Without a doubt, week 6 was the most shocking week of the season. With so many upsets, not only is there a lot of movement within power rankings, but most predictions from this week were also much worse than usual. Hopefully, those who struggled with their picks this week (it was a rough week at mvpsportstalk.com) can improve next week, but for now, let’s do our best to recap the chaos that occurred this week, ranking every team, while also naming their top performer and assigning them a grade.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 17-16 vs WSH
Top Performer: CB Nik Needham
The Dolphins may have lost another game this Sunday, but as their fans would argue, it was a long-term win for the team. In losing to a fellow winless team, their odds of earning the #1 pick increased dramatically; their “tank” is working in full effect, and they even kept the game competitive. Well, that’s what the final score will tell you; Miami once again struggled mightily in this game. Josh Rosen played so poorly against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, that he had to benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who almost led a comeback attempt. It doesn’t help that he’s playing behind the league’s worst offensive line, a receiving corps that cannot catch a football, and no support of a rushing attack; Rosen stands no chance, and it’s a shame that his career will be tarnished simply by being in some really bad situations. On the bright side, the defense played fine, though it wasn’t against a quality opponent. First-round rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins was able to flash as a pass rusher, and young linebackers Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan had some success in this game as well; the offense may be a disaster, but at least the Dolphins have found some potential cornerstones on their defenses. It remains to be seen if Miami will win a game this season – they still play the Bengals at the end of the season – but their long-term goal still remains intact, and though Rosen isn’t the answer, at least they’ll be able to follow the progression of their young defensive players throughout the season, starting in a rough game in Buffalo against the 4-1 Bills.
#31: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 35-14 at NE
Top Performer: DT Dexter Lawrence
The Giants may have kept this game in New England closer than you’d expect for a team without receiver Sterling Shepard, tight end Evan Engram, and running backs Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman, but still, it was an uninspiring offensive performance, to say the least. Daniel Jones was absolutely fooled by the stunts Bill Belichick ran for the Patriots defense, and as a result, made several made decisions, and it doesn’t help that they legitimately had no threat of a rushing attack. The defense, on the other hand, definitely exceeded expectations in some aspects. Rookie defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence continues to be a monster as both a pass rusher and a run stuffer, and in addition, edge rusher Lorenzo Carter had his best game of the season. Still, there were also some serious negatives. The secondary was once again awful, but the main concern has to be safety Jabrill Peppers, who was the centerpiece of the Odell Beckham Jr., yet had another disappointing performance with three missed tackles, while also being a liability in coverage. Overall, this game went pretty much as New York could’ve expected; some decent performances from their young players, but also some that should cause concern. We’ll get a better feel for this team next week,; they should be healthy by then and will host the Cardinals.
#30: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 23-17 at BAL
Top Performer: WR Auden Tate
With the Redskins winning this week, the Bengals are the only non-tanking team that doesn’t have a win this season. It’s a huge step down for a team that has some buzz this offseason after the hiring of Zac Taylor as head coach and a solid draft, but that’s what critical injuries and improper roster-building can do to a team. Cincinnati’s offensive line still struggled in pass protection despite facing one of the worst pass rushes, and that, combined with lackluster receiving talent and a horrible game from running back Joe Mixon. At this point, we’re just counting down the days until Andy Dalton is the quarterback for a different team; he’s a solid quarterback, but he needs to get out of this purgatory. Furthermore, the team’s once-touted defensive line has become irrelevant, and with another 12 missed tackles, the defense as a whole continues to fail to execute the simple fundamentals. It’s a rough time to be the Bengals fan, but on the plus side, perhaps this is what they need; they’ll finally be out of mediocrity, and will have a top pick, and perhaps more if they trade off some of their assets. Either way, Taylor is still looking for his first win, and he’ll try to get it this week at home against the Jaguars.
#29: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Won 17-16 at MIA
Top Performer: CB Quinton Dunbar
On Sunday, the Redskins continued to put themselves in a rough position as an organization. There’s a lot of dysfunction with the ownership and the front office, but with the top pick in the draft, perhaps they could find a franchise-changing prospect, or trade down for multiple high-end picks, that could save them. Instead? They win a meaningless game against the Dolphins, which will cost them that opportunity. On offense, interm head coach Bill Callihan got his wish; the Redskins ran the ball 31 times, despite having poor run blocking. That went about as well as anticipated; it almost cost them a game against one of the worst teams in NFL history; Washington had success through the air throwing to rookie standout Terry McLaurin, but instead stubbornly stook with the run. Defensively, Washington did play well, albeit against an absolutely putrid offense. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar has been the team’s best defensive player this season, and the front seven was solid, including linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who was exceptional in coverage. There isn’t much to take away from this game; a bad team beat an even worse team, and that’s about it; Washington will go back to their losing ways this week against the undefeated 49ers, but at least they’ll be able to establish the run?
#28: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Won 24-22 vs DAL
Top Performer: WR Jamison Crowder
He’s back! Making his anticipated return from mononucleosis, second-year quarterback Sam Darnold made a statement this Sunday. Not only does he appear to be a future star for the Jets, but at this point, he looks like the best quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft. With him back, an offense that was hyped up during the offseason showed its potential. Receivers Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder were highly effective in this game, and in addition, Le’Veon Bell looked like the elite running back New York paid him to be. Head coach Adam Gase was highly criticized while Darnold was out, but if this is how his offense will look with the pieces in place, he could be the answer for a team that hasn’t had a stable head coach in years. As far as the defense is concerned? The unit remains a work in progress. New York performed well in run defense, but they struggled mightily rushing the passer and in coverage, despite Dallas being without their two tackles and top receiver Amari Cooper. Still, the young safety duo of Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams continues to show promise, and if the team could just add an impact edge rusher or cornerback, the secondary could be competent. It’s too late for the Jets to make a serious playoff push this season – not with that defense and the Patriots coming to town next week – but still, there a lot of exciting young players on this team, and with some refinement from new general manager Joe Douglas, this could be a playoff contender next season.
#27: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 27)
Top Performer: N/A
In week 5, the Raiders pulled off one of the most stunning upsets, beating the Bears in London in what was supposed to be edge rusher Khalil Mack’s revenge game. For all the criticism head coach Jon Gruden has received, he’s done a terrific job scripting up this offense, and even larger, he has his team, which doesn’t have a lot of talent, playing hard. There are still major issues with the defense, but with an offensive line, a decent passing attack, a star rookie running back in Josh Jacobs, and a good culture, they’re a team that should have other teams on upset alert, though that’s unlikely to be the case when they travel to Green Bay this Sunday.
#26: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 13-6 vs NO
Top Performer: EDGE Calais Campbell
Who do the Jaguars want to be? For the past couple weeks, they’ve had an exciting passing offense that actually appeared to be becoming the identity of the team; they no longer looked like an old-school, boring 4-5 win team. Against the Saints this week, they went back to their old ways. Though it was against Teddy Bridgewater, the defense was fine, holding New Orleans to a single touchdown, eliminating their rushing attack, and getting an outstanding performance from defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who is the face of the defense. Yet, he was the only main bright spot, as linebacker Myles Jack (recently extended) and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue (up for a new contract) both played horrendously in this game. Even less encouraging, was the play of the offense. Jacksonville went run-heavy in this game despite facing a poor secondary and a solid front seven, and when he was asked to throw, Gardner Minshew played like a sixth-round quarterback, “earning” a grade of 31.6 from Pro Football Focus and constantly struggling to connect with his receivers despite receiving strong pass protection. Overall, this game proves what we were hoping to move on from; the Jaguars don’t have any sort of identity, and will remain one of the most uninspiring teams in the NFL.
(UPDATE: Jags Trade CB Jalen Ramsey To Rams In Exchange For Two First-Round Picks and Fourth-Round Pick. It’s a nice return for Ramsey, and hopefully, the drama being over can help the team moving forward)
#25: Tampa Bay Buccanneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 37-26 vs CAR (LONDON)
Top Performer: EDGE Carl Nassib
They may have been in another country, but the Bucs couldn’t escape from the major fault in their loss to the Panthers in London; they had seven turnovers, including five interceptions from Jameis Winston. Besides that, Winston played fine, but those interceptions were obviously way too costly, and it’s a shame that an offense with an elite receiving corps and an excellent head coach (Bruce Arians) can’t reach its ceiling because of those issues. When the offense isn’t as strong as it could be, Tampa Bay is destined to lose; the defense still isn’t close to a finished product. As edge rusher Shaquil Barrett had his second straight game without a sack, fifth overall pick Devin White played awful, and the cornerbacks were a liability, the Bucs couldn’t stop the Panthers offense, even though they held Christian McCaffrey to under two yards per carry. For the second straight week, Tampa Bay struggled all-around, and now, they’ve put themselves in a major hole; after their bye week, their game in Tennesee is a must-win.
#24: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 23)
Top Performer: N/A
Without Andrew Luck, the Colts were going to have to find a different way to win football games; Jacoby Brissett is a decent game manager, but he’s not capable of carrying a winning team. As a result, head coach Frank Reich is using the team’s main strength, the offensive line, to run the ball effectively, and open up easy passes for Brissett. That’s how they were able to upset the Chiefs last week, in addition to their well-coached defense, which should be improved after the bye as some of their key players, including linebacker Darius Leonard, return from injury. I’m not sure a team that relies on the running game and a so-so defense is capable of being a playoff team, but the Colts deserve a lot of credit for their perseverance, and with a home game against the Texans this week, they could be in first place in the division if they can find a way to win.
#23: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 24-17 at LAC
Top Performer: EDGE TJ Watt
Speaking of teams that have had to deal with adversity, the Steelers are down to their third quarterback, and also have injuries in some other areas. Yet, like the Colts, they’ve been able to remain competitive, which is a testament to the talent they possess. Quietly, Pittsburgh has established one of the best front sevens in football. Edge rusher TJ Watt has taken the next step to being a true #1 pass rusher this season, the defensive line is extremely strong, and though he’s had his ups and downs, rookie linebacker Devin Bush has shown flashes of excellence. There are serious problems with the secondary, who is getting good production from cornerback Cameron Sutton, but seems to have wasted a first-round pick in trading for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was really bad in coverage once again. There’s not much to say about the offense, which was ultra-conservative with third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges, though the offensive line, particularly center Maurkice Pouncey, had an off-day in run-blocking against one of the weaker run defenses. I really admire this team’s spirit, and with games against the Dolphins and Colts coming up, could they be 4-4 and in the division race?
#22: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 34-33 vs ATL
Top Performer: RB David Johnson
Yet another head coach who was a target in the early weeks, head coach Kliff Kingsbury not only picked up his first win last week, but all of a sudden, has built an exciting offense in Arizona. The distribution of targets is outstanding, and by utilizing both running backs (David Johnson and Chase Edmunds) in the passing game, he’s been able to help compensate for a lack of receiving talent. It also helps to have such a tremendous rookie quarterback in Kyler Murray, who’s finally starting to use his legs more and has been extremely accurate. Even better is the pass protection, which was once again excellent this week; the combination of Murray and Kingsbury finally isn’t being hampered down by the offensive line, and we’re seeing the benefits. However, there’s a chance defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will be a one-and-done as the team’s defensive coordinator. There’s nothing the defense does well; despite a fine performance from the pass rush, the coverage was unwatchable, and the defensive line also struggled in run defense. A win is a win, and the offense’s progression is what will determine if this season is a success or not for the retooling Cardinals, but overall, this win was a mixed bag for them. For what it’s worth, they have a chance to get to .500 next week; the travel to New York to take on the Giants.
#21: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 23-17 vs CIN
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
The Ravens didn’t face a huge test this week in the Bengals, and pretty much did exactly what I expected them to do; they didn’t cover their double-digit spread, but they did show some signs of progress and won. Lamar Jackson had a nice bounce-back game, albeit against Cincinnati’s awful defense, while the pass protection and rushing attack were both amazing in this game. Honestly, with a top-five offensive line, Jackson’s upside, and the rushing attack, there are legitimate pieces in place for a top-15 offense, which is much more than I expected for them. The defense, on the other hand, continues to not be the strength that they were supposed to be. Baltimore was strong in run defense, but they also once again failed to manufacture any sort of a pass rush, and also was shaky in coverage. It’s important to not read much into this game, judging by their opponent, but Baltimore has actually become an offense-oriented team, which I’m not sure is actually a good thing; Jackson is very inconsistent, and the secondary was supposed to be the team’s main source of reliability. I’m excited to see how this team plays in Seattle in week 7; we’ll learn a lot about them as they start to play higher-quality opponents.
(UPDATE: Ravens Acquire CB Marcus Peters For LB Kenny Young and a 5th-Round Pick. It’s a solid trade for them, and helps their secondary, though the pass rush remains a greater concern)
#20: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Lost 34-33 at ARI
Top Performer: TE Austin Hooper
What was happened to the Falcons? With so much talent on the roster, they looked like a great bet to win the NFC South, especially after the injuries to Cam Newton and Drew Brees in the division. Now, there’s a chance they’ll have a top-five pick in this year’s draft. It’s quite a turnaround for a team that has been a staple of success over the past few seasons, especially one that has such an explosive passing offense. Said passing attack was fantastic against the Cardinals, as Matt Ryan was very efficient, and tight end Austin Hooper had a huge game. Yet, as always, the defense let them down. The pass rush has consistently gotten worse, and this week, bottomed out with just seven pressures against one of the worst offensive lines. If that happens, there’s no chance for the secondary, which has also been a disaster this season. At this point, head coach Dan Quinn is as good as gone, but what else can the Falcons do? They’ve spent a significant amount of resources on this roster, and have too much talent to rebuild, but they’re clearly not a team capable of being a playoff contender. At this point, just getting a win is all that can be asked from them, and that’s going to a difficult task against the angry Rams.
#19: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 32-28 vs SEA
Top Performer: EDGE Myles Garrett
The Browns needed a win in the worst way Sunday; they needed to right the ship after a embarrassing 31-3 loss to the 49ers on Monday Night Football, and looked to be doing so early against the Seahawks. They jumped out to a 20-6 lead, with Baker Mayfield and the offense looking dominant. Then, chaos happened; the Browns went back to being the Browns. Mayfield threw three interceptions, though none were his fault, running back Nick Chubb fumbled, punter Jamie Gillan had a punt blocked, and before you knew it, Seattle was winning this game. It’s a rough pill for Cleveland to swallow; they have some much talent, but it simply doesn’t seem to mesh together. As expected, Mayfield had protection against an average pass rush, and honestly picked apart the Seahawks’ secondary. Furthermore, this was the first game in which he seemed to have a connection with Odell Beckham Jr., and despite awful run-blocking, Chubb has a nice game as well. Still, those turnovers prevented them from flourishing, and at this point, they’ve become too much of a common occurence to expect anything other than sloppy play. At the very least, the pass rush, particularly Myles Garrett (10 pressures) finally broke out, but without corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, the secondary stood no chance against Russell Wilson, and the team’s tackling woes continued. I haven’t lost hope in the Browns, considering they play in such a easy division and have a cupcake schedule in the second half of the season, but they’ve been nothing short of a disappointment so far, and need to re-assess themselves during their upcoming bye week.
#18: Tennessee Titans (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 16-0 at DEN
Top Performer: FS Kevin Byard
The Titans have an elite defense. With a tremendous secondary that includes the league’s best safety in Kevin Byard, and significant corner depth, they’ll be able to limit opposing passing offenses, even with a pass rush that has surprisingly struggled this season. They’re also fundamentally sound when it comes to tackling, are stout upfront, and are also simply extremely well-coached; the defense is a top-five to top-ten unit. However, none of that matters, because the offense is utterly miserable. Marcus Mariota was benched in this game in favor of Ryan Tannehill, and at this point, he’s lost his chance to be the team’s starting quarterback ever again; he’s conservative, holds onto the ball too long, and doesn’t use his athleticism whatsoever. It’s not as though Tannehill is much of an improvement, if at all, but maybe he can distribute the ball well to a deep group of receivers, rather than forcing this offense to be an old-school, run-heavy unit. Either way though, this offense is not capable of scoring 20 points a game consistently, so when they face talented teams, they’re in a really rough spot. They could right the ship this upcoming week with a win at home against the Chargers, but at this point, how can they be seen as anything but an average-at best team?
#17: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 16)
Top Performer: N/A
Right now, the Bills, and their fanbase, have to be ecstatic. Not only are they 4-1 with a dominant defense, but with two games against the Dolphins coming up as part of a extremely easy schedule, it’s easy to see them winning 10 to 11 games. If Josh Allen can be less turnover-prone and a little more consistent, this offense, which has actually been fine this season, will be able to support this extremely well-coached defense; perhaps they could win a playoff game, or even, make a run at the AFC Championship Game?. It’ll be on Allen though, who is the X-Factor of this team; hopefully, he can build some confidence and momentum in what should be an easy win against Miami this week.
#16: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 16-0 vs TEN
Top Performer: CB Chris Harris Jr.
Through the first four weeks, the Broncos were winless, but with two losses in the final seconds, it was clear that this was a team significantly better than their record. Now, all of a sudden, they’ve won two straight and could be considered a dark-horse playoff contender. It took a while, but finally, Vic Fangio’s defense is playing how we anticipated they would. The pass rush isn’t the same without edge rusher Bradley Chubb – Von Miller continues to have a down season – but the secondary is a serious strength. Chris Harris Jr. is playing like the #1 corner he has always been, and in addition, Kareem Jackson has settled in nicely since returning from injury. Meanwhile, they’re also strong in the front seven, especially in run defense; linebacker Alexander Johnson is quickly becoming a key contributor for them. Denver wants to win games through their defense, so when their offense doesn’t essentially “screw up”, the formula can work. That’s exactly what Joe Flacco did in this game, going full game-manager mode with great pass protection, and Phillip Lindsay continues to be a solid running back despite receiving awful run-blocking. Right now, this team deserves more recognition; there may not be a firesale of their top assets after all? If they can upset the Chiefs this Thursday Night, they’ll get the attention they deserve.
#15: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 24-17 vs PIT
Top Performer: FS Rayshawn Jenkins
Coming into the season, the Chargers looked like a prime Super Bowl contender, with an absolute stacked roster with a lot of depth. However, as that talent continues to lessen due to injuries, they’ve officially failed to stay in survival mode. Most importantly, this team is currently an embarrassment in the trenches, which is extremely difficult to overcome. The offensive line, in particular, is struggling without left tackle Russell Okung and center Mike Pouncey, and as a result, it’s very hard for Phillip Rivers to not constantly panic in the pocket, and despite their talent at running back, no rushing attack can be established. What’s the point of having such talent skill position players, when the offensive line is capable of destroying the entire offense? Furthermore, there’s some talent on the defense, but injuries to safety Derwin James and edge rusher Melvin Ingram have hurt them. As a result, they may be the worst tackling team in the league, aren’t even getting good production from their cornerbacks against a third-string quarterback, and had to rely on safety Rayshawn Jenkins to keep them competitive in this game. Add in the fact that they have to use silent snap counts in their “home games”, and this is simply a disaster for the Chargers, who are playing for their season next week at Tennessee.
#14: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Won 31-24 at KC
Top Performer: LB Benardrick McKinney
The Texans were laughed at this offseason, as they missed out on tackle Andre Dillard in the draft, fired their general manager, and then traded two first-round picks for tackle Laremy Tunsil. The reasoning, was that even with Tunsil, they looked like an 8-8 or 9-7 team at best. Yet, here they are; they’re 4-2 and are suddenly in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye. A lot of the credit must go to Deshaun Watson, who is getting the ball out quickly and avoiding sacks, which has allowed the offense to flow much better. That’s especially true, when considering they’re three deep at receiver, including the top receiver in the NFL (De’Andre Hopkins), have a great tandem at running back, and now have above-average offensive line play. Then, there’s the defense, which continues to struggle at the back-end, but has a terrific pass rush, and is getting great seasons from linebacker Benardrick McKinney and nose tackle DJ Reader. It’s hard to not be excited by the prospects of the Texans, who have their flaws, but also possess an explosive offense with a decent defense; I’m confident they’ll win the AFC South, and at this point, could they be better than the Chiefs, who they just beat? Only time will tell, and winning on the road in a divisional matchup against the Colts would certainly help their case.
#13: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 15)
Top Performer: N/A
Right now, the Bears don’t know if it’ll be Mitch Trubsiky or Chase Daniel under center. Either way, they have the talent to be an elite team. Their excellent defense was a little flat in London against the Raiders, but still, they have an elite pass rush, front seven, and secondary; they lack a flaw on that side of the ball. Plus, even if there’s uncertainty at quarterback, Chicago has an excellent play-caller in head coach Matt Nagy, a terrific group of receivers, a talented running back duo, and a sturdy offensive line. All the ingredients are there for the Bears to make a deep playoff push, and that starts at home this week, against the Saints.
#12: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Won 32-28 at CLE
Top Performer: CB Shaquill Griffen
Right now, the Seahawks are one of the hardest teams to judge in the NFL. Since they’re pretty much carried by a few star players, they never look extremely impressive in their wins, especially since they have an old-school approach. However, as we learned again on Sunday, when you have the league’s best quarterback (Russell Wilson), perhaps none of that matters? Wilson is amazing, and the receiver duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf is an excellent fit for his playstyle. Obviously, it would be ideal to have a better offensive line, but Wilson continues to compensate for that, and if they get healthier, they should be fine. It’s the defense, however, that continues to have problems. The secondary is a far cry from the legion of boom days, and they’re certainly not being helped by a lackluster pass rush that had just 11 pass rushes against one of the league’s worst offensive lines. If there’s a team that needs to go all-in to add a defensive player in the NFC, it’s the Seahawks; Wilson is fantastic, and linebacker Bobby Wagner should eventually play better, but they need more talent around them. Still, there’s a good chance they’ll keep up their winning ways; they host the Ravens this week.
#11: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Lost 31-24 vs HOU
Top Performer: WR Tyreek Hill
What? The Chiefs aren’t a top ten team? I do concede that Kansas City, like almost every team, is dealing with injuries; left tackle Eric Fisher, receiver Sammy Watkins, and interior defensive lineman Chris Jones all missed this game against the Texans. Still, should that excuse what we saw from this team? Absolutely not. Patrick Mahomes had by far his worst game as a pro, with an extraordinary amount of missed throws and mistakes that could’ve easily led to turnovers. He’s clearly not the same with his ankle injury, but still, if he’s playing, it cannot be a legitimate excuse; we don’t know the severity of it. Plus, even without Fisher, the pass protection was fine, and the return of Tyreek Hill offsets losing Watkins; the offense has been poor for the last three weeks, and it’s time to stop overlooking that. The problem with the construction of this team, is that if the offense doesn’t produce at a historic level, they’ll often lose; the defense is a disaster. Big money investments Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark have been huge disappointments, especially Clark, who has just 17 pressures this season after the team traded a first and second-round pick for him, and then gave him a contract worth over $100 million. Without the pass rush that this defense relied on last year, there’s no way to cover up one of the worst secondaries and run defenses in the NFL, and since the offense is having issues against mediocre-at best defenses, this team lacks an identity right now. They’ll probably figure it out eventually, but they’re running out of time if they want a first-round bye; in a way, they need to win their upcoming Thursday Night Football affair in Denver.
#10: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Won 37-26 at TB (LONDON)
Top Performer: DT Vernon Butler
The Panthers were expected to have a wasted season this year when franchise quarterback Cam Newton got injured, but as I emphasized heavily after their 0-2 start, Newton was playing so poorly, that all they needed was average quarterback play to succeed. Well, they’re getting that in former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen, who had a tremendous game behind a great offensive line, even with running back Christian McCaffrey having an off game. Even with Allen, who’ll go through his ups and downs, there’s a lot of talent on this offense to compensate for that; if Newton isn’t 100% healthy, they need to stick with Allen. Furthermore, this is one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL. Not only did they force seven turnovers, but they also had 32 pressures as a result of their dominant interior pass rush, and we also can’t go without mentioning the linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, even if Thompson had his issues in this game. Right now, this team is playing the type of spirited football they were always capable of playing, but now, they must make a quarterback decision during their bye week.
#9: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 13-6 at JAX
Top Performer: CB PJ Williams
It wasn’t pretty, but the Saints picked up another huge victory on Sunday, winning at Jacksonville in a 13-6 slugfest. Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t very aggressive in this game, but he still was efficient enough with tremendous pass protection, and his touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook to take the lead in this game was exceptional. However, a major part of this offense’s identity is their ability to utilize running back Alvin Kamara on outside runs and screen passes, and even though he’s hampered by an ankle injury, it isn’t encouraging that the run-blocking hasn’t matched expectations this season; this offense is fine, but it’s not the top-end unit it was last year, even when Brees comes back. Defensively, New Orleans’ defensive line was much better in run defense this week than pass-rushing, but the secondary held up; most of Jacksonville’s passing yards came from attacking the linebackers. At some point, corner Marshon Lattimore needs to be more consistent, and it’s hard to expect Eli Apple to continue to play this well, but safety Marcus Williams has been one of the best safeties in the NFL, and they’re manufacturing different ways to have success. Adding a corner or linebacker is still necessary, though they may be getting an addition by subtraction; nickel corner PJ Williams is suspended for the next two games, which will give fourth-round pick Chauncey Gardner-Johnson a chance to shine. This was a nice win for the Saints, even if their faults are still very evident, and they’ll need to cover up those faults if they want to have any chance of winning on the road against the Bears this upcoming week.
#8: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Lost 23-22 at GB
Top Performer: CB Darius Slay
Right now, the Lions could easily be 5-0. They blew an 18-point lead in their tie to Arizona, and in their last two games, lost very close games to the Chiefs and Packers, which they probably would’ve won would be officiating. Obviously, we can’t blame the referees completely, and Detroit’s other two wins came by a thread, but right now, how can this team not be seen as a top-ten team? The offense has been so much fun to watch, as Matthew Stafford has been extremely aggressive, and in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., he was the weapons needed for a tremendous vertical-passing offense. Add in an offensive line that has played well this season, especially second-year center Frank Ragnow, and there’s no doubt this offense is significantly improved from last year. Defensively, corner Darius Slay made his return from a hamstring injury, and his presence was felt immediately; with him and slot corner Justin Coleman, as well as a deep group of safeties, this one of the most underrated secondaries in the NFL, and they’re extremely well-coached by head coach Matt Patricia. However, without a doubt, the major flaw of this team has to be the pass rush, which has been ineffective all season long, and that’s a major disappointment after they signed edge rusher Trey Flowers to a $90 million contract this offseason; a lot of pressure is put on the secondary, which makes it tough for them to be a consistently great defense. Still, Detroit proved in this game that they’re a serious playoff contender; they have a top-15 offense and defense, and are rather well-rounded for a team that wasn’t getting much buzz this offseason. Of course, their tough luck has caused their record to not be where it needs to be, and in order to stay in this division hunt, they’ll need to win this week at home against the Vikings.
#7: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Lost 20-7 vs SF
Top Performer: DT Aaron Donald
In the first three weeks of the season, the Rams weren’t entirely impressive, but still, they were the defending NFC champions, and were 3-0. However, that’s slowly starting to look like a fluke. Los Angeles has invested a significant amount of money on running back Todd Gurley, receiver Brandin Cooks, quarterback Jared Goff, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Right now, Donald is the only one living up his massive contract, and because of the financial resources invested in these players, the depth of this roster is non-existent. That starts on the offensive line, where Los Angeles has gone from a top-5 position group last year to a putrid group. The interior offensive line, in particular, is an absolute mess, and it’s not as though their tackles are playing great anyways. Plus, it doesn’t help that Goff has been really bad this season, and before his $134 million extension even kicks in, it already looks like a potentially franchise-crippling decision. As opposing defenses continue to understand Sean McVay’s scheme, the head coach needs to adjust, but right now, that’s not happening, and it’s hard to have a lot of faith in the offense. As a whole, the defense did play well, but as the injuries continue to add up, their depth will be tested, which is a definite problem. Obviously, this is still a team loaded with front-end talent that allows them to remain a top-ten team for the time being, but as far as roster construction is concern, there wasn’t much attention to detail by general manager Les Snead this offseason, and that’s slowly coming back to cost the team.
(UPDATE: Rams Acquire CB Jalen Ramsey For Two-First Round Picks and a Fourth-Round Pick. While this will help a secondary that is without Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters (trade), and safety John Johnson, it’s not going to solve any of their main problems; this type of trade would’ve only made sense if they were adding to the offensive line. Ramsey is worth two first-round picks, but for a team that doesn’t have much cap space and needs as many talented cost-controlled players as possible, this has a chance to be a disaster of a trade, especially since they’re aiming for the short-term, yet traded Peters for a fifth-round pick and a struggling linebacker.
#6: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Lost 24-22 at NYJ
Top Performer: G Zach Martin
Similarly to the Rams, the Cowboys got off to a fast 3-0 start, and looked like potentially the top team in the NFC. Now, we have no idea who they are. Dallas has lost three straight, and this week, really bottomed out by losing to the Jets. For the most part, they were steamrolled in this game on both sides of the ball. Dak Prescott had his worst game of the season, and without tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, the offensive line was a mess for the most part. Obviously, not having those two, and receiver Amari Cooper leaving early in this game hurt the passing attack, but it’s Dallas’ philosophy that is concerning. Running back Ezekiel Elliot got 28 carries in this game despite the fact they were losing throughout the entire game, which is not what we expected from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore at the beginning of the season; it’s clear that head coach Jason Garrett has his fingerprints all over this offense, and if that’s the case, the ceiling of the unit is extremely lower. That’s problematic; their defense has regressed significantly from last season. Dallas has four stars on their defense: edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones, and linebackers Leighton Vander-Esch and Jaylon Smith. Well, Lawrence has just 19 pressures this season, Jones has played poorly the last couple weeks, and both linebackers have been massive linebackers, to say the least. With those four not stepping up, it’s a rough time for the defense, who was supposed to be on the rise. Right now, the Cowboys need to find out who they want to be. Do they want to be a modern offense that doesn’t rely on their defense as much, or do they want to focus on Elliot and building through the defense? The better option is clearly the former, but Dallas’ failure to realize that is exactly why Garrett should be on the way out. If they don’t win this week against the Eagles, which will be tough without their two franchise tackles and Cooper.
#5: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 23-22 vs DET
Top Performer: QB Aaron Rodgers
Without receiver Davante Adams, it was always going to be tough for the Packers to move the ball against a solid Lions defense, and for three quarters, that was the case. However, one player was able to trump all of that, and that’s Aaron Rodgers, who’s still one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, despite recent criticism. He was able to overcome an extensive amount of drops to lead multiple impressive drives, even if he benefited from great pass protection and some lucky penalties. Still, he proved to still be a game-changing player, and his capabilities give the Packers offense an incredible upside when Adams is healthy. Defensively, Green Bay hasn’t been the same recently, but after trailing 13-0, they held firm, and the coverage should get better when rookie safety Darnell Savage comes back an ankle injury. It was encouraging to see star corner Jaire Alexander play well after a very poor week 5 performance, and though they weren’t great this week, the pass rush duo of free-agent signings Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith has been excellent this season. They definitely have issues with receiver depth and linebacker, but with a great quarterback, offensive line and pass defense, they’re definitely a strong contender to win the NFC, especially since they should be heading to 6-1 with a home game against the Raiders.
#4: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 38-20 vs PHI
Top Performer: QB Kirk Cousins
Two weeks ago, many were writing off the Vikings following a mortifying loss in Chicago. After all, receiver Stefon Diggs had requested a trade, while Adam Thielen expresses his discontent; it seemed like head coach Mike Zimmer’s insistence to run the ball, combined with Kirk Cousins’ week-to-week inconsistency, would cause this team to sputter out of control. Since then, however, they’ve looked completely different, being much more balanced on offense and using a lot more play-action. Cousins has always been one of the best play-action quarterbacks in the NFL, and it’s a great way to mask the offensive line’s problems. Oh, and it allows them to utilize Diggs, who had three touchdowns against the Eagles, and Thielen; Minnesota was able to have a lot of offensive success despite facing a superb pass rush, which is extremely encouraging. On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings will always be strong with Zimmer coaching them, and their pass defense was excellent against a very talented Eagles passing attack. Obviously, this is a team that still has problems winning on the road, but Philadelphia isn’t the type of team the Vikings are expected to dominate, and as a result, they’re a top-five team for now, and will continue to be if they win at Detroit this week.
#3: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Lost 38-20 at MIN
Top Performer: G Brandon Brooks
On the other side of this game was the Eagles, who really need to evaluate themselves following this loss. Without interior rusher Malik Jackson and less depth than in previous years, their pass rush isn’t as dominant as it used to be, and considering the state of their secondary, that’s a problem. With several slow corners without proper instincts, they stand little chance of defending the pass without harassing the quarterback; Rasul Douglass and Sidney Jones as your outside corners won’t work, and Philadelphia must be aggressive in adding a cornerback via trade; this is a Super Bowl team, and it’d be a shame to let one weakness ruin all of that. Especially, since with Carson Wentz playing the best he ever has, with a great offensive line, and with a receiving corps that’ll only get better with DeSean Jackson coming back. As the Cowboys continue to fall, Philadelphia remains the clear front-runner to win this division, and I still believe they’re the most talented team in the NFC. However, until they address the cornerback position, it’s going to be tough for them to justify that, and at 3-3, they need to get back on track; their upcoming primetime divisional road matchup against the Cowboys is a must-win.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 20-7 at LAR
Top Performer: DL Arik Armstead
Heading into the season, I was high on the 49ers, but a lot of my optimism came from their offense, which was getting Jimmy Garoppolo back and had arguably the best play-caller in head coach Kyle Shanahan. Yet, it’s been the defense that has been the strength of this team. Let’s start off by acknowledging that outside of maybe the Bears, San Francisco has the best pass rush in the NFL. Second overall pick Nick Bosa has been a game-changer, Dee Ford has been a nice situational pass rusher (why is he playing only 21 snaps though?), Arik Armstead has been a major surprise, and interior pass rush of DeForest Buckner and Soloman Thomas has also been great. Then, you add in a secondary that has exceeded expectations and a defensive coordinator in Robert Salah that will get interviews for head coaching jobs, and you have one of the best defenses in the NFL. It was a rough day for the offense, which is an adjustment period with tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, as well as fullback Kyle Juszczyk, but still, they have a tremendous rushing attack, as well as Garoppolo, who’s definitely capable of stepping up when needed. Right now, the 49ers look like the class of the NFC, and right now, I’m getting Super Bowl vibes with them, similar to the Eagles in 2017. They’ll be able to keep it rolling in week 7; they play the Redskins.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 35-14 vs NYG
Top Performer: CB Stephon Gillmore
At some point, the Patriots have to be tested, right? They’ve had easily the most “cupcake” start to a season in recent memory, and as a result, have skated effortlessly to a quick 6-0 start. The Giants are not a good football team by any means, and although this game was somewhat closer than expected, it wasn’t surprising to see New England dominate them on both sides of the ball. The defense, which has been historic up to this point, continued to be incredible in pass coverage (Stephon Gillmore is the best corner in the NFL), and this group of linebackers has been fantastic, with Jamie Collins standing out as a early Defensive Player of the Year candidate. It’s hard to imagine them remaining this exceptional when they face better offenses, but still, there’s no way this isn’t a top-three defense. On offense, there are legitimate flaws; Tom Brady was fine, but he didn’t have the weapons to expose the league’s worst secondary, and the run-blocking hasn’t been the same without fullback James Develin; this is an offense that gets the job done, but they lack any sort of big-play ability; they should look into adding a receiver at the trade deadline. For now though, New England will continue to rack up the wins, though they’ll need to avoid a possible trap game against the Jets in primetime next week.