Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Robert Zeglinski and Christian D'Andrea

NFL Power Rankings Week 14: Cowboys, not Eagles, are 49ers’ most intriguing playoff matchup

The San Francisco 49ers are the NFL team to beat and the clear favorite for Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas this February.

There is no reasonable conclusion after watching Kyle Shanahan’s crew dismantle the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in their own building this weekend. San Francisco made dismantling a fellow powerhouse look frighteningly easy. After a slow start, it was almost as if the Eagles didn’t belong on the same field as San Francisco.

If you’ve followed the Eagles’ exploits all season, you know none of this new. A lot of their romp to a 10-2 record has occasionally felt like it was built on smoke and mirrors. The Eagles just haven’t really impressed as often as you’d expect a team rife with All-Pro talent on both sides of the ball. That’s why I’m quite confident in the assessment below.

The Dallas Cowboys are a bigger threat to the 49ers’ supremacy than the Eagles. Hear me out.

The Cowboys have been on a mission since getting blown out by the 49ers on national television in early October. They’ve won six of their last seven games (while scoring 40 points three times), and their raucous defense, led by Micah Parsons, is humbling quarterbacks around the league. Perhaps most importantly, Dak Prescott is playing the best football of his career as a genuine MVP favorite. Who are we to argue with a 21-2 touchdown to interception ratio since that fateful October game in San Francisco?

And on Sunday night in Dallas, the Eagles must defeat their division rivals to maintain control of the NFC East. Needless to say, I’m betting my money on these red-hot Cowboys.

You might recall a critical moment from the aftermath of the 49ers’ humiliation of the Cowboys. Parsons claimed that the 42-10 final score didn’t reflect the gap between the NFC powers. At the time, it seemed silly of Parsons, even a little delusional. Roughly two months later, I’m starting to see he had a point. The Cowboys are different. They are better. They’re finally playing like a team that belongs among the league’s elite and which can make real noise this January.

I know everyone wants a Round 3 between the 49ers and Eagles. We still might get it. But I have a feeling the Cowboys will push the Bay Area juggernaut more than anyone wants to believe if they have a postseason rematch this winter. These Cowboys have a weird competitive aura about them that I can’t ignore any longer.

Naturally, in For The Win‘s Week 14 NFL power rankings, the Cowboys are a heavy point of discussion. As are the 49ers and Eagles. The playoffs are around the corner. Let’s start setting the table for all the madness, folks.

Carolina Panthers

Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 32

The league’s worst record AND a meddling, impatient owner incapable of accepting blame or changing his ways? Well, at least David Tepper’s got a boatload of money to throw at his next head coach because he’s sure as hell not coming to Charlotte for the culture. — Christian D’Andrea

New England Patriots

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 31

The Patriots have scored 30 points in their last four games. I do not mean on average. I mean they have scored 30 total points since the start of November. They are the first team in NFL history to lose three straight games despite allowing 10 points or fewer each time. I know these embarrassing Patriots are poised to build around Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, but are we sure it’s gonna happen with Bill Belichick? That man should start sailing around Nantucket in the fall, not doing whatever this is (gestures wildly at the raging blaze). — Robert Zeglinski

New York Giants


Last week’s rank: 28

This season is merely a vessel for Tommy DeVito memes. Nothing more, nothing less. At least the stage is set for New York to continue its trend of drafting an offensive tackle in the top 10 every other year. — CD

Chicago Bears

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 29

What does Justin Fields have to do over the last five weeks of 2023 to earn a shot at the team’s starting job next season? And how badly can the Bears sabotage that by dialing him up an offense based solely on screen passes? —CD

Washington Commanders

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 26

So, who’s gonna pick Ron Rivera as their defensive coordinator in 2024? Would the Panthers bring him back as a gesture of good faith — something owner David Tepper desperately needs right now? Or will he end up filling whatever vacancy gets left behind after Black Monday — maybe even being tasked with the Buffalo Bills’ new era of defense? I dunno, but that’s about all the interest I can muster at the end of this latest disappointing Commanders campaign. — CD

Tennessee Titans

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 27

Will Levis’s bizarre tiff with DeAndre Hopkins underscores Tennessee’s core conflict. This is a rebuilding team that needs a full reset. But it continues deploying effective veterans like Hopkins and Derrick Henry, who would rather win now than toil in obscurity. I do admittedly feel bad for both, considering the Titans should’ve traded them at the deadline. But hey, Hopkins did sign that free-agent deal. He only has himself to blame for not catching passes from Patrick Mahomes right now. — RZ

Arizona Cardinals

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 30

Arizona fed the ball to second-year tight end Trey McBride early and often on Sunday. He delivered with the finest game of his career (eight catches, 89 yards, and a score on nine targets). In a lost season, the Cardinals finding out they have a star tight end wouldn’t be the worst outcome. Now imagine pairing him with the playmaking son of a certain Colts Hall of Famer. We’d be really cooking with gas. — RZ

New York Jets


Last week’s rank: 23

2023 has been ripe with examples of then-available quarterbacks who would have been better behind center than Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, or Trevor Siemian this season. Namely, Joshua Dobbs and Joe Flacco. Those guys aren’t especially good, either, which tells you what a disaster the New York offense has been. — CD

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 25

This team continues to hang onto the playoff periphery, though barely squeaking by a coach-less Panthers team doesn’t inspire confidence. Baker Mayfield’s been smart enough to keep chucking the ball up to Mike Evans, and it works.

Hooo, buddy, does it work. — CD

Las Vegas Raiders

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 24

Outside of Maxx Crosby and Davante Adams, the Raiders are severely lacking talent and probably need a new head coach, too. But I wouldn’t write them out of the AFC playoffs just yet. Las Vegas plays just two teams with a winning record down the stretch. Anyone can fall backward into a No. 7 seed. There’s just so much “eh” and “meh” at the bottom of the standings. — RZ

Los Angeles Chargers

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 17

They scored six points against the Patriots, a team poised to draft a quarterback in the top two this April. Quentin Johnston dropped another critical third-and-long pass. You don’t get brownie points for these kinds of wins. Relegate the Chargers. It legitimately hurts to watch them attempt to play pro football sometimes. — RZ

New Orleans Saints

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 18

Derek Carr can be as tough as he wants to be. That doesn’t change the fact he’s not good enough for what the Saints are paying him. With a better quarterback, New Orleans leaves the Superdome on Sunday with its head held high, sitting at .500 and in prime playoff position. Instead, everything remains up in the air with one of the more mediocre organizations in the present league. And yes, I am writing off Jameis Winston, too. I’ve seen that movie. Rotten Tomatoes wouldn’t like it either. — RZ

Atlanta Falcons

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 22

The Falcons scored 13 points against the Jets. Desmond Ridder struggled to reach 100 total passing yards while his offense crossed midfield just three times in 13 possessions. And yet, Atlanta, the heavy NFC South favorite, won anyway. It’s high time we abolish this division. — RZ

Pittsburgh Steelers

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 12

Kenny Pickett’s likely season-ending injury is a brutal Stone Cold Stunner to what looked like a promising season in Western Pennsylvania. Now Mike Tomlin’s team will be forced to rely on Mitchell Trubisky, who bumbled around with a loaded Bears squad the last time he was at the helm of a playoff contender. I’m sure a lot has changed in just about half a decade. Good luck, Pittsburgh. You’re gonna need it. — RZ

Indianapolis Colts

Robert Scheer/IndyStar/USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week’s rank: 15

Cincinnati Bengals

Cara Owsley/The Enquirer /USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week’s rank: 19

Jake Browning spent his first start in relief of Joe Burrow looking like a glorified backup quarterback. But under the lights in Jacksonville against a top-five defense in efficiency, Browning resembled a legitimate difference-maker. Few words could aptly describe a performance where the signal caller completed over 85 percent of his passes while averaging over 9.5 yards per pass attempt. Browning will almost assuredly fall back to Earth soon enough. If his dip isn’t that stark, the Bengals seem poised to make noise in an AFC playoff field now featuring four second-string quarterbacks. — RZ

Cleveland Browns

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 16

Even with no consistent quarterback play, Cleveland is mostly still in control of its playoff destiny. The Browns play just two teams with winning records in their last five games and should honestly humble the other three (the Jets, Bears, and Bengals) with their formidable defense. The 2023 campaign should’ve been more fruitful for Myles Garrett and Co. But a postseason berth (and potential Defensive Player of the Year honors for Garrett) is nothing to sneeze at. — RZ

Minnesota Vikings

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 14

Was the bye week enough time to get Joshua Dobbs back on track after a discouraging outing in Week 12’s loss to the Bears? Did it give Jaren Hall enough time to stake his claim as the team’s starting quarterback? Will Justin Jefferson have a say in which guy winds up throwing passes his way? There are lots of unknowns circling the Vikings right now, but at least we know their defense is going to blitz like a bored teenager playing Madden each week. — CD

Jacksonville Jaguars

Bob Self/Florida Times-Union/USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week’s rank: 8

Trevor Lawrence’s injury is an unmitigated disaster, regardless of the loss. Setting aside concern for his health — which is far more important than playing football — it also effectively ends the Jaguars’ season if it forces him to miss extended time. This team is not good enough to make a run through the AFC playoffs without their franchise quarterback. Almost no one would be. Depending on the severity of Lawrence’s injury, it might throw out whatever plans Jacksonville has for 2024, too. Monday night was the first Monday primetime game in Jacksonville in 12 years. It was supposed to be a coming-out party. You could have not scripted a worse outcome for this franchise. — RZ

Los Angeles Rams

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 21

You don’t get bonus points for beating Joe Flacco in this the year of our lord 2023. But Los Angeles swept the Seattle Seahawks, and an early win over the Colts has aged nicely. The NFC is a mess and there’s room for the Rams to not just make it to the postseason but disrupt some contenders’ well-laid plans along the way. This team doesn’t have the talent of a Super Bowl contender, but it’s got the veteran savvy and playmakers to punch above its weight class for a while. — CD

Denver Broncos

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 10

Denver’s five-game winning streak was sustained by great turnover luck. Then the Houston Texans held onto the ball, Russell Wilson threw three interceptions — all in the final 16 minutes — and the Broncos returned to the familiar comfort of the loss column. A playoff run isn’t coming without more havoc plays, but if nothing else, 2023 is proof that Sean Payton can stabilize a previously rudderless team. — CD

Green Bay Packers

Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week’s rank: 20

Jordan Love has now thrown 11 touchdowns in his last five games and is finally victimizing defenses downfield. Even when one of his throws is inaccurate or not entirely perfect, Matt LaFleur’s bag of tricks ensures that whoever the Packers’ pass-catcher is will be wide open. Green Bay is now the NFC’s seventh playoff seed as the winners of three straight. With how it’s been playing lately, I think almost no one in the conference would be comfortable with that postseason matchup. — RZ

Seattle Seahawks

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 13

Thursday night in Dallas was the Seahawks’ best attempt at saving their season. Ultimately, silly play design (leaving Micah Parsons unblocked?) and inconsistency as closers doomed Seattle to fall back to .500. Now Pete Carroll has to fight off the rival Rams (who swept his team) and a red-hot Packers squad to qualify for the playoffs. Oh, and the 49ers and Eagles are on the schedule over the next two weeks. Welp. — RZ

Buffalo Bills

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 9

Buffalo is 6-6, but the New York Times pegs its playoff odds at a scant 14 percent thanks to an upcoming schedule that includes games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and Miami Dolphins. Even worse, they have to face those Chiefs next week, in Arrowhead Stadium, and Kansas City is in dire need of a win to stay apace in the race for the AFC’s top seed. But hey, beat the Chiefs and the Cowboys over the next two weeks, and those postseason odds increase to … 41 percent. Oof. — CD

Houston Texans

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 11

Who knew DeMeco Ryans’ young Texans could win gritty and grimy? On one of the rare occasions all season where C.J. Stroud looked somewhat mortal, Houston’s defense rose to the occasion, forcing three turnovers and keeping the Broncos from converting a single third down. In fairness, we probably should’ve seen this coming from foundational pieces like Will Anderson, Derek Stingley Jr., and Jalen Pitre. It’s efforts like this that make it clear the Texans could be a problem if they can grab a high AFC playoff seed. — RZ

Detroit Lions

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 7

Week 13 was the emphatic response we’d hoped to see from Dan Campbell’s team … for seven minutes. Detroit raced out to a 21-0 lead in New Orleans, then stalled as the Saints made it a 24-21 game by the third quarter. The Lions held on for the win, but their only touchdown of the final 53 minutes came via short field after a Derek Carr turnover. Jared Goff’s slump may not be over just yet. — CD

Miami Dolphins

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 6

No Jaelan Phillips, no problem. A week after losing their star pass-rusher, the Dolphins’ defense took Sam Howell behind the woodshed. It was so bad that he couldn’t even pad his empty passing numbers. Miami held Washington to less than 250 yards of total offense. If this is the kind of defense that complements Mike McDaniel’s buzzsaw offense, the Dolphins might have something special cooking this winter. — RZ

Philadelphia Eagles

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 1

The wheels had to come off at some point, and hoo buddy, did they ever on Sunday afternoon. Philly outgained the 49ers 124 to -6 in the first quarter, then gave up 462 total yards over the final three in a 42-19 rout. The run game that powers the Eagles averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, and Jalen Hurts looked extremely average against San Francisco’s crushing front four. — CD

Kansas City Chiefs

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 4

The good news? In Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City has a legitimate RB1 it learned it can run its offense through in tough times. The bad news? The Chiefs still have to churn out methodical drives to even have a chance of scoring because they have precisely zero big-play threats. That isn’t sustainable. The NFL’s Big Red Machine is probably going to cruise to a top-3 seed in the AFC. I have my doubts it will last long in the playoffs the more I watch this boring offense play. And that’s the real sin: an offense with Patrick Mahomes is boring! — RZ

Dallas Cowboys

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 5

Dallas’s best win is either a Week 8 trouncing of the Rams or Thursday’s home comeback victory over the Seahawks. Dak Prescott is dealing and this defense is capable of creating the havoc to turn the outcome of a game in a single play, but the Cowboys remain so, so hard to trust. Beating the Eagles in Week 14 wouldn’t just clinch a playoff spot and keep the team alive in the race for the NFC East title, but create proof of concept that Mike McCarthy’s team can be more than a bully. — CD

Baltimore Ravens

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 2

A fortuitous late-season bye week gave the Ravens some time to get healthy and stew in what they need for a deep playoff run. If I were in their shoes, I’d consider another option at tight end to fill in for Mark Andrews. Every other part of Baltimore is good enough to win Super Bowl 58. Full stop. But someone reliable other than Zay Flowers is gonna have to own the middle of the field as a pass target. Zach Ertz, anyone? — RZ

San Francisco 49ers

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s rank: 3

The 49ers talked so much [expletive] about the Eagles for 10 months. They whined, they were blatantly disrespectful, and it all looked like sour grapes. As it turns out, they might have had a point. After a slow start, San Francisco blew the doors off Philly in its own building, scoring touchdowns on six consecutive possessions. This was less Round 2 of a “rivalry” and more a thorough whooping, a complete outclassing. If we see another rematch in late January, San Francisco has made its statement. Don’t take this juggernaut now riding a four-game winning streak lightly. — RZ

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.