It happened again! Not only did every home team in the United States (Texans in London don’t count) win on Sunday, but many of them were surprising upsets. As a result, we have a lot of movement in these power rankings, especially near the top. So, who’s trending up, and who’s trending down? Let’s rank every team in the NFL, recapping their performance with an overall grade and by selecting a top performer.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Won 26-18 vs NYJ
Top Performer: LB Raekwon McMillan
Somehow, someway, the Dolphins have won a game! In fact, they weren’t even the last team to do so! Yes, part of their win came from them taking advantage of the Jets’ ineptitude, but nevertheless, this was an inspiring performance, particularly on offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is always very volatile, but in this game, he was fantastic; he was incredible throwing the ball down the field, allowing his big receiver to use their catch radius to take advantage of the Jets’ smaller defensive backs. Plus, the offensive line wasn’t a disaster for once, and when that’s the case, Miami’s offense will definitely look competent; they actually have some depth at receiver. Meanwhile, the defense wasn’t great, but there were some encouraging individual performances. The linebackers, for example, were excellent; Raekwon McMillan was tremendous in all facets of the game, Jerome Baker did well in coverage, and Vince Biegel is filling the role as an undersized edge rusher-off ball linebacker flex that’s needed in this Patriots-style defensive scheme. Perhaps most importantly, this team continues to show fight despite the fact that they’re openly tanking; head coach Brian Flores has done a magnificent job, and is building a culture that will be extremely important when the team is ready to contend. In a way, it’s actually intriguing to see how this team responds; will they be able to keep it up in Indianapolis, and at least remain competitive?
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Top Performer: N/A
Because of the Dolphins’ win, the Bengals are the lone team in the NFL without a win. On the bright side, they’re one step closer to securing a franchise quarterback (Joe Burrow, anyone?), though right now, their outlook looks bleak. Not only are they 0-8, but they refused to trade off some of their best veteran assets, primarily receiver AJ Green and quarterback Andy Dalton, who are certainly not a part of the team’s future. Yes, it’ll be interesting to see fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley under center, but even if Green comes back, the rookie quarterback stands no chance behind a putrid offensive line, which has also prevented running back Joe Mixon from having any sort of effect on the offense. The worst part? The offense may not even be the weakness of the team; the defense is even worse. Their linebacking group is the worst in the NFL by far, the pass rush has struggled despite having plenty of big names on the edge and interior, and let’s not get started by the secondary, which was humiliated by the Rams in Week 8. I hope that first-year head coach Zac Taylor gets another chance; this team has no talent, and he’s kept the team competitive at times. Still, this wasn’t exactly the start to the season Cincinnati was hoping for, to put it lightly; Taylor will search for his first win at home against the Ravens.
#30: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 24-9 at BUF
Top Performer: FS Troy Apke
First-round rookie Dwayne Haskins made his first career start this week under center for the Redskins, but at times, it was easy to forget he was even on the field. Not only did he throw the ball only 24 times in this game, but several of those passes were extremely short – it’s clear Washington has little faith in Haskins, and rather than allowing him to develop, they’re continuing to stunt his development. After all, with a satisfactory offensive line and an emerging #1 receiver in Terry McLaurin (his college teammate), Haskins could possibly flourish if the offense were to be opened up. However, under interim head coach Bill Callahan, it’s likely they’ll “establish the run”, on their way to have no sort of efficiency on offense. Perhaps more concerning, a trend has emerged this season; Washington’s defense is nowhere near the caliber many thought it’d be. It was expected that they’d have issues in the secondary, but big free agent signing Landon Collins has played poorly this season, making the situation even worse. At the very least, they were supposed to be able to stop the run. Yet somehow, they cannot manage to do that; interior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, in particular, is starting to look like a bust as a former first-round pick. To be frank, the Redskins are the least exciting team in football. Their offense is way too old-school, as is their defense, and every week, they seem to never have a standout performer. Because of this, they’ll have to evaluate themselves, and Haskins especially, during their upcoming bye week.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 37-18 vs DAL
Top Performer: FS Antoine Bethea
Last week, the Giants may have lost, but with Daniel Jones and the offense clicking, and the defense playing better, they seemed to be heading in the right direction. Well, they took a major step back this week on Monday Night Football, putting together an uninspiring performance against the Cowboys. Jones added three more turnovers to his ledger in this game, and with the way he’s currently playing, he looks more and more like a Ryan Tannehill/Jameis Winston type player. Ironically, he’s slowly becoming like Eli Manning, which isn’t a good thing. With solid pass protection, a decent receiving corps, a star dual-threat in Saquon Barkley, and an actual functional organization, he doesn’t have the excuses that Haskins has; he needs to be much more consistent. Let’s not even get started with New York’s defense; they’re absolutely atrocious. The safety duo of Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers played well, but besides them, New York’s defense is built of run-stuffing defensive lineman. Because of that, they have little talent at linebacker, cornerback, and edge rusher, which has caused them to have a horrific pass defense. Rookie cornerback Deandre Baker, to single a player out, has not only failed to be a starting-caliber player, but he’s been a constant liability; the fact that he was the first cornerback taken in that draft is astonishing. The Giants are just way too inconsistent to trust, and that could be the case throughout Jones’ career; it New York on their way to becoming the Buccanneers 2.0?
#28: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 26-18 at MIA
Top Performer: DT Folorunso Fatukasi
If they hadn’t already done so, the Jets hit rock bottom on Sunday, losing in embarrassing fashion in Miami. That’s right; the Jets, who had playoff aspirations coming into the season, couldn’t beat a tanking team. How can you rationalize that? Head coach Adam Gase was brought in to turn Sam Darnold into a star, but instead, the second-year quarterback is trending towards bust territory. I still have faith in the USC product, but it slowly evaporates with every unspeakable mistake he makes in even following quarterbacking 101. Between this, and his inability to get running back Le’Veon Bell involved in the offense (he’s a great receiver, by the way), Gase has made this offense unwatchable, and it’s not though he’s doing a great job controlling the locker room. At this point, it only looks like a matter of time before he’s fired, and whoever the Jets hire as their new head coach could be the key to saving Darnold before it’s too late. Defensively, New York has no talent in the secondary, particularly at cornerback, and that showed this week. At the very least, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is living up to his name in terms of manufacturing a pass rush; Folorunso Fatukasi, Jordan Jenkins, and Terrell Basham have all exceeded expectations this season. The Jets are clearly better than a 1-7 team, but there are many flaws on this roster, to the point where them being competitive next season isn’t a given. Next week is a huge game for them; they have to bounce back against the Giants in the battle of New York next week.
#27: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 28-25 vs SF
Top Performer: RB Kenyan Drake
The Cardinals are an exciting team, but as evidenced by their performance on Thursday Night Football, they’re not ready to compete with premier teams. Their offensive line, which looked much improved previously, faltered against a dominant 49ers pass rush, and as a result, Kyler Murray was forced to run for his life. Therefore, I’ll give him a pass for a poor outing, but still, he does need to a better job of recognizing pressure- he cannot run back 10-15 yards and take a sack, as it completely kills a drive. On the bright side, Arizona’s opened up offense allows running backs to prosper, and that proved to be the case with recent trade acquisition Kenyan Drake, who looked like a new man with the Cardinals. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense has the potential to be great over time with a better supporting cast for Murray. The defense, on the other hand, has no identity whatsoever. The thought was that the secondary would improve once star corner Patrick Peterson came back, but instead, it’s gotten worse with him back in the lineup. When you add in a soft defense that consistently struggles in run defense, and an older edge rush that seems to be wearing down as the season progresses, and you have the makings of one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Since the offense isn’t ready to lift the defense up quite yet, the Cardinals are stuck in no man’s land for this season, but either way, their future still looks bright. Murray and co. will look to turn in a better performance in Tampa Bay.
#26: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 26-3 vs HOU
Top Performer: SS Ronnie Harrison
Facing a Texans team that was absolutely depleted with injuries, the Jaguars had a chance to make their push for an AFC South title in London. Instead, it may time to write them off for this season. Despite Houston not having left tackle Laremy Tunsil, their “elite” pass rush had just 14 pressures, and once again, the defense experienced major issues in the secondary. It’s safe to say that these Jaguars are no longer the same defense from their 2017 “Sacksonville” days, and due to that, they’re facing an identity crisis. Gardner Minshew didn’t play awful in his game, but his lack of arm talent continues to be so evident; he’s a fringe starter at best, and it’s likely the team will go back to Nick Foles under center. No matter who is under center, though, there needs to be more of an effort to get top receiver DJ Chark more involved in the offense, as he’s regressed from his hot start. Minshew and Foles are practically the same caliber quarterback, and as a result, it’s pretty safe to say that this is a classic 6-7 win team with an incredibly low ceiling. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what they decide to do, as a decision should be made during their bye week.
#25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 23)
This is really where a new tier of teams start to make an appearance in the power rankings; in any other year, the Bucs would be better than the 25th ranked team. After all, they have the upside with an explosive offense to compete with any team in the NFL, and that was on display in Seattle this past Sunday. Connecting constantly with the amazing receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Jameis Winston tore up Seattle’s pass defense, which is critical in the team’s evaluation of him being their quarterback beyond this season. In fact, that evaluation becomes the main story of the rest of the season; there are no more excuses for Winston, who has that receiver duo, a strong offensive line, and an improved rushing attack to work with. However, no matter how he plays, it may not lead to wins or losses; the defense was played to expectations, which isn’t a good thing. The secondary was absolutely exposed by Russell Wilson, and although that was bound to happen when facing arguably the league’s best passing offense, the fact that they still can’t stop the pass after investing so much draft capital in cornerbacks is extremely worrisome. Furthermore, the pass rush has declined significantly from the start to the season, and there’s no point in being able to stop the run if teams can pass for 400+ yards on you easily. In a way, these are the same old Bucs; fun to watch, but when it comes to winning games, they’re way too flawed of a roster to do so consistently. On the bright side, they have a realistic chance to get a win for the first time since Week 4, as they host the Cardinals in Week 10.
#24: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Won 31-24 vs DET
Top Performer: QB Derek Carr
Heading into the season, the Raiders looked like an absolute mess. They had to cut star receiver Antonio Brown, had little talent present on the roster, and appeared to be a “circus show” with the amount of drama they had. Yet, head coach Jon Gruden has done a marvelous job with this team, and as a result, they have to be considered a potential playoff contender. Gruden’s offense has simply exceeded all reasonable expectations this season, as his scripting has been off the charts. Not only is Derek Carr getting back to his 2016 form, but a receiving corps has quietly been built around him; fifth-round rookie Hunter Renfrow is dominating in the slot, while Tyrell Williams has turned out to be a great free-agent signing. Then, there’s the offensive line, which allows Gruden to run the offense he wants to. They were without center Rodney Hudson and right tackle Trent Brown, yet completely dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing rookie running back Josh Jacobs to have another productive game in what’s been a stellar season for him. Plus, for all the concerns with the defense, they actually played fine against a strong Lions offense. The secondary, in particular, kept an explosive Lions passing attack in check, and although they weren’t great against the run, that likely won’t continue to be the case. At some point, their lack of depth and high-end talent probably will catch up to them, but in a wide-open AFC and with the tough part of their schedule behind them, why can’t they compete for a wildcard spot? Quietly, they have a huge game coming up on Thursday Night Football; they face a division foe and a wildcard contender in the Chargers.
#23: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Lost 26-24 at PIT
Top Performer: CB Kenny Moore III
Last week, I cautioned fans to not buy too high into the Colts’ 5-2 start. After all, they were winning a lot of close games, which isn’t exactly sustainable. Well, they were in another battle in Pittsburgh this Sunday, and couldn’t get the job done. It’s not as though they played poorly, but this is the cost of trying to consistently win in unsustainable fashion- it’s nearly impossible to do. Yes, Jacoby Brissett went down with an injury early in this game, but he’s a low-end starter anyways, and Brian Hoyer actually played great in place of him. Furthermore, receiver Zach Pascal really stepped up as the team’s #1 receiver, which is important since TY Hilton could be sidelined for nearly a month with a calf injury. If there’s one red flag from this game, it’s actually the offensive line. As expected, their run-blocking continues to be consistently amazing, but their pass protection has been inconsistent, and that was the case against an elite pass rush. Overall, the offense is a low-ceiling, but a productive unit with a great play-caller in head coach Frank Reich, so the key this team will be its defense. They played well for the most part in this game, yet still cracked in the fourth quarter, allowing for a mini-comeback by Mason Rudolph, of all quarterbacks. There are some positives from the pass coverage; nickel corner Kenny Moore III, linebacker Anthony Walker, and cornerback Marvell Tell were all terrific in this game, with Tell’s performance being the most noteworthy- he’s earned a starting spot as an outside cornerback. It’s impressive they played so well, considering that there was no pass rush to speak off, and even more troublesome, with linebacker Darius Leonard playing atrociously in this game. Considering his rookie success, better weeks should be ahead for the second-year linebacker, but still, he’s had a rough season, which has really hurt this defense. By virtue of a pretty easy schedule, including a game against the Dolphins coming up, the Colts are still in a good position to make the playoffs, but they clearly don’t have the talent the compete with the top teams; they couldn’t separate themselves against a team that a true playoff-caliber team is expected to beat.
#22: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 22)
Top Performer: N/A
The Falcons couldn’t imagine a worse start to the season- they came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations, yet are a failed fourth-down conversion away from being 0-8. Still, perhaps the bye week can serve as a tipping point for them. After all, they’ve had a lot of tough games against quality opponents in the first half, and still have the talent to be a good team. Plus, they’ll be getting Matt Ryan back healthy under center, and still have the pieces to have a terrific offense. Their chances of a rebound, though, fall within the defense. With so many missed coverages and an inconsistent pass rush, they’ve been a liability at times this season, despite possessing individual talent on certain positions. If head coach Dan Quinn wants any chance of keeping his job, he needs to get this unit playing better in a hurry, which makes the timing of the bye week so important. Atlanta may be out of playoff contention for this season, but they do feel like a team that can rally to finish with 5-6 wins. We’ll see how much fight they have left in them in a big divisional matchup in New Orleans.
#21: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Lost 22-14 at PHI
Top Performer: CB Prince Amukamara
Last season, the Bears lost just four games all season. This season, they’ve already lost five times. It’s been an abysmal season for a team that was expected to be an impact playoff contender, and even worse, this may the start of a larger landslide from competitiveness. The struggles of the offense have been highly publicized by now. They had just nine net yards in the first half, struggled to contain a strong Eagles defensive front, and once again, fell victim to poor quarterback play of Mitchell Trubisky. Not only does head coach Matt Nagy not have any confidence in Trubisky, but judging by his conservativeness and body language, the third-year quarterback has lost all faith in himself; this is becoming an absolute disaster for the former second overall pick. We’ve known for a while, however, that the Bears offense was one of the league’s worst. The problem, is that the defense has not only regressed, but look to be starting to “give up” in a sense. They were gashed by Philadelphia’s rushing attack and had no pass rush, which isn’t ideal when you invest a lot of resources in the defensive front, and once again, had issues in pass coverage. The list of players on that side of the ball underperforming is incredible: linebacker Roquan Smith, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson, defensive tackle Bilal Nichols, and linebacker Danny Trevathan. If so many players aren’t going to live up to expectations, thus causing the defense to play poorly, how is this team supposed to win games this season? I have a feeling 21st won’t be the lowest ranking for this team this season, as they’re essentially on their last breath at home against the Lions this upcoming Sunday.
#20: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 24-19 at DEN
Top Performer: LB Joe Schobert
The Browns may have had a slow start, but with an easy schedule coming up, there was hope that they could turn their season around. While there’s still a lot of football left to be played, it’s safe to say that hope is disappearing quickly. Facing a 2-6 team that just lost their starting quarterback, Cleveland was significantly outplayed, which is inexcusable. A lot of blame has been placed on their offensive line, but even when they allowed just 14 pressures, the Browns got in their way. They went 1 for 5 in converting touchdowns in the Red Zone, and in those scenarios, didn’t target star receiver Odell Beckham once, nor was running back Nick Chubb involved. It’s impossible to win when that’s the case, and that’s a testament to how awful of a job Freddie Kitchens has done in his first year as head coach- for the sake of Baker Mayfield’s development, a change needs to be made. Additionally, the defense has also been a disappointment. They’ve had a solid pass rush, but in reality, that’s all they have going for them. They can’t stop the run, they aren’t very athletic, struggle to tackle opposing players, and even more surprisingly, have struggled to defend the pass; corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams have been both injured and low-quality players this season. To be frank, this team has been a disaster this season, and if they cannot win against the Bills this week, their season is officially over.
#19: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 26-24 vs IND
Top Performer: FS Minkah Fitzpatrick
When the Steelers traded for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, it looked like a laughable attempt to save a lost season without Ben Roethlisberger, especially since the first-round pick they gave up looked like a definite top-ten pick. However, they’ve won three straight games, and all of a sudden, that trade is working out tremendously for them. Fitzpatrick appears to be finally hitting his groove as a Steeler; he’s been excellent as a single-high free safety for them, and those types of players are hard to find. With the former Dolphin playing so well, it’s also really benefited the secondary, which isn’t the liability it once was. When you combine that with easily the league’s best pass rush- they can rush from the edge and on the interior – you have the makings of a top-ten, potentially top-five defense, especially if rookie linebacker Devin Bush can improve his play in the second half of the season. The problem with Pittsburgh, is the defense is really their only chance of winning. They do have a strong offensive line, as well as some playmakers, but even in one of his better games, Mason Rudolph can’t be counted on to do much more than complete low-risk checkdowns, and that hasn’t stopped him from accumulating a lot of turnover-worthy plays. Therefore, the way the Steelers are winning may turn out to be unsustainable, but you still have to give them credit for building a talented team arond the quarterback. I’m very excited to see how they stack up at home against the Rams Sunday afternoon.
#18: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 24-9 vs WSH
Top Performer: SS Jordan Poyer
We’ve figured out the Bills out at this point. They’re not a flashy team and will struggle to beat high-caliber opponents, but at the same time, are well-run, and are built to feast on the “bottom-feeder” teams. For that reason, it comes as no surprise they were able to take care of business against the one-win Redskins. Their defense, specifically, had a bounce-back game this season, though they weren’t exactly facing a competent offense. Nevertheless, they fared better in pass coverage, and also were much better against the run. There are flaws with that unit – corner Levi Wallace is struggling, and the pass rush has been incredibly incosistnet – but they’re still the clear identity of this team and a fringe top-ten unit. The offense, meanwhile, is starting to recognize how they want to be successful. Josh Allen may be a boom or bust type of quarterback, but they’ve relegated him to a game manager role. Instead, they’re relying on their rushing attack, and finally, they let rookie running back Devin Singletary to be the lead back. In the end, I don’t know if Allen is capable of playing mistake-free football, but with a satisfactory offensive line and some emerging weapons, he does have some talent to work with. I still lack the confidence in this team that I should have for a team that’s about to make the playoffs due to their easy schedule, but with that said, why should I until they beat a true playoff contender? We won’t get much of a feel for them in Week 10; they travel to Cleveland to take on the reeling Browns.
#17: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Won 30-20 vs TEN
Top Performer: WR DJ Moore
The Panthers may have won against the Titans this past Sunday, but in a way, I actually feel worse about them than I did before this win. There were positives in this game, which we’ll get to, but at the same time, they’re showing small cracks in the foundations. They’ve relied on their defense a lot, and slowly but surely, that unit has started to regress. The pass rush, for instance, has come back down to earth, which isn’t a surprise considering they’re not exactly loaded with talented pass rushers. Still, their minor struggles do have an effect on the secondary, which has also not been the elite group they were at the beggining, and it’s not like they’ve played any elite passing offense yet. Overall, Carolina’s defense is solid, but that’s all it is; it’s a unit with a very low ceiling. Referencing the positives I alluded to though, there’s a chance the defense doesn’t have to be elite if the offense can establish some consistency. I’m still not buying into Kyle Allen, who had a decent game, but has generally played poorly throughout the year. However, he has a lot of help; Christian McCaffrey may be the best running back in football, receivers DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel have developed into excellent targets, and the offensive line has held up tremendously this season, despite dealing with some injuries. Do I think Carolina’s offensive success last with below-average quarterback play? Probably not, but they’re well-coached, have plenty of talent, and are a team that no one wants to play down the stretch. They’ll definitely be tested in Week 10- they travel to Green Bay to take on an angry Packers team.
#16: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Won 24-19 vs CLE
Top Performer: LB Alexander Johnson
When I had them ranked as the 17th best team entering Week 9, I was expecting the Broncos to fall down the list after having to turn to Brandon Allen, who hadn’t started a game since the 2016 Liberty Bowl, under center. Yet, that didn’t matter, since after all, this team was starting Joe Flacco at quarterback. Allen didn’t play particuarly well, as most of his passing yards came after the catch, but that just proves what has become so clear: the Broncos have some serious playmakers. Second-year receiver Courtland Sutton is a true #1 option, rookie tight end Noah Fant flashed the receiving skills that made him a top 20 pick, and the young running back duo of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman gets the job done. Plus, it’s not as though the offensive line is bad; whether it’s Drew Lock or a new quarterback through the draft, the pieces are in place for productive quarterback play. Then, there’s head Vic Fangio’s defense, which has proven to be elite. Despite starting unkowns Malik Reed and Davontae Harris at edge rusher and cornerback, respectively, Denver held up against the pass, even with star corner Chris Harris Jr. struggling. Oh, and they also turned arguably the best performance against the run out of any team this season, and 27-year-old linebacker Alexander Johnson deserves recognition for Defensive Rookie of the Year- he’s been elite in both run defense and coverage. I’m a huge fan of what Fangio is building defensively, and with talent forming on the offensive side of the ball, this team really is a franchise quarterbck away from being a playoff contender. The problem is, John Elway hasn’t proven to be capable of finding said quarterback, and if it’s Drew Lock, we have no clue of what he brings to the table. That is, until he’s healthy, which may happen after their upcoming bye week.
#15: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Lost 31-24 at OAK
Top Performer: WR Marvin Jones Jr.
When the Lions started the year off with wins against the Chargers and Eagles, and close losses to the Chiefs and Packers, they truly looked the part of the playoff contender. Well, within the blink of an eye, their playoff chances have drastically gotten smaller. The Raiders have managed to stay afloat this season, but I fully expected Detroit to make a statement in this game, and although they had a chance to win this game at the end, they were certainly outplayed. This offense is absolutely electric, as Matthew Stafford is playing his best football, connecting with the amazing receiver duo of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., behind a sturdy offensive line. They continue to give Detroit hope, yet the defense, which is supposed to be a strength under head coach Matt Patricia, has quietly been awful. We knew that this pass rush was going to struggle, but what we didn’t expect, was for them to struggle so much to defend the run and have issues in pass coverage. In my opinion, that speaks to Detroit’s problems at linebacker with Christian Jones and Jarrod Davis, who’ve been awful, but there are other problems. The defensive line hasn’t been as dominant as expected, and in terms of big-money investments, neither edge rusher Trey Flowers nor slot cornerback Justin Coleman have lived up to their huge contracts. This is a team stuck in mediocrity, as when they have one side playing tremendously, the other cannot keep up; last season, it was the opposite, with the defense vastly outplaying the offense. As a result, Detroit is stuck playing for their season in Week 10 in Chicago.
#14: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 26-11 vs GB
Top Performer: RB Melvin Gordon III
Here come the Chargers! Los Angeles was clearly too talented to fall into “bottom-feeder” territory when they were 2-5, and sure enough, they’re now back in the playoff mix following two huge wins. None bigger than their blowout victory over the Packers, which happened despite having their stadium filled with around 80% Green Bay fans. Quietly, Phillip Rivers has been amazing recently, and it aligns exactly with when left tackle Russell Okung came back from injury; the offense is clicking. Plus, the change in offensive coordinator had a positive effect in this game, as the running back Melvin Gordon III and Austin Ekeler were utilized properly – both were heavily involved in the offense, as was emerging star tight end Hunter Henry. Assuming Los Angeles can continue to be average in the offensive trenches, I have full confidence in a complete renaissance from this unit, which is critical with how the defense is playing. The edge rush duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III is fantastic, and as they did this past Sunday, they have the ability to completely take over a game. Then, you add the corner duo of Casey Hayward Jr. and Desmond King (slot corner), and a run defense that’s no longer a liability, and it sure looks like this defense is trending towards being a top-ten unit. Moreover, they’ll only get healthier with star safety Derwin James standing out as a player who should be back soon. If they can win in Oakland on Thursday Night Football, then they’ll need to start getting serious contemplation as a potential wildcard team- they’re scary right now.
#13: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Lost 30-20 at CAR
Top Performer: S Kevin Byard
The Titans have a curse that they cannot rid themselves up; they’re destined to fall into the purgatory of mediocrity on a yearly basis. Just when they appeared to be turning a corner after making the quarterback switch to Ryan Tannehill, they came out flat in Carolina, making costly mistakes that they couldn’t overcome. Tannehill actually played well in this game, and none struggled (outside of rookie guard Nate Davis), but at the same time, no one stood out. That’s the story with Tennesee, who has a lot of depth, but lack the star power that playoff teams have. Though, if there’s one buoyant note to be made, it’s that the defense is still a top-five unit. They got pressure on Kyle Allen with a lot of different pass rushers, which speaks to their flexibility upfront, and they also may have the best run defense in the NFL. Also, although the cornerbacks haven’t been as lockdown as expected, they’ve been serviceable, and it helps that Kevin Byard continues to be the best safety in the NFL. With that defense and some talent on the offensive side of the ball, I’m still a believer in the overall construction of Tennesee’s roster. Still, they still cannot get the monkey off their back and win a critical game, and until they do that, it’s hard to trust them. Speaking of big games, they have one this week- they host the Chiefs.
#12: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Won 37-20 vs NE
Top Performer: RG Marshal Yanda
Often times, the public often overreacts to primetime games, especially when the Patriots lose. Well, the Ravens are in the spotlight after handing New England their first loss of the season, as they’ve been a top-three team in a lot of other power rankings. However, a lot can happen in one game that won’t carry over, and that was the case in this game. There were breaks for both teams, but if James White doesn’t fall a half-inch short of scoring a touchdown before the half, or Julian Edelman doesn’t have a costly fumble that turns into a touchdown, there’s no way this game plays out like this in Baltimore’s favor. In fact, per Pro Football Focus’ grades, the Ravens were outplayed by the Patriots. I’m all aboard the hype train for the Ravens exciting offense, as they’ve made the most of their talent, relying on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability and a terrific offensive line. However, Jackson has yet to prove that he can beat defenses with his arm, and because of that, this offensive success likely isn’t sustainable- it’s still way too one-dimensional. Plus, Baltimore has one of the more overrated defenses in the NFL, as fans judge them to much on their “name-value”. There is no pass rush present, the run defense has been inconsistent, and there are still some vulnerabilities in their secondary defending passes down the field. Plus, do you really expect Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor to be an excellent linebacker duo? Obviously, the Ravens are well-coached, fun to watch, and have some high-end talent. But they do have their flaws, and not only are they not a Super Bowl contender, but they’re also still probably the worst likely division winner in the AFC. On a more positive note, they caught a massive scheduling break- they get to face the winless Bengals.
#11: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Won 26-3 at JAX
Top Performer: LB Benardrick McKinney
With practically their entire secondary, receiver Will Fuller, and left tackle Laremy Tunsil all missing this game due to the injury, this looks like a mini-trap game for the Texans, who had to travel to London, a place the Jaguars were very comfortable in. Yet, Houston dominated this game, and continued to hide their weaknesses. A lot of the praise falls on one man who truly elevates the talent around him: Deshaun Watson. The third-year quarterback has been a superstar this year, and in this game, he simply made plays that many quarterbacks can’t make. Then, you add an improving offensive line, a revived rushing attack, and a lot of receiving threats, and this could seriously be a top-five offense. That’ll be their path to success, as without star edge rusher JJ Watt, the defense doesn’t have a lot going for them. To their credit, their pass coverage was amazing in this game, and they also smothered the run. However, the pass rush completely fell off with Watt, and when they face better passing offenses, they’ll be in trouble. The Texans are very similar to the next two teams on this list, in that every game they win will have to come via a shootout, but since they have such an elite quarterback, that can be a winning formula. They’ll look to get healthy during their upcoming bye week.
#10: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 40-34 vs TB
Top Performer: QB Russell Wilson
Pretty much everything stated about the Texans applies to the Seahawks- their entire roster is flawed, but since they possess arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, they are able to consistently win. Russell Wilson is incredible, and is by far the MVP front-runner right now. It’s more than that though; this passing attack is so well-designed and filled with talent. Their use of crossing routes down the field works great with the speedy receiver duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, and combine that with an improving offensive line and a decent, although overused rushing attack, and you have the makings of a great offense; Pro Football Focus ranks it as the best offense in football, per their ELO metrics. So, how are they ranked just 10th in the power rankings? The defense has not lived up their name- it’s one of the worst defenses in football. There’s no pass rush to speak off, as they had just SIX pressures in this game, and the secondary has been consistently below-average this season; the pass defense is a disaster, and when that’s the case, the defense as a whole is poor. I don’t trust Seattle, and some of their old-school methods as much as some of the teams ranked ahead of them, but as long as they have Wilson, they’re a clear Super Bowl contender. They have a chance to make a massive statement on Monday Night Football, when they travel to Santa Clara to take on the 49ers.
#9: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 26-23 vs MIN
Top Performer: DL Chris Jones
Although the loss of Patrick Mahomes, who may be back this week, seemed deflating when it happened, there’s a reality with an Andy Reid coached team that cannot be overlooked: they’re successful regardless of who’s at quarterback. Matt Moore isn’t much more than a game manager, but by utilizing play-action, Reid created opportunities for success for the veteran. Plus, it also helps that receiver Tyreek Hill is as close to unguardable as it gets, and the offensive line will go back to being elite once left tackle Eric Fisher comes back. This offense is as good as it gets when it’s clicking, and although they weren’t functioning properly even when Mahomes was there, they appear to be turning a corner. Speaking of coming back from injuries, interior defensive lineman Chris Jones came back in this game, and went back to back to being one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Plus, they finally were able to contain the run, and cornerback Charvarius Ward has been the fringe #1 corner they’ve needed. I still have significant doubts about Kansas City’s defense, which is weak in all areas. However, with Reid’s offense in the fold, this is the second-best team in the AFC, and if they can avoid a trap game in Tennesee, they’ll be in a great position to get a first-round bye, despite their early-season struggles.
#8: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Lost 26-11 at LAC
Top Performer: EDGE Za’Darius Smith
With star receiver Davante Adams coming back from turf toe, the 7-1 Packers looked to be a serious contender to earn the #1 seed in the NFC. Instead, they faceplanted in what could’ve been considered a “home” game for them, and in doing so, proved to be far from a flawless team. The offensive line, for example, was bullied in this game, and with them struggling in the interior and at tackle (although left tackle David Bakhtiari is still amongst the best at his position), they sure don’t look the elite group we assumed they were. Plus, Adams clearly wasn’t 100%, and with that, it became more obvious Green Bay doesn’t have any outside weapons besides him- the running back duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, and relying on Aaron Rodgers, can only take you so far. So, although I have faith in a bounce-back from Matt LeFleur’s offense, they’re probably not quite up there with the best offenses in the NFL. At the beginning of the season, that would’ve played fine, but since their hot start, the defense has struggled mightily. We know that Green Bay isn’t committed to stopping the run, but due to that, they’re supposed to be able to defend against the pass. Well, they’re having trouble even doing that. Jaire Alexander is an excellent corner, but he’s similar to Marcus Peters in that he’s hit-or-miss, and in this game, his performance can be qualified as a major miss. Additionally, they may have the worst group of linebackers in the league, at least as far as coverage and athleticism is concerned. Blake Martinez, in particular, continues to be constantly attacked by opposing defenses, and unless he’s replaced, he’ll continue to be exposed on a weekly basis. The Packers probably will rebound this week at home against the Panthers, but still, I’m not sure they’re quite up there with the elite teams of the NFC- they have too many flaws currently.
#7: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 22-14 vs CHI
Top Performer: RG Brandon Brooks
Many were quick to dismiss the Eagles when they fell to 3-4 after an embarrassing loss in Dallas, but all of a sudden, they’re right back in the playoff hunt after two important wins. Philadelphia may have only beaten the Bears by one score, but with multiple red zone opportunities into field goals and a 19-point lead at halftime, it’s safe to say the final score doesn’t reflect the utter dominance they displayed at times. This is simply a preeminent offensive line, which plays with a “mean identity”- they absolutely controlled the line of scrimmage in both run-blocking and pass-blocking. Because of that, the Eagles were able to run the ball effectively, while Carson Wentz was able to work from a clean pocket. Still, it’s not all optimism for the offense; with receiver Desean Jackson out, this receiving corps is in trouble. The tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert helps, but between the drops of Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor, and the lack of separation ability by Jeffrey and JJ Arcega Whiteside, there’s no one for opposing defenses to fear, and that could be their downfall as an offense. Similarly, their defensive line is excellent with a strong pass rush and run defense, but even against Mitch Trubisky, Philadelphia struggled to defend the pass, especially down the field. Therefore, this is not the class of the NFC that they were expected to be, but then again, when you can control the line of scrimmage the way they do on both sides of the ball, you always have a chance to beat any team.
#6: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 7)
Top Performer: N/A
The Rams have had quite the season- their roster looks nothing like it did last year. All of a sudden, due to offensive line issues and Jared Goff’s struggles, this is a defense-first team. That became apparent in their splash acquisition of star corner Jalen Ramsey, as they gave up two first-round picks to bolster the secondary. While that trade still looks foolish given their flaws and lack of cap space, he definitely elevates the defense into a premier unit. With one of the pass rushes and an improving secondary, it may be a top-five defense; the star power is evident. Still, the offense will be the key to their playoff push. The offensive line is awful against top-tier pass rushes, and since Jared Goff holds onto the ball too long, it’s a recipe for disaster. Plus, because of the offensive line, they cannot run the ball effectively either; if they want offensive success, head coach Sean McVay needs to utilize more heavy packages to assist the offensive line. That said, they definitely have the talent to go on a winning streak after their bye, and that starts with a difficult task for them- winning at Pittsburgh against arguably the best pass rush in football.
#5: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 37-18 at NYG
Top Performer: LB Sean Lee
When the Cowboys were down 12-3 in New York, it looked like another example of them failing to win a game they were supposed to win. However, they went on a tear in the second half, and continue to technically be in the driver’s seat in the NFC East race. Dallas looked sluggish coming off of their bye week, which can be attributed to poor coaching that definitely holds this team back. Still, at some point, we have to recognize that their talent easily overcomes that. It wasn’t the greatest of games for Dak Prescott, but the reality is that he’s so well supported, that it really didn’t matter. Though they had some lapses in pass protection, this is generally a strong offensive line, especially in run-blocking. Plus, the receiver duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup can be explosive, and that was the case in the second half; as long as they don’t go too run-heavy and let Kellen Moore be creative, they’re a top-ten offense. Additionally, they’re complemented by a defense that’s looking like the elite unit it was supposed to be. This was by far their best game in terms of pass coverage, as even with a mediocre outing from the pass rush, all three cornerbacks and the linebackers held up extremely well. Veteran Sean Lee, in particular, showed to have something left to the tank in place of second-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, while linebacker Jaylon Smith and safety Xavier Woods are certainly trending up with their recent performances. This is simply a very sound roster with few flaws, and as a result, I truly see them as being right up there with the top teams in the NFC. We’ll certainly get a better feel for this team in their upcoming primetime matchup against the Vikings.
#4: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Lost 26-23 at KC
Top Performer: EDGE Everson Griffen
The Vikings have an extremely talent roster, but a major criticism of them is that they cannot win a big game, especially on the road. Well, they had a chance to do so in Kansas City against a completely depleted Chiefs team, and instead, stayed with the usual script. It wasn’t that Kirk Cousins played poorly, but he was he usually is- solid, but unable to take the next step. That was apparent in this game, as Kansas City sold out to stop the run, and somehow, despite receiving satisfactory pass protection, he couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity- his inconsistency hinders this offense, which has an incredibly high ceiling. However, if I were to be concerned about this team, I’d look more on the defensive side of the ball, as they’re struggling to defend the pass. They don’t have the speed at cornerback to keep up with faster offenses, which was bound to be an issue since they’re an older defense. They just don’t dominate in any particular area, and are vulnerable in the secondary, and since Cousins can’t elevate the offense, that leads to them being an erratic team. Still, their overall talent is undeniable, especially if they can continue to get competent offensive line play, and I’m excited to see how to fare in Dallas on Sunday Night Football.
#3: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 5)
Top Performer: N/A
With them winning six straight, one could argue that it’s unfortunate that Week 9 was the time the Saints had to have their bye week. Still, this is a chance for Drew Brees to get back up to speed with the offense, and although he played well in his lone game back against the Cardinals, it was clear he was still a little rusty. However, New Orleans was able to prevail offensively, due in large part to their offensive line, which is utterly phenomenal. They not only allowed running back Latavius Murray to flourish in Alvin Kamara’s absence, but the pass protection they gave Brees was as spectacular as how they protected Teddy Bridgewater. Plus, you add star receiver Michael Thomas, Kamara’s return, and a brilliant play-caller in Sean Payton, and the offense has a chance to be excellent, assuming Brees is fully healthy. The defense, on the other hand, may be getting a little too much credit. Their pass rush and secondary are closer to average than great, and although they’re elite in run defense, their inabilities to defend the pass consistently could come back to bite them. I’m not sure what to expect from this team in the second half of the season, and that starts with a divisional matchup against the Falcons.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 28-25 at ARI
Top Performer: TE George Kittle
The 49ers may have advanced to 8-0 with a Thursday Night Football victory in Arizona, but it was far from a flawless performance. In fact, it completely went away from their usual gameplan, which is a complex rushing attack and a strong defense. It was the passing attack with Jimmy Garoppolo that stole the show, and in the best tight end in football in George Kittle and recent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders, he has the weapons behind an above-average offensive line to be a top-ten quarterback. I have no issues with this offense, which is led by maybe the best play-caller in Kyle Shanahan, although their ability to win shootouts is still in question. It’s the sustainability of their defense, however, that’s the biggest red flag with this team. Outside of two games against poor offensive lines (Browns and Rams), this pass rush is great, but not otherworldly, and as they showed in this game, their secondary isn’t as fantastic as they looked at the beginning of the year. After all, they’ve faced the second easiest schedule of opposing quarterbacks, per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football, and even when facing a talented rookie quarterback in Kyler Murray, showed their flaws. Plus, they’ll now be without linebacker Kwon Alexander for the season, which is a huge loss considering he was playing at such a high level in coverage. Luckily for us, we’ll get to see how legitimate this defense is in primetime- they’ll host Russell Wilson and the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Lost 37-20 at BAL
Top Performer: RT Marcus Cannon
Oh no! The Patriots lost! Now, we have to overreact like we do every year! Let’s pump the brakes a little; yes, New England lost by three scores in Baltimore, but they have these types of losses every year, and always recover from it. Plus, it’s not as though they played poorly, as Pro Football Focus gave them a much higher overall grade than the Ravens, who were also coming off of their bye and thus had two weeks to prepare for Bill Belichick’s defense. Yes, said defense struggled to keep up with Baltimore’s prolific rushing attack, but that says more about the Ravens’ offensive scheme than the Patriots, and if these two teams meet again, I have full faith Belichick will be prepared. In fact, my focus in this game draws to the offense, which actually had a positive performance. The offensive line was significantly better in this game, and as a result, Tom Brady quiety had a solid game, forming a connection with Mohamed Sanu. If that connection can continue to form, than New England adds another element to them that we weren’t sure they had, and there won’t be many games that Brady has to throw the ball 49 times. This team is going to be fine; it may not be a flawless or historic roster, but it’s still the best in the league, especially whe factoring in their coaching. They’re still by far the front-runner to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and should prove that after their upcoming bye week.