NFL Week 15 Power Rankings: Lions, Jaguars among improbable playoff hopefuls entering final stretch of season –

It’s December, a time for contenders to emerge and pretenders to fade away.

So go ahead and try explain what happened this past Sunday in the NFL. The Detroit Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings, who came in at 10-2. The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the division-leading Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers went on the road to beat the Seattle Seahawks, a team that appeared to be surging to the postseason.

Detroit, Jacksonville and Carolina are all alive in the playoff chase. In December? Can it be?

The Lions have won five of six to get to 6-7 and get within a game and a half of being in the playoff picture. The Lions have done it behind the offense and especially underrated quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game. The defense has also improved over the past month.

The Jaguars hadn’t won at Tennessee since 2013 before Sunday and were coming off a beat down by the Lions the week before in which they looked lifeless. So who expected Trevor Lawrence to throw for 368 yards and three touchdowns as the Jaguars won, 36-22, in dominant fashion? Lawrence has been as good as any quarterback in the league the last month of the season, putting to rest any of that dumb talk that he wasn’t a franchise passer.

Then there’s Carolina. It has run itself into the playoff chase at 5-8, one game behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South. The Panthers beat Seattle, 30-24, on Sunday and now control their own path into the playoffs. If they win out, including beating Tampa Bay in Week 17, they will be the NFC South winner. Of course, they also have a big game with the Lions in Week 16. The Lions and Panthers playing a big game in late December just isn’t something we expected six weeks ago.

To win the AFC South, the Jaguars would need to win out, including beating the Titans in the final week of the season and then also hope the Titans lose one other game. The schedule is tough with Dallas at home, the Jets on the road, the Texans on the road and then the Titans at home. But it’s possible.

The Lions are my highest-ranked team of the three in this week’s Power Rankings, up to No. 18. But the Jaguars and Panthers are also on the move up.

Sunday was once again a reminder of how crazy the NFL can be and how unpredictable it is from week to week.

Who saw the Lions, Jaguars and Panthers still alive with Christmas around the corner? Not many, that’s for sure — probably not even inside their respective buildings.

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