Heading into Week 14, we knew that with so many intriguing matchups slated to take place, that we’d finally start to get some clarity on the outlook of the season. Well, I’m even more confused after this week- some of these games were strange and unexpected, to say the least. It wasn’t that the outcomes in particular, but rather, the way the games played out were very surprising- what we thought to be true of several teams no longer appears to be true. So, who’s moving up, and who’s moving down after this chaotic week? Let’s rank every NFL team after 14 weeks, assigning them grades for their performance and highlighting each team’s top performer.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 22-21 at NYJ
Top Performer: WR Isaiah Ford
The Dolphins are by no means a talented team, but still, head coach Brian Flores has this team playing competitively- had it not been for a controversial pass interference, Miami probably would’ve won this game. However, the fact that they almost won this game is miraculous, as they didn’t play well at all. Once again, Miami’s offensive line was terrible, especially with their interior pass protection, and with receiver Devante Parker leaving this game early with a concussion, Ryan Fitzpatrick had even less to work with than usual. Plus, any time you have to settle for seven field goals, you probably don’t deserve to win, and it’s not as though the defense played much better. The run defense was fine, but the pass defense was once again extremely subpar; undrafted free agent rookie Nik Needham has hit a rough patch after a strong start. In the end, every loss for Miami gets them closer to earning a top-three pick, which is critical for them in the early stages of their rebuild- they’re in a win-win situation. Interestingly, they’ll stay in New York next week, as they’ll face the 2-11 Giants.
#31: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 45-10 vs LAC
Top Performer: C Brandon Linder
After another embarrassing 45-10 loss to the Chargers, the Jaguars have now lost five straight games by three scores or more- they’re giving the Dolphins a run for being the worst team in football. What does this team have working for them at all? Gardner Minshew wasn’t awful in this game, but he certainly didn’t elevate the play from those around him, and now that receiver DJ Chark Jr. is week-to-week with an ankle injury, there’s nothing that this offense has working for them; their run-first approach, unsurprisingly, hasn’t worked because they don’t actually have an effective rushing attack. Meanwhile, Jacksonville once had one of the scariest defenses in recent memory, but now, they’re as weak as any other unit in the league. Despite facing a poor offensive line, the Jaguars pass rush mustered just twelve pressures (rookie Josh Allen had just two), and without Myles Jack, the linebackers were awful in pass coverage; highly-paid corner AJ Bouye also continues to struggle without Jalen Ramsey opposite of him. Coming into the season, the Jaguars thought that signing Nick Foles was the answer for a Super Bowl push. That’s extremely laughable; drastic changes need to made with the front office and coaching staff, no matter how they play down the stretch, starting in Oakland.
#30: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 27-19 at CLE
Top Performer: RB Joe Mixon
The Bengals may have just one win this season, but unlike the Dolphins and Jaguars, they continue to pass the eye test as a competent team- they have the stability to several low-level teams lack. Heck, quarterback Andy Dalton may have actually cost his team the game with a poor outing that included a pick-six, and that’s with him receiving solid pass protection and with running back Joe Mixon once again running wild for Cincinnati. Plus, this wasn’t the greatest defensive performance, but their run defense has been better, for whatever that’s worth. Still, this is a team with talented pass rushers and defensive backs, yet, whether it was edge rusher Carl Lawson or cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard or William Jackson III, they struggled to stop the Browns passing attack. Make no mistake, this is an extremely flawed team that needs the #1 pick as much as any other team. However, they’re not horrible, and I expect them to remain competitive through the rest of the season. That’ll be tough next week, however, as they’ll host the angry Patriots.
#29: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 23-17 at PHI
Top Performer: WR Darius Slayton
For one half, it looked like Eli Manning was on the verge of doing what he’s done best throughout his career- pulling off an extremely unexpected upset; they were winning 17-3 at halftime in Philadelphia. However, the Giants found their true colors at halftime, allowing 20 unanswered points to lose in overtime. On offense, New York finally received adequate production from running back Saquon Barkley, and sixth-round rookie receiver Darius Slayton continues to outperform his draft position. Heck, their offensive line also played well against a strong Eagles front four, yet in the end, Manning held back the offense, and couldn’t come through when the team needed him most- the play-calling was as conservative as it can get. It was a similar story on defense, as first-round rookie Deandre Baker was fantastic, but outside of that, they provide little resistance in the second-half to an offense that at one point only had one active receiver. That speaks to how poor New York’s pass defense is, as their secondary and pass rush is abysmal, and even worse, their foolish investments towards stopping the run couldn’t even help them do that effectively. The Giants should be much better than 2-11, given the amount of money and draft capital they’ve put into this roster; it’s time for them to move on from head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman, as due to several poor decisions, this team has made zero progress in their rebuild. Perhaps they can finally end their nine-game losing streak next week- they host the Dolphins.
#28: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 20-15 at GB
Top Performer: WR Terry McLaurin
In recent weeks, the Redskins have finally let Dwayne Haskins loose, rather than not having an ultra-conservative offense. That’s allowed to play much better as of late, and even though Haskins struggled in this game, they kept this game somewhat close in Green Bay. Now, he didn’t exactly receive much protection from his offensive line or rushing attack, but on the bright side, rookie receiver Terry McLaurin continues to prove to be a star in the making; the fact that he was drafted in the third-round is outrageous, and he’s easily been the biggest steal of the draft so far. As for the defense, it was a very uninspiring performance, especially in run defense, but at the very least, their linebackers fared well in coverage- it isn’t all hopeless in Washington. After all, they have some real young talent on offense to build around, especially since they’ll have a top-five pick; it’ll be exciting to see how Haskins finishes. starting in Philadelphia next week.
#27: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Lost 23-17 vs PIT
Top Performer: EDGE Chandler Jones
For most of the season, the Cardinals defense has been a liability, but due to an exciting offense led by Kyler Murray, they’ve been a tough team to beat throughout the season. However, those roles flipped in this game. It’s not as though the defense was spectacular- in fact, the pass coverage, including rookie corner Byron Murphy, struggled mightily. Still, they did enough to keep the team in the game- seven of Pittsburgh’s points came on a punt return. The offense, on the other hand, is starting to raise eyebrows with their inefficiency. For the second straight week, Murray posted a grade from Pro Football Focus below 30, which certainly isn’t ideal, especially since the offensive line actually held their own against arguably the best pass rush in the NFL. At this point, I’m worried about Murray and the offense- they’re facing strong defenses, but considering they played well against the vaunted 49ers defense, you’d expect more for an offense that had has so much innovation at the beginning. Hopefully, they play better next week against an easier opponent- they host the Browns.
#26: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 40-20 at ATL
Top Performer: LB Luke Kuechly
Remember when the Panthers looked like contenders and Kyle Allen had won four straight as the team’s starter under center. That feels like an eternity ago; after their blowout loss to the Falcons, Carolina is now 5-8, with no head coach, and no sense of optimism whatsoever. Allen, once again, turned in a very poor performance, as he struggled with turnovers and inaccuracy- any questions about his future standing with the club have been answered, and not in a good way. Plus, it doesn’t help that an offensive line that they invested in so much allowed one of the league’s worst pass rushes to have an absurd 32 pressures against them. At this point, should Carolina shut star running back Christian McCaffrey down. He’s undergone such a heavy workload this season, and with there being little talent around him and the season over, there’s no point in sacrificing his body more. Then, there’s the defense, which has gone from being the identity of the team to being a liability. Not only does this continue to be the worst run defense in the NFL, but the cornerback duo of James Bradburry and Donte Jackson was awful in this game, which allowed Atlanta to move the ball down the field with ease. Change is coming in Carolina under owner David Tepper, but it can’t come soon enough- this team is a mess right now, and there’s no reason to expect much else from them for the rest of the season; they’ve quit, and I don’t expect them to stand much of a chance when they host the Seahawks.
#25: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 42-21 vs TEN
Top Performer: G Richie Incognito
Similar to the Panthers, the Raiders once had hopes of making the playoffs, which would’ve been fitting in their final season in Oakland. Now, however, they appear to be finished- they were outclassed by the Titans, who they were competing with for a playoff spot. In fact, they played a very typical game for them. The offense was fine, but as per usual, Derek Carr was pretty conservative, and relied on strong pass protection and an above-average rushing attack, though there still aren’t many playmakers on this offense for him to work with. To properly top off this loss, the defense couldn’t stop the pass at all- they provided zero resistance to Ryan Tannehill. They continue to play safety Lamarcus Joyner at slot cornerback after giving him a four-year contract, and as a result, he’s playing poorly, while corners Trayvon Mullen and Darryl Worley also played poorly. The Raiders are a young team with some hope for the future with multiple first-round picks and a lot of cap space as they move to Las Vegas, but they’re clearly not ready to compete right now, and have a lot of work to do. On the bright side, they have a great chance to move back to .500 with the Jaguars up next in their final home game in Oakland.
#24: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Won 22-21 vs MIA
Top Performer: LB James Burgess
After losing to the Bengals last week, the Jets were in danger of going 0-4 against the three worst teams in football (Dolphins, Jaguars, Bengals). It wasn’t pretty, but by virtue of Sam Ficken’s game-winning field goal, they were able to avoid that fate. Now, the Dolphins offense is one of the league’s worst, but they’ve still given defenses trouble this season. Therefore, the 28 pressures New York’s pass rush generated and their resistance to Miami’s passing and rushing attack still deserves praise, though I can’t help but wonder how defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can keep his job with the Jets- it’s inexcusable that third overall pick Quinnen Williams is playing just 19 snaps and is being relegated to a run-stuffing nose tackle; that in itself is a firing offense, as they’re stunting the growth of one of their long-term building blocks. As for head coach Adam Gase’s offense, it wasn’t one of quarterback Sam Darnold’s better games, but he still did execute a game-winning drive, and was helped out by top receiver Robby Anderson, who’s developed a connection with Darnold after not being traded at the trade deadline. The Jets aren’t going to the playoffs, but they certainly haven’t given up, which is a good sign considering how other teams in their position have fared- they face the impossible task of going to Baltimore to take on the high-powered Ravens on Thursday Night Football, but hopefully, Darnold can help keep it somewhat close.
#23: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Lost 20-7 at MIN
Top Performer: DT Mike Daniels
Once upon of time, the Lions were 2-0-1, and had they held late leads against the Chiefs, Cardinals, and Packers, would’ve been 5-0. Instead, they sit with just three wins, haven’t won a game since Week 8, and are on their third-string quarterback- this has been a disastrous season for them. To be fair, Detroit actually played reasonably well, given that they had to go on the road to face a far superior opponent, and showed flashes on both sides of the ball. David Blough didn’t put together another strong week under center, but he did receive tremendous pass protection from what may be the most underrated offensive line in football, and receiver Kenny Golladay continues to assert himself as a true #1 receiver. They may have only scored seven points in this game, but they did move the ball somewhat effectively, which speaks to the job offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel has done in Detroit. Furthermore, although the defense’s problems in run defense and pass coverage continued to persist, they did accomplish one unexpected goal in this game- they were able to establish a pass rush. Trey Flowers, Mike Daniels, and John Atkins all did a good job of pressuring Kirk Cousins, which is encouraging, though then again, it didn’t matter; star corner Darius Slay and linebacker Jarrod Davis, in particular, had rough games. The Lions aren’t a talent-deficient team, and if they can add reinforcements to the defense, and get a healthy Matthew Stafford back, it’s not inconceivable that they can contend for the playoffs next season; considering the defensive struggles, though, next year does feel like a make or break year for head coach Matt Patricia. We’ll see if they can pick up a much-anticipated win when they come back home to host the Bucs next week.
#22: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Won 27-19 vs CIN
Top Performer: SS Sheldrick Redwine
Even when the Browns win, they seem to never avoid drama; it’s looking like this will be star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s only season in Cleveland, as he wants out. Can you blame him? Not only is he a part of a very chaotic organization dealing with so much dysfunction, but head coach Freddie Kitchens continues to not integrate him into the gameplan- he had just two catches in this game. It’s not all gloomy for the Browns, as Baker Mayfield played well, despite mediocre statistics, and the running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt continue to thrive. Still, you can’t help but wonder what the offense would’ve looked like with Beckham Jr.’s skills being utilized more- it’s impossible to not view this unit as a huge disappointment given their upside. The same goes for the defense, which has a lot of talent, yet continues to underperform. Without star edge rusher Myles Garrett, they’re really struggling to generate pressure, even against a weak offensive line. Plus, although rookie safety Sheldrick Redwine has been a pleasant surprise this season, two of Cleveland’s other rookies have really struggled. Both second-round cornerback Greedy Williams and fifth-round linebacker Mack Wilson have been liabilities this season, despite being seen as major steals; they’re a huge part of this defense’s problems, and it’s hard to view them currently as future building blocks- Williams does have the ideal length, athleticism, and man coverage skills to develop, however. The Browns may technically be in the playoff race at 6-7, but let’s be real, they’re out of it at this point, even with a winnable game in Arizona up ahead. It’s time for them to start evaluating the state of their team heading into next season, which not only needs a new coach, but potentially some help in the front office; general manager John Dorsey hasn’t exactly built the winning roster many thought he had.
#21: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Won 40-20 vs CAR
Top Performer: EDGE Vic Beasley Jr.
Could you imagine if the Falcons got to play Panthers every week? After blowing Carolina out of the waters this game, Atlanta officially outscored them 69-23 in their two meetings this year- half of their wins have come against the Panthers. We could make fun of the Falcons for having four wins, despite all of their talent, but rather than do that, let’s celebrate their terrific performance. Matt Ryan played fine in this game, but since he received incredible pass protection and help from his receiving corps (who would’ve guessed that Olamide Zaccheaus would catch a 93-yard touchdown?), he didn’t have to do anything exceptional – with a better play-caller next season, I could still this offense being a potential top-five unit. Therefore, a lot of the pressure falls on the defense to perform, which they did in this game. Their pass rush, which had struggled for most of the season, had 32 pressures this season, with Vic Beasley Jr., Takkarist McKinnley, and Adrian Clayborn all making their presence felt. Therefore, although the secondary will probably revert back to their old issues with star corner Desmond Trufant out for the secondary, perhaps Atlanta can scheme up enough pressure for them to provide some resistance to opposing passing attacks. Obviously, it’s way too late for the Falcons to do anything meaningful this season – they already have secured a losing record – but as far as how they’ll fare next season, it’s encouraging to see them continue to show flashes of excellence. Can they keep it close with the 49ers next season? It’s very unlikely, but hey, you never know with this team.
#20: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Won 31-24 vs DAL
Top Performer: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
Are the Bears back? After all, they’ve now won three straight games to move to 7-6, and although the playoffs are very unlikely, the fact they’re still technically in the hunt is very impressive. Mitch Trubisky had a relatively mediocre game – he had a poor interception and most of his success came on schemed up plays – but still, the offense continues to move functionally with him under center, to the point where he may be the team’s quarterback next season. In my opinion, that’d be a mistake given his inconsistency, but whether it’s the offensive line that’s playing better or his abundance of weapons, Trubisky has a lot working in his favor, and is executing head coach Matt Nagy’s offense properly. That’s why they’re winning despite pretty average mediocre defensive performances- with edge rusher Khalil Mack struggling, the pass rush and run defense has taken a step back. Yet, top corner Kyle Fuller has played tremendously over the past three weeks, and though second-year Roquan Smith will miss the rest of the season, Kevin Pierre-Louis played admirably in his place. I’m still not convinced these are the same Bears from last year, as they’re a much more flawed team. Still, they’re playing well right now, and can make a major statement if they can win in Green Bay next week.
#19: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Lost 38-35 at TB
Top Performer: LB Darius Leonard
For the third straight week in a row, the Colts lost a game they had a chance to win- they could easily be 9-4 instead of 6-7, though practically every one of their game has come down to the final minutes. Considering how injured they are on offense, I actually remain impressed by head coach Frank Reich, who’s schemed up a lot of production. Jacoby Brissett played reasonably well in this game, and even without star receiver TY Hilton, Zach Pascal had done a great job filling in as the #1 receiver. Plus, although the offensive line didn’t play great in this game, that’s probably a fluke- they’ve been dominant all season long. And although they surrendered 38 points, it’s not all bad news for the defense, as linebacker Darius Leonard may have had the best performance of any player at his position, especially in pass coverage. He and rookie Bobby Okereke, who’s been excellent in coverage this season, should form a formidable linebacker duo for years to come- there’s certainly a lot of optimism regarding Indianapolis’ future. Now that they’re 6-7, I don’t know what the rest of the season holds for the Colts. Still, they’re much better than their record would indicate, have an extremely bright future with so much young talent and cap space, and are still a team no one wants to play. They’ll travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints on Monday Night Football.
#18: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 38-24 vs DEN
Top Performer: SS Tashaun Gipson Sr.
Coming off of a huge win in primetime against the Patriots, the Texans appeared to be in the driver’s seat in the AFC South. All they had to do was beat the 4-8 Broncos and they’d have a one-game lead heading to their matchup against the Titans. That seemed easy, right? Well, apparently not- Houston has absolutely demolished by Denver in all facets. Deshaun Watson is a great quarterback who’s good games are as strong as any quarterback in the league, yet he does have some “stinkers” throughout the season, and that’s what happened here. Because of his poor play, and them falling into an early hole, the rushing game and pass protection were essentially wasted, and it didn’t help that no receiver outside of Deandre Hopkins stepped up; Will Fuller missed this game due to injury, which clearly hurt the offense. As for the defense, what can we ever expect from them? Without JJ Watt, there’s no threat of a pass rush present, which puts way too much pressure on a talent-deficient secondary; if they were gashed by Drew Lock in his first start, how will they fare against more explosive offenses if they’re even lucky enough to make the playoffs? This offense isn’t consistent enough to make up for the poor defensive play, and as a result, I don’t see this team as anything more than a playoff hopefull that’s extremely unlikely to win a game if they indeed make it. They have no choice but to bounce back- they have to find a way to win in Tennesee in Week 15.
#17: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Won 23-17 at ARI
Top Performer: WR Diontae Johnson
The Steelers aren’t a flashy team, and are incapable of blowing any team out, but man do they have a knack for winning games. Despite all the adversity they’ve dealt with, Pittsburgh’s victory in Arizona guaranteed that they won’t have a losing season this year; I’m not one of his main supporters, but I can’t help but be extremely impressed by the job head coach Mike Tomlin has done; many teams would’ve given up when they were 0-3 and had no hope. To his credit, Devlin Hodges actually played really under center this season, is now 3-0 as a starter, and creates much more big plays (and limits turnover-worthy plays) compared to Mason Rudolph. Thus, the offense is no longer historically bad, and it helps that even without Juju Smith Schuster, they didn’t miss a beat thanks to the performances of Diontae Johnson and James Washington- Pittsburgh has quietly one of the best young receiving corps in the NFL. Then, there’s the defense, which continues to assert themselves as one of the league’s best units. Their elite pass rush may have not had to type of performance they’re used to having, but their defensive backs- Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Steven Nelson, in particular – made up for it. I’m still not completely buying the Steelers, who always seem to have some lucky break go their way (they had a punt return touchdown), but they’re a serious threat to make the playoffs to win this game, and honestly can secure a spot if they can beat the Bills on Sunday Night Football- their season has been a major success, given the circumstances.
#16: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 24-17 vs BAL
Top Performer: RB Devin Singletary
The Bills may have actually come close to forcing overtime against the Ravens, but let’s come back to reality- they did not deserve to be in that position. After taking a strong step forward with a win in Dallas, Josh Allen completely regressed this week, as every time he didn’t receive stellar pass protection (mostly when he was blitzed), he gave his team no chance. I do like rookie running back Devin Singletary, this offensive line, and the duo of receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley. Yet, I still lack faith in Allen leading this team, and as a result, I can’t think much of this offense. Plus, though they only allowed 24 points, the defensive grades from Pro Football Focus aren’t exactly pretty. The corner duo of Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White was once again splendid, but there’s one fatal flaw with this team- they don’t have the toughness up the middle to deal with strong rushing attacks. Linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds honestly looked lost at times in this game (Edmunds’ issues were mostly in coverage), and even though I believe in them and the rest of the defense, I don’t have the confidence in them that I do with the defenses of the Steelers, 49ers, or Patriots- they don’t have a strong track record against above-average offenses. It’s not a surprise that the Bills fell short against the prolific Ravens, but it’s how they lost that is concerning. Quietly, the playoffs still aren’t a lock for them with a couple difficult road games coming up, starting in Pittsburgh in primetime.
#15: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 38-35 vs IND
Top Performer: RG Earl Watford
When the Bucs were 3-7, it seemed like a lost season for them, as Jameis Winston’s time as the team’s starting quarterback appeared to be coming to an end. Well, all of a sudden, Tampa Bay has won three straight games, and has generated plenty of optimism heading into next season. Winston had his issues with turnovers in this game, but his highs made up for his lows, and even though Mike Evans left this game (and is out for the year) with an apparent injury, Breshad Perriman’s speed on the outside helps compensate for that loss; they do also still have Chris Godwin, who may be a top-five receiver in all of football. As far as the defense is concerned, they didn’t have one of their better games, especially with their pass coverage, but they still were able to rush the passer well with 24 pressures. Furthermore, with young players like linebacker Devin White and cornerback Carlton Davis playing well, there’s finally hope for defensive improvements, and because of that, I could see this team competing for the playoffs in 2020. Heck, they may even avoid a losing record this season, as they’re likely to get back to .500 with a game in Detroit up next.
#14: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Won 38-24 at HOU
Top Performer: TE Noah Fant
The Broncos may have only a 5-8 record, but that doesn’t do them justice at all- five of their losses have come by one score. However, because of their record, they’ve fallen under the radar, which makes them even scarier- they’re able to pull off upsets like the one they had in Houston. Not only did the Broncos win this game, but they absolutely demolished the Texans in their home stadium, which was unexpected, to say the least. Drew Lock may not be perfect, but his arm talent gives this offense an upside that Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen couldn’t provide; all of a sudden, they’re moving the ball down the field, and with young playmakers like tight end Noah Fant and receiver Courtland Sutton, there’s suddenly some excitement for the future. That’s what generates some optimism for me about this team, as quietly, they’re shifting from being a defense-first team. It’s not as though they lack a strong defense; in fact, their defense is probably a top-ten unit, as the safety duo of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson has been absolutely fantastic this season, and head coach Vic Fangio has elevated the play of the unit. It’s safe to say that this team cannot be overlooked; if they are, they’ll shock you like they did in their trouncing of Houston. Can they pull off back-to-back upsets? It’ll be very tough in Kansas City, but any team is capable of striking when you least expect it, it’s the Broncos.
#13: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 45-10 at JAX
Top Performer: QB Phillip Rivers
It should be taken lightly considering it happened against the Jaguars, but you can’t help but wonder where this version of the Chargers has been all season long. Yes, they’ve dealt with injuries this season, every team has. What they’ve been lacking is standout performances from their key contributors, which happened in this game. Phillip Rivers was marvelous in this game, as he could do no wrong despite receiving average pass protection, and put his playmakers in a position to succeed. Notably, the running back duo of Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon III, as well as the receiver duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, dominated in this game, albeit against an awful Jaguars defense. The same goes for the defense, as their stars (edge rusher Joey Bosa, safety Derwin James, cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.) were fantastic, and paved the way for all-around tremendous performance. Considering EVERY loss for the Chargers this season has come by one score, they’re in a great position for next season potentially- one’s win-loss record in one-score games tend to fluctuate, so their luck may shift. Obviously, questions about their new stadium and the quarterback position persist, but at least they can enjoy this blowout victory as they get ready to take on the Vikings.
#12: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 31-24 at CHI
Top Performer: RT La’el Collins
Remember when the Cowboys looked like the potential class of the NFC after starting the season 3-0? Man, were we foolish for buying into them so soon- reality has not been kind to them. There’s obviously a lot of talent on this team, but not only are they not playing up to their capabilities, but the coaching is holding them back even further. An offense led by Dak Prescott, with one of the game’s top offensive lines and receiving corps, should be up there with the league’s best units, but their gameplans have been awful. For example, they’ve been committed to running the ball on early downs, as they were in this game, which puts a lot of pressure on Prescott on long third downs, which is why several of their drives stalled; Prescott didn’t play poorly in this game, but this was definitely not one of his better games. Plus, why does this defense continue to underperform? They had another twelve missed tackles in this poor loss to the Bears, and their investments have not paid off. Edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence, in particular, stands out due to his inability to make his presence felt as the game-changing pass rusher he’s being paid to be, though it’s not all his fault- the pass coverage and run defense was also subpar against a usually below-average offense. It’s hard to lose faith in a team with so much star talent, but we’ve been waiting for that talent to win out all season long, and it hasn’t happened yet. That speaks to how awful of a job Jason Garrett had done as the team’s head coach this season, and if they want to win the “NFC Least”, they need to come away with a victory against the suddenly hot Rams this upcoming Sunday.
#11: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 23-17 vs NYG
Top Performer: LT Jason Peters
Unlike the Cowboys, the Eagles have a reason for being a disappointment this season- they’ve dealt with an extensive amount of injuries, and now may be without right tackle Lane Johnson and receiver Alshon Jeffrey for some time- those are two key losses. As result, they’ve been ridden of talent, especially on offense, which forces them to have to fight hard to barely win games against teams like the hapless Giants. Because of his situation, I’m not judging Carson Wentz’s average play, as most quarterbacks would falter with such little supporting talent. He wasn’t pressured much by New York’s pass rush in this game, but there were too many drops to count- in overtime, Greg Ward was their only active receiver, which is simply incredible. Hopefully, they can find some stability with two tight end sets and two running back sets to remain afloat behind their excellent offensive line, but since they can’t win shootouts, the defense will need to step up. I’m not sure they’re up to the task, given their inconsistency, but they’re secondary did play much better after a rough outing against the Dolphins, so perhaps they’ll provide enough resistance. If there’s something that’s worth keeping an eye on, it’s the abysmal play of cornerback Ronald Darby, who’s been such a liability this season that he wouldn’t be starting for any other team- Philadelphia is very thin at cornerback. I have no doubt that the Cowboys are more talented than the Eagles right now, but unlike Dallas, Philadelphia is just a more functional team right now. Then again, there’s no such thing as a “sure-win” for them right now, and that includes their upcoming matchup in Washington.
#10: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 20-15 vs WSH
Top Performer: FS Adrian Amos
Right now, there are few weirder contenders than the Packers. They’ may be 10-3 and are very talented at key positions, but they continuously fail to pass the eye test that some of the NFL’s top teams do. The offensive line is fantastic, Aaron Jones is a great running back, and star receiver Davante Adams is a true #1 receiver, but there aren’t any playmakers outside of those two, and quietly, Aaron Rodgers has not played well as of late. Ever since his elite game in Week 7 against the Raiders, he hasn’t done much, and his conservativeness has negatively affected the team in a few ways. For starters, he’s not the big-play threat he once was, which limits the ceiling of the offense, but also, he’s holding onto the ball and taking unnecessary sacks, which is not what you would expect from a traditionally elite quarterback. There’s still a lot to like with head coach Matt LeFleur’s offense, but when you struggle to score 20 points against the Redskins, that’s a problem. On the bright side, even though they once again couldn’t stop the run, green Bay was strong enough in pass defense to easily compensate for that. Whether it was the safety duo of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage or the pass rush trio of Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, and Preston Smith, Green Bay completely shut down Washington’s passing offense in this game, which is why they were able to win despite one of Rodgers’ worst games in recent memory. It’s very unusual to not understand a team’s true identity this late into the season, but that’s what we have with the Packers- how good is their offense or defense? We have no idea. Hopefully, after they host the Bears in Week 15, we get some answers to those questions.
#9: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Lost 28-12 at LAR
Top Performer: FS Quandre Diggs
Since they’re engaged in a battle with the 49ers for the NFC West, and likely the #1 seed, every game is critical for the Seahawks. With San Francisco winning, this was a game Seattle needed to have. Instead, they lost pretty convincingly. It’s not that they were down 21-3 at halftime, or that their only touchdown came on a pick-six. No, without a doubt, the most concerning part of the Seahawks’ loss was how apparent it was that they didn’t have the talent to match up with the Rams. This definitely wasn’t Russell Wilson’s fault, as he was the victim of a lot of drops of poor routes by his receivers, but then again, that’s the story with this offense. It’s not an issue of lack of playmakers, as they have one of the deeper receiving corps in the NFL. Rather, it’s an issue with the gameplan, as they continue to run the ball excessively on early downs, which, like the Cowboys, makes them vulnerable to stalling on a lot of drives- Wilson shouldn’t be forced to covert the amount of third downs he’s being asked to, and at some point, he needs to be trusted by the coaching staff the way an MVP frontrunner should be. After all, it’s not as though they have the defense to support an ineffective offense, as outside of safety Quandre Diggs, who continues to prove to be a brilliant midseason acquisition with two interceptions in this game, the unit as a whole really struggled. 11 pressures and zero sacks won’t cut it against an offense that’s very weak upfront, but pass rush has been a problem with Seattle all season, as has the secondary- these are not new problems, and it’s worrisome that they haven’t been somewhat solved. The Seahawks have as high of a floor as any team, thanks to Wilson, but their lack of talent around is extremely evident- they clearly can’t match the 49ers and the NFC’s top teams. They need to get back on track, and have a great opportunity to do so against the reeling Panthers.
#8: Tennessee Titans (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Won 42-21 vs OAK
Top Performer: QB Ryan Tannehill
For years, the Titans have been a team that has struggled to get over the hump; every time they pull off an impressive victory, they revert back to average, and have thus been an 8-9 win team consistently. Yet, they’re now 6-1 ever since turning to Ryan Tannehill, and at this point, it’s time to buy them as a top-ten team- what do they not do well. Tannehill, who earned a ridiculous 94.1 grade from Pro Football Focus in this blowout win in Oakland, has clearly elevated the play of those around him in a way Marcus Mariota couldn’t, which is notable since there’s a lot working for Tennesee around the quarterback. Their offensive line, particularly in pass protection, is one of the league’s best, which has allowed Tannehill to thrive in a clean pocket, and because of that, their abundance of playmakers are being utilized. Rookie receiver AJ Brown had no business falling to the second round, as he’s shown true #1 receiver capabilities on a weekly basis, and it’s not as though it stops with him. In addition to Brown and former fifth-overall pick Corey Davis on the outside, with Adam Humphries in the slot, Tennesee also has three tight ends (Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, and Anthony Firkser) all playing at a very high level, while running back Derrick Henry has truly made a difference as a excellent power rusher. Pretty much, this offense is as fantastic and as explosive as it gets right now, and they’re complemented by a defense that definitely holds their own. They once again weren’t great in run defense or pass rush, at least to their usual standards with a strong defensive line, but even without top corner Adoree’ Jackson, Tennesee limited Oakland’s passing attack- cornerback Tye Smith, in his second straight start, was once again terrific on the outside. You’d still like to see the Titans defense perform a little better, but with the way the offense is functioning right now, does it even matter? No team in the NFL, outside of maybe the Ravens, is hotter than them right now, and honestly, they’re a team that no playoff team in the AFC wants to face. They’ve put themselves in a terrific position to win the AFC South, but now they have to take advantage- they host the Texans, who are also 8-5.
#7: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 28-12 vs SEA
Top Performer: TE Tyler Higbee
For pretty much in the entire season, we’ve been waiting for the Rams to revert back to their 2018 selves, and be a dominant offensive juggernaut. However, because of that, it’s very possible we’ve overrated how much of a disappointment they actually have been- they’re 8-5, and had it not been for kicker Greg Zuerlein’s unusual missed field goal in Week 5, would be 9-4 and ahead of the Seahawks, who they proved to be clearly better than in this game. It was nice to see the offense function the way it’s supposed to, as Jared Goff, outside of one poor interception (the other was essentially an arm punt), was fabulous in this game, and connected constantly with receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, but also tight end Tyler Higbee, who’s emerged this season as the top tight end that head coach Sean McVay has been looking for. Plus, in their Week 11 against the Bears, I took note of how with a newly aligned offensive line, their pass protection improved. Well, in every game since then, they’ve continued to do a proper job of protecting Jared Goff, and that, in my opinion, has played a significant role in the offense’s improvements. Plus, the defense has quietly been a top-five unit since the acquisition of star corner Jalen Ramsey, and it’s not as though they played great, but they once again held their own against a pretty strong Seahawks offense. Aaron Donald continued to be arguably the best player in football with another seven pressures in this game, and even though Ramsey hasn’t played great, the production of cornerback Troy Hill and rookie Taylor Rapp have really compensated for that. We’ll see if it’s too little too late for the Rams to make a run for a wildcard spot, but they’re only a game back of the Vikings- they have a chance if they can win out. That starts with a pivotal matchup in Dallas that’ll be extremely fun to watch for an extensive amount of reasons.
#6: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 23-16 at NE
Top Performer: LB Damien Wilson
They may have gotten a little help from the referees, but no road team had won in New England in 21 straight games, so the fact that Kansas City was able to pick up a tough road victory is still impressive. That’s particularly true, considering that as he clearly dealt with some sort of injury, Patrick Mahomes did not play well in this game, and overall, neither did the offense. Then again, they still put up 23 points, in part due to the pure explosiveness of their offense, and with their offensive line back intact, Mahomes looks a lot more comfortable in the pocket. I’m still extremely confident that come playoff time, he’ll be ready to lead head coach Andy Reid’s offense to the promise land, but the wildcard has always been the defense. As they started the year terribly and looked like a downgrade from last year’s putrid unit, it looked like they’d once again wasted the effort of Mahomes. Instead, they were actually the reason Kansas City won this game. The secondary didn’t turn in the type of high-quality performance they almost were accustomed to having over the past couple weeks, but they did have 23 pressures in this game, and suddenly aren’t a liability in run defense- they shut down New England’s rushing attack. They still haven’t completely passed the eye test and aren’t as dominant as they were last year, but an argument can be made they are more well-rounded than last year, and although they have been overlooked, are a true threat to win the Super Bowl. With a home date up ahead against the Broncos, they’ll have a good chance to secure double-digit wins and stay in contention for a first-round bye.
#5: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 20-7 vs DET
Top Performer: WR Stefon Diggs
It may have not been the prettiest of performances, but by virtue of their 20-7 win over the inferior Lions, the Vikings not only are one step closer to making a playoff spot, but aren’t completely out of the NFC North race either. After a rough performance last week, the offense fared much better in this game, as star receiver Stefon Diggs was able to win his battle against Darius Slay- he’s really stepped up with Adam Thielen still out due to injury. Plus, the secondary improved in this game, as cornerback Mike Hughes flashed #1 cornerback potential in this game, and the safety duo of Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith is as dynamic of a duo as it gets. There’s not a lot to take away from this win, as it was a pretty standard non-flashy win versus a reeling opponent, but still, it was nice to see Minnesota bounce back after losing in Seattle last week, and they’ll look to make it two straight against the Chargers in Week 15 before a showdown with the Packers.
#4: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Lost 48-46 vs SF
Top Performer: QB Drew Brees
With home-field advantage on the line against the 49ers, the Saints HAD to win this game. It was a back-and-forth shootout, but considering they led with 53 seconds left after a clutch touchdown drive by Drew Brees, all they needed was one stop and they would’ve accomplished that goal. Then again, did we actually expect that to win. Three defensive backs being carried by tight end George Kittle perfectly sums up the performance by the defense- this was one of, if not the worst defensive performance I’ve seen from a team this season. Whether it was cornerback Eli Apple, nickel backs PJ Williams (who should not be seeing any playing time) and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, or safeties Marcus Williams (who’s suddenly struggling) or Von Bell, San Francisco was able to attack every player on this defense outside of linebacker Demario Davis and cornerback Marshon Lattimore; it doesn’t help a supposedly strong pass rush had just twelve pressures, and now that they’ll be without edge rusher Marcus Davenport or interior rusher Sheldon Rankins, I have zero faith in this defense stopping anyone. After all, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has failed to make adjustments this season, and as a result, they’ll be exposed against top-tier offenses. As for New Orleans’ offense, its mostly positive, as Drew Brees tore apart the league’s top defense with ease, which is very encouraging- we now know that New Orleans has the offense capable of competiting in a shootout. Then again, a major component of their success last season was running back Alvin Kamara’s success as a dual threat, and ever since he hurt his ankle around Week 6, he hasn’t looked the same, and playing him for the sake of it at this point only hampers the offense. The Saints shouldn’t feel terrible about losing this game, but they, of all teams, are under the most pressure to win as soon as possible with their window with Brees coming to an end- this loss is going to hurt, and could cost them their season if they can’t get a bye. Now, they’ll have to do everything in their power to win out, and that starts on Monday Night Football against the Colts.
#3: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Lost 23-16 vs KC
Top Performer: CB J.C. Jackson
They may be 10-3, but are the Patriots that good? They’ve essentially beaten up on a weak schedule this season, but against the AFC’s other three division winners, they’re 0-3, and everytime they’ve played a capable team, they’ve struggled. It’s certainly not the defense’s fault, as they did a great job of neutralizing an explosive Chiefs offense with excellent pass coverage, especially from the corner duo of J.C. Jackson and superstar Stephon Gillmore- this was certainly not an easy task for them, yet they delivered in a huge way. At the end of the day, this defense should always be trusted, and considering their elite special teams had another blocked punt in this game, it’s safe to say they win within the margins in a way no team can match. However, at some point, you’re going to have to win with your offense, and right now, they can’t. Tom Brady once again didn’t play poorly in this game, but he clearly can’t elevate the players around him any more. Well, Julian Edelman is the only receiver he trusts right now, and because of that, there’s a clear strategy to exposing that problem- blitz Brady as much as possible, double-team Edelman, and put a defensive back on receiving back James White; this team is vulnerable in the one place, you can’t be vulnerable, and at some point, we can’t keep assuming they’ll suddenly fix those issues come playoff time. This is still a very strong team top to bottom that’s still one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, but all of a sudden, they’re very beatable. On a more positive note, they do get to play the Bengals this week, so their losing streak shouldn’t extend to three games.
#2: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 24-17 at BUF
Top Performer: EDGE Matthew Judon
The Ravens haven’t blown teams away like they’ve previously done, but one potential concern with them was their ability to pull away when adversity hits them, and they’ve done so with two straight close victories. This game against the Bills, as always in Buffalo, was a tough and scrappy game, but then again, there was no time where I thought that Baltimore would fall short- they can beat you in a variety of ways. Lamar Jackson once again didn’t play great, but he showed enough comfort in the pocket to be encouraged, and even without tight end Mark Andrews (injury), Hayden Hurst stepped up in his place; the offensive line also stood their ground against a solid defensive line. However, where I’ve been paying attention to with Baltimore is their defense, as they’ve really come together in recent weeks. Cornerback Marcus Peters has his bad moments, but he’s been mostly excellent since being acquired at mid-season, and it helps that he’s complemented by a true top-ten corner in Marlon Humphrey. Plus, they’ve also done a better job of manufacturing a pass rush, especially with edge rusher Matthew Judon, who is setting himself for a nice payday- his seven pressures in this game brought his season total up to 53. After sweeping a tough three game stretch with the Rams, 49ers, and Bills, the Ravens are now set up to earn the #1 seed- all they have to do is win two of their next three games, and they’re as close as a lock as a team can be as they host the Jets on Thursday Night Football.
#1: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 48-46 at NO
Top Performer: WR Emmanuel Sanders
How can the 49ers not be considered the undisputed best team in the NFL right now? We’ve known that they have arguably the league’s best defense, but at some point, they were going to rely on their offense. Yes, said offense hadn’t been relied upon much this season, but how could there be any doubt that they wouldn’t step up? Any unit led by Kyle Shanahan is bound to be one of the league’s best, but it’s not as though the personnel is too shabby. He tends to get overcriticized, but Jimmy Garoppolo proved in this game that he’s capable of leading his team to a Super Bowl, and the weapons around him are insane. Tight end George Kittle set his team up for the game-winning field goal with the play of the year, and based on the combination of receiving and blocking ability, a case can be made he’s the best player in the NFL. Then, there’s the receivers, as deadline acquisition Emmanuel Sanders is a perfect fit in this offense, and rookie Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne are great complementary options. Oh, and we didn’t forget about San Francisco’s abundance of running backs, or full back Kyle Juszczyck, who’s a true swiss-army knife. Therefore, I have no doubt this very flexible and diverse offense can go punch-for-punch with any offense, and combined with their elite defense, there’s no doubt that they’re the most well-rounded team in the NFL. Now, they control their destiny for the #1 seed, and from there, they could be looking at a Super Bowl. They’ll look to avoid a trap game when they host the Falcons in Week 15.