1. New England Patriots (5-2) | Last week: 2 (+1)
And we’re back to where we started at the number one spot. No one is talking about it like they talked about the struggles, but the defense of New England has really stepped up the last few weeks after their bizarrely poor start to the season. My Super Bowl pick (risky, I know) is looking like I thought they would before the season—and that was without corners Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore on Sunday against Atlanta.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (6-1) | Last week: 3 (+1)
What year is this? The Patriots and Eagles being in the top two spots in the power rankings feels like a Chris Berman Super Bowl pick from the early-mid 2000s. Last season, I wasn’t sold after their fast start, but this season is different and the NFC looks weaker. Still, I do want to see them play some tougher teams, as their biggest win was against a Panthers team that lost Luke Kuechly early in the game. However, the rest of their schedule is one of the lightest in the NFL (not that any win is easy), and they are heavy favorites to improve to 7-1 this weekend when they face the Niners. And we’ll have to see how they respond after the loss of left tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks (who might be their best player on defense).
3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) | Last week: 1 (-2)
After a six-week run atop the rankings, the Chiefs fall to number three because of their second straight loss. It was a tough Thursday night loss to Oakland, too, as the Raiders had a handful of opportunities to put the ball in the end zone at the end of the game. There were some questionable calls against Kansas City, and then it appeared Michael Crabtree might’ve gotten away with a push off on the game-winner. Alex Smith, who might be the MVP through seven weeks (Tom Brady and Carson Wentz should be in the top-three with him), and the Chiefs will look to put a stop to their skid on Monday night against Denver.
4. Minnesota Vikings (5-2) | Last week: 5 (+1)
Mike Zimmer’s defense can take the Vikings very far, as they improved to 5-2 despite rolling with Case Keenum, who is in his first season in Minnesota, instead of the injured Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings are top ten in basically every defensive category, and this Sunday in London could get ugly against rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and the Browns—though we’ve seen weirder things happen in games across the pond.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) | Last week: 6 (+1)
The Steelers also have a defense that’s playing great, but they’re basically doing it by shutting down the pass. The addition of cornerback Joe Haden before the year has helped Pittsburgh have the number one pass defense in the NFL through Week 7, though their lack of a strong run defense is a concern. Still, considering the offense has dynamic playmakers with our without disgruntled-but-talented receiver Martavis Bryant, the Steelers are an obvious AFC contender.
6. Atlanta Falcons (3-3) | Last week: 4 (-2)
Is the Super Bowl hangover real for the Falcons? The offense just hasn’t been able to get going like they did with their high-flying 2016 attack, and the switch of offensive coordinators from now-49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarikisian probably has a lot to do with that. Sarkisian adjusted to run a similar style of offense, but it’s still different just getting in a rhythm as a play-caller and as an offense. I still have confidence the Falcons can get things going, but there is concern.
7. Tennessee Titans (4-3) | Last week: 7
A win over the Browns was closer than the Titans would have liked, but a win is a win, and Tennessee is atop the AFC South. After getting embarrassed by the Texans in Week 4, the defense—particularly the athletic secondary—of the Titans has really stepped up. Now, they have their bye week to try and get DeMarco Murray and Marcus Mariota closer to 100%, as they’ll look to get to that explosive offensive potential coming out of the bye.
8. New Orleans Saints (4-2) | Last week: 10 (+2)
I said to watch out for the Saints when they emerged from their Week 5 bye to play three out of four at home in the Superdome, and they are off to a great start after a win at home over the Lions and a win at Lambeau over an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team. New Orleans will attempt to finish out the first half of their season strong against a tough Bears team and an NFC South opponent in the Bucs.
9. Houston Texans (3-3) | Last week: 8 (-1)
The bye week for the Texans came at the perfect time, as it gave Bill O’Brien, rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, and the team another week to prepare for facing the Seahawks in Seattle. I have a good feeling about the Texans’ chances in this one, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.
10. Seattle Seahawks (4-2) | Last week: 11 (+1)
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks put a quick stop to any confidence the Giants had heading into their Week 7 matchup. Despite the running game not getting started much after their bye, Wilson had his best game of the season as he threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. I only have them at number ten, but the Seahawks—and Russell Wilson when it comes to talking about the best current quarterback in the NFC—seem to be a bit under-the-radar right now.
11. Los Angeles Rams (5-2) | Last week: 12 (+1)
The Rams also might be too low, as the offense led by Jared Goff and Todd Gurley is the highest-scoring in the NFL—and that’s without star receiver Sammy Watkins making a huge impact aside from one game. Head coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips continue to get their guys to play at a high level, and they might shoot up these rankings into the top five if they keep playing well after their Week 8 bye.
12. Dallas Cowboys (3-3) | Last week: 19 (+7)
It was against the winless 49ers, but the Cowboys looked as you’d expect in their blowout Week 7 victory. Ezekiel Elliott, who without a doubt did not look the same to start the season, looked closer to his rookie form against San Francisco, and the team needs him to remain unsuspended as they begin what looks like a brutal upcoming schedule.
13. Carolina Panthers (4-3) | Last week: 9 (-4)
Carolina wasn’t going to have an easy time with Chicago at Soldier Field, but they didn’t score a touchdown against John Fox’s crew. Another game of sloppy offense is what killed the Panthers, as the Bears had two defensive touchdowns when the Panthers were driving (one on a fumbled pitch on an option play, and one on an interception off Kelvin Benjamin’s hands), and that turned out to be the difference in the game. They need to clean things up and try and get back on a roll starting this Sunday against Tampa Bay.
14. Detroit Lions (3-3) | Last week: 14
After a bye week, the Lions stand pat. They have a prime opportunity this Sunday night against one of the NFL’s best teams when they face the Steelers. Matthew Stafford seems like the guy that would light it up against Pittsburgh’s number one pass defense, but it’ll take a balanced offense with at least some commitment to the running game—something they got away from in their two straight losses—to help him get it done.
15. Miami Dolphins (4-2) | Last week: 17 (+2)
Adam Gase continues to show what a good coach he is, as the offense is getting better and better after their slow start to the season. It’s not leading to results in the stats of Jay Ajayi yet, but the commitment to the running game certainly helps the offense overall. Look for them to pound the rock again against on Thursday—and perhaps get more results against a Ravens team that has surprisingly been gashed on the ground this season. It’ll be interesting to see if Jay Cutler reclaims the starting job if Matt Moore is playing lights out when Cutler is healthy again.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) | Last week: 21 (+5)
“Sacksonville” feels like it will officially stick, as the Jaguars became the first team since the 1984 Bears to record 10+ sacks in a game twice in a single season. Now, the Jaguars are not close to the ’84 Bears yet, as that Chicago team was stingy against the run while this Jacksonville team is one of the worst run defenses in the NFL through seven weeks. We’ll see if the Jaguars can get things tightened up against the run during their bye week.
17. Buffalo Bills (4-2) | Last week: 22 (+5)
Against an apparently less-than-100% Jameis Winston, the Bills were expected to be in a defensive battle against the Bucs—but it didn’t turn out that way. The defense still came up clutch at the end, forcing yet another turnover as star rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White forced a fumble on Bucs receiver Adam Humphries and recovered it. Though they passed on Deshaun Watson, which I think will be an obvious mistake, the trade back to acquire more picks and still select Tre’Davious White 27th is working out for Buffalo.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (3-4) | Last week: 23 (+5)
Make it three in a row for Philip Rivers and the Chargers, as the defense led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram continues to play lights out. Their shutout win over the Broncos made it easier to look past getting stuffed four straight times at the goal line in the game, but the Chargers will have to take advantage of every opportunity against the Patriots in Week 8. With this defense playing well and Philip Rivers maybe having more weapons than he’s ever had, I wouldn’t count the Chargers out in Foxborough.
19. Oakland Raiders (3-4) | Last week: 24 (+4)
It took a one of the craziest endings you’ll ever see, but the Raiders got a huge win over the AFC West-leading Chiefs last Thursday night. The ending of the game was almost like a pickup football game, where they keep running it back until the ending feels legitimate enough. Without Amari Cooper’s overdue breakout performance, the Raiders would probably be at 2-5 right now. They’ll look to keep the good times going against the Bills this Sunday.
20. Baltimore Ravens (3-4) | Last week: 18 (-2)
After the addition of Jeremy Maclin, I expected this Ravens offense to be an explosive bunch this season. And I also expected the defense to maybe be the best in the NFL. But because of injuries on offense, including to Maclin and All Pro guard Marshal Yanda, it hasn’t happened on that side of the ball—and on defense, they are uncharacteristically getting run all over. The Ravens need to get things turned around, and quick.
21. Green Bay Packers (4-3) | Last week: 16 (-5)
Despite a fast start, Brett Hundley’s first start did not go as planned—but he didn’t play close to as poorly as the box score indicated. And considering the offense couldn’t get much going, the defense played well to keep them in the game against Drew Brees and the Saints. It’s obviously going to take improvement, but the Packers do have a solid roster outside of Aaron Rodgers, too.
22. Denver Broncos (3-3) | Last week: 15 (-7)
It continues to be surprising that the Broncos aren’t running the ball more to both take pressure of quarterback Trevor Siemian and help keep games close with their excellent defense. When Sieimian was playing at a very high level to start the season, it came in games when C.J. Anderson carried 20 and 25 times. And on the season, the Broncos are 3-0 when Anderson rushes 20+ times and 0-3 when he rushes less than 20 times. The recipe for success is obvious.
23. Washington Redskins (3-3) | Last week: 13 (-10)
It’s good to see the Redskins realize they should not have brought Terrelle Pryor in to be a top wide receiver for the team, but they still need guys to step up at that position. Josh Doctson continues to show some flashes and has some major upside, but Jamison Crowder hasn’t had a breakout many expected. On defense, they were in trouble against Philadelphia without top cornerback Josh Norman. This might be too low and Washington might propel up in the rankings, but they’re 1-2 in their last three, with the win coming against the 49ers.
24. Chicago Bears (3-4) | Last week: 28 (+4)
It’s still a long season and many want head coach John Fox out of Chicago, but it’s difficult to get rid of someone that’s having his team play like this. The Bears defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in nine quarters, and it’s clear the unit led by Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, and company can win games for Chicago. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky only had to throw seven passes in their two-touchdown win over Carolina. If the Bears keep it going agasint the Saints in the Superdome this week, they will have a massive jump in the rankings.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) | Last week: 25
Jameis Winston toughed it out and didn’t look limited much at all (besides turning to avoid direct shots) while dealing with the AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder. They came up short against the Bills though, and the only wins for Tampa Bay have come against the Bears when they weren’t playing well and against the Giants. Now safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Chris Baker are unhappy about playing time—it just doesn’t look good for the Buccaneers right now.
26. Arizona Cardinals (3-3) | Last week: 20 (-6)
As Larry Fitzgerald said after the shutout loss to the Rams in London, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you lose your quarterback (Carson Palmer) after already losing your best offensive player (David Johnson) earlier in the year. It’s going to take a huge effort from everyone—including the defense making major improvements—if the Cardinals are going to avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (2-4) | Last week: 26 (-1)
The Bengals got off to a nice start and it looked like they would be in it all game with the Steelers, but things pretty much fell apart as the game moved forward. It’s concerning to see the offensive line struggle like this, especially after they invested a lot into building up that position. Cincinnati needs to pick up a win over the Colts this Sunday to avoid falling to 2-5.
28. New York Jets (3-4) | Last week: 27 (-1)
It looked like the Jets were set to improve to 4-3 with a big AFC East win over the Dolphins, but Miami overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Jets have still been in every game except the Week 2 blowout loss to the Raiders, and it doesn’t appear they’ll be even close to the first overall pick, which fans of the team should be happy about—they’re playing hard, and they’re playing a lot better than expected.
29. Indianapolis Colts (2-5) | Last week: 29
T.Y. Hilton calling out the offensive line after the team’s shutout loss to the Jaguars in which they gave up ten sacks was not a good look at all, but Hilton did sound truly remorseful and said he would apologize to everyone individually—and last season’s league-leading receiver doesn’t showcase “diva” qualities, so this was probably just a one-time comment out of frustration. The season is slipping away from the Colts, though, as a couple more losses might knock them out of playoff contention.
30. New York Giants (1-6) | Last week: 30
I thought there might have been a chance the Giants would play Seattle tough and maybe pick up a close win, but it just didn’t work out that way. After New York’s surprising win over the Broncos in Week 6, the Seahawks were on alert and not going to let that happen to them. The Giants now have a bye to maybe figure out how to get things going offensively without their top receivers, though Sterling Shepard (ankle) should certainly be back after the bye week.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-7) | Last week: 31
The Niners were keeping their games close over the last several weeks, but the Cowboys dominated from start to finish on Sunday. Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard did fine for his first career start, and it’ll be interesting to see his progress throughout the rest of the year. San Francisco is a heavy underdog to Philadelphia for Week 8, but we’ll see if they can keep it close.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-7) | Last week: 32
I really, really don’t like criticizing teams, but it’s difficult to figure out what the Browns are doing. With young rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer not playing well at all while also being out at a bar past 1:00 AM and showing no awareness or guilt over it, he’s still been named the starter for Week 8. To me, I’m not sure how owner Jimmy Haslam can watch what some of these other quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson are doing on and off the field and still stick with whoever is making the decisions on quarterback for the Browns.