This has officially been one of the weirdest NFL seasons I’ve ever witnessed. The amount of upsets that have happened this season is incomparable to any previous season, and the crazy part is, we’re only roughly halfway through the season! So, what have the upsets, and other game results, down to our weekly power rankings? Let’s rank every team in the NFL!
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Won 16-12 at IND
Top Performer: CB Nik Needham
The Miami Dolphins are undefeated in November. Yes, you read that right: the team that was on pace to be the worst team in NFL history has now rattled back-to-back victories. The best part about this win in Indianapolis? They were clearly outplayed, yet somehow managed to win. It wasn’t an awful game for Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he definitely came back to earth, and as per usual, poor offensive line play prevented the offense from functioning. In fact, it was head coach Brian Flores’ defense that continues to stand out. Yes, they were facing a Colts passing offense without their starting quarterback and top receiver, but when you can have success when your top two cornerbacks are Nik Needham and Ken Crawley, that says something about the coaching. One possible negative is that none of their key young defenders played well, but Needham’s success helps compensate for that; despite being an undrafted free agent, he’s found a place on this team moving forward. Obviously, Miami isn’t going to win many more games this season, but Flores is building a strong culture, which could have a better long-term effect than a higher draft pick anyways. They’ll look to somehow make it three straight at home in a divisional contest against the Bills.
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 49-13 vs BAL
Top Performer: FS Jessie Bates III
The Dolphins’ second win has ended the notion that they’re trying to lose, shifting the attention to the hapless Bengals. This is a team that has tried to win, but their roster construction has been so poor, that the outlook of this franchise probably can’t even be saved with the #1 overall pick. Cincinnati is now 0-9, and by benching Andy Dalton in favor of Ryan Finley, committed to being even worse for the rest of the season. To be frank, Finley was awful in this game, despite receiving solid pass protection; he may not have the greatest supporting cast, but if this game was any indication, he certainly doesn’t look like a future starter in this league. Yet somehow, the defense is even worse than the offense- they had just eight pressures in this game and their lack of speed was exposed by the Ravens. They’re still a more talented team than the Dolphins, and have been competitive at times, but if they play like this again in Oakland, there’s no doubt that they’ll officially be the disputed worst team in the NFL.
#30: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 30)
Top Performer: N/A
The Redskins finally had their bye week, and it’s safe to say they need it. Between their dysfunction and reports that rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins is struggling with the playbook, no team was in need of a break than them. Well, at least Washington made the logical decision to stick with Haskins throughout the season, as it’s important for them to evaluate him as he develops. In fact, the bye week could also be critical for Haskins, who can finally take a deep breath, learn the playbook, and establish a connection with his receivers. Nevertheless, Washington hasn’t yet proved that they trust Haskins enough to open up the offense, and whatever he does, it won’t automatically improve the play of their defense, which has struggled in all areas. There is good news for the Redskins, as they do have a chance to pick up a win next week at home against the Jets.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 34-27 at NYJ
Top Performer: IDL Leonard Williams
Remember when the Giants were 2-2 and optimism was high regarding Daniel Jones? That feels like an eternity ago. Not only did they drop their sixth straight, but they did so against the Jets, who had garnered the attention of being the laughingstock of New York following a loss the Dolphins. Jones continued to show zero pocket presence whatsoever, which lead to fumbles that the team couldn’t recover from, while his decision making was also poor. This was just another demonstration that Jones looks like a volatile Ryan Tannehill- he takes too many sacks, puts the ball in harm’s way, but does make the occasional splash play to keep a team in invested in him. It didn’t particularly help Jones that Saquon Barkley not had ONE rushing yard, but he also struggled in pass protection, and overall, they were forced to expose Jones too much- when he has to drop back 53 times, they are bound to be mistakes. Defensively, the Giants were exactly what general manager Dave Gettleman envisioned, and that’s not a compliment. Yes, their run defense was tremendous, but when the secondary is such a liability that a struggling Jets offense can move the ball with absolute ease, that definitely doesn’t make a difference. With a bottom-three defense and an offense with fatal flaws, the Giants have yet to make strides with their rebuild, and because of that, Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmer have to be on the hot seat. A bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the time, as they have a lot of work to do.
#28: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Won 34-27 vs NYG
Top Performer: SS Jamal Adams
Did any team in the NFL need a victory this week more than the Jets? After losing three straight games in embarrassing fashion, lots of drama at the trade deadline, and the public outcry to fire head coach Adam Gase, they were in desperation for a win to silence the noise. Well, thanks in no small part to being able to play the Giants, the Jets got what they asked for. Ironically, it was the main player who they shopped at the deadline, star safety Jamal Adams, who led the defense, and a team as a whole, to this victory. His impact was felt all around, but none greater than as a pass rusher, as he had four pressures, two sacks, and an absurd strip-sack touchdown. He is simply a rare talent, and it’s paramount that the Jets keep him- he is the identity to the defense, which played better in this game. Meanwhile, it was another mediocre game for the offense, which got off to a fast start before slowing down tremendously. Still, Sam Darnold played better despite being pressured constantly, and his connection to Jamison Crowder has become apparent in recent weeks. I don’t believe Gase is the answer, as he still hasn’t found a role for Le’Veon Bell out of the backfield, and it’s not as though a one-score win against the Giants is a major accomplishment. Still, it’s a win, and with an easy schedule coming up that includes a game in Washington, perhaps the second half of the season will truly provide results that can give optimism for the future.
#27: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 30-27 at TB
Top Performer: WR Larry Fitzgerald
The Cardinals are a very exciting team, but when it comes to wins and losses, they’re still not quite there. Nevertheless, there continues to be positive signs about the future in Arizona, even if they fell short in Tampa Bay. Kyler Murray did throw an interception, but it was an overall encouraging performance for him, as with some pass protection, he was able to move the ball effectively, particularly with ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald. Still, they did manage to lose this game, which falls on the defense. The Cardinals once again couldn’t stop the pass, due in large part to their secondary- Patrick Peterson looks like a shell of his former self. So, although the offense makes strides, the defense has a lot of issues, and since the offense still needs work on the offensive line and at receiver, they’re not one draft class away from being a playoff contender- they may be a dark-horse playoff team for next season, but it’ll definitely take an offseason in which a lot of holes are filled. Regardless of how they finish the season, Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is frankly fun to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare in San Francisco next week.
#26: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 26)
Top Performer: N/A
“Minshew Mania” is officially over: Nick Foles has been named the starting quarterback of the Jaguars. Minshew certainly wasn’t horrible, but his limitations became evident down the stretch, and when you pay a quarterback $88 million, you’re obligated to see what they have in him. Either way, this is an old-school style offense that’s pretty mediocre all around, which also can describe the defense, which has an underperforming pass rush and secondary. To put in simple terms: this team isn’t weak in any area, but there isn’t a player on this team, outside of maybe Calais Campbell, that invokes any fear for the opposing team. Nevertheless, they’re still in the AFC playoff hunt with an easy schedule coming up, but their season still feels to be defined by their upcoming game in Indianapolis.
#25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Won 30-27 vs ARI
Top Performer: CB Jamel Dean
The Bucs have gotten unlucky in recent weeks, losing games that they probably deserved to win. Well, they were able to pull through with a victory on Sunday, and with a soft schedule down the stretch, have a chance to finish the season with a bang. The offense was fine; it wasn’t the greatest day for Jameis Winston, but the pass protection held up tremendously, and they’ve finally found a running game with second-year running back Ronald Jones stealing the show. When you add a stable offensive line and rushing attack to a potent passing attack with the receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, there’s a great chance to be a dangerous unit- Tampa Bay has as explosive of an offense as any other unit. Heck, the Bucs also played well defensively, with rookie cornerback Jamel Dean and veteran linebacker Lavonte David starring in coverage, while edge rusher Shaquill Barrett added 11 pressures to his ledger. This feels like a win that the Bucs can build on in the second half of the season, and that starts at home against the Saints.
#24: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 26-24 vs LAC
Top Performer: EDGE Benson Mayowa
Here come the Raiders! With their second straight victory, Oakland is now right in the thick of the playoff race with a 5-4 record, and with arguably the easiest schedule in football coming up, they may be on their way to actually making the playoffs. This wasn’t a pretty win for Oakland, but there’s no question they outplayed the Chargers. The defense, in particular, broke out, with their pass rush finding life and the secondary holding up against a talented Chargers passing offense. This new life for the defense probably won’t last, but it gives the team hope, especially with an offense that moved the ball despite having an off game. Derek Carr relied on check-downs, while outside of his big touchdown, the rushing game was quieter than usual with rookie running back Josh Jacobs. Still, all parts came together for a critical win, which speaks to the job Jon Gruden has done as the head coach in Oakland. I’m still skeptical that the Raiders can continue to exceed expectations at such an alarming rate, but they’ve yet to show signs of slowing down, and now get to play the Bengals this upcoming Sunday.
#23: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 26-9 at NO
Top Performer: CB Kendall Sheffield
As 14-point underdogs, the public doubted the Falcons heading into a rivalry game in New Orleans. Well, they answered the critics, showing life coming out of their bye week en route to a 26-9 blowout win. Perhaps the final score isn’t indicative of how close this game was up until the fourth quarter, but nevertheless, this is an extremely encouraging victory for Atlanta. Their defense blew so many coverages in the first-half of the season that they were made fun of, but in this game, their coverage was excellent (especially rookie corner Kendall Sheffield), while they had 25 total pressures and sacked Drew Brees seven times. Head coach Dan Quinn gave up the play-calling duties heading into this game, and it made a clear difference- Atlanta’s defense is poised to make significant improvements in the second half, which makes sense given to their talent. It wasn’t a great game for the offense, which didn’t move the ball through the air much, but they didn’t need to with a surprisingly solid rushing attack and with the Saints essentially beating themselves with third-down penalties. Could this have been a scenario where this was their “Super Bowl”, and they end up going back to what they were before the bye? Possibly, but at the same time, there’s a reason this was a team many projected to win the NFC South, and they’ll look to build on this momentum in Carolina this Sunday.
#22: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 16-12 vs MIA
Top Performer: LB Darius Leonard
When the Colts were rolling with a 5-2 record, I expressed concern with their sustainability, reasoning that inconsistent quarterback play forced them to rely too much on an average defense and the rushing attack- their margin for error was slim. Well, they’ve now lost two straight games that they probably should’ve won, and in this letdown against the Dolphins, may have diminished their chances of making the playoffs. One week after looking like a competent fill-in quarterback, Brian Hoyer struggled mightily as Jacoby Brissett sat out with a knee injury, so despite a dominant performance from the offensive line, the offense faltered. Defensively, Indianapolis was undoubtedly strong, but that’s expected when facing arguably the worst offense in the NFL- there’s still no reason to believe they can lift the offense, even with second-year linebacker Darius Leonard having a tremendous bounce-back performance. Do Frank Reich and the Colts have a counter-punch? After all, there’s only so much adversity a team can handle in one season, and between injuries and Andrew Luck’s retirements, they’ve had to deal with more adversity than the other 31 teams combined. In a sense, their season may be on the line with a home divisional matchup against the Jaguars.
#21: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 20-13 vs DET
Top Performer: LB Nick Kwiatkowski
The Bears are yet another team to break a long losing streak this season, showing life in a nice divisional victory against the Lions. Then again, it was the Matthew Stafford-less Lions; the fact that Jeff Driskel had a chance to tie this game at the end tells you all you need to know about Chicago’s fall from last season. To his credit, Mitch Trubisky played really well in this game, while the offense, including the play-calling, looked to have some life. However, despite facing a poor pass rush, the offensive line still struggled in pass protection, and their issues all season long certainly haven’t helped Trubisky. Chicago did exert some of its old dominance on defense, particularly in run defense and with great production from their linebackers, but then again, it came against a Driskel-led offense, so the fact that their secondary still had some trouble is definitely worrisome. Maybe the Bears can build from this win, but guessing by the quality of their opponent in this game, that’s probably unlikely, though they quietly have a chance to win against the Rams on Sunday Night Football this week.
#20: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Won 19-16 vs BUF
Top Performer: DT Sheldon Richardson
The Browns have lost in the weirdest of ways this season, so when they were down by 4 late in the fourth quarter, you would’ve been forgiven for counting them out. Yet, they managed to pull through with a victory, and as a result, may have saved their season. It wasn’t a great game for Baker Mayfield, but by no means did he play poorly, and with an improved rushing attack, the offense flowed well in this game- getting Kareem Hunt back from suspension allowed them to utilize two running back formations, which allowed for a better functioning offense. That is, when they weren’t in the red zone; Freddie Kitchens needs to come up with a better way to score in those situations than goal-line fades and pitches. It was a similar game for the defense, which was a little up-and-down, but did enough in pass defense to put the team in position to win. Did the Browns benefit from two missed field goals? Yes, but between the addition of Hunt and the inevitable improvements with turnover and red zone luck, there’s a lot to like with them right now; if they can not beat themselves, which is a major if, they have an opportunity to get back into the wildcard mix. That starts on Thursday Night Football, as they host the 5-4 Steelers.
#19: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 24-16 at GB
Top Performer: TE Greg Olsen
The Panthers were not expected to win in the snow in Lambeau against a talented Packers team, so the fact that they were one-yard away from being a two-point conversion away from tying the game could definitely be encouraging. Kyle Allen, in particular, showed flashes of excellence in this game, but at the same time, a few costly mistakes (end zone interception, fumble) cost him a chance to win, and even by the eye test, there’s a lot of volatility with him throughout a game. Between Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey, and DJ Moore, Allen and co. was able to attack the middle of the field in this game, but that says more about Green Bay’s issues at linebacker than their overall talent, especially with their offensive line getting tossed around by the Packers’ defensive front. We know that the Panthers are going to have an average offense, but what has happened to the defense? The secondary has gotten gashed in recent weeks with a non-existent pass rush, and also alarming, Carolina hasn’t been able to stop the run recently. In fact, they had more missed tackles (9) than pressures (7) in this game, which speaks to the ineffectiveness of the defense. This isn’t a bad loss for the Panthers, but it did raise questions about their ability to actually compete with top-tier teams, and without a doubt, they face a potential must-win game against the Falcons this Sunday.
#18: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 17-12 vs LAR
Top Performer: CB Joe Haden
When the Steelers were 1-4 and without a first-round pick after trading for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, they looked to be heading into a purgatory. Now, they’re 5-4, have justified the Fitzpatrick trade, and are trending towards making the playoffs. They’re not a top-ten team, as some may believe them to be, but that has nothing to do with the defense, which is incredible. The pass rush may be the best in the NFL, the secondary has improved tremendously with the additions of Fitzpatrick and corner Steven Nelson, and with an elite front seven, they can also stop the run with ease- this defense lacks a weakness, and is a top-five unit that can challenge for being the best in football. The problem with Pittsburgh, is that their offense is a mess. Yes, Mason Rudolph played fine in this game, but not only did the receivers struggle with drops, but their once-dominant offensive line got bullied by the Rams’ defensive line. There’s just no strength with this offense, and because of that, Pittsburgh is relying on check-downs and defensive touchdowns to win. Eventually, that’ll catch up to them, but the question is when it’ll happen. Will it be this Thursday night in Cleveland? Only time will tell.
#17: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Lost 20-13 at CHI
Top Performer: LB Jarrad Davis
With the announcement that Matthew Stafford would not play, as he has broken bones in his back, the Lions’ chances of winning against the Bears weren’t their only aspiration to be destroyed- their playoff chances are gone. It’s a shame for a team that competed with the NFL’s top teams at the beginning for the season, but it’s the reality for them, and speaks to some of their failures in roster construction. Considering Jeff Driskel was thrust into the starting role, I’ll reserve judgment of the offense, which has been terrific throughout the season, but it’s the defense that continues to raise serious concern. This offseason, Detroit doubled down on their commitment to stopping the run, and as a result, failed to fix fatal flaws with the defense such as the pass rush and the secondary. Well, it’s gotten to the point where they cannot stop Mitch Trubsiky, who looked like the worst starter in the NFL up until this game; Matt Patricia’s defense was supposed to be the strength of this team, and now because of their failures, has led to their downfall. Should Patricia be on the hot seat? Probably not yet, but if he can’t get the defense back on track against the Cowboys this Sunday, perhaps the question deserves more contemplation.
#16: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 26-24 at OAK
Top Performer: WR Keenan Allen
Will the real Chargers stand up? After blowing out the Packers, Los Angeles seemed to be hitting a breakthrough as they got back to full health, and were expected to keep it rolling in Oakland. Instead, they fell flat, and may have killed their playoff chances as a result. Where do we start with this team? Their offensive line has always been an issue, but it looked to be improved with the return of left tackle Russell Okung. Well, that’s definitely not the case, as they were awful in pass protection against arguably the worst pass rush in the NFL, and weren’t much better in run-blocking. Plus, it doesn’t help that Phillip Rivers had possibly one of the worst games of his career, and certainly the worst of this season, missing on several throws and constantly putting the ball in harm’s way. Still, for as strange of a game this was for the offense, the defense wasn’t much better. The run defense actually held up- it was the secondary and pass rush, the supposed strengths of the unit, which laid an egg in this game, which is simply inexcusable given the magnitude of this game. The Chargers season isn’t over, but it’s slowly deteriorating that they won’t be able to recover; injuries are no longer a valid excuse, either Los Angeles needs to start winning consistently, or they need to look ahead to next season. It’ll be extremely intriguing to see if they display a sense of urgency in Mexico City against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football.
#15: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Lost 19-16 at CLE
Top Performer: CB Tre’Davious White
With a late fourth-quarter lead, the Bills were trending towards a 7-2 start and a statement road victory. Yet, they couldn’t “finish the job”, and are suddenly in a tougher situation than anticipated- their margin for error is significantly smaller. It was a typical Josh Allen game, with some flashes of excellence, but a lot of accuracy and decision-making issues, and overall, this offense just doesn’t invoke any fear in an opposing defense- they lack a true identity. Therefore, more pressure is put on the defense to lead the way, but there’s an issue with that- the defense has struggled against average or better offenses. That trend continued into this game, as despite cornerback Tre’Davious White did an excellent job of limiting star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the pass rush struggled against a lackluster offensive line, and an alarming 14 missed tackles certainly made matters worse. There’s not much to take away from this loss for Buffalo, as they’re exactly who many thought they were- a solid team capable of beating up on inferior teams, but they don’t have the talent necessary to be a playoff-caliber team. At least they have a chance to get back on track in Miami, but then again, playing the Dolphins isn’t the easy win it once was.
#14: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 16)
Top Performer: N/A
The Broncos may have an uninspiring 3-6 record, but don’t let that fool you- they’ve blown three leads with less than a minute left in a game, which isn’t exactly a sustainable way to lose; they could seriously be a 5-4 or 6-3 team. Obviously, having Brandon Allen starting games under center isn’t ideal, but it’s not as though he’s much of a downgrade from Joe Flacco, and he has enough playmakers around him to be potentially a version of Kyle Allen for the Panthers. Either way, this is going to be a team that continues to rely on its defense, which has answered the call this season. Head coach Vic Fangio has long been a mastermind, and he’s shown his ability to manufacture an elite unit this year, getting tremendous production from a decimated pass rush and secondary, as well as standout linebacker Alexander Johnson. This is a defense that’s being overlooked, but they’ve allowed just 15.4 points per game over the past five games, and if they can continue to play at this caliber (which they can), they’re be a very tough team to beat. We’ll see how much fight they have in them, as they travel to Minnesota to take on a prolific Vikings team.
#13: Tennessee Titans (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Won 35-32 vs KC
Top Performer: SS Kenny Vaccaro
Is any team in the NFL more mediocre than the Titans? It’s almost as though they have been “cursed” to be a .500 team no matter what; after dissapointing in Carolina last week, they won against the Chiefs, due in large part due to two missed Kansas City field goals in crunch time. Actually, I almost am less impressed with them after this game than I was before. Ryan Tannehill played well when it mattered most, but considering he received great pass protection and was facing a below-average pass defense, I honestly expected more- he’s better than Marcus Mariota, but he’s certainly nothing more than a stopgap. Plus, they needed Derrick Henry to rush for nearly 200 yards in this game to have a chance, and that certainly won’t be sustainable against rushing defenses that aren’t the Chiefs. Then, there’s the defense, which was exposed as a non-elite unit by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs passing attack- the secondary was destroyed, and they had just ten pressures in this game. Here’s another way to put this win: the Titans needed a fumble returned for a touchdown, two botched field goals, and poor clock management by Andy Reid to win by three points against a flawed Chiefs team. To put in simple terms, this was a classic Titans game, and now that they’re back at .500, there’s a likely chance a letdown could be coming in the future, though it will have to be after their upcoming bye week.
#12: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 11)
Top Performer: N/A
The Texans may have entered their bye week with two straight important wins, including a blowout victory against the Jaguars in London, but there’s also a lot of complications regarding this team. This was already a thin roster, but following some key injuries, none greater than the loss of star pass rusher JJ Watt, their reliance on Deshaun Watson is even stronger. Luckily for them, Watson usually is able to live up to the task, and with an offensive line that’s playing well, several tremendous playmakers, and improved play-calling, this does look like a top-five offense. However, without Watt, there’s no optimism for the defense, which has struggled at the back-end, and now won’t be able to get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks either. As a result, I expect a lot of fun shootouts for the Texans in the second half of the season- it’ll really be up to Watson to lead this team into the playoffs, starting with a very tough game in Baltimore.
#11: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 27-24 at SF
Top Performer: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
Did the Seahawks deserve to win in San Francisco? Probably not; there was a lot of luck with this win, and they were a field goal away from losing. Nevertheless, the Seahawks were able to beat a previously undefeated team despite a down performance from Russell Wilson, which says something regarding the notion that he’s the “entire team”. Obviously, with Wilson struggling, the offense wasn’t up to its usual standards, which put more pressure on the defense. Rather than faltering, as expected, said defense had somewhat of a revival in this game, which starts with one player: Jadeveon Clowney. The former first overall pick was a menace on the edge, producing 11 pressures and strip-sack, and in general, the pass rush broke out in this game. Plus, the run defense held up against a potent rushing attack, and although the rest of the secondary wasn’t great, cornerback Shaquill Griffen is in the midst of a breakout season in which he’s proven to be a potential #1 cornerback. There are still too many red flags with this team for me to have them ranked in the top ten, similarly to the Texans, but nevertheless, they’re 8-2, and now get to rest up during their bye week.
#10: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 35-32 at TEN
Top Performer: QB Patrick Mahomes
Ironically, the Chiefs are the third straight team in these power rankings to be overly-reliant on their quarterback. Patrick Mahomes made his return from his knee injury in Tennesee this past Sunday, and was terrific, but as is the case too many times, it was all for naught in the end. The offense could’ve been better, but part of that is due to injuries with the offensive line, especially at left tackle, as Cam Erving has played horrifically in place of the injured Eric Fisher, who should be returning soon. No, the problem with this team is once again the defense, which keeps them from being the top challenger to the Patriots in the AFC currently. The pass coverage was simply awful against a generally non-inspiring Titans passing offense, the run defense was once again unacceptable, and 13 pressures certainly won’t cut it. The hope for Kansas City this season was that with improvements to their defense and a change in scheme, they’d be able to better support Mahomes and the offense. Yet, they’ve gotten even worse, and because of that, it’s very difficult to trust the Chiefs as a whole. We’ll see how they face in Mexico City against a Chargers team that still can be dangerous at times.
#9: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 49-13 at CIN
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
As other teams continue to fall, there’s a team that consistently is winning: the Ravens. Indeed, it was against the Bengals, but Baltimore’s dominance ever since acquiring star corner Marcus Peters cannot be overlooked- they’re making their debut as a top-ten team in these rankings. Once again, understanding the opponent is key, but a 97.8 grade from Pro Football Focus for Lamar Jackson cannot go without notice- he’s now firmly in the MVP conversation. Between tight end Mark Andrews, rookie burner Marquise Brown, and an amazing offensive line, there’s a lot to like with this offense, even if there is one small issue: they haven’t been forced to be engaged in a shootout or come back from an early deficit through the air, and at some point, they’ll be able to. Furthermore, Peters has been incredible ever since moving to Baltimore, and overall, the defense no longer looks like the below-average unit it once was. Between a lack of pass rush, a suspect secondary around Peters and safety Earl Thomas, and without a clear counter-punch from their offense, I still am not completely sold on Baltimore. However, they’ve done enough to slot in ahead of flawed AFC contenders like the Chiefs and Texans, and could make a major statement against Houston this Sunday.
#8: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Lost 17-12 at PIT
Top Performer: LB Cory Littleton
No team has gone on a roller-coaster ride this season more than the Rams. They started the season with three victories, only to lose their next three. That then prompted them to trade two-first round picks for Jalen Ramsey, which in turn seemed to change the energy around the team, along with wins against the Falcons and Bengals. However, not only did Los Angeles’ loss in Pittsburgh prove that they’re in serious trouble in the short-term, but their long-term outlook is also extremely compromised. Once considered a genius innovator, Sean McVay refuses to make adjustments to the offense, relying on 11-personnel. The problem is, that doesn’t work with a poor offensive line, and Jared Goff isn’t the type of quarterback who can stand in under pressure. Well, it’s not going to get any better, because with massive contracts given to Goff, running back Todd Gurley, receiver Brandin Cooks, and others, there’s no financial flexibility to sign a free-agent offensive lineman, and with the Ramsey trade, they can’t revamp in that area through the draft. It’s looking more and more like this is an average offense, and considering the investments made on this team being an offense-first team, they can be starting a very rough stretch for the next 4-5 years. As far as Los Angeles staying in the playoff mix this season, it’ll be up to the defense, which has been marvelous this season. Aaron Donald has long been a one-man wrecking crew up front, but with Dante Fowler, who did struggle in this game, and Clay Matthews, the team finally has the edge rushers needed to form a top-notch pass rush. Meanwhile, the pass coverage, primarily from linebacker Cory Littleton and the secondary, has been terrific recently as well, and that’s with Ramsey struggling in the new defensive scheme. Once Ramsey gets adjusted, this will be a top-five defense, and considering the potential of the offense if the offensive line can be even a slightly below-average group, they’re still a dangerous team that cannot be overlooked. We’ll see how they respond against another great pass rush- they host the Bears on Sunday Night Football.
#7: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 24-16 vs CAR
Top Performer: DT Kenny Clark
After a dud in Los Angeles, the Packers needed to get back on track. Though the final score was closer than perhaps it should’ve been, they did accomplish that against the Panthers, and now get to go into their bye week in prime position to earn a first-round bye. It was a nice bounce-back game for Aaron Rodgers, who was supported by better pass protection, while star receiver Davante Adams looked completely healthy and fully back in the mix. There still is a lack of receiving talent outside of him, but at least the running back duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams helps make up for that to a sense. Either way, with Rodgers at the helm and excellent play-calling from head Matt LeFleur, this remains an elite offense. It’s the defense, somewhat surprisingly, that’s been the major problem for the team. After their hot start, they’ve slowly gotten worse, particularly in pass coverage and run defense. With a talent-deficient group of linebackers, they’re easy to attack in the middle of the field, and they were in this game with tight end Greg Olsen and star running back Christian McCaffrey. Still, this is a multi-layered pass rush, both on the edge with Za’Darius and Preston Smith, and on the interior with Kenny Clark- they had an absurd 34 pressures in this game. Between the offense and the pass rush, it’s easy to find bright spots with this team, and considering how strong their strengths are, their few weaknesses may not matter. The main significance of this win, though, is at Lambeau, they have a massive home-field advantage, so if they can continue to ride this momentum throughout the season (they play the 49ers after their bye), they could suddenly be a front-runner to win the NFC. For now, though, they’ll rest up and look to patch up their defense during the bye week.
#6: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 7)
Top Performer: N/A
Not everything has gone as planned for the Eagles, who were expected to be at the top of the NFC as a Super Bowl favorite. However, ever since a rough two-week stretch with blowout losses to the Vikings and Cowboys, Philadelphia has come back with two straight victories, and could be poised to take control of the NFC East. After all, their upcoming schedule is much easier than Dallas’, and with their ability to dominate in the trenches on both sides of the ball, there’s a high floor for this team. Yes, a lack of receiving talent for Carson Wentz and a slower group of cornerbacks that struggles against vertical passes are concerns, but there’s a reason this team was so highly taught of coming into the season, and I fully expect them to get on a second-half run into playoffs. They face their biggest test of the season this week though, as they host the Patriots.
#5: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Lost 27-9 vs ATL
Top Performer: LB Demario Davis
As 14-point favorites at home against the reeling Falcons off of a bye, the Saints were expected to assert themselves in an important rivalry game. Instead, they looked flat, and rightfully was embarrassed in a three-score loss. Drew Brees didn’t look like his usual self, taking six sacks and not throwing the ball down the field in all. In fact, per Pro Football Focus, Brees has yet to make a “big-time throw” this year, and also has one of the lowest average depth of targets in the NFL. Yes, Michael Thomas is an elite talent and Alvin Kamara is an excellent dual-threat running back, but if they can’t throw the ball down the field, they won’t be a dangerous offense, similarly to their struggles at the end of last season. It’s a shame that Brees and the offense dropped the ball- the defense had one of its best games of the season. They barely allowed 300 yards of offense, thriving in all facets. However, they still had a lot of third-down penalties, lost top corner Marshon Lattimore in this game to a hamstring injury, which could have major implications on an already thin secondary, and also continued to struggle with base packages- linebacker AJ Klein has been a liability in coverage all season long. The Saints have no choice but to respond next week in Tampa Bay, but it’ll be tough, considering how some of their weaknesses were exposed and the loss of Lattimore; this loss has a deeper meaning than a traditional “dud”.
#4: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Lost 28-24 vs MIN
Top Performer: WR Amari Cooper
The Cowboys may have lost on Sunday night, but they may have had the most impressive loss of the week. Their offense, in particular, was outstanding in this game against the Vikings. Receiver Amari Cooper was an unstoppable force in this game, and is position himself for a massive contract this offseason, and he, Randall Cobb, and Michael Gallup are excellent targets for Dak Prescott, who continues to have a career year. That should be enough to completely trust this unit, but coaching gets in the way. The system in itself with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is excellent, but head coach Jason Garrett’s influence has led to a focus on the rushing attack. Perhaps that’s because of the massive $90 investment made in running back Ezekiel Elliot, but that contract is likely to be a mistake regardless of how many touches he gets- he’s not a game-changing back that can dictate a game, and giving him extra carries when he’s averaging less than 3 yards a carry just doesn’t make sense. Plus, the defense has also been extremely unpredictable this season, and they regressed significantly in this game. 17 missed tackles defined this game, but Dallas’ inability to rush the passer and cover at the back-end against an offense without a strong offensive line and without top receiver Adam Thielen was concerning. Simply, I don’t know what to think of this Cowboys team, who have as deep of a roster as any team in the NFL, but is completely hampered by their coaching. Luckily for them, they’ll have a great chance to rebound against the Matthew Stafford-less Lions.
#3: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 28-24 at DAL
Top Performer: TE Kyle Rudolph
Throughout Kirk Cousins’ career, a major knock on him has been his inability to beat winning teams, primarily in primetime. Well, slowly but surely, he’s debunking that perception. He was on-point in this game, despite not having Adam Theilen, and in addition, the offensive line was also better than expected. With Cousins playing well behind improved offensive line play, in addition to the multitude of weapons (Theilen, Diggs, star running back Dalvin Cook), this quietly one of best offenses in the NFL- Cousins’ $84 million contract doesn’t look so bad right now. Defensively, the Vikings do have some issues- their secondary cannot stop the pass, for example. Still, their pass rush is strong, they can stop the run with ease, and are extremely well-coached. As a result, this is a very balanced team with a lot of high-end talent, and I expect them to make some serious noise down the stretch. Even more intriguing, they still haven’t had their bye week yet, and have a very winnable game at home against the Broncos.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Lost 27-24 vs SEA
Top Performer: SS Jasquiski Tartt
The 49ers are undefeated no more, but did they deserve to lose? In reality, neither they nor the Seahawks played well enough to win that game, and they missed out on an opportunity to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the NFC. Offensively, not having tight end George Kittle and receiver Emmanuel Sanders didn’t help, but those injuries aren’t a valid reason as to why their offense played poorly in this game. Rather, it was the combination of a substandard outing from the offensive line, a surprisingly quiet rushing attack, and arguably the worst game of Jimmy Garoppolo’s career that led to them struggling- their issues were self-inflicted, not caused by injuries. On the bright side, this defense proved to be one of the elite units in the game, shutting down Russell Wilson for the most part of this game. Whether it was their pass rush, run defense, or pass coverage, they dominated this game at all levels. In fact, no one played inadequately in this game, which speaks to their depth and ability to sustain this success. So despite the loss, the 49ers will be perfectly fine and remain the best team in the NFC, even though the injuries they’re dealing with are a little concerning. Plus, it helps that they’ll be able to bounce-back- they host the Cardinals this weekend.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Top Performer: N/A
In Week 9, the Patriots did something it feels like they do every year: losing a game in primetime that invokes overreactions that will probably be pointless in a few months. Why is that the case? Well, New England’s regular season can almost be described as a “preseason”, as since the AFC East remains a cakewalk for them, they’re ability to build an indentity for their team in time for the postseason. Undoutbedbly, this is now a defense-first team with head coach Bill Belichick calling the shots, and although their rate of forcing turnovers is unsustainable, both their pass rush and secondary is terrific (their secondary is regressing, though). Plus, the offensive line should get better as they adjust to some injuries, and the rushing offense has been a dissapointment, but Tom Brady is playing well, and the passing attack as a whole is starting to hit its stride. Fresh off a bye week, I fully expect the Patriots to be prepared for their difficult upcoming schedule, which starts in Philadelphia this Sunday.