I give up. I have no idea what to do with these rankings. Week 9 turned the NFL’s hierarchy on its head with a slew of upsets. Many of the things we thought we could count on fell apart. Matt Stafford reverted to Detroit form against a Derek Henry-less Tennessee squad. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott returned only for Dallas’ offense to bottom out against a Denver side that just traded away Von Miller. To top it all off, it turns out Jacksonville had the better Josh Allen on Sunday as they shocked Buffalo.
Which team is the best in the NFL right now? I don’t know if there is a clear cut answer to that question. Green Bay lost without Aaron Rodgers, but it also beat previously undefeated Arizona the week before. Speaking of the Cardinals, they cruised by the 49ers without Kyler Murry or DeAndre Hopkins. Perhaps you could say the Buccaneers, but they just lost to a team led by Trevor Seimian in Week 8. Those Saints turned around and lost at home to the Falcons this week. Maybe it is the Titans, fresh off a win over the Rams. However, they could not really move the ball much, finishing with 194 yards of offense. Most of their scoring was led by the defense, which does not feel sustainable.
All of this is to say, I don’t know right now. I cannot remember a time where the league has felt so wide open. There are no elite teams in the NFL and the list of true contenders feels both very long and very short at the same time. Anyway, here is my best guess at how everyone stacks.
1. Green Bay Packers: 7-2 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 13-7 at Kansas City
Let’s start with something potentially controversial. I’m actually not talking about Aaron Rodgers here. That shouldn’t be controversial. He lied. Plain and simple. He also should be adhering to league protocols. No, the controversy is about moving a Packers team coming off a loss to No. 1 in the rankings. I look at it this way. Green Bay lost by six points in a game where Mason Crosby missed a field goal and another blocked. Jordan Love also made his first career start and looked nothing short of terrible. If the Packers defense can play at that level and get Rodgers back under center, this team is going to be just fine and looks to be the best in the league.
2. Arizona Cardinals: 8-1 (Last Week: 4)
Won 31-17 at San Francisco
Kliff Kingsbury deserves credit here. Without Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals went on the road for a divisional game and won comfortably. Colt McCoy played great while the ground game picked up 163 yards. Defensively, Arizona limited San Francisco to just 39 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. This team is deeper than I think people realize and definitely deserve contender status. There is a reason the Cardinals are the only one-loss team in the league.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-2 (Last Week: 5)
I toyed with moving the Buccaneers down. Their two losses this season came against the Rams and Saints, who flopped as home favorites in Week 8. New Orleans simply seems to have this team’s number. I don’t think anyone should be too worried about this team’s long term outlook. The amount of talent they have on both sides of the ball is close to unrivaled. A week off should give Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown a chance to get healthy, which will only make this offense more potent down the stretch.
4. Tennessee Titans: 7-2 (Last Week: 8)
Won 28-16 at Los Angeles
Who could’ve seen this coming? I certainly did not. With Derrick Henry out, it was the defense who stepped up, intercepting Matt Stafford twice, including a pick-six from Kevin Byard. The other interception gave Ryan Tannehill the ball inside the five yard line. Perhaps even more significant, the five sacks the Titans racked up set a new season high. If the Titans can consistently generate a consistent pass rush, it will take a lot of pressure off the offense. Life without Henry was a bit rough running the ball, as Tennessee averaged 2.7 yards per carry. It will take some time for them to adjust.
5. Los Angeles Rams: 7-2 (Last Week: 1)
Lost 28-16 vs. Tennessee
Goodness, that was ugly. Apparently, taking Matthew Stafford out of the Motor City did not eliminate those horrific outings from his repertoire. Stafford posted a 17.6 Total QBR complete with a pair of interceptions and five sacks. Los Angeles did not find the end zone until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter. Given how well the Rams have played up to this point this year, I don’t think this is anything to panic about, but a good reminder that Stafford is capable of tanking the team’s game plan when he is out of sync.
6. Dallas Cowboys: 6-2 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 30-16 vs. Denver
Do we start the quarterback controversy conversation in Dallas? I’m joking obviously, but Dak Prescott did have an abysmal day against the Broncos. He didn’t get much help from his receivers, with drops from just about everyone on the field. However, it was clear Prescott was having an off day. The defense was not at its best either, giving up a host of big plays to Teddy Bridgewater in the passing game. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon also combined for 191 yards on the ground. This is one where it might be best to just burn the film and move on.
7. Baltimore Ravens: 6-2 (Last Week: 11)
Won 34-31 vs. Minnesota
Where in the world would the Ravens be without Justin Tucker and Lamar Jackson? Jackson didn’t have his best game as a passer with two interceptions, but his three passing touchdowns and 120 yards rushing should more than make up for that. Meanwhile, Tucker made his second game-winning kick of the season, this time in overtime. It is really hard to understand how Baltimore did not run away with this, out gaining Minnesota 500 to 318 on offense. Some of that can be accounted for with the Vikings’ 98-yard kick return touchdown, but still, the Ravens had 23 more first downs! A win is most important, but maybe the defense needs to step up a bit.
8. New England Patriots: 5-4 (Last Week: 12)
Won 24-6 at Carolina
Don’t look now, but the Patriots have won three straight and have early 2000s Patriots vibes. This team has a strong running game and a talented defense leading the way. Mac Jones threw the ball just 18 times, but he really did not need to do much with his defense holding the Panthers to just six points. It would be good to see him take better care of the football following an interception and a lost fumble in this one, but he unquestionably outplayed Sam Darnold. Not hard to do, but still important. New England faces another big matchup with Cleveland up next.
9. Buffalo Bills: 5-3 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 9-6 at Jacksonville
Clearly, the Manning Cast curse is alive and well. A week after making an appearance on Peyton and Eli’s Monday Night Football watch party, he had one of the worst games of his career in a loss to the hapless Jaguars. It is clear Allen needs some help from his run game. He managed 50 yards with his legs, but the combination of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary accounted for just 22 yards on the ground. This game was all kinds of ugly, but this is not the first time we’ve seen the Bills offense sputter. It is something Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll need to resolve as the year rolls on.
10. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-3 (Last Week: 13)
Won 27-24 at Philadelphia
It one was too close for comfort. As we’ve seen though, making the East Coast road trip is not easy. Just ask the Raiders. Coming out with a win in the most important thing, but it was also really good to see Justin Herbert get back on track. He completed 32-of-38 passes for 356 yards and three total touchdowns. It would be nice to see the defense play a bit better, particularly against the run. That could be the Chargers’ Achilles heel the rest of the way.
11. New Orleans Saints: 5-3 (Last Week: 7)
Lost 27-25 vs. Atlanta
Will the real New Orleans Saints please stand up? I feel like this is not even the first time I’ve called for this in 2021. New Orleans’ maddening inconsistency struck again on Sunday. One week after frustrating Tom Brady with two late-game interceptions, the Saints surrendered 343 yards and two touchdowns to Matt Ryan. What’s more, the Falcons could not run the ball, so there was no reason not to play the pass. It didn’t matter though as Ryan simply carved up the secondary. Trevor Seimian played fine, but it is fair to wonder if Taysom Hill will take over soon.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-3 (Last Week: 17)
Won 29-27 vs. Chicago
Well, it wasn’t without drama, but the Steelers picked up another crucial win in exciting fashion. Chicago’s 65-yard field goal as time expired fell well short, which pushed Pittsburgh back into the AFC North race. Ben Roethlisberger played well and led the game-winning drive when it mattered. There is certainly room for improvement as Najee Harris finished with 2.8 yards per carry and Ray-Ray McCloud fumble on a punt return was returned for a touchdown to shift momentum big time. The Steelers seem to be like cockroaches. You just can’t kill them.
13. Cleveland Browns 5-4 (Last Week: 15)
Won 41-14 at Cincinnati
Talk about a bounce back. After a string of lackluster offensive performances with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in and out of the lineup, the Browns exploded for 41 points with help from all three phases of the game. Cleveland turned to the big play with a 70-yard touchdown run, a 60-yard touchdown pass and a 99-yard interception return in the same game. The sustainability of that success will be tested against the Patriots in Week 10, but the Browns’ outlook is much brighter than it was a week ago. Clearly, Odell Beckham Jr.’s services were not missed.
14. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-4 (Last Week: 16)
Won 13-7 vs. Green Bay
It is hard to believe this is still the same Chiefs offense that averaged nearly 31 points per game over the first six games of the season. In their past three, they have averaged 12. Patrick Mahomes looks a bit lost right now, with no signs of getting back to his previous MVP form. Credit to Steve Spagnoulo for blitzing the hell out of Jordan Love in his first career start, but Kansas City will need more from Mahomes and company on offense in order to make a real playoff run. A pivotal Sunday night matchup with the Raiders is up next.
15. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-3 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 23-16 at New York
There are too many distractions in Las Vegas. No, not the casino and nightlife kind. The Raiders said goodbye to their second former first-round draft pick in as many weeks as they released Damon Arnette on Monday. When you consider that Mike Mayock has spent his first round picks on Clelin Ferrell, Jonathan Abram, Josh Jacobs, Damon Arnette and Alex Leatherwood, it is a wonder this team has a winning record. Hopefully, this was just a blip as the team continues to navigate a tumultuous season, but things won’t get any easier with the Chiefs visiting in Week 10.
16. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-4 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 41-16 vs. Cleveland
The NFL is a what have you done for me lately league. While the Bengals win over the Ravens is still impressive, following it up with a blown lead against the Jets and a blowout against the Browns really puts a damper on things. Joe Burrow seems to be pressing and the offensive line is clearly not a strength for this team. On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati gave up way too many big games to be successful. All is not lost, but a reality check after a hot start now has the Bengals needing to respond. This feels like a very good time for a bye week.
17. Indianapolis Colts: 4-5 (Last Week: 17)
Won 45-30 vs. New York
Don’t let the final scoreline fool you, this one was never in doubt. Indianapolis ran all over the Jets to the tune of 260 yards and three touchdowns. Carson Wentz played great as well. The Colts feel like a solidly middle of the road team. They beat the teams they are supposed to, but lose to the teams they are supposed to as well. We will see if Frank Reich can change the narrative in the second half of the year. Jacksonville is up next coming off a very surprising upset.
18. Denver Broncos: 5-4 (Last Week: 23)
Won 30-16 at Dallas
This would have gone down as the most improbable result of the weekend if not for the stunner the Jaguars pulled off. The Broncos seemed down and out following a string of offensive struggles and trading away one of the franchises’ most iconic defensive players. Instead, they beat the brakes off the Cowboys for three and a half quarters before finally taking their foot off the gas. Teddy Bridgewater had one of the best performances of his career, airing the ball out nicely and taking care of the football. That Broncos backfield is starting to look like a two-headed monster as well. This definitely changes the team’s outlook moving forward.
19. Minnesota Vikings: 3-5 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 34-31 at Baltimore
What to make of the Minnesota Vikings. On one hand, this was their fifth loss by seven points or fewer on the season. Those losses are against the Bengals, Cardinals, Browns, Cowboys and Ravens, all of whom have winning records. However, the Vikings also lost to Cooper Rush last week and blew a 14-point lead this time around. Pressure is mounting for Mike Zimmer to get this defense trending in the right direction. It wouldn’t hurt for Kirk Cousins to do a bit more as well.
20. Atlanta Falcons: 4-4 (Last Week: 25)
Won 27-25 at New Orleans
Matt Ryan continued his Jekyll and Hyde season with a masterclass on Sunday. He has had some rough games, but he is quietly putting together a solid season. What’s more impressive is who his supporting cast is. Atlanta’s starting running back is a gadget player and its receiving corps is full of unproven youngsters and role players. The offensive line is far from a strength either. This win keeps the Falcons in the wild card conversation in the NFC, but the schedule is definitely not the easiest the rest of the way.
21. New York Giants: 3-6 (Last Week: 26)
Won 23-16 vs. Las Vegas
New York’s defense played well enough to win once again, but this time the offense actually did enough to allow it to happen. The Giants forced three turnovers, including a pick-six and held the Raiders to just one touchdown. Despite the win, the Giants offense still looks like a major work in progress. Daniel Jones passed for just 110 yards and lost a fumble. Thankfully, Devontae Booker carried the load with 21 carries for 99 yards. New York has a week off before a showdown with the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-6 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 27-24 vs. Los Angeles
Though it was a loss, I think the Eagles offense showed signs of progress against the Chargers. Jalen Hurts was very efficient passing, even if he only did it 17 times. Jordan Howard continued his career renaissance as well with 71 yards and a score. It is far from perfect, but Nick Sirianni is clearly experimenting with what works best for Hurts’ skillset. Unfortunately, the defense still has a long way to go. Justin Herbert picked apart the secondary for 356 yards and two touchdowns. There is a reason most mock drafts have Philadelphia selecting defensive backs.
23. Seattle Seahawks: 3-5 (Last Week: 24)
He’s back! Russell Wilson has been cleared to return for Week 10’s showdown with the Packers. It remains to be seen if his opposing counterpart will be Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love. Either way, the Seahawks should be a much more competitive team with Wilson back in the fold, particularly given that the defense stepped up in his absence. It might have been against the Jaguars, Saints and Steelers, but they stepped up nonetheless. There is basically no margin for error left for Seattle though, especially given how well the Rams and Cardinals are playing. The Seahawks still have a lot of work to do to reach the postseason.
24. Carolina Panthers: 4-5 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 24-6 vs. New England
Another team struggling through mediocrity, Carolina turned in an absolute dud. The offense in particular continues to struggle. Sam Darnold had another horrid week when facing Bill Belichick, throwing three interceptions, completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and posting a woeful Total QBR of 3.0. Whether in the draft or free agency, it seems more than likely the Panthers will be looking for another quarterback to compete with Darnold for the starting job next season.
25. San Francisco 49ers: 3-5 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 31-17 vs. Arizona
Kyle Shanahan is officially on the hot seat. Facing a team missing its starting quarterback and No. 1 receiver, the 49ers gave up 31 points and did not mount much of a challenge. Often championed for his ability to use running backs interchangeably, Shanahan’s offense suddenly cannot run the ball effectively. As a team, San Francisco managed just 39 yards rushing. Given all the defensive talent, there is definitely cause for concern. The 49ers need to turn things around quickly to save their season.
26. Chicago Bears: 3-6 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 29-27 at Pittsburgh
Dropping the Bears five spots feels harsh given that it was a close loss, but when the Broncos, Falcons and Giants all win, it is hard not to move them down. Justin Fields continues to show signs of improving and the running game once again showed up strong. Unfortunately, it was the defense that could not find a way to slow down Ben Roethlisberger and company. Particularly on the Steelers’ go-ahead drive, the Bears defense looked disjointed and unprepared for a two-minute drill. With hopes of a playoff berth rapidly dwindling, Chicago will no doubt begin to search for a new coach to develop Fields.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-6 (Last Week: 29)
Won 9-6 vs. Buffalo
At long last, fans in Jacksonville finally got to witness a win. The Jaguars only other win this season came in London. It wasn’t pretty, but the defense turned back the clocks to 2017 with a stellar showing. Josh Allen made Josh Allen’s life a living nightmare. While the defense was dominant, the offense left a lot to be desired. Trevor Lawrence averaged just 4.5 yards per attempt and Jacksonville couldn’t even crack 80 yards rushing. While a win is great, there are still quite a few issues to iron out for this team.
28. Miami Dolphins: 2-7 (Last Week: 30)
Won 17-9 vs. Houston
Miami spoiled Tyrod Taylor’s return with a strong defensive performance, complete with three interceptions and five sacks. The Dolphins needed the defense to play at that level too, because the offense was struggling. Jacoby Brissett threw two picks in relief of an injured Tua Tagovailoa while the running game mustered a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. It takes a little bit of the pressure off for now, but Miami still has a lot to prove this year.
29. Washington: 2-6 (Last Week: 27)
Washington feels like a team on the brink. It could either try to rally coming off a bye week to salvage the season and maybe get back into the playoff race or tank the rest of the way with hopes of securing a high draft pick to find a new quarterback. This team has taken a major step backwards in several other areas as well, namely the run game and pass rush. Antonio Gibson is clearly in the midst of a sophomore slump while Chase Young and company have not been able to replicate their heroics from 2020. Those two things do not bode well for an offense already starting a backup quarterback and lacking proven playmakers outside of Terry McLaurin. At least Logan Thomas should be close to returning from injury in Week 10.
30. New York Jets: 2-6 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 45-30 at Indianapolis
The whole Mike White thing was fun while it lasted. The Western Kentucky product exited with a forearm injury early against the Colts and that seemed to end any chances of the Jets keeping up. The Colts gashed Gang Green’s defense for 260 yards and three scores while Carson Wentz pulled apart the secondary like cotton candy. For a defensive mastermind, Robert Saleh has some questions to answer about how overmatched his defense has been this season. New York is dead last in points allowed per game.
31. Houston Texans: 1-7 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 17-9 at Miami
The list of one-win teams has been whittled down to just one. Houston lost its seventh straight uninspiring fashion. Tyrod Taylor struggled mightily in his first game since Week 2. The offensive line continues to be a problem as well. This is what was expected of the Texans this year though. It doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
32. Detroit Lions: 0-8 (Last Week: 32)
Well at least the Lions didn’t lose this week. Their chances of getting a top-two pick also skyrocketed this week with wins by the Jaguars and Dolphins. I would expect an ugly game against the Steelers in Week 10.