Although there weren’t many shocking outcomes regarding who won, Week 12 still taught us a lot about teams; there were plenty of surprises regarding the specifics of many teams’ performances. Therefore, there is A LOT of fluctuation within these power rankings, including a new top team, as well as new entrants into the top ten. So, which teams are trending up, and which are trending down? Let’s rank every team after 12 weeks of football.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 41-24 at CLE
Top Performer: WR DeVante Parker
Remember when the Dolphins won two straight games? At this point, that run feels like centuries ago. Sure, it’s not a surprise that Miami has come back to earth – their roster is easily the worst in the NFL – yet considering how competitive they had been, it’s a little deflating to see them being dominated by a depleted Browns team. For once, the pass protection held up for the Dolphins, which isn’t that spectacular considering Cleveland was without their top two pass rushers, but the rest of the offense, especially Ryan Fitzpatrick played uninspiringly. On the bright side, receiver DeVante Parker and rookie guard Michael Dieter played well- perhaps there are some players offensively who can be a part of the team’s future. The same can’t be said about the defense, which struggled in all facets of this game- they couldn’t get pressure against a poor offensive line, and undrafted rookie standout corner Nik Needham was exposed significantly. All in all, it was a very subpar performance all-around for the Dolphins, who will hope to get better performances from their young players when they host the Eagles next week. On the bright side, they’re back in position to earn a top-two pick in next year’s draft.
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 16-10 at PIT
Top Performer: EDGE Carlos Dunlap
Apparently, the Bengals have seen all they needed from fourth-round rookie quarterback Ryan Finley- the NC State product has been benched in favor of Andy Dalton – and that’s not a good thing. Finley was abysmal in each of his three starts, but not greater than this game, where he showed a complete lack of arm talent and held back the offense significantly. In fact, with the defense slowing down an incompetent Steelers offense with an effective pass rush, Cincinnati had a great chance to win this game, had it not been for Finley. This is the defense’s second straight solid performance, so perhaps with Dalton, the team can sneak a win or two down the stretch. However, their current outlook rivals the Dolphins, while their future standing all relies on their impending #1 pick- we’ll see if they have any fight left in them when the Jets come to town.
#30: Washington Redskns (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Won 19-16 vs DET
Top Performer: RT Morgan Moses
Hey, the Redskins won a game! Based on how their season was going, it’s actually somewhat shocking that Washington was able to win a close game like this, but overall, this was a decent performance all-around. Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins was very inaccurate in this game, especially since he had tremendous pass protection, but at the very least, he showed the play extension and anticipation that starting quarterbacks need to have- he certainly wasn’t a liability. Plus, Washington was able to win this game in the trenches, which hopefully will continue in the future. Meanwhile, the defense stood out in pass defense, generating 26 pressures and getting a standout performance from corner Fabian Moreau. Obviously, scraping by with a win against the Jeff Driskel-led Lions isn’t the most impressive accomplishment, but Washington has to be encouraged that this team didn’t cave into all the negative energy surrounding them, especially as they hope to develop some of their young players. Now, they’ll head to Carolina to take on the Panthers, and hope to see more progression from Haskins.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 19-14 at CHI
Top Performer: LB David Mayo
Once upon a time, the Giants were 2-2 and Daniel Jones was taking over New York. After losing to the Bears, they’re now 2-9, and even more troubling, Jones isn’t playing well. To be frank, head coach Pat Shurmur’s offense is a disaster right now, with Jones continuously turning over the football while star running back Saquan Barkley continues to play injured, and it almost certainly will cost him his job. That’s not entirely fair though, as general manager Dave Gettleman hasn’t exactly given Shurmur an abundance of talent to work with offensively, and even though they played solid, the defense has usually been amongst the league’s worst. Rookie defensive backs Deandre Baker and Julian Love played their best games of the year, and the defensive line and secondary overall were excellent, but still, little pressure was forced on Mitchell Trubisky, which is a fatal flaw of their team. This is simply a team not built to win in 2019, with the main investments being with stopping the run and in their running back, and because of that, there’s no way Gettleman or Shurmur should return next season- for the sake of Jones and the team’s future, massive changes need to be made, regardless of how they look against the Packers.
#28: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 42-20 at TEN
Top Performer: EDGE Yanik Ngakoue
It’s time for the Jaguars to recognize their faith- their impressive 2017 season was a fluke, and they aren’t in any way a talented team. As fun as it seemed to pray that with Nick Foles playing like a Super Bowl MVP under center and the defense playing at a historic rate, the team could be dangerous, there was absolutely ZERO chance that either of those hopes would ever happen, and the Jaguars are finding out the hard way. Foles didn’t play badly in this game, and the overall passing game was effective, but still, none of that ultimately matters when you call 25 rushing plays against an elite run defense- Jacksonville’s run-heavy offense doesn’t work, as you actually have to have an efficient rushing attack for it to have any success. Meanwhile, not only is this not a great defense, but honestly, it’s become a liability. The once-vaunted pass rush had just five pressures, compared to the 15 missed tackles they had- Jacksonville was awful defensively in every fashion, and as their top players age, they have very few building blocks for the future. Honestly, this team’s outlook is awful- they’re not competitive, yet they have little salary cap space, and cannot be trusted to capitalize on the extra draft capital from the Jalen Ramsey trade, given their draft history. It’s time for huge changes with the coaching staff and front office, though for now, the team, and Foles specifically, will continue to be evaluated as they host the Bucs in a Florida battle.
#27: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 26)
Top Performer: N/A
After falling short in three straight three-point games, the Cardinals needed a bye week as much as any team. Though they’re not very talented, it’s hard not to be optimistic about how competitive they’ve been, particularly against the potent 49ers. The combination of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, for instance, gives this offense an extremely high ceiling for years to come, especially as they add to their receiving corps and offensive line. However, as far as winning games this year, Murray and co. likely will continue to struggle to do so, as this defense has performed terribly throughout the season, both in pass defense and run defense. They’re a team that no one wants to play, given how talented Murray is and how smart Kingsbury is, but still, they’re definitely a year away from competing for the playoffs. A divisional win against the Rams isn’t outside the realm of possibilities, however.
#26: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Won 34-3 vs OAK
Top Performer: RB Le’Veon Bell
Here come the Jets! Obviously, it’s going to be too late for them to make a playoff run, but after being the laughingstock of the NFL after losing to the Dolphins, New York has now won three straight games, scoring 34 in each of them. This time, they demolished one of the darlings of the NFL (Raiders) in every facet, proving to not be the “bottom-feeder” many pegged them to be. The offense, in particular, has been a revelation, as second-year quarterback Sam Darnold is starting to show progress, while running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Robby Anderson finally appear to have roles. Considering they haven’t been playing top-notch defense, it’s probably not logical to buy into head coach Adam Gase, but since he’ll be back in 2020, the offense’s recent success is very encouraging. Plus, the defense is playing much better. Rookie corner Blessaun Austin has developed into a key contributor for them, while star safety Jamal Adams continues to thrive as both a traditional safety and as a pass rusher. Right now, New York is playing well in all facets, and with the Bengals and Dolphins up next, could even get back to one game below .500- they have a chance to enter the offseason wth a lot of optimism.
#25: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 19-16 at WSH
Top Performer: CB Amani Oruwariye
Although the Lions have struggled without Matthew Stafford, they still were competitive against talented teams, thus didn’t appear to have received “their death sentence”. By losing to the dysfunctional Redskins, they’ve finally received it. With Stafford out, the offense has taken a notable step back, as even though practically everyone else played well, Jeff Driskel’s poor outing hampered team. Meanwhile, although head coach Matt Patricia was brought in to turn them into a top-ten caliber unit, the defense is amongst the league’s worst. Although Detroit was slightly better in pass coverage, their pass rush was non-existent, and for a team committed so much to stopping the run, they cannot even do that. I’m not advocating for firing Patricia, but this is a team that wanted to win this season, and Stafford’s injury can’t overshadow the defense’s problems. For the rest of this season, there’s little to watch for outside of Patricia’s defense, which will hope to rebound when they host the Bears on Thanksgiving.
#24: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 34-3 at NYJ
Top Performer: DT Jonathan Hankins
After winning their fourth straight game last week, the Raiders were primed to be tied for the AFC West lead as they got ready to play the Chiefs in Week 13. All they had to do was beat the three-win Jets, which was a shoo-in, right? Apparently, not so much. This was an “upset” that was easy to see coming. With a negative run differential, they’re not as talented as their record would indicate, and with them potential looking ahead to Kansas City, they were primed to fall into a trap. Still, no one could anticipate that they’d look completely helpless- their lack of talent may have caught up to them. Derek Carr didn’t make many mistakes in this game, but he was also extremely conservative, and the rushing attack was extremely poor- the offense’s shortcomings when forced to pass the ball were exposed. Furthermore, the Raiders don’t exactly have a talented defense, and that was proven in this game. Oakland had just 10 pressures against an offensive line missing both of their starting tackles, which is very worrisome, and that led to major issues in pass coverage. Notably, rookie corner Trayvon Mullen had arguably his worst game of the season, while rookie edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell were essentially non-factors. To sum it up, this was just an awful game for the Raiders, who’ll look to prove that this game was a fluke. The problem is, I’m not sure it is- this could be the beginning of a mini freefall.
#23: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Lost 34-31 at NO
Top Performer: LB Luke Kuechly
The Panthers didn’t play great in New Orleans, but with their season essentially on the line, they were potentially a 28-yard field goal away from winning a huge divisional game. Instead, kicker Joey Slye, who previously missed two extra points, missed the kick, and Drew Brees drove down the field to lead the Saints to victory. Should Carolina be ashamed of this loss? No; they fought hard and were able to make a two-score second-half comeback. Still, they didn’t exactly fully deserve to win this game, which speaks to some of their flaws. It was a pretty sound performance from the offense, as Kyle Allen adopted a game-manager role, relying on receiver DJ Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey to generate several impact plays- they didn’t score over 30 points by accident. However, the offense’s efforts ultimately didn’t matter, which as a result of defensive incompetence. For a team whose identity has been on that side of the ball, some sort of resistance would be expected from them. Yet, New Orleans move the ball with ease for most of this game, as the Panthers were gashed in run defense, didn’t create much havoc with their pass rush, and safety Eric Reid was picked on throughout this game. Carolina isn’t a bad team by any means, but they don’t have much of an identity, and with a 5-6 record and a difficult schedule remaining, lost any chance of making the playoffs with this loss. Now, they need to evaluate Allen and head coach Ron Rivera, which starts with a home game against the Redskins.
#22: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Won 35-22 at ATL
Top Performer: WR Chris Godwin
The Buccaneers may not be a consistent team, but no team around them in these rankings can match their upside, which is evident in their impressive victory in Atlanta. Jameis Winston had another two interceptions, but besides that, he was very accurate down the field, and the offense flourished because of that. With several incredible catches, Chris Godwin had possibly the best game of the year for a receiver, and has proven to be the best receiver on this team (yes, even better than Mike Evans). Plus, Winston continues to great pass protection- when he plays well, the supporting talent is around him for the offense to be dangerous. However, the major surprise with this win for Tampa Bay has to be their success on defense, as they shut down a talented Falcons offense. Whether it was their pass rush, secondary, or linebackers, Tampa was excellent in both pass defense and run defense, with edge rusher Shaquil Barrett adding another ten pressures to what has been a marvelous season. The Bucs have the talent to be a much better team than their record would indicate. The key for them, as it always is, will be their ability to be less erratic, which they’ll look to improve on down the stretch, starting in Jacksonville.
#21: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 19-14 vs NYG
Top Performer: EDGE Khalil Mack
After winning the NFC North with 12 wins last season, the Bears aren’t a very good team, as their defense has declined, while their offense has often looked incompetent. Still, they’re able to beat inferior teams, and even shine offensively against said teams. Mitch Trubisky should not be the team’s quarterback next season, but at the very least, he’s been playing better recently, and was more of a threat in the rushing game this week. Meanwhile, the receiver duo of Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller shined- the pieces are in place for a new quarterback to have success next season, and Trubsiky appears to be at least a solid backup if the team opts to keep him. What the Bears have been really missing though, is a dominant performance from their defense, particularly Khalil Mack, and they got that this week. Mack had a strip-sack fumble on Daniel Jones, which was vintage from last season, and while he caused havoc, the secondary finally played up to expectations. With a very difficult schedule up ahead – though they should be able to beat the Lions on Thanksgiving – there isn’t much hope for the Bears this season. However, they truly feel like they’re a decent quarterback (Andy Dalton?) away from getting back to being a playoff contender, and it’ll be key for them to see progress throughout the rest of the season.
#20: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 35-22 vs TB
Top Performer: CB Desmond Trufant
After a tremendous two-game stretch in which they allowed just twelve points, the Falcons appeared to be heading in the right direction as they looked to make a run in the second half. That hit a speedbump with a loss to the Bucs, as Atlanta was simply outplayed on both sides of the ball. Still, although this loss means the Falcons no longer can finish with a winning season, all hope shouldn’t be lost. After all, Matt Ryan will certainly play better than he did in this game – he had previously been playing tremendously – and playmakers like running back Quadree Ollison and receiver Russell Gage have stepped up; this offense will be fine, as this was more of a fluke than a sign of things to come. Meanwhile, it was an uneven performance for the defense, as they weren’t terrible, but didn’t stand out in any particular area. On the bright side, star corner Desmond Trufant has been excellent since returning from injury, and edge rusher Adrian Clayborn continues to put together above-average pass-rushing performances. This looks to be the simple case of a team falling flat after a couple of crucial road wins, and Atlanta will look to bounce back against the Saints on Thanksgiving.
#19: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 16-10 at CIN
Top Performer: DL Cameron Heyward
It wasn’t pretty (when is it ever for them?), but the Steelers were able to get back to the front of a very tight AFC wildcard race, holding off the winless Bengals in a game in which they actually trailed at halftime. Yet, because of another incredible outing from their defense, who generated 25 pressures and shut down Cincinnati’s rushing attack, while rookie linebacker Devin Bush had arguably his best all-around performance. This is a top-three defense, with a true case as the league’s best. Still, due to their offensive ineptitude, the Steelers may not even be able to ride it to the playoffs. The inevitable quarterback change was finally made, as Mason Rudolph was benched for Devlin “Duck” Hodges. Hodges wasn’t much better, but he showed much more touch, and his one huge pass to James Washington was all Pittsburgh needed to win this game. Hopefully, once the team’s playmakers come back from injury, there can be some ability to move the ball with Hodges under center. Still, Hodges was an undrafted free agent for a reason, and until offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner adapts to not having Ben Roethlisberger, I have a hard time buying into this team as anything more than a seven or eight-win team at best.
#18: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 20-3 at BUF
Top Performer: G Ron Leary
The Broncos haven’t won many games this season, but they had clearly been playing better than their record would indicate- they’ve lost four games in which they had the lead in the fourth quarter. However, losing those games eventually takes a toll on a team, and in their embarrassing loss in Buffalo, Denver may have officially given up. The offensive line held up tremendously, but with top receiver Courtland Sutton shut down by corner Tre’Davious White, quarterback Brandon Allen looked clueless- he doesn’t have the arm talent necessary to be a decent fill-in option under center. Hopefully, second-round rookie Drew Lock can start in his place soon, as he brings much more upside to the offense, and his insertion will give the team the time it needs to evaluate him as the potential franchise option. Then, there’s Vic Fangio’s defense, which is certainly regressing. They couldn’t contain a rather weak Bills passing attack, missed 11 tackles, and although they still held their own against the run, weren’t as strong against it as it’s been. It was a very uninspiring performance for a team that has gotten rather old and stale- the Broncos can no longer live in the shadows of their Super Bowl team, and need to work on building upon their young offensive talent. We’ll see if Lock is able to start when they host the Chargers.
#17: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 18)
Top Performer: N/A
The Chargers were expected to be a Super Bowl contender at the start of the season, but since then, practically everything has gone wrong for them. Left tackle Russell Okung, tight end Hunter Henry, center Mike Pouncey, star safety Derwin James, safety Adrian Phillips, edge rusher Melvin Ingram, and running back Melvin Gordon are among the several players to miss multiple games this season- this team is nowhere near the team general manager Tom Telesco constructed it to be. However, the most troubling development has been the decline of Phillip Rivers, who has had abysmal performances against some of the league’s worst defenses, and certainly doesn’t look the same. Without a successor in place, it may be hard for Los Angeles to find an adequate replacement for him, but if they bring him back, they risk him further declining. It’s a tough position for them, who need to use the rest of the season to decide on Rivers’ future with the team. On the bright side, they’ll get star safety Derwin James back for the first time this season when they play the Broncos.
#16: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 41-24 vs MIA
Top Performer: QB Baker Mayfield
We’ve seen the Browns hit their floor this season as they limped to a 2-6 start, but there’s always been an appeal with them- when everything is working, few teams in the entire NFL can match their upside. The problem is, Sunday’s game against the Dolphins was the first time that we’ve seen their “peak” this season- 16th is the perfect spot for them. This was easily the best game for Baker Mayfield, who threw the ball down the field efficiently and was much more accurate. Now, it was against the Dolphins, so he was protected much better, but nevertheless, this can be a game than the offense can build on as they hope to make a playoff push; they’re starting to like the dangerous unit they were at the end of last season. Obviously, without Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and Olivier Vernon, the pass rush was bound to struggle. However, Cleveland was able to still defend the pass well, as linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Denzel Ward flourished. At some point, rookie corner Greedy Williams, who looked like an NFL-ready man-coverage corner heading into the season, needs to step up in order to put the finishing touches on the secondary. Still, there’s not much to complain about from this game for the Browns, who have now won three straight and will look to get back to .500 in Pittsburgh.
#15: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 20-17 vs IND
Top Performer: WR DeAndre Hopkins
After a blowout loss in Baltimore, the Texans faced a must-win game against the Colts on Thursday Night Football. They got the job done with a close victory, but yet, it left much to be desired. To be fair, Houston’s offense was explosive, with the Deshaun Watson connecting multiple times down the field to DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Fuller’s return from injury could be an X-Factor for the offense, as he’s a vertical threat that will take attention off of Hopkins. Hence, Hopkins had two touchdowns in this game. Plus, the offensive line was excellent in pass protection, as left tackle Laremy Tunsil and center Nick Martin are among the best pass blockers at their respective positions. However, Watson and co. will have to continue to carry this team- the defense remains a liability. It wasn’t the secondary, as acquisitions Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves played well. Still, Houston’s pass rush continues to struggle without JJ Watt, and for the second straight week, the front seven was awful in run defense. The Texans have a lot of talent, but the issue is, they have more weaknesses than strengths. Their the epitomee of a below-avergae team being propped up by a few stars, but as far as winning the division is concerned, it appears to be working. They’ll look to pull off an upset against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.
#14: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 20-17 at HOU
Top Performer: G Quenton Nelson
The Colts may have lost in Houston, but in my opinion, they outplayed the Texans. In the end, though, their lack of upside costs them in games like this- their strengths can only take them so far. Indianapolis had the same gameplan they always have. Behind their elite offensive line, they relied on their rushing attack, which worked; journeyman Jonathan Williams ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Yet, that can only take you so far, and with Jacoby Brissett putting together a subpar performance, it was a struggle for the offense to move the ball consistently- they lack any sort of explosion. Meanwhile, the Colts’ pass defense faultered in this game, as they generated just 13 pressures, while corner Pierre Desir was a liability. Indianapolis is a strange team, in that they’re the exact opposite of the Texans. General manager Chris Ballard has built a deep roster through the draft, which has allowed them to thrive despite all the injuries they’ve had to deal with. Still, there isn’t enough star talent present to elevate this team, who now faces the Titans in a game they have to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
#13: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Won 20-3 vs DEN
Top Performer: CB Tre’Davious White
A knock on the Bills this season has been that they haven’t been tested, and beating a deflated Broncos team certainly won’t change that. However, Denver has kept it close against teams like the Vikings and Colts- they definitely weren’t a super easy opponent. Therefore, the fact that Buffalo was able to beat them convincingly has to be encouraging. For the most part, the Bills leaned on their defense, and for good reason- they were excellent. Cornerback Tre’Davious White may be the best player on the entire defense, as he completely neutralized emerging wideout Courtland Sutton, while nickel corner Taron Johnson and linebacker Matt Milano. However, it wasn’t a great game from the offense, as even though the ran the ball effectively, Josh Allen and the passing attack floundered outside of one deep touchdown pass to John Brown. This is who the Bills are- a defensive-first team built to destroy inferior opponents, but one that probably won’t be able to compete against premier teams. We’ll see how “legit” of a playoff contender they truly are in Week 13, as they travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
#12: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Lost 37-8 at SF
Top Performer: EDGE Za’Darius Smith
Coming off of a bye, the Packers had a chance to make a huge statement in San Francisco on Sunday Night Football. Instead, they proved what I had feared- this isn’t one of the top teams in the NFC. In fact, this was one of the worst performances a team has had this season. It’s bad enough that Aaron Rodgers had a downright awful game, as outside of receiver Davante Adams, there was no source of offense. No, it was head coach Matt LeFleur’s inability to adapt that was alarming- constantly calling long developing plays down the field when Rodgers is being harassed by one of the premier pass rushes is inexcusable. The offense’s inability to compete against top-tier defenses is particuarly alarming, as the defense has been mediocre ever since a strong start. Yes, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith headlines a strong pass rush, but the pass coverage and run defense is often below-average, and their inability to cover the middle of the field was exposed by tight end George Kittle in this game. The combination of Rodgers, Adams, and a talented pass rush makes them still a dangerous team, but it’s hard not to recognize their flaws- they appear to be closer to a “pretender’ than a true Super Bowl contender. At the very least, they’re primed to get back on track with a home date against the Giants up next.
#11: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Lost 45-6 vs BAL
Top Performer: DT Aaron Donald
After a mostly impressive showing against the Bears, the Rams appeared to heading in the right direction coming into their huge Monday Football matchup against the Ravens. With an athletic defense and an offense getting its playmakers back, they appeared to be a good match against Baltimore. Instead, they were flat out embrassed. Not only did the Rams get outplayed in every area, but in this game, their effort, coaching, and competency all came into question- this is a team facing serious problems for the future. Jared Goff has been an absolute letdown after signing a $134 million extension before the season, as his issues have significantly hampered the offense. In fact, he couldn’t even complete passes in garbage time, which is troubling, to say the least. Head coach Sean McVay, meanwhile, looked outmatch, and since this team has invested so much in him, he needs to make serious changes in a hurry. Additionally, the defense, which had been a major strength, was downright humiliated. Stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey played well, but outside of them, the secondary, linebackers, and defensive line all performed atrociously in this game, and appeared to “give up” in the second half. At this point, there’s no way this team makes the playoffs, as they have massive weaknesses- weaknesses they thought were strengths heading into the season. The problem is, they have no cap space and no draft capital after trading for Ramsey, so this is probably the best version of their team. In other words, the Rams aren’t in trouble for this season, but for the future as well as they move into their new stadium. At this point, can we even count on them to beat the Cardinals in Week 13.
#10: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 42-20 vs JAX
Top Performer: QB Ryan Tannehill
Are the Titans finally a top-ten team? They’re now 4-1 ever since switching to Ryan Tannehill under center, as the offense has functioned incredibly. Tannehill is having a career renaissance, and even if it probably won’t sustained, he’s a clear upgrade over Marcus Mariota- this offense is finally explosive, as Tannehill has several playmakers to work with, and his protected behind a sturdy offensive line. The idea of this being an above-average offense is certainly notable, as Tennesee also has the luxury of a top-ten defense. There’s an abundance of talent at every level of the defense, and that was evident in this blowout win against the Jags. Corners Adoree’ Jackson and safety Kevin Byard are at the center of a very talented secondary, linebackers Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans make out the second level, and the front four is stacked with Jurrell Casey, Jeffrey Simmons, Harold Landry, and Cameron Wake. To sum it up, this is a very deep team that currently has very few notable weaknesses, and at this point, all that’s needed is a larger sample size. They face a critical test when they travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in a game with major playoff implications.
#9: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 11)
Top Performer: N/A
With all the injuries they’ve had the deal with, Week 12 seemed like way too late of a bye for the Chiefs, who definitely haven’t looked the elite team they were last year. Patrick Mahomes probably is still dealing with the lingering affects of his knee and ankle injuries, but he’s been rather inaccurate this season, and his timing appears to be clearly off. Plus, as the offensive line is hampered with injuries as well, this offense hasn’t been the dominant unit they’re accustomed to being. The issue with that, is since their defense remains amongst the league’s worst units, the offense will need to get back to their old ways. I have faith that an Andy Reid-coached team will play better the rest of the way, especially as their get healthier. For now though, I’m adopting a wait-and-see approach with them, but they do have a chance to essentially wrap up the AFC West (though it already feels decided) with a win against the Raiders.
#8: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 17-9 vs SEA
Top Performer: DT Fletcher Cox
When evaluating a team’s performance, it’s important to add context with the overall numbers. That’s what we must do for the Eagles, who were severely depleted in this game. Three of the team’s five starters on the offensive line (tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, guard Brandon Brooks) were out for this game, and as a result, Carson Wentz was under pressure the entire game. Considering Wentz was also without receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor, he was destined to play poorly, even against a subpar defense. Still, Wentz’s processor and pocket presence both have regressed significantly, and he missed on several throws this year. Plus, head coach Doug Pederson’s play-calling has also become stale, and his reluctance to pass the ball on early downs is hurting the offense- this offense is nowehere near the unit they were supposed to be, though injuries play a huge part in that. The defense, meanwhile, hasn’t been amazing, but they’ve played better as of late. The front seven was all over Russell Wilson in this game, sacking him eight times, while thriving in run defense. They still have major issues in the back-end of the secondary, but they appear to have figured things out. Essentially, the Eagles’ fate this season will rely on their offense, which was supposed to be the strength of the team- are their problems related to health or personnel? Luckily for them, they have a very easy schedule coming up, starting with the Dolphins in Week 13; they still have a great chance to win the NFC East.
#7: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 17-9 at PHI
Top Performer: FS Quandre Diggs
The Seahawks are a very interesting team; they don’t have a lot of talent around quarterback Russell Wilson, but they have a surprising amount of depth, and simply finds ways to win. That was the theme in this game, as even though they only scored 17 points, they had an all-around game. Wilson had to deal with drops and poor pass protection in this game, and running back Chris Carson’s fumbling issues continued, but he still played tremendously, and didn’t have to carry the team- the defense dominated. Despite not having top edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle’s pass rush, led by Ezekiel Ansah, Rasheem Green, and Quinton Jefferson, harrassed Carson Wentz constantly (28 pressures), while the pass coverage was incredible. Safeties Quandre Diggs and Bradley McDougald were tremendous at the back end, and although they weren’t exactly facing quality receivers, it was also nice to see corners Shaquill Griffen and Tre Flowers continue to play well. Heck, superstar Bobby Wagner still hasn’t played to his usual standard, which makes this defensive performance even more impressive. All of a sudden, Seattle may be a more balanced team than we ever imagined, and we’ll get to see them be put to the test on Monday Night Football- they host the 8-3 Vikings.
#6: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Lost 13-9 at NE
Top Performer: G Zack Martin
The Cowboys faced a very tough test in New England in inclimate weather, but nevertheless, considering their 6-4 record, it was expected they would play with some urgency as they looked to make a statement. Instead, they completely underperformed, which has become the story of their season. This is a very poorly coached team under Jason Garrett, and that was evident on Sunday, based on the confusion on special teams and his refusal to be agressive. It’s a shame that Dallas cannot execute the fundamentals, as on paper, this is an extremely talented team. It was a rough game for center Travis Frederick, but the offensive line continued to play at a presitgious level in this game, and Dak Prescott didn’t play terribly given the circumstances. Still, they couldn’t get star receiver Amari Cooper involved, and overall, the offense stagnated. Furthermore, with 10 missed tackles and just 14 pressures, the defense had some issues in this game, which is strange considering how much talent they have on every of the defense. Whether it was against the Patriots or not, the Cowboys once again didn’t put together an inspiring performance, and at some point, they may dig themselves into too significant of a hole to wait for their stars to bail them out. They need to get back at track at home against the Bills on Thanksgiving.
#5: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 4)
Top Performer: N/A
Are the Vikings the most underrated Super Bowl contender in the NFL? They don’t get much attention, but they’ve gotten off to an impressive 8-3 start, and that comes with wins against the Cowboys and Eagles. Notably, Kirk Cousins is having a career year, as he’s thriving in this Gary Kubiak play-action heavy offense. Furthermore, his connection with receiver Stefon Diggs has been fun to watch, Adam Thielen should be back from injury in Week 13, and running back Dalvin Cook may be the best running back in the NFL right now. Oh, and the offensive line is quietly holding up despite drawing heavy criticism at the beggining of the season. Right now, this is one of the top offenses in the NFL, and even though their defense isn’t what it once was, it’s still a solid unit. The secondary is a little thin, but Minnesota’s front seven rivals any other front seven; they have a great run defense and pass rush, and linebacker Eric Kendricks should be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. The Vikings may not be in the driver’s seat to win in the NFC North – their upcoming schedule, including their upcoming primetime game in Seattle, is much tougher – but they’re undoubtedbly the best team in that division, and are a team that no one wants to play right now- the thought of them winning the division should scare NFC teams.
#4: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 34-31 vs CAR
Top Performer: QB Drew Brees
In multiple times in this game, the Saints led by double digits, including a 31-18 lead in the second half. Therefore, it’s an alarming that New Orleans was a Panthers 28-yard field goal away from possibly losing this game- they collpased in the fourth quarter. The offense, which had its way against Carolina for three quarters, was shut down as the Panthers made their comeback. Obviously, Brees was able to succeed in the two-minute drill, which does put a positive spin on this. After all, he was excellent in this game, as tight end Jared Cook, receiver Michael Thomas, and running back Alvin Kamara were all terrific in the passing game. Now, the offensive line’s success in this game likely won’t be replicated, as left tackle Terron Armstead is expected to miss multiple games with an ankle injury- New Orleans may have unforutnately hit their peak on offense in this game. Plus, they weren’t supported at all by their defense in this game. Yes, the pass rush made its presence felt in this game, but the pass coverage was downright atrocious. Cornerback PJ Williams, in particular, should not seeing playing time right now, which makes corner Marshon Lattimore’s injury status even more critical. It’s hard to trust the Saints right now, even though they were able to win this game. At the very least, Brees had his best game of the season, and made some throws down the field that many didn’t think he could make. They’ll now have to travel to Atlanta for a divisional rivalry game on Thanksgiving.
#3: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 45-6 at LAR
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
For weeks, I’ve been skeptical of the Ravens, as I usually am for teams that potentially hit their peak too early. Heck, I picked the Rams to beat them this week, citing a defense that had to speed to contain Baltimore’s offense as a major component. Well, after their 45-6 trouncing in Los Angeles, it’s now officially impossible to not see this team as a premier Super Bowl contender, and a true threat to the Patriots in the AFC. We can debate who the front-runner for MVP is (I’d still lean Russell Wilson) all we want, but regardless, Lamar Jackson is having a historic season, and looks unstoppable on a weekly basis. Not only was he a threat running the ball, but his processor, and ability to throw accurate passes with anticipation was extremely impressive, and speaks to his tremendous development. Additionally, this offensive line is a force, especially with their run-blocking, and with their usage of heavy personnel, this offense dominates. Running back Mark Ingram, tight end Mark Andrews, and rookie receiver Marquise Brown are all dangerous weapons, as is head coach John Harbaugh’s willingness to embrace analytics and constantly go for it on fourth down. Meanwhile, not only has this offense scored 40 points with ease in each of their last three games, but the defense has improved significantly. The addition of cornerback Marcus Peters has completely changed this secondary, which has gone from a liability to a legitimate strength- they’re suddenly very deep. A lack of a pass rush and some issues against the runs are some potential concerns, but as long as the secondary plays well, neither of those matter as much. So yes, the Ravens aren’t a flawless team, but their ability to get a lead early on build on it is incredible, combined with Jackson’s playmaking ability with Harbaugh, makes this easily the team with the highest ceiling in the NFL. They’ll face a monumental test in Week 13- they host the 49ers.
#2: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 13-9 vs DAL
Top Performer: FS Devin McCourty
The Patriots may have picked up their 10th victory against the Cowboys, but from the way they plyed, it sure doesn’t feel like that. That may not be completely fair, as the defense held their own against one of the top offenses in football, with superstar cornerback Stephon Gillmore shutting down Amari Cooper. However, this is an offensive league, and right now, New England isn’t much of a threat on that side of the ball. Tom Brady played well in this game, and the pass protection was fine, but he clearly has little receiving talent to work with. Plus, they haven’t been able to run the ball well, which hurts their ability to close out games. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history for a reason- he is able to adapt throughout the season. Right now though, it’s hard to see the offense getting to the level it needs to for them to coast to a Super Bowl championship, as the talent just isn’t there. We’ll see how the offense responds in primetime against the Texans.
#1: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 37-8 vs GB
Top Performer: LB Fred Warner
Are the 49ers the best team in the NFL? That’s obviously up for debate, but after their absolute demolishmment of the Packers, their dominance cannot be ignored. This has to be the best defense in the NFL- they lack a weakness. The pass rush was absolutely incredible once again, and that was without star edge rusher Dee Ford. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Damontre Moore, and DeForest Buckner tortured Aaron Rodgers all game long, which has been a common theme throughout the season. Plus, safety Jimmy Ward is having a breakout season, and with their cornerbacks playing well, the secondary has also been marvelous. Ditto for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which also was spectacular. Tight end George Kittle returned from injury in this game, and his presence was obviously felt- he was a dominant weapon. Furthermore, the offensive line was great against a really strong defensive line, and overall, Shanahan’s play-calling was a work of brilliance. Honestly, this team is as flawless as it gets right now; when an offense coached by Shanahan is your weaker unit, you’re in a very great spot. They’ll look to hold onto their throne as the top team in football, as they’ll travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.