After a chaotic week filled with upsets, we were bound to see a reversion back to normalcy this week, and for the most part, this was a stable week- most of the favorites won. Still, there are some major takeaways from some of the games that occurred this week, especially with the top-tier teams; there is some noticeable movement in these rankings at the very top. So, who’s trending up, and who’s trending down? Let’s rank every NFL team following Week 11, assigning them with a grade for their effort and spotlighting their top performer.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 37-20 at BUF
Top Performer: CB Nik Needham
Congratulations Dolphins fans! For those worried about how the team’s recent win-streak would affect their draft position, Miami fell flat against the Bills this week, losing 37-20. It was the same woes that killed the Dolphins in this game- issues with the offensive line, a non-existent pass rush, poor coverage, and a poor outing from the receivers. Then again, those four aspects are the most important for building a winning team outside, so the fact that they have almost zero talent in any of those areas speaks to the amount of work general manager Chris Grier must do to properly rebuild this team. Still, on the positive side, undrafted free agent cornerback Nik Needham continues to have a great season, first-round rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins had one of the best games of his early career, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has yet to have a “blow-up” game that he tends to have at least once or twice a year under center. Obviously, Miami’s primary concern isn’t winning games, even if they remain competitive. In that sense, this game was a mini-success, as some of their young defensive players stood out, and they still were able to improve their draft position- it’s a win-win! They’ll travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns as they hope to continue to get progression from Needham, Wilkins, and co.
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 17-10 at OAK
Top Performer: DT Josh Tupou
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their chances at earning the #1 pick are extremely slim at best- the Bengals are slowly trending towards a winless season. This is simply a team that looks to have given up under head coach Zac Taylor, and as a result, they’re the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention. For the first time since Week 1, the defense actually turned in a satisfactory performance, surprisingly neutralizing Oakland’s strong rushing attack, thanks in large part to excellent production from the interior defensive line. Additionally, Joe Mixon ran the ball well in this game, which is certainly encouraging- he’s at least been a bright spot in recent weeks. However, none of that really matters as far as their odds of winning are concerned- fourth-round rookie quarterback Ryan Finely has been abysmal since taking over for Andy Dalton. The NC State product holds onto the ball too long, doesn’t have the arm talent necessary to be successful, and makes way too many poor decisions; in fact, there’s not anything he particularly does well- the Bengals are essentially wasting their time evaluating Finley, who clearly isn’t the answer. Even worse for him and the offense, they’ll now have to face a scary Steelers defense led by arguably the league’s best pass rush- Finley would be lucky to make it through the entire game behind his offensive line. Don’t lose hope though, Bengals fans; Joe Burrow could be heading to Cincinnati very soon.
#30: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 34-17 vs NYJ
Top Performer: EDGE Ryan Kerrigan
Who would’ve thought that first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins would have easily the best game of his career (albeit in his third career start), and the Redskins would still lose by three scores to a previously two-win Jets team? Haskins wasn’t perfect, but he showed flashes of a franchise quarterback, and even was able to constantly connect with his former college teammate in rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, another rookie standout. Heck, Haskins even threw the ball 47 times a took shots down the field; Washington’s coaching staff finally treated him like a normal quarterback, which is great for his development. If we want to add even more positives, the Redskins’ front seven was also solid in run defense and pressuring Sam Darnold, so it’s not as though this is a team without anything going for them. At the same time, their secondary was absolutely torched in this game, they played a typical sloppy game, and honestly, seem un-interesting in competition for this season. This is not a positive environment right now, and that starts with the ownership; even when the talent is better, can we trust the Redskins to get out of their own way? That remains to be seen, though it’ll be exciting to see if Haskins can keep it up at home against the Lions next week.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Top Performer: N/A
Based on owner John Mara’s reaction following the Giants’ six straight loss, this time to the Jets, it’s safe to say time is running out for head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman. This may not exactly be fair for Shurmur, as Gettleman has handed him a very poor roster, focused on stopping the run rather than something actually valuable, like defending the pass. In fact, Shurmur has done his best to overcome Daniel Jones’ turnover problems and multiple injuries with the skill position players, as it’s been the defense that has been the main culprit of the team’s struggles. Regardless, this is a team that’s looking at a four-win season at best, but on the bright side, that’ll allow them to add another premier prospect to accelerate their rebuild. For the rest of the season, Jones’ play under Shurmur has to be the main focus, and that starts in Chicago in Week 12.
#28: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 33-13 at IND
Top Performer: C Brandon Linder
Even though optimism seemed to be high for the Jaguars with $88 million free-agent signing Nick Foles coming back under center, a harsh reality was always bound to catch up to them- Foles isn’t much of an upgrade, if any, to sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew. In fact, Minshew’s ability to maneuver outside of the pocket may make him a better fit than Foles, as with the former Super Bowl MVP, the offense looked out of rhythm. Running back Leonard Fournette, for example, is a down-hill runner who doesn’t work in the RPOs Foles thrives in, while there aren’t any big-body receivers, particularly at tight end, for him to connect with. That speaks to the issues with the front office, who saw Foles as a savior, when in reality, he’s a stopgap that’s highly dependent on the talent around him. To make matters worse, Jacksonville’s defense also failed to show up in this embarrassing divisional loss, missing FIFTEEN tackles, struggling to stop the run (even with Marlon Mack getting injured), and allowing to Jacoby Brissett to move the ball through the air when necessary. To be frank, it was putrid performance all-around, which perfectly describes a team that is aiming to be mediocre (they have no strength whatsoever), yet looks bound to finish last in the AFC South. If they want any chance of preventing that from happening, they face a must-win scenario in Tennesee.
#27: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Won 34-17 at WSH
Top Performer: TE Ryan Griffen
After falling to 1-7 with an inexcusable loss in Miami, the Jets were the laughing stock in the NFL. If nothing else has come from their two-game beatdowns against the Giants and Redskins, they’ve at least proven to not be amongst the league’s bottom feeders. Suddenly, New York’s offense under head coach Adam Gase in functioning, and actually, they have four straight touchdowns on their first drive of the game- Gase’s scripts are clearly working. Notably, Sam Darnold still makes too many mistakes, but dominated when not under pressure, slot receiver Jamison Crowder has been outstanding, and even though the rest of the offensive line is struggling, at least Darnold’s blind-side is protected well by Kelvin Beachum. Heck, on the defense, safety Jamal Adams continues to dominate as an edge rusher, which is an incredible twist the unit, and rookie corner Blessuan Austin also had a productive performance. Nevertheless, not all is functioning well for the Jets. The pass defense really struggled in this game, both in pass rush and coverage, and on the offensive side of the ball, Gase still can’t get running back Le’Veon Bell involved with the offense, which also is an inditement on the team’s poor offensive line around Beachum. Still, Darnold’s play under Gase is what truly matters right now; wins like these build a culture in New York that looked to be decimated after that Dolphins loss. Now, they’ll go for three straight victories against the Raiders next week.
#26: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 36-26 at SF
Top Performer: DL Rodney Gunter
The Cardinals may have lost on Sunday to a far superior 49ers team, but by holding the lead with less than a minute to go, they definitely achieved a moral victory. Kyler Murray, in particular, continues to have an excellent rookie season, and may already be a top-ten quarterback. Not only did he make several tight-window throws, but he also had zero turnover worthy plays, per Pro Football Focus, and also made plays with his legs- he’s a complete quarterback that’s not getting enough recognition. Furthermore, the offensive line was outstanding against one of the top pass rushes in the NFL, despite not having much talent. That speaks to the job head coach Kliff Kingsbury has done with this offense- they’ve consistently overachieved, and even with an average defense, could be a serious playoff contender. The problem is, they don’t have that type of defense. Once again, Arizona’s pass rush was excellent with 32 pressures, and they also were able to limit San Francisco’s prolific rushing attack. However, they have major problems in the secondary, which was evident as they let Jimmy Garoppolo throw for over 400 yards despite not having star tight end George Kittle, and with top receiver Emmanuel Sanders playing injured. In fact, this may be the worst defense in the league that isn’t looked at as a liability- they’re holding back the offense, which is a shame. Regardless, the future is bright with Murray thriving in Kingsbury’s offense; the Cardinals are a team to watch for in 2020. As far as this season is concerned, Arizona finally gets their bye week before finishing off the season with a brutal schedule.
#25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 34-17 vs NO
Top Performer: CB Carlton Davis
The Bucs have a lot of high-end talent, but their execution and coordination leave a lot to be desired. That was on full display against the Saints this past Sunday, as despite multiple big plays through the air, they trailed for the whole game and lost by three scores. That’s what four turnovers will do to you, as will the inaccuracy and poor decision-making of Jameis Winston, who almost certainly won’t be the team’s starting quarterback next season. It doesn’t matter that the team has arguably the top receiver duo of the NFL in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin when the passes being thrown to them are uncatchable, though with a new quarterback next season, perhaps the offense can meet its full potential. Then, there’s the defense, which is far worse off than the defense. Despite so many first-round investments being made to be able to stop opposing offenses, Tampa Bay’s defense has a claim for being the worst in the league. Cornerback Carlton Davis was excellent, but the pass rush generated just nine pressures, and the run defense was awful. That includes linebacker Devin White, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, who continues to be a liability in both run defense and coverage. It’s just not a good time for the Bucs, who are honestly stuck in the middle of nowhere, and don’t have a clear solution- they are too many holes present that need to be filled. They’ll look to prevent a last-place finish in the NFC South with a road game against the Falcons up next.
#24: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Lost 17-7 at LAR
Top Performance: S Eddie Jackson
Coming into the week, I had faith in the Bears pulling off an upset win against the Rams, citing the mismatch between their pass rush and Los Angeles’ offensive line as a critical reason why. So naturally, Chicago had just three total pressures in this game, including none for Khalil Mack- it’s safe to say the team’s pass defense dropped the ball in this game. Therefore, although they only allowed 17 points, it always felt like the Rams were in control of this game- this offense is simply difficult to watch. Mitch Trubisky didn’t even play badly in this game, making plays outside of the pocket before leaving late in the fourth quarter with a hip pointer. However, he got little help from his receivers and offensive line, and head coach Matt Nagy’s lack of confidence in him is so evident, that Trubisky doesn’t even really stand a fair chance. Oh, and they missed another two field goals. The Bears are a mess right now, and with a very difficult schedule ahead, are officially out of the playoff mix. It’s already almost a given that Trubisky doesn’t come back, but should Nagy or general manager Ryan Pace return? The rest of the season needs to be used as a time of evaluation for those two, starting with a home game against the Giants.
#23: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 35-27 vs DAL
Top Performer: LB Jarrad Davis
To be fair, the Lions were much more competitive against the Cowboys than anyone would’ve anticipated. After all, they had lost two straight to fall outside the playoff picture, and with it being reported that quarterback Matthew Stafford could miss the rest the season with a back injury, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see them come out flat. Instead, they overachieved, keeping it close with a very talented team. In the end, though, they fell short, with their alarming weaknesses being magnified. Without Stafford, it almost seems pointless to analyze the offense, which once again played well in this game, even with Jeff Driskel under center. With a strong offensive line and an excellent group of receivers, they’ll still be able to score points with Driskel, but the difference is, they won’t be able to compete in shootouts. That’s an issue, as their defense has been a massive disappointment this season. They were expected to take major strides in Matt Patricia’s second season as head coach, but between a lack of pass rush, little pass coverage outside of top corner Darius Slay, and a focus on run defense, the unit as a whole has turned into a liability. The replication of the “Patriot way” hasn’t gone well for Detroit, and at this point, how Patricia handles the defense down the stretch is honestly the only interesting storyline regarding this team. At the very least, they’ll have their most winnable game of the season this week- a road affair against the Redskins.
#22: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Lost 21-7 at CLE
Top Performer: DT Javon Hargrave
Heading into Thursday night, the Steelers looked to be a sneaky playoff contender with an elite defense that had led them to a 5-4 record. Though they weren’t as dominant as usual, said unit was once again terrific, but none of that success translated into a win in Cleveland. Why? Because the Steelers offense has a case for being the worst in the NFL. Without a doubt, Mason Rudolph is the worst quarterback that is currently starting, tossing four awful interceptions, and honestly generating more headlines for his participation in a fight than his performance. Yes, top receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner, and rookie receiver Diontae Johnson all left this game with injuries, but should that excuse the recent performances of the offensive line. They were amongst the league’s best in the trenches heading into the year, yet for a second straight week, it was absolutely destroyed in pass-protection. They’re supposed to be the stable force of the offense, but instead, they’re sending the unit into further chaos, which is wasting the high-quality performances from the defense. I’ve lost faith in this team making any noise down the stretch – offense matters much more than defense in this era – but luckily for them, they do get to play the Bengals next.
#21: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Lost 29-3 vs ATL
Top Performer: DT Gerald McCoy
After falling short in Green Bay, the Panthers had the chance to get back on track at home against the Falcons. Instead, they were blown out, and have lost their possible margin for error as a result. With four interceptions in this game, Kyle Allen held back the offense, which happens when you have to pass 57 times due to being in a major deficit. On the bright side, Allen’s been up-and-down this season, so perhaps he can bounce back, while tackle Taylor Moton and receiver DJ Moore continue to have great seasons. Defensively, it was always going to be difficult for the Panthers to stop the Falcons given the offense’s struggles, but overall, they played well. After all, they were able to pressure Matt Ryan, and also had a bounce-back game in run defense; there were some positive takeaways from this loss. Obviously, though, Carolina needs a bounce-back from Allen as they try to make a push down the stretch, and that starts in New Orleans this upcoming Sunday.
#20: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 17-10 vs CIN
Top Performer: CB Trayvon Mullen
It was closer than expected, but with another victory, this time against the Bengals, the Raiders are on a direct path to the postseason. That is, if their lack of talent doesn’t catch up for them. It’s been Oakland’s defense that has carried them over their past two victories, but considering that it’s their pass rush that’s doing most of the work, and they’ve faced two of the worst offensive lines in football (Chargers and Bengals), that’s probably not sustainable; Maxx Crosby and Maurice Hurst have emerged as a solid edge-interior pass rush duo, though. At the very least, Oakland’s improvement in pass coverage looks legitimate, as second-round rookie Trayvon Mullen and Daryl Worley are an underrated cornerback duo. Nonetheless, this is a team that is led by their offense, which is slowly regressing. Derek Carr is efficient, but conservative, so he can’t compensate for the struggles in the offensive trenches, both in pass protection and run-blocking. Because this is an offense centered on check-downs and running the ball, it can be easily neutralized, and their inability to attack the Bengals over the top was an apparent weakness that has limited their ceiling all season long. The job that head coach Jon Gruden has done is admirable, but with zero wins by more than one-score, this is a team that’s bound to be hit with reality at some point, and that could start in a potential trap game against the Jets.
#19: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Won 21-7 vs PIT
Top Performer: LB Joe Schobert
Coming into the season, there were serious questions if the Browns could overcome a losing culture that had been dealt by an extensive amount of lost seasons. Well, for the most part, it’s been a mess in Cleveland this year, as they’ve been undisciplined and have a clear losing record (4-6) as a result. However, nothing signifies their troubles more than the events that occurred at the end of their victory against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football. With just 8 seconds left in the game, edge rusher Myles Garrett, the best player on their entire team, used Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet as a weapon to strike him with, and will at the least be out for the rest of the season. A team’s character shows in how they win, and the fact that they couldn’t contain Garrett despite the team coasting to a two-score blowout is utterly embarrassing. As far as the game itself is concerned, Cleveland played fine, but didn’t stand out in any one area. Despite receiving adequate pass protection, Baker Mayfield struggled to get in a groove, and overall, the offense once again looked out of sync with no clear direction under head coach Freddie Kitchens. Additionally, although Cleveland’s defense played well, much of that was due to Garrett’s ability to pressure Rudolph, and with their star pass rusher, the secondary will probably not have as high-quality games, especially when they face better offenses. Garrett’s actions were a demonstration of this entire season for the Browns, who should have a new head coach next season, no matter what happens down the stretch; wins against teams, like the Dolphins, who they play next, can’t hide the disastrous undisciplined nature of the team.
#18: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 24-17 vs KC
Top Performer: FS Rayshawn Jenkins
With a 4-6 record, the Chargers faced a must-win in their divisional matchup against the Chiefs in Mexico City. Overall, the team played with a sense of urgency, but one player doomed them- Phillip Rivers. You hate to pin a loss on one player, but his four interceptions were costly, as was his constant inaccuracy and lack of pocket awareness. After all, the offensive line had arguably its best of the season despite missing multiple starters, and Rivers was complemented by a strong rushing attack- he has plenty of help on offense. Meanwhile, the defense mostly contained the Chiefs’ high-octane offense performing well in pass rush and coverage (they did miss twelve tackles though). Does Rivers have better days ahead of him? Almost certainly, yet as he trends closer to 40-year-old, you have to wonder if we’re witnessing the end of a great run for him as a Charger. We’ll see if he, and the rest of the team, can get back on track after their upcoming bye week; star safety Derwin James is expected to make his season debut in Week 13.
#17: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Won 29-3 at CAR
Top Performer: WR Calvin Ridley
Are the Atlanta Falcons back? After a shocking 1-7 start to the season, the Falcons looked to be in a shoo-in for a top-five pick. Now, they look poised to go on a late-season run, such as the 49ers and Browns in recent years. Ever since head coach Dan Quinn gave up the play-calling duties, the defense has been tremendous. That starts with the secondary, which with the return of top corner Desmond Trufant, shut down Carolina’s passing attack. If the secondary can continue to play like this, there’s no reason why they can’t be a solid defense, considering their talent at linebacker and the interior defensive line. That’s all they have to be – a solid defense – as with Matt Ryan fully healthy, the offense is rolling. Not only is the veteran quarterback playing tremendously, but he’s finally receiving better pass protection, and the receiver duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley can be unstoppable at times. There’s a real chance that we’re witnessing the Falcons team that we expected to see from the beggining of the season, and even if they can’t make the playoffs given their record, they can spoiler for several teams down the stretch. Making matters even better, they have another winnable divisional game up next- they host the Bucs.
#16: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 33-13 vs JAX
Top Performer: G Quenton Nelson
For weeks, I’ve been critical of the Colts, citing their luck in one-score games and inability to move the ball through the air. Heck, that assertion had looked pretty good the past couple weeks, as they lost to the inferior Steelers and Dolphins. Well, this week, Indianapolis finally showed the flashes I’ve been waiting to see- they managed to blow a team out, was tremendous offensively, and looks to be fully healthy defensively. It’s hard to doubt a team with such dominant offensive line production, as not only can Jacoby Brissett work from a clean pocket, but they’re able to run the ball efficiently. Even with running back Marlon Mack getting injured, the offensive line made Jonathan Williams look like a star, and once they get star receiver TY Hilton back, they should be at least an average offense, with an upside much higher if Brissett can play like this more often. Meanwhile, the defense may not have any “big names”, but they have several players playing at a high level. Rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke, veteran edge rusher Justin Houston, rookie corner Rock Ya-Sin, and linebacker Anthony Walker were among the many players to make their presence felt this week, and honestly, no one played poorly. That sums up the defense as a whole, as they appear to be meshing together in time for a playoff run down the stretch. This isn’t a star-studded team, but they’re well-coached, have plenty of depth, and if they can beat the Texans on Thursday Night Football, could have a clear path to the postseason.
#15: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Lost 41-7 at BAL
Top Performer: WR DeAndre Hopkins
The way the Texans are built, with a few stars and little depth, their overall performance is dependent on how their front-end players, but mostly how Deshaun Watson play. In most weeks, Watson is able to compensate for the team’s problems, but there are weeks where he falls flat, and when he does, so does the team. That’s exactly what happened this week- Watson regressed signficantly, and Houston lost by five scores. He held onto the ball too long, tried to play “hero-ball”, and was also unusually inaccurate. This isn’t about the players around him, as he’s supported by a sturdy offensive line and a talented group of playmakers- the offense’s struggles were on him, but the good news is, it’s almost a guarentee that he’ll bounce back, as he’s too talented not to. Therefore, I’m not concerned about the offense whatsoever, even if they’re a little disorganized. The defense, on the other hand, may be hopeless. They’ve been decimated in the secondary with injuries, which has turned that group into a liability- they were exposed in this game. However, it’s the injury to star pass rusher JJ Watt that was the crushing blow, as the secondary’s problems can no longer be covered up by a strong pass rush; this defense has no chance to stop the pass, and as a result, will likely cost them in several games, even when Watson plays better. The high-ceiling of the offense keeps them in the upper-half in the rankings, but if they can’t bounce-back against the Colts, I may have to completely sell my stock on this team- the lack of proper roster construction is catching up to them.
#14: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 37-20 at MIA
Top Performer: WR John Brown
Even when they were playing inferior teams, the Bills have struggled to completely dominate games. In fact, their 37-20 victory in Miami was their first three-score victory in the year, and for the most part is an accurate representation of what was a fine performance all-around. It was another game filled with highs and lows for Josh Allen, but it’s the performance from the players around him that is encouraging. Not only is John Brown turning into his top target over the top, but rookie tight end Dawson Knox has also made several impact plays, while tackle Dion Dawkins has quietly emerged as one of the better young tackles in the league. This is still probably a below-average offense, given Allen’s incosistency and a lack of playmakers outside of Brown and Knox, but still, they’re young, and should improve overtime. This remains a defensive-first team, as they’re deep on that side of the ball. It wasn’t star corner Tre’Davious White’s best week, but he’s been solid this season, and the pass coverage as a whole is dependable- the linebackers are also great in coverage. Meanwhile, the pass rush isn’t anything special, but they do have a quality mix of interior rushers and edge rushers, as they pressured Ryan Fitzpatrick 32 times in this game. I’m still not sure Buffalo is capable of beating top-tier teams, or even truly competing with them, but they’ve at least managed to take care of business against inferior teams, and if they can beat the Broncos to advance to 8-3, may have a wildcard spot locked up.
#13: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 27-23 at MIN
Top Performer: DT Shelby Harris
If there’s a team that I’m constantly higher on than the general consensous, it’s the Broncos. They’ve been very competitive this season, but haven’t had they same luck as other teams; with their loss to the Vikings, they’ve now lost four games in which they had the lead late in the fourth quarter. They’re not the most talented team, but despite recent scrutinity towards them, the coaching staff for making the most of what they have. Defensively, edge rusher Bradley Chubb may be out for the year, but the team still has been able to manufacture a pass rush, and even though they had some issues in this game, the secondary has also played decently. Additionally, this could be the best run defense in the league, for what it’s worth, and 27-year-old rookie linebacker Alexander Johnson continues to make his case as the breakout player of the year. This is a top-ten, and maybe a top-five defense under head coach Vic Fangio, even though they’re responsible for blowing a 20-point lead. Therefore, if the offense can play like they did today, they’ll win more often than not. Brandon Allen wasn’t great, but he’s proven to be a satisfactory fill-in option under center, especially as he receives adequate pass protection and is able to rely on second-year receiver Courtland Sutton, who has transformed into a legitimate #1 receiver. Record in one-score games often isn’t sustainable, so whether it be this season or next, Denver shoud eventually be on the other side of some of these games- don’t let their overall record fool you, this a team that deserves to be on the upper-half of the rankings.
#12: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 13)
Top Performer: N/A
Who are the Titans? This is a legitimate question- no team has week-to-week volatility like them. Most of the time, their deep defense is amongst the league’s best units, but when they face high-quality offenses, they tend to faulter, and overall, this isn’t a team that anyone should trust to beat any of the teams in the top ten. Then again, they easily could, given their unpredictable nature, especially with Ryan Tannehill under center. He’s taken a lot of risks this season, but his big time throw percentage (5.81%) is significantly greater than his turnover worthy play rate (3.49%), per Pro Football Focus- he’s not Jameis Winston or Daniel Jones in that regard. Considering he’s supplemented by a solid group of recievers, a reliable offensive line, and a decent rushing attack, there’s no reason for him not to play well down the stretch as he looks to build onto his value before hitting the market. As for Tennesee, they remain right in the playoff picture, and will look to get over .500 with a home game against the Jaguars up next.
#11: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 24-17 *at* LAC
Top Performer: SS Tyrann Mathieu
The Chiefs clearly aren’t at 100% right now, and honestly, don’t look “right” at this point. However, as long as they continue to win games, they’ll succeed in their phase of “survival-mode”. Once an unstoppable offense, Andy Reid’s unit struggled in this game in Mexico City, as Patrick Mahomes was pretty inaccurate, and with Tyreek Hill injuring his hamstring as the beggining of the season, no other receiver stepped up. Now, it doesn’t help that left tackle Eric Fisher was atrocious in his first game back from injury, and the hope has to be as Mahomes, Hill, and Fisher get healthier, they’ll likely improve. Nevertheless, time is running out for that to happen, as it’s unlikely the defense will play as well as they did in this game. Once again, the Chiefs couldn’t generate pressure on the opposing quarterback, which is particuarly concerning given that they were playing against one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. However, the run defense improved, and the secondary was fantastic; safety Tyrann Mathieu was all over the field making plays. I still have faith the Chiefs can “get right” down the stretch, but they haven’t looked anything close to the team they were last season; the timing of the bye week is excellent for them as they look to regroup and come back healthier and stronger.
#10: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 11)
Top Performer: N/A
After a thrilling overtime victory in San Francisco, the bye week came at a perfect time for the Seahawks, who definitely needed a breather. Because they knocked off the previously undefeated “top-dog” in the NFC, Seattle’s stock is definitely at an all-time high right now, and I’m not sure it’s warranted. They’ve won two games (Rams and 49ers) strictly on missed field goals, barely escaped with victories against the Bucs and Browns, and when facing teams ranked higher on this list outside of their division (Saints in Teddy Bridgewater’s first game and Ravens), they’ve gotten blown out. This is a team that is very reliant on Russell Wilson, and though he’s complemented by a solid group of receivers, poor offensive line play and questionable play-calling really hold the offense back from being an elite unit. Furthermore, this is also a below-average defense. Yes, their pass rush played well with the sudden breakout from edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but they’ve had issues generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long, and the secondary has also been troublesome. There’s not enough talent around Wilson for me to fully buy into them, but if they can prove that they can win in sustainable fashion, perhaps this spot will be too low for them. It’s definitely right for them at the moment, however, and we’ll get a great read on them with their upcoming matchup in Philadelphia.
#9: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Lost 17-10 vs NE
Top Performer: G Issac Seumalo
Coming out of their bye, the Eagles were in need of a statement victory against the Patriots, and with an early 10-0 lead, they apperared on their way to achieving one. Then, they fell apart- New England scored 17 unanswered as the offense faultered. The pass protection wasn’t as elite as it usually was, as tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson each left this game with injuries, but that has little to do with why this offense scored just ten points. Rather, it was a combination of Carson Wentz and the receivers that cost Philadelphia, as both are greatly underperforming. There’s no trust or connection between them, as Wentz has been inaccurate, while the receivers continue to not seperate and struggle with drops- there’s no element of this offense that currently strikes fear for opposing defenses. On the bright side, the Eagles’ secondary held up, but even then, the pass rush struggled and the secondary wasn’t exactly tested over the top by a slow offense. Right now, this is an average team on both sides of the ball, and although their dominance in the trenches gives them an upside that certain teams don’t have, time is running out- their face a borderline must-win scenario against the 8-2 Seahawks.
#8: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 41-7 vs HOU
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
Before I defend my ranking of the Ravens at #8, let me start off by saying that these eight teams can honestly be ranked in any order- they’re very close to one another, and as long as these are considered the top eight teams in football, there’s no wrong way to rank these teams. Yes, right now, Baltimore is playing as well as anyone in the league, that’s not debatable. In this game along, a dominant win against the Texans, their offense was fantastic in every way imaginable. Lamar Jackson passed the ball effectively, made huge plays with his legs, while the offensive line continued to play at an extremely elite level. Plus, edge rusher Matthew Judon (eight pressures, two sacks), linebacker Josh Bynes has been a fantastic addition, and the interior defensive line played well. Yet, are we sure this success is sustainable. No defense can match the speed that the Ravens have offensively, but in playing subpar defenses like the Bengals, Texans, and Seahawks, they haven’t been very tested- even the Patriots don’t have the speed neccesary to slow down Baltimore. In fact, when they faced quicker defenses like the Steelers and Chiefs earlier in the season, it’s not like they were this dominant- this is definitely a top-five offense, but it’s still not a unit I trust to go into Foxborough in January and score 30+ points. Meanwhile, this is still a defense without a consistent pass rush, mediocre run defense, and some vulnerabilities over the top- they can be beaten, and are closer to an average defense than a top-ten unit. If the Ravens can prove that they can win a game in which they can’t dictate the outcome of the game, I’ll move them up and admit my mistake. However, as we saw with the Saints last season, it’s hard to constantly be in control of games- the Ravens haven’t looked the same in games in which they’ve trailed, and a case can be made they haven’t been tested for adveristy, like the other teams ranked ahead of them. Their upcming matchup against the Rams on Monday Night Football will reveal a lot about them.
#7: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 8)
Top Performer: N/A
How good are the Packers? There’s a lot of talent on this team, and they’re sitting pretty with an 8-2 record, but still, questions remain. It’s hard not trust an offense led by Aaron Rodgers, but outside of Davante Adams, there aren’t any true receiving threats present in the offense, and the offensive line hasn’t held up like it was supposed to. They’re still a top-notch group, especially with head coach Matt LeFleur’s excellent game scripts and the emergence of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams out of the backfield, but until they play higher quality defenses, we can’t be sure how great the offense truly is. Additionally, the defense drew headlines for their outstanding production at the beggining of the season, but against better offenses, they’ve regressed significantly. The pass rush, headlined by edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, as well as interior rusher Kenny Clark, is definitely not the problem. Heck, even the secondary, which has been vulnerable recently, has too much talent not to improve. Rather, it’s the middle of the defense, particuarly the linebackers, that could cost this team. Both Blake Martinez and BJ Goodson are liabilities in coverage, and for the most part, in run defense as well. They’re unathletic and conservative, and it’s clear that teams scheme up ways to attack them. Take their last game against the Panthers as a prime example- Carolina managed to stay in the game utilizing running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen, which is the same approach teams like the Chiefs, Chargers, and Eagles have used against them. It may seem like a small issue, but the middle of the field is arguably where defenses need the defend the most, so if this offense isn’t as elite as anticpated or the secondary doesn’t hold up, Green Bay will prove to be a clear tick behind the other top teams. If they can go into San Francisco and beat the 9-1 49ers on Sunday Night Football, however, those concerns could be alleviated.
#6: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 17-7 vs CHI
Top Performer: DT Aaron Donald
Have the Rams found a solution to their problems? Although they didn’t light up the scoreboard in a 17-7 victory against the Bears, they were minor takeaways from their win that create a lot of optimism around the team. Due to injuries, they were forced to once again reshuffle their offensive line: third-round rookie Bobby Evans made his debut at right tackle, trade acquistion Austin Corbett was slotted in at left guard, Austin Blythe moved to center, and fifth-round rookie David Edwards started at right guard. The final result? An excellent display of pass protection in which they allowed just three pressures and zero sacks on 21 dropbacks against one of the top pass rushes in the NFL. Now, it wasn’t perfect, as the run-blocking was subpar, but if you can protect Jared Goff against a defense like the Bears, that opens up the offense tremendously; it’s easy to forget how explosive the offense was just last season when they had adequate pass protection. Maybe I’m reading too much into this success, but head coach Sean McVay was always bound to make adjustments, which he did by running 34 out of 49 plays in 12 personnel, which provides the offensive line with extra help. If the offense can somewhat get back on track, this team could be downright scary- the defense is dominating right now. Aaron Donald remains the best player in the NFL, as the havoc he creates as an interior rusher is simply unstoppable- he on his own gives the Rams one of the top pass rushes in the NFL. Furthermore, even though star Jalen Ramsey hasn’t played well upon being acquired by the team, his presence has had an effect on the rest of the secondary. Nickel corner Nickell Robey, Coleman, cornerback Troy Hill, and safeties Eric Weddle and Taylor Rapp are all playing well around Ramsey, making this one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Los Angeles has had one critical weakness their entire season, which has essentially cost them multiple games. Considering how well-rounded the rest of the roster is, their improvements in the offensive trenches could result in a massive breakthrough for them. Their upcoming Monday Night Football matchup against the Ravens comes with monumental implications, and will prove whether or not they have what it takes to make a playoff push.
#5: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 35-27 at DET
Top Performer: WR Michael Gallup
The more games that go by, the more the Cowboys appear to be the team we all believe them to be- they’re easily among the most talented teams in football, but due largely in part to poor coaching, they not only don’t maximize on that talent, but always get off to slow starts. Therefore, they had to hold their breath for much longer than expected against a Matthew Stafford-less Lions team, though to their credit, they made some adjustments that will hopefully continue throughout the rest of the season. Finally, Dallas realized that their value on offense is through the air, as Dak Prescott attempted 50 passes. With Prescott playing at an MVP level, and an elite receiver corps headlined by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb, there’s no reason not to consistently threaten defenses through the air- they easily have a top-five passing attack. Plus, although he doesn’t play many snaps, rookie running back Tony Pollard also gives Dallas a receiving option out of the backfield that Ezekiel Elliot doesn’t provide, thus further making this offense more dynamic. My main concern with the Cowboys, however, is their defense, which struggled against an offense they should’ve thrived against. Dallas only had four QB hits in this game, struggled with pass coverage at the back-end of their defense, and also missed twelve tackles. On the positive side, the cornerback duo of Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie is extremely underrated, and linebacker Jaylon Smith and edge Demarcus Lawrence are starting to play up to the extensions they signed this offseason. I still have faith that the Cowboys’ talent will eventually win out over Jason Garrett’s subpar coaching, but with more games like this in which they underperform, that faith will start to evaporate. I personally can’t wait to see how they stack up to the Patriots in Foxborough.
#4: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 27-23 vs DEN
Top Performer: QB Kirk Cousins
When the Vikings were losing 20-0 to the Broncos at halftime, it looked like the typical game in which a contender comes out flat in a game they shoud easily win. Yes, the Broncos are a very underrated team and are much better than their record would indicated, but there’s no doubt that Minnesota is the substantially better team, which helps explain their impressive comeback; teams in the past five years who were down 20 at halftime were previously 0-99. Quietly Kirk Cousins continues to have a career season, thriving in play-action, and building an unbreakable bond with receiver Stefon Diggs, who has definitely stepped up in the absence of Adam Thielen. Additionally, although they were awful in run-blocking, Minnesota’s offensive line once again protected Cousins- this is a complete offense that is being schemed up tremendously by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. They’ll have to continue to play up to their capabilities- the Vikings defense is officially in trouble. Not only was corner Xavier Rhodes constantly being burned by Courtland Sutton, but the pass rush was ineffective in this game, the run defense faultered, and overall, this was a very uninspiring defensive performance against a Broncos offense led by Brandon Allen, of all quarterbacks. At some point, Minnesota needs to prove that they can effectively stop the pass enough to win games, but with the way their offense is playing, there’s a chance none of that will ultimately matter. Luckily for them, they’ll be able to try patch up their defensive holes, particuarly in their secondary, during the bye week- could they bench Rhodes in favor of some of their younger, faster cornerbacks?
#3: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 34-17 at TB
Top Performer: G Nick Easton
The Saints desperately needed to get back on track after losing to the Falcons by three scores on their home turf, and by beating the Bucs 34-17, they accomplished that. Now, four turnovers by Jameis Winston certainly helped, but this was still a nice win for New Orleans. The offense, in particular, bounce back in a major way, albiet against one of the worst defenses in the league. After being roasted by Atlanta’s pass rush, the offensive line allowed just nine total pressures, as Drew Brees wasn’t sacked at all. Brees also was much more efficient in this game, and actually was able to create chunk plays through the air, while star running back Alvin Kamara looked significantly healthier in this game. We know what the Saints offense is at this point- a unit that won’t stretch the field, but gets the ball in the hands of their top playmakers, and is solid overall. It’s the defense that has always tended to be the incosistent unit, and to their credit, they played well despite not having top corner Marshon Lattimore. The pass coverage, especially from cornerback Eli Apple and the linebackers, was much better than expected, and overall, the team missed just three tackles. Now, the 33 pressures they generated is misleading- the Bucs threw the ball 60 times, and New Orleans had just a 61.9 pass rushing grade, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, the pass rush is a major concern at the moment, as it’s been close to non-existent after a strong start to season; considering their secondary isn’t exactly deep with talent, the pass rush needs to come around for them to consistently be able to defend the pass. Still, this was a gratifying performance after their “stinker”, and they’ll try to keep it going in another divisional matchup; this time, they’ll face the Panthers at home.
#2: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 36-26 vs ARI
Top Performer: WR Deebo Samuel
Let’s be honest with ourselves- the 49ers did not actually win this game by two scores. In fact, they were trailing with less than 40 seconds to go, taking the lead on a game winning Jimmy Garoppolo touchdown pass to running back Jeff Wilson Jr. Still, considering their upcoming schedule, the 49ers couldn’t afford to lose this game, so the fact that they did win this game is crucial for them. Without star tight end George Kittle and with Emmanuel Sanders on a limited snap basis, the offense still moved the ball well against a very subpar Cardinals defense, as rookie receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Ross Dwelley stepped up in thier places. Furthermore, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and running back Tevin Coleman were also great options in the passing game, so even though San Francisco doesn’t have elite receivers, they still have a lot of weapons for Garoppolo to work with. Now, Garoppolo neeeds to cut down his turnover rate – his turnover worthy throw percentage is higher than his big time throw rate, per Pro Football Focus – but still, it’s hard not to trust a Kyle Shanahan-coached offense. Then, you add in a high-quality defense, and you have the makings of a great team. Even with the pass rush unusually struggling, the secondary proved themselves again to be a great group of players, which makes this unit scarier. Now, it’s worth noting that this Kyler Murray-led offense has arguably been their main test this season (no disrespect to the Rams and Seahawks), so the fact they haven’t been dominant against him is concerning as they look ahead to facing the Packers this week and the Ravens the week after. Still, neither side of the ball has shown cracks yet, and until they do, this is still the top team in the NFC.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 17-10 at PHI
Top Performer: G Shaq Mason
The Patriots are by no means an exciting team. Their offense, in particular, is old, and doesn’t stretch the field at all, while their defense has also regressed a little. Still, by criticizing New England too much, are we falling into the same trap we do ever year? Because they’re the top team every way, the Patriots continue to get overanalyzed, which is fair. In this game against the Eagles, for example, as Tom Brady once again didn’t look right, and struggled immensely under pressure. Furthermore, this team still can’t run the ball effectively, and with the passing attack continuing to lack consistency, this offense doesn’t really have an identity. Still, Josh McDaniels is still a great offensive play-caller, and come playoff time, I have no doubt they’re capable on going on a three-game run that can win them to Superbowl. After all, it doesn’t need to be a breathtaking unit, as this remains the undisputed best defense in the NFL. New England’s pass rush has quietly been much better than previous years, and that’s certainly helped their secondary, which is loaded with talent. Stephon Gillmore is still probably the best cornerback in the league, second-year undrafted free agent corner JC Jackson has been solid, while slot corner Jonathan Jones and safety Devin McCourty are playing at an elite level. Oh, and they’re easily the best-coached unit in the league, as Bill Belichick is almost always able to confuse opposing quarterbacks. So yes, the Patriots haven’t been dominant, and as a result, the gap between them and the rest of the league is thinner than before. Yet, they’re still easily the Super Bowl favorite, so rather than overthinking it, I’m very comfortable ranking them as the undisputed top team in the league ahead of their critical matchup against the Cowboys.