1. Kansas City Chiefs (5-1) | Last week: 1
Let’s not overreact to one game. The Chiefs have clearly been the best team in football over the first six weeks of the season, and they still belong in the number one spot in the power rankings. Pittsburgh does appear to have their number (three of their last five losses, including playoffs, are to the Steelers), but they should be able to get over the hump eventually. It should also be noted that Kansas City was without second and third receivers Chris Conley (out for the season with an Achilles injury) and Albert Wilson (knee) for the first time this season in the loss.
2. New England Patriots (4-2) | Last week: 4 (+2)
After falling behind 14-0 to the Jets, there was some serious concern about the defense again. But the Patriots played lock down defense after that, allowing only three points in the second half, holding the Jets to 17 for the game. They did appear to perhaps catch a break on a debatable touchback call that could’ve been a touchdown for New York, but New England still won nonetheless and is atop the AFC East. This Sunday night’s Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons should be fun.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) | Last week: 5 (+2)
There are three big reasons the Eagles are sitting atop the NFC at 5-1. One, they’re running the ball and taking pressure off Carson Wentz. Two, they are stopping the run (they lead the NFL in run defense in terms of yards per game). And three, they are converting over 50% of their third downs (only the 2011 Saints have converted over 50% in any of the last ten seasons). If the Eagles can keep up those three things, they’ll be near the top of the NFC and a Super Bowl contender. If not, they’ll probably back off their great start to the season.
4. Atlanta Falcons (3-2) | Last week: 2 (-2)
The defending NFC champions started the season 3-0, but they’ve dropped the last two games at home to the Bills and Dolphins in their new Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons are second to only the Chiefs in yards per play (6.2), but their scoring is down to 12th this season. Superstar receiver Julio Jones hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this season despite talk of new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian wanting to get him more involved on the red zone. Atlanta should get it together soon, but they have a difficult matchup in Foxborough on Sunday night with a chance at some slight redemption for their Super Bowl LI loss.
5. Minnesota Vikings (4-2) | Last week: 11 (+6)
It’s certainly not the way they would’ve liked it to happen with Aaron Rodgers’ unfortunate collarbone injury that could keep him out for the season, but the Vikings are now the favorites in the NFC North in my opinion. If he has to continue playing, Case Keenum will get more comfortable in the offense; but there was some excellent news on Teddy Bridgewater, who was activated from the PUP and can practice fully with the team about 14 months after his devastating knee injury. And Sam Bradford, hopefully, will get healthy so the Vikings would have a stacked quarterback room.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) | Last week: 9 (+3)
With a win over the undefeated Chiefs, everything is good in Pittsburgh for now. Le’Veon Bell ran wild in the victory over Kansas City, and the defense did an excellent job of limiting Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt, and the league’s highest-scoring offense. Antonio Brown’s insane catch off a pass that should’ve at least been deflected might’ve won them the game, and we’ll have to see if they can carry the momentum into this week against the Bengals, who are coming off a bye.
7. Tennessee Titans (3-3) | Last week: 13 (+6)
Like Aaron Rodgers when he had a calf injury in years past, Marcus Mariota had to deal with questions about his ability to win from the pocket without using his legs. At less than 100% while dealing with his hamstring injury, Mariota did just that in the Titans’ Monday night win over the Colts in which they scored 36 points. I’ve always strongly believed Mariota can dice up defenses from the pocket, but as Jon Gruden said on the broadcast, that game should only help his confidence in playing from the pocket and not using his legs. Watch out for the Tennessee.
8. Houston Texans (3-3) | Last week: 10 (+2)
The early discussion for MVP must include rookie sensation Deshaun Watson. The former Clemson great didn’t even start the first game of the season, but he leads the league in touchdown passes (15) and total touchdowns (17), and he has the offense humming. The team has a bye in Week 7 before facing Seahawks in Seattle in what’ll be a tough test for Houston.
9. Carolina Panthers (4-2) | Last week: 6 (-3)
Seeing Luke Kuechly leave last Thursday night’s game with an injury was sad to see, and hopefully he’s feeling 100% and back on the field soon. The Panthers arguably would’ve won the game if their best player didn’t get hurt, as Kuechly is one of the biggest difference-makers out there on defense. And offensively, the players around Cam Newton let him down against Philadelphia. I don’t think Newton is an elite quarterback or anything, but the blame being put on him for the loss is totally unfair—and the people blaming him probably didn’t watch the game.
10. New Orleans Saints (3-2) | Last week: 18 (+8)
Things are looking way up for the Saints. Coming out of the bye at .500, they had three of their next four games at home; and now the away game at Lambeau is against the Packers without Aaron Rodgers under center to start the game for the first time this season. Based off their last three games, the Saints might be the most impressive team in the NFL. Their two losses to open the year were at Minnesota with a team led by Sam Bradford throwing darts and against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots.
11. Seattle Seahawks (3-2) | Last week: 14 (+3)
Aside from their loss to the Titans in which they gave up 33 points, the Seahawks have been lights out defensively and will look to keep it going against the Giants this weekend. The running game needs to improve for the Seahawks, so hopefully they took the bye week to figure that part of the offense out. Also, look for the Russell Wilson-Jimmy Graham connection to keep improving this week, as the Giants haven’t been able to defend that position well this season.
12. Los Angeles Rams (4-2) | Last week: 16 (+4)
After six weeks, the Rams are the highest scoring team in the league again—and their opening kickoff return for a touchdown versus Jacksonville on Sunday certainly helped on their way to 27 points against one of the league’s best defenses. The high-scoring offense is a total 180 from their performance on that side of the ball last season, and the team’s two losses have been by seven and six points. The Rams should remain contenders in both the division and a wild card hunt all season.
13. Washington Redskins (3-2) | Last week: 15 (+2)
Washington’s two losses this season have been to the only two 5-1 teams in the NFL—and in Week 1 to the Eagles, they had some major beef with the officiating on a pass attempt that was ruled a fumble. But the Redskins have their chance at the Eagles again on Monday night in what should be one of the games of the week. If Kirk Cousins, Jay Gruden, and company can pull it out—especially if they are without both starting corners Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland—they’ll be talked about as NFC contenders.
14. Detroit Lions (3-3) | Last week: 8 (-6)
Detroit had a very good start to the season and looked like one of the better teams in the NFL, but they haven’t played very well against the Panthers and Saints over the last two weeks. The 52-38 loss to New Orleans was almost unlike any game I’ve ever seen, and it’s probably one that Lions would like to forget about as quickly as possible. However, they have a bye this week before facing the Steelers in Week 8. They’d probably love to be out there to put the recent loss behind them, but hopefully they can regroup and get it together during the bye.
15. Denver Broncos (3-2) | Last week: 7 (-8)
The biggest shock of Week 6 was no doubt Denver’s blowout loss to the Giants. Of course, with everyone expecting the Broncos to easily take down the team that didn’t have its top three receivers and suspended one of its best players on defense, it went the other way. Normally I don’t like to question coaches too much, but the play-calling/strategy of the Broncos was slightly perplexing, as they didn’t run the ball despite being a top-ten rushing team coming in. It wasn’t just because they were down either, as from the beginning of the game it seemed like they were content on not establishing the run with C.J. Anderson and company.
16. Green Bay Packers (4-2) | Last week: 3 (-13)
Losing someone as good as two-time league Aaron Rodgers obviously puts a major dent in a team’s Super Bowl chances, and the Packers have the biggest drop in this week’s power rankings. It’s just really tough to see Rodgers go down, as players only have so many seasons to play in the NFL. So hopefully Rodgers, the elite athlete that he is, is able to somehow make a quick recovery and get back out there this year. In the meantime, I thought Brett Hundley was a complete steal by Green Bay in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, so we’ll see how he does with an extended run under center.
17. Miami Dolphins (3-2) | Last week: 21 (+4)
For as much hoopla there’s been surrounding the Dolphins and their struggles this season, they’re 3-2 and just picked up a win against the Falcons in Atlanta. The offense looked a lot better even without top receiver DeVante Parker, who was dealing with an ankle injury, on their way to 20 second-half points in the victory. Jay Ajayi (26 carries for 130 yards) ran like the beast of a runner he is, as the commitment to the running game even when they were down 17-0 helped the Dolphins pull off the upset.
18. Baltimore Ravens (3-3) | Last week: 12 (-6)
The Ravens desperately need nose tackle Brandon Williams back, as the team is 1-3 without him this season and the run defense is not nearly the same when he isn’t there in the middle. Still, despite the struggles, Baltimore is 3-3 and one game back in the AFC North. This could be a defensive battle against Minnesota this Sunday, and they’ll have to stop running backs Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray to force Case Keenum to beat them.
19. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) | Last week: 19
The never-ending Ezekiel Elliott saga keeps Zeke on the field for now, as he was granted another temporary restraining order to put his six-game suspension on hold again. Dallas’ upcoming schedule after the 49ers this week looks brutal on paper, so they’ll probably need Zeke in the lineup to climb back into the race in the NFC East. They are only two games behind Philadelphia with two games to play against them still, so the Cowboys just need to take care of business on the field—starting this Sunday in a game against the 49ers they need to win after coming off their bye.
20. Arizona Cardinals (3-2) | Last week: 24 (+4)
As stated at least a few times, Adrian Peterson is not one of those guys you count out. AD’s debut with the Cardinals couldn’t have gone much better, as Bruce Arians allowed the determined All-Pro back to carry the ball 26 times. His 134 yards and two touchdowns brought much-needed balance to the offense after the loss of David Johnson, and it’ll take pressure off the high-potential defense. With a great running back with plenty of juice left, this might be too low for the Cardinals, and they’ll move up a lot if they keep it going.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3) | Last week: 17 (-4)
Jacksonville has a great pass defense led by corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye along with an excellent pass rush that’s racked up 23 sacks so far this season. But the run defense, giving up a league-high 5.2 yards per carry, is a major weakness for the unit. And offensively, their major weakness is third-down conversions, which they are also last in the league in. Until they improve in those two areas, the Jags might struggle to be serious contenders in the AFC.
22. Buffalo Bills (3-2) | Last week: 20 (-2)
The only reason Buffalo dropped in the power rankings is because teams like Arizona and Miami took a jump forward after their big wins while the Bills were on a bye. The league’s best scoring defense is back in action this week, though, as they take on a Bucs team that will have a hurting Jameis Winston (shoulder) under center. Buffalo isn’t top-ten in terms of yards allowed, but the defense causes a lot of turnovers and makes plays under head coach Sean McDermott.
23. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) | Last week: 25 (+2)
Perhaps this is too low for the Chargers, but their wins were over the struggling Giants and Raiders. A win against Denver this weekend would likely sky them up the rankings, and I think it might happen. The offense is wisely feeding Melvin Gordon the ball after he didn’t hit the 20-carry mark in any of the first four games, and it’s paying off big time and should help free up the rest of the offense. On defense, defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram need to continue pressuring the passer and make one game-changing play in what should be another close AFC West matchup that goes down to the wire.
24. Oakland Raiders (2-4) | Last week: 23 (-1)
Four straight losses for Oakland and they’re on the verge of five. The Chiefs are coming off their first loss of the season and will surely be ready to play on Thursday night in Oakland, and Derek Carr hasn’t played his best football against Kansas City yet. Balance in the offense would help, and Marshawn Lynch is typically a lock for a great game (or at least great run) in primetime—but he hasn’t gotten much of anything going this season and has probably been a major disappointment for the Raiders. Maybe a breakout game on Thursday will give Oakland the jolt they need.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) | Last week: 22 (-3)
The return of linebacker Lavonte David and safety T.J. Ward didn’t help the Bucs much against the Cardinals, as Adrian Peterson ran wild his first game in the desert. Thankfully, it looks like linebacker Kwon Alexander (hamstring) will be back this Sunday against Buffalo after missing four games, but there are still problems for Tampa Bay. Now, Jameis Winston is dealing with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder but is still fully expected to play—though it’s hard to see him being close to 100%.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) | Last week: 26
A win on Sunday against the AFC North leading Steelers would vault the Bengals up the rankings, as they’ve been playing a lot better after their 0-3 start. Cincinnati has the second-best defense in the NFL in terms of both yards allowed and scoring, and the offense probably cooked some more things up with OC Bill Lazor during their bye week.
27. New York Jets (3-3) | Last week: 28 (+1)
If you just watch the play with Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins that was ruled a touchback, it certainly looked like it should’ve been a touchdown. It wasn’t, though, but the Jets still played well against the class of their division, and they’re still only one game back after the loss. They’ll look to bounce back with a season sweep of the Dolphins, who they dominated, 20-6, in Week 3.
28. Chicago Bears (2-4) | Last week: 29 (+1)
In two games with rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as the starter, the Bears lost by three in Minnesota to the Vikings and won by three in overtime in Baltimore against the Ravens—and the offense has been a lot more creative. The dynamic 5’6” Tarik Cohen actually threw a touchdown on a play where he basically catapulted the ball perfectly to Zach Miller in the end zone, becoming the shortest player in NFL history to throw a touchdown. The upcoming schedule for the Bears is difficult, but the NFC North is more wide open after Aaron Rodgers’ unfortunate injury.
29. Indianapolis Colts (2-4) | Last week: 27 (-2)
Jacoby Brissett continues to impress, as his skills just pop off the screen. There’s no question he looks like he could be a very good starter in the NFL, but the talk about Andrew Luck being traded is just ridiculous—they got rid of Peyton Manning for Luck, who’s one of the league’s best quarterbacks and someone that can carry a team. Returning home to Indy, the Colts can pick up a huge win against the division rival Jaguars this week.
30. New York Giants (1-5) | Last week: 30
With everyone (including me) counting them out against Denver, the Giants pretty much dominated in their Sunday night win at Mile High. The new style of offense, which commits to the running game, will help limit mistakes by Eli Manning while allowing the defense to keep them in every game. It’ll be interesting to see how the G-Men play against the Seahawks this Sunday.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-6) | Last week: 31
The 49ers pulled the trigger on a switch from Brian Hoyer to rookie C.J. Beathard as the team’s starting quarterback, and the third-round rookie from Iowa was very impressive as he led the team to 24 points in three quarters against the Redskins. With a strong running game led by Carlos Hyde, Beathard is set up to have some success and perhaps keep his starting job heading into next season. It’s also great to see the veteran Hoyer be extremely supportive of Beathard, as it certainly isn’t easy getting benched.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-6) | Last week: 32
I wish I could get some insight into the thinking of the Browns. DeShone Kizer is back as the starting quarterback after sitting one game behind Kevin Hogan, and I’m really interested to find out who’s decision it is—especially after Cody Kessler played well as a rookie last season and is probably the best bet to win. Bottom line is jobs might be in danger if the team doesn’t win any games this season, despite the patient approach Cleveland is taking to build a team.