The reigning Super Bowl champions have suffered their first loss. The Broncos’ 23-16 loss to the Falcons opened the door for the Minnesota Vikings to seize the top spot in the power rankings, and they succeeded in another dominant victory, this time dispatching the Texans to head into their bye as the only undefeated team in the NFL.
However, Broncos fans need not worry. The Falcons have played out of their minds in their last four games, with Matt Ryan emerging as the clear MVP favorite if the season were to end today. The Broncos actually held Ryan to his worst statistical game of the season, but were unable to get much of anything going on offense until the fourth quarter with rookie Paxton Lynch making his first NFL in place of the injured Trever Siemian. Siemian returns this week against the Chargers, where the Broncos should get back on track.
Denver may be fine, but their Super Bowl opponents are anything but. The Carolina Panthers were forced to start Derek Anderson in week 5 against the Bucs, who turned the ball over three times in a game they desperately needed to keep pace with the surging Falcons. Now, Ron Rivera’s team that 15-1 just last season are 1-4, last place in the NFC South and three games behind Atlanta, also trailing the Eagles and Packers by 2.5 games in the NFC Wild Card race. The Panthers can’t afford to lose to the Saints in this final week before their bye, or their season might be over just six weeks in.
The biggest risers in the power rankings this week are the Bills, who with their third consecutive victory have emerged as potential contenders after a disappointing start to the year, the Redskins, also picking up their third straight win against the Ravens, and the Lions, who became the first team to defeat rookie Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles. Here are the complete rankings.
32: Browns (0-5, LW: 32) Another week, another quarterback. After Cody Kessler went down mid-game against the Patriots, Charlie Whitehurst (aka Clipboard Jesus) was forced into action, despite only being signed on September 19. Of course, the Browns were killed, and Tom Brady torched the secondary for over 400 yards and three touchdowns in his return. It’s gonna be a long year.
31: Dolphins (1-4, LW: 31) Besides a couple long pass plays, the Dolphins were shut down against the Titans, who ran all over Miami to the tune of 235 yards on 5.7 yards per carry. Miami simply doesn’t have the roster of a winning football team, and I don’t expect things to improve in 2016.
30: 49ers (1-4, LW: 29) Colin Kaepernick will take over starting quarterback duties after Blaine Gabbert was unimpressive for the first five weeks of the season. Regardless of your National Anthem stance, Kaepernick deserves a chance to show what he can do with a reeling Niners team trying to reclaim their week 1 performance.
29: Bears (1-4, LW: 28) Brian Hoyer played the best game we’ve seen from a Bears quarterback in a while, and in my opinion is winning the starting job over the injured Jay Cutler. However, in a Super Bowl XLI rematch, the Colts picked up their second win after the Bears had no answer for T.Y. Hilton.
28: Saints (1-3, LW: 27) Bye week for the Saints. Huge divisional matchup with the Panthers coming up. One team will fall into a likely insurmountable division hole.
27: Chargers (1-4, LW: 24) More like the San Diego not-so-super Chargers. The 4th quarter trainwreck that are the Chargers botched the snap of a potentially game-tying field goal, continuing their comical late-game misfortune this season. They won’t be able to blow it this week, though, because by the time the 4th quarter of the Broncos game comes around, the Chargers will be blown out already.
26: Jets (1-4, LW: 21) Hey, no Ryan Fitzpatrick turnovers this time! Unfortunately, the Jets defense was no match for the Steelers’ vicious passing attack. Big Ben went for 380 yards and four touchdowns, with Sammie Coates his favorite this time around. And come on, 13 points isn’t going to get the job done against Pittsburgh.
25: Buccaneers (2-3, LW: 30) The Bucs made the most of Panthers miscues and Cam Newton’s absence and snapped a three-game losing streak in their game against 2015’s NFC champs. Second-round pick Roberto Aguayo missed two more field goals, but was able to hit the game-winner as time expired to hopefully boost his confidence going forward.
24: Titans (2-3, LW: 25) Impressive game from the Titans on both sides of the ball- Mariota was efficient and led a strong offensive performance while the defense sacked Ryan Tannehill six times and forced two interceptions. Now Tennessee gets their “feel-good” game against the Browns.
23: Colts (2-3, LW: 23) The Colts could have been more efficient in Chicago territory, where they settled for five field goals, but future Hall-of-Famer Adam Vinatieri converted all of them, and the Colts played turnover-free, which is crucial to their success. Of course, it came down to a game-winning drive late in the 4th quarter (Colts games always do). Regardless, the Colts will take the W and move on to a Texans game for the division lead.
22: Jaguars (1-3, LW: 22) The Jaguars were on bye and fell to last place in the AFC South thanks to Colts and Titans wins. However, the Jaguars are still in the mix in what might be football’s worst division. Their matchup against the Bears in week 6 is one they’ll have to win.
21: Panthers (1-4, LW: 14) Cam Newton should be good to go against the Saints, and he better be ready to score, considering the Saints love to play shootouts. I expect the Panthers to return somewhat to form, but have they started too slow to make up for it down the road?
20: Lions (2-3, LW: 26) The Lions became the first team to beat the Eagles, and the first team to make Carson Wentz turn the ball over. They were also able to force a crucial Ryan Matthews fumble that set up Matt Prater’s game-winning field goal. It’s a refreshing change for Detroit fans who had to suffer through three consecutive one-score losses. In fact, Matthew Stafford’s team has yet to play a game decided by more than seven points.
19: Giants (2-3, LW: 19) Janoris Jenkins did all he could with two interceptions of Aaron Rodgers to keep the Giants in the game, but the offense and Eli Manning specifically failed to take advantage of a weak Packers secondary. However, not all the blame should fall on Manning, as although he missed several important throws, the Giants O-line was dominated while the Packers O-line kept Rodgers safe, conceding no sacks.
18: Cardinals (2-3, LW: 20) After nearly being shut out in the first half, a tipped pass interception immediately followed by a Drew Stanton touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald tied the game at 7 before taking control in the second half. David Johnson is an animal, and the Cardinals need him to continue to barrel through defenses to catch up to the Seahawks.
17: Chiefs (2-2, LW: 16) The Chiefs were on bye in week five, and are currently 1.5 games behind the Raiders and Broncos in the AFC West. They have a chance to tighten the gap in Oakland, and will look to be more like the team that crushed the Jets than the one that had no answer for the Steelers.
16: Rams (3-2, LW: 15) Case Keenum had strung together a few decent games heading into week 5, and was playing alright against the Bills until the threw a pick-six to Nickell Robey-Coleman that changed the game. However, the Rams run defense had no answers for LeSean McCoy, who gained 150 yards on just 18 carries. Todd Gurley, on the other hand, has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry this year, definitely feeling the sophomore slump.
15: Texans (3-2, LW: 12) The Texans once again failed to show up for a big game, going down 24-0 in the second quarter against the Vikings. Brock Osweiler struggled once again, and while they still lead the AFC South, the Texans need to learn how to compete with top teams in order to have any chance of postseason success.
14: Ravens (3-2, LW: 13) It appeared that Joe Flacco had connected with Breshad Perriman in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining, but upon further review the ruling was overturned and the Ravens ended up turning the ball over on downs. While the defense has been great, the Ravens’ offense has had its problems this season, leading to the firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. Only time will tell if Marty Mornhinweg can do better.
13: Bengals (2-3, LW: 10) The 2-3 Bengals are ranked higher than four teams with better records, but their losses have come to the Steelers, Broncos, and Cowboys, all great teams. The Bengals were crushed in Dallas last week, down 28-0 at one point before putting up two TDs in garbage time. I do still believe in this team, though. Coach Marvin Lewis’ squad will face a real challenge coming back from 2-4, assuming the Patriots take care of business in Foxboro.
12: Redskins (3-2, LW: 18) “YOU LIKE THAT?” Redskins fans will love the three-game winning streak their team is on, having taken care of the Giants, Browns, and Ravens to move above .500. It was a defensive battle in Baltimore ultimately decided by special teams, specifically Jamison Crowder’s 85-yard punt return TD in the game’s opening frame, the Redskins only points until the fourth quarter. They have a chance to move to 2-1 in the division and pass the Eagles for second place with a win vs. Philly this week.
11: Bills (3-2, LW: 17) Two games into the season, I had Buffalo at #30 in my power rankings and Rex Ryan had fired his offensive coordinator. Ever since, the Bills have won three straight, all by double-digit margins. And while the team is last in the league in passing yards, Shady McCoy has returned to form, leading the third-best running attack in football. The Bills are a sneaky team that uses an old-school aggressive defense and ground pound game to achieve success.
10: Raiders (4-1, LW: 15) The Raiders are in the top-10! Raiders fans are some of the most loyal in the league, and finally have something to cheer for this season. Derek Carr is having an incredible start to the year, and finally has a solid running game behind him. Three of their wins have been decided by three points or less, and the defense is still holding the team back, but the Raiders are definitely good enough to finish their breakout season with a playoff birth if things continue.
9: Eagles (3-1, LW: 5) Okay, he had to throw an interception some time, and as far as picks go, chucking up a desperation prayer with under two minutes remaining isn’t that bad. The Eagles slipped up on the road, going down early and fumbling the ball away when they were trying to kill time with a late lead. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. The Eagles are still a strong team that shouldn’t be shaken by one L. They’re faced with a big division matchup on the road against the Redskins, and a win will put them in great position for at the very least a wild card.
8: Packers (3-1, LW: 7) The Packers flipped spots with the Cowboys because Green Bay looked less impressive in their victory against the Giants. Their secondary stepped up to the plate, but Aaron Rodgers had far from his best game, throwing two interceptions to go along with his two touchdowns while completing just 51% of his passes. The Packers scored just six second-half points and nearly fumbled the ball away to the Giants late, but Eli Manning couldn’t take advantage of his opportunities and the Packers ultimately were never very threatened.
7: Cowboys (4-1, LW: 8) The Cowboys taunted the Bengals early on, allowing Cincy to cross into Dallas territory before forcing punts and taking an early 14-0 lead which turned into an insurmountable 28-0 advantage early in the third quarter. Ezekiel Elliott has become the Rookie of the Year frontrunner in my eyes and leads the league in rushing yards with 546 to go along with five touchdowns in five games. Dak Prescott STILL hasn’t turned the ball over. They won’t make the change, but Prescott should start over Tony Romo once Romo returns.
6: Steelers (4-1, LW: 6) Ben Roethlisberger went off once again against the Jets, and the 4-1 Steelers have officially proven their week 3 spanking at the hands of the Eagles an anomaly. Outside of that blowout, the Steelers are averaging 34 points per game and are sole leaders of the AFC North. Jumping a week ahead, their home matchup against the Patriots is one of my most anticipated games of the year.
5: Seahawks (3-1, LW: 4) The Seahawks are the final of the four teams who had a bye last week. After a slow start to the year, the Seahawks came to life in week 3 and 4 but face their most difficult test so far against the Falcons in their first game back in action.
4: Broncos (4-1, LW: 1) Look. As I said in the intro, the Broncos played a great team without their starting quarterback. A win would’ve made a statement, but ultimately a loss doesn’t look too bad either. This is a team that can reach the Super Bowl with Trevor Siemian, and will manage to win games with defense alone. Things still look bright for Denver.
3: Falcons (4-1, LW: 9) The Falcons started 5-0 last season before finishing a disappointing 8-8 to miss the playoffs for the third straight season. However, this year’s Falcons should fare much better, considering this team has played much better and against better competition than 2015’s. The offense is nearly unstoppable on paper with its combination of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, and no one else in the NFC South looks remotely competitive at this stage.
2: Patriots (4-1, LW: 3) Welcome back, Brady. Or, as the rest of the NFL is thinking, “AHHHHHHH!!!!!” Tom Terrific made quick and easy work of the Browns, a perfect opportunity for the four-time Super Bowl champion to have a big first game and send a message to the rest of the league. Watch out, he’s angry. Roger Goodell, what have you done?
1: Vikings (5-0, LW: 2) The Vikings’ trade for Sam Bradford could go down as one of the best two-way trades ever. A trade was made just before the beginning of the season throwing two quarterbacks into starting positions they didn’t think they’d have, and those two players are currently 7-1. Obviously, the Vikings owe much of their success to the defense, but really everyone in Minnesota deserves credit. Sam Bradford for learning the playbook so quickly, Mike Zimmer for keeping the team motivated and coaching excellently, the defense for crushing everybody, Adam Thielen for being a beast out of nowhere (great story by the way), the list goes on and on. The Vikings are undefeated, and they’re legit.