The improbable start of the Minnesota Vikings finally came to an end last week in an ugly 21-10 loss to the Eagles. The defeat left the NFL with no undefeated teams, and while that fact in and of itself isn’t too surprising, the overall lack of quality among the league’s best teams is. The Vikings were bound to have a rough game eventually, given their poor injury luck coupled with expectations to be far from the best team in football.
At this stage, the Patriots are clearly the #1 team in my power rankings. Since the return of Tom Brady, they’ve been nothing short of dominant, winning three straight games by double digits. However, outside of the always scary Pats, there really isn’t a single team in the league I’d trust too much to win a game. Ultimately, the Vikings offense just doesn’t have the firepower to make them stand out from the pack. The Cowboys have clearly come out strong out of the gates, but what will happen when a team can stop Ezekiel Elliott? The Seahawks seemed to be back on track before participating in what was one of the ugliest games in NFL history, a 6-6 tie with the Cardinals. I guess the Broncos are still pretty good, but I’d still like to see a little more offensive consistency before I go all-in on Denver. The Packers just aren’t the same, the Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger, the Falcons are on a skid, and the Raiders have managed a 5-2 record with a point differential of just +6.
Here’s how I’d sum things up: there are really only about five or six teams I think are deserving of being ranked in the top 10. The middle of the power rankings are a jumbled mess, including some three and four-win teams I think are pretty good, and some I think are terrible. The only thing that’s consistent is the Browns, coming in dead last for the sixth week in a row. Here’s the full list.
32. Browns (0-7, LW: 32) The Browns’ position in the power rankings might be consistent, but their quarterbacks have been anything but. Cleveland upped their total to six QBs used on the season this week when Kevin Hogan came in to replace a concussed Cody Kessler. Josh McCown has finally been cleared to return, but it’s currently unknown whether McCown or Hogan will start on Sunday against the Jets. Ultimately, does it really matter?
31. 49ers (1-6, LW: 31) The Colin Kaepernick experiment hasn’t gone too well, and neither has the Niners’ attempts to stop anyone on the ground. Remarkably, the 49ers have allowed over 45 more rushing yards per game than any other team in the league. Thankfully, they have a bye week to try to figure something out.
30. Bears (1-5, LW: 30) The Bears get the Vikings at home on Halloween, and I doubt anyone outside of Minnesota or Illinois is looking forward to it. Jay Cutler better be healthy, because Matt Barkley vs. the Vikes’ D? That might be scarier than any haunted house. Of course, not like Cutler will magically find the answers, either.
29. Panthers (1-5, LW: 28) The Panthers have gotten luck enough to still be in the playoff race following two straight Falcons losses, but that doesn’t mean much until Carolina proves they can win themselves. Cam Newton better be ready to face a Cardinals defense that surrendered just four first downs in regulation to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
28. Jaguars (2-4, LW: 22) Blake Bortles simply has to be better. The third overall pick in 2014 has nine touchdowns and 11 turnovers so far, and the Jaguars offense is suffering because of it, ranking just 27th in total yards. However, like I bring up every week, there’s plenty of time and opportunity to improve in the AFC South, now with no teams in the top half of my rankings.
27. Titans (3-4, LW: 24) Speaking of the AFC South, the Titans were the week 7 competitors in America’s favorite game show, “Andrew Luck’s Fourth Quarter Frenzy”. What a year DeMarco Murray is having, ranking third in rushing yards so far and averaging a full yard per carry more than in a disappointing 2015 with the Eagles. He and Marcus Mariota have the offense moving, but they still couldn’t do enough to prevent a 10th straight Colts victory over the Titans, dating back to before the Andrew Luck era.
26. Jets (2-5, LW: 29) Well, finally! There’s the New York Jets we’re supposed to see! Not just one, but two Jets quarterbacks actually played well on Sunday, with Ryan Fitzpatrick finishing off the job following Geno Smith’s torn ACL, unfortunately ending his season before it really began. But let’s look a little closer at the run D. The Ravens managed just six (6!) yards on 12 carries, including a team long of just five yards.
25. Saints (2-4, LW: 26) Drew Brees threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns, and the Saints lost again. It’s almost as if Brees hasn’t got the memo that the Saints aren’t supposed to be good. However, Brees’ made a crucial error on a pick-six in the first quarter, and the Saints were left playing catch up down 21-7 at half. They get the Seahawks at home in what I’m picking (spoiler) as my upset of the week. Simply put, the Saints can score, and the Seahawks have struggled to. It’s an opportunity in disguise.
24. Dolphins (3-4, LW: 28) Well what do you know? Just a week after putting together the most unexpected win of the season against the Steelers, the Dolphins once again took down a then top-10 team in the Bills. The story is clearly Jay Ajayi, who became just the fourth running back in NFL history to rush for back-to-back 200-yard games. Another RB story is the retirement of Dolphin and former Texans great Arian Foster, just another reminder of how short a running back’s span is. Someone tell Ajayi to soak it all in.
23. Colts (3-4, LW: 25) How many points will the Colts trail by in the fourth quarter? How many touchdowns will Andrew Luck have to throw down the stretch? Will Indy complete the comeback, or will they lose another close game? Find out next week on “Andrew Luck’s Fourth Quarter Frenzy?” It’s entertaining and all, but it’s the same thing every week- that show must be scripted.
22. Ravens (3-4, LW: 26) It’s a four-game skid for the Ravens, and they haven’t looked worse than in week 7 against the Jets, when the team had more combined penalties and turnovers than rushing yards. After stumbling into the bye week, the Ravens will need to figure out how to move the ball in order to stand a chance at the postseason. This is why the Ravens, even at 3-0, never reached higher than #10 in the power rankings.
21. Rams (3-4, LW: 20) Just like the Ravens, I was never the biggest believer in the Rams. Against the Giants, the Rams couldn’t score in the final three quarters. Case Keenum threw four interceptions- two coming in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, only renewing questions about when it will be time to see Jared Goff. Coach Jeff Fisher is keeping Keenum the starter, and while the world boos, I agree with the call. Goff obviously isn’t ready to play if he couldn’t even earn the backup role heading into week 1.
20. Buccaneers (3-3, LW: 26) Congratulations to the Bucs for taking care of business against the woeful 49ers. Jacquizz Rodgers had a career day, rushing for 154 yards, as did Peyton Barber, who went for 84 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries in only his second NFL game seeing touches. It’s a case of when in Rome, really. The Bucs have also played strong defense as of late, which will be needed against the Raiders in an intriguing matchup.
19. Bengals (3-4, LW: 19) The Bengals, as most teams do, made great use of their bye week. Wait, I meant to say Browns week. Eh, same difference. A.J. Green is absolutely unreal, as evidenced by the Hail Mary catch he made to end the first half, requiring him to tip the ball to himself about four or fives times while completely surrounded by defenders. I’m just not sure how that’s possible. It should be more manageable sailing for the Bengals now with arguably their three hardest games behind them. Don’t sleep on Cincy.
18. Texans (4-3, LW: 15) The Texans’ $72 million mistake continued a string of poor play against his former team, averaging a horrific 3.2 yards per attempt against the Broncos. I’ve been really hard on Brock Osweiler in these recaps, but at the end of the day, he’s getting paid like a franchise quarterback despite having just eight starts (and not particularly great ones, either) prior to this season. The Texans remain in first place for now.
17. Chargers (3-4, LW: 21) And the Chargers come back for a change! Win or loss, every Chargers game ends with one team wondering how it slipped away, and last week it was the Falcons, who blew a 27-10 lead with the best offense in football. After finishing his rookie season without a single touchdown, Melvin Gordon already has eight this season, tied with LeGarrette Blount and David Johnson for most rushing TDs in the league. The monster that is David Johnson has an additional four receiving, but I’d wager that Gordon’s pretty happy with his output, despite just 3.3 yards per carry.
16. Redskins (4-3, LW: 10) The Redskins blew this one, plain and simple. They managed to come back and take a four-point lead with just over a minute remaining, but then allowed Matthew Stafford to march down the field and throw the game-winning touchdown in just six plays and 49 seconds. One loss and just like that, you begin to fall out of the NFC East race. The next three games (Bengals, Vikings, Packers) will all be tough, but at least they’re at home.
15. Lions (4-3, LW: 17) It might be time to start viewing Matthew Stafford as an MVP candidate. The Lions QB is posting career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and TD/INT ratio, leading to the third-highest passer rating in the NFL. The Lions are yet to win a game by more than four points, but they haven’t lost by more than seven either. Stafford is finally limiting his turnovers and Marvin Jones has emerged as one of the best receivers in the league this year.
14. Giants (4-3, LW: 16) A 4-3 record would tie for the lead in three divisions (the NFC South, AFC South, and AFC North). Not the NFC East, however, where the Giants sit in last place. For having such a huge play sheet, Ben McAdoo seems to call a pretty predictable and conservative game, and that’s simply not going to cut it. Mix things up, throw the ball downfield, and don’t just futilely run up the middle every first down and force Eli to convert 2nd and 10s. These are all things someone should tell the first-year head coach over the bye week. Also, I still haven’t gotten tired of watching the Landon Collins pick-six.
13. Bills (4-3, LW: 8) Enormous matchup for the Bills this week. Can they overcome a bad loss against the Dolphins that erased a four-game win streak and complete a sweep of the rival Patriots, this time at home? In their first matchup, New England was held scoreless at Gillette Stadium, but safe to say the addition of Tom Brady bolsters the Pats’ offense. It’s a huge test for Rex Ryan, who can pull the Bills within one game of the AFC East lead and make a huge statement to the league.
12. Raiders (5-2, LW: 14) The Raiders are in a pretty similar position to the Lions in the sense that they’ve escaped with several close wins this season largely on the back of a quarterback having a career year. Despite leading the AFC West, the Raiders are only the third-highest ranked team in the division in my rankings. Their first dominant win of the season last week against the Jaguars was a big step in appearing like a real contender, and the Raiders can improve to 5-0 on the road against the Bucs this week.
11. Steelers (4-3, LW: 7) Obvious and simply put, the Steelers are not going to win many games without Ben Roethlisberger. Landry Jones wasn’t terrible against the Patriots, but Pittsburgh needs their star quarterback as soon as possible. It’s great timing for the Steelers’ bye week. In other news, Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t found the end zone since his return from suspension. That needs to change.
10. Cardinals (3-3-1, LW: 12) Obviously, in a 6-6 tie, all the credit goes to the defense, who spectacularly held the Seahawks to four first downs prior to overtime. However, the game shouldn’t have needed overtime in the first place. A blocked field goal, poor time management, and a turnover on downs all ended Cardinal drives in field goal range that should’ve allowed them to advance to 4-3 in a huge game. Alternatively, that 24-yard field goal in overtime could have gone in.
9. Chiefs (4-2, LW: 11) Jamaal Charles carried the ball just one time in the Chiefs’ 27-21 victory over the Saints, but they can take all the time they need getting him healthy and good to go, knowing that backup Spencer Ware is having a fantastic season thus far, with almost 800 total yards and five touchdowns in six games. The Chiefs have allowed just 31 points to the second and eighth-highest scoring offenses in the Saints and Raiders over the past two weeks, and have been rewarded with two wins.
8. Falcons (4-3, LW: 3) It’s not panic time yet, but for a team that went from a 5-0 start to an 8-8 finish last season, blowing two consecutive fourth quarter leads to fall to 4-3 can’t feel good. The problems haven’t been on offense, that’s for sure. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are still leading the league in passing and receiving yards, respectively.
7. Eagles (4-2, LW: 13) After the Eagles lost in weeks 5 and 6, it seemed that the hype surrounding this team had died. I guess we were a bit premature, because the hype is certainly back after knocking off the NFL’s last undefeated team, the Vikings. The game was far from pretty and featured eight total turnovers including five straight in the first quarter, but the Eagles defense was able to make crucial stops, including end zone interceptions and fourth-down goal-line stops to keep the Vikings off the board. The win sets up the battle of the rookies, Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott, for the NFC East lead in week 8.
6. Packers (4-2, LW: 9) When was the last time a team had three receivers with 10 receptions in a game? The Packers did just that against the Bears, with Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Ty “Why can’t I play him as a running back?” Montgomery catching 34 total passes from Aaron Rodgers, who went 39/56 on the day. The Packers still don’t look quite like themselves, but Rodgers easily won the QB matchup against Matt Barkley…as he should.
5. Broncos (5-2, LW: 6) The Broncos led with the running game on Monday night, with C.J. Anderson and DeVonta Booker splitting carries and combining for 190 yards with two touchdowns. Brock Osweiler couldn’t do much of anything against his old team, and while his Texans fell to 0-3 on the road, the Broncos snapped a two-game skid before it became serious. The Broncos are still the Patriots’ main competition in the AFC. I mean, seriously, who else is out there?
4. Seahawks (4-1-1, LW: 3) If you like suffering, Seahawks-Cardinals was the football game for you. Please, I don’t need to think of it any longer. Unfortunately, the tie on the Hawks’ record will be a constant reminder for the rest of the season of how a game tied. A tie on a football record just looks ugly. Ultimately, the Cardinals are a good team, and the Seahawks didn’t lose on the road…somehow. Not much analysis there, but any more would force me to keep thinking about the game.
3. Cowboys (5-1, LW: 4) It’s official- Dak Prescott’s the starter! Well at least for one more week while Tony Romo continues to heal. Seriously, just give him the job already. I’ve already written about the controversy here. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles this week, you’d have to think Prescott will lock up the position…right?
2. Vikings (5-1, LW: 1) Let’s not freak out prematurely. The Vikings still own one of the best (if not the best) defenses in the league. They looked bad, but also blew some opportunities to score. They played on the road, coming off their bye week, against a pretty good team. The Vikings are still my NFC North favorites, but I concede they don’t seem as mighty as before.
1: Patriots (6-1, LW: 2) The way Tom Brady has played since his return, I find it hard to believe the Patriots will lose (cue loss to Bills because I said that). But seriously, Brady is over 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns while completing over 75% of his passes in just three games. How are you going to stop that efficient of an offense? If anyone were to do it, Rex Ryan is one of the most likely. Only time will tell, but I highly doubt it.