At this stage, it seems tempting to save a few months and declare the New England Patriots champions of Super Bowl LI. With the Vikings’ stunning loss to the Bears on Monday night, yet another team strong team suffered a head-scratching defeat, contributing to a growing notion that the Patriots are easily the best team in football.
Maybe that’s not entirely true- the Cowboys are 6-1, and despite Dak Prescott finally struggling at times against the Packers and Eagles, the Cowboys just keep winning, and there’s something to be said for that, especially this year. If Dallas isn’t the best team in the NFC, then who is? The Vikings offense has looked nothing short of terrible the last two weeks, and Minnesota’s just about one loss away from a power rankings freefall. The Seahawks offense hasn’t been much better. After that, everyone’s got at least three losses. How much stock are you willing to put in the Falcons when they’ve allowed over 30 points in five games this season? The only team that’s beaten the Cowboys are my Giants, and I’m not quite delusional enough to tell you we’re a better team. The Giants have their strengths, but for starters, they’ll need to find a running game before we get too excited.
It seems to be a year of mediocrity- even on the flip side of the league, there are only three teams (the Jaguars, 49ers, and Browns) that I consider to be easy opponents, and even the Browns have given plenty of teams some trouble. The moment you think teams like the Bears or Dolphins are hopeless, they beat someone you never imagined they could. Hey, any given Sunday, right?
As of now, though, I’m not sure how anyone can beat the Patriots the way they’re playing with Tom Brady, who, at 39 years old, looks just as dominant now as ever before. Then again- who knows? The Patriots go on the road against the Seahawks following their bye, so maybe an upset is in the works. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time this season. Here’s how the power rankings look at roughly the midpoint of the season.
1. Patriots (7-1, LW: 1) I’ve decided to start from the top this week (let me know if that’s better, by the way) and as I’ve stated before, the Patriots are clearly the NFL’s best, and with everyone gunning for them, it’s turning into the Pats vs. the pack. The real question we should be asking is if Tom Brady should be eligible to win the MVP after missing the season’s first four games. I think it’d be possible if there were no standout candidates, but right now Matt Ryan seems to be the clear frontrunner.
2. Cowboys (6-1, LW: 3) The Cowboys missed some chances early on, but stormed back in the 4th quarter and overtime to take total control of the NFC East, now holding a two-game lead over a division where everyone is remarkably still all over .500. We know Dak Prescott will remain the starter for week 9, but seriously, how many games must he win before the charade is over and he becomes the full-time starter? The Cowboys get the Browns this week, so expect some resume-boosting numbers.
3. Broncos (6-2, LW: 5) The Broncos’ win over the Chargers was far bigger than it might seem at first glance. The AFC West has officially overtaken the NFC East for best division at this point, and a loss against the Chargers, who had already beaten Denver this season, would send the Broncos down to third place and turn the division into a four-team race. That didn’t happen, but you kind of have to feel bad for the Chargers for getting stuck in a division with three of the top seven teams in the league, at least according to my rankings.
4. Vikings (5-2, LW: 2) At some point, the Vikings lack of a run game had to come back to haunt them. Minnesota is 31st in the league in rushing yards per game, and dead last in yards per carry with a paltry 2.7-yard average. You could say Adrian Peterson has been missed, although he struggled in the first couple weeks himself. The Vikes better find a way to turn this around fast, or risk pulling a 2015 Falcons, starting 5-0 and missing the playoffs.
5. Falcons (5-3, LW: 8) Speaking of the 2015 Falcons, the 2016 Falcons dodged a bullet on Sunday in defeating the Packers thanks to some late game heroics from Matt Ryan and Co. The Falcons nearly lost their third straight game to send the best offense in football to just 4-4, which would’ve spelled disaster. Instead, the Falcons increase their lead to 1.5 games over the Bucs, who they happen to play on the road this week. A win would really bust the lead open.
6. Chiefs (5-2, LW: 9) Speaking of teams potentially repeating their 2015 performances, the Chiefs have won four straight after starting 1-2, which AFC teams hope won’t grow to the 10-game streak the Chiefs went on to finish last season after starting 1-5. Quarterback Alex Smith went down not once, but twice, and suffered a concussion in the process, luckily dodging an injury that could’ve taken him out for an extended period of time. The Chiefs held the Colts offense to just 14 points and picked off Andrew Luck to extend their league lead to 11 interceptions on the year.
7. Raiders (6-2, LW: 12) Everyone’s been talking about the NFL record-setting 23 penalties committed by the Raiders this week. While that performance was atrocious and meant that the Raiders managed to only win in overtime despite outgaining the Bucs by over 350 yards (yes, really), here are two numbers I believe tell more about the Raiders. 513: the number of passing yards Derek Carr had in the game, setting a new franchise record. Carr has been phenomenal and possibly even MVP-caliber if Matt Ryan somehow struggles down the stretch, but he’s also been aided by quite possibly the best wide receiver group in the league. 5: the number of road games the Raiders have played and won this season. If that’s not shocking, especially coming from the Raiders, I don’t know what is.
8. Seahawks (4-2-1, LW: 4) The Seahawks, oh the Seahawks. I correctly predicted Seattle’s road loss to the Saints, claiming that the Saints offense would simply be far more effective. The Seahawks actually managed to play incredible goal-line defense, forcing the Saints to take a couple field goals when they could’ve got touchdowns, but their offense was once again poor, scoring just 13 points (the Seahawks had a fumble return touchdown) against the Saints. The New Orleans Saints. Come on.
9. Packers (4-3, LW: 6) Who needs real receivers in order to score touchdowns? Not Aaron Rodgers, who connected with Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, and Geronimo Allison for three of his four touchdowns. The Packers are so banged up that Aaron Rodgers himself is the team’s leading rusher these days, with fullback Aaron Ripkowski taking second place against the Falcons. Despite all of this, the Packers only lost by one in Atlanta, so while it still counts as a loss, the Packers impressed.
10. Eagles (4-3, LW: 7) Carson Wentz had one strange game, completing 32 of 43 passes for just 202 yards. I’m not even quite sure how that’s possible, but one thing’s for certain: that ball has to go down the field. The Eagles are pretty up and down these days after a 3-0 start, and really need to win on the road this week against the Giants to stay in the race, especially considering tiebreakers. I’ll be hoping that doesn’t happen.
11. Steelers (4-3, LW: 11) The Steelers’ scenario is really unchanged this week. The Ravens went on bye, the Bengals tied, and the Browns are the Browns. The good news is that Big Ben might be able to return this week, a huge boost for a team that probably doesn’t want Landry Jones starting too many more games.
12. Bills (4-4, LW: 13) Well, the Bills tried their best, and that’s all that really matters, right? The Patriots dropped 41 points on Buffalo in Buffalo with Tom Brady, which is 41 points more than they score with Jacoby Brissett. The Patriots are so good that I consider a 41-25 loss pretty much par for the course. The Bills get Seattle next in a game I could easily see going 34-31 or 7-6. It’ll be a big setback to the Bills if they drop to 4-5, especially considering the strength of the AFC West, likely to take both wild-card spots.
13. Giants (4-3, LW: 14) Here’s my Giants gameplan against the Eagles: find a way to run successfully, have Will Tye officially replace Larry Donnell, blitz early and often, rest JPP and Olivier Vernon every now and again, and avoid another two-year Victor Cruz injury. Got all that? Good.
14. Texans (5-3, LW: 18) Well what do you know, the Texans defense is still there! The Lions were shut down for three whole quarters before almost making things interesting near the end. The Texans are now 5-0 at home, and have the luxury of a bye week followed by a game in Jacksonville, which should see them at 6-3 through 10 weeks, when things get really interesting with three straight against the Raiders, Chargers, and Packers.
15. Cardinals (3-4-1, LW: 10) I should just never pick a Cardinals game again- that’s the conclusion I’ve reached. I understand the general concept of most people- the Cardinals went 13-3 last season, and not much has changed. They had a rough start, but are certainly still a strong team. That’s great and all, but at some point, you have to start winning games, and the Cardinals just haven’t seemed to turn it around and look like their old selves in the same way the Packers have. I have little confidence that the Cardinals will make a playoff run.
16. Lions (4-4, LW: 15) At least if the Lions had to lose, the Vikings and Packers came along with them. This week, the Lions travel to Minnesota in the biggest game of their season so far. On the line is a chance to move to half a game back in the division and send the Vikings into a downward spiral with their third consecutive loss. Of course, alternatively, the Lions could drop to 4-5 and have little hope of catching up to the Vikings and Packers, who will both have tiebreakers over Detroit. It should be a fun one.
17. Redskins (4-3-1, LW: 16) I guess the NFL has turned so much into the No Fun League that they aren’t even letting teams win anymore. At the very least, that should be Dustin Hopkins’ excuse after missing the first field goal inside of 35 yards in his career during overtime in London against the Bengals. Fans at Wembley got an exciting, back-and-forth affair, but ultimately miscues in OT and stalls near midfield cost each team chances to actually win the game. The Redskins dropped to last in the NFC East, but just by a hair.
18. Chargers (3-5, LW: 17) San Diego, it seemed, had finally gotten on the right track this season, with wins over both the Broncos and Falcons. However, when playing Denver for the second time in three weeks, Philip Rivers struggled, throwing three interceptions and completing fewer than half his passes. Much of this can be attributed to the poor offensive line play, which led to an additional three sacks. Now it really becomes clutch time for the Chargers, needing a big win streak with several games against mediocre opponents incoming.
19. Bengals (3-4-1, LW: 19) Having reached the halfway point in their season, the Bengals will enter their bye just under .500, putting them in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. However, they have benefitted from Steelers injuries and suspension that have left their division rivals at just 4-3, keeping the division within reach. Unfortuantely, I’ll be hoping they take another tough loss at the hands of the Giants in the first game of their season’s second half.
20. Saints (3-4, LW: 25) The Saints scored on their final six drives against the Seahawks, which is pretty amazing. Sure, the execution could have been a bit better (two touchdowns and four field goals), but what a huge win that was for New Orleans. To make the playoffs, those are some of the games you have to be able to pull out. I’m not saying the Saints are a playoff team, but they should climb back to 4-4 with a win against the 49ers, although we know nothing’s easy these days.
21. Buccaneers (3-4, LW: 20) Alright, this is just ridiculous. The Raiders were the road team, committed 200 yards worth of penalties, and missed two field goals, and you still managed to lose? Message to Bucs fans: despite another missed extra point, you can’t just blame this one on Roberto Aguayo. This kind of a loss is inexcusable- the Raiders offense put up numbers you should only see in college. The Bucs now fall to 0-3 at home, not quite the formula for a winning season.
22. Titans (4-4, LW: 27) Props to the Titans- I thought this might be the week the Jaguars finally get their act together, but any hope of that happening was completely squashed in a first half that ended with the Titans up 27-0. Once again at .500, the Titans’ offense has really found their stride recently. On top of that, it was a home win! The Titans haven’t got many of those recently.
23. Rams (3-4, LW: 21) The Rams were on bye this week, and return to action home against a Panthers team that finally picked up a win and ranks seventh in total offense despite their 2-5 record. Case Keenum will remain the starter, and I wouldn’t place bets on the Rams returning to form this week. However, that doesn’t mean it should be Goff time, either. He’s pretty obviously unprepared- even a semi-ready QB would be starting by now as the #1 pick.
24. Ravens (3-4, LW: 22) The Ravens get the division gauntlet over the next four weeks, with a nice trip to Dallas sandwiched in the middle. Not-so-bold prediction: the Ravens are out of the playoff conversation following that stretch. They’ve already lost four in a row.
25. Dolphins (3-4, LW: 24) The Dolphins are the third straight team in the power rankings coming after a bye. Can Jay Ajayi somehow maintain the level of dominance he displayed in back-to-back 200-yard rushing games? History tells us no, but hey- they’re playing the Jets. Who knows?
26. Panthers (2-5, LW: 29) Well it took you a while, Panthers. The defending NFC champs snapped a five-game skid with a win over the Cardinals, their first victory since September 18th. Cam Newton has made news for his criticism of officials, feeling that many late hits haven’t been called against him. Apparently, he met with Roger Goodell rccently to discuss the issue. Newton’s case is a difficult one because while he has taken many questionable hits, Cam is a physically huge, scrambling quarterback who gets hit more often than he slides. Still, it seems refs haven’t been as protective of quarterbacks this year as they should.
27. Colts (3-5, LW: 23) Andrew Luck is completing passes at the highest rate in his career to go along with another career best- a 16:5 TD:INT ratio. That’s great news and all for the Colts, but Luck’s more efficient style this season hasn’t translated into wins, which has to be troubling. Five of the Colts’ next seven opponents have winning records, so expect the losing to continue.
28. Bears (2-5, LW: 30) Jay Cutler returned against a dominant defense, and actually played well, leading the team to a 20-3 lead that ended with a 20-10 victory that shocked many including myself. Jordan Howard broke a 69-yard run early in the first quarter, and is averaging over five yards per carry in his successful rookie campaign. Unfortunately, I think it’s a bit premature to call this the beginning of a Bears’ turnaround.
29. Jets (3-5, LW: 26) How on earth does a team drop three spots following a win? Try trailing 20-7 at halftime to the Browns. That’s exactly what the Jets did, and while they were able to salvage a victory against the NFL’s last winless team, approximately zero people were at all impressed. Good job avoiding disaster, I guess, but that doesn’t mean I’ll show sympathy in my rankings.
30. Jaguars (2-5, LW: 28) It’s the same story I’ve been telling for a while- Blake Bortles hasn’t been able to kickstart the Jacksonville offense, and now he has a new offensive coordinator and outside passing coach helping him progress. Of course, the problems for Jacksonville are everywhere, and not just limited to Bortles, although he’ll naturally take the most heat. Gus Bradley is 14-41 in his fourth season, and considering he’s yet to produce a six-win year and likely won’t in 2016 either, you have to wonder how longer he’ll be in town.
31. 49ers (1-6, LW: 31) The 49ers finally managed to not lose last week. Sure, a bye week was required to make that stat possible, but that’s being a negative Nancy about the whole situation. But then again, where is there even positive to find about the Niners’ season? I guess the nice thing about being a 49ers fan is that either the San Francisco Giants or Golden State Warriors are usually in season, and saying they’re both significantly better than the 49ers in their respective sports is an understatement.
32. Browns (0-8, LW: 32) Well, they almost got one. The good news is that no new quarterbacks were used, as Josh McCown returned to throw two touchdowns in the first half and two picks in the second. I think Cody Kessler should be the long-term starter here- at least he could develop in the future.