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NFL Week 16 Power Rankings roundup: McCarron proves Bengals worthy of slight rise in rankings

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The Bengals managed to rise a spot in most of the latest NFL power rankings, but leave it to ESPN to find a reason to drop them.

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The latest round of NFL power rankings are out following a fairly calm Week 15.

It was calm because few of the top teams lost this past week, and that includes the undefeated Carolina Panthers. While it wasn't easy beating the New York Giants, Carolina did just enough to get to 14-0 and remain on top of every power ranking.

The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals also won this past week to remain near the top of the rankings. Those are the teams the Cincinnati Bengals continue to jockey with for positioning.

Thanks to their 24-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Bengals are still right in that top-five range in the latest rankings. While beating the 49ers isn't much to brag about, beating them with as many injuries as the Bengals had is.

AJ McCarron played about as well as you could ask an NFL quarterback making his first start. He also did well enough that this Bengals team may still be one to be reckoned with come playoff time. The performance of McCarron and the Bengals was enough that they've risen in several rankings this week while remaining stagnant in others.

SB Nation's Danny Kelly raised Cincinnati one spot in his latest rankings while admitting he's high on the Bengals, but isn't sold on McCarron leading this team to their ultimate goal:

We obviously can't forget about the Bengals, who still have the deepest roster in the NFL and boast incredible balance in all three phases. The big issue, of course, is the question of whether or not Andy Dalton will return in time for it to matter. A.J. McCarron looked competent out there in Cincy's win over the Niners, but things don't get easier for him going forward and we may know more of what to expect after watching him take on the Broncos next week. I'm still bullish on the Bengals even without Dalton, but it's very, very tough to win in the playoffs without a very good quarterback running things.

NFL.com's Elliot Harrison liked what he saw from McCarron, enough so that he bumped Cincinnati up one spot, too.

So much for the concern about AJ McCarron ... at least, when Cincy causes four turnovers. We'll see if the Bengals deserve to be higher when they face the Broncos on Monday night. Part of the issue with moving Cincy back up (after dropping them from the top five following Andy Dalton's thumb injury in Week 14) is that three of the teams sitting just above -- the Seahawks, Steelers and Chiefs -- are playing as well as anyone in the league. Still, the Bengals' defensive performance in San Francisco was impressive, as almost half of the 49ers' yardage came in garbage time.

Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab also raised the Bengals one spot:

AJ McCarron was 15 of 21 for 192 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions on Sunday. He is not going to light the scoreboard up, but he needs to be efficient, avoid mistakes and make a play or two for a really talented Bengals team to win. He did just that in his first NFL start.

However, ESPN knocked the Bengals down a spot while noting how the defense was what carried them to victory Sunday, not McCarron.

The Bengals won with AJ McCarron at quarterback Sunday, but the defense is mostly to thank. The Bengals had a season-high four takeaways, scoring 14 of their 24 points off turnovers.

As for the Bengals' next opponent, the Denver Broncos took a slight dip this week after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. As shaky as Denver has looked as of late with Brock Osweiler under center, this doesn't look like the Super Bowl contender everyone expected them to be. Denver has given up big leads in the second half of their last two games and has scored zero points in the second half of their last three games.

Speaking of, CBS Sports' Pete Prisco kept the Bengals at the fifth spot in his latest rankings while pointing out how this week's clash between Cincinnati and Denver is huge for both team's playoff hopes. The Bengals are already secured a spot in the playoffs, but the Broncos haven't yet achieved that feat. As of now, Monday's game will feature backup quarterbacks starting in place of their injured counterparts as Brock Osweiler faces McCarron. It's possible but unlikely that Peyton Manning returns to the starting lineup this week for Denver.

Osweiler was undefeated as the replacement for Peyton Manning, but two consecutive losses have made this a must-win for the Broncos. They lead the Chiefs by one game in the division, but what's also at stake is the second seed in the AFC.

For the Bengals, that would mean another week to get Dalton healthy. For both, it would mean possibly avoiding a wild-card round game with the dangerous Pittsburgh Steelers -- provided Pittsburgh wins the last two.


Here's a roundup of each major power ranking from this week compared to last week.

SOURCE CURRENT LAST WEEK CHANGE
ESPN 5 4 -1
Yahoo! Sports 4 5 1
NFL.com 8 9 1
SB Nation 7 8 1
USA Today 10 10 0
B/R 7 8 1
CBS Sports (Pete Prisco) 5 5 0
AVG. 6.6 7 0.40