It’s Ezekiel Elliott’s world, and we’re just living in it. The NFL desperately needed a ratings boost, and they got one in a mesmerizing, back-and-forth game between arguably the league’s two most successful franchises which saw the Cowboys standout rookie running back score not one, but two lead-changing touchdowns in the game’s final two minutes. Now at 8-1, “America’s Team” has the best record in the NFL.
The Patriots entered week 10 as the league’s only other one-loss team, and favorites at home in a Super Bowl XLIX rematch against the Seahawks. In another competitive thriller that made week 10 the most entertaining of the season thus far, the game featured seven lead changes and would’ve reached overtime if not for Seattle’s front line proving why they are the best goal-to-go defense in the league. How ironic that while Patriots fans mocked the Seahawks’ choice to throw the ball at the end of the Super Bowl, it was New England’s inability to run that cost them the rematch.
There were insane endings all around the league this week. The Panthers blew a 17-0 lead against the Chiefs, and in a tie game with 29 seconds left on their own 20, Carolina decided not to simply kneel and send the game to overtime, but instead attempt to drive down the field for a game-winning score. This approach proved costly when on the drive’s first play, Marcus Peters was able to strip the ball from Kelvin Benjamin, setting up a Cairo Santos field goal for the win.
Over in New Orleans, we saw perhaps the most controversial ruling of the season- that Will Parks didn’t step out of bounds returning the Saints’ blocked extra point for two points that gave the Broncos the win. I understand that the white cleats might have made things more difficult, but here’s the deal- either the sideline wasn’t drawn in a straight line, or Parks was out. Tough break for the Saints.
All in all, 10 of 14 games were decided by a touchdown or fewer this past week, and one of the games that wasn’t featured the Packers allowing 47 points to an electric Titans offense that has now scored at least 35 points in three straight contests. While it’s great news for Tennessee, the Packers, now losers of four of five games, are playing themselves out of the postseason picture, leaving many to wonder if Green Bay’s reign as a powerhouse has come to an end. Where does Aaron Rodgers’ team stand now? Here are the power rankings.
1. Cowboys (8-1, LW: 2) Major props to Tony Romo for his statement conceding the starting quarterback position to the phenom Dak Prescott. And to everyone saying the Cowboys haven’t beaten anyone yet: maybe that works when a team wins two or three games in a row, but eight? There isn’t an eight-game stretch possible against “nobody” teams. If you think the Cowboys are undeserving, I’ve got one question for you: did you see the Steelers game?
2. Patriots (7-2, LW: 1) It wasn’t revealed until afterward, but interesting late-game tactics were at play during the Patriots’ loss. With the Seahawks already scoring on seven drives in the game, Tom Brady attempted not to score from the 2-yard line, but merely to get closer to the end zone on first down in order to force Seattle to burn their final timeout instead of using it on a potential final minute drive to win the game in regulation. However, the decision may have backfired as the Patriots ultimately turned the ball over on downs. The loss isn’t a huge deal- it’s the first of the year with Brady starting. However, in those situations, my rule is typical this: if you only need a field goal to win, kill as much time as possible; if you need a touchdown, stick it in the end zone.
3. Seahawks (6-2-1, LW: 6) Can you say controversy? Yes, I am keeping the Patriots above the Seahawks despite Seattle’s win in New England on Sunday night. Why? Because a team’s overall strength is based off more than just one game. Here are the Seahawks’ last five results: a two-point win over Falcons due to questionable pass interference no-call, an ugly tie against the Cardinals, a loss in New Orleans thanks to offensive struggles, and wins over Bills and Patriots where red zone stands were required in the last minute to secure victories. Make no mistake, Seattle is starting to look much better. But not impressive as you thought, right?
4. Chiefs (7-2, LW: 4) This wasn’t even the first time the Chiefs came back from a three-score deficit- they did the same against the Chargers in week 1. Andy Reid’s team doesn’t quit, and they made huge plays on defense when it mattered most- a pick-six (featuring a sick runback) by Eric Berry and Peters’ timely strip to seal the deal. Alex Smith looked a bit shaky in his first game back, but the Chiefs are on top of an insane AFC West.
5. Raiders (7-2, LW: 5) The tie is with the Raiders, the second of three (yes, seriously) seven-win teams in a division that has more teams with seven wins than the entire rest of the league combined. The Raiders get cheated out of a home game this week, taking on the “home” label for their Monday-nighter against the Texans. Normally, a 7-2 team would be feeling pretty comfortable, but in their division, every game is crucial as Oakland fights for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
6. Falcons (6-4, LW: 3) The Falcons have officially tipped their hand- the league’s #1 offense isn’t unstoppable. Atlanta could only manage one touchdown against the Eagles, and their 15-point performance was the team’s lowest by eight points this year. Entering their bye, Atlanta leads the NFC South by 1.5 games. If they can find a defense over the break, the second-half of their schedule looks pretty favorable minus a matchup with the Chiefs.
7. Broncos (7-3, LW: 7) It doesn’t matter anymore if Parks’ foot was on the line or not. The Broncos won the game, and you have to give them credit for forcing two Drew Brees interceptions, scoring on three fourth quarter drives, blocking the Saints’ extra point for the win, and beating one of the league’s hottest teams on the road. Momentum in this game shifted back and forth, but the Broncos earned the win.
8. Giants (6-3, LW: 8) For a Giants fan, the last four minutes of the Bengals game were nirvana. To seal the deal on Monday night, Big Blue sacked Andy Dalton on back-to-back plays and managed to run out the clock using the ground game. With huge successes in two categories where the Giants entered last in the league, you start to get the feeling the Giants are piecing things together. And with their next two games against the Bears and Browns, New York is more likely than not to be 8-3.
9. Eagles (5-4, LW: 12) The Eagles are a really good team in just about the worst spot imaginable. Despite being just 5-4, Philly’s +66 scoring differential trails only the Cowboys and Patriots. However, the Eagles find themselves last in the NFC East, and even worse, 0-3 in the division, losing once to all three opponents. Enormous credit for the win against the Falcons, but with a brutal schedule ahead, it’ll be really hard for what I believe to be a clear top-10 team in the league finding a way into the playoffs.
10. Lions (5-4, LW: 9) That’s exactly how you draw up the bye week- everyone in your division loses, and you move into first place. Football sure is easy. Despite the Lions’ two main competitors falling off cliffs in recent weeks, Detroit is anything but safe up top of the NFC North. A win against Jacksonville should keep them moving in the right direction, though.
11. Texans (6-3, LW: 11) Once again, it was the defense and special teams coming up huge for the Texans, scoring one touchdown and setting up another in a 24-21 win over the Jaguars. When was the last time an NFL team won a game where their quarterback played the whole game and threw for less than 100 yards? Osweiler’s Texans never cease to amaze.
12. Redskins (5-3-1, LW: 17) The Redskins played quite the interesting game against the Vikings. Dominant for three and a half quarters, Washington imploded at the end of the first half, allowing three touchdowns in the final six minutes. However, in an attempt to prove every coach who preaches red zone efficiency wrong, the Redskins marched down the field in the second half, kicking four field goals to win 26-20, scoring the game’s first 14 and final 12 points.
13. Steelers (4-5, LW: 15) It’s a small boost for the Steelers this week. While unusual for a team coming off a loss, Pittsburgh deserves to be rewarded, if not in the win column, for one heck of a game against the Cowboys that brought life back into both a great offense and NFL viewership numbers. Le’Veon Bell finally picked up his first two scores of the year as Big Ben and Antonio Brown also returned to form. The Steelers offense looked primed to take down Dallas- and they would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids (Dak and Zeke).
14. Vikings (5-4, LW: 10) And they’re freeeeeeeeee, free fallllllin. It’s four straight losses for the former #1 team in the rankings. Things have looked better in their last two games in comparison to the previous two, but the lack of a running game especially has to put the Vikings in panic mode. I believe they finally get back on track with their first victory since week 5 this week, home against the Cardinals. For their sake, I hope they get it.
15. Bills (4-5, LW: 14) While the Lions enjoyed their bye, the Bills…could’ve had a better week. Not only did the Dolphins continue their hot streak, but the Raiders, Broncos, and Titans all won to make the path to a wild card spot more difficult. And that’s not even mentioning the Steelers, Colts, and Chargers, all of whom also have the ability to make a run. Good luck, Buffalo.
16. Dolphins (5-4, LW: 22) The Dolphins were once #31 in these rankings, a floundering 1-4 squad who had only beaten the Browns. Four straight wins later, it’s time to start taking Miami seriously. While Jay Ajayi has been on fire, credit this time around goes to the defense, who remarkably managed to pick off Philip Rivers FOUR times in the fourth quarter, including a Kiko Alonso pick-six that sealed the win. Even clutch is too mild a term to describe that.
17. Packers (4-5, LW: 13) Well, it finally seems like throwing 52 players around Aaron Rodgers has caught up to Green Bay. While that might be a knock against several good players on the Packers, there are swiss cheese holes all through the defense which has conceded 111 total points in three straight losses. On offense, the Packers are so unbalanced that Aaron Rodgers has struggled far more than we’re accustomed to seeing, despite having 22 touchdowns on the year. To top it off, just one of the Pack’s last seven games comes against a team with a losing record.
18. Cardinals (4-4-1, LW: 16) Just like it’s rare for teams to lose and improve in the rankings, the Cardinals nearly escaped overtime against the 49ers of all teams. David Johnson, while still managing 101 total yards and two touchdowns, gained just 55 on the ground against a team who had allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games. Colin Kaepernick actually looked good in this game, and that’s a bad sign for a struggling Arizona.
19. Titans (5-5, LW: 25) I’m not quite sure if the Titans want to be a winning team or a losing team. Here are their game-by-game results so far: LWLLWWLWLW. One thing that’s for certain is that Marcus Mariota has taken a step forward in his second season. The Titans also own the league’s #3 rushing offense, making them an interesting dual-threat offense that loves big plays. They already have more wins this year than the last two seasons combined, and they won’t be content at just five.
20. Ravens (5-4, LW: 21) Yes, the Ravens are a division-leading team ranked #20 in the power rankings. I give them credit for taking care of business as any playoff hopeful should against the Browns, but I’m just not inspired…like, at all, by their offense. Don’t expect the Ravens to finish with more than seven, maybe eight wins, or maintain their division lead over the Steelers.
21. Saints (4-5, LW: 19) It’s a really unfortunate scenario for the Saints, but they have to find the bright side. They were just an extra point away from likely defeating the Broncos, a good team, for their fifth win in six games. The NFC South race is far from over, and there are plenty of opportunities for wins remaining. What will be key are division matchups, which make up 4/7 of New Orleans’ remaining schedule.
22. Chargers (4-6, LW: 18) Mixed bag for Philip Rivers, to say the least. In throwing three touchdowns, the veteran signal-caller hit both the 300 career touchdowns milestone and passed John Elway for eighth on the all-time passing TDs list. However, it’s no overstatement that his four interceptions in the final 15 minutes cost the Chargers a huge win. They’ll have their bye week to prepare for the Texans.
23. Bengals (3-5-1, LW: 20) Really tough loss for the Bengals in a game they would’ve loved to have coming off their bye. After taking a 20-14 lead early in the third quarter, Cincy failed to score on their last five drives. The Bengals’ two touchdowns came following a 71-yard pass to Tyler Eifert and an 84-yard kickoff return. Besides these plays, Andy Dalton’s offense never got much going, which has to be concerning going forward.
24. Colts (4-5, LW: 23) A one-week reprieve from the bad comedy that is the Indianapolis Colts. Don’t worry- I’m sure they’ll go right back to attempting ridiculous fourth quarter comebacks again this week.
25. Buccaneers (4-5, LW: 26) Wow. Total team performance from the Bucs. For a defense that had been struggling mightily, they actually forced more turnovers than they allowed points if you exclude a hail mary touchdown to end the first half. They set the tone early with back-to-back interceptions of Jay Cutler, one being returned for a Chris Conte touchdown, and kept the momentum all game long.
26. Panthers (3-6, LW: 24) Silly Panthers, the game isn’t three quarters long! That wouldn’t make any sense! That’s about the best justification I can come up with for Carolina’s meltdown. Held scoreless in the entire second half, the Panthers’ offense actually scored more points for Kansas City with a pick-six. I don’t actually have a huge problem with the decision to not take a knee and try to score at the end of regulation, but if that’s the gameplan, hold onto the ball! The Panthers aren’t quite done yet, but are very much knocking on death’s door.
27. Rams (4-5, LW: 27) Move over, Seahawks-Cardinals tie; we might have a new worst game of 2016. The football game (if you can even call it football) that took place at MetLife Stadium was almost physically painful to watch. While I guess we’re supposed to just chalk 9-6 results up to good defense, it was just as much terrible offense. Somehow, the Rams won, and are officially the worst 4-5 team in the league. It’s officially time for #1 pick Jared Goff. How will he fare? Who knows, but he deserves a chance.
28. Jaguars (2-7, LW: 30) I’m going to make this very clear: even rarer than a team losing and moving up in the rankings is a team losing and moving up in the rankings without doing anything particularly deserving of it. However, the Bears and Jets played so unbelievably awful that I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. The Jaguars were competitive, that’s about all I can say. Congrats on the jump. Maybe do something with it?
29. Bears (2-7, LW: 28) I think I’ve reached the only conclusion I can draw: Jay Cutler really is this bad. We know all about his arm, and the talents he shows every once in a while. However, on a weekly basis, Cutler simply is one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. He’s far from the only problem in Chicago, but I’m not sure he’s going to be able to find a job, much less a starting one, next season. To top it off, most of the locker room has lost confidence in the quarterback repeatedly under fire for his apparent lack of passion for the game.
30. Jets (3-7, LW: 29) Well…I guess one good thing about Bryce Petty’s first career start is that it’s just his first career start. The Jets played a bad team at home, allowed just nine points, and still managed to lose. Petty deserves another shot, but maybe we also start thinking about giving Christian Hackenberg a chance? What do we have to lose again?
31. 49ers (1-8, LW: 31) I’ve genuinely run out of commentary for the 49ers. Um…good effort? The 49ers played their best game in over a month against the Cardinals and nearly got a shot in overtime on the road to pull out their second win. I’d go as far as to call it positive momentum…if they weren’t going up against the Patriots next week. Belichick and Brady following a loss; I wouldn’t want to be Chip Kelly.
32. Browns (0-10, LW: 32) Everyone’s favorite trainwreck messed with us for a half, giving off the impression they had a chance at winning. Good one, Browns. On a serious note, has anyone figured out yet why Cody Kessler was benched? He’s actually turning into a pretty solid quarterback. Cleveland donates the Steelers a win next.