Last week, there were a lot of upsets that caused some movement in these power rankings. Well, for a second straight week, football has proven to be as unpredictable as it gets. As a result, there is even more change within this week’s edition of the power rankings; not only were there a lot of upsets, but there were also unexpected individual performances that teams may be able to build off of. Overall, this was a very strange week of football, but as always, let’s do our best to rank every team!
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Top Performer: N/A
For the first time this season, the Dolphins didn’t lose this week! Obviously, it’s impossible to do so during your bye, but having a bye week had to be a relief for the organization; there should be long-term success from this tanking effort, but the pain that it causes in the short term is real. At this point, Miami is just trying to identify which young players are going to be a part of their future, and right now, they’re having severe trouble with that. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and linebacker Raekwon McMillan have played fine, but linebacker Jerome Baker and the league highest-paid corner, Xavien Howard, have been awful, while quarterback Josh Rosen has no help around him to get a read on. Against a favorable opponent in the Redskins this week, it’ll be interesting to see how bad the Dolphins truly are; their opening schedule was tough, so is there a chance the gap between them and the league’s next-worst team isn’t as severe as it currently appears to be?
#31: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 28-10 vs MIN
Top Performer: DT Dexter Lawrence
Daniel Jones is no longer undefeated as the starting quarterback of the Giants; New York was demolished at home by the Vikings this weekend. Jones wasn’t terrific in this game, but he played reasonably considering the defense he was facing; Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense often gives young quarterbacks trouble. Plus, the offensive line actually did well in pass protection against one of the better pass rushes in football, although they did struggle to run block. Right now, the problem is that the Giants don’t have enough playmakers to stand out against talented defenses, and although getting running back Saquon Barkley back will help, their issues getting production from their outside receivers will remain even with him back. Defensively, New York regressed back to normal after a strong week 4 performance, struggling severely in coverage, generating just 12 pressures against a poor offensive line, and in general, not offering any sort of resistance to the Vikings offense. The Giants are better coached than some of the teams ranked higher than them, but they lack the talent at key positions necessary to be competitive, and were clearly exposed this game. It gets worse; they travel to New England to take on the undefeated Patriots on Thursday Night Football in a game in which they’ll be without receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion), who has been their main offensive weapon this season.
#30: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 26-23 vs ARI
Top Performer: OL John Jerry
Right now, the Bengals need a win badly. They’re not the worst team – they’ve lost three of their five games by four or fewer points – but with so many important players injured, they cannot seem to translate their competitiveness into victories. Obviously, an offense that continues to be without star receiver AJ Green and first-round tackle Jonah Williams is bound to have their struggles, but it was still surprising to see them only have nine points halfway through the fourth quarter against a relatively weak Cardinals defense. Andy Dalton actually played decent in this game, and the offensive line wasn’t even bad, but without Green and John Ross, there isn’t enough receiving talent for the offense to achieve its potential under head coach Zac Taylor. Meanwhile, the Bengals defense once against played poorly, allowing a rookie quarterback, albeit a very talented one in Kyler Murray, to dominate on the road. Even worse, their pass rush, supposedly the strength of their defense, was non-existent against an offensive line that had previously played miserably, and they even allowed a lot of yards on the ground against a team using 4 receiver threats; pass protection and rushing are supposed to be the weak spots of the Cardinals’ offensive scheme, yet the Bengals made those two areas look like the stregnths of Arizona’s entire team. This was another rough loss for Cincinnati, who appears to be in no man’s land as they search for a win, and perhaps a new franchise quarterback; Dalton isn’t the problem, but he doesn’t stand a chance with this supporting cast.
#29: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 31-6 at PHI
Top Performer: G Alex Lewis
As they wait to get Sam Darnold back under center, the Jets are helpless; without Darnold, they may be even worse than the Dolphins. Luke Falk looked capable in his first action against the Browns in week 2, but since then, he has been anything but that; his performance against the Eagles may have ended his chances of sticking with this team long-term even as a backup or a third-string quarterback. Because of his issues, the offense stands no chance, though it doesn’t help that no player outside of running back Le’Veon Bell, and guard Alex Lewis, has shown up all season, and that because of Darnold’s injury, head coach Adam Gase’s play-calling has put the word conservative to shame. The main problem with that, is that the offense was supposed to be the strength; this defense is amongst the league’s worst. Although they faced a very strong Eagles offense, New York’s problems defending the pass are inexcusable, and the blame falls on former general manager Mike Maccagnan. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t let a general manager spend a lot of money in free agency on players who play non-valuable positions and conduct a draft in which one of their third-round picks (Jachai Polite) doesn’t even make the team. The Jets’ quest for a win is hard to watch at this point; it likely won’t come this week, as they host the Cowboys.
#28: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 33-7 vs NE
Top Performer: DT Tim Settle
The Redskins aren’t completely talent-deficient; their defensive line is very strong, and they have some solid talent in the secondary. However, none of that currently matters; the whole organization is a mess. They trotted out their third quarterback this week in Colt McCoy, and to the surprise of no one, it didn’t work. Yes, it was against a potentially historic Patriots defense, but there’s no question that he played horribly, and it doesn’t help that an offensive line that still is without left tackle Trent Williams continues to be awful. Yet, the front-office and ownership continue to be in a stand-off with the star tackle; there’s no one to blame for their offensive struggles than themselves. Meanwhile, the defense is playing well and has a new contributor in Tim Settle, but the linebackers and secondary have played so poorly to the point that what they’re doing up front is a non-factor; this team has no identity, outside of being dysfunctional. They may have fired head coach Jay Gruden after this game, but he was far from the problem in Washington, and although they have a winnable game in Miami, they’ll soon realize that. Especially, since their interm head coach, Bill Callahan, has already expressed a desire to run the ball often; has he not watched them play during the first five weeks of the season?
#27: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Won 24-21 vs CHI
Top Performer: LB Nicholas Morrow
Last week, we discussed that although the Raiders aren’t a talented team, they have a lot of grit and are playing hard for head coach Jon Gruden. Well, once again, they came out firing, and as a result, picked up a huge upset win to advance to 3-2. In every game the Raiders have played this season, they’ve done well early in the game, which speaks to the effectiveness of Gruden’s scripting. Meanwhile, quarterback Derek Carr continues to play well, second-year tackle Kolten Miller had the best game of his career, and rookie running back Josh Jacobs already looks like a top-ten player at his position. Putting up 24 points against the Bears, especially without top receiver Tyrell Williams, is very impressive, and it speaks to job Gruden has done maximizing the personnel he has on offense. Defensively, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther deserves a lot of credit; the overall talent of the unit is not strong, yet their linebackers and interior defensive line are playing fantastic, and were a huge reason why they won this game. It was very easy to imagine the Raiders falling flat against a superior opponent, especially since they were playing in London. Yet, they didn’t, and although this is probably unsustainable, they’re a team that could definitely win 5-6 games at least and pull off some upsets in the future, which they’ll need to do after their upcoming bye week.
#26: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 34-27 at CAR
Top Performer: WR DJ Chark Jr.
The Jaguars faced a very tough test this week in Carolina, and to their credit, they battled hard. Despite multiple turnovers and mistakes, they had the ball with a chance to tie the game with a touchdown at the end of the game; they definitely overcame some adversity. It was certainly a tough loss in a game that they certainly could’ve one, but still, optimism has to remain high about the improvements offensively. DJ Chark Jr. continues to look like a #1 receiver, and paired with Dede Westbrook, sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew, who continues to play like a starting-caliber quarterback, definitely has some weapons in the passing game. Obviously, the offensive line needs to do better in pass protection and run-blocking, but at the very least, it’s a good sign that second-round rookie tackle Jawaan Taylor held strong in pass protection. The defense clearly misses star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is out with a back injury and has held firm with his trade demand, but the secondary hasn’t played bad, especially considering the pass rush only had twelve total pressures. Obstacles face this team moving forward without Ramsey, but as the offense continues to exceed expectations, I’m definitely more impressed with them than I was heading into the season. Back at home next week against the Saints, they’ll look to get back to .500.
#25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Lost 31-24 at NO
Top Performer: WR Chris Godwin
There’s inconsistent, there’s completely unpredictable, and then there’s not having a clue at all. Greater than all of that, however, is trying to predict a Buccaneers game. You just never know what you’re getting with this team. Tampa played great last week on the road against the Rams, and looked to have a chance to pull off back-to-back road wins against the Saints. Instead, they laid the largest egg possible. Jameis Winston reverted back to looking like a quarterback on the verge of being replaced, and receiver Mike Evans was held without a catch. Had it not been for receiver Chris Godwin, who scored two touchdowns, there would’ve been no positives to speak off with the offense, who got more than half of its points in either garbage time or off of an interception. That’s a huge issue; the offense is supposed to carry the defense, which also regressed significantly in this game. Edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who had 9 sacks through the first four games, didn’t even have a hurry in this game, and as a result, Tampa failed to pressure Teddy Bridgewater. Meanwhile, the secondary made Bridgewater look like prime Drew Brees out there, and even the run defense wasn’t as terrific as it had been. It was just an awful game all-around for the Bucs, who look destined to remain on this train to 7-9 or 8-8; they missed their chance to establish themselves as a force in this division.
#24: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 26-23 vs BAL
Top Performer: CB Steven Nelson
Whatever looked like a worst-case scenario for the Steelers heading into the season, they’ve easily eclipsed that. Not only will they be without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season with an elbow injury, but after suffering a brutal hit at the head, backup Mason Rudolph will also be gone for an extended period of time with a gruesome concussion; it appeared as though he was unconscious at first. Somehow, Pittsburgh stayed in this game throughout, and had it not been for receiver Juju Smith Schuster fumbling in overtime, they very well could’ve won this game. Third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges actually played better than Rudolph, although that’ll probably not remain the case if he has to start for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, the offensive line, outside of center Maurkice Pouncey, fared well, and Smith-Schuster was having a fantastic game before the fumble. Yet, Pittsburgh’s offense is so limited without Roethlisberger, and facing a competent defense this week, their plays from wildcat formations were a disaster; this offense is definitely a bottom-five, if not a bottom-three unit with Hodges under center. There are some bright spots defensively; rookie linebacker Devin Bush finally put together an all-around performance, corner Steven Nelson looks like a terrific free-agent pickup, and Baltimore’s run-heavy offense was certainly limited. Yet, the pass rush faded against a strong offensive line, as it’s been known to do, and at some point, the team needs to get proper investment from defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who they gave up a first-round pick to get AFTER losing Roethlisberger. Without that pick, Pittsburgh is stuck in no-mans land; they’ll likely win only 3-4 games, but won’t even be able to take advantage of the opportunity to add a premier prospect, like the 49ers were able to do with edge rusher Nick Bosa. That means they’ll have to try to somehow win games this year, and in possibly the unluckiest scheduling of all time for the NFL, Hodges will lead them in primetime next week; they’ll take on the Chargers on Sunday Night Football.
#23: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 19-13 at KC
Top Performer: G Quenton Nelson
Raise your hand if you thought the Colts were going to win on Sunday Night Football on the road against the Chiefs. If you raised your hand, well, you’re probably lying. A major reason this upset happened was that Kansas City played poorly and was hurt by huge injuries, but still, Indianapolis proved why they remain a dangerous team. In old school fashion, they absolutely blew out the Chiefs in time of possession, rushing the ball 44 times, which is simply absurd. This was a great job of coaching by Frank Reich, who not only was able to keep Mahomes off the field, but trusted the strength of his team (their remarkable offensive line) to win their matchup against Kansas City’s largest weakness (run defense). This isn’t a sustainable approach to offense on a week-to-week basis, as we’ve seen with their losses to the Chargers and Raiders this season, but it’s their best way to winning with Jacoby Brissett under center, and does allow them to pull off upsets like this. Defensively, it was more terrific coaching by the Colts, this time by defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who played tight man-coverage and limited the Chiefs’ options offensively. The coverage wasn’t spectacular, but sound tackling and a strong performance from the front seven made up for that, and that was without linebacker Darius Leonard. It’s hard to truly buy into the Colts with such lackluster quarterback play (Brissett had a pretty awful game), but their overall culture, offensive line, and play-calling will keep them in every game; don’t count them out to make a run to win the AFC South after their bye.
#22: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Won 26-23 at CIN
Top Performer: QB Kyler Murray
The Cardinals may have had to wait longer than they had hoped, but they officially have their first win in the Kyler Murray-Kliff Kingsbury era. In fact, from what those two control, it went about as well as expected. Kingsbury’s offense finally showed some life, albeit against a putrid Bengals defense, and because of that, Murray was marvelous. With a grade over 90 from Pro Football Focus, he showed why he was the first overall pick with his arm and his legs, and truly elevated the play from his supporting cast. It also helps that he finally got protection from the offensive line, and for once, there was some sort of balance in the pass-runs splits; the offense wasn’t as predictable, which allowed them to pass the ball much more efficiently. It wasn’t a great day for the defense, but considering that all of their main investments are with the offense, they’ll gladly trade a lackluster defensive game for some optimism from Murray and co. Hopefully, this is the sign of things to come in Arizona, and they’ll look to prove so next week at home against the Falcons.
#21: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 26-23 at PIT
Top Performer: LT Ronnie Stanley
The Ravens may have won in Pittsburgh this Sunday, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. The fact that they had to go to overtime against a third-string quarterback is not a good sign, even if divisional rivalry games are always closer than anticipated. It was another poor road performance for Lamar Jackson, who threw three inexcusable interceptions, despite receiving tremendous protection from his offensive line and his receivers getting separation. He gives this offense a large upside, but at the same time, his inaccuracy, troubles staying in the pocket, poor reads, and tendency to hold onto the ball too long are all serious problems; this offense will remain very inconsistent. As expected, Baltimore’s secondary held their own in a rather easy matchup, but there is no pass rush to speak off, and they’re also not getting the production they expect from their defensive line. To maximize the potential of their defense, Baltimore needs to look to add a pass rusher; the secondary isn’t an issue, but even they’ll struggle if opposing quarterbacks have all day to throw. The Ravens have some bright spots, but they also have some severe flaws, and once their schedule gets tougher, they’ll likely be exposed as a “pretender”. For now, though, they’ll get another easy game; they host the Bengals.
#20: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 31-3 at SF
Top Performer: WR Jarvis Landry
What are the Browns particularly good at right now? Coming into the season, it was easy to get excited about on offense with an abundance of playmakers, which was complemented by a perennial top-ten defense with a great pass rush-secondary combination. Well, none of that talent has translated into any sort of success this season, and because of that, they turned in the worst performance of any team this season in an embarrassing 31-3 loss at the 49ers. This offensive line is a disaster, which means anytime they face an average or better pass rush, they’re in trouble. That was the case in this game; Baker Mayfield constantly had to leave the pocket, which caused him to extremely ineffective. Therefore, Cleveland’s playmakers couldn’t be utilized at all; the three points they scored accurately represents their offensive performance. The defense, meanwhile, was without corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, but that doesn’t excuse them from allowing 6.9 yards per rush attempt and missing TEN TACKLES. I’m very close to losing all hope for this experiment; fundamental flaws by general manager John Dorsey are coming back to haunt this team, and if they continue to, both he and head coach Freddie Kitchens will be on the hot seat.
#19: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 53-32 at HOU
Top Performer: DT Grady Jarrett
When Drew Brees and Cam Newton went down with injuries, it appeared as though the Falcons, who were coming off of a huge primetime victory against the Eagles, were going to win the NFC South. Well, since then, they’ve lost three straight, while the Saints and Panthers are a combined 6-0 in that span. It wasn’t the greatest day for Matt Ryan and the offense, as three-thirds of the offensive line was abused, and the receivers failed to take advantage of a weak secondary. They did manage to score 32 points and weren’t the reason why the lost, but still, this offense looks “off”; one has to wonder if new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is a bad influence. The same goes for head coach Dan Quinn; the defense continues to be not only below-average, but at times, unwatchable. The secondary and pass rush are both awful, they constantly struggle in the trenches, and outside of defensive interior Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones, there isn’t enough talent present; perhaps they shouldn’t have used all their resources to improve the offense this offseason? There just isn’t much fight with this team, who over the past three seasons, has become the definition of underachievement; their Super Bowl run appears to be an anomaly. They have a winnable game next week in Arizona, but even then, they’ve put themselves in a serious hole and can’t afford another early-season loss; their season will be on the line.
#18: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Won 20-13 at LAC
Top Performer: LB Alexander Johnson
After two heartbreaking losses to the Bears and Jaguars, it felt as though the Broncos were just owed a win. Well, by the Chargers’ inability to beat inferior opponents, they got that long-desired first win in the Vic Fangio era. Fangio is still not getting the production he’d expect from the pass rush, but his effect on the defense can still be seen. Unknown players, such as linebacker Alexander Johnson and edge rusher Malik Reed, were huge contributors in this win, which made up for lackluster performances by Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. Meanwhile, getting defensive back Kareem Jackson back from injury was huge, and the safety duo of Will Parks and Justin Simmons continues to look like something to build upon for the future. Once Miller and Harris Jr. play better, this defense will be closer to the above-average unit they were expected to be, though we’ve been saying that since week one. Plus, despite Joe Flacco’s efforts to lose this game for Denver, the offense also played well. Running back Phillip Lindsay ran all over the Chargers defense, and surprisingly, the offensive line played well, which is encouraging since they’ll get right tackle Ja’Wuan James back this season. It’s likely too late for this team to make any sort of run – the defense hasn’t lived up to expectations and has been hurt by injuries – but still, they’re nowhere near the level of some of the other well-below .500 teams, and they’ll have a chance to prove themselves in a key home game against the Titans next week.
#17: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Lost 14-7 vs BUF
Top Performer: LB Jayon Brown
Though the Bucs are the most inconsistent team in the NFL, the Titans aren’t far behind; after a road victory in Atlanta, they dropped the ball at home against the Bills. Obviously, any time you miss four field goals, you’re not in a good position to win, but should this game have come back to that? After all, Bills quarterback Josh Allen didn’t clear concussion protocol until the day before the game, and at home, it was reasonable to expect Tennesee’s defense to force turnovers and rally for a victory, and although they played fine, they weren’t particularly strong in one area. Meanwhile, this offense lacks any sort of excitement. Coming into the season, the strength of this team was supposed to be in the trenches. Yet, despite getting left tackle Taylor Lewan back from suspension, the Titans were bullied by Buffalo’s offensive line, and since Marcus Mariota clearly isn’t the type of quarterback who can elevate the players around them, that cannot continue to happen, even if they could have had an extra twelve points on the board, which would’ve made them look much better. At some point, the Titans need to come out of the hole of mediocrity; their week-to-week variance destroys their overall potential; they need to get back on track in Denver next week.
#16: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 14-7 at TEN
Top Performer: QB Josh Allen
Here come the Bills! After a close loss to the Patriots last week in which Josh Allen suffered a concussion, it was easy to be worried about Buffalo, especially their offense. They may have only scored 14 points, but they flashed potential against a very strong defense, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. Allen, who wasn’t even expected to play in this game, actually played well, and he was supported by a tremendous performance by left tackle Dion Dawkins. Considering that those two are considering building blocks of the future, this game was definitely encouraging, and hopefully, the defense won’t have to carry the entire load. Said defense wasn’t even that great this game, and got bailed out by those four missed Titans field goals. Still, there’s no reason to be concerned after a dominant start the season, and with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips establishing himself with Ed Oliver on the interior, this defense has no flaw whatsoever. If the offense continues to improve, it could be a scary sight for the rest of the league; with an easy schedule after their upcoming bye week, Buffalo is in a great position to make the playoffs.
#15: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 24-21 *at* OAK (*LONDON*)
Top Performer: WR Allen Robinson
Are the Bears better with Mitchell Trubisky or Chase Daniel? That was supposed to be answered this week; Daniel was expected to dominate against a weak Raiders defense and prove himself as the superior option. Instead, he turned in an uninspiring performance, and this time, the defense couldn’t compensate for the offense. Perhaps it was the London factor, but the Bears were beaten up at the line of scrimmage, had just seven pressures, and also struggled in the secondary despite Oakland not having their top receiver. Obviously, they should get back to their elite form -they’re a historically great defense – but this really exposed that when the defense has any sort of struggles, Chicago is toast. It’s the danger of building a team centered around the defense rather than the offense; the margin for error is much lower. For now, though, the Bears have a big decision to make on the status of Trubisky, which they’ll ponder during their bye week.
#14: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 53-32 vs ATL
Top Performer: WR Will Fuller V
For years, it’s been clear that if the Texans could ever field a solid offensive line, their offense would be elite. We got a glimpse of that in Houston’s convincing win for the Falcons; they allowed just ten total pressures, and because of that, exploded for well over 500 yards of offense. Say what you want about the price they paid to trade for him, but the Texans finally have their left tackle in Laremy Tunsil, and with first-round rookie Tytus Howard playing better, Deshaun Watson has competent tackle play for once. That’s a huge deal when considering the weapons he has; Will Fuller V is a great complementary option to the incredible De’Andre Hopkins when healthy, and receiving back Duke Johnson Jr. is quietly finding his place in the offense as well. It’s the same story on defense; the Texans had their best game in pass coverage, and considering how terrific their pass rush and front seven is, that’s noteworthy. This could turn out to be a fluke – the Texans are pretty inconsistent – but right now, they’re very intriguing, and could make a statement with a road win against the Chiefs.
#13: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Won 30-29 vs LAR
Top Performer: QB Russell Wilson
The Seahawks may have their flaws, but they’ll always have one thing on their side: they have Russell Wilson. The 30-year-old is not only building up an MVP case, but he also may be the best quarterback in the NFL, and that was on full display on Thursday Night Football; he earned a ridiculous 94.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. With Tyler Lockett continuing to prove himself as one of the best receivers in the game, Tyler Dissly emerging as one of the better young tight ends, and the running back duo of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny playing well, there’s suddenly a lot of weapons for Wilson, and that’s not including rookie receiver DK Metcalf. The pass protection obviously needs to get significantly better, but Wilson’s ability to be great in spite of that is what makes him so special; he covers up all their issues. In reality, the true reason to be skeptical of this team, despite its 4-1 start, has to be with the defense. They struggled in pass defense the entire game, also continued to struggle with tackling. If they can clean up their defensive issues, and perhaps open up the offense more for Wilson, this has the potential to be an elite team, and they’ll have a chance to continue to ride that momentum against a reeling Browns team next week.
#12: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 12)
Top Performer: N/A
There arguably hasn’t been a more surprising team this season than the Lions; seen as an afterthought in the ultra-competitive NFC North, they’ve not only been very impressive, but they have a legitimate case as the best team in the division. With Matthew Stafford playing his best football, Detroit’s offense has been clicking on all cylinders this season, while their defense is extremely well-coached and is exceeding expectations. With corner Darius Slay coming back from injury, and hopefully better production from star edge rusher Trey Flowers, this defense, and the team as a whole, has the makings of a playoff contender, and they have an opportunity to make a huge statement in Green Bay on Monday Night Football this week.
#11: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Won 34-27 vs JAX
Top Performer: RB Christian McCaffrey
As it turns out, Kyle Allen may not be the Panthers’ next franchise quarterback – the former undrafted free agent had another poor outing this week – but yet, Carolina keeps winning. Obviously, Christian McCaffrey having 237 yards from scrimmage and three touchdown alleviates that, and at some point, his name needs to enter MVP conversations; he did this despite poor run blocking. Carolina needs to build an offense around McCaffrey; the offensive line and passing game have both been mediocre, and if they can get better, this offense can truly be one of the league’s better units. That’s crucial, as the defense, which is so well-coached by head coach Ron Rivera, continues to play excellently. The pass rush has fantastic, particularly interior rusher Gerald McCoy, the linebackers are excellent, and the secondary had a bounce-back game; Carolina has quietly one of the better rosters in the NFL, and if they can get better quarterback play (Cam Newton when he gets back?), they’ll undoubtedly be a top-ten team and a true playoff contender. Until then, they’ll continue to rely on McCaffrey and the defense, which they’ll do again in London against the Bucs this upcoming week.
#10: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 31-24 vs TB
Top Performer: WR Michael Thomas
Somehow, someway, the Saints continue to win in different ways. First it was the special teams, and then the defense, but this week, New Orleans won in the most unexpected way; Teddy Bridgewater had an amazing performance. Despite a mediocre game from running back Alvin Kamara, Bridgewater excelled, surprisngly throwing the ball down the field with ease and connecting well with Michael Thomas, who had a monster game. He’s supported by an offensive line that absolutely dominated against a quietly talented Bucs pass rush, and if he continues to receive that type of pass protection, perhaps he can prove this game to not be a fluke, though it’ll take more than one game against a questionable defense to prove that. Speaking of shaky defenses, New Orleans did regress this week on that side of the ball, missing twelve tackles and struggling in both coverage and run defense. A defensive line of Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Malcolm Brown, Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson, and David Onyemata is fantastic, but they can’t completely carry the unit; corner Eli Apple is playing well, but at some point, top corner Marshon Lattimore has to play better (63.3 coverage grade), as do the linebackers. If that’s the case, New Orleans may be able to survive until Drew Brees comes back, but even then, expect reinforcements to be added to the defense at some point, which will be put to test on the road against a Jaguars offense that has been excellent this; this will be a tough game for them.
#9: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Lost 20-13 vs DEN
Top Performer: EDGE Uchenna Nwosu
We’ve discussed to great extent that the Chargers are simply hanging on for dear life until they get some of their key players back from injury. However, they’re failing miserably, and by the time those players return, they may have dug themselves into too large off a hole to overcome. In a game they had to win against the Broncos, Los Angeles was beaten badly; the final score doesn’t reflect how lopsided it was. The culprit of this loss definitely was the offense; Phillip Rivers was awful, star receiver Keenan Allen was shut down, and Los Angeles is still clearly figuring out how to use running backs Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon III as a tandem. Defensively, edge rusher Uchenna Nwosua was spectacular in place of Melvin Ingram III, but Los Angeles once again struggled in run defense, tackling, and coverage despite playing against a lackluster offense; a defense that looked like an elite unit heading into the season looks to be a lost-cause at this point without star safety Derwin James. Considering their two wins were a lucky overtime victory against the Colts and a win against the Dolphins, it’s safe to say the Chargers have easily been one of the main disappointments of the season, and although they’re still wildcard contenders as they get healthy, they’re starting to get into must-win territory, and that starts in primetime against a Steelers team on their third quarterback.
#8: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 28-10 at NYG
Top Performer: WR Adam Thielen
The Vikings are easily the easiest team to figure out in the NFL. Whenever they play a strong team with a top-15 pass rush, they fade. However, whenever they get to face a poor team without a pass rush, they flourish. That’s the product when you have a nearly flawless roster, outside of an awful offensive line, which was on full display against the hapless Giants. Kirk Cousins had his traditional bounce-back against a struggling team to make his statistics look solid, though it’s a concern they’re still failing to give Stefon Diggs enough targets. Though it would be foolish to read too much into one productive performance for the offensive line against one of the league’s worst pass rushes, it’s at least encouraging that rookie center Garrett Bradbury actually held his own this week, despite facing off against rookie Dexter Lawrence, who is having great season. Defensively, the Vikings were predictably excellent, despite not generating a lot of pressure on Daniel Jones; linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were fantastic, and the secondary held their own. This team has Super Bowl talent, yet when they’re tested, Cousins’ flaws and the offensive line are consistently exposed. Will that be the case against a very talented Eagles team this week? Only time will tell.
#7: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 34-24 at DAL
Top Performer: RB Aaron Jones
In past meetings with the Cowboys, the Packers have relied on Aaron Rodgers to be the hero. This time around, Rodgers was more of a game manager; running back Aaron Jones was the star, with four touchdowns and 182 yards from scrimmage. Despite receiving poor run blocking, he made one of the league’s best group of linebackers constantly look foolish, and was the reason Green Bay won this game. Besides that, it was a relatively mediocre performance. The passing game was extremely stagnant without star receiver Davante Adams, and at some point, guard Billy Turner needs to get replaced; he may be the worst pass-blocking guard in the NFL. Furthermore, the defense struggled mightily, constantly letting Dallas get deep into their territory due to an overall awful game from the secondary, especially corner Jaire Alexander, and a lackluster performance from the front seven. Yet, the Packers were able to win this game through Jones and winning the turnover battle, and although some of that comes from luck, it is intriguing that in their worst performance of the season, they still won by two scores. Green Bay may very well be the best team in the NFC, and a convincing win against the Lions this week in primetime would definitely give them a legitimate case.
#6: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Lost 19-13 vs IND
Top Performer: SS Tyrann Mathieu
With the Patriots continuing to rack up dominant wins, the Chiefs appear to be NFL fans’ only hope of preventing them from reaching their fourth straight Super Bowl. Yet, should there be much hope, if any? Though he hasn’t been as unworldly as last year, Patrick Mahomes is having a productive season, but unlike last year, he isn’t supported with as much talent. Injuries to the offensive line have hurt them, especially at left tackle; Cameron Erving had an inexcusably abysmal performance in this game, which essentially may have caused them to lose a game they should’ve won with ease. Because of Erving, Mahomes was under pressure the whole game, then hurt his ankle, and from there, the offense clearly wasn’t the same. Plus, with Sammy Watkins getting hurt early in the game and with Tyreek Hill still hurt, not even Andy Reid can work his magic to create an ultra-explosive offense, although Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle played fine in this game. Over time, the offense should play better, but through five weeks, they’ve yet to look “right”, and for once, appear to have flaws. Defensively, what is Kansas City’s strength. Despite investing a first-round pick, second-round pick, and $105 million in edge rusher Frank Clark, the former Seahawks has just twelve pressures this season, and has been a non-factor. Now, with star interior defensive lineman Chris Jones expected to miss time with a groin strain, a pass rush that had so much promise heading into the season has become extremely weak, which is a colossal problem; Tyrann Mathieu and corner Charvarius Ward played well in this game, but the secondary is a disaster, as are the linebackers. With the offense not dominating and the defensive investments not paying off, the Chiefs certainly don’t look like a top-five team at the moment, and need to bounce-back against the Texans next week.
#5: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Lost 30-29 at SEA
Top Performer: TEs Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett
The Rams may have lost in Seattle, but still, there are a lot of positive takeaways. Due to the struggles from the offensive line, head coach Sean McVay utilized a lot more two tight-end sets, which not only improved the play of the offensive line, but also allowed Los Angeles to finally showcase their tremendous tight end duo of Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. With more time to throw, Jared Goff had an excellent game through the air, and overall, the offense functioned much better; was this change in personnel groupings Sean McVay’s reaction to defenses finally figuring his offenses out? Speaking of adjustments, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips needs to make a lot, and in a hurry. The pass rush – mostly Aaron Donald – was fine, but problems in coverage, particularly Aqib Talib, who is having a having an awful season, doomed them; Russell Wilson essentially tore them down to pieces. There’s still too much talent on that unit for them to continue to struggle, but in a tough NFC West, the defensive problems need to be fixed, and at the end of the season, losing this game on a missed 45-yard field goal may cost them. Because they did lose this game, they face a must-win scenario this week against the undefeated 49ers, but with the changes with the offensive scheme, I have faith that they’ll deliver.
#4: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Lost 34-24 vs GB
Top Performer: WR Amari Cooper
After three weeks, the Cowboys looked like possibly the best team in the NFC, though there was always the caveat that it came against three of the worst teams in the NFL (Giants, Redskins, Cowboys). Well, in their two games since then against teams with a winning record, they’re 0-2, including a rough loss to the Packers this past Sunday. It’s not as though Dallas played awful – they constantly moved the ball down the field- but they made three costly turnovers and missed two field goals, which put themselves into large of a hole to overcome, even if they were on the precipus of making it a one-score game. Plus, some context needs to be added to this. They were without arguably the best tackle in the NFL Tyron Smith, and to make matters worse, right tackle La’el Collins left the game due to an injury. When you put all of these moving pieces together, Dak Prescott didn’t play bad, and if they were to have a rematch with the Packers, I truly believe the Cowboys would win, based on how this game went. I’m not sure if it’s time to be concerned about the defense, but linebackers Leighton Vader Esch and Jaylon Smith haven’t played well, the secondary has regressed, and star edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence has also not been his usual self. With so many stars on that unit though, it’s hard to see them continue to play that bad; Dallas should improve over time, and with a prime bounce-back opportunity on the road against the Jets, they’ll be able to put themselves on the track to still being Super Bowl contenders.
#3: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 31-3 vs CLE
Top Performer: EDGE Nick Bosa
Could the 49ers be the best team in the NFC? They started off the season with three wins before their bye, but needed a convincing/statement win to truly assert themselves as a Super Bowl contender, and possibly a Super Bowl favorite. They got that type of win on Monday Night Football; they absolutely demolished a still-talented Browns team in every facet off the game. Averaging 6.9 yards per carry, San Francisco rushed for an absurd 275 yards, completely gashing Cleveland with zone-runs that worked to perfection as a result of spectacular run-blocking. Plus, it’s not as though Jimmy Garoppolo played bad – he actually was pretty effecient – and in tight end George Kittle, the 49ers have one of the biggest mismatches in the NFL. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has this offense firing on all cylinders right now, though they’ll face some adversity; in addition to left tackle Joe Staley’s injury, right tackle Mike McGlinchy will be sidelined 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Working in the their favor, is that the offense hasn’t even had to be amazing; the defense has been incredible. Even without Akhelo Witherspoon, the 49ers’ secondary continues to be a pleasant surprise this season, which is due in large part to a pass rush that not only Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, and interior rushers DeForest Buckner and Soloman Thomas, but also arguably a top-ten pass rusher in second overall pick Nick Bosa, who had 9 pressures on just 25 pass-rushing snaps. If the 49ers can overcome the injuries to their offensive line, there’s no reason they can’t win 12 games and get a first-round bye; they have an extremely well-rounded roster, and could put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the NFC West with a win on the road against the Rams in week 6.
#2: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 31-6 vs NYJ
Top Performer: CB Orlando Scandrick
Though this can be seen as a compliment to the Eagles or an inditement on the hapless Jets, Philadelphia only winning by 25 points didn’t seem large enough. Obviously, that was more than sufficent, but it’s hard to take away much from this game. As expected, the Eagles were incredibly defensively, shutting down New York’s awful passing attack and even scoring two touchdowns, though with how bad the Jets have played, it would be logicial to not read too much into that. Offensively, Philadelphia wasn’t very sharp, but Carson Wentz played well, and the unit should function much better with the likely return of receiver Desean Jackson. For now, the Eagles look deep, and ready to make a Super Bowl run as the best team in the NFC, though their tough upcoming schedule, which includes a trip to Minnesota in week 6, will give us a better read of how they truly are.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 33-7 at WSH
Top Performer: CB Jason McCourty
The Patriots in week 5 had pretty much the same outcome as the Eagles; they blew out an extremely inferior opponent, even if the point-differential wasn’t as large as expected. The defense continued to play at a historic level, with elite coverage, especially from their linebackers, though it wasn’t exactly tested by a Washington offense led by Colt McCoy. If there’s one takeaway with the unit, it’s actually a negative; Stephon Gillmore had another poor performance, and is really struggling after two straight tremendous seasons to start his Patriots career. Also potentially troublesome, is that the offense has yet to click yet. Tom Brady played fine, but not anywhere near the level you’d expect against a very poor secondary, and it’s clear that the offense is locking the talent at receiver or on the offensive line that they’re accustomed to having. They’ll almost certainly be fine, because they’re the Patriots, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make an extended attempt to add a receiver or tight end at the trade deadline; Brady could use some help once they start playing better teams. Right now though, the Patriots are the unchallenged best team in the NFL and the clear Super Bowl favorite, and it’s not as though they’re being tested anytime soon; they host the Giants on Thursday Night Football.