It’s finally happening! After a very strange six weeks of football that was filled with upsets and quarterback injuries, we’re starting to get some clarity on who the top teams are in the NFL, and which should already be looking towards the draft. Who are those teams? Let’s discuss.
*Stats Via Pro Football Focus
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 31-21 at BUF
Top Performer: DT John Jenkins
In the first half of this game, the Dolphins may have forgotten their master plan. In a game in which they were expected to be demolished in Buffalo, they actually lead at halftime. However, in the second half, they went back to their true ways; through a series of blunders, they let the Bills take command of this game. For once, the offense actually had some life, as a result of the short boost Ryan Fitzpatrick tends to provide. Yet, with a porous offensive line, he doesn’t stand a chance, though it’s notable that running back Mark Walton, not Kenyan Drake, was excellent in this game. Defensively, it was another forgettable performance for them; rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins was ejected 30 seconds into this game, linebacker Raekwon McMillan was awful, and the pass rush, outside of nose tackle John Jenkins, continued to be abysmal. On the bright side, the Dolphins are remaining competitive while tanking; they’re actually in a perfect position right now, regarding the long-term outlook of the franchise.
#31: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 27-21 vs ARI
Top Performer: G Kevin Zeitler
The Giants are a bad football team, and Daniel Jones has a long way to go until he is a franchise quarterback. That’s the reality that fans were trying to ignore after Jones’ exciting 2-0 start, and now, it’s coming to them in an extremely cruel way. To be fair, Jones played fine in this game, but he didn’t get much help from his receiving corps, and the play-calling was also terrible. Now, his awful pocket presence contributed greatly to the eight sacks he took, but over time, this offense has some potential. The defense, on the other hand, is nearly unwatchable. To the surprise of many, the secondary finally played well, so instead of putting together a complete performance, New York’s defense couldn’t stop the run, and generated just six pressures, which inexcusable. In a game they needed to win, the Giants dropped the ball. Their season is now officially over, but if this losing streak continues, which it should on the road against the Lions, perhaps they can add a premier prospect; their rebuild has actually not been a disaster.
#30: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 27-13 vs JAX
Top Performer: QB Andy Dalton
When will the Bengals win a game? Honestly, it’s a shame that we have to even ponder this through seven weeks; this isn’t a tanking team, and they’ve been competitive. Andy Dalton was once again fine in this game, and would look so much better on a talented team, but with AJ Green and John Ross out with injury, there aren’t any playmakers on this offense, despite Alex Erickson’s huge game in the slot. Plus, with arguably the worst run-blocking offensive line in the NFL, Joe Mixon doesn’t stand a chance, and is being wasted on this team. Defensively, Cincinatti’s woes with tackling and run defense continued, but they did have 25 pressures, and got competent play from their cornerbacks. This is obviously a lost season for the Bengals, but they could have a quick rebuild if they move some of their older players for draft compensation; there’s some young talent to still be excited about, especially if they can rebuild the offensive line. For now, though, they’re almost certain to be 0-8 with the Rams up next.
#29: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 9-0 vs SF
Top Performer: DE Matt Ioannidis
Speaking of teams tanking unintendingly, the Redskins played a football game this Sunday, and to no one’s surprise they played poorly against the 49ers in what was a very boring game. Interm head coach Bill Callihan once again tried to “establish the run” against an elite run defense with just 29 rushing attempts; there’s a reason they scored zero points in this game. The defense did get some solid individual performances, and safety Troy Apke has possibly emerged as a young contributor for them now that he finally is being given playing time, but overall, they were also pretty uninspiring. The thing about this team, is they have no strength, and because of that, one could argue that they actually have the worst future outlook of any team. They’re an absolute mess at this point, and that’ll be exposed in primetime, they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings on Thursday Night Football.
#28: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 33-0 vs NE
Top Performer: DL Leonard Williams
After an encouraging win against the Cowboys, there was a lot of excitement regarding the pairing of Sam Darnold and Adam Gase. However, that’s all gone after an embarrassing loss in primetime to the Patriots. New England’s defense is indeed incredible, but when your “franchise quarterback” throws four interceptions and claims he’s “seeing ghosts”, it’s not a good sign. Furthermore, Gase’s play-calling was terrible; he focused on deep passes, which is what the Patriots are able to defend really well. It’s a shame that Gase and Darnold struggled so much, because Gregg William’s defense actually played quite well. The Jets were stout upfront, their coverage was fine, and they were actually fundamentally strong. New York still has no sort of pass rush, but this defense has been better than expected, and it’s the offense that’s been the major problem; at some point, Darnold needs to improve against the Patriots, considering he’ll play them twice a week. At this point, all the Jets have to play for is Gase’s job; performances like this are unacceptable, and they’ll need to show some sort of improvement in Jacksonville next week.
#27: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 42-24 at GB
Top Performer: TE Darren Waller
Before the games got underway, it was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Raiders were planning to be buyers ahead of the trade deadline. Well, now would be a good time to reconsider that approach. Against a Packers offense that had looked stagnant without star receiver Davante Adams, Oakland was gashed by Aaron Rodgers, who had six touchdowns; with no pass rush or secondary, they cannot defend the pass, which is the essential key to having a capable defense. Yes, the offense continues to play surprisingly well, and a lot of credit has to be given to head coach Jon Gruden, who has helped turn players like tight end Darren Waller and receivers Keelan Doss and Hunter Renfrow into valuable assets. With Derek Carr being efficient and a nasty offensive line that creates holes in the running game, this is indeed a much better offense than expected. Yet, when your defense is that poorly, it doesn’t matter, and this is about how well the Raiders will play offensively, given their relatively low ceiling with Carr under center; this team may actually be trending upwards for the future, but now is not the time to be sacrificing draft capital to acquire players, and that should be evident in a tough road game next week against the Texans.
#26: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Won 27-17 at CIN
Top Performer: DL Calais Campbell
In the fourth quarter of this game, the Jaguars were actually trailing in the fourth quarter to the Bengals. However, that was due to several missed opportunities, so the fact that they were still able to win convincingly could be a momentum builder. It wasn’t exactly the biggest test for them, but their passing offense bounced back, as Gardner Minshew was extremely productive, and Dede Westbrook was tremendous in the slot; it’s encouraging that Minshew was able to bounce back, though the offensive line had a poor outing. This was the first official game for Jacksonville without star corner Jalen Ramsey, and it wasn’t an ideal game for the secondary, but certain individual performances, especially Calais Campbell’s presence in run defense and as a pass rusher, guided them to success. Jacksonville may have traded Ramsey, but they’re still technically in the AFC playoff picture; they can get back to .500 with a win at home against the Jets.
#25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Top Performer: N/A
They may have been in another country, but it was more of the same for the Bucs in their week 6 loss to the Panthers; they committed seven turnovers. At this point, it’s clear that Jameis Winston’s hopes of being the franchise quarterback in Tampa Bay are in extremely hot water; his issues are troublesome, especially with the elite receiver duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Additionally, rookie linebacker Devin White has been disappointing, and with edge rusher Shaquill Barrett disappearing in the past couple games, the intrigue around Todd Bowles’ defense is also gone. It’s essentially must-win time for Tampa Bay, and that’ll be tough in Tennesee next week.
#24: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 27-21 at NYG
Top Performer: EDGE Chandler Jones
All of a sudden, the Cardinals have a .500 record; they may not be at the center of the playoff picture due to their tough division, but they certainly cannot be slept on. It wasn’t a great day for Kyler Murray, but the offensive line continues to be a key storyline based off of their impressive recent performances in pass protection, and in tight end Maxx Williams and running back Chase Edmunds, Arizona has two extra contributors that they probably weren’t expecting to count on at the beginning of the season. The main development in this game, however, was a revamped defense with cornerback Patrick Peterson back from his six-game suspension; the pass rush was terrific, and it was an overall complete performance on that side of the ball. Obviously, this wasn’t exactly a pretty win, but by getting a gritty road win despite a mediocre outing from Murray, the Cardinals have proven that they’re heading in the right direction, and are starting to reach their potential. Now, they’ll travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints.
#23: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 23)
Top Performer: N/A
Make no mistake, the Steelers aren’t playoff contenders without Ben Roethlisberger under center, and their decision to trade a first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has struggled, is simply baffling. Still, this team is utterly dominant in the trenches, which gives them a chance to at least be competitive. Whether it’s Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges under center, this is going to be a very conservative offense that relies on James Conner and the rushing attack behind a tremendous offensive line, as well as the front seven of the defense, particularly the pass rush. With the Dolphins up next at home on Monday Night Football, there’s still hope for Pittsburgh to claw their way to 6-7 wins, which would be a win based on how their season started.
#22: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 37-10 vs LAR
Top Performer: NT Tyeler Davidson
Where do the Falcons go from here? They’re now 1-6 following a blowout loss to the Rams, despite the fact they’re spending a significant amount of money on a roster that was supposed to match up with the league’s best. It was more of the same for Dan Quinn’s defense, which struggled in coverage and in pass rush, which ironically are easily the two key components to a defense; this is easily one of the league’s worst defenses as currently constructed. Furthermore, although the offense has been fine, it isn’t the potent unit it was supposed to be, as a result of poor pass blocking, questionable play-calling, and inconsistent play from quarterback Matt Ryan; there isn’t a clear solution to recapturing their elite production from their Super Bowl run, and with Ryan injured and receiver Mohamed Sanu on his way to New England for a second-round pick, this has to chance to get much worse; the Seahawks are coming to the town.
#21: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 30-23 vs HOU
Top Performer: TE Eric Ebron
Without Andrew Luck, the Colts aren’t a very talented team, but yet, they currently lead the division after beating the Texans this past Sunday. That’s a testament to the magnificent job that head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have done building a culture here, and because of that, Indianapolis is a true playoff contender at this point. A team quarterbacked by Jacoby Brissett that relies on the likes of Zach Pascal as a #2 receiver doesn’t have a high offensive ceiling, but it’s very encouraging they were able to win despite a poor rushing game; they can beat you in different ways, which had previously been a concern. Defensively, the Colts weren’t great, but they continue to outperform their talent level, and should only improve once safety Malik Hooker comes back. Indianapolis didn’t back down in the face of severe adversity, and as a result, is one of the top stories in the NFL. Plus, with an easy schedule coming up that includes a winnable Week 8 home game against the Broncos, they only appear to be getting started.
#20: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 30-16 at SEA
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
Am I still overlooking the Ravens? It’s possible; despite being 5-2 and having complete control of the division, Baltimore still only ranks 20th in these rankings. Yes, their win in Seattle was impressive, but that may be as much of a product of Seattle being overhyped than anything else; they cannot rely on two rather easy/lucky defensive touchdowns on a weekly basis, and issues with their passing attack and defense still persist. However, there are components of a winning football team that are extremely difficult to overlook. Lamar Jackson was amazing in this game, despite several drops, and his rushing ability, combined with the talent of running back Mark Ingram and a very underrated offensive line, makes for the most prolific rushing attack in the NFL. Furthermore, although I’m still skeptical of their pass defense, they did generate 29 pressures in this game, and perhaps the addition of corner Marcus Peters, was fabulous in this game with a pick-six can shore up the secondary. Still, they’ll have to have more of these performances to prove they’re not the team that was blown out by the Browns and almost lost to the depleted Steelers, and they’ll have a chance to do so in a big after their bye week; they host the Patriots in Week 9.
#19: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 19)
Top Performer: N/A
Especially with the Ravens winning in Seattle, the Browns are in a rather peculiar position right now. They’ve lost multiple games they could’ve won, and their talent is tremendous. However, they’re undisciplined and are weak in key areas, which could hamper their entire season. Not only does Cleveland commit an extraordinary amount of turnovers and penalties, but head coach Freddie Kitchens’ play-calling has been very predictable all season long, and their weak offensive line has been a primary cause in Baker Mayfield’s regression this season; he constantly has to flee from the pocket. There’s still hope with an easy schedule coming up and their top two corners (Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams) returning from injury, but since they have to travel to New England this week, they’re looking at a 2-5 start, which certainly isn’t ideal.
#18: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 36-25 vs NO
Top Performer: EDGE Khalil Mack
The Bears are at a crossroads right now, and are definitely on the outside looking in when it comes to the NFC playoff picture. With Mitchell Trubisky back healthy, and the team rested off of a bye, Chicago was expected to take care of business at home against a Saints team that was without Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees. So naturally, they were completely embarrassed in every facet of the game. Trubisky was awful, the team had to quickly abandon the rushing attack, and all of a sudden, they managed just three points until late in the fourth quarter (their first-half touchdown was from a kick return). Because of that, the defense was on the field for 76 snaps (!), and as a result, ran out of gas in the second half; the pass rush and secondary, the perceived strengths of the team, was non-existent against a mediocre passing attack, and their usually stout run defense was gashed consistently. Right now, this team is lacking an identity, and considering how much they’ve invested in this window, that’s a major problem. They’ll look to get back on track with a home game against the Chargers, but still, it’s clear nothing will be solved until a new quarterback is acquired, and the talent on both sides of the ball plays to their capabilities.
#17: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Lost 23-20 at TEN
Top Performer: EDGE Joey Bosa
Remember when the Chargers were seen as a Super Bowl contender? That feels like an eternity ago; Los Angeles is currently a complete mess. They’ve been decimated with injuries on both sides of the ball, and due to that, they have an extremely lackluster and thin roster. Phillip Rivers’ down season continues, but can you blame him? He’s a pocket quarterback, so when the pass protection is constantly abysmal, it’s nearly impossible for him to find success, even with tight end Hunter Henry back in the fold. Furthermore, the offense has looked off since Melvin Gordon came back; running back Austin Ekeler is getting fewer touches, and the flow of the offense has been worse with a less versatile running back in Gordon. It gets worse; the defense was exposed by Ryan Tannehill, of all quarterbacks. The secondary was awful, the linebackers were even worse, and outside of Joey Bos (six pressures), Los Angeles had just eight pressures. Speaking of teams with no identities, no team fits that label better than the Chargers, who’ll likely continue to struggle in a ruckus environment in Chicago in Week 8.
#16: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 30-6 vs KC
Top Performer: FS Justin Simmons
When Patrick Mahomes left with a knee injury, it looked as though the Broncos were in position to get their third straight win. Instead, they fell flat. The offensive line played well, but Joe Flacco’s lack of awareness led to him taking 9 sacks despite being pressured just 28 times, and he’s stale playstyle completely limits the ceiling of this offense. Said ceiling is even lower now; on Tuesday, the Broncos traded receiver Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round pick to the 49ers for a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick, which is an excellent trade for them but does confirm that this will be a bottom-ten offense moving forward. That’s a shame; Vic Fangio’s defense continues to play well, as safety Justin Simmons is earning a new contract, Von Miller looked more like the elite pass rusher he usually is, and linebacker Alexander Johnson continues to be surprisingly solid for them. With a more than adequate defense and some offensive talent, Denver should still be a decent team throughout the year; remember, with a few breaks, they could be 4-3 and right in the playoff picture, and don’t discount their chances in Indianapolis this weekend.
#15: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 23-20 vs LAC
Top Performer: DT Jeffrey Simmons
It’s not a surprise that the Titans were able to salvage their season with a win over the Chargers; they’re the pinnacle of an 8-8 team, and at home, were expected to win. However, how they won is encouraging. It’s unlikely that Ryan Tannehill will be as productive as he was this week, but the Titans’ improvement offensively proves what many believe with them; with a solid offensive line and a deep group of receivers, they have the capability to be an above-average offense with satisfactory quarterback play. If they can score 20+ points a game, they’ll always be in a good position to be victorious; Tennesee continues to have a very underatted defense. With edge rusher Cameron Wake back in the fold, the pass rush was much better than it had been, and now, with first-round rookie defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons also healthy, this has a chance to be one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Yes, Tennesee struggled in pass coverage in this game, but still, they’ve been solid in that department throughout the season, and should bounce back. It’s hard to get a read on this team, as they, and Tannehill in particular, have been the model for incosistnecy. However, this was a huge win for them, and they’ll look to creep back to .500 with a home win against the Bucs.
#14: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Lost 42-30 vs MIN
Top Performer: DL Kevin Strong Jr.
In their game this past weekend against the Vikings, Matt Stafford threw or 364 yards, and receiver Marvin Jones Jr. caught four touchdowns. The end result? An alarming two-score loss. So it goes for a team that spent the offseason trying to build a defense-first team, only to heavily rely on the offense. There are multiple problems with the defense, but for the LIons, it starts with their pass rush. Yes, they’re without interior rushers Mike Daniels and Da’Shawn Hand, but after spending $90 million on Trey Flowers, there’s no excuse; this pass rush is utterly miserable in its current form; Flowers, in particular, has just 17 pressures in six games. Because quarterbacks have all day to throw, the secondary is put in a very tough position, and on Sunday, they faultred against a Vikings team that was without star receiver Adam Thielen for most of the game. It’ll only get worse for them; star corner Darius Slay was injured in this game, and versatile safety Quandre Diggs was traded to Seattle in a pick swap. With an offense that continues to play well, Detroit still has top-ten team potential if they can put together a complete performance, but in a very tough division with a decimated defense, they likely will be sitting out on the playoffs, although they do have a home game against the Giants this week.
#13: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 30-23 at IND
Top Performer: DL JJ Watt
After two straight dominant performances, the Texans came back to earth this week in a rough loss to the Colts, but still, there should be tepid optimism around this team. The offense was once again productive, as Deshaun Watson mostly played proficiently, the pass protection was once again great, and the receiver duo of De’Andre Hopkins and Kenny Still showed out in a big way. Yet, inefficiency in the Red Zone and with turnovers cost them, which is the product of a boom-or-bust offense. As for the defense, there needs to be a serious concern. The pass rush has regressed through the year, and because of that, they cannot hide their problems in the secondary anymore. Second-round rookie corner Lonnie Johnson is clearly not ready, Jonathan Joseph is showing his age, and the acquisition of Gareon Conley isn’t going to make a difference; he’s been a below-average corner throughout his early career. With a great front seven and so much star talent on offense, Houston has the ceiling of Super Bowl winner. Yet, at the same time, their floor is a mediocre football team, thanks to their huge flaws, which will cause them to be one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. They’ll look to improve at home in Week 8 against the Raiders.
#12: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Lost 30-16 vs BAL
Top Performer: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
When the Seahawks were 5-1 and Russell Wilson was playing amazing, it was easy to jump on the bandwagon. However, they’re a team that essentially relies of two to three players (Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney), and when that’s the case, they’re due for a lot of “duds”. They escaped Cleveland with a rather lucky win, but this week, they didn’t have the same luck against the Ravens. Wilson threw his first interception on a really poor pick-six, and a very unfortunate fumble by receiver DK Metcalf also resulted in a touchdown; those two touchdowns were the difference in this game, so this wasn’t as bad of a loss as it would appear to be. Still, this was yet another game in each Seattle couldn’t get any sort of pressure on the opposing quarterback, and linebackers Mychal Kendricks and KJ Wright really struggled in this game; even with the acquisition of Diggs, this is a below-average defense with an inconsistent offense; the Seahawks are a serious playoff contender with Wilson at the helm, but there are major red flags with their roster construction, and I don’t see them as top-ten team. They do have a great chance to get back on track though, as they’ll travel to Atlanta to face a Falcons team that may be without Matt Ryan.
#11: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Won 31-21 vs MIA
Top Performer: CB Tre’Davious White
Considering that they were actually trailing against the Dolphins in the second half, some pause could be granted before proclaiming the Bills as a top-ten team. However, as the rest of the middle-of-the-pack NFL teams continue to falter, Buffalo continues to win. There’s no doubting that they have an elite defense; the secondary did struggle in this game, but they’re generally fantastic, and the defensive line of Jordan Phillips, Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, and Trent Murphy is fearsome. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned their elite group of linebackers, as Matt Milano didn’t even play in this game due to injury; their extremely well-coached and are a fringe top-five unit. Meanwhile, the offense can be inconsistent as Josh Allen goes through the ups and downs of quarterback progression, but by forming a reliable offensive line and group of playmakers that get the job done, Allen has a suitable supporting cast that can help elevate his performance. With a very easy schedule coming up, the Bills are destined for double-digit wins and to be the #5 seed in the AFC, and they could make a big statement with a home win against the Eagles in Week 8.
#10: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Won 30-6 at DEN
Top Performer: LB Reggie Ragland
Although they got back on track on Thursday Night Football, it sure didn’t feel like a win for the Chiefs, who theoretically will be without Patrick Mahomes for a couple weeks (though he’s already practicing in a limited fashion). Therefore, it’ll be up to Matt Moore to calm the storm, which I’m not very confident in. He was pretty mediocre in this game, and although they are a plethora of talent back healthy (Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, soon Eric Fisher) for an offensive explosion once Mahomes gets back, it could be a rough stretch with Moore. On the bright side, the defense played their best game of the season, and edge rusher Frank Clark finally showed a pulse, but obviously, this is still a very lackluster defense; with the Packers and Vikings up next, Kansas City is staring at a 5-4 record with other tough games remaining; they may not get a first-round bye, which they could really use with their home-field advantage.
#9: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 10)
Top Performer: N/A
When Cam Newton went down with a foot injury, many wrote off the Panthers. Yet, they’re now 4-2, and in the thick of the NFC playoff picture. Kyle Allen has played fine, but he’s not been the reason for their success; the overall talent of the roster outside of quarterback is impressive. Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, and DJ Moore have all been excellent playmakers, and with the offensive line playing well, including second-round rookie tackle Greg Little, Allen is in an excellent position to succeed. Meanwhile, their secondary has been terrific, as has their suddenly deep pass rush and excellent linebacker duo; this is a very deep defense, and roster overall, and as a result, are definitely a playoff-caliber team. They’ll face a major test in Week 8 though; they travel to San Francisco to take on the undefeated 49ers.
#8: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Lost 37-10 at DAL
Top Performer: TE Dallas Goedert
With a road win against the Cowboys, the Eagles had a chance to make a statement, while also taking control of the NFC East. So naturally, they were humiliated in primetime. I fully expected Carson Wentz to continue to build an MVP profile, but instead, he was awful in this game, as was the entire offense, as well as head coach Doug Pederson’s play calling. They’ll likely bounce-back, but the defense? That remains to be seen. We’re all aware of Philadelphia’s issues at cornerback; they cannot cover anyone, and even worse, constantly give up huge plays down the field. However, that’s far from the only problem. The pass rush, which was supposed to be one of the league’s best, mustered just 6 pressures in this game, and overall, has been a letdown this season. Meanwhile, the front seven as a whole has been; they’ve been gashed by opposing rushing attacks, which is also alarming considering that run defense has been a constant for them as well. Right now, the Eagles have no sort of identity and don’t have the fight they used to have; time is running out for them to get back on track, and they’ll need to do so in Buffalo this upcoming weekend.
#7: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 36-25 at CHI
Top Performer: LB Demario Davis
Without star running back Alvin Kamara, and still without Drew Brees, the Saints faced a very tough test in Chicago. They passed that test with flying colors. It wasn’t pretty at first, as the offense was stagnant in the first half and they allowed a huge kick return. However, in the second half, they absolutely beat up the Bears on both sides of the ball. Teddy Bridgewater was once again solid in this game, but the major takeaway from the offense has to be the offensive line, which protected him to perfection, and also paved an extreme amount of rushing lanes for Latavius Murray. Oh, and Michael Thomas continues to look like the best receiver in the league despite there being no receiving depth on the roster. As for the defense, it was a quiet day for New Orleans’ pass rush, and the secondary was helped out by Mitch Trubisky’s inaccuracy, but their run defense forced Chicago to be one dimensional, and they were definitely a cohesive unit. I’m not sure what the future holds for this team, but this was an excellent performance for them; the defense, and the team as a whole which will likely be without corner Eli Apple, will have their hands full with Kyler Murray and the super-hot Cardinals in Week 8, though.
#6: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 37-10 at ATL
Top Performer: DT Aaron Donald
After three straight losses, the Rams desperately needed a “get-right” game, especially since they’re hoping to set a new tone following the acquisition of star corner Jalen Ramsey. Well, by getting the opportunity to play the falling Falcons, they were able they got exactly what the doctor ordered. Yes, it was against a poor pass rush, but it was nice to see the offensive line play significantly better in this game, and Sean McVay went back to using more heavy personnel in this game. Therefore, Jared Goff was also much better in this game; there was an overall improvement for the offense, but it does come with a caveat of facing a well below-average Falcons defense. However, facing Atlanta’s at times potent offense was no small task, yet between a great pass rush and solid linebacker/safety play, they were able to have a lot of success. And that was without Ramsey playing well; he struggled in this game, as did the rest of Los Angeles’ cornerbacks. This could be the start of a revived season for the Rams, who now get another easy game against the winless Bengals coming up.
#5: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 42-24 vs OAK
Top Performer: QB Aaron Rodgers
Yes, it came against the Raiders, but a development happened in Week 7 that cannot be overlooked; Aaron Rodgers proved his case as the best quarterback in the NFL by posting a perfect passer rating despite not having star receiver Davante Adams. No quarterback has the ability to elevate his supporting cast like him, and since he has such a great offensive line, games like this could become a regularity, especially since he appears to be acclimated to head coach Matt LeFleur’s offensive scheme by now. Still, the team has to be looking for an additional receiver; expect them to be in the market for AJ Green. With or without Green, though, the offense will be fine. The defense, on the other hand, is starting to crack a little. Ever since their first three games, the secondary has been average-at-best, and the same goes for the pass rush. Having rookie safety Darnell Savage injured isn’t ideal, but many teams deal with injuries, and it’s the entire defense that’s failing to step up. I do believe in their talent, outside of their linebackers, but before I can rank them higher, I need to see improvement from them in this department; the excitement about this team is supposed to be that Rodgers doesn’t have to carry them, so why should they move up when he indeed does that? Nevertheless, they’re 6-1, in the race for the #1 seed in the NFC, and will look to take care of business in Kansas City this upcoming Sunday.
#4: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 37-10 vs PHI
Top Performer: EDGE Demarcus Lawrence
Following an unexpected loss to the Jets, the Cowboys were the laughing stock of football throughout the week, and many though their losing streak would continue in a primetime game against the Eagles. Instead, they absolutely demolished Philadelphia, and now have sole possession of first place in the division. Yes, it wouldn’t be right to read too much in one game, but there was a dramatic change in this game; not only did Dallas get Amari Cooper back, but their two tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, also returned. As a result, the offense flowed much better, with more use of play-action and much more cohesiveness. Then, there’s the defense, which had a major bounce-back performance this week against a tough offense. The pass rush was much improved in this game, which allowed the secondary, and the defense as a whole, to play better. Notably, edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence, linebacker Jaylen Smith, and corner Byron Jones were much better in this game, and when their stars are playing to their capabilities, they’re a dangerous defense. The Cowboys need to continue to feed off of this win after their bye week, but I’m all-in on this team being a top-five team at full strength, and right now, they appear to be hitting their stride.
#3: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 42-30 at DET
Top Performer: QB Kirk Cousins
Following a forgetful loss against the Bears, many around the football world were quick to dismiss Kirk Cousins, labeling him as a bust with regards to the three-year, $84 million contract he signed with Minnesota. Yet, since then, Cousins has had three straight stellar performances, and there’s reason to believe this will last. Rather than being a run-first team, the Vikings have had a much more balanced offense, and have utilized much more play-action. Since Cousins is notoriously one of the best quarterbacks with play-action passes, it’s no surprise that he’s had this success, and the use of play-action helps scheme up pass protection; Minnesota is doing a great job hiding their weak offensive line. It wasn’t a great day for a defense that has been tremendous all season long, but they did still have 33 pressures, and should be due for a bounce back. That’s especially true with the Redskins coming to town on Thursday Night Football; all of a sudden, the Vikings are destined to be 6-2; they are a true Super Bowl contender if they can win the NFC North.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 9-0 at WSH
Top Performer: EDGE Arik Armstead
It conditions that can best be described as a monsoon, it was going to be hard for the 49ers to impress, even against the dysfunctional Redskins. They weren’t spectacular, but San Francisco showed the discipline of a Super Bowl-caliber team, which is something to watch moving forward. The offense didn’t stand a chance in these conditions, but between the offensive line, the rushing attack, and an underrated passing attack led by Jimmy Garoppolo, there’s a lot going right for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and they should only improve with the acquisition of receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The defense, meanwhile, also continues to be amongst the league’s best. The pass rush didn’t get a chance to show out against an offense that ran the ball constantly, but it was still a complete performance for them, which describes this game as a whole. The 49ers are clearly the best team in the NFC, and shouldn’t be fazed even against a good Panthers team this weekend; they look unstoppable right now.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 33-0 at NYJ
Top Performer: SS Terrence Brooks
Although they didn’t play as well as the score would indicate – the Jets imploded in this game – the Patriots remain the unquestioned best team in the NFL. It’s been a quiet couple of weeks for Tom Brady and the passing attack as New England shuffles through wide receivers, but with the acquisition of Mohamed Sanu, their stock is up currently, although the power rushing attack has continued to be an issue. Still, the defense is the major strength of this team anyways, and they continue to be amazing. Not only is this an extremely disciplined group, but they’re also more opportunistic in year’s past, have a better pass rush, and are getting performances from random contributors (safety Terrence Brooks was amazing in coverage in this game). Until they face higher quality opponents, it’s hard to truly judge New England, but right now, they’re the overwhelming Super Bowl favorite, and should advance to 8-0 with the Browns up next.