New episodes dropping every Friday! The draft is finally here! With 262 picks all finalized and undrafted free agents signing, Chris breaks down his favorite and least favorite drafts and some of this favorite Day 2 and Day 3 picks in a special Monday episode.
Let’s get ready for Week 18! That still feels weird to type. Normally, the NFL regular season would be finished and the remaining 12 (now 14 teams) would be preparing for the playoffs. Instead, we have another full slate of action with some major playoff implications.
Before we get there though, let’s look back at Week 17. It was a stunner. Two teams reached 50 points, Antonio Brown left during the middle a game that the Buccaneers nearly lost to the Jets and the Titans somehow reclaimed the top spot in the AFC. Let’s get into everything that happened and how these teams stack up heading into this final week of the regular season.
1. Green Bay Packers: 13-3 (Last Week: 1)
Won 37-10 vs. Minnesota
Green Bay finally shut down Dalvin Cook. The Vikings running back managed a meager 13 yards on nine rushes. Things were so lopsided, Jordan Love got into the game. There are still small areas where the Packers can undoubtedly improve. They settled for field goals early in the game, with both coming from the red zone. Slow starts against quarterbacks other than Sean Mannion could prove to be the difference when the season is on the line in the postseason.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 12-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 28-24 at New York
Did something happen to the Buccaneers this week? Antonio Brown’s stunning exit overshadowed a lackluster performance, rescued by Tom Brady’s last-minute heroics. For those pointing to this game and Brown’s departure as to why Tampa Bay is in trouble, I wouldn’t be so sure. Brady has won Super Bowls with less talent around him. This defense should get stronger as it gets healthier and there are still plenty of receiving options, highlighted by Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski. The Jets played really well. The Buccaneers didn’t. Tampa still won.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: 10-6 (Last Week: 8)
Won 34-31 vs. Kansas City
Cincinnati is hitting its stride in these final few weeks of the regular season. This was a massive statement victory for the Bengals. Joe Burrow looks incredible and his connection with Ja’Marr Chase is paying dividends. The defense had a rough start, but bounced back to hold the Chiefs to just three points in the second half. This does not make the Bengals a Super Bowl favorite, especially with them likely needing to go on the road to Kansas City or Tennessee in order to reach the big game. Far from impossible, but a tough task nonetheless.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 34-31 at Cincinnati
The streak is over and Kansas City got a wake-up call. Andy Reid pointed out the team’s inability to hold their first half lead. It is a bit concerning, with many of the early-season woes that plagued the defense popping up once again. Ja’Marr Chase ran rampant through the secondary, racking up 266 yards and three touchdowns. What’s more, the Chiefs lost their hold on the No. 1 seed in the AFC, meaning they could have to play an extra playoff game and travel to Tennessee in order to return to the Super Bowl. There is a lot on the line in Week 18.
5. Los Angeles Rams: 11-5 (Last Week: 3)
Won 20-19 at Baltimore
Goodness, it is really hard to trust this team right now. Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions, including a pick-six. Sure, he rebounded and led the team on a fourth-quarter game-winning drive. It should not have been needed though. Baltimore is incredibly banged up on both sides of the ball. Joe Burrow shredded this same secondary for 525 yards. This does not bode well for the Rams’ chances at making a deep playoff run. At the same time, L.A. is still in line to win the division in Week 18.
6. Arizona Cardinals: 11-5 (Last Week: 7)
Won 25-22 at Dallas
What second-half fade? Arizona bucked the trend it established last season and seemed to be headed again this year with a crucial win in Dallas. The Cardinals shut down the Cowboys’ run game, holding them to just 2.6 yards per carry. Arizona’s own offense was nothing special, but did enough to get the job done. Antoine Wesley stepped up with a pair of touchdown catches. He seems poised to bridge the gap until DeAndre Hopkins returns. If the Cardinals can get healthy, they are going to be tough to beat in the postseason.
7. Dallas Cowboys: 11-5 (Last Week: 4)
Lost 25-22 vs. Arizona
Seems like that 56-point outburst was just a fluke. The Cowboys continue to struggle offensively and will not have to forge on without Michael Gallup, who reportedly suffered a torn ACL in the loss on Sunday. Dak Prescott played really well, but he was asked to do too much in the absence of a reliable ground game. A costly fumble by Prescott was likely the difference in the game, as Dallas’ defense failed to generate any turnovers. All is not lost, but this is a significant blow.
8. Buffalo Bills: 10-6 (Last Week: 9)
Won 29-15 vs. Atlanta
Josh Allen turned in one of his worst performances in years, but the Bills finally found a successful ground game to lead the way. Devin Singletary’s 110 yards and two touchdowns helped take the sting out of Allen’s three interceptions. He added 81 yards and two rushing touchdowns of his own, but Buffalo will certainly need more for its passing game in the playoffs. Thankfully, the defense stepped up five sacks as well and clinched a third straight playoff berth.
9. Tennessee Titans: 11-5 (Last Week: 11)
Won 34-3 vs. Miami
The Titans have very quietly continued to win and reclaimed their No. 1 seed in the AFC following the Chiefs’ loss against the Bengals. This win was a dominant one as well. D’Onta Foreman rumbled for 132 yards and a score, while Dontrell Hilliard added 45 yards and a touchdown of his own. If Tennessee can hold off Houston to secure the top spot in the conference, it would secure home field advantage and a first-round bye. That would be crucial in letting Derrick Henry heal up for a potential postseason run. If he looks anything like his early-season form, look out.
10. Indianapolis Colts: 9-7 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 23-20 vs. Las Vegas
A costly loss for the Colts puts them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Carson Wentz had a fairly underwhelming performance as the offense sputtered down the stretch. The defense did its job for the most part, producing two interceptions. However, an inability to contain Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones ultimately cost them the game. Thankfully, the Jaguars are all that stand between the Colts and a return to the postseason, but this takes a lot of wind out of Indianapolis’ sails.
11. New England Patriots: 10-6 (Last Week: 10)
Won 50-10 vs. Jacksonville
If this is not a testament to how much better the Patriots are as a franchise than the Jaguars, then I don’t know what is. Mac Jones was nothing shy of spectacular, which stood out in stark juxtaposition to his fellow rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Jones had plenty of help, whereas Lawrence essentially had none. New England racked up 181 yards and four rushing touchdowns, while the defense came up with three interceptions. The Pats bounced back in a big way following a deflating loss to the Bills, but now they need to continue to build that momentum heading into the postseason, especially with a chance to win the AFC East.
12. San Francisco 49ers: 9-7 (Last Week: 13)
Won 23-7 vs. Houston
Trey Lance flashed his immense potential, but it is clear that this team’s best chance to win is with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. At least for now. Lance struggled for much of the first half, but finally came alive in the second half with a pair of touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell led the way on the ground with 119 yards while the defense clamped down on Davis Mills. Despite the positive result, the path to the playoffs is still far from clear. San Francisco controls its own fate, but needs to beat Los Angeles, who needs a win to secure the NFC West title, in order to lock up a postseason spot. A loss opens the door for the Saints to keep the 49ers out.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: 9-7 (Last Week: 14)
Won 34-13 vs. Denver
Los Angeles turned it around after falling flat on its face in Week 16. It wasn’t the prettiest game ever from the offense. The Chargers managed just three yards per carry, but Justin Herbert took care of the football and the offensive line kept him clean. On defense, L.A. bent but rarely broke. They kept Denver out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. This sets up a huge showdown with the Raiders in Week 18. The winner earns a playoff berth.
14. Las Vegas Raiders: 9-7 (Last Week: 17)
Won 23-20 at Indianapolis
Drama continues to follow this team, on and off the field. The Raiders pulled off a dramatic victory over the Colts, kicking a last-second field goal. Unfortunately, rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge early Monday morning. Considering everything Las Vegas has already dealt with this season, this might not phase the locker room at all, but it comes just two months after Henry Ruggs’ deadly DUI crash. Needless to say, it is another distraction for a team that is in the mix to reach the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 20-16 at Washington
Philly continued its expectation-defying season by earning a playoff spot. It was far from the most convincing victory for the Eagles, but they made just enough plays to squeeze past Washington. Jalen Hurts is winning over many of his critics in the midst of this late-season surge. Philadelphia is clearly playing with house money. However, it might be best to keep expectations low. The Eagles are 0-6 against teams with a winning record this season.
16. Baltimore Ravens: 8-8 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 20-19 vs. Los Angeles
Baltimore nearly pulled off a huge upset that would have put them in the driver seat to earn a playoff spot. Chuck Clark sparked a banged up secondary with an early pick-six, but the Ravens never managed to get into a groove offensively, never finding the end zone. Four field goals gave them a lead, but the decimated defense could not hold it in the closing minutes. Somehow, the Ravens still have a chance to make the playoffs, but they need a ton of help.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-7-1 (Last Week: 18)
Won 26-14 vs. Cleveland
Big Ben closed out his time at Heinz Field with an incredibly ugly win. The future Hall of Fame quarterback enjoyed a nice send off and leaves behind a legendary legacy on the field and a checkered past off it. What the Steelers do from here is very much unknown. Pittsburgh still has a chance at the postseason, but the path to getting there feels very unlikely. The Colts would need to lose to the Jaguars and the Raiders and Chargers cannot end in a tie. Stranger things have happened, but the Steelers also need to beat the Ravens. After such an emotional win, they feel primed for a let down.
18. Miami Dolphins: 8-8 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 34-3 at Tennessee
Put a fork in them. Miami rode a seven-game win streak to the cusp of the postseason, but Ryan Tannehill and Tennessee put a stop to all of that. Tua Tagovailoa was awful behind a porous offensive line that gave up four sacks. The Dolphins’ run defense was also horrendous, giving up 198 yards on five yards per carry. Brian Flores has had Miami in the mix twice now, but he needs to find a way to get this team over the hump. It starts with protecting Tagovailoa and shoring up that front seven.
19. New Orleans Saints: 8-8 (Last Week: 22)
Won 18-10 vs. Carolina
The Saints aren’t done yet. In fact, New Orleans has a pretty reasonable path to that final wildcard spot. If the 49ers lose to the Rams, the Saints can claim the seventh playoff position with a win over the Falcons. Considering all the injuries this team has dealt with this season, most notably at quarterback, this would be an impressive feat. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, Atlanta won the first game between these two teams this season. New Orleans still has a job to do.
20. Cleveland Browns 7-9 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 26-14 at Pittsburgh
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a worse performance by an offensive line. Considering that many viewed Cleveland’s front five as one of the best units in the league heading into the season, this was a really surprising collapse. Baker Mayfield was sacked nine times, taking a total of 11 hits. Those would be impressive numbers for a defense over a three game stretch. The Browns have a lot of soul searching to do this offseason. There is a ton of buzz that Baker could be on his way out. Consider this a pivotal few months for this franchise.
21. Minnesota Vikings: 7-9 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 37-10 at Green Bay
Sean Mannion had no chance. The Packers finally tamed Dalvin Cook, holding him to 13 yards on nine carries. The only way the Vikings were going to win this game was with a big performance from Cook. When that didn’t come, Minnesota’s hopes looked bleak. One meaningless game at the end of the season should not dictate what comes next for this team, but a loss to the divisional-rival Bears could cost Mike Zimmer his job. Questions will certainly be asked about Kirk Cousins’ future as well. There is no way he returns on his current contract. Cutting him before June 1 will save $45 million in cap space. This could be the start of a rebuild for Minnesota.
22. Denver Broncos: 7-9 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 34-13 at Los Angeles
Denver’s midseason surge appeared to take a lot of pressure off Vic Fangio as the Broncos flirted with playoff contention. Three straight losses knocked them down a peg and ended hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time since their 2015 Super Bowl run. It is clear the team needs to figure out its future at quarterback. As good as Patrick Surtain II has looked, it is hard to wonder what Denver’s outlook would be like had it taken Justin Fields or Mac Jones instead.
23. Chicago Bears: 6-10 (Last Week: 25)
Won 29-3 vs. New York
This won’t save Matt Nagy’s job, but it certainly points to a brighter future in Chicago. At the very least, it shows the importance of the Bears’ depth at quarterback. Both teams were without their starters due to injury. Andy Dalton is clearly a step up from Mike Glennon. It helped that the defense put together a dominant performance, holding New York to -6 passing yards to go along with four forced turnovers and a safety. Glennon had a QBR of zero. The Bears can overtake the Vikings in the standings with a win on Sunday.
24. Washington: 6-10 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 20-16 vs. Washington
This was a much more competitive showing than the drubbing Washington took a week ago. However, it is clear that this team is already focused on its future with the front office announcing it will unveil a new team name on February 2. It is fair to wonder about the future though without a clear plan at quarterback and some massive regression on the defensive side of the ball. Ron Rivera is going to be facing a lot more pressure to fix things in 2022.
25. Atlanta Falcons: 7-9 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 29-15 at Buffalo
On one hand, the Falcons intercepted Josh Allen three times and held him without a passing touchdown. That feels like a formula to beat the Bills, especially given their well-documented struggles to run the ball. Well, Buffalo racked up 233 yards rushing and four scores. So much for that narrative. Matt Ryan had another lackluster game, failing to top 200 yards passing while taking five sacks and losing a fumble. It is unclear the direction this team is headed right now.
26. Seattle Seahawks: 5-11 (Last Week: 27)
Won 51-29 vs. Detroit
Russ is finally cooking again. It is way too little too late for Seattle, but it was a good sign that Wilson is finally nearing full strength again. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Three went to D.K. Metcalf en route to a 50-point performance. Rashaad Penny’s emergence has been significant as well, 170 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Lions are far from a good benchmark to measure yourself against, but executing at a high level is never a bad thing.
27. Houston Texans: 4-12 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 23-7 at San Francisco
The win streak is over and the optimism for the Davis Mills-led offense is clearly dampened. Houston stood strong early, holding San Francisco to just three points in the first half. Unfortunately, the Texans only managed seven points themselves. If we are being honest though, this team has been playing with house money all year long. There were no expectations for this team with a massive hole at quarterback given Deshaun Watson’s legal issues and trade demands. Not to mention a first-time head coach. At least the Texans can finally start to rebuild after paying the price for the ill-advised Laremy Tunsil trade.
28. New York Jets: 4-12 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 28-24 vs. Tampa Bay
What a brutal way to lose a game. It was all too familiar for Jets fans, knowing all too well that Tom Brady was going to engineer a game-winning drive as soon as that head-scratching fourth-down attempt failed. Still, there are a lot of positives to take away, even in a loss. Zach Wilson played the best game of his young career. The combination of Austin Walter, Michael Carter and Ty Johnson moved the ball well against a stout Buccaneers run defense. Plus, it seems like the Jets might have their No. 2 and No. 3 corners on the roster in Bryce Hall and Michael Carter II. This might have honestly been the best-case scenario, as the Jets still preserve their high draft pick with the confidence-inspiring loss.
29. Carolina Panthers: 5-11 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 18-10 at New Orleans
How did this offense fall apart so quickly? Sure, injuries played a significant role, but Sam Darnold looked like a capable starting quarterback to open the season. Now he looks like a deer in the headlights behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Panthers are also incredibly undisciplined, tallying the eighth-most penalties and second most drops in the NFL. It raises some questions about Matt Rhule’s future. He should get another year to try to turn this around, but this is a critical offseason for Carolina.
30. Detroit Lions: 2-13-1 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 51-29 at Seattle
Just in case anyone needed reminding, the Lions need a lot of help on defense. Russell Wilson carved up their secondary and the front seven were bowled over by Rashaad Penny. Starting Tim Boyle likely didn’t help matters much. He did toss two touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions. On the bright side, Amon-Ra St. Brown looks fantastic!
31. New York Giants: 4-12 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 29-3 at Chicago
It is getting harder and harder to understand how Joe Judge is still the head coach of the Giants. He seems to have lost the locker room, he is constantly clashing with the media and the team’s play on the field does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. This was one of the worst offensive showings I can remember, at least from a passing perspective. Saquon Barkley did account for 100 yards on the ground, but that was rendered meaningless by the negative passing yards posted by the offense. It feels like this team desperately needs to clean house.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-14 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 50-10 at New England
Seriously, how did this team beat the Bills? At least Trevor Lawrence finally threw a touchdown pass. Unfortunately, he also threw three more interceptions, bringing his season total to 17. This team desperately needs to get this coaching hire right this offseason and find a way to surround its franchise quarterback with more talent, fast.
I’m back! I traveled to California to cover the USA Ultimate College National Championships. It was a really fun weekend and fantastic to see some old friends and teammates I had not seen in years. Unfortunately, I came home with COVID-19 and was in no condition to write last week.
So this is a chance for me to play catch up after the past two weeks of action. A ton has happened. The Lions beat the Cardinals. The Cowboys dropped 56 on Washington. Davis Mills outdueled Justin Herbert as the Texans dealt a major blow to the Chargers’ playoff chances. In short, it was a wild two weeks.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, here is where every team stands.
1. Green Bay Packers: 12-3 (Last Week: 1)
Won 24-22 vs. Cleveland
Green Bay keeps on rolling. The Packers have won four straight. However, the past two have come by a combined three points. They squeaked past an incredibly banged up Baltimore side and then held on against Cleveland despite four interceptions from Baker Mayfield. Forcing the turnovers is a really good sign, but it feels like the Packers should have done better than a two-point win with that level of production from its defense.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-4 (Last Week: 2)
Won 36-10 vs. Pittsburgh
They are back. The Chiefs are cruising, winning eight straight. Five of those past six wins have been by double digits as well. Kansas City is taking care of the football, finding balance between the run and pass and dominating on defense. Only the Chargers have scored more than 14 points against the Chiefs since October. That is outrageous. No one wants to face this team right now, and for good reason. They have found a grove and unearthed more playmakers as the season has rolled on.
3. Los Angeles Rams: 11-4 (Last Week: 3)
Won 30-23 at Minnesota
Do I fully trust this team? Not exactly, but it is hard to argue with an 11-4 record and four straight wins. The point of contention is Matt Stafford’s continued inability to protect the football. He now has 13 interceptions in 15 games, throwing three more against Minnesota on Sunday. Thankfully, Sony Michel had a monster game, racking up 131 yards rushing and a touchdown. A 61-yard punt return also helped bail out Stafford. He will need to avoid turnovers if Los Angeles plans have a long stay in the postseason.
4. Dallas Cowboys: 11-4 (Last Week: 4)
Won 56-14 vs. Washington
Dallas made a statement. After weeks of inconsistent and underwhelming offensive play, the Cowboys exploded for 56 points and nearly 500 yards of offense. It was so lopsided that Cooper Rush got in the game and threw a touchdown pass. Three different linemen scored in this game as well for Dallas. In short, everything was working. If they can carry this momentum into the postseason, the Cowboys are going to be a dangerous team with an opportunistic defense and an uber-talented offense.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 11-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 32-6 at Carolina
Tampa Bay got back on track after laying an egg against the Saints a week ago. Beating the hapless Panthers is nothing all that impressive on its own, but this was a decisive win. The Buccaneers controlled the line of scrimmage, racking up 5.1 yards per carry. On the other side, Carolina managed just 65 yards rushing. The win also officially gave the Buccaneers the NFC South title. Thankfully, it seems like the Saints will not be in the postseason to potentially derail things.
6. Indianapolis Colts: 9-6 (Last Week: 7)
Won 22-16 at Arizona
The Colts’ 1-4 start feels like a lifetime ago. Wins over the Patriots and Cardinals firmly push them into the playoff picture and maybe even the Super Bowl conversation. Jonathan Taylor continues to look nearly unstoppable and the defense is playing at a high level. However, the passing game is still a little bit suspect and now Carson Wentz will miss at least Week 17’s game against the Raiders after landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list as an unvaccinated player. That likely ends Indianapolis’ already slim hopes of winning the AFC South.
7. Arizona Cardinals: 10-5 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 22-16 at Indianapolis
Arizona is fading down the stretch once again. Three straight losses, including a blowout against the Lions, is a huge red flag. Cardinals fans have to be worried about another second-half meltdown. The Cards lost five of their final seven games in 2020 to miss the postseason. This time, they have already secured a spot, but finishing 12-5 will feel very different than 10-7. If Arizona cannot stop the skid, there are going to be a lot of uncomfortable questions asked of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray.
8. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-6 (Last Week: 9)
Won 41-21 vs. Baltimore
In case anyone was wondering, the Bengals are loving their franchise quarterback. Joe Burrow aired it out for 525 yards and four touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins both went over 100 yards receiving, with Higgins coming close to 200. It helped to face a decimated Ravens secondary, but this was one of the most impressive offensive performances of the season. Now, Cincinnati will get a litmus test against Kansas City with a chance to put itself in the contender conversation.
9. Buffalo Bills: 9-6 (Last Week: 10)
Won 33-21 at New England
Buffalo exacted revenge and vaulted atop the AFC East with a convincing victory over New England. There are still clear areas for improvement as the Patriots rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry. Damien Harris was responsible for most of the damage done. As we’ve seen already this year, the Bills cannot stop elite rushing attacks. Jonathan Taylor destroyed them earlier this season. Josh Allen is playing at a high enough level to make up for many of those deficiencies, but it is a lot of pressure to put on him.
10. New England Patriots: 9-6 (Last Week: 8)
Lost 33-21 vs. Buffalo
Not all losses are created equal. This one stings a bit more as it means the Patriots lose their lead in the AFC East. Mac Jones’ shortcomings as a passer were on full display as well. He finished 14-of-32 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Damien Harris put together another Herculean effort, but the damage had been done and the defense could not quiet Josh Allen. New England is a good team, but there are clear weaknesses that teams are more than capable of exploiting.
11. Tennessee Titans: 10-5 (Last Week: 15)
Won 20-17 vs. San Francisco
Mike Vrabel unquestionably deserves to be in the Coach of the Year conversation. Tennessee has reached double-digit victories and is in great position to win the AFC South despite a clear lack of offensive playmakers. With Derrick Henry and Julio Jones sidelined, A.J. Brown stepped up huge on Thursday night and Ryan Tannehill deserves credit for taking care of the football. It doesn’t really make sense how this team keeps on winning, but the Titans won the turnover battle and made a few key plays to edge the 49ers.
12. Baltimore Ravens: 8-7 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 41-21 at Cincinnati
I want to crush the Ravens after another loss and with this injury-riddled roster, but they have shown a lot of fight despite starting their third-string quarterback. If Baltimore can get even a few of those injured players back, and a few off the reserve/COVID-19 list, hopes of reaching the postseason are still alive. Unfortunately, there might not be anything the Ravens can do to bolster their secondary. Surrendering 525 yards to Joe Burrow is an abysmal showing.
13. San Francisco 49ers: 8-7 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 20-17 at Tennessee
San Francisco has spent this entire season stuck in neutral. Jimmy Garoppolo fell well short of expectations again, with two costly interceptions. It turns out he also suffered a broken thumb in the game, which will thrust Trey Lance back into action. Perhaps the rookie can jumpstart this offense, because it is lacking right now. Deebo Samuel has been sensational, but San Francisco needs someone, pretty much anyone else to step up. The playoffs are still within reach, but it is hard to feel good about the 49ers’ chances.
14. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-7 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 41-29 at Houston
Well that was a dud. This is a clear learning experience for this young team. Los Angeles should have rolled over this overmatched Houston squad. Instead, the defense got carved up by a rookie quarterback, run over by a journeyman running back and outworked by a less talented defense. Justin Herbert threw two interceptions in a disappointing performance, but the blame has to lie with the defense for surrendering 41 points. This puts the Chargers’ playoff hopes in serious jeopardy with a pair of divisional games left on the schedule.
15. Miami Dolphins: 8-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 20-3 at New Orleans
Make it seven straight for Miami. It wasn’t the prettiest performance for the Dolphins, with only one offensive touchdown. Thankfully, the defense dominated rookie quarterback Ian Book in his first NFL start. Eight sacks and two interceptions, including a pick six highlighted an impressive showing that took all the pressure off Tua Tagovailoa. The second-year quarterback had an up and down night, but Miami is finding a way to win without Tua needing to carry them.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: 8-7 (Last Week: 18)
Won 34-10 vs. New York
Are the Eagles good? Are any of these 8-7 teams good? Honestly, I have no idea. Philadelphia has won five of its past six games, including that second-half domination against New York. It helped to be playing against the combination of Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm, but you have to perform in those spots. It was something the Eagles didn’t do a month ago against the Giants. Philly suddenly finds itself in the race for the postseason. A win against Washington would put them in a really good spot to earn a spot.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: 8-7 (Last Week: 19)
Won 17-13 vs. Denver
It is amazing that the Raiders are in the playoff conversation. Between Jon Gruden’s “resignation” over racist and misogynistic emails and Henry Ruggs’ fatal DUI crash, Las Vegas has had more distractions this season than most teams do in a decade. The mental toll these events must have had on the players is hard to imagine. And yet, they are grinding out wins to stay in the hunt. It was a huge performance from Josh Jacobs and the defense to lead the way. Denver finished with 18 yards on 16 carries, which is just ridiculous. Jacobs had more than that on a single carry, finishing with 129 yards on 27 attempts. The path to the postseason is still a tough one, but the Raiders refuse to go away.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-7-1 (Last Week: 14)
Lost 36-10 at Kansas City
Mike Tomlin’s streak of never posting a losing season as the head coach of the Steelers is hanging in the balance. We’ve seen Pittsburgh grind out some tough wins, but they have fallen well short against the NFL’s elite teams. Sunday was no exception. Kansas City jumped all over Pittsburgh, taking a 30-0 midway through the third quarter. On the bright side, Najee Harris had one of his most efficient games of the season, picking up 93 yards on the ground on 19 carries. One more win clinches another non-losing season. The Browns and Ravens stand in the way.
19. Cleveland Browns 7-8 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 24-22 at Green Bay
Which side of this loss do you want to focus on? Baker Mayfield threw four interceptions in a crushing performance. He was a bit unlucky to toss a couple of them, but there is no question those mistakes cost Cleveland the game. On the other hand, the Browns only lost this game by two points. They rumbled for 219 yards on 8.8 yards per carry, which is a winning formula for just about every team in the league. If Mayfield can take care of the ball, Cleveland likely wins this game easily.
20. Minnesota Vikings: 7-8 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 30-23 vs. Los Angeles
Minnesota has to be kicking itself for losing this game. Mike Zimmer’s defense came up with three interceptions, but could not capitalize, trailing 13-10 after all three of those turnovers. Surrendering a special teams touchdown and failing to come up with stops the rest of the game sunk the Vikings. Minnesota’s playoff chances are hanging by a thread and Zimmer’s hot seat is only getting warmer.
21. Denver Broncos: 7-8 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 17-13 at Las Vegas
This was a tough blow for the Broncos. Denver had a chance to really assert itself in the playoff race, but fell flat in a must-win in Las Vegas. It was one of the worst rushing performances we’ve seen this season, as the Broncos managed just 18 yards on 16 attempts. That did not set Drew Lock up for success. He did well not to turn the ball over, but he also did not do much to win this game when the opportunities were there. Denver now needs a ton of help to reach the playoffs.
22. New Orleans Saints: 7-8 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 20-3 vs. Miami
Well, the Ian Book era will likely be a short-lived one in New Orleans. In his defense, he was thrown to the wolves. The Saints offensive line struggled all night long against the blitz-happy Dolphins defense. Book took eight sacks and threw a pick-six on his second career pass attempt. It was about as ugly as you can imagine for your first NFL start. The Saints can still make the playoffs, but they are going to need either Taysom Hill or Trevor Seimian under center to have any chance.
23. Atlanta Falcons: 7-8 (Last Week: 24)
Won 20-16 vs. Detroit
Atlanta might be the worst 7-8 team in NFL history. The Falcons have the fifth-worst point differential in the league. They have one win this season over a team with a winning record. That came against the Dolphins in the midst of their early-season free fall. Miami is also 8-7. They were tied with the lowly Lions heading into the fourth quarter. Yes, Detroit has been playing better of late, but that was with Jared Goff at quarterback. Tim Boyle was the starter on Sunday. If the Falcons somehow make the playoffs, Arthur Smith should be a lock for coach of the year.
24. Washington: 6-9 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 56-14 at Dallas
What in the world happened to the Washington defense? This was an elite unit a year ago, carrying a lifeless offense to an NFC East title. Now, they are one of the worst in the NFL. Washington ranks in the bottom five for total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, passing yards per attempt allowed and points allowed per game. Injuries have certainly played a part, but this is a massive step backward. We saw it on full display with the Cowboys dropping 56 points on them, including 42 in the first half. Ron Rivera has a lot of work to do to turn this around.
25. Chicago Bears: 5-10 (Last Week: 29)
Won 25-24 at Seattle
With all the chaos around the NFL, it is nice to see something familiar. Nick Foles frustrated Giants fans everywhere while leading the Bears to an unlikely road win, hurting the value of Chicago’s first-round draft pick, which New York owns in 2022. Foles played well, taking care of the ball and throwing a touchdown pass and the go-ahead two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. For Chicago, it might be a meaningless win, but for Foles, it likely puts him back on the radar as a potential veteran fill-in for teams in need of a quarterback.
26. Carolina Panthers: 5-10 (Last Week: 25)
Lost 32-6 vs. Tampa Bay
Goodness the bottom has fallen out for Carolina. The Panthers are in the midst of their second losing streak of at least four games this season, having lost their fifth in a row on Sunday. It wasn’t even close. Carolina’s offensive line gave up seven sacks and the running backs accounted for just 14 yards. It was Cam Newton who did much of the heavy lifting in the run game. On the flip side, the defense got gashed by KeShawn Vaughn and the Buccaneers run game. Matt Rhule probably deserves another year, but it is getting harder to make that argument following another lopsided loss.
27. Seattle Seahawks: 5-10 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 25-24 vs. Chicago
Two weeks ago, Seattle was talking about running the table and making a playoff push. Instead, the Seahawks lost to the Rams and Bears, increasing speculation that Russell Wilson will force his way out this offseason and that the team could move on Pete Carroll. The loss to Chicago in particular is hard to swallow with the Bears relying on their third-string quarterback. It wasted good performances from Russell Wilson and Rashaad Penny. Seattle might be headed for a major rebuild.
28. Houston Texans: 4-11 (Last Week: 31)
Won 41-29 vs. Los Angeles
The Texans are on a win streak! Houston shocked the Chargers with a huge upset led by rookie quarterback Davis Mills. The former Stanford man outplayed Justin Herbert with an inferior supporting cast, making it clear the Texans might just have a quarterback to build around going forward. On top of his sterling showing, Rex Burkhead turned the clocks back to his Patriots days with a 149-yard, two-touchdown performance. Houston is showing some solid signs of progress, which bodes well for the future under David Culley.
29. New York Jets: 4-11 (Last Week: 30)
Won 26-21 vs. Jacksonville
It almost didn’t happen, but the Jets hung on to win their fourth game of the year. It wasn’t Zach Wilson’s best game as a passer, but he more than made up for it with his legs. He picked up 91 yards rushing, including a 52-yard touchdown scramble. New York’s defense was not perfect, but came up with a clutch stop in the final seconds on the goal line to seal the win. It was a gutsy performance as the Jets were decimated by COVID this week, missing a number of key starters and head coach Robert Saleh. Plus, the Seahawks lost, which is good for the Jets draft pick situation.
30. Detroit Lions: 2-12-1 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 20-16 at Atlanta
Dan Campbell has this team competing with everyone right now. It was not as impressive a performance as a monster win over the Cardinals, but a gritty loss to the Falcons with Tim Boyle at quarterback continues to solidify the locker room’s belief in Campbell. The defense played well, holding the Falcons to 254 yards of offense, but struggled to contain Kyle Pitts. Losing close games is the best case scenario with a chance to secure a great draft pick and build some momentum heading into 2022.
31. New York Giants: 4-11 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 34-10 at Philadelphia
The Giants announced plans to run it back with Joe Judge and Daniel Jones. It is hard to understand why. I get keeping Jones. New York has done a terrible job of protecting him and he has one more season guaranteed on his rookie contract, pending his fifth year option. However, keeping Judge feels like an odd choice. He has not done much to indicate he is the right coach to lead the franchise. Plus, the Giants seem likely to move on from Dave Gettleman. Not allowing the new general manager to pick his own head coach will make the opening less desirable.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-13 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 26-21 at New York
The outlook for the Jaguars has changed quite a bit since the last time I put these power rankings together. Urban Meyer is gone and the team is searching for a replacement coach with interviews set with Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, the one thing that has not changed is the losing streak. Jacksonville lost its seventh straight game and owns a 3-28 record since the start of last season. Trevor Lawrence still has not thrown a touchdown pass since October. Some positive momentum feels much needed before the season ends.
Welcome to the NFL’s new normal. Top teams are upset on a weekly basis, Hall of Fame quarterbacks crumble against mediocre defenses, and no one has any idea who is good and who is bad. In a word, the NFL has achieved parity. Every week, chaos is bound to wash over the NFL, sending a shockwave through these power rankings.
Just a quick recap, the Eagles coasted past the Broncos, who beat the Cowboys last week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys shelled the Falcons, who topped the Saints a week ago. Two weeks ago, the Saints beat the Buccaneers, who have now lost two straight after a truly stunning defeat in D.C. Add in the new-look Rams falling flat against the previously downtrodden 49ers and you have a pretty clear picture of the mess that is the NFL right now. Even the teams that are 8-2 have some pretty clear question marks.
With all of that in mind, here is my best attempt at ranking the league’s teams.
1. Green Bay Packers: 8-2 (Last Week: 1)
Won 17-0 vs. Seattle
Defense wins championships and it seems like the Packers defense is rounding into form. Russell Wilson was clearly shaking off some rust, but he had never been shutout before Sunday. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers made his return to the field and didn’t look great. He had no touchdowns and an interceptions. A.J. Dillon plunged in for a pair of short-yardage touchdown runs to seal an important victory. Even with Aaron Jones set to miss a week or two, the Packers should be in good shape to keep winning with a strong defense and reliable run game.
2. Tennessee Titans: 8-2 (Last Week: 4)
Won 23-21 vs. New Orleans
Is Tennessee really the second-best team in the league? Honestly, I don’t know. They sit at 8-2, but these two wins without Derrick Henry have been anything but convincing. The Titans got a bit of help from the refs with a questionable roughing the passer call and the Saints nearly tied the game in the closing minutes. In the end, the defense made a few big plays when the game was on the line. Mike Vrabel has built a gritty team. It doesn’t have to be pretty if they just keep winning.
3. Dallas Cowboys: 7-2 (Last Week: 6)
Won 43-3 vs. Atlanta
Talk about bouncing back. Dallas put a horrendous offensive performance in its rearview mirror with a thrashing of Atlanta. The Cowboys led 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, then outscored the Falcons 29-0 in the second quarter to put the game to bed. Dak Prescott played efficiently and the defense played lights out, holding Atlanta to just 214 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers. As of right now, the loss against Denver looks like an anomaly, but they can’t afford too many more duds like that.
4. Arizona Cardinals: 8-2 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 34-10 vs. Carolina
There is only so much magic the Cardinals can work with a depleted offense. The combination of Colt McCoy and Chris Streveler totaled 143 passing yards to go with an interception and four sacks. Defensively, the Cardinals had no answer for Christian McCaffrey, who finished with 161 yards of offense. This is one that you can probably just throw out when evaluating Arizona, but the offensive line still struggled against an elite defense. That is a red flag.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-3 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 29-19 at Washington
Tampa Bay fell flat once again, this time coming off their bye week. Tom Brady played his worst game of the season and the Buccaneers defense got pushed around all afternoon. While Brady’s two first-quarter interceptions made life difficult, the bigger issue was definitely the defense’s inability to get off the field. Washington held the ball for 39 minutes of game play, leaving the Bucs with very little opportunity to get into a rhythm. Tampa’s 47 plays were easily the fewest they have run all season. Bruce Arians has some serious work to do in order get this club back on track.
6. New England Patriots: 6-4 (Last Week: 8)
Won 45-7 vs. Cleveland
Oh no. The Patriots are back. Maybe not to the high-flying days of Tom Brady leading the league’s No. 1 offense, but this New England side is starting to resemble those early 2000s teams that won three Super Bowls in a four-year span. I’m not saying the Pats are going to win a title this year, but smashing the Browns definitely underlines this team’s potential. I know they have lost four games this season, but three of those four came by six points or fewer. With four straight wins, Bill Belichick has this team trending in the right direction.
7. Los Angeles Rams: 7-3 (Last Week: 5)
Lost 31-10 at San Francisco
You can take the quarterback out of Detroit, but you can’t take the Detroit out of the quarterback. Matt Stafford continues to come up well short in big moments for the Rams. For the second straight week, Los Angeles got whipped in primetime as their big offseason acquisition floundered. This week though, he might have an excuse. His receivers could not catch anything on Monday night. Stafford’s second interception went right through the hands of Tyler Higbee. Without any semblance of a running game and a defense that could not stop a nosebleed, much less Elijah Mitchell, L.A. looked completely overmatched. Sean McVay has a lot of questions to answer on the other side of their bye week.
8. Buffalo Bills: 6-3 (Last Week: 9)
Won 45-17 at New York
Buffalo clearly did not dwell on its stunning Week 9 loss to the Jaguars. The Bills jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. They led 38-3 heading into the fourth quarter. Josh Allen played well and got plenty of help from the ground game. Four different players recorded a rushing touchdown in this one. Similarly, four different defensive players intercepted Mike White in a dominant performance. Buffalo clearly showed that its floor is very low, but this was a good reminder that they also have a very high ceiling.
9. Kansas City Chiefs: 6-4 (Last Week: 14)
Won 41-14 at Las Vegas
It is important not to overreact after just one game on the heels of about a month of lackluster play, but we saw the Patrick Mahomes of old on Sunday night. He shredded the Raiders secondary for 406 yards and five touchdowns in a resurgent performance. What’s more, Kansas City ran the ball enough to keep Las Vegas honest. The Chiefs averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, so there is room for improvement, but this was a good sign of things to come. Kansas City cannot afford a let down though with Dallas up next.
10. Baltimore Ravens: 6-3 (Last Week: 7)
Lost 22-10 at Miami
Goodness this was ugly. Miami bottled up Lamar Jackson as the offense spun its wheels all night long. The Ravens could not adjust to the consistent pressure Brian Flores sent throughout the game. Defensively, Baltimore held Jacoby Brissett in check, but gave up way too many big plays in big moments. With the Browns losing and the Steelers tying this week, this would have been a huge opportunity for the Ravens to build some separation in the division. Instead, Baltimore must rethink its offensive approach against blitz-heavy defenses.
11. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-4 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 27-20 vs. Minnesota
Reminder: the Chargers are a young team and there are going to be some growing pains. Justin Herbert turned in an uneven performance, with a touchdown, an interception and just 195 yards passing. Defensively, Kirk Cousins generally had his way with the secondary and Minnesota chewed up clock on the ground. This loss does not undo wins over the Chiefs or Browns, but Los Angeles is clearly not a true Super Bowl contender yet.
12. New Orleans Saints: 5-4 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 23-21 at Tennessee
Question time. Why is Trevor Siemian starting for the Saints? Taysom Hill went 3-1 as a spot starter for New Orleans when Drew Brees got hurt, in ahead of Jameis Winston. Now, Hill is back to his gadget player role, despite receiving a monster extension this offseason. I understand it was primarily for salary cap purposes, but it still makes me wonder what has changed since last year. Considering this loss came by two points on the road against a good team while the Saints were missing their best player, the sky is not falling. However, after two straight losses, it is fair to wonder if a change at quarterback is necessary.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-3-1 (Last Week: 12)
Tied 16-16 vs. Detroit
If nothing else, we learned that Mason Rudolph is not the Steelers quarterback of the future. He managed a meager 4.8 yards per attempt and finished with a QBR of 36.7. There is plenty of blame to go around though, as Pittsburgh coughed up two fumbles in overtime to halt two potential game-winning drives. Meanwhile, the defense gave up 229 yards rushing. All the way around, it is a wonder the Steelers did not lose this game. They desperately need Ben Roethlisberger back in Week 11.
14. Indianapolis Colts: 5-5 (Last Week: 17)
Won 23-17 vs. Jacksonville
Perhaps we should just chalk this up to divisional games being difficult. However, the Colts did not play well and let the Jaguars hang around way too long in this one. Carson Wentz was pedestrian at best and no one other than Jonathan Taylor really produced much. If not for a special teams touchdown early in this game on a blocked punt, there is a good chance Indianapolis loses this game. Like I said, divisional games are wonky and often lead to unexpected results. Hopefully, the Colts can raise their play because a visit to Buffalo is up next.
15. Minnesota Vikings: 4-5 (Last Week: 19)
Won 27-20 at Los Angeles
At long last, Minnesota built a late lead and hung onto it. Kirk Cousins aired it out and Dalvin Cook put in a ton of work. The defense deserves a ton of credit for making life difficult on Justin Herbert, sacking him twice and intercepting him. Controlling the clock on offense and limiting big plays on defense is a winning formula for this side.
16. Cleveland Browns 5-5 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 45-7 at New England
What to make of the Browns? On the heels of a blowout win against Cincinnati, Cleveland drove right down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. Then, the Browns surrendered 45 unanswered points as Baker Mayfield struggled mightily before exiting with a knee injury. D’Ernest Johnson did his best to carry the load, racking up 157 yards of offense, but Cleveland looked lifeless on both sides of the ball. The sign of a great team is consistency, which goes a long way towards explaining the Browns’ 5-5 record. This team cannot string together performances right now.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-4 (Last Week: 16)
It was a good week for the Bengals. The Ravens, Browns and Steelers all did not win. Now Cincinnati needs to take advantage. Joe Burrow and company have flashed the potential to be one of the best teams in the AFC, but are coming off back-to-back losses to the Jets and Browns. With a bye week to regroup, the Bengals now have a chance to prove they are a legitimate playoff team and not just another middle-of-the-road side.
18. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-4 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 41-14 vs. Kansas City
It seems like the on-going circus around the Raiders has finally caught up with them on the field. First, Jon Gruden was fired (technically, he resigned, but let’s read between the lines) for some horrible emails containing racist, homophobic and misogynistic language. Then, Henry Ruggs was arrested after killing someone while driving drunk, going 156 miles per hour with a loaded gun in the car. Most recently, Damon Arnette was released following a series of social media posts containing death threats while he brandished firearms. And that was all before they went into a rivalry game with the Chiefs. Needless to say, Las Vegas fell flat. Patrick Mahomes pulled apart the Raiders secondary and the offense did not score after halftime. Rich Bisaccia has a tough task ahead of him.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-6 (Last Week: 22)
Won 30-13 at Denver
Philadelphia put together a complete game as it ran all over Denver’s defense. The Eagles racked up 214 yards on 40 carries and got stronger as the game went on. With the game tied at 10 midway through the second quarter, Philly outscored Denver 20-3 the rest of the way. Given how much chaos has occurred in the NFL this season, the Eagles are just one game back of a playoff spot. They will face another wildcard contender in Week 11 as the Saints come to town.
20. San Francisco 49ers: 4-5 (Last Week: 25)
Won 31-10 vs. Los Angeles
Kyle Shanahan clearly has Sean McVay’s number. San Francisco has notched five straight wins over Los Angeles, with Monday’s being the most impressive, and perhaps important, yet. The 49ers ran the ball 44 times to amass a time of possession of over 39 minutes. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford never looked comfortable and the Rams could not hold onto the ball. Two early interceptions, including a pick-six, coupled with an 11-minute scoring drive set the tone for the game. L.A. never recovered. San Francisco will have a chance to build on this win in Jacksonville.
21. Carolina Panthers: 5-5 (Last Week: 24)
Won 34-10 at Arizona
Even though he did not start, there is no doubt Cam Newton provided a huge emotional boost for the Panthers. Super Cam scored on his first two offensive snaps in his return to Carolina. The defense certainly benefited from facing Colt McCoy instead of Kyler Murray, but still impressed nonetheless. The Panthers tallied four total sacks and only allowed 169 yards of offense. It was the type of stifling performance that makes you think that Carolina could be a real problem down the stretch if Newton can get into form and provide some kind of stability on offense.
22. Denver Broncos: 5-5 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 30-13 vs. Philadelphia
Denver followed up an impressive road win over the Cowboys with a lopsided home loss to the Eagles. Make it make sense. The biggest difference was the run game. After allowing just 78 yards to Dallas, Philadelphia rumbled for 214 yards on the ground. After falling behind, the Broncos could not continue to run consistently, which is where they found a decent amount of success earlier in the game. Still at .500 and only a game back in the AFC West, Denver is in the mix, but results like this make it hard to believe in the long-term potential.
23. New York Giants: 3-6 (Last Week: 21)
This was a tough week for the Giants. Not because of anything they did. Hopefully, they finally got healthy. Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay and more have missed enough time already. No, unfortunately, every other team in the NFC East won, which pushes New York back into the divisional basement. Joe Judge and Daniel Jones have a lot to prove in the second half of the season.
24. Atlanta Falcons: 4-5 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 43-3 at Dallas
Last week, I said that Matt Ryan was putting together a Jekyll and Hyde type season. He turned it up a notch in Week 10. After an impressive win over the Saints in which he had 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Ryan went 9-for-21 passing for 121 yards and two interceptions. He was pulled late in the third quarter with the team trailing by 40. Atlanta is still just a half game back of the Panthers for the NFC’s final wildcard spot at the moment, but it is hard to think of this group as a playoff team.
25. Seattle Seahawks: 3-6 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 17-0 at Green Bay
So, Russell Wilson didn’t exactly fix the offense. The veteran quarterback struggled mightily, finishing 20-of-40 throwing for 161 yards and two interceptions. He simply did not look sharp, nor did he have much time to throw. Green Bay hit him five times, including three sacks. On the bright side, the defense limited Aaron Rodgers and kept Seattle in the game until late on. Unfortunately, things will not get much easier with the Cardinals up next.
26. Miami Dolphins: 3-7 (Last Week: 28)
Won 22-10 vs. Baltimore
Don’t look now, but the Dolphins are on a win streak. Brian Flores blitzed the hell out of Lamar Jackson, mostly from his secondary, holding the former MVP in check. In fact, this has to go down as one of the most impressive defensive performances of his tenure. However, questions must be asked of Flores’ handling of his quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa was deemed injured and unable to start the game. Yet, he was active as a backup. Jacoby Brissett exited with an injury, thrusting Tagovailoa into the game. Brissett never returned despite being cleared to play. So if Tagovailoa was too hurt to start, why was he left in when Brissett was able to come back? Miami’s quarterback situation continues to be an enigma.
27. Washington: 3-6 (Last Week: 29)
Won 29-19 vs. Tampa Bay
Add the Washington Football Team to the list of teams that act as kryptonite to Tom Brady. Washington intercepted the future Hall of Famer twice in the first quarter to build an early lead. However, the real key was a 10-plus minute touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Washington remained committed to the run despite only managing 2.8 yards per carry. Now, Ron Rivera must prepare for an emotional reunion with his former team in Cam Newton’s first home game since returning to the Panthers.
28. Chicago Bears: 3-6 (Last Week: 26)
Maybe a week off will allow Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor to finally build an offense that suits Justin Fields’ skill set. The rookie quarterback has had the typical ups and downs that come with the transition to the NFL. However, the Bears have been unable to unlock their best offensive player in Allen Robinson and often leave Fields in tough situations. Chicago’s defense is usually good enough to win games. If the offense can find a bit more consistency, the Bears could be a factor down the stretch.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-7 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 23-17 vs. Indianapolis
Jacksonville nearly followed up one upset with another. Trevor Lawrence was strip-sacked after making it into Colts territory on the team’s final drive, ending hopes of another massive win, but there are some positives to take away. The defense seems to have taken a much-needed step forward. Carson Wentz did not find much success through the air, but ultimately, the Jaguars could not slow down Jonathan Taylor. Now, if Urban Meyer could find a way to help Lawrence develop, Jacksonville would be in a good place.
30. New York Jets: 2-7 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 45-17 vs. Buffalo
It is ridiculous to think about, but how warm is Robert Saleh’s seat getting right now? New York’s defense has been almost unprecedentedly bad, allowing 417 yards per game and just shy of 33 points per game, both the worst marks in the league. Saleh was formerly the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, so this was supposed to be his forte. I don’t expect the Jets to fire him after just one season, but it would be good for the unit to show progress in the second half of the year.
31. Houston Texans: 1-7 (Last Week: 31)
Houston largely sat out the trade deadline and now sits at 1-7. An extra week to get Tyrod Taylor back to full health likely bodes well for the offense. With very little expectation and already having won a game to avoid the dreaded winless season, there really does not seem to be much to play for in Houston.
32. Detroit Lions: 0-8-1 (Last Week: 32)
Tied 16-16 at Pittsburgh
This might be the most Lions way to break a 12-game losing streak: an ugly tie in a game where Detroit probably should have won, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. Jared Goff is clearly not the quarterback of the future, but with a mediocre quarterback class coming up, how the Lions address the position will be interesting. Dan Campbell has this team competing hard, but at some point, that is not going to be enough any more.
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.