Week 14 NFL power rankings: Packers remain at No. 1, but several teams on rise

NFL Midweek Tailgate: Possible Thanksgiving upsets, looking ahead to showdown in Green Bay

Tyler Dragon Safid Deen
USA TODAY Sports+

It’s Thanksgiving week! Will there be any holiday upsets?

Has Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor entered the MVP conversation? And, in Green Bay, there’s a huge NFC tilt this week with playoff implications.

Each week during the regular season, USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insiders Tyler Dragon and Safid Deen bring you their top stories of the week for the NFL Midweek Tailgate.

Why wait for game day to get the party going? Start the grills with the insiders' hot takes, keep your beverage-of-choice chilled with a healthy dose of reality in their thorough analysis, and grab a chair because Dragon and Deen don't hold back.

Do you anticipate any Thanksgiving Day upsets?

Tyler Dragon: The NFL has scheduled three Thanksgiving Day games since 2006. This year’s triple-header features four teams with a .500-or-better win percentage. Unfortunately, the first game Thanksgiving is between the two teams with sub-.500 win percentages. I would like to see the Lions get their first win of the season on Thanksgiving. It’s a rich NFL tradition to have the Lions host a Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. However, I think the Bears are going to sneak by the Lions in Motown. I believe the Bears, Cowboys and Bills will all win on Thanksgiving. All three are favored to win, so no upsets. Just a lot of food and football.

Safid Deen: I’m going for it. I’m going all in on the Detroit Lions to win their first game of the season. (Don’t worry, I won’t really bet anything). But what better way for the NFL – the highlight of some Thanksgiving festivities, along with the food, of course – to have the Lions win the first game Thursday. The Lions are desperately due for a win. And they’ve come awfully close their last two games, ending in a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a close loss to the Cleveland Browns. Maybe some home cooking and a win at home does the trick for coach Dan Campbell, quarterback Jared Goff and the Lions.

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Las Vegas Raiders strong safety Johnathan Abram (24) tackles Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Is it time to put Colts running back Jonathan Taylor in the MVP conversation?

Dragon: Jonathan Taylor’s amassed 100 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown in eight consecutive games. He’s the first running back to achieve such stats since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. He had 32 carries for 185 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-15 rout over the Buffalo Bills. He’s just the 18th player in NFL history to score five touchdowns in a game.

Oh yeah, and Taylor leads the NFL in rushing with 1,122 yards on the ground. Taylor is the main reason the Colts are riding a three-game winning streak. He deserves to be in the MVP conversation. In fact, the Colts running back might be the front runner going into Week 12.

Deen: Oh yea, it’s time! After five touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills last week, Taylor has also taken over the league lead with 13 touchdowns total. He also surpassed injured Titans running back Derrick Henry in rushing yards. The Colts have won five of their last six after a 1-3 start, and if they make the playoffs, Taylor will surely receive some consideration. However, the MVP award typically goes to quarterbacks. And I still believe Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers will have a standout game or two that pushes them over the edge later this season.

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Nov 21, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) participates in pregame warmups against the Arizona Cardinals at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks (3-7) lost five of their last six. Are Seattle’s playoff hopes finished?

Dragon: The Cardinals (9-2) are five games ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West. Seattle is entering Week 12 in 15th position in the NFC. Their playoff hopes have drifted off into the Pacific Ocean.

It’s starting to feel like the beginning of the end of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era in Seattle. I’ve heard rumblings that maybe it’s time for one to go. Carroll is a coach who should wind up in Hall of Fame, but is his message still resonating in the locker room or is it getting stale? He was named the Seahawks’ head coach in 2010 after a very successful college coaching career at USC.

Speaking of USC, they have a head coach opening.

Deen: I’m going save you guys some time reading here: Yes.

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Cleveland fans booed Baker Mayfield and the quarterback didn’t speak to reporters after barely surviving the Lions. Is Mayfield holding back the Browns?

Dragon: Baker Mayfield isn’t a great quarterback, but he’s a serviceable one. I think Mayfield gets unfairly criticized because he’s compared to his fellow 2018 draftmates – Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. Jackson and Allen, both selected after Mayfield, have enjoyed far more success on the gridiron than the No.1 overall pick.

Mayfield’s career passer rating (89.4) is below both Jackson and Allen. Mayfield’s passer rating this year of 91.3 is the worst among AFC North starting quarterbacks.

However, to be fair, the Browns quarterback is playing with a shoulder injury this year that is going to require offseason surgery. He deserves credit for toughing it out this season. He’s a quarterback who’s shown he can help a team get into the playoffs, but he probably can’t lift a team over the top.

Deen: Holding back the Browns? It’s hard to answer when you take into account all the injuries. Mayfield’s left, non-throwing shoulder, which has a fractured bone and torn labrum, is in a harness every game. He has also dealt with left foot and right knee injuries in recent weeks. Mayfield even said himself this is the most beat up he’s ever been in his career. The boos came during a 13-10 win over the winless Lions, sure.

But Browns fans should be a little more sympathetic, no? Maybe that’s why Mayfield was upset following the game. Either way, the Browns’ next two games are against the Ravens. And the results will dictate whether Cleveland has a shot to make the playoffs or will end Mayfield’s season early so he can begin his recovery process.

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The Rams have lost two straight and the Packers lost to the Vikings last week. Who gets back on track this week in a battle between two NFC contenders?

Dragon: It’s a tall task for a California team to travel roughly 2,100 miles northeast, play in a different time zone and in cold temperatures. That’s precisely what the Rams are doing Week 12.

The Rams are coming off a bye, but they haven’t played well their two most recent games. Both the Titans and 49ers were the more physical teams when they faced the Rams. I expect Green Bay to play a physical brand of football Sunday against Los Angeles.

Green Bay’s shown they can play smash-mouth football, just turn on the tape from the Arizona game. I think they get back on track this week.

By the way, I can’t wait to watch Packers WR Davante Adams versus Rams CB Jalen Ramsey. They are going to be matched up against each other often.

Deen: I don’t really think the Packers, although they lost in Minnesota, are off track. Sure, their defense, which held its own against Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson in recent weeks, was sheepish against Kirk Cousins and young Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson (eicatches, 169 yards, two touchdowns). But Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense were superb in the second half, with three touchdowns on three scoring drives.

The Packers seem more of a finished product than the Rams, who after their bye, must show they can put it together with all their new pieces following two straight primetime losses in recent weeks.

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