After a pretty non-chaotic week of football in Week 7, we experience more of the same in Week 8; a majority of the favorites won this week. Still, we still managed to learn a decent bit about some teams on the “bubble”, as well as some of the top-tier teams. So, what does the state of the NFL look like after eight weeks of football? Let’s rank every NFL team!
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 27-14 at PIT
Top Performer: CB Xavien Howard
For the second straight week, the Dolphins had a lead at halftime; it looked as though their “tank” was in jeopardy. In the end though, Miami fans got what they wanted; the team crumbled in the second half. It was a game full of turnovers and costly mistakes for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense, as the offensive line was utterly bullied by Pittsburgh’s defensive front. The same story can be said for the defense, which was gashed in run defense, despite it being a previous strength of the team. The defensive line didn’t play up to its usual standard, but in actuality, it was the linebackers which let them down in this game, which isn’t encouraging considering their duo of Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan is supposed to be a part of the team’s future. If there is a positive to take away from this game, it was corner Xavien Howard’s performance, as he looked like the corner the team though they were investing in when they made him the league’s highest-paid corner. Maybe that’s what Miami wants; if their few remaining investments can play well while the rest of the team falters, their future will look very bright; they will have to make sure to be n their “A game” when it comes to their tank though, as they host the Jets.
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 24-10 at LAR
Top Performer: EDGE Carlos Dunlap
Had a garbage-time touchdown not gotten called back, the Bengals would’ve able to cover a 12-point spread as underdogs. Still, it was more of the same in what has been an absolutely dismal season for them. The offensive line wasn’t atrocious, but it was still pretty abysmal, and as a result, the offense looked bland. It’s clear it’s time for Andy Dalton to get a chance to prosper somewhere else, but either way, there’s little hope for the unit, and head coach Zac Taylor’s offensive scheme. Defensively, Cincinnati finally got some production in the pass-rushing department from Carlos Dunlap and interior defensive lineman Geno Atkins, but still, the secondary and run defense faltered, leading to another poor performance. If this was any other year, the Bengals, despite them being competitive at times, are clearly the worst team in the NFL, and the fact they’re unwilling to trade assets for draft picks is astonishing. Regardless, they’re still looking to get Taylor his first win, though that’ll have to happen after their upcoming bye week.
(*EDIT: Bengals have benched Dalton. It’s a clear move for the future, as he remains a solid quarterback, but stands no chance with this supporting cast.)
#30: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 19-9 at MIN
Top Performer: G Brandon Scherff
For the first half of Thursday night’s action in Minnesota, the Redskins were feisty, but weren’t particularly exciting to watch. However, that changed in the second half; with Case Keenum sidelined with a concussion, first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins was inserted under center. He wasn’t as atrocious as he was in his first action against the Giants, and did face a tough test, but still, he clearly remains a work in progress; they might as well start him, but the growing pains will continue to be evident. On the bright side, Washington’s offensive line continues to fare better in run-blocking, so if they’re going to be a run-first team, at least they can do so efficiently. In fact, the main concern with the team has to be with their defense, which was poor in pass coverage and run defense, despite spending a significant amount of resources on their defensive line and secondary. Right now, this is clearly the worst team in the NFC, and the funny part is, they’ve actually used up all their cap space trying to build a contender. Oops.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 31-26 at DET
Top Performer: EDGE Lorenzo Carter
The Giants may have lost on Sunday, but without a doubt, they had the most impressive performance among any of the losing teams this week. Daniel Jones was solid for the second straight week, completing multiple “big-time throws’ down the field, while also remaining a stable presence throughout the game. Remember when this offense was supposed to only function through running back Saquon Barkley? Well, with Jones improving and a solid offensive line, this suddenly is an intriguing unit, especially if they can continue to be efficient on early downs. Meanwhile, New York also got an inspiring performance from their defense, for the most part; they were stout in run defense, finally generated a pass rush, and should be even better upfront after trading for defensive lineman Leonard Williams (tho the trade itself was very questionable). Yes, the secondary gave up some big plays, but they also showed some flashes, and look to have improved from their forgetful start to the season. This may be a 2-6 team, but the Giants were never going to be a contender; the progression from their young players, mainly Jones, provides some optimism for the future, and they’ll look to build on this encouraging performance in a huge primetime affair against the Cowboys.
#28: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 29-15 at JAX
Top Performer: DT Folorunso Fatukasi
Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football, there was hope that the Jets could perhaps right the ship in Jacksonville. However, what happened on Sunday is a clear reminder of what must happen at the end of this lost season; the team must fire head coach Adam Gase after just one year. Not only has Sam Darnold not shown any improvement in his second year as the team’s supposed franchise quarterback, but in a way, he’s regressed. Not only does he remain extremely turnover-prone, but this his poise in the pocket is much worse, which the effect of a poorly-built roster; the offensive line is a disaster. What’s the point of signing a star running back in Le’Veon Bell if he has no chance to prosper? There’s some talent on the roster, but with such an awful offensive line and confusing play-calling, I don’t see much hope for that side of the ball. As far as the defense is concerned, they continue to play hard under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, as he continues to manufacture a pass rush from unknown players. Still, the secondary was exposed by Gardner Minshew and the Jags’ passing attack, and third overall pick Quinnen Williams has failed to make an impact as an interior rusher. I like how the defense continues to play above their talent, but the offense has done the complete opposite, and despite an easy schedule that includes an upcoming game in Miami, this team is still miles away from being anything close to a threat in the AFC.
#27: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 27-24 at HOU
Top Performer: EGDE Benson Mayowa
Similar to the Giants, the Raiders definitely outplayed their opponent, but grit and determination can only take you so far; Oakland fell short in Houston. As expected, Jon Gruden, who continues to be an excellent scripter, oversaw an efficient offense, which included a productive outing from quarterback Derek Carr, who had excellent protection and connected often with top receiver Tyrell Williams. I still am a huge fan of Oakland’s offense, which has put them in position to win on a consistent basis. The defense, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. Fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell already looks like a bust, and due to that, their pass rush is essentially all dependent on Benson Mayowa, who did have six pressures in this game. With a poor pass rush, a heavy weight is placed on the secondary, which isn’t exactly ideal given the lack of talent at cornerback; rookie corner Trayvon Mullen played well, but it’s still a talent-deficient group that also isn’t without the support of any starting-caliber linebackers. Gruden has the Raiders playing hard, but I’m not sure how far that can lead them to; they do have a chance to get back to .500 at home against the Lions, but this team remains in a rebuilding phase.
#26: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 31-9 at NO
Top Performer: G J.R. Sweezy
Facing only a four-point deficit in the third quarter in New Orleans, the Cardinals clearly had a chance of finding a way to win. That changed quickly after, as following an interception by star cornerback Patrick Peterson (who was excellent in this game), they were denied on fourth and short in their own territory. From there, the Saints took complete control of the game, and with that, it’s clear Arizona isn’t quite ready to challenge for a playoff spot. Kyler Murray made the best of his situation in this game, but with a letdown game from the offensive line, no rushing attack, and little receiver separation, he didn’t stand a chance. It’s not as though head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme didn’t work, but rather, he doesn’t have the pieces yet for it to function properly; an aggressive offseason could really help Murray and Kingsbury set the stones for a bright future. At least that side of the ball has an identity, because the defense is essentially Peterson and edge rusher Chandler Jones, and a lot of moving parts. Drew Brees and the Saints offense attacked the linebackers and the corners outside of Peterson, but it also helps that Arizona struggled to pressure him, tackle any player, and was beaten up in the trenches. Whereas Kingsbury has a vision for the offense, I’m not sure Vance Joseph is ready to do the same for the defense; Arizona is underperforming on defense given their talent, and may be in the market for a defensive coordinator this offseason. Nevertheless, the Cardinals remain an intriguing team, just based on the progression of Murray and the offense, and it’ll be interesting to see how they bounce back on Thursday Night Football against the undefeated 49ers.
#25: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Won 29-15 vs NYJ
Top Performer: QB Gardner Minshew
The final score of this game is quite deceiving – Jacksonville had their fair share of struggles – but in the end, the Jaguars were able to win their second straight game. The main takeaway has to be Gardner Minshew’s performance, as despite a poor performance from the offensive line, he managed to play arguably his best game yet; he should remain the starting quarterback, rather than the highly-paid Nick Foles. Still, I have questions with the sustainability of this offense, as tackle Cam Robinson and guard AJ Cann continue to be liabilities, and they remain far too committed to an ineffective rushing attack to fully prosper. If that’s the case, the defense will need to step up, which they did this week; the pass rush harassed Sam Darnold, the cornerbacks continue to progress after trading Jalen Ramsey, and quietly, Jacksonville has been stout upfront in run defense. So, who knows; Jacksonville is 4-4, and if they can win in London against the division-rival Texans, they’re right in the thick of the division race. Still, they look like the worst team in the AFC South, as their roster has some major flaws, despite some of their encouraging individual performances.
#24: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 15-13 vs DEN
Top Performer: EDGE Justin Houston
As I’ve emphasized in each week’s power rankings, my rankings are not influenced by win-loss record, but rather, a team’s overall talent and their true weekly performance. As a result, there’s a major contrast between how I perceive the Colts and how the public perceives them. Not only is Indianapolis overachieving by playing an unsustainable way of football, but they were outplayed at home against a now 2-6 Broncos team. The offense, in particular, was a disaster, as without an efficient rushing attack, Jacoby Brissett struggled. This isn’t a surprise for those who’ve watched this team play this year; when they face top-tier defenses with front sevens that the offensive line can’t bully, there’s no true source of offense. That places a massive burden on the defense, yet, that side of the ball isn’t much better. The pass rush is decent, as they have multiple players on the edge and the interior capable of generating pressure, but between the issues at linebacker (Darius Leonard has failed to duplicate his rookie season success), run defense, and in the secondary (Rock Ya-Sin was abused in this game), this is a bottom ten defense in its current state. On the positive side, this is a very well-coached team, so there’s a chance that they can continue to overachieve, especially with an easy schedule coming up. Still, their miles behind any of the top teams in the AFC, and will be tested this week against a strong run defense when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.
#23: Tampa Bay Buccanneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 27-23 at TEN
Top Performer: LB Lavonte David
For most of their game in Tennesee, it looked as though the Bucs were going to find a way to salvage their season with a win. However, costly mistakes prevented that from happening, putting the team in a rather peculiar position. Jameis Winston and the passing attack isn’t to blame for this game, as they moved the ball against a talented Titans secondary, and despite having a banged-up offensive line, the pass protection was strong; the run-blocking was a disaster, however. That last note is of particular focus when considering how one-dimensional this offense is; how can this team be an elite offense when they have to rely on deep passes, thus putting Winston in position to commit costly turnovers? It wasn’t the worst game for the defense, who didn’t struggle in any area, but there’s something that worth keeping an eye. Right now, rookie linebacker Devin White, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, has a grade from Pro Football Focus below 40, and is a liability in both coverage and run defense. When a player with such a high draft pedigree struggles like this, it deserves close examination, as the appeal of White was that he’d be a plug-and-play linebacker right away for them. With a road game against the Seahawks up next, it’s looking bleak for Tampa Bay, who will need to use the rest of the season to evaluate Winston, head coach Bruce Arians, and the team as a whole.
#22: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Lost 27-20 vs SEA
Top Performer: WR Julio Jones
Without Matt Ryan (ankle injury), the Falcons stood close to zero chance of winning against the Seahawks this past Sunday, and though they kept it close at the end, it showed in the 24-0 deficit they had after the first half. The pass protection was there, as was the receiving talent, but Matt Shaub is a journeyman backup, and played like that; the offense scoring 20 points is honestly a minor miracle, even if it came in garbage time. Still, they were going to need to score more than 20 to compete in this game; the defense continues to miss assignments in unprecedented fashion. They’re undisciplined, not coached well (despite having a defensive-minded head coach), and aren’t fundamentally sound. Safety Damontae Kazee has failed to build off his breakout 2018 campaign, rookie corner Kendall Sheffield continued to struggle, and besides interior rusher Grady Jarrett, there isn’t much of a pass rush to speak of. This is the perfect time for a bye week for the Falcons, who’ve had such a disappointing start to their season, needs to evaluate Quinn’s job status, and also will look forward to getting Ryan back healthy.
#21: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Won 27-14 vs MIA
Top Performer: EDGE TJ Watt
As is common with teams that don’t have a quality head coach, the Steelers got off to a slow start after a bye week. but as expected, they managed to beat the lowly Dolphins by multiple scores. This was pure domination by the defense, which excelled with an unworldly pass rush, tremendous run defense, and solid pass coverage. While that should be the standard against the league’s worst offense, it was at least encouraging to see defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick play well against his former team; he had previously struggled since being traded. Offensively, though, several questions persist. This may be a strong offensive line with a above-average rushing attack and a fringe #1 receiver in Juju Smith-Schuster, but quarterback Mason Rudolph hasn’t even been able to even be serviceable for them; when they aren’t facing Miami, I don’t have any trust in this offense at all. Pittsburgh is a competitive team, especially in a weak AFC North, but you do have to question their ability to win games consistently with Rudolph; they’ll have a legitimate chance to get to .500 at home against the Colts, but this is definitely a fringe bottom-ten team.
#20: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Lost 27-13 at NE
Top Performer: EDGE Myles Garrett
Are the Browns sure they upgraded head coaches? Yes, their schedule has been brutal, but it’s worth noting that they actually have a worse record this year than they had with Hue Jackson last year, despite having much more talent. There’s a lot to dissect with the disaster that has been Freddie Kitchens’ head-coaching tenure. The team is undisciplined, commits a lot of penalties, continuously looks out of sync, and his decision-making is often baffling. Yet, the main disappointment has been his offensive playcalling, which is a major reason he got the head-coaching job in the first place. His insistence of using 11-personnel and making this offense essentially dependent deep passes is inexcusable; not only has it stunted Baker Mayfield’s development and hurt the usage of team’s top playmakers, but it’s put a weak offensive line in harm’s way. Said group put together a putrid performance in New England, as not only is the tackle situation the worst in the NFL, but they’re also struggling with interior pressure. It’s a shame Kitchens’ offense continues to be so ineffective, because had they not turned the ball over on THREE straight plays, they may have been able to ride their defense to victory. The pass-rushing duo of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon was special in this game, and getting back corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams boosted their secondary immensely. Still, they were far from perfect, and aren’t anywhere near capable of leading this team is the offense continues to be a failed experiment. All hope is not lost for the Browns, as they have arguably the easiest upcoming schedule in football that includes a road game against the Brandon Allen-led Broncos this week, but right now, it’s not looking awfully promising for a team that generated so much hype.
#19: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Lost 31-13 vs PHI
Top Performer: LT Dion Dawkins
Foolishly last week, I moved the Bills up to #11 in my rankings after having them around this part previously. While I didn’t anticipate much from the offense, I still thought they had enough working for them to be competent, which would pair well with an elite defense. In the end, neither turned out to be true. Buffalo’s defense is supposed to carry the team, but are they are a fraud? Not only are their 0-8 over the past two seasons against teams with an average or better offense, per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football, but they’re also allowing 29 points per game in that sample size. That would explain this game, as against a solid Eagles offense, Buffalo allowed over 200 yards rushing, had twelve missed tackles, couldn’t cover anyone, and also had a rather non-existent pass rush. That’s embarrassing for a unit trying to make its claim amongst the league’s best, and it doesn’t help that the offense was just as bad. Not only is Josh Allen trending towards Mitch Trubisky territory, but the offensive line hasn’t quite trended towards average, and there aren’t enough playmakers to scare a defense; John Brown and Cole Beasley as your top two receivers won’t cut it. Fortunately for the Bills, their easy schedule, which includes a home game against the Redskins in Week 9, will vault them into the playoffs. Still, this team is the definition of a pretender; they aren’t anywhere near a threat, even in the AFC.
#18: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Lost 17-16 vs LAC
Top Performer: RB David Montgomery
The Bears may lost this game on a missed field goal, but similar to the infamous “double-doink” in last year’s playoffs, that was far from the reason they fell short to a decimated Chargers team; Chicago is in real trouble. Mitch Trubisky looks like the worst starting quarterback in the NFL currently, as he’s inaccurate, has no confidence, and also has had little pocket awareness. He’s clearly hampering the offense, as his issues have clearly gotten to head coach Matt Nagy’s head; Nagy has no trust in the third-year quarterback. The saddest part is, this isn’t a case where a struggling quarterback is in a bad situation; Nagy is generally a great play-caller, there is a lot of receiving talent on the roster, and the offensive line is reliable. To have any chance, this may need to be an old-school, run-heavy offense, but even then, the run-blocking is far too inconsistent for that to work, even with a breakout performance from rookie running back David Montgomery. However, my main concern with the Bears is their defense; its regression has been notably steep. The pass rush couldn’t even dominate against the Chargers’ poor offensive line, the secondary quietly has been below average, and what happened to young safety Eddie Jackson, who went from a superstar ball-hawk to a mediocre player? At least second-year linebacker Roquan Smith finally played up to his draft status, but still, there is no identity with this team, and that’s a major problem. It’s not looking good for the Bears, who have an extremely difficult remaining schedule, which includes a game in Philadelphia next week.
#17: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 15-13 at IND
Top Performer: LB Alexander Johnson
Want to understand heartbreak? Ask any Bronco fan this season. After a brutal loss to the Colts, Denver has now lost three games in which they led with under a minute left, which is just unheard of. Translation: this team could easily be 5-3, which would’ve put them in the thick of the AFC playoff picture. Vic Fangio officially has this defense playing like they were supposed to; in my opinion, this is a fringe top-five defense with no true weakness. The pass rush has been mostly manufactured, but the main story is with the secondary and the run defense. Chris Harris Jr. is a true #1 corner, and with the safety duo of Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons, Denver has a very strong pass defense. Then, there’s that run defense, which limited one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL, not only behind a solid defensive line, but with an uderatted linebacking group. Alexander Johsnon looks to be a diamond in the rough as an all-around linebacker, and he’s complemented with Todd Davis and run defender Josey Jewell. However, that all looks to be for naught; this offense is so conservative, that it can be hard to watch at times. Joe Flacco, who is now out 5-6 weeks with a herniated disk, has been a checkdown artist this season, and outside of receiver Courtland Sutton, there isn’t much talent on the offense, though running back Phillip Lindsay has fared well despite poor run-blocking. With Brandon Allen taking over under center, it’s likely over for the Broncos, though the drop-off from Flacco may not be noticeable. Still, with the way the defense is playing under Fangio, they’re much better than their record, and should remain a tough team to beat throughout the season, including at home against the Browns next week.
#16: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 20)
Top Performer: N/A
Coming into the season, I saw the Ravens as a four-to-five win team, as I had major questions on both sides of the ball. For the most part, they’ve made me look foolish for that, though I’m still not convinced they’re a true “top-half” team. Their schedule has included games against the Dolphins (32nd), Bengals (31st), Cardinals (26th), and Steelers (21st), which explains some of their success. Meanwhile, when they were “tested” by the Chiefs and Browns, they lost convincingly. Plus, while they were able to win in Seattle, they were giften with an easy pick-six and fumble recovery for a touchdown, so it’s hard to take away much from that game. Now, for the positives. Lamar Jackson has been the best quarterback of the 2018 class so far this season (though I still think he ranks behind Mayfield and Darnold), making better decisions, showing more accuracy, and also continuing to be a complete mismatch as a rusher. Speaking of him as a rusher, what he brings to the table, complemented by Mark Ingram and one of the league’s best offensive lines, has built arguably the most prolific rushing attack in football; the offense has certainly exceed expectations. Plus, although I’m skeptical about this defense (they were gashed by Kansas City and Cleveland), the addition of corner Marcus Peters should help them stop 11-personnel packages, and slowly but surely, they’ve gotten more production from their pass rush. I can’t wait to see this team, who also has one of the five best coaches in football (John Harbaugh) be tested in primetime by the Patriots this week.If they were to win, I’ll need no more convincing that they’re a top-ten team. However, if they look outmatched, my previous concerns will be proven right. That’s the beauty of football; a lot can change in a week.
#15: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Won 17-16 at CHI
Top Performer: CB Casey Hayward Jr.
They may have been a field goal away from losing another close game, but I have no doubt that they outplayed the Bears in this game. The team had a throwback game to last year in a way, restoring the way they won last year. Offensively, the addition of left tackle Russell Okung has huge for the offensive line, and likely as a direct result, Phillip Rivers had his best game; he elevated the offense despite poor performances from their main playmakers. The defense, though, was the most intriguing part of this win. Casey Hayward Jr. played like the #1 corner he is, the linebackers were excellent, and finally, the pass rush lived up to its billing, especially Joey Bosa, who had eight pressures in this game. It wasn’t a flashy game, but Los Angeles needed this win, and as they slowly get healthier, they have a chance in the AFC, though their schedule is rough, including an upcoming “home” game against the Packers.
#14: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 51-13 at SF
Top Performer: LB Luke Kuechly
Off of a bye, the Panthers were a popular pick to cover a 5.5-point spread as underdogs in San Francisco. Well, to summarize, that didn’t work out. I don’t want to say Carolina was exposed in this game (the 49ers are on a completely different world), but perhaps they aren’t the top-ten team I thought they were. Any conversation of Cam Newton not being the team’s starter once healthy was dismissed in this game, as Kyle Allen “earned” a putrid 27.7 grade from Pro Football Focus in this game, throwing his first three career interceptions. It was obvious he was playing well above his capabilities, and reality set in harshly in this game; pass-blocking was not to blame for his issues. For those convinced that running back Christian McCaffrey is an MVP candidate, this was not an ideal game; McCaffrey had a monster game, yet the team score just 13 points; you can’t build an offense through your running back. As for the defense, generating just seven pressures is inexcusable, and the run defense was awful; this was just a bad game for the team overall, and that’s all there needs to be said about this. The Panthers will need to bounce back in Week 9, and they’ll be able to try to do so at home; they host the Titans.
#13: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Won 27-24 vs OAK
Top Performer: WR DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans are a strange team to peg; they have the ability to beat top-tier teams, but they also can lay eggs like they did this week against the Raiders. Granted, they still won, but performances like this won’t be acceptable in the future. The offense wasn’t itself, as they couldn’t find a rhythm; Deshaun Watson, despite his heroics, had an average game, and there weren’t any surprising standouts. Defensively, it was much of the same for Houston, but there was a development in this game that could drag them down; JJ Watt will miss the rest of the year with a pectoral injury. Because of that, the pass rush will likely be average at best, and that puts pressure on a talent-deficient secondary. Notably, cornerback Gareon Conley, acquired for a third-round pick, was beaten consistently by his former team; this could honestly be one of the worst defenses in the league, so the offense cannot afford to be as inconsistent. We’ll see what Houston looks like without Watt against the Jaguars in London, but for now, 13th is fitting for a boom-or-bust team.
#12: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Won 31-26 vs NYG
Top Performer: EDGE Trey Flowers
The Lions have tried to be a defense-first team ever since hiring Matt Patricia as head coach, but they may have to accept the true reality of the state of this team; the strength of this team is clearly the offense. Matthew Stafford is having arguably the best start to a season as the team’s quarterback, and his frequent connection with young phenom receiver Kenny Golladay is simply fun to watch. In a way this is what the Browns want to be; an exciting vertical offense that utilizes its receiving talent to near-perfection, though the rushing attack is a little questionable after losing running back Kerryon Johnson for the season; the run-blocking isn’t a strength, which means a running back by committee probably won’t work. Yet, it isn’t all about the offense, as the defensive line pairing of Trey Flowers (seven pressures) and Da’Shawn Hand is extremely intriguing, though their secondary has been a major letdown after starting the season off strong; the Lions seem to change their identity every week, and they were indeed outplayed by the Giants. Still, they won, have a lot of talent to work with, and can get to back over .500 with a win in Oakland.
#11: Tennessee Titans (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 27-23 vs TB
Top Performer: TE Jonnu Smith
For the second straight week, the Titans had to claw their way to a victory in a game that should’ve been much easier at home, but one thing’s for certain: they’re much more entertaining after switching to Ryan Tannehill under center in favor of Marcus Mariota. Not only does Tannehill continue to play well, but because of that, Tennesee’s depth of receivers is finally being utilized, and it’s also nice to see tackle Taylor Lewan settling in after his four-game suspension. Tannehill could “blow up” at any minute, given his past resume, but it’s another indication that if they were to draft a quarterback, he would be in a great position to succeed. Especially, given the state of the defense; they’re fantastic. First-round rookie defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons wasn’t as dominant in his second game, but nevertheless, the Titans were fabulous in run defense, and it was a complete performance. Something to note is the usage of slot corner Logan Ryan, who has made an impact as a pass rusher this season with eight pressures, in addition to limit production from opposing receivers in the slot. Tennesee is too inconsistent to trust, but for the most part, I’m buying them as a revived them after the quarterback change, and with the Watt injury, they look like the best team in a weak AFC South. If they can keep it going with a win in Carolina, they may seriously challenge for a spot in the top-ten, which would’ve seemed absurd just two weeks ago, when they were 2-4 and looked to be stuck with no clear direction.
#10: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Lost 31-24 vs GB
Top Performer: WR Tyreek Hill
Without Patrick Mahomes, and several starters on both sides of the ball, the general expectation was that the Chiefs would be blown out by the Packers. Therefore, the fact that this was such a close game has to be inspiring; head coach Andy Reid continues to be an offensive mastermind. For a backup that looked to be out of football as recently as last offseason, Matt Moore was magnificent in this game, relying on the abundance of playmakers Kansas City has on their offense. As their offensive line gets healthier, as well as Mahomes, this should go back to being an elite offense. The defense was without interior defensive linemen Chris Jones and edge rusher Frank Clark, but still, their greatest flaws were exposed; their linebackers are a liability in coverage, their cornerback depth is far too slim, and safety Tyrann Mathieu is struggling to live up to the $42 million contract he signed this offseason. Right now, this looks like a worse version of last year’s team, which will likely mean another AFC Championship trip to likely lose to the Patriots, though at 5-3, they’re in some danger if Mahomes doesn’t come back soon. That’s especially true, considering that the steaming hot Vikings come to town in Week 9.
#9: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 12)\
Result: Won 27-20 at ATL
Top Performer: WR Tyler Lockett
It was all but a given that the Seahawks would win against the Matt Shaub Falcons this past Sunday, but it’s a little strange that they couldn’t cover as favorites on an 8.5-point spread. After all, they were winning this game 24-0 at halftime, and although Atlanta had some garbage time statistics, this turned into a close game in the second half. That speaks to the consequences of Seattle’s style of football, once again running the ball rather than passing, despite facing a secondary that was clearly overmatched. It’s such a strange offense, but Russell Wilson is such a special quarterback, and Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are such a great vertical receiver duo, that this offense not only has a pretty high floor, but also a high ceiling. Still, I’m not convinced about this defense not being a fringe bottom-ten unit. Despite the acquisition of edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, there’s been no sort of pass rush, and although the acquisition of safety Quandre Diggs should help, their secondary is also a mess. You have to be able to defend the pass to be successful, and right now, the Seahawks cannot currently do that. They haven’t yet best tested by a true quality opponent yet, and when they do, I figure they’ll prove to be behind some of the other top NFC teams, though with Wilson, they’ll be a team to watch out for, especially since they’re looking at a 7-2 start with a home date against the Bucs up next.
#8: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 31-13 at BUF
Top Performer: EDGE Brandon Graham
Sitting at 3-4 after two blowout losses, the Eagles were in desperate need of a win in Buffalo. Well, that got that win, and then some; they absolutely pummeled the Bills. Carson Wentz did his job in this game, but that was far from the storyline for the offense, Not only did Philadelphia’s tremendous offensive line take away Buffalo’s pass rush, but they also mauled them in the running game; they allowed the combination of Jordan Howard and Myles Sanders to rush for over 200 yards. Specifically, rookie tackle Andre Dillard had the best game of his early career, and with him progressing, the future of this offensive line looks incredibly bright. Defensively, tackling is still a problem for the Eagles, but their secondary played much better in this game, and it helps that the defensive line gets back to its dominant ways in this game. This was a needed victory for Philadelphia, and could be a breakthrough for them, but we’ll have to see if they can keep this rolling, starting at home against the Bears.
#7: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 24-10 vs CIN
Top Performer: WR Cooper Kupp
Games can often have weird outcomes in London, but there was no shocker this past Sunday; the Rams coasted to a two-score victory over the hapless Bengals. Offensively, this wasn’t a very crisp game for Los Angeles, as Jared Goff didn’t play his best football, the rushing attack was uninspiring against one of the league’s worst run defenses, and outside of Cooper Kupp, there weren’t many sources of production. Nevertheless, they did what they needed to, and in the second half of the season, I do expect head coach Sean McVay to make some adjustments. It was also an uneven game for the defense, which played well as a whole, but was unable to dominate in run defense against a historically poor rushing attack. Still, their pass coverage was terrific, and it wasn’t even star corner Jalen Ramsey who was behind that; corner Troy Hill, safety Marqui Christian, and linebacker Cory Littleton were all bright spots defending the pass. At this point, I actually have more confidence in the defense than McVay’s offense, but at the end of the day, this is a very talented roster that will be in playoff contention throughout the season, even with some glaring issues that need to be addressed during their bye week.
#6: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 4)
Top Performer: N/A
Was Week 7 a glimpse of what the Cowboys are capable of when they’re fully healthy? With tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins back in the fold, Dallas turned in an incredible whooping of the Eagles in primetime, thus showing what they’re truly capable of. The problem with Dallas, is that performances like that don’t seem to come often. After an exciting start to the season, the Cowboys haven’t had as creative of an offense, and it’s likely that head coach Jason Garrett’s influence is all over the offense, which isn’t a good thing; more meaningless rushing attempts and less play-action isn’t a formula for success. Still, with Dak Prescott having a career year, a sturdy offensive line, and the receiver duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, the personnel is there for this to be an elite offense. The same goes for the defense, yet they’ve underperformed as a unit. The linebackers have been nowhere as productive as expected, and with both the pass rush and secondary having some minor trouble, this defense can be consistently counted on to be a top-five unit, like I thought they’d be at the beginning of the season. I’m a huge fan of this team’s ceiling, and if offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive play-caller Kris Richard can patch up some of the inconsistency with their respective units, than this can be a Super Bowl contender (I’m not sure that’ll happen, though). We’ll see what Dallas looks like off the bye; they face a potential trap game against the Giants.
#5: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 31-9 vs ARI
Top Performer: DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
He’s back! Drew Brees made his triumphant return after being sidelined with a thumb injury, and did so two weeks earlier than expected. Outside of one inexcusable interception, he was as efficient as anyone could’ve expected him to be. Meanwhile, the rest of the offense was fabulous. Star receiver Michael Thomas continues to be a machine, this offensive line continues to be marvelous in both pass protection and run-blocking, and even Taysom Hill is flourishing as an all-around playmaker. There will always be a high floor with an offense led by Brees and head coach Sean Payton, but it’s the defense that can be a little shaky at times. The pass rush hasn’t lived up to its standards after one amazing game against the Rams, the cornerback depth is suspect (Marshon Lattimore hasn’t proven to be a true #1 corner), and linebacker Demario Davis is the only trustworthy player at his position. Nevertheless, Davis continues to have a fantastic season, rookie nickel corner Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has solidified himself as the starter at that position, and no one can question how elite of a run defense that they constantly have. I don’t trust their ability to limit top-tier offenses as most people do, but if the offense goes back to dominating the time of possession, perhaps that won’t matter. For now, though, they’re off next week, and when they come back, they’ll have star running back Alvin Kamara back in the lineup, adding another nice layer to the offense.
#4: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 31-24 at KC
Top Performer: RB Aaron Jones
It may have been more stressful than Packers fans thought it would be, but with their win in a shootout in Kansas City, Green Bay continues to roll. This wasn’t the Aaron Rodgers show, but head coach Matt LeFleur proved his offensive brilliance in this game, finding a way to attack Kansas City’s major defensive flaw; their linebackers’ lack of coverage ability. It’s only fitting that running backs caught all three of Rodgers’ touchdown passes, with Aaron Jones totaling over 200 yards from scrimmage; he’s proving to be a borderline top-five running back. In addition, this offensive line was terrific, including their previously questionable interior offensive line; rookie Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner had their best games of the season. It wasn’t pretty defensively, as it was essentially a two-man wrecking crew with edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander; the linebackers (mostly Blake Martinez) have been a minor-disaster, and no one has stepped up; this no longer looks like a top-ten defense. Still, the pairing of Rodgers and LeFleur has a chance to be deadly, and once receiver Davante Adams returns from his turf toe, this could very well be the best offense in the NFL. Because of the next two teams on this list though, they can’t afford to take the foot off the gas pedal against the Chargers this upcoming Sunday.
#3: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 19-9 vs WSH
Top Performer: EDGE Danielle Hunter
The Vikings didn’t face much of a test in the Redskins on Thursday Night Football, but still, they continued to play a tremendous brand of football in their ten-point win. Kirk Cousins mostly relied on short passes, but that’s all he needed to do in this game, as receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Dalvin Cook were stars in the passing game. Meanwhile, the offensive line continued to do significantly better in run-blocking (namely rookie center Garrett Bradbury), which opened up holes for a rushing explosion against a really solid defensive line. With more emphasis on play-action passes and heavy personnel, I really like the direction this offense is heading, but can the defense trend the same way? They’ve been unspectacular recently, and with cornerback Xavier Rhodes and edge rusher Everson Griffen not playing well, the passing defense has faltered, though this remains a great run defense. I do have faith in the coaching and personnel on this defense, so hopefully, they’ll turn it around, starting this weekend in Kansas City.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 51-13 vs CAR
Top Performer: TE George Kittle
Sometimes, a team is so hot that they’re unbeatable. That’s the case with the 49ers, who remained undefeated in a 51-13 slashing of the Panthers. San Francisco’s incredible rushing attack continued its incredible stretch, rushing for over 200 yards against a very talented front seven, with Tevin Coleman accumulating four touchdowns behind an offensive line that’s been amazing, considering they’re without their two starting tackles. Oh, and tight end George Kittle continues to be easily the best tight end in football. This was also obviously a dominant game for the defense, as the pass coverage was incredible despite the pass rush having one of its worst outings (still above-average obviously). Between poor run defense and some tackling problems, namely from linebacker Kwon Alexander, this wasn’t a flawless game for them, but there’s no doubt that this is a top-three defense, and quite possibly the best in the NFL. Right now, no team wants to play San Francisco; the poor Cardinals will likely be the next victim on Thursday night.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 27-13 vs CLE
Top Performer: DE Lawrence Guy
The Patriots may have won against the Browns, but not only did they not turn in a flawless performance, they arguably were outplayed by a chaotic team; maybe they aren’t the unstoppable powerhouse we thought they were? Their defense has been described as historic, yet they weren’t at their best in this game, as the secondary struggled, as did the run defense. While this may have been uncharacteristic, after close examination, they’ve been below-average in run defense and have had two straight drop-off games in pass coverage, per Pro Football Focus; turnovers are great, but they aren’t sustainable, especially once they play better offenses. Make no mistake, they’re still fantastic, but they aren’t impossible to move the ball against, and with the way the offense is playing, that could be a problem. Tom Brady played fine in this game, but the pass protection was atrocious, they can’t run the football, and there isn’t a “wow” factor with this offense; they don’t look to be capable of producing explosive plays against a disciplined defense. We’ll see how New England plays as the schedule toughens, and it’ll start to this week; they play a Ravens team on the road on Sunday Night Football.