The only difference between this set of power rankings and the most previous one? I’m actually on time with this one.
Other than that, the chaos of the NFL season has continued in full force. A week after the top dog was dethroned by their main challenger, this week saw the latter drop to an unexpected opponent. New teams are starting to see their potential being realized, while others are witnessing the end of their current relevance. A couple of teams can be penciled in to playoff spots already, while others would do wisely to check out the highlights of next year’s draft class.
It’s the duality of football in a sense; endless euphoria one week giving way to crushing agony the next. It shows the importance of each and every game, even in the early stages of the season. The narratives will always shift from week to week, as will these rankings.
So how do the teams stack up this time?
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2): The weather turned Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough into an unexpected slogfest, but the Bucs did just enough to eke out a win. Unfortunately, they lost yet another defensive back in Carlton Davis to injury, which might mean recently signed Richard Sherman becomes the number one corner within a week of signing. Yikes.
2. Buffalo Bills (4): While Buffalo’s 118-21 combined score and two shutouts in the last three games is a great sign of momentum, they came against three mediocre-at-best offenses. If they can manage the same success against the Chiefs, however, the Bills suddenly have a legitimate case of being the best team in the AFC.
3. Arizona Cardinals (7): Maybe I’m being too harsh on Arizona, who became the last undefeated team in the league with a shocking road victory against the Rams. I’ll buy into the Kyler Murray MVP hype, but the next month will decide if the Cardinals truly stack up with the league’s elite.
4. Baltimore Ravens (5): Lamar Jackson had one of his best passing games, Marqise Brown made up for a tough game against Detroit, and the defense had their way with the Broncos all game long. That final last-second run by Jackson to give Baltimore a new NFL record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games was just the proverbial middle finger to an opponent they exposed.
5. Cleveland Browns (3): The defense feels much more legitimate after dominating for the second straight game, and the Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt duo is the most elite two-headed backfield monster in the league. All this needs is Baker Mayfield to be more consistent than he was against Minnesota, and the Browns could easily push for a deep playoff run.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (6): After an up-and-down beginning of the year, Justin Herbert has come alive with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. Even more impressive, however, has been the defense, which has held all four of its opponents to their lowest offensive outputs of the season. Looks like Brandon Staley was the right man for the job.
7. Los Angeles Rams (1): The king of the hill was dethroned rather quickly this time around. After silencing the Buccaneers, the Rams struggled on both sides of the ball against the hotshot Cardinals. Once again, the NFC West is proving to be an absolute bloodbath.
8. Green Bay Packers (8): It wasn’t always pretty against Pittsburgh, but an offense that’s starting to find balance and an easy schedule could put the Packers in good position to have the NFC North at their mercy. They might have to do it without Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback Jaire Alexander, which pushes Green Bay whipping boy Kevin King and first-round pick Eric Stokes firmly under the microscope.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (9): The victory against Philadelphia last week was indicative of the Chiefs: a team that needs it’s high-end offensive talent to bail out what appears to be a truly horrendous defense. A primetime matchup against a surging Buffalo squad in Arrowhead suddenly has massive implications on where the Chiefs stand in the AFC.
10. Dallas Cowboys (12): As much as everyone outside of Dallas hates to admit it, the Cowboys are firmly in the driver’s seat of the NFC East. A balanced offense, combined with a defense that has enjoyed an impressive turnaround under Dan Quinn, has the denizens of Jerry World wondering what this team’s ceiling is.
11. Seattle Seahawks (17): Russell Wilson has never had a three-game losing streak since he entered the league ten years ago, and he was the sole reason it stayed that way against San Francisco. I’m still not convinced they’re better than the Rams and Cardinals, however, so Thursday’s game against the former will be crucial.
12. Las Vegas Raiders (10): The Raiders had been living life on the edge by coming back from 14-0 in two straight games, and it cost them when they pressed their luck against the Chargers with a 21-0 deficit after the first half. Derek Carr almost pulled it off with a strong second half, but a missed field goal and the defense buckling one final time put an end to those ambitions.
13. San Francisco 49ers (11): Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury started the Trey Lance era in unexpected fashion, and the talent he flashed against Seattle will come up big for San Francisco in situations this season. Unfortunately, Lance’s first start comes in a must-win game against the undefeated Cardinals. No one said being QB1 was sunshine and roses.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (18): The Bengals nearly regressed to old habits against Jacksonville on Thursday, but they woke up just in time to mount an impressive second-half comeback. Joe Burrow and company are certainly trending in the right direction, but the Packers pose a stern test.
15. Carolina Panthers (13): The Panthers received a reality check from the Cowboys last week, but a stretch of five games against one-win teams gives them a chance to regain momentum until they get Christian McCaffrey back. Sam Darnold does need to be much more consistent; his two interceptions allowed the Cowboys to tack on 10 points that turned the tide against his team.
16. Denver Broncos (14): The pundits who claimed the Broncos were only undefeated due to their schedule were proven correct against Baltimore, and Teddy Bridgewater entering concussion protocol forces Denver to commit to Drew Lock’s last stand. Given he put up zero points against Baltimore, however, color me skeptical that this will go any better.
17. New Orleans Saints (17): The fourth-quarter meltdown against the Giants was a result of Sean Payton trusting Taysom Hill over Alvin Kamara on a crucial third-down call, a decision that saw New York put up seventeen unanswered points. The Saints appear to be the most volatile team in the NFL by a comfortable margin.
18. Indianapolis Colts (25): Despite Quenton Nelson going on the shelf, the Colts managed to take advantage of a Dolphins team that has fallen apart at the seams. Despite starting out 0-3, the Colts are one win back from the lead of the NFL’s weakest division.
19. Washington Football Team (24): Chase Young and the Washington defense are still performing well below expectations, which could prove trouble in their next three games against New Orleans, Kansas City, and Green Bay. That said, Taylor Heinicke was instrumental in Washington’s comeback victory, as he continues to cement himself as a potential QB1.
20. New England Patriots (19): I don’t question Bill Belichick all that often, but opting for a 56-yard field goal from Nick Folk in inclement weather over allowing Mac Jones to continue his efficient performance certainly qualifies. At least it appears they made the right decision riding the rookie instead of Cam Newton, even if the Patriots seem set for uncharacteristic mediocrity.
21. Tennessee Titans (15): Being without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones doesn’t excuse what an embarrassing loss last week was for the Titans. Between an offensive line that allowed Ryan Tannehill to be sacked seven times and a defense that allowed the Jets to score more points than their last three games combined, there’s no other way to describe this than absolute failure.
22. Minnesota Vikings (19): Just when we thought the Vikings might have figured it out, Kirk Cousins ends up disappearing to waste Minnesota’s first quality defensive effort of the season. A 1-3 start puts the Vikings at risk, and risking missing the postseason could put Mike Zimmer’s job in jeopardy.
23. Chicago Bears (26): Justin Fields showed signs of life in his second professional start, which might have something to do with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor taking control of the offense. Still, the Lions aren’t an overly impressive opponent, and losing David Montgomery for an extended period of time will hurt. Matt Nagy’s job is still very much at risk.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (23): Jalen Hurts seems to be the answer at quarterback for the Eagles, which is good news. Unfortunately, three touchdowns called back by penalties are the self-inflicted wounds you can’t have if you want to beat the Chiefs.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers (20): If Ben Roethlisberger isn’t suffering from poor offensive line play, he’s making poor decisions with the football that cost his team games. It sounds like sacrilege, but the Steelers might be better off testing the waters with either Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins to see if they need to draft a quarterback in April.
26. Miami Dolphins (22): With a poor offensive line and a failing co-offensive coordinator system, Tua Tagovailoa might come back in a salvage situation. Brian Flores doesn’t deserve blame for this season, but the offense might require an overhaul in the spring.
27. New York Giants (30): The Giants place lower after a victory due to me staying realistic about their rough schedule and my distrust of Joe Judge not going away anytime soon. Still, Saquon Barkley had his best game since returning from his torn ACL, and Daniel Jones is finally starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
28. New York Jets (31): The Titans may be undermanned, but Zach Wilson and the defense did enough to pull out a shock victory. A trip to jolly old England against a reeling Falcons squad is suddenly a chance to build some much-needed momentum.
29. Atlanta Falcons (27): A kick-return touchdown followed up by two touchdown drives to lose a game would be a heartbreaker for most teams. For the Falcons, it’s yet another chapter of pain for one of sports’ longest-suffering franchises and teams.
30. Detroit Lions (29): More pain for the Lions, as they lost another strong defender to an Achilles tear and virtually saved Matt Nagy’s skin in Chicago. The only thing they’re hoping for is a legit QB1 to emerge in next year’s draft class.
31. Houston Texans (28): Davis Mills had his Nathan Peterman game with a four-interception performance against Buffalo (ironically). To be fair, though, this team could have Deshaun Watson still playing and they would be struggling.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32): The Jaguars took their nineteenth consecutive loss against Cincinnati last Thursday, and Urban Meyer took another loss over the weekend with his…antics. Think Duval would be too upset if Meyer took the USC job?