NFL Power Rankings Week 16: 1-32 poll, plus evaluating the job security of every team's coach

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Sunday, December 26, 2021

The NFL Power Rankings are a bit off-kilter this week, as two games from Week 15 (Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles) were delayed until 7 p.m. ET Tuesday and won't be accounted for below. Such are the times of COVID-19.

But what the Power Rankings do account for this week is a bit of a holiday tradition: coaching speculation. The homestretch of the season isn't just a big time for playoff prognostication; it's also key to the futures of coaches who are on the "hot seat." So we have dedicated this week's rankings to identifying how much danger each coach is in. We came up with four categories for our NFL Nation writers to identify how hot each coach's seat is:

  • 4. Hot seat: Headed out if things don't turn around by season's end.
  • 3. Warm seat: Not safe if season ends in disappointment.
  • 2. Cool seat: Safe barring total disaster down the stretch.
  • 1. Cold seat: No way he'll get fired.

Two coaches have already been removed -- Jon Gruden with the Las Vegas Raiders and Urban Meyer with the Jacksonville Jaguars--so we assessed the status of their interim coaches, plus that of the 30 other coaches.

How we determine our Power Rankings: Our power panel -- a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities -- evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings:15 | 14 | 13 |12 | 11 | 10 | 9 |8|7 | 6 | 5 | 4 |3 |2 |Preseason

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NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF


1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)

Previous ranking: 3

How hot is Matt LaFleur's seat: 1. Cold seat

Three division titles in three seasons. That pretty much says everything that needs to be said. If anything, LaFleur is in line for a contract extension and should be one of the favorites for NFL Coach of the Year, as the Packers quickly overcame an embarrassing 38-3 season-opening loss to the Saints and now are in line to grab home-field advantage in the playoffs. -- Rob Demovsky

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

Previous ranking:4

How hot is Andy Reid's seat: 1. Cold seat

The Chiefs are on the verge of winning their sixth straight AFC West crown, and they control their own destiny toward winning the AFC's top playoff seed. So they're going to fire Reid? Not a chance. Remember that in the five seasons before his arrival, the Chiefs had two two-win seasons and two other campaigns with four wins each; at 10-4, they're on track to win more than those 12 games this season alone. -- Adam Teicher

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)

Previous ranking: 1

How hot is Bruce Arians' seat: 1. Cold seat

The Bucs' offense might have gone absolutely nowhere in Tampa Bay's9-0 home loss to the Saints on Sunday night, but Arians is just one season removed from a Super Bowl title, and Tom Brady is putting up some of the best numbers of his career at age 44. As much as the coaching staff deserves blame for the implosion against the Saints, it also deserves a ton of credit for helping this team win 10 games despite being decimated in the secondary. -- Jenna Laine

4. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

Previous ranking: 6

How hot is Mike McCarthy's seat: 1. Cold seat

The campaign might not have started out that way after last season's 6-10 finish, but McCarthy has the Cowboys poised to clinch the NFC East title and perhaps the top seed in the playoffs. He has managed a team that has dealt with injuries and COVID-19. He has had some eyebrow-raising moments with his clock management at times, but he has done a good job of making sure the players have been physically and emotionally ready to play a 17-game season. Ultimately, he will be judged by what the Cowboys do in the postseason, but there's no question about his status going into 2022.-- Todd Archer

5. New England Patriots (9-5)

Previous ranking: 5

How hot is Bill Belichick's seat: 1. Cold seat

Prior to the Week 15 loss at Indianapolis, Belichick (now in his 22nd season) was a leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year honors for having the Patriots among the AFC playoff contenders with rookie quarterbackMac Jones leading the way. Few saw that coming. A major offseason overhaul with a huge free-agent spending spree has sparked the turnaround, and as a result, Belichick's job is as secure as it has ever been. -- Mike Reiss

6. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

Previous ranking: 8

How hot is Sean McVay's seat: 1. Cold seat

McVay is 52-25 and has won two division titles and an NFC championship since the Rams made him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history in 2017. In McVay's five seasons, the Rams have made the playoffs three times. And they are well on track to earn a fourth playoff berth and potentially a third division title under McVay this season. There's no reason to think he would not be more than welcome to return in 2022, even if the Rams fall short of a trip to a hometown Super Bowl in February. -- Lindsey Thiry

7. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

Previous ranking: 2

How hot is Kliff Kingsbury's seat: 2. Cool seat

This is an interesting question, because a few weeks ago, Kingsbury's seat was super cold -- like ice cold, as Outkast put it. But falling to the Lions on Sunday in the fashion the Cardinals did, which continued their recent 3-4 slide, has warmed Kingsbury's seat a little. If the Cards have a third straight late-season collapse and it affects their playoff seeding dramatically, Kingsbury could possibly be out in Arizona, although 10 wins and a playoff berth is likely enough to keep him. It'll depend on how bad it gets from now until the Cards are eliminated from the postseason. -- Josh Weinfuss

8. Tennessee Titans (9-5)

Previous ranking: 7

How hot is Mike Vrabel's seat: 1. Cold seat

Vrabel has won at least nine games in each of his first four seasons, and his .606 win percentage is the fourth highest in Titans/Houston Oilers franchise history. The Titans made a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2019. Last season, Vrabel led the Titans to their first AFC South title since 2008. Despite rostering an NFL-record 88 players on game day this season, Vrabel has the Titans in the driver's seat for a second AFC South crown. -- Turron Davenport

9. Buffalo Bills (8-6)

Previous ranking: 9

How hot is Sean McDermott's seat: 1. Cold seat

This could be a cool seat, instead, because of the expectations going into the season for the Bills, but McDermott isn't going anywhere. If the team manages to beat the Patriots and win the AFC East, it will be a solid coaching performance for McDermott. There certainly have been some tough and questionable moments this season, but McDermott will have multiple chances to take this team on playoff runs. -- Alaina Getzenberg

10. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

Previous ranking: 13

How hot is Frank Reich's seat: 1. Cold seat

The Colts are on the brink of making the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under Reich. And for the second time in those four seasons, Reich has gotten his team to rebound from a slow start. The Colts started this season 0-3 and 1-4, and now they're currently the No. 5 seed in the AFC with an 8-6 record. I think it is safe to say Reich isn't going anywhere. -- Mike Wells

11. San Francisco 49ers (8-6)

Previous ranking: 11

How hot is Kyle Shanahan's seat: 2. Cool seat

Realistically, there's almost no chance Shanahan is going anywhere after this season. But speaking in absolutes on anything NFL-related seems unwise, hence the tiniest bit of wiggle room for something unforeseen. Shanahan just signed a six-year contract extension in 2020 that will take him through 2025. The Niners are on a playoff trajectory, which would be a solid bounce-back after a disappointing follow-up to their 2019 Super Bowl run. But ultimately, the Shanahan era is going to be defined by what happens in the coming years with him coaching and Trey Lance playing quarterback. That duo will be afforded an opportunity to see where they can go together. -- Nick Wagoner

12. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)

Previous ranking: 12

How hot is Brandon Staley's seat: 1. Cold seat

The Chargers haven't been to the playoffs since the 2018 campaign. This team turned around when quarterback Justin Herbert was drafted in 2020 and Staley arrived after the end of last season. The organization and the players are squarely behind the coach's "going for it on fourth down" decisions -- even when they don't always work. He has a young, smart staff and talented players on both sides of the ball. And most importantly, Staley has their trust. Everything down to the activation period (stretching and calisthenics) has been well-received and emulated around the league. -- Shelley Smith

13. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

Previous ranking: 10

How hot is John Harbaugh's seat: 1. Cold seat

There's been plenty of debate over Harbaugh's decisions to go for two points late in games, but the Ravens wouldn't be in these contests if not for his coaching. Baltimore is 8-6 despite having 23 players on injured reserve at some point this season. Even if the Ravens don't make the postseason, this has been one of Harbaugh's more remarkable coaching performances in what has been a successful 14 seasons in Baltimore. Since Harbaugh became the Ravens' coach in 2008, Baltimore has won 137 games. Only four teams (Patriots, Packers, Steelers and Saints) have won more over that span. -- Jamison Hensley

14. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

Previous ranking: 14

How hot is Zac Taylor's seat: 3. Warm seat

What's the option between lukewarm and warm? Like a cup of coffee you poured roughly 20 minutes ago? Because that's what Taylor's situation feels like. Cincinnati got a much-needed win against Denver to stay in the playoff chase. And the Bengals' hopes of being a postseason contender are still very much alive, as Cincinnati holds a share of the AFC North lead heading into Week 16. This team has already exceeded preseason expectations, and Taylor deserves ample credit for that. But there's still some work to be done as the team closes out Taylor's third season. -- Ben Baby

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)

Previous ranking: 16

How hot is Mike Tomlin's seat: 1. Cold seat

A changing of the guard is coming in Pittsburgh, but Tomlin is staying put. Ben Roethlisberger will likely be making his exit after 18 campaigns at the conclusion of this season, and general manager Kevin Colbert could follow suit if he opts not to pick up another season on his year-to-year deal. But Tomlin signed a three-year extension in April. Though inconsistent at times, the Steelers are 7-6-1 and still in contention to win the AFC North with three weeks left -- and that is a testament to Tomlin's coaching ability. His messaging hasn't always gotten through to his team before the game, but something is happening at halftime that has helped Pittsburgh to second-half surges. That something is Mike Tomlin.-- Brooke Pryor

16. Miami Dolphins (7-7)

Previous ranking: 18

How hot is Brian Flores' seat: 2. Cool seat

Flores' seat would've been much hotter were it not for the team's recent six-game winning streak that has catapulted Miami back into playoff contention. Even if the Dolphins lose out from here, it's unlikely Flores goes anywhere. Next season, however, his seat will heat up fast if they get off to another slow start for the third season in a row. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

17. New Orleans Saints (7-7)

Previous ranking: 22

How hot is Sean Payton's seat: 1. Cold seat

Payton's job is perfectly secure -- despite the fact that New Orleans just had one of its most impressive wins of the season without him on Sunday while he was sidelined by COVID-19. The Saints' passing offense has fallen flat this season for the first time since Payton arrived in 2006. But overall, their 7-7 record is decent considering all the attrition they've faced with injuries, Drew Brees' retirement and salary-cap cuts. The team might have to consider a significant roster rebuild in the near future, but the coaching staff remains a strength. -- Mike Triplett

18. Cleveland Browns (7-7)

Previous ranking: 15

How hot is Kevin Stefanski's seat: 1. Cold seat

The Browns have been up and down in Stefanski's second season, in large part due to injuries and COVID-19 issues. But the reigning NFL Coach of the Year is in no danger of losing his job after taking the Browns to their first playoff appearance in 18 years last season and helping them to their first playoff victory since the 1994 season. -- Jake Trotter

19. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

Previous ranking: 21

How hot is Mike Zimmer's seat: 4. Hot seat

The Vikings have not missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since Zimmer took over in 2014. If they don't make it this season, it's hard to see Zygi and Mark Wilf wanting to continue the course with Zimmer at the helm despite the fact that he has two years remaining on his contract. Zimmer's defense never truly bounced back in 2021 after the copious number of resources that were poured into retooling this once-vaunted unit, and the abundance of one-score games the Vikings have played in this season might make the Wilfs want to get off the roller coaster. -- Courtney Cronin

20. Denver Broncos (7-7)

Previous ranking: 17

How hot is Vic Fangio's seat: 3. Warm seat

George Paton hasn't completed his first season as the Broncos' general manager, so it's not completely clear how he will react to the season Denver is having. It's not known whether he will elect to replace the entire coaching staff or keep Fangio with the caveat that the coach has to make changes on the staff -- especially on the team's still-struggling offense. Paton has publicly said how much he respects Fangio and believes they work well together on personnel and the development of young players. Fangio also calls plays for the No. 2 scoring defense in the league. But without a holiday football miracle, this will be the sixth consecutive season the team has missed the playoffs and scored fewer than 23 points a game -- and the Denver faithful are out of patience. -- Jeff Legwold

21. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

Previous ranking: 23

How hot is Rich Bisaccia's seat: 4. Hot seat

Shy of a Steve Fisher-esque 1989 postseason run (look upMichigan Wolverines,hoops fans), Bisaccia, the interim coach, is on his way out. He won his first two games after replacing Jon Gruden but had five losses in his next six games -- to go from 5-2 to 6-7 -- which all but sealed the deal. Some names that are already being bandied about by Raiders fans and media: Jim Harbaugh, Dabo Swinney, Mike Tomlin, David Shaw, Doug Pederson, Eric Bieniemy and Kellen Moore. Buckle up. -- Paul Gutierrez

22. Washington Football Team (6-7)

Previous ranking: 19

How hot is Ron Rivera's seat: 1. Cold seat

In Rivera's first season, Washington overcame a 2-7 start to win the NFC East at 7-9; the division was bad, but Washington played well down the stretch. That banked goodwill for Rivera. This season, with higher expectations, Washington again started slow but climbed back into playoff contention with a four-game win streak. Injuries and COVID-19could end up derailing Washington's campaign, but there's no doubt Rivera has earned a third season. The team will have to show even more progress next season for him to remain on a cold seat, but there's reason for optimism moving forward. -- John Keim

23. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

Previous ranking: 20

How hot is Nick Sirianni's seat: 1. Cold seat

There were some shaky moments early in the season, but Sirianni has since found his footing in his first year. He shifted his approach on offense to more of a ground-based attack starting in Week 8. Since then, the Eagles are second in points per game (29.7), first in third-down efficiency (51.2%) and first in rushes of 10 or more yards (40). Philadelphia (6-7) has won four of six games over that span and is now right in the thick of the playoff race. Sirianni has shown growth and a willingness to adapt, and he managed to keep his players on board despite a rocky 2-5 start. He has earned another year at the helm. -- Tim McManus

24. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

Previous ranking: 24

How hot is Arthur Smith's seat: 1. Cold seat

Smith is in his first year as a head coach. The Falcons are still in the playoff race despite a roster hamstrung by salary-cap issues. The Falcons missed the playoffs the previous three seasons, and they went 4-12 in 2020. If there was a zero option, it would be here. There's no reason to think Arthur Smith won't return in 2022. -- Michael Rothstein

25. Seattle Seahawks (5-8)

Previous ranking: 25

How hot is Pete Carroll's seat: 2. Cool seat

Observers who talk about the possibility of Seattle firing Carroll seem to forget the Seahawks gave him a five-year extension in the fall of 2020. If one lousy season was all it would take for Jody Allen to lose faith in him, the team's de facto owner probably wouldn't have given him a deal three years longer than his previous one. And while Carroll is ultimately responsible for the miserable start by the Seahawks' defense, Allen could conceivably chalk this up as a season done in by Russell Wilson's injury more than anything. However, Allen has been a massive mystery since taking control of the team in 2018, so no one knows what she could be thinking. But conventional wisdom says Carroll's contract and his track record before this season will give him security. -- Brady Henderson

26. Carolina Panthers (5-9)

Previous ranking: 26

How hot is Matt Rhule's seat: 3. Warm seat

It could shift to the hot seat if the Panthers lose their next three to end on a seven-game skid and with only five wins for a second straight season under Rhule. Team owner David Tepper gave Rhule a seven-year deal because he knew the rebuild could take time, but expectations seemed to change after a 3-0 start. Ultimately, poor decisions at quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, Cam Newton) and with former offensive coordinator Joe Brady have Rhule and his staff in a bind for the future. Tepper likely won't pull the plug this season, but the lack of improvement down the stretch over two straight campaigns might change that. -- David Newton

27. New York Giants (4-10)

Previous ranking: 27

How hot is Joe Judge's seat: 3. Warm seat

It's actually starting to get warm as the losses pile up even though Judge is in his second season. The Giants don't want to continue this vicious cycle of firing coaches every two years. They already did it with Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. Team co-owner John Mara has admitted regret for cutting it off so quickly with McAdoo and as recently as midseason still was a full believer in Judge. It makes it hard to believe the Giants would fire Judgeafter this season, unless it only gets worse in the final few weeks. -- Jordan Raanan

28. Chicago Bears (4-10)

Previous ranking: 28

How hot is Matt Nagy's seat: 4. Hot seat

Speculation has been brewing for months, and the expectation after another losing season is that the Bears will move on from Nagy in a matter of weeks. Nagy was hired in 2018 with the belief he would ignite Chicago's offense. That hasn't happened -- the Bears have scored the eighth-fewest points in the NFL under his leadership -- nor has rookie quarterback Justin Fields' development gone according to plan. Nagy's handling of playcalling duties has been troublesome this season, and the 295 points Chicago surrendered in its 10 losses make it unlikely that ownership does anything but hit the reset button this offseason. -- Courtney Cronin

29. Detroit Lions (2-11-1)

Previous ranking: 31

How hot is Dan Campbell's seat: 2. Cool seat

Obviously, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. But even with the disappointing record in his first season, the Lions' players and front-office members absolutely love Campbell and work hard for him. He has made mistakes, notably when he was first adjusting to taking over the playcalling role, but Campbell's effort and intensity have been consistent, which is how he has earned his respect. It's no secret that the Lions are in the midst of yet another rebuild, and Campbell didn't enter a situation with a ton of talent, but he is trying to make the most of what he has while building a culture with toughness and grit at the forefront. -- Eric Woodyard

30. Houston Texans (3-11)

Previous ranking: 32

How hot is David Culley's seat: 3. Warm seat

The Texans have just three wins this season -- two against the lowly Jaguars -- and likely won't even get the No. 1 overall pick. Culley admitted during Monday's news conference that general manager Nick Caserio instructed him to let the Patriots score as they approached the red zone back in Week 5 to give Houston's offense a chance to reply with more time on the clock instead of 15 seconds -- which the Texans coach said he "didn't compute." If Caserio has that much say over in-game strategy, it's fair to wonder if he thinks it's worth having Culley stay on as head coach. Caserio might already have his mind made up regarding 2022, and it's very possible that it doesn't include Culley. -- Sarah Barshop

31. New York Jets (3-11)

Previous ranking: 29

How hot is Robert Saleh's seat: 1. Cold seat

Saleh, who inherited one of the worst rosters in the league, is finishing up Year 1 in a major youth movement. This is a long-term rebuild, which should start to bear fruit in 2022. His defense is historically poor -- and some of that falls on him -- but Saleh is doing a good job of galvanizing the organization with his upbeat demeanor. The negativity is testing him in ways he never imagined. -- Rich Cimini

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Previous ranking: 30

How hot is Darrell Bevell's seat: 4. Hot seat

Team owner Shad Khan fired Urban Meyer last week, and now it's Khan who is on the hot seat. He has missed on every coaching/GM hire he has made in the 10 years he has owned the team, and he better get this one right. QB Trevor Lawrence's future is at stake, and if Khan blows this hire, it might set the franchise back another decade. -- Mike DiRocco

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