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Mason's Power Rankings: Broncos fall to mid-tier

Posted Dec 20, 2016

Fourteen teams have between six and eight defeats, and the Broncos' 1-3 run has dropped them to that muddled middle of the league.

32. CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-14)

Last week: 32
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 30 - Defense: 32

The Browns close with Pittsburgh on New Year's Day. If Houston loses and Oakland wins Saturday, then the Steelers would be locked into the No. 3 seed with a Christmas Day win over Baltimore. That would leave the Steelers with nothing at stake but health in Week 17 against Cleveland. But if the Steelers have anything to play for in Week 17, then realistically, the Browns' Christmas Eve game against San Diego is their last chance to avoid joining the 2008 Lions in 0-16 ignominy.

31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-13)

Last week: 31
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 31 - Defense: 28

Colin Kaepernick has a 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but also has seven fumbles and has been sacked once every 11 pass plays. Most significantly, the 49ers have lost the last 11 games he's started, averaging 14.7 points in those games.

30. LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-10)

Last week: 30
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 32 - Defense: 14

In 1981, the Baltimore Colts went 2-14 -- with both wins over the New England Patriots, who limped home with the same meager record. The Rams' goal Sunday is simple -- avoid joining those Patriots on the list of teams who provided the only two wins for a sad-sack outfit.

29. NEW YORK JETS (4-10)

Last week: 29
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 23 - Defense: 24

Ryan Fitzpatrick is a magnet and the Jets are a refrigerator, and for whatever reason, they're just stuck together.

28. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-12)

Last week: 28
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 24 - Defense: 10

The Jaguars' improving defense now ranks seventh in yards and first downs allowed per possession, but their next coach's success or failure will still come down to whether Blake Bortles can be salvaged into at least a mid-tier starting quarterback.

27. CHICAGO BEARS (3-11)

Last week: 27
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 19 - Defense: 22

The Bears have rebounded to their 2015 form, absorbing a series of narrow losses to playoff contenders.

26. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (5-9)

Last week: 26
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 15 - Defense: 15

No one is happier about the Eagles' descent than the Browns, who as of today hold two of the top seven picks thanks to their April trade for Philadelphia's 2017 first-rounder.

San Diego, 1981

25. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-9)

Last week: 21
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 18 - Defense: 9

On Jan. 11, 1981, a frenzied sellout crowd wearing yellow "Charger Power" t-shirts created a golden sea in the stands of what had just been renamed San Diego-Jack Murphy Stadium for the AFC Championship Game against Oakland. Last Sunday, those same grandstands were painted black with Raiders fans, who comprised as much as 75 percent of the crowd, according to estimates. For anyone who remembers what the Chargers had been -- and the electric environments at their home stadium that lasted into the 2000s -- it was a lamentable sight.

24. CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-8-1)

Last week: 20
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 10 - Defense: 21

The Bengals continue to hold out hope for A.J. Green to return, but with their playoff hopes evaporated and their first losing season in six years assured, why risk him? The calendar year has been wretched, from the emotional meltdown in last January's wild-card loss to a desultory season that never took flight; the Bengals want nothing more than to close the book on 2016 and never speak of it again.

23. ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-8-1)

Last week: 19
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 14 - Defense: 6

After going 14-5 in games decided by seven or fewer points in Bruce Arians' first three years as head coach, Arizona is 1-5-1 in that scenario this season.

22. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-7)

Last week: 25
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 8 - Defense: 29

No result last weekend was more surprising than their win at Minnesota -- specifically in its magnitude. The Colts' last two wins came by a combined 59 points over the Jets and Vikings, but if the Titans and Texans both win Sunday, it's too little, too late to salvage a division title.

21. BUFFALO BILLS (7-7)

Last week: 24
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 13 - Defense: 21

The Bills are .500 under Rex Ryan, which is the best winning percentage for a Bills coach since Wade Phillips, the last coach to guide them to the playoffs. Rumors of his impending dismissal are rampant, but sometimes you need to grade on the curve.

20. CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-8)

Last week: 23
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 20 - Defense: 11

Monday's win shouldn't have been a surprise, as the Panthers are now 21-6 under Ron Rivera in December and January regular-season games. This is just what the Panthers do.

19. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-8)

Last week: 22
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 4 - Defense: 30

Drew Brees and the Saints pounced on a Cardinals defense that is in full regression mode.

18. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-7)

Last week: 14
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 22 - Defense: 5

"That wasn't a fighting performance," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after his team's embarrassing 34-6 loss at home to the Colts. "If they're not going to fight, they're going to get their butt out."

17. HOUSTON TEXANS (8-6)

Last week: 17
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 25 - Defense: 6

Wins over Jacksonville and Cincinnati the next two weeks -- with both games at home -- and a division-record tiebreaker over the Titans (4-0 to 1-3) put Houston in the driver's seat.

16. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-6-1)

Last week: 13
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 2 - Defense: 31

How do you have a 1-16 stretch in home Monday night games? You'd think a team could do better just by accident.

15. TENNESSEE TITANS (8-6)

Last week: 18
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 13 - Defense: 19

They were good enough when they had to be the last two games, and if they hold serve against Jacksonville on Saturday, they are one home win over Houston away from their first AFC South title and playoff appearance since 2008.

14. DENVER BRONCOS (8-6)

Last week: 11
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 28 - Defense: 3

Too many three-and-outs; too little offensive consistency. The result? A 1-3 record since the Week 11 bye despite the defense only allowing an average of 15.0 points per game in that span (Kansas City scored nine points in Week 12 via its defense and special teams).

13. GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-6)

Last week: 16
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 5 - Defense: 27

Survive and advance, as Jim Valvano said. They've been playing playoff games for basically a month now and are 4-0 in them, and are starting to bear the same sou

12. MIAMI DOLPHINS (9-5)

Last week: 15
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 27 - Defense: 13

Miami, like the entire AFC East, got two wins at the expense of the Browns and 49ers this season. This is a significant part of why the Dolphins' strength-of-victory is weak -- which is the No. 4 tiebreaker between two wild-card teams from different divisions. If the Dolphins lose once -- specifically on Saturday the Bills, while beating the Patriots in Week 17 -- the Ravens lose once, the Broncos win twice and the Chiefs beat San Diego in Week 17, that will matter.

11. BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-6)

Last week: 12
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 26 - Defense: 1

With two consecutive wins at Heinz Field, the Ravens have ample justification for their belief in themselves in the hostile Pittsburgh environment they will face Christmas Day. But their once impregnable defense has been gashed for 54 points in the last two games.

10. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-6)

Last week: 10
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 16 - Defense: 16

Washington's loss puts the Bucs back in control; with wins at New Orleans and against Carolina, they are in the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

9. DETROIT LIONS (9-5)

Last week: 5
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 6 - Defense: 26

Detroit's net points per possession has dropped from 2.35 in its first nine games to 1.58 in its last five.

8. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-4-1)

Last week: 9
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 17 - Defense: 7

Three years ago, no one would have thought back-to-back games against the Cardinals and 49ers was the catch-your-breath portion of Seattle's schedule. The Seahawks can get back on solid ground before the postseason -- and with two wins, will clinch a much-needed bye.

7. NEW YORK GIANTS (10-4)

Last week: 8
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 29 - Defense: 2

After finishing their home slate 7-1, the Giants must venture to the road -- perhaps for the rest of the way, barring an unlikely circumstance -- where they are just 3-3.

6. ATLANTA FALCONS (9-5)

Last week: 7
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 1 - Defense: 25

One down, two to go ... but this week's game against the Panthers, who are up to their usual December tricks, will be dicey.

5. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-4)

Last week: 3
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 21 - Defense: 18

Sunday's loss to the Titans snapped the Chiefs' 10-game winning streak when rushing for at least 150 yards dating back to the 2013 playoffs.

4. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-5)

Last week: 6
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 9 - Defense: 12

They're one win over the Ravens away from another AFC North title.

3. OAKLAND RAIDERS (11-3)

Last week: 4
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 12 - Defense: 17

The Raiders are 5-0 in games decided by a field goal or less, and have another overtime win, by six points at Tampa Bay.

2. DALLAS COWBOYS (12-2)

Last week: 2
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 3 - Defense: 20

Takeaways were the difference against Tampa Bay.

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-2)

Last week: 1
Per-possession efficiency rankings -- Offense: 7 - Defense: 8

Their explosion has been sapped by injuries, but they remain a metronomic model of efficiency.

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