This has certainly been one of the strangest years in the NFL I’ve watched. There is an apparent dearth of exceptional football teams this year - Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and a muddled middle that has expanded its grasp on the league at large. Nearly every single team in the NFC can be considered no better than average and no worse than mildly disappointing, with the big exception of the NFC East. But even then, the 6-2 New York Giants still have clear limitations and can’t be expected to put up much of a fight against Buffalo or Philadelphia, teams of similar standing in the league. The Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, two teams that have performed well over expectations and closed out several close games, make up the rest of NFC teams with winning records.
In the AFC, there’s at least one team in each division that has proven worthy of a division crown - Buffalo, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Kansas City - But even then, only two of these teams clearly stand out from the others. The defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals have picked up some of their own slack, but then rolled back to .500 after a blowout loss to 2-5 division rival Cleveland Browns. Commenting about the supposed decline in quality teams, Jerry Brewer of The Washington Post writes:
Where are all the good teams? It’s hard to list a top 10 without cringing multiple times. Even the pleasant surprises, such as the New York Giants (6-1), Minnesota Vikings (5-1) and New York Jets (5-2), are pulling off a high number of close victories against unremarkable foes, causing concern that their good fortunes may not be sustainable.
Usually, there are four tiers: great, good, the vast middle and awful. Great quarterbacks offer the stability that keeps the top two levels stocked with compelling teams, alleviating any concerns about the underlying mediocrity. But this is a season in which Brady and Aaron Rodgers have losing records and bad offenses. Justin Herbert looks average while playing through fractured rib cartilage. Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray rank among the bottom third of starting quarterbacks. Indianapolis benched Matt Ryan.
The star quarterbacks really have not been saving their teams this year. Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, and Derek Carr all rank in the bottom half of NFL starters in passer rating, with Kirk Cousins, Justin Herbert, and Tom Brady not too far behind. Additionally, Cousins, Herbert, and Brady have all played adequately enough to maintain decent statistics and avoid causing their team to lose, but all have played worse than just a year or two ago.
Maybe we’re seeing a regression in passing offenses after many years of extreme growth, or a resurgence in defense (or an increase in turnovers), but regardless, yards and points are clearly more difficult to come by than expected this year. So, when you look at my top 10 for this week’s Power Rankings, please keep this massive, muddled middle in mind:
- Buffalo Bills (6-1) (Last Week: 1) - There’s really nothing this team is incapable of, and now with Nyheim Hines to compliment Devin Singletary and James Cook, the entire roster is filled with ball-carriers that are masters at gaining yardage.
- Philadelphia Eagles (7-0) (Last Week: 2) - Jalen Hurts can be a fantastic dual-threat quarterback, but when the offensive line is this good, he might as well drop back and take the easy pickings.
- Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) (Last Week: 3) - Bye week, so they get to stay put! Next week they host the Titans on Sunday Night Football, a potential playoff preview.
- Minnesota Vikings (6-1) (Last Week: 4) - Every week, Minnesota gives me a reason to drop them from here, but they…just…keep…winning!!!!
- Baltimore Ravens (5-3) (Last Week: 7) - Lamar Jackson beats Tom Brady again, and then the Ravens trade for one of the best linebackers in the league in Roquan Smith. There’s still some problems with the passing game, but Isaiah Likely is going to get better and Roquan Smith is going to solve a lot of problems.
- Miami Dolphins (5-3) (Last Week: 8) - It looks like the Dolphins are coming back to their old ways with another big comeback against the Detroit Lions. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle stretch defenses to their limit and still break them every play, and with 49ers running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. coming in, there’ll be a lot of yards to gain in the middle.
- Dallas Cowboys (6-2) (Last Week: 10) - The Cowboys defense has been fantastic, but now with Dak Prescott putting up nearly 50 points against a pretty stingy Bears defense, anything is possible.
- Tennessee Titans (5-2) (Last Week: 9) - The Texans rush defense has been terrible so far this year - Roy Lopez, Maliek Collins, Rasheem Green, Christian Kirk, Blake Cashman, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Mario Addison, and Thomas Booker are not clogging the lanes like they’re supposed to. Derrick Henry gained 219 yards in a single game.
- Seattle Seahawks (5-3) (Last Week: 15) - Okay, I give up: The Seattle Seahawks are great. Even after a bad start on defense and losing their lead rusher in Rashaad Penny to a fractured fibula, they have rallied behind MVP contender Geno Smith and improved universally since then. The defense is better, the run-game hasn’t missed a beat with rookie Kenneth Walker filling in, and Geno just keeps scoring.
- New York Giants (6-2) (Last Week: 6) - The Giants put together one heck of an impressive four-game winning streak without a single passing performance eclipsing 250 total yards from Daniel Jones, but they finally met their match in Geno Smith.
- Los Angeles Chargers (4-3) (Last Week: 11) - Bye week, so they get to stay put! 4-3 isn’t a bad spot for the Chargers to be in as they enter the race to the playoffs, but a cacophony of injuries and really suspect defense has them teetering on the edge of collapse. These next few weeks could be the moment the Chargers surge into the top five and become the Super Bowl team many expected of them, or the moment the Chargers crash into a top-10 pick in next year’s draft.
- San Francisco 49ers (4-4) (Last Week: 16) - San Francisco continues their dominance over the Los Angeles Rams in the regular season, and now with McCaffrey getting some wind under his sails on the west coast, this offense is primed to really take off entering the second half of the season. I’m sure .500 isn’t ideal for 49ers half as we enter November, but it’s the road to the playoffs is right in front of them.
- Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) (Last Week: 5) - This is probably too far of a drop, but another blowout loss to the Browns stings especially hard right now.
- Los Angeles Rams (3-4) (Last Week: 12) - It’s full panic time, now. The Rams always lose to the 49ers, but four losses this early in the season and Matthew Stafford playing this poorly puts them in real trouble as they try to win 7-9 more games when there’s only 10 left.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) (Last Week: 13) (Last Week: 13) - It’s full panic time for the Buccaneers, as well. Brady isn’t playing as poorly as Stafford, but he’s isn’t what he was last year - and crucially, neither is the defense. They face the Rams on Sunday and former Super Bowl winning teams try to put their season back on track before it’s over too soon.
- New York Jets (5-3) (Last Week: 14) - In my power rankings last week, I said it was time for Zach Wilson to prove himself. On Sunday, Zach Wilson threw three interceptions and was the primary reason the New England Patriots were able to beat the Jets and throw themselves back into the playoff hunt this year. If there was ever a time to see if Mike White really is the second coming of Taylor Heinicke, this might be it.
- Atlanta Falcons (4-4) (Last Week: 19) - Surviving an absolutely wild Carolina Panthers comeback - complete with two missed game-winning field goals - is just par for the course for this Falcons team. Back at .500 and clearly more spicy than most gave them credit for, the path to a 10 win season is wide open if they can get through other middling teams in November.
- New England Patriots (4-4) (Last Week: 20) - After a crummy performance against the Chicago Bears, Bill Belichick finally gets to pass up George Halas for second place in all time wins (Don Shula).
- Green Bay Packers (3-5) (Last Week: 18) - Losing to the Bills isn’t all that surprising, but since it sends Green Bay to 3-5 at the midpoint of the season, it can end up killing their season. The Packers are three games behind the Vikings in the division race, only two games in front of the Lions, and tied with the Bears!
- Cleveland Browns (3-5) (Last Week: 23) - The Browns get another great performances out of Jacoby Brissett in another stomping of the Bengals. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think Jacoby Brissett was going to have to put up great numbers at all in order to lead the Browns to a winning record, but now…since there seems to be some internal controversy about handing Nick Chubb the ball…he might need to play even better in order to get the Browns back into the playoff race.
- New Orleans Saints (3-5) (Last Week: 24) - After several weeks of poor play, the Saints defense announces their return to greatness with a blanking of the Las Vegas Raiders. I’m not sure how this was even possible given how great the Raiders have been at scoring this year, but the Saints were just perfect.
- Denver Broncos (3-5) (Last Week: 22) - Not looking too much hotter against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Denver Broncos were able to make a handful plays to hang on and win in London. Is beating Jacksonville really worth much, anymore?
- Arizona Cardinals (3-5) (Last Week: 21) - The Cardinals are playing better than they were at the beginning of the season, but are still plenty capable of making mistakes that will lose them football games. Their loss to the Vikings puts them in a real hole as they face the Seahawks, Rams, 49ers, and Chargers in November.
- Las Vegas Raiders (2-6) (Last Week: 17) - 2-6 halfway through the season? 2-6? Even if the Raiders become a Super Bowl team these next two months, I don’t think there’s any recovering from this.
- Washington Commanders (4-4) (Last Week: 26) - Another win for the Heinicke-led Commanders and the announcement that Dan Snyder has hired Bank of America to help explore a sale of team, and things are starting to look brighter in D.C.
- Indianapolis Colts (3-4-1) (Last Week: 25) - Sam Ehlinger made some plays, but was overall not the spark Indy was looking for to get back to a winning record. The rest of the schedule isn’t going to give them many chances to get back into the hunt.
- Chicago Bears (3-5) (Last Week: 27) - Better play from Fields and good yards on the ground prevent the Bears from going down in their big loss to the Cowboys, but the defense - especially now, without Roquan Smith - has some major issues to solve before the end of this year.
- Carolina Panthers (2-6) (Last Week: 30) - Since firing Matt Rhule, trading Christian McCaffrey putting P.J. Walker in as the starting quarterback, the Panthers has looked significantly better week after week. An amazing comeback against the Falcons soured into a loss after two missed game-winning field goals by Eddy Pineiro. Still, who would’ve expected this turnaround?
- Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) (Last Week: 28) - Trevor Lawrence is making plays, but he’s still making big mistakes. At this point, he’s killing his team, and if he wants to realize the expectations of the next Andrew Luck, he needs to become more consistent.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6) (Last Week: 29) - The grossly overmatched Steelers hung in there against the Philadelphia Eagles for longer than many expected, but, like many other games this season, the opponent was able to pull away from Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter.
- Detroit Lions (1-6) (Last Week: 32) - Getting up early against the Dolphins and some plays by Malcom Rodriguez had Lions fans excited, but the worst defense in the NFL reared its head again and it was all over. This defense has been so bad but I almost wonder if Detroit might hit the reset button again next year and trade several players during the offseason.
- Houston Texans (1-5-1) (Last Week: 31) - Yep, I put the Houston Texans at the very bottom of my rankings! After the past month revealing how bad our defense really is and Davis Mills returning from his brief high back to the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, there was nowhere else I could justify putting them.
The Texans have been BAD. Even after the resources spent at linebacker, defensive line, and receiver, the Texans have not even mildly improved since last year. Davis Mills has been the primary culprit of the offense failing to do anything, but the collective failure of the defense being terrible at stopping the run sets up opponents to create a perfect game plan at beating the Texans. When the quarterback is this bad, opposing defenses can play more aggressively to force turnovers or stop the run; and when the rushing defense is this bad, opponents are more than happy to hold onto the ball for as long as possible and score as the end of each possession. There are just so many ways to beat the Texans right now, and that is absolutely unacceptable after all the free agents they signed, extensions they gave out, and players they drafted.
Tomorrow, the Texans host the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles in their single game they get to sacrifice themselves in front of the entire country. Every Amazon Prime subscriber and every Twitch viewer is going to get the opportunity for Houston to offer themselves up to Philadelphia and get absolutely gutted every single play. In the way that a car crash is something you can’t look away from, there will be plenty of morbidly curious eyes on Houston tomorrow night. See you then!
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