Wow! Week 13, in theory, should’ve been a week with fewer storylines- there were many games that appeared to have a clear winner on paper. However, with several of the league’s bottom-feeders picking up wins, we learned once again why the games are played. So, who’s trending up, and who’s trending down after an upset-filled week? Let’s rank every NFL team after 13 weeks!
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Won 37-31 vs PHI
Top Performer: WR DeVante Parker
After they traded away defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the Dolphins appeared to have a legitimate case to go winless without much fight. Yet, they’ve continued to play hard under head coach Brian Flores, and as a result, picked up their 3rd win by stunning the Eagles. It wasn’t exactly pretty- they caught a lot of breaks in this game, including a fake field goal touchdown. However, they were able to comeback from multiple scores in the second half, due mostly to the performances of receiver DeVante Parker and Ryan Fitzpatrick. We’ve been waiting for a breakout from Parker ever since he was a first-round pick in 2015, and now, with a fearless quarterback that takes chances, he’s thriving. Plus, if anyone was going to lead this group to actual offensive success, it would be Fitzpatrick, who overcame putrid pass-blocking once again to continue what has been a great season for him- he’s a tremendous leader for this young team. Defensively, it was a game that the Dolphins would like to forget, as they struggled in pass defense, with linebackers Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan standing out as liabilities in coverage. Still, they were able to win this shootout, and even though they continue to hurt their draft position, they are building a terrific culture under Flores. Once they add more talent, I have full faith in Flores maximizing on it, given the job he’s done this season- one could argue he should even be a Coach of the Year candidate. We’ll see if this team has any more upsets in store as they travel to New York to take on the Jets, a team they’ve already beaten.
#31: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Won 22-6 vs NYJ
Top Performer: EDGE Carlos Dunlap
It’s official: no team in the NFL will be winless this season- the Bengals knocked off the Jets in convincing fashion. As expected, the insertion of Andy Dalton, a consistently stable presence, under center allowed for a much more functional offense. He did receive help from his pass protection, receivers (outside of a few drops), and running back Joe Mixon, but he proved that for a contender next season, he’s definitely a satisfactory option- his trade value definitely improved in this game. The offense improving isn’t much of a surprise. However, with the way the Jets offense had been performing, the defense only allowing six points is impressive. Quietly, the defensive line has been performing better in run defense and pass rush and they peaked in this game with 31 pressures, including 11 from Carlos Dunlap. Plus, the pass coverage was solid, and no individual player had a concerning performance. This was definitely an encouraging victory for the Bengals, who proved that they still have talent on this roster, and more importantly, they haven’t given up under first-year head coach Zac Taylor. They’ll look to keep it going in Cleveland next week.
#30: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 28-11 vs TB
Top Performer: G AJ Cann
Earlier in the season, the Jaguars had something under sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew that I didn’t expect them to have- hope. However, that optimism was certainly evaporated; for the fourth straight week, they lost by three scores, this time against a previously 4-7 Bucs team. What went wrong for Jacksonville? To be frank, everything. Nick Foles was awful in this game, holding onto the ball too long and making poor decisions, and as a result, he was benched in favor of Minshew. Although Minshew did play better than Foles, he still wasn’t great, and overall, this remained an offense with some talent, but none of it which meshes together- they’re an extremely poorly built team. The same can be said about the defense, which was fine in run defense, but was once again exposed in pass defense. Yes, star corner Jalen Ramsey’s departure can explain some of their issues, but at some point, the highly-paid AJ Bouye needs to step up as the teams #1 cornerback, as he’s expected to be. At this point, I have no confidence in the Jaguars, who appear to be poised to completely overhaul their front office and coaching staff. With Minshew back under center, they somehow try to rebound against the Chargers.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 31-13 vs GB
Top Performer: SS Julian Love
While several of the league’s worst teams were able to pick up wins, the Giants continued their woes- they were blown out by the Packers in front of a non-existent home crowd. On the bright side, they’re getting closer to potentially earning the second overall, or maybe the first overall pick, which means Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young may be coming to New York soon to fill arguably their top need. Still, as far as their performance on the field is concerned, these are gloomy times for the Giants. Daniel Jones, for the most part, played well in this game, but even then, his turnover problems continued, which really hampers this offense. It doesn’t help that running back Saquon Barkley continues to look a shell of himself from last season- this is slowly turning into a one-dimensional offense. Regardless of how Jones and the offense plays, it may not matter anyways- the defense is atrocious. General manager Dave Gettleman built them to stop the run, which they have all season. The problem is, that never matters, as they’re a complete liability in pass defense; they cannot rush opposing quarterbacks, nor cover opposing receivers. On a friendlier note, versatile defensive back Julian Love has been excellent ever since receiving more playing time, and looks like a steal after being drafted in the fourth round. However, it’s hard to overlook the fact that New York is actually trying to compete, yet they clearly aren’t much better than teams like the Bengals or Dolphins. They’ll look to establish some pride on Monday Nigth Football in Philadelphia.
#28: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Won 29-21 at CAR
Top Performer: QB Dwayne Haskins
Even though their opponent (Panthers) wasn’t anything special, you wouldn’t have appeared to be wrong to dismiss the Redskins as a ten-point underdog on the road. That remained true as they fell behind 14-0 early, and looked lost. However, from there, a light flipped for them- they dominated this game. Dwayne Haskins had easily his best game of the year, constantly making smart decisions, which is extremely encouraging for a quarterback Washington is hoping is the future of the franchise. Furthermore, it’s been clear that the Panthers run defense is a weakpoint, so what did the Redskins do? They attacked it. Both Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson ran for around 100 yards each in a power-running style, behind an offensive line that dominated at the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, the offensive balance was much better – they attempted 35 passes – and finally, Haskins appears to be in a position to potentially thrive. Speaking of the team’s investments, the defense also had a great game. First-round edge rusher Montez Sweat (4 pressures) had the best game of his career, highly-paid safety Landon Collins was tremendous all-around, and the recently extended Matt Ioannidis was excellent on the defensive line in run defense and in pass rush. Honestly, no team surprised me more than the Redskins, who are starting to build something sustainable around some of their young offensive talent. At the very least, they look to be better than the Giants currently, and they’ll have a chance to prove that by being competitive in Green Bay next week.
#27: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 34-7 vs LAR
Top Performer: CB Tramaine Brock Sr.
Coming off of their bye week, and with several divisional games remaining, the Cardinals were looking to prove that they were ready to compete as soon as next season- their offense has been fabulous recently. However, the opposite happened in their embarrassing blowout loss against the Rams. Kyler Murray, who had previously been excellent taking care of the football, completely butchered that reputation with several turnover worthy plays, while running back Kenyan Drake, and every receiver not named Larry Fitzgerald, failed to make any sort of positive impact in this game. Ditto for the defense, which was exposed in pass coverage, didn’t fare much better in run defense, and will be even worse after the team unexpectedly waived it’s top-performing cornerback at the moment, Tramiane Brock Sr. Perhaps this can be a learning point for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who went through his first bye week. However, there’s no question that a bounce-back needs to happen for optimism to be preserved for the future, and they’ll have to do so against another elite defense- the Steelers coming to town.
#26: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 22-6 at CIN
Top Performer: QB Sam Darnold
Winners of three straight, while scoring 34 points in each of those game, the Jets appeared to be a lock to be 6-7; they sat at 4-7, and had the Bengals and Dolphins up next. Instead, they managed just six points in a comical loss to the previously winless Bengals. It definitely wasn’t Sam Darnold’s fault, as he continued his second-half surge with another terrific performance- a 76.8 grade from Pro Football Focus. Yet, he was under pressure on more than half of his dropbacks, while his receivers struggled with drops. The defense was even worse, as with just NINE pressures, the pass rush couldn’t take advantage of a subpar offensive line, and the safety duo of Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams struggled mightily; Adams is also week-to-week with a sprained ankle. I still have some hope for the Jets, as Darnold continues to play well under head coach Adam Gase. However, at some point, they need to prove they can win the game they should win, and they’ll get another chance to do so as they look to avoid being swept by the Dolphins next week.
#25: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Lost 40-9 at KC
Top Performer: TE Darren Waller
Following their 30-point loss to the Jets, it appeared as though it couldn’t get much worse for the Raiders, who were generating hype as a potential playoff time. However, then came a meeting with the Chiefs in Kansas City, where they proved to be the definition of a “pretender”. It’s not that I was expecting them to beat the Chiefs, are arguably a top-five team in football. However, a team heading in the right direction would at least be expected to be somewhat competitive, and from practically the start of the game, it was clear Oakland had no chance. Derek Carr continued his issues with cold weather, and honestly, the offense’s problems were on him. He received tremendous pass protection, was helped out by tight ends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau, and running back Josh Jacobs even ran for over 100 yards on just 18 carries. Yet, Carr couldn’t take advantage of a below-average Kansas City pass defense, and at this point, you have to seriously wonder if he can be anything more than a game manager. That won’t work for the Raiders, who still have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. That unit struggled in all areas, though perhaps not more in pass coverage, as rookie corner Trayvon Mullen was constantly exploited- it definitely appears as though their defensive success had been more about their opponents than their personnel? At this point, I’m selling any of my remaining stock on the Raiders, who always appeared to be winning in an unsustainable fashion, and are now experiencing the regression they were going to have to face. They’ll try to salvage their season back at home against the Titans.
#24: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 24-20 vs CHI
Top Performer: G Graham Glasgow
Considering they were on their third-string quarterback in David Blough on a short week, the fact that the Lions had a chance to win against a still-talented Bears team is impressive. Credit has to be given to Blough, as he led a very functional offense, which was able to move the ball through the air and on the ground against a strong defense- offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has done a tremendous job this season. However, head coach Matt Patricia was brought into to improve the defense, and instead, they’ve regressed to the point where they made Mitchell Trubsiky look like an All-Pro. Despite making several investments to defend the run, they haven’t been able to do so adequately, and as a result, their issues defending the pass are even more magnified. Outside of big free-agent signing Trey Flowers, there’s no threat of a pass rush (he had almost half of their pressures), which has put a lot of pressure on the secondary; corners Darius Slay and Justin Coleman continue to disappoint, although fifth-round rookie Armani Oruwariye appears to be a potential long-term answer as a #2 cornerback. Right now, with Matthew Stafford expected to miss the rest of the season, it’s hard to see the Lions actually beating anyone remaining on a difficult schedule- we can’t expect Blough to be as efficient with more film on him, and the defense has turned into a liability. Sticking with divisional games, they’ll try to play spoiler in Minnesota next week.
#23: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 29-21 vs WSH
Top Performer: C Matt Paradis
Although the Panthers fell to 5-6 with a heartbreaking loss to the Saints, they still appeared to be capable of beating up on inferior teams like the Redskins. Instead, they blew an early 14-point lead, and honestly were dominated in every facet. For a long time, the defense has been the identity in Carolina. However, is it time for that to change? They were demolished by Washington’s rushing attack, which has become a common theme of their defense, while their secondary hasn’t played much better. Plus, why is rookie edge rusher Brian Burns only playing 13 snaps, after he thrived as a full-time pass rusher at the beginning of the season? With decisions like that being made, it only appears to be a matter of time before head coach Ron Rivera is let go, and when he is, hiring an offensive coach will probably be a priority. After all, there is talent with that unit, but quarterback Kyle Allen continues to be mediocre, and if they’re ready to move on with Cam Newton, they’ll also need a new quarterback; the offensive line, additionally, doesn’t appear to be fixed after the team made several reinforcements this offseason. Right now, Carolina is in a difficult spot, as with their core players starting to show their age, and no quarterback-head coach combination in place, they don’t have a clear direction. They’ll at least look to finish the season strong, starting with a road game against the Falcons.
#22: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 26-18 vs NO
Top Performer: DT Grady Jarrett
When the Falcons started their mini two-game winning streak that provided plenty of optimism, it started with a win against the rival Saints in New Orleans. However, that optimism has disappeared, and that proved to be true against New Orleans on Thanksgiving Night. Although the final score would indicate that this was a close game, it took several onside kicks for that to be the case- they were extremely outplayed. The offense, for example, didn’t have star receiver Julio Jones, but that’s not why they struggled in this game. Receivers such as Christian Blake stepped up in Jones’ place, but not only was Matt Ryan inaccurate and mistake-prone in this game, he was pressured 41 times- an absurd amount. Furthermore, although defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was a menace in run defense, both the run defense and pass rush was below average (just two QB hits), and for the most part, the secondary was a problem as well. It appears that whatever energy the Falcons had trying to save head coach Dan Quinn’s job is over, and as a result, Atlanta will be yet another team in the NFC South who’ll likely be looking to hire an offensive coach; with no cap space for next season, they’ll try to milk out the rest of their window with Ryan and Jones. They couldn’t repeat their success against the Saints, but can they do so against the Panthers, who they beat on the road 29-3? We’ll find out next week, though a top-five pick for a team in desperate need of young defensive talent definitely should be appealing.
#21: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 20-13 at PIT
Top Performer: SS Sheldrick Redwine
Heading into Week 13, it looked like the Browns, who had won three straight to advance to 5-6, had a chance to sneak into the playoffs. All they had to do was beat a Steelers team they already had blown out and was starting a third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges; seems easy, right? Not so much. It’s unclear if his hand injury affected him, but Baker Mayfield had a letdown performance in this game, and once again, star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was non-existent. It was nice to see head coach Freddie Kitchens once again utilize more two running back formations, but this is an offense that’s supposed to be explosive, yet Beckham Jr. doesn’t appear to be involved in the gameplan at all. Meanwhile, the defense was a disaster in this game. Despite facing Hodges and a receiving corps without Juju Smith-Schuster, Cleveland’s pass defense was atrocious. Not only did they have nine total pressures (it’s almost as though they could use Myles Garrett), but the young cornerback duo of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, an expected strength, was downright terrible- they both posted grades from Pro Football Focus below 38. Right now, there’s serious problems with the Browns, who were poorly built by general manager John Dorsey; they have a lot of star power, but are undisciplined and have absolutely zero depth. Those faults are coming back to bite them, and at this point, all that matters is if Kitchens will remain the head coach next season. On the bright side, perhaps they can bounce back at home against the Bengals, who they dominated last season.
#20: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 24-20 at DET
Top Performer: QB Mitchell Trubisky
Have the Bears turned a corner. Almost certainly not – they’ve beaten the Giants and Lions – but still, the narrative of their season is slowly starting to change. At 6-6, they’re still a longshot for the playoffs, but quietly, Mitchell Trubisky is playing well enough under center to make a decision on his future extremely interesting. He was fabolous in this game, and honestly, he led them to this win- the rest of the team didn’t play well. Well, he did have help from receivers Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson, as well as an offensive line that protected him tremendously and opened up running lanes, but still, the fact that this offense is able to move the ball functionally at all, let alone carry the defense, is extremely surprising. Speaking of the defense, they were a massive disappointment in this game. The secondary had one of its better games of the year, but the pass rush generating just 15 pressures, and the run defense struggling, a lot of pressure was placed on them. Considering that even at the beginning of this season, this appeared to be a still all-around dominant unit, it’s incredible they’ve fallen to the point that they’re vulnerable against a third-string quarterback making his first start. Obviously, this defense is too talented not to have better days, and one can argue that the offense turning the corner means that they’re becoming a complete. However, until they beat a playoff-caliber opponent, and not a decimated Lions team, I can’t have full trust in them to finish strong down the stretch, though they’ll have a chance to go over .500 with a home win on Thursday Night Football against the Cowboys.
#19: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Lost 23-20 at DEN
Top Performer: WR Mike Williams
Just when it looked like the Chargers couldn’t find a more heartbreaking way to lose, they did- a questionable pass interference penalty by star corner Casey Hayward set up the Broncos for a game-winning field goal and prevented overtime. Now, Los Angeles sits with a rough 4-8 record, and all eight of those losses have come by one score- with a few breaks, they could be a true playoff team. However, they haven’t, and it’s hard to see that as unsustainable with the lack of organization and discipline they possess. Phillip Rivers did play better, as did the entire offense – he had great pass protection – but still, they got off to a poor start, which meant they were playing from a deficit for the entire game. Meanwhile, getting back star safety Derwin James did in fact improve the play of the secondary, which held their own outside of one deep touchdown pass, but somehow, Los Angeles’ star-studded pass rush had ZERO sacks or QB hits- they’ve continued to struggle to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which was supposed to be their main strength. Right now, the Chargers are a mess, and with no clear direction; they have too much talent to rebuild, but with no successor in place, do they bring back Rivers. And if they don’t, who takes over, and should head coach Anthony Lynn be brought back? These are questions Los Angeles needs to answer as they enter this final four-game stretch, starting in Jacksonville.
#18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 28-11 at JAX
Top Performer: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
While several non-playoff contenders, including two from NFC South, continue on their downfalls, the Bucs have stepped up- they’ve been exceptional the past two weeks. In fact, their 28-11 win in Jacksonville, regardless of the opponent, may have been their most impressive win of the year. Rather than be forced to engage in the shootout, the offense actually took a backseat, as Jameis Winston actually served in more of a game manager role, taking care of the football for the most part while his surrounding cast (offensive line and receivers) dominated. That formula worked once again- their defense has been surprisingly spectacular. It’s a very young group of players, and finally, some progress is evident, providing some optimism for the future. Second-round rookie corner Sean Murphy-Bunting illustrated his elite upside in this game, and finally, first-round rookie linebacker Devin White wasn’t a liability in pass coverage. Plus, the pass rush, led by Jason Pierre-Paul and offseason steal Shaquill Barrett on the edge, had 32 pressures, which helps compensate for their 13 missed tackles. Obviously, the Bucs are 5-7 for a reason; they’ve been anything but consistent all season long. Yet, there’s a chance they’re finally turning a corner, and suddenly, they appear to have some intriguing young talent. We’ll see if they can keep it up back at home against the Colts.
#17: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 23-20 vs LAC
Top Performer: FS Kareem Jackson
Can Drew Lock be the Broncos’ future? It’s hard to say after one game, especially as he was very inconsistent- he made some big plays, but also had a costly interception; overall, he earned a grade of 57.4 from Pro Football Focus. Still, Lock’s arm talent gives this offense a much higher upside, especially with some of the talent around him, including an underrated offensive line and a true #1 receiver in Courtland Sutton. This offense will likely depend on Lock’s week-to-week performances, but still, they’re much more exciting than they were under Joe Flacco or Brandon Allen- there’s definitely a lot of potential with Lock. At this point, a transition away from being a defensive-first team is in order, as even though Vic Fangio’s defense continues to play well, the future of this team is with their young offensive talent. That’s especially true as they continue to have some issues defending the pass, as top corner Chris Harris Jr., in particular, is starting to regress; this defense, as it ages, is slowly proving to not be capable of carrying the offense. Still, it’s strong enough to keep them competitive with an improved offense, and it’ll be fun to watch Lock lead this team as the season comes to the close; he’ll make his first road start in Houston next week.
#16: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 20-13 vs CLE
Top Performer: WR James Washington
Somehow, someway, the Steelers keep winning games. It doesn’t matter if they’re on the third-string quarterback, are without receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner, they keep winning, which says a lot about their overall roster talent. Specifically, the identity of this team is clearly with its defense, which has established itself as one of the most dominant units in football. Their pass rush, led by TJ Watt and Bud Dupree on the edge, as well as Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave on the interior, is often unblockable, and they were in this win over Cleveland with 26 pressures. Plus, their pass coverage has also improved tremendously, as the cornerback duo of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, as well as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, have been excellent. Yes, they need to fix their tackling woes (17 missed tackles), but the fact that they shut down the Browns despite that is impressive- they are legitimately carrying this team to victories. Then again, the offense did play well in this game, as undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges, who continues to create chunk plays through the air, is a clear upgrade under center to Mason Rudolph. Meanwhile, second-year receiver James Washington is finally getting his fair share of targets, and as a result, is breaking out in a huge way; quietly, with Smith-Schuster, Washington, and rookie Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh has an extremely young and talented receiving corps to build around. I’m still not convinced the Steelers are going to be a playoff team, as their luck has to catch up to them at some point. Still, it’s incredible they’re even in this position with a 7-5 record, and with several exciting young players, the future suddenly looks bright in Pittsburgh as they look to improve their playoff aspirations with a road game against the Cardinals.
#15: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 31-17 vs TEN
Top Performer: WR Zach Pascal
Just two weeks ago, the Colts looked to be in prime position to potentially win the AFC South. Now? The playoffs look like a longshot. Sure, they could afford a loss at Houston in Week 12, but what they couldn’t do was fall short at home to the division-rival Titans, who now have overtaken them in the fight with the Steelers for the wildcard spot. What wrong? Obviously, two missed field goals by Adam Vinatieri and a kick blocked for a touchdown will be pointed at as the main causes for the loss, but rather than do that, let’s analyze their play outside of special teams. If we can be sure of anything with Indianapolis, it’s that with what has to be the best offensive line in football, they have a very high floor on offense. Yet, at the same time, they’re extremely limited with Jacoby Brissett under center; Brissett threw two costly interceptions in this game, and although Zach Pascal stepped up, star receiver TY Hilton was clearly missed. Plus, the defense did hold their own in pass defense for most of this game, but fell apart in the fourth quarter, while their front seven was absolutely gashed in run defense. Honestly, that’s all there is to say about the Colts at this point; they’re deep and can compete with any team, but don’t have the high-end talent necessary to be consistent and win in a sustainable fashion. At this point, their season is on the line in Tampa Bay next week; as they trail the Steelers and Titans for a wildcard spot, they probably cannot afford another loss.
#14: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 28-22 vs NE
Top Performer: QB Deshaun Watson
After they were embarrassed in Baltimore in Week 11, I was starting to dismiss the Texans, as they appeared to be too decimated by injuries to compete with the AFC’s top teams. Yet, here they were Sunday night, blowing out the Patriots (forget the final score) in stunning fashion. Given Deshaun Watson’s issues when kept in the pocket, I was worried that he may struggle against New England’s excellent pass defense in this game. Instead, he was fabulous, putting together an all-around performance, while his pass protection remained fantastic. Then, you add in the receiver trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, and Kenny Stills, as well as the running back duo of Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr., and the ceiling of this offense is through the roofs; the key for them will be to demonstrate that upside more consistently. Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty defensively, but as they forced New England to be one-dimensional by taking away the run, players like edge rusher Jacob Martin and cornerback Bradley Roby stepped up to limit Tom Brady and the passing attack. I still have little faith in this defense in the long run, but this offense could be capable of carrying them if they are truly indeed reaching their peak right now. With the Broncos coming to the town, they’ll try to win their third straight (all at home) before a critical game in Tennesee.
#13: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Won 26-15 at DAL
Top Performer: QB Josh Allen
One thing’s for certain- at this point, the Bills can no longer be considered “pretenders”. Yes, there are still some minor holes on this roster and their schedule has been very easy, but as they proved with a convincing win in Dallas, they are indeed capable of competing with the top-tier teams in the NFL. It definitely shouldn’t overlook what has been a mediocre season for him, but one can’t help but be impressed by Josh Allen’s performance against a solid Cowboys defense; he demonstrated the high upside he possesses thanks to his athleticism and arm talent; he also has improved significantly with his decision making. Plus, although the supporting cast isn’t special, you could do a lot worse than their offensive line, and the receiver duo of vertical threat John Brown and slot receiver Cole Beasley gets the job done; rookie running back Devin Singletary has also been great since becoming the team’s lead back. Then there’s the defense, which continues to excel in pass defense. They’re not “big names”, but the production they’re getting from young players such as corners Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace, rookie interior rusher Ed Oliver, and linebacker Matt Milano is impressive, as is their collection of veteran talent. Like the Colts, the Bills aren’t a star-studded roster, but thanks to a few tremendous offseasons, they’re filled with depth, and have an extremely bright future; if they win against the Ravens in Week 14, they have to be considered not just a team to keep an eye on for next season, but a dark-horse threat in the AFC this season.
#12: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 31-13 at NYG
Top Performer: WR Allen Lazard
Coming off a very dissapointing blowout loss in San Francisco, the Packers had an excellent opportunity to bounce back against a Giants team that had lost seven straight. They took full advantage, thriving in all aspects. That started with the offense, as Aaron Rodgers practically doubled his grade from Pro Football Focus, while receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, as well as running back Jamaal Williams, were excellent weapons in the passing game. If there’s something to note about the offense, it’s that Williams once again had around the same amount of snaps as Aaron Jones; they’re operating as a commitee, and although I believe Jones is the better player, it’s understandable for them to keep both of them fresh. Furthermore, Green Bay’s defense was terrific. Not only did their finally stop the run effectively, but interior rusher Kenny Clark and edge rushe Za’Darius Smith continue to have excellent seasons as pass rushers, while the secondary, led by safeties Adrian Amos and rookie Darnell Savage, improved significantly. Then again, it’s important to not take too much from this game, given their opponent- Green Bay still has to prove to be capable of beating top-tier teams. It’ll likely be the same story for them next week- they host the Redskins.
#11: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 31-17 at IND
Top Performer: G Rodger Saffold
For years, the Titans have quietly built a strong roster, headlined by their offensive line and defense, but issues at quarterback with Marcus Mariota held them back. Well, they’re now 5-1 ever since turning to Ryan Tannehill under center- their excellent roster construction is starting to pay off. Now, it wasn’t a good game for the defense, which had its issues with pass defense, and perhaps more surprisngly, was builled by Indianapolis’ offensive line in the running game. Yet, they stepped up when it mattered most (fourth quarter), and have all the talent neccesary to bounce back- this was likely a fluke. Plus, with the way the offense is functioning under Tannehill, they don’t even have to be as stout as they previously had to. Three offensive lineman (Rodger Saffold, Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan) earned an 84.9 or better grade from Pro Football Focus, and when you can dominate in the offensive trenches, the offense opens up. Notably, they once again ran the ball efficiently, and although Tannehill wasn’t great, he made some huge plays through the air when needed. Then again, he can’t take 9 sacks on 16 pressures against better teams; more focus on a quicker passing game would help the offense. Still, this team is rolling right now; I definitely wouldn’t want to play them, considering how talented and deep their roster is. They’ll try to win their fourth straight game in Oakland this week in a very important game for their playoff hopes.
#10: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Lost 37-31 at MIA
Top Performer: WR Alshon Jeffrey
Before we get into a deep analysis of the Eagles’ shocking loss in Miami, it’s important for me to note that they signficiantly outgraded the Dolphins in this game, per Pro Football Focus, thus demonstrating that poor luck played a huge part in this loss. Still, this isn’t a game that should’ve come down to a few tough breaks- Philadelphia was expected to dominate a talent-deficient Dolphins team, let alone win; losing was never an option for a 5-6 team that had a chance to tie the Cowboys for the NFC East lead. This loss definitely wasn’t on the offense, as Carson Wentz was much better, the offensive line was incredible in pass protection and run-blocking, while receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor made their presence felt in their return from their respective injuries. Nor was should the blame go to the front seven, which had 24 pressures on 42 dropbacks, and was great in run defense. Rather, the attention needs to go the secondary; they made Ryan Fitzpatrick and Devante Parker look like the second-coming of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Cornerback Jalen Mills clearly lacks the athleticism neccesary to prevent big plays through the air, yet he remains a starter for them, while sfafety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Ronald Darby have also definitely underperformed this season. Right now, Philadelphia can’t create explosive plays on offense, yet surrenders several of them on defense. That’s an alarming combination that could ultimately cost them a division title- they’re a loss away from being a .500 team at best. On the bright side, they should be able to get back at track at home against the 2-10 Giants on Monday Night Football, and remain just a game back of the Cowboys; if they can finally play up to their talent, it may somehow not be too late for them.
#9: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Lost 26-15 vs BUF
Top Performer: EDGE Demarcus Lawrence
Heading into their Thanksgiving affair with the Bills, the Cowboys were nearly a touchdown-favorite- they clearly were, and still are, the more talented team. Yet, if you watched the game, it would’ve been difficult to tell which team was the heavy favorite; Dallas was embarassed in a game they needed to win. Now, it wasn’t as bad the final score would indicate, as the offense did move the ball constantly, and quarterback Dak Prescott had another strong performance. Yet, two missed fiels goals and multiple failed fourth-down conversions hurt them significantly- they couldn’t finish drives at all, which has been a problem for them all season. Meanwhile, their poor pass defense against a pretty average Bills passing attack, which is unfortunate, as their front seven finally held their own in run defense, and they missed just four tackles. At this point, it’s impossible to ever know what Cowboys team we’re getting; they may have a lot of talent, but they’re so poorly coached that it may not matter; they may have to wait till next season, under a new head coach, for them to be a threat in the NFC. They arguably face a must-win scenario in Chicago on Thursday Night Football.
#8: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Won 34-7 at ARI
Top Performer: LB Cory Littleton
Are the Rams back? Probably not; after all, although they got back on track with an impressive blowout victory, they did so against a subpar Cardinals team. Still, this is a team that’s just a game back of the Vikings for a wildcard spot, and it’s not as though Arizona is a terrible team. After all, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense has given some of the league’s top defense a difficult time, so for the Rams to force him into his worst performance in the year is definitely an accomplishment. In pass coverage, there are so many positives to take away; linebacker Corey Littleton had a stellar bounce-back performance, star corner Jalen Ramsey had his best game as a Ram, and rookie safety Taylor Rapp is thriving as a free safety. That last note is of particular importance, as star safety John Johnson (currently on IR, free agent after 2020) isn’t likely to factor into the team’s long-term plans given their little financial flexibility, and next season, he and Rapp could form a formidable safety duo. This remains one of the premier defenses in the NFL, especially when it comes to defending the pass; it’ll be the offense that ultimately dictates their fate for this season. In that regard, it’s intriguing that they were able to post 549 yards with relative ease, even if it came against one of the league’s worst defenses. The offensive line wasn’t great in pass protection, but Jared Goff still had probably his best game of the season, as tight end Tyler Higbee and receiver Robert Woods each had over 100 yards receiving, while the rushing attack with Todd Gurley was much better. Hopefully, this is a victory that the Rams can build on down the stretch; they have zero margin for error. We’ll learn more about if they truly should be considered a threat to challenge Minnesota for the playoffs in their upcoming Sunday Night Football matchup against the division-rival Seahawks.
#7: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Lost 37-30 at SEA
Top Performer: TE Kyle Rudolph
It was going to be difficult, but the Vikings had a chance to make a statement on Monday night in Seattle- it’s important for them to prove they can beat high-caliber teams in critical games. Although it’s definitely not time to panic, they did fail- they were even behind three scores at one point. Though, as per usual, the blame will be on Kirk Cousins, it really wasn’t his fault; the team around him crumbled. Tight end Kyle Rudolph continues to be a great red zone threat, but with Adam Thielen still out, they clearly didn’t have many options in the passing game, and that only increased when running back Dalvin Cook (expected to be OK) went out with an injury. I’m still confident in this offense, though, as with Thielen back, they have all the talent to be one of the more underrated units in football. However, this is supposed to be a defensive-first team, yet their defense may actually be below-average. A supposedly star-studded pass rush had all of 13 pressures against a weak offensive line, and though the pass coverage was fine, corner Xavier Rhodes remains a liability. He’s highly-paid, and was once a #1 corner, but he’s clearly past his prime; he cannot keep up with receivers anymore, and should be benched if this team wants to compete against the league’s premier teams. It would’ve been an upset for the Vikings to win on the road in Seattle, and they’re still in great position to finish as a wildcard. However, with the Rams right behind them, they obviously need to get back on track, which should be extremely doable at home against a depleted Lions team.
#6: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 37-30 vs MIN
Top Performer: T George Fant
For most of the season, the narrative around the Seahawks has been that they were essentially Russell Wilson’s team; he was carrying them to victories at the beggining of the season. However, we’ve seen this group of players slowly start to develop in recent weeks, and this week, they made a major statement- they’ve become a much more complete football team. Wilson was fine in this game, but for the third week in a row, he wasn’t relied upon heavily, and he was helped out significantly by his offensive line, the rushing attack (Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are a great duo), and even with Tyler Lockett not catching a single pass, the likes of DK Metcalf and David Moore stepped up. However, my current focus with Seattle is their defense- they’re getting hot at the right time. This isn’t a deadly pass rush, but it gets the job done, especially with how well their pass coverage has been. Cornerback Shaquill Griffen has gone from one of the worst corners in the league to as true #1 corner, and with Tre Flowers starting to play better opposite of him, they’re starting to defend the pass effectively- something they couldn’t do at the beggining of the season. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to become bullish of this Seahawks team, as even though they’re not the most talented of teams, they extremely disciplined, and with Wilson under center, the sky is the limit for them. They’ll have another huge primetime game up ahead- they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams on Sunday Night Football.
#5: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 40-9 vs OAK
Top Performer: FS Juan Thornhill
Due in large part to injuries to several of their key players, the Chiefs have underperformed, and as a result, have definitely gone under the radar this season. However, they’re finally healthy, and as they showed in their dominant victory against the Raiders, they still have to be considered a clear-cut Super Bowl contender. It wasn’t a perfect game for Patrick Mahomes, who was lucky not to throw multiple interceptions in this game. However, he still played well, and he finally appeared to have his mobility back- he looks to be almost fully-recovered from his knee and ankle injuries. Plus, with left tackle Eric Fisher back, the pass protection was much better than it had previously been, and as expected, Kansas City overwhelmed Oakland with all of their offensive weapons. The Ravens may be the “flashy offense” right now, but if I had to take one offense right now, I’d still take the Chiefs- they’re as explosive as a group as I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, it’s gone under the radar, but the defense is also starting to play up to its capabilities. They have a lot of talent, as Chris Jones is one of the best interior rushers in the league, and even though he doesn’t help their poor run defense, he gives their pass rush a high floor. However, it’s their secondary that has impressed- the safety duo of rookie Juan Thornhill and Tyrann Mathieu has to be on the most overlooked duos in the NFL. In my opinion, the Chiefs are right up there with the AFC’s best teams, and if they could somehow manuever a first-round bye (very unlikely), they’ll be even more dangerous. They’ll have a chance to make an absolutely massive statement- they travel to New England to take on the Patriots in a rematch from last year’s AFC Championship game.
#4: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 26-18 at ATL
Top Performer: EDGE Cameron Jordan
In their fourth consecutive divisional matchup, the Saints had a chance to get revenge on the Falcons, who beat them in New Orleans in Week 10. Although the final score was closer than it perhaps should’ve been (two onside kicks), they were able to do that, and as a result, clinched an NFC South title. Unlike in their first matchup, the offensive line made sure Drew Brees was rarely touched in this game, which was impressive considering that they were without starting left tackle Terron Armstead. Furthermore, versatile weapon Taysom Hill took over this game with a receiving and rushing touchdown (and a punt block), which adds another dimension to the offense. However, there is still a significant drawback with this offense- they don’t have a ton of weapons. Michael Thomas is one of, if not the best receiver in the NFL, but with running back Alvin Kamara looking like a shell of his usual shelf, and tight end Jared Cook and reciever Ted Ginn Jr.’s drop issues, Brees doesn’t have a lot to work with- if Thomas is contained, they don’t really have another way to move the ball efficiently; they relied on some turnovers to give them adequate field position. You’d obviously expect more against one of the weaker defenses in the NFL, but luckily for them, they were able to shut down Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense. Now, Atlanta was without Julio Jones, but shouldn’t overlook the fact that the pass rush generated an absolutely absurd 41 pressures; Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport caused havoc on the edge. Plus, rookie nickel corner Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was stellar in coverage with a great interception, and hopefully, that leads to him getting more playing time than PJ Williams, who continues to get attacked on a consistent basis. If there’s one negative, it’s that their outside cornerbacks didn’t play well, and that was without having to face Jones; Marshon Lattimore (first game back from injury) and Eli Apple struggled. So, there’s clearly some issues with the Saints, who proved to be strong in a lot of facets, but also vulnerable in others- they’re not very consistent for a 10-2 team. Their run of divisional matchups is finally over, but they face a daunting task in Week 14- they host the 49ers.
#3: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 20-17 vs SF
Top Performer: LT Ronnie Stanley
Though they’ve been dominating teams throughout the season, one question always remained with the Ravens: how would they respond to adversity in a close game? Despite a lackluster performance from Lamar Jackson, especially through the air, Baltimore was able to beat argubaly the best team in the NFL (49ers), and as a result, are the current #1 seed in the AFC. Without Jackson playing at an optimal level, the offense stagnated, but still, not only am I impressed with how well their tight ends performance (Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst) in the passing game, but their pass protection held up against the league’s top pass rush. Despite being lined up against one of the game’s top pass rushers in Nick Bosa, left tackle Ronnie Stanley earned a 88.2 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, and proved himself to be arguablly the best tackle in the NFL; center Patrick Mekari also held up tremendously in his first ever start. Over time, this remains one of the top offenses in the NFL; it’s the defense that is the wildcard. To that end, they definitely regressed in this game, as they didn’t generate much pressure, and couldn’t really defend the pass or run. Notably, cornerback Marcus Peters had the poor outing he tends to drop in with every couple outstanding games (he’s a boom-or-bust player), and edge rusher Matthew Judon had just one pressure. Still, their ability to mix-and-match their linebackers is impressive, and through their excellent special teams (they won the field position battle and kicker Justin Tucker made a game-winning field goal), were able to somehow win this game. That speaks how dangerous their team can be; not only do they have a lot of star talent on both sides of the ball, but their special teams is right up there with the Patriots, which makes them a serious threat to beat them in the playoffs, especially in it’s Baltimore. Therefore, getting home-field advantage is paramount- they have to keep winning, and they’ll have another challenge in Buffalo, though I’m sure they’ll be up to the task.
#2: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Lost 28-22 at HOU
Top Performer: G Shaq Mason
Are the Patriots in trouble? In my opinion, almost certainly not- they’re still 10-2, and they have a loss like this in December almost every single year. However, even though the final score wouldn’t indicate it, they were dominated by a team they’ve owned throughout this decade, and really didn’t pass the eye test at all. Even though Tom Brady played fine, he clearly isn’t capable of elevating the talent around him like he once was, which is a major problem; even against a subpar Patriots secondary, their receivers lack the speed and seperation ability to make an impact. Plus, not only are they not passing the ball effectively, but they still can’t run the ball to much effect at all as well- this is honestly a below-average offense as currently constructed, though their offensive line is still pretty strong. Therefore, this is definitely a team built on its defense, and they dissapointed in this game. Shockingly, New England’s pass coverage was horrendous, as honestly, no one played well (not even star corner Stephon Gillmore). They were consistently beat over the top by Houston’s playmakers, but if there’s anything I see truly sustainable against them, it was their issues defending running back Duke Johnson Jr. in the passing game- Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Dont’a Hightower all look too slow to cover running backs. Was this a fluke by the Patriots? Probably. Should we be worried? We should definitely at least be a little concerned; if this is their final product in the postseason, they’ll won’t be able to beat the likes of the Ravens and Chiefs, who are simply faster and younger. In fact, we’ll see how they fare against the Chiefs this week- they’ll host them in a game they need to win to a) secure a bye and b) stay on Baltimore’s heels for the #1 seed.
#1: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Lost 20-17 at BAL
Top Performer: RT Mike McGlinchey
In rainy conditions on the road in the East Coast against a very strong Ravens team, it was always going to be tough for the 49ers to come out victorious in Baltimore. Still, they had a great chance to win this game, and as a result, demonstrated a lot of perservence- they’re coached extremely well by head coach Kyle Shanahan. Not only did San Francisco run the ball very efficiently, and they were able to do so behind an offensive line that was excellent in both pass-blocking and run-blocking- tackles Mike McGlinchey and Daniel Brunskill put together terrific performances. Plus, although this definitely wasn’t one of Jimmy Garoppolo’s better games, some of that should fall on the conditions (Lamar Jackson also struggled), and in a better atmosphere, better days should be ahead- this offense is still magnificient. Meanwhile, the pass rush obviously wasn’t the same against a quick-hitting Ravens offense with a great offensive line, but for the most part, the defense held their own in run defense. Safety Marcell Harris had one of the plays of the year in his fumble forced on Jackson, and honestly, there wasn’t a snap where linebacker Fred Warner, cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Akhello Witherspoon, or safety Jimmy Ward weren’t around the ball. San Francisco may currently not have the division lead, but in the end, I expect they’ll end up at the top of the NFC- they’re the best team in the NFL. They’ll head to New Orleans to take on the Saints in Week 14.