We’re only halfway through the season, but the AFC Wild Card race feels pretty much over. At 6-3, the reigning Super Bowl champions own the fourth-best record in the AFC, but that translates to just third place in the AFC West, and the sixth overall seed in the playoffs. However, the Broncos still hold a 1.5 game lead in the wild card over the Dolphins and Steelers. The fact of the matter is simple- the AFC has five teams with winning records, and three of them reside within one division. This leaves the 4-5 Chargers, who in their own right could be the best team in the league with a losing record, in dead last in their division and almost out of playoff consideration.
So how did one division become so good? Most of it seems to stem from the surprising success of the Raiders, who have finally taken a leap forward, and a huge one at that, in Derek Carr’s third season. Carr is turning into an MVP candidate this season, and his impressively has failed to drop a game on the road this year. However, for as much credit as Carr receives, we also need to recognize the incredible offensive line play (specifically on the left side) which has provided huge running holes for Oakland’s committee of backs, creating one of the scariest and most unpredictable offenses in the league.
In the NFC South, the Panthers and Saints seem to have found their strides, going a combined 4-0 over the last two weeks. Unfortunately, they face a long road ahead chasing down the Falcons, and each team will be wondering if their slow start put them too far behind. However, there’s good news for each team- the wild-card race in the NFC is far more competitive, with the Redskins currently holding the #6 seed at 4-3-1. The Lions are just behind at 5-4, while the Packers and Eagles are also within a game at 4-4.
In week 9, the Ravens were finally able to snap their four-game losing streak as Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense was held scoreless for three quarters and any hope of a comeback came to a close with Chris Boswell’s failed attempt at a Rabona onside kick. On the other side of the spectrum, the Rams, 49ers, and Browns extended their winless streaks to four, seven, and nine games respectively.
The top two and bottom five spots remain the same this week, while in the middle many teams saw significant rises and falls. Here’s how the power rankings look entering week 10.
1. Patriots (7-1, LW: 1) The Patriots are really good. Want to know how I know that? The Patriots just had their bye week, and the biggest question surrounding the team wasn’t football related, but instead whether or not Tom Brady was voting for Donald Trump. Brady gets his biggest test of the year this week against Seattle, but overall the Pats are on cruise control to a playoff bye.
2. Cowboys (7-1, LW: 2) The biggest obstacle to a Cowboys win over the Browns last week was a plane crash on the flight to Cleveland. Since they arrived safely, Dallas coasted to a 35-10 win. In other news, they still won’t bite the bullet and name Dak the starter, because…reasons.
3. Falcons (6-3, LW: 5) So you’re telling me that the Falcons can drop 43 points without Devonta Freeman scoring a touchdown? As a fantasy owner who lost by three points last week, I’m annoyed. Objectively, however, the Falcons offense is incredible and just keeps rolling. If you think about it, if you score a touchdown every time you touch the ball, you don’t really need much in terms of defense.
4. Chiefs (6-2, LW: 6) The Chiefs are the best team no one’s talking about, and it isn’t even close. Maybe we aren’t talking about the winners of five straight because we simply don’t know anyone on the field. They beat the Jaguars on Sunday without their starting quarterback, two best running backs, and leading wide receiver. Their star tight end, Travis Kelce, who leads the team in receiving yards, was ejected. This says a lot about the Chiefs, and sadly maybe even more about the Jaguars.
5. Raiders (7-2, LW: 7) The Raiders actually led with the running game against the Broncos, seeming unstoppable at times during a huge win that gave them first place in the AFC West. Oakland simply had their way with a great Denver defense, and with Kelechi Osemele (what a name) leading the way on the O-line, I might’ve been able to rush for 100 yards on Sunday. The Raiders are legit contenders- we’re entering uncharted territory.
6. Seahawks (5-2-1, LW: 8) Time of possession? Tempo? All that’s overrated. The Seahawks ran just 42 offensive plays in the whole game against the Bills (that might be some kind of record) and held the ball for just 19 minutes and 43 seconds of the 60-minute game. But they won. Wide receiver Tyler Lockett was the team’s leading rusher, with one carry for 13 yards. But they won. The trade for Jimmy Graham is finally paying off.
7. Broncos (6-3, LW: 3) To explain the Broncos’ offense against the Raiders, I’ll paraphrase a tweet I read during the game. “The Broncos think staying on the field for more than three downs in one drive is against the new CBA.” The defense wasn’t much better. And no, just because you put your hands up like you aren’t guilty doesn’t mean you didn’t commit pass interference. It only makes you look more guilty.
8. Giants (5-3, LW: 13) The Giants are having as Giants of a year as ever. Seven of eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and the Giants defense has either caused a turnover in the game’s final minutes or the opposing team has run out of time on a game-winning drive in four of their five wins. But despite our offensive struggles (which might be ending judging by last week), we’re 5-3, so at least Giants fans are finally being rewarded for all the stress we go through.
9. Lions (5-4, LW: 16) 23 seconds is a lifetime for Matthew Stafford. It’s unbelievable, how despite how the rest of the game has went, the Lions QB always seems to have a miracle drive in him. The Lions’ five wins are by a combined 17 points. They’re the opposite of the Giants- at the end of games, we need to hold on and they need to catch up. It’s worked well for both squads recently.
10. Vikings (5-3, LW: 4) Last week, I said the Vikings were one loss away from freefall, and here we are. They rushed for 78 yards against the Lions…and their average went up. Offense has never come particularly easy for the Vikings this season, but the last three games have just been hard to watch. All of a sudden, a team that held the #1 ranking in the power rankings looks to be in trouble. Their next three games are against the Redskins, Cardinals, and Lions- all teams Minnesota will have to fight against for playoff spots. Here’s where we find out what kind of a team they really are.
11. Texans (5-3, LW: 14) Wow, Texans, it’s your lucky day! You had a bye, moved up three spots in the rankings, and the Titans lost, extending your division lead! And now you get the Jaguars? Everything’s coming up Milhouse! I bet they found a great quarterback over the bye as well! Nope, still Brock. That was disappointing.
12. Eagles (4-4, LW: 10) Alright, Eagles coach Doug Pederson- say it with me: “F-I-E-L-D G-O-A-L”. That’s when the kicker kicks the ball through the uprights on fourth down. It’s worth three points. Someone should’ve told you sooner. The Eagles lost by five points, and decided to go for it on fourth down twice instead of kicking easy field goals, failing to convert both times. Now I’m not the best at math, but…
13. Packers (4-4, LW: 9) Jordan Todman’s kickoff return touchdown to start the game for the Colts (by the way, I don’t recommend allowing those if I’m an NFL special teams unit) really set the tone for a game that Packers needed to win but couldn’t. I’d say the lack of healthy running backs hurt the Packers, but they went for over six yards a carry as a team. I’m not quite sure what’s going on in Green Bay, but Packers should really start to worry about their team, now more likely than not to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
14. Bills (4-5, LW: 12) Somehow, the Bills have managed to lose two straight and drop just one spot following their #13 ranking after week 7. Mainly, it’s a factor of their opponents (the Patriots and Seahawks), the fact that the Bills were just goal-to-go away from beating the Seahawks in Seattle, and that no one really has their act together this year. The Bills have a more favorable second half of their schedule following this bye week, but considering the AFC West. 10 wins will be the minimum for the wild card, and even that might not be good enough.
15. Steelers (4-4, LW: 11) LeVeon Bell is still without a touchdown this season. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been productive in his first five games, with 659 total scrimmage yards, but overall the Steelers offense has struggled to score as of late and has now lost three straight games without hitting the 17 point mark. And yet, somehow they are still tied atop the horrendous AFC North. They wouldn’t be this high, but I still believe the Steelers are the team to beat once they get their problems sorted out.
16. Cardinals (3-4-1, LW: 15) David Johnson is coming off a bye and playing the 49ers- get ready to witness a career night.
17. Redskins (4-3-1, LW: 17) The Redskins host the Vikings following their bye in week 9, and will need this game to remain in the NFC East pack. I see them as favorites, as Minnesota are reeling. I think this is a matchup where the rest will make a difference, and the Redskins will be much more prepared than a Vikings team still adjusting to a new offensive coordinator.
18. Chargers (4-5, LW: 18) Melvin Gordon, a year removed from disappointing in his rookie season and finishing with zero touchdowns, currently leads the league with 11. Some players just need that year of experience under their belts before they can show their potentials, and Gordon certainly fits that description. Joey Bosa, on the other hand, has made an impact immediately, with four sacks in his first five career games. The Chargers organization might be poor, but they drafted the right man.
19. Saints (4-4, LW: 20) I’m biting my tongue just a bit after saying in my week 3 review that we could stick a fork in all the 0-3 teams. I’m still perfectly happy with how the Bears, Jaguars, and Browns have panned out, but the Saints have actually turned things around rather nicely. New Orleans will have to survive back-to-back matchups against last year’s Super Bowl participants, but the Broncos are sliding and the Panthers, while winners of two straight, aren’t great by any means. The Saints have momentum in their favor, and it could lead to a playoff birth.
20. Bengals (3-4-1, LW: 19) By the time the Bengals play the Giants on Monday night, it will have been over 15 days. When we last saw Cincy, they were over in London playing the Redskins to a tie. I’ll be hoping they do a little worse this time. The Bengals have never really gotten on a good roll this season, but this is still a good football team.
21. Ravens (4-4, LW: 23) Great idea, just get Mike Wallace a 95-yard touchdown against his former team. Why doesn’t everyone think of that? In all seriousness, you can’t overstate how big of a win this was for the Ravens to seize control of the woeful AFC North and remind people they’re still capable of winning. Success for Baltimore always starts on defense, and that side of the ball dominated the Steelers. Has Joe Flacco had a very poor year so far? Yes. Does he play the Browns next? Yes. Hey, Magic 8-Ball- will Flacco turn things around? Signs point to yes.
22. Dolphins (4-4, LW: 24) Three straight wins for the Dolphins have pushed them back to .500, and Jay Ajayi has been at the center of it all. Unbelievably, the Dolphins don’t face a team with a winning record for the rest of 2015 (they do play the Patriots in week 17 on Jan. 1), so if Miami can keep it up, they’ll have their chances to challenge for a wild card spot.
23. Colts (4-5, LW: 27) The Colts are a team that plays to the level of their opponents. This means very rarely will the Colts blow anyone out or be thoroughly beaten themselves (although the Chiefs did make it happen in week 8). Even as an underdog, the Colts will always be an attractive upset pick due to Andrew Luck’s ability to have a great game and light up the scoreboard. Interestingly, however, Luck wasn’t stellar against the Packers. Returner Jordan Todman and Frank Gore get the game balls this time to keep the Colts within AFC South striking distance.
24. Panthers (3-5, LW: 26) As far as offensive performances go, this one was pretty uninspiring, but the Panthers’ defense really stepped it up in their best game of the season, meaning Carolina’s 13 points were enough for the win. At 3-5, the Panthers have dug themselves into a hole such that they can’t afford many losses, meaning they’ll need to pull a rabbit out of a hat against the Chiefs this week.
25. Titans (4-5, LW: 22) Remember the Titans? You know, the team that can’t decide if they want to be good or not? After alternating wins and losses for the last four weeks, the 4-5 Titans should beat the Packers this week to follow the pattern. It won’t be easy, but the Titans have scored at least 26 points in five straight games. The real test will be stopping Aaron Rodgers. The 43 points allowed to the Chargers last week don’t exactly spell success, but the Titans are home for this important matchup.
26. Buccaneers (3-5, LW: 21) The Bucs are on their fifth and sixth running backs- cut them some slack. However, Doug Martin returns to practice this week for the first time since week 2. The Bucs’ problems are heavier on the defensive side of the ball, though, and the matchup against the Bears no longer looks like an easy win.
27. Rams (3-5, LW: 23) Maybe at the beginning of the year a 13-10 loss to the Panthers would’ve been a good result, but a fourth consecutive loss just disappointing for a team that looked competitive- if only for a couple weeks. Technically, the Rams aren’t getting killed, but I’ve lost nearly all confidence in them. Jeff Fisher prefers to go 7-9, and he might just do it again. A win over the Jets this week would be a good step.
28. Bears (2-6, LW: 28) There haven’t been many bright sides to the Bears’ season, but rookie running back Jordan Howard has been one. The fifth-round pick has over 500 rushing yards on the season, and just might be the next Matt Forte. The Bears are coming off a bye and face the struggling Bucs on their quest for back-to-back wins. This game means next to nothing, as both teams are likely playoff dead, but hey- moral victories.
29. Jets (3-6, LW: 29) The Ryan Fitzpatrick struggles continue. Bryce Petty must be the next man in line because he got a couple snaps against the Dolphins, but the Jets have struggled on both sides of the ball. The defense is particularly surprising from a Todd Bowles team, but Revis Island is no longer in the Bermuda Triangle.
30. Jaguars (2-6, LW: 30) Remember what I said during my Chiefs recap? The Jaguars got beat by a team of backups. Actually, Jacksonville managed to outgain the Chiefs by over 200 yards, but hey- if you turn it over four times, turn it over on downs another two times, and miss a field goal, these things happen. Ouch. That was painful to write.
31. 49ers (1-7, LW: 31) New record! But it isn’t a good one. Take note, fantasy football and daily fantasy players: the 49ers just became the first team to allow a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games. Now that takes skill. This week, the 49ers get…you guessed it, David Johnson. The Cardinals running back leads the league in scrimmage yards with 1,112 in eight games. Say your prayers, Bay Area fans.
32. Browns (0-9, LW: 32) The Browns have had well-documented struggles in previous years, but they might be outdoing even themselves this time around, on the brink of the first 0-10 start in franchise history. With seven games left, they trail the Broncos by six games for the wild card. So you’re saying there’s a chance? Honestly, AFC teams probably play each other enough times that it’s mathematically impossible, but let’s leave the Browns with just an ounce of hope.