a field day in the first half against Oakland but reverted to his usual yawn-inducing self after halftime. Jeremy Maclin returned from a four-game absence in Week 14, but was barely noticeable (one catch for 16 yards). That’s because Travis Kelce was stealing the show. The league’s best healthy tight end has now gone over 100 yards in four straight games.
Fantasy Tidbit: Kelce leads all tight ends in catches (70) and receiving yards (916) but is only 15th in touchdowns (three).
4. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 3
Maybe we wouldn’t be talking about this if a wire hadn’t interfered, but Derek Carr’s MVP candidacy took a major hit in Week 14. He completed just 41.5 percent of his passes against Kansas City as the Raiders dropped from the top seed in the AFC all the way to fifth. Oakland’s passing game may be slumping but Latavius Murray looks better than ever. He’s rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games.
Fantasy Tidbit: Amari Cooper has averaged just 44.6 receiving yards over his last five appearances.
5. New York Giants
Last Week: 11
Man, imagine what the Giants’ record would be if they played the Cowboys every week. The Giants paid a pretty penny for Janoris Jenkins in the offseason but so far the move has paid off. He manhandled Dez Bryant in Week 14 and now holds PFF’s third-highest cornerback grade. Odell Beckham is still dropping too many passes (seven already this year) but those miscues are a lot easier to overlook when you’re fourth in the league in touchdowns with nine.
Fantasy Tidbit: Paul Perkins set career-highs with 15 carries and 45 rushing yards Sunday against Dallas.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 8
Le’Veon Bell had himself a game Sunday against the Bills. Okay, that’s the understatement of the year. Bell went absolutely bonkers, producing 298 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns on 42 touches. To put that in the proper perspective, consider that Buffalo collected 275 yards as a TEAM on Sunday. According to the calculator app on my iPhone (always reliable), Bell has averaged 155 rushing yards over his last four games. Maybe give him the MVP?
Fantasy Tidbit: Ben Roethlisberger’s three interceptions against the Bills were a season-high.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 4
Sunday was, by all accounts, the worst game of Russell Wilson’s otherwise illustrious career. It happens to the best of us, but what’s troubling about Wilson’s meltdown is that it came against one of the league’s softest secondaries. The Packers have yielded a league-high 8.0 yards per attempt this season. It’s a head-scratcher for sure, but at least Wilson has the laughingstock Rams to look forward to on Thursday Night Football.
Fantasy Tidbit: The 11 targets Doug Baldwin drew against Green Bay were his most since Week 1 versus Miami.
8. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 10
No Julio? No problem. Even with a shorthanded receiving corps, the Falcons still hung 42 on the Rams Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Matt Ryan broke out of a mini-slump with three touchdowns including a 64-yarder to Taylor Gabriel. Tevin Coleman chipped in with two scores of his own, giving him nine touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving) in 10 games this season.
Fantasy Tidbit: After scoring four times in his previous two outings, Devonta Freeman rushed for a season-low six yards on six carries in Week 14.
9. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 7
With Theo Riddick sidelined by a wrist injury, Dwayne Washington handled the workhorse role in Week 14, setting career-highs with 16 carries and 64 rushing yards against Chicago. Anquan Boldin did his part by corralling his team-leading seventh touchdown of the season. The Lions have now won five straight and control their own destiny in the NFC North. If they win, it would be their first division title since 1993.
Fantasy Tidbit: Marvin Jones led Detroit with 67 receiving yards in Sunday’s win. It was his highest receiving total since Week 7.
10. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 6
Trevor Siemian racked up 334 yards through the air on Sunday, but it took him a career-high 51 passes to get there. Justin Forsett and Devontae Booker combined for just 18 rushing yards in Week 14 as the Broncos lost for the third time in five games. With matchups against New England, Kansas City and Oakland to close out the regular season, a return to the playoffs is far from a sure thing.
Fantasy Tidbit: Demaryius Thomas recorded season-highs in catches (10), yards (126) and targets (16) Sunday against Tennessee.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 12
Don’t look now but the Bucs own the league’s longest current winning streak at five games. During that span, Tampa Bay has yielded a downright stingy 12.8 points per game including 11 against the usually high-scoring Saints in Week 14. Now if only Doug Martin could get his act together. He’s looked lost since coming back from a hamstring injury (2.85 yards per carry in his last five games).
Fantasy Tidbit: Mike Evans has averaged just 40 yards over his last two games. That’s well below his season average of 84.6.
12. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 13
Jordan Reed was invisible in his return from a sprained AC joint but his teammate DeSean Jackson sure wasn’t. D-Jax was on the receiving end of an 80-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins and has now scored in three of his last four games. The Redskins’ season will likely come down to a New Years’ Day game against the Giants, unless they stumble against Chicago or Carolina in the next two weeks.
Fantasy Tidbit: Rob Kelley has averaged 80.7 rushing yards with five touchdowns since taking over the starting role in Week 8.
13. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 15
The Packers dug a pretty big hole for themselves earlier this year, but they’re starting to climb out of it. Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson combined for 145 yards and three touchdowns Sunday as Green Bay smoked the visiting Seahawks at Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers has thrown for seven touchdowns with no interceptions during the Packers’ three-game winning streak.
Fantasy Tidbit: Randall Cobb has averaged 39 receiving yards with only one touchdown over his last six games.
14. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 9
In Week 13, Joe Flacco set the Ravens’ record for most completions in a game with 36. He broke his own record a week later with 37 against New England. Flacco has now thrown for 705 yards and six touchdowns over his last two games. A lead back has finally emerged in Baltimore. Rookie Kenneth Dixon out-touched Terrance West 19-6 in Week 14 and also scored his first career touchdown.
Fantasy Tidbit: Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have attempted 102 passes compared to only 34 runs.
15. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 14
Sunday’s win over the Cardinals came at a steep cost. Ryan Tannehill was able to avoid a torn ACL but his odds of returning this year are still slim. That could be a downgrade for slot man Jarvis Landry, who has absorbed 15 catches for 190 yards over his last two games. Jay Ajayi is only 44 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Perhaps he’ll get there Saturday against the Jets.
Fantasy Tidbit: Saturday will be the 26th start of Matt Moore’s career and his first since 2011.
16. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 17
The NFL leader in completion percentage is … Sam Bradford? Believe it. Also believe this: Bradford has averaged 37.3 passing attempts per game since Pat Shurmur took over as OC prior to Week 9. Jerick McKinnon has been one of the league’s least effective rushers this year (3.0 yards per carry) but he’s starting to play a bigger role in the Vikes’ passing game. He’s recorded 14 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown over his last three contests.
Fantasy Tidbit: Adam Thielen has tallied 19 catches for 240 yards over his last three games.
17. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 19
Marcus Mariota wasn’t much help in fantasy last week (6-for-20 with 88 yards and no touchdowns), but the Titans still upset Denver on the strength of their power running game. DeMarco Murray led the way with 92 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Murray has found the end zone seven times in his last eight outings and trails only Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell in rushing yards per game (87.3).
Fantasy Tidbit: Mariota has averaged 26.8 passing attempts per game over his last four appearances.
18. Houston Texans
Last Week: 24
Rather than let Brock Osweiler tear the place down, the Texans leaned heavily on Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue in Week 14. The two running backs combined for 162 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries as the Texans erased a three-game losing streak. With winnable games coming up against the Jaguars and Bengals, the Texans may just squeak into the playoffs.
Fantasy Tidbit: Miller ranks sixth in the league in carries with 246. He finished 18th in that category last season.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 23
What has Tyler Eifert done in A.J. Green’s absence? Oh nothing much … just score a touchdown in all three games. Eifert has accounted for 31.3 percent of the Bengals’ receiving touchdowns this year, a remarkable feat given that he missed the first six weeks with ankle and back injuries. Workhorse Jeremy Hill has now scored a touchdown in five of his last seven games including last week’s win over Cleveland.
Fantasy Tidbit: Hill has averaged 139.5 rushing yards in two games against the Browns this year.
20. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 16
It feels like we’re nearing the end of the Rex Ryan Era in Buffalo. Tyrod Taylor might not be long for his job either. He’s averaged just 187.8 passing yards with three touchdowns over his past four games. The Bills had no answer for Le’Veon Bell in Week 14 (238 rushing yards, three touchdowns). That’s been a recurring theme as the Bills have yielded the fifth-most rushing yards per game this season (125.8).
Fantasy Tidbit: LeSean McCoy’s 81 receiving yards against Pittsburgh were his most since Week 2 of the 2013 campaign.
21. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 18
With their season already hanging by a thread, Sunday was likely the final nail in Arizona’s coffin. You know it’s a lean week when Jermaine Gresham is your leading receiver. At least J.J. Nelson had an efficient game for the Cards. He scored on both of his touches (eight-yard receiving TD and a 56-yard rushing TD). Sunday also marked the end of David Johnson’s four-game touchdown streak.
Fantasy Tidbit: Larry Fitzgerald contributed a season-low 12 yards in Sunday’s loss. It was only the second time this year he’s failed to clear 50 yards receiving.
22. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 21
In a game they absolutely needed to have, the Colts fell flat against the Texans in Week 14. Andrew Luck’s three turnovers probably didn’t help. Neither did Donte Moncrief’s disappearance (no catches on four targets). At least T.Y. Hilton came ready to play. The NFL’s second-leading receiver snagged nine balls for 115 yards and now needs just four catches to match his career-high.
Fantasy Tidbit: Moncrief’s goose egg on Sunday ended a five-game touchdown streak.
23. San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 20
Philip Rivers ranks fourth in the NFL in both passing yards (3,589) and touchdowns (27) but also leads the league in interceptions with 17. He’s been especially turnover-prone over his last four games, committing 10 interceptions in that span. It would be a shame if Melvin Gordon (knee, hip) were to miss the rest of the season. He’s just three yards away from his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
Fantasy Tidbit: Casey Hayward leads the NFL with seven interceptions this year.
24. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 22
Who broke Drew Brees? He’s been a disaster the last two weeks, throwing six interceptions with no touchdowns during that span. In fact, the last Saint to throw a touchdown pass was Willie Snead against the Rams in Week 12. After getting talked up in last week’s Roundtable, Coby Fleener laid an egg (one catch for six yards) in an ugly loss to Tampa Bay. Another loss will clinch the Saints’ third consecutive losing season.
25. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 26
The Panthers escaped with a win over the Chargers in Week 14, but it wasn’t any thanks to Cam Newton. The reigning NFL MVP threw for a season-low 160 yards while completing fewer than 40 percent of his passes. Cam holds a dismal 43.0 completion percentage over his last four outings. Jonathan Stewart added his eighth touchdown of the season but managed only 2.8 yards per carry throughout the game.
Fantasy Tidbit: Greg Olsen’s 87 yards against the Bolts were his most since Week 6.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 25
The Eagles were already in disarray before injuries reared their ugly head in Week 14. With Wendell Smallwood (knee, I.R.) lost for the season and Darren Sproles in the concussion protocol, Ryan Mathews will anchor the running game until further notice. The Eagles have lost four straight and six of their last seven, but that hasn’t stopped Zach Ertz from playing his best football of the season. The tight end hauled in a season-high 10 catches for 113 yards Sunday against the Redskins.
Fantasy Tidbit: Jordan Matthews has drawn double-digit targets in five of his last six games. He’s averaged 68.5 yards with one touchdown during that span.
27. New York Jets
Last Week: 29
Bryce Petty won a game! Don’t look at his stats, though. They’re not for the faint of heart. Also, does Petty know he has other receivers besides Robby Anderson? Perhaps not. Bilal Powell should be the top waiver add this week and for good reason. He went berserk after Matt Forte went down with a knee injury in Week 14, totaling 179 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns including the game-winner in overtime.
Fantasy Tidbit: Since blowing up for a career-high 109 yards against New England in Week 12, Quincy Enunwa has caught just four-of-nine targets for 39 yards and no touchdowns.
28. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 28
In theory, the Bears’ offense should get a big boost from the return of Alshon Jeffery but after a four-week layoff, is he really someone fantasy owners can rely on during the playoffs? Jeffery has only scored one touchdown this year and hasn’t cleared 100 yards receiving since Week 1. That doesn’t exactly scream “sure thing.” Meanwhile Jordan Howard has rushed for 80 yards or more in five of his last six games and needs just 31 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.
Fantasy Tidbit: When Howard reaches 1,000 yards, he’ll be the first Bears rookie to accomplish that feat since Matt Forte in 2008.
29. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 27
Canned. Axed. Pink-slipped. Shown the door. Jeff Fisher is finally gone and Eric Dickerson couldn’t be happier. With Fisher out of the game, the Rotoworld staff will have to find a new running joke. You’ll hear plenty of big coaching names attached to the Rams in the coming weeks, but that’s not their biggest problem. Jared Goff is. There’s plenty of time for Goff to turn it around but so far there hasn’t been much to like.
Fantasy Tidbit: Todd Gurley has finished under 100 yards rushing in 14 straight games.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 30
If Allen Robinson is trying to hit rock bottom, he’s almost there. A-Rob wanted no part of Sunday’s matchup with Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes, catching just one-of-three targets for 17 yards. Marqise Lee has been far and away the Jags’ best receiver this year, delivering 54 catches for 728 yards and two touchdowns. The 113 yards he hung on Minnesota were a career-high.
Fantasy Tidbit: T.J. Yeldon’s 17 carries on Sunday were his most since the Jags’ season opener.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 31
San Francisco’s passing game, if you can call it that, did nothing in a plus spot against the Jets in Week 14. They also had no interest in stopping the run (188 rushing yards allowed), which has been their MO all season. Despite a 12-game losing streak and being a general eyesore for three hours every Sunday, the Niners do have one redeeming quality. They rank fourth in the league in rushing yards per game behind only Buffalo, Dallas and Tennessee.
Fantasy Tidbit: Carlos Hyde’s 193 rushing yards against the Jets marked a new career-high. He’s averaged 109 rushing yards over his last four games.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 32
A wise man by the name of Ron Burgundy once said that milk was a bad choice. So was the Browns’ decision to make Robert Griffin III their starting quarterback, you know, unless they’re really trying to go 0-16. In that case, tank away! Either way RG3 was wholly ineffective against Cincinnati, particularly in the first half when he completed just two-of-10 passes for 20 yards and this ugly interception. At least he can still run a little.
Fantasy Tidbit: Sunday marked Isaiah Crowell’s third 100-yard rushing game of the season and the fourth of his career.
Biggest Rise: Giants, Texans6
Biggest Fall: Ravens5