The chaos of the NFL continues for another week.
Kickers were nowhere to be found this week. The Browns and Chargers put on an early contender for Game of the Year. A scandal involving racism, misogyny, and homophobia shook an organization to its very core, with the potential of another being the root cause. These are the types of weeks that have ramifications for months to come.
Meanwhile, we can start discussing who’s going to be in play for the season awards. The MVP race is looking tight between two hotshot young quarterbacks and one widely regarded as the greatest of all time. Both Rookie of the Year awards are looking like close calls. One coach completely shifting the culture of his team is the front-runner for Coach of the Year. A lot can change in the next few months, but let’s not discount how this early success can catapult teams moving forward.
So how does the NFL stack up?
1. Buffalo Bills (2): After weeks of stacking up against mediocre-to-poor offenses, the Bills defense went into Arrowhead and flat-out dominated Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense. It’s uncertain if they can put together a repeat performance in January, but it’s feeling like the AFC is going to run through Bills Mafia.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1): The only reason the Buccaneers lose the top spot in a victory is due to competition: the Dolphins are nowhere close to the level of the Chiefs. The strangest stat of the day: this game marked the first time Tom Brady threw for 400+ yards and five touchdowns. Just another milestone for the GOAT.
3. Arizona Cardinals (3): After a month of dominant offensive play from the Cardinals, it was their defense that came through in a big divisional victory over the 49ers. We’ve now seen that both sides can take over games; now it’s just a matter of both clicking at the same time.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (6): Justin Herbert firmly entrenched his name into the MVP conversation, and Coach of the Year contender Brandon Staley has turned this into an exciting team to watch. The Browns exposed a couple of issues, but they pale in comparison to the rest of their AFC West counterparts.
5. Baltimore Ravens (4): After Monday night’s comeback against the Colts, it’s hard to deny Lamar Jackson is a legitimate quarterback at this level. After his performance, his combined 1,850 offensive yards would put him in the top half of all NFL teams.
6. Los Angeles Rams (7): The victory over Seattle on Thursday wasn’t necessarily a shining effort, and it’s become clear that the Rams are not as good as their Week 3 blowout of the Buccaneers made them look. Still, with their next three opponents having two wins between them, this will be a great chance for the Rams to gain momentum and keep pace with the Cardinals.
7. Green Bay Packers (8): No kicker redeemed themselves more than Mason Crosby, who went from goat to hero in a shouldn’t-have-been overtime thriller. They won’t skate by like that in their next stretch, which includes games against four playoff teams from last season and the Cardinals. Buckle up.
8. Dallas Cowboys (10): What can you say about the Cowboys other than how dominant they’ve looked after an up-and-down first two weeks? With a healthy Dak Prescott leading the offense and the defense generating takeaways at an insane rate, it seems safe to pencil in the Cowboys as the winner of one of football’s least intimidating divisions.
9. Cleveland Browns (5): After a strange performance against the Vikings where the defense had to carry a struggling offense, the inverse happened against the Chargers this week. Games like this show what the Browns are at this stage: a flawed contender.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (9): Patrick Mahomes’s six interceptions in the first five games have matched his total from last season already, and the Chiefs are tied with Jacksonville at a league-leading 11 turnovers. Unless the offense wakes up and carries a defense that has been completely overmatched, the Chiefs are looking at a first-round exit…at best.
11. New Orleans Saints (17): Combined with a punting performance from Blake Gillikin that would make Pat McAfee proud, Alvin Kamara and a strong defense put the mercurial Saints on top. With plenty of key players coming back after New Orleans’s bye, will their returns do anything to shed the inconsistent label this team has earned in the first month?
12. San Francisco 49ers (13): Despite the loss, the 49ers move up a spot due to the team that was in front of them and their…issues. It’s unclear who’s going to be starting at quarterback when the team returns from their bye, but George Kittle landing on IR will not help matters.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (14): Ja’Marr Chase is slowly building a case for himself as Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Evan McPherson’s imitating Nick Young on a missed field goal will be hard to forget. Zac Taylor going to his kicker in a game where field goals were nowhere to be found is an inexplicable decision that will be remembered if the Bengals go on a sudden drop.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (12): Losing to the Bears at home was bad enough, but the sudden Jon Gruden bombshell has completely scattered this team. It’ll undoubtedly be a black cloud that hangs over the Raiders for this season and potentially beyond, which isn’t a good thing when your quarterback’s already tabled talks of a contract extension…
15. Tennessee Titans (21): Derrick Henry is a god amongst men right now on the football field, as his 128 rushing yards per game currently have him on pace for the single-season rushing record. He’s already put himself on the map in another category: his 4,792 rushing yards are the most in a 40-game stretch in league history, eclipsing Jim Brown and his 4,759. Hail to the King.
16. Carolina Panthers (15): It’s clear that the Panthers need Christian McCaffrey, as Sam Darnold has thrown for five interceptions in the two games without his star running back and safety valve. Thankfully, Run CMC is expected to return this week, which hopefully means the wins can as well.
17. Denver Broncos (16): The Broncos have played poorly on third down and in the red zone this season, and those issues are finally being taken advantage of by legitimate competition. That 3-0 start was definitely too good to be true.
18. Seattle Seahawks (11): After ten seasons of surviving behind poor offensive lines, Russell Wilson will miss several games with a finger injury. Geno Smith did well in relief against the Rams, but I don’t think he’s capable of guiding a middling rushing attack and poor defense like Russ can.
19. Minnesota Vikings (22): The Vikings managed to keep Detroit winless, but is a last-second long-range field goal in your own building against a winless team really something to celebrate? Similar to Matt Nagy after Chicago’s victory over the Lions, I’m not sure if this victory does anything to cool Mike Zimmer’s hot seat.
20. Chicago Bears (23): It seems the Bears of this season are starting to take shape, with Justin Fields being allowed to learn an NFL offense while relying on decent rushing and a surprisingly-stout defense. Just don’t make the same mistake if you land another shock playoff berth, Bears: you’re winning in spite of Matt Nagy, not because of him.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (25): Losing JuJu Smith-Schuster for the year hurts, but it was refreshing for Steelers fans to see Big Ben put on a strong performance and Najee Harris live up to his first-round billing. A primetime matchup against a suddenly-wounded Seahawks team gives the Steelers a chance to reach .500 before their bye, which would be huge for them.
22. New England Patriots (20): While the Patriots did win against the Texans, they drop for making Davis Mills look like a superstar one week after he posted a Nathan Peterman-esque stat line. Did anyone else have “Mac Jones is missing four starting offensive linemen and still looks like the best rookie QB” on their 2021 season bingo card?
23. Philadelphia Eagles (24): The Eagles got three big plays on all facets to go from a nine-point deficit to a three-point victory. That’s great and all, but performances like that won’t fly against the Buccaneers tomorrow.
24. Washington Football Team (19): A disappointing defense that was absolutely embarrassed by the Saints in just the first half, and a potential continuation of the NFL’s investigation that has the NFLPA smelling blood. By the end of the season, the list of firings could have this organization resembling The Squid Game (Think the Red Light, Green Light episode, except a lot less NSFW.)
25. Indianapolis Colts (18): Trotting out a clearly-injured Rodrigo Blankenship one too many times had something to do with it, but I don’t think any team’s stolen defeat from the jaws of victory quite like the Colts did on Monday. After blowing a sixteen-point lead in the fourth quarter alone, I just don’t see how Indianapolis comes back.
26. Atlanta Falcons (29): It turns out utilizing Kyle Pitts’s unicorn-like size/speed combination against a defense ill-equipped to handle it works out pretty well most of the time. Hopefully, the bye gives Arthur Smith time to adjust his offense for more plays from the number four overall pick.
27. Miami Dolphins (26): Welcome back, Tua Tagovailoa; you come back to find your team in absolute crisis mode. If the Dolphins end up breaking the Jaguars’ run of futility in London, their offensive coordinators might be out of work before the team plane leaves Heathrow Airport’s tarmac.
28. New York Giants (27): The injury bug continued to bite the Giants hard, and they need to hope that neither Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, or Kenny Golladay are out long-term if they want to survive this part of their schedule. At least there’s a chance Kadarius Toney can build off a performance that was great…until he got ejected for throwing a punch.
29. New York Jets (28): It seemed that while the Jets played in London, their luck went over the Bermuda Triangle. Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur need to get Zach Wilson some luck, and using young promising playmakers like Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims would be a good start.
30. Houston Texans (31): Davis Mills had a surprisingly good day against a coach that typically dominates rookie quarterbacks, only to be let down by terrible special teams efforts. With the quarterback draft class looking murkier by the week, getting signs of life from Mills has to be relieving.
31. Detroit Lions (30): First Justin Tucker’s record-breaking field goal, then losing on another long-range field goal from a team notorious for missing those in key situations? I feel legitimately bad for Dan Campbell.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32): Urban Meyer is now having issues with Trevor Lawrence, and the Jaguars have become the first team to lose 20 straight games since the EXPANSION Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977. I’d normally advocate against firing a coach this early but, if the Jaguars push the streak to 21 in London, would sending Meyer out really be the worst thing to happen?