The Saints move up to the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for the first time this season after extending their winning streak to eight games, while the Eagles fall out of the top ten after their disappointing Sunday night loss at home.
1. New Orleans Saints (8-1) | Last week: 2 (+1)
After a big win against the Rams in Week 9 and a matchup with the defending champion Eagles in Week 11, the Saints looked to be in a potential trap spot on the road against the Bengals. But there was no let down or trap game, as New Orleans rolled to a 51-14 victory and was dominant on both sides of the ball. Drew Brees passed Brett Favre for the second most touchdown passes of all-time (509), and he has an astonishing 21:1 TD/INT ratio through nine games this season. The offense leads the league in points per game and looks unstoppable right now.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) | Last week: 3 (+1)
Justin Houston’s return to the lineup immediately sparked Kansas City’s defense, as he had an interception while the unit sacked Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen five times. The matchups haven’t been that difficult (vs. Cincinnati, vs. Denver, @ Cleveland, and vs. Arizona), but the defense has given up point totals of 10, 23, 21, and 14 in the last four games. Things will obviously get tougher next Monday night when they face the Rams, but Patrick Mahomes and the offense can keep up with anyone. Former Ram Sammy Watkins should be ready to go after missing Week 10 with a foot injury.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-1) | Last week: 4 (+1)
Cooper Kupp is a huge loss for the Rams as arguably Jared Goff’s favorite target, and it’ll make things tougher for an offense that uses three-wide-receiver sets more than any team in the league. I like second-year receiver Josh Reynolds (who caught a Texas A&M record 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2014), and he’ll have to step up for the Rams with Kupp out; they might also go with more two-tight-end sets with Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee moving forward. Monday night should immediately be a big test as they look to win a likely shootout in Mexico City.
4. New England Patriots (7-3) | Last week: 1 (-3)
They’d probably like to get back out there after suffering a bad loss in Tennessee, but the bye might come at the perfect time for the Patriots. It’s not common you see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick lose that badly, especially this late in the season, but there’s no reason to panic. The biggest thing coming from the loss is probably that the Patriots no longer have control for homefield advantage in the AFC, and it’ll probably be a lot tougher to win in Arrowhead in January than it would be to win in Foxboro. Hopefully the bye ensures Rob Gronkowski gets close to 100% for the final stretch run ahead of the postseason.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2) | Last week: 5
The Chargers continue to fly under the radar, but they continue to win games and keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West. You have to go out there and play the games, but the Chargers are sizable favorites the next two weeks with home matchups against the Broncos and Cardinals, so 9-2 looks like a strong possibility. Superstar running back Melvin Gordon has a streak of five straight games with over 120 scrimmage yards and a touchdown, becoming the second player in the past decade to accomplish the feat (Jamaal Charles in 2013). Gordon has a legitimate case for being the best running back in the NFL.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) | Last week: 6
The Le’Veon Bell saga is finally over, and I think the All-Pro not showing up might be a good thing for the Steelers. James Conner has been exceptional as the starter this season, and Bell not wanting to play with the team could rally them together as they look to show they can win without a player that some—including his own teammates—consider selfish for holding out. There’s no question Bell is a great player, but Conner is a tone-setter—with versatility as an inside runner, and outside runner, an excellent receiver, and a solid pass blocker—that won’t be fun to tackle in December and January. On both sides of the ball, the Steelers have looked extremely impressive as of late.
7. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) | Last week: 8 (+1)
The Vikings return from their Week 10 bye with a chance to take control of the NFC North on Sunday night against the Bears. The game is in Chicago, so a win would be huge with the second matchup between the two teams coming in Week 17 at Minnesota. Aside from their stunning Week 3 blowout loss to the Bills, the Vikings have only lost to the 9-1 Rams and the 8-1 Saints this season; but they don’t have any wins against teams currently over .500 through ten weeks, so Sunday night will be a big test.
8. Chicago Bears (6-3) | Last week: 13 (+5)
The Bears also do not have a win over a team currently over .500 this season, but they’ve been flat-out dominant in some games, including a convincing division win over the Lions in Week 10. Mitchell Trubisky and the passing attack is doing most of the damage for the offense, which is what you want to see from a young and inexperienced franchise quarterback, but Jordan Howard and the running game might need to get more consistent for the tough games late in the season and potentially in the postseason.
9. Houston Texans (6-3) | Last week: 11 (+2)
Coming off the bye, the Texans lead the AFC South by one game after the Titans picked up an upset win against the Patriots, and they’ll face the Titans again in a couple weeks (they lost to them earlier this season). However, they cannot look past the 6-3 Redskins this Sunday. Deshaun Watson probably took the bye to get healthier after dealing with some serious rib and lung issues, and he’ll look to come out hot after throwing for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the two games before Houston’s week off.
10. Washington Redskins (6-3) | Last week: 12 (+2)
That was more like it for the Redskins, who didn’t have an outstanding game offensively but made enough plays and rode timely defense to their 16-3 victory at Tampa Bay. With Philadelphia’s loss to Dallas, Washington sits two games up in the division; but there’s still a lot of time left in the season, and the Redskins’ schedule isn’t as easy as records indicate, as they still have four more division games (two against the Eagles) along with matchups against the Texans, Titans, and a struggling-but-potent Jaguars team. They’ve been the most consistent team in the NFC East, though, so they are the division favorite.
11. Tennessee Titans (5-4) | Last week: 16 (+5)
Entering the season, I thought the Chargers and the Titans would have the best chance of knocking off the Patriots in the AFC—partly because the Steelers always struggle against New England. Mike Vrabel’s squad has had an up-and-down season in his first as head coach, but they’ve shown major flashes including their blowout win against the Patriots. Clearly, Marcus Mariota was not at 100% after his elbow injury earlier this season, but he now appears healthy and is playing like an elite quarterback. If weapons like Corey Davis become more consistent, a Mariota-led team with the league’s No. 1 scoring defense can beat anyone.
12. Carolina Panthers (6-3) | Last week: 7 (-5)
As Ron Rivera said after the Panthers’ 52-21 loss to the Steelers, those types of games sometimes happen. The team just needs to put it behind them and bounce back this weekend against the Lions. Despite it being just one game, the Panthers drop five spots in the rankings because the defense is an obvious concern ten weeks into the season. They have 11 interceptions, but Carolina has given up 22 passing touchdowns this season, which is the second-worst in the NFL behind only Tampa Bay. Defending opposing tight ends in particular has been a major struggle, with nine touchdowns allowed to the position this season.
13. Green Bay Packers (4-4-1) | Last week: 14 (+1)
Aaron Jones is getting a ton of praise for his career-best 145-yard performance on Sunday against the Dolphins, and he certainly ran the ball well while showing his exceptional burst and speed. However, Green Bay’s offensive line also deserves a ton of credit for opening up huge holes to allow Jones to gash Miami’s defense. Things are likely to be tougher on the ground this Thursday night against the Seahawks, but a balanced offensive attack led by Aaron Rodgers is a scary thought for opposing defenses.
14. Atlanta Falcons (4-5) | Last week: 10 (-4)
It looked like the Falcons were rolling, so their 28-16 loss at Cleveland was a big disappointment to start the second half of the season. Matt Ryan and the offense did a fine job of moving the ball, but they just didn’t finish off drives to come away with points. The defense struggled against a rookie-led Browns offense, but Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones is eligible to return this Sunday against the Cowboys, and he’d be a major boost if he’s able to return from his foot injury. Atlanta dominated Dallas last season, but Adrian Clayborn (six sacks in that game while Dallas did not have Tyron Smith) is now with the Patriots.
15. Baltimore Ravens (4-5) | Last week: 15
Coming off their bye week, the attention leading up to Sunday’s matchup with the Bengals will be on Joe Flacco’s hip injury. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound too concerned about the injury, which Flacco played through after injuring it early in Week 9, keeping his starter out when speaking yesterday. However, talented rookie Lamar Jackson (or potentially Robert Griffin III) would be tasked with guiding the Ravens in a crowded AFC playoff picture if Flacco is forced to miss any time. Whoever is under center, both sides of the ball need to get back on track after going 1-4 in their last five games before the bye.
16. Dallas Cowboys (4-5) | Last week: 21 (+5)
It looked like the Cowboys were on the verge of sweeping changes if they dropped to 3-6, but they went into Lincoln Financial Field and picked up a huge primetime win over the Eagles. Dak Prescott had a nice all-around showing and made some big-time throws with heavy criticism coming his way, and Ezekiel Elliott again had over 140 total yards against one of his team’s biggest rivals (three times in three games). As long as the Cowboys realize that win can’t be their “Super Bowl” this season, they should be in the mix for a playoff spot the rest of the year.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) | Last week: 9 (-8)
There was a time when the Eagles were basically unbeatable at home, but that’s clearly ended this season, at least for now. The defense was already struggling to cover, and now they’ve lost No. 1 cornerback Ronald Darby for the season to a torn ACL, so they really need the pass rush to step up and make things miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Offensively, they got going in the second half against the Cowboys, but the unit just hasn’t been as efficient as last season when they were getting the ball in the end zone at an elite rate. Playing in the NFC East helps, but things aren’t looking great for the defending champs, who still have yet to play the Saints and Rams on the road.
18. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) | Last week: 19 (+1)
With the efficiency of Indianapolis’ offense and a career-high touchdown rate of 7.0% for Andrew Luck this season, perhaps Colts head coach Frank Reich was a bigger loss for the Eagles than is being talked about. Whether or not Reich not being in Philadelphia has something to do with their struggles, the Colts are certainly ecstatic they hired him last winter. Indy is using tight ends better than any team in the NFL, with a whopping 16 total touchdowns at the position this season. The offense is crafted to fit the strength of its players, and the defense continues to play hard every week.
19. Seattle Seahawks (4-5) | Last week: 18 (-1)
Russell Wilson and a strong running game helped keep Seattle in the mix in a tough loss to the Rams to start their final eight games of the year. The Seahawks are 4-3 after an 0-2 start, but all three losses have come to the Los Angeles teams (the Rams twice), and they had a chance at the end in every game. Pete Carroll’s team is right there as a group with many unproven players that bring a lot of energy every week. Seattle is in the playoff race, and next up they play a Thursday-nighter at home against the Packers.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) | Last week: 17 (-3)
The situation with the Bengals is interesting, as the defense has not played well at all, leading to the firing of first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who had recently been on head coach short lists while he was the defensive coordinator of the Lions. Now, former Bengals offensive coordinator and Browns head coach Hue Jackson has joined the Bengals as Special Assistant to the Head Coach, which sounds like Dwight Schrute’s title from The Office. Jackson is apparently going to help Marvin Lewis with the defense, which is probably a good sign considering he’d probably cause issues if getting too involved with an offense after joining a team in middle of the season.
21. Miami Dolphins (5-5) | Last week: 20 (-1)
Winning at Lambeau Field was going to be a tough task, but the Dolphins weren’t able to make it all that close as they enter their Week 11 bye. The time off comes with complete uncertainty about Ryan Tannehill’s shoulder injury, but hopefully he’s able to get back on the field when Miami returns in Week 12. However, it’s difficult to be optimistic considering how it’s been going, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Tannehill doesn’t play again this season. DeVante Parker (shoulder) and Jakeem Grant (Achilles) might also miss some time for a team that’s dealt with a ton of injuries this season. The run defense might be a bigger problem than the injuries on offense, though, so they need to get that figured out during the bye.
22. Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) | Last week: 28 (+6)
Baker Mayfield probably had the best game of his young career in Sunday’s upset win against the Falcons, as he had as many touchdowns (three) as incompletions and spread the ball to nine different receivers. But Nick Chubb was even better, rolling for 176 yards including a franchise-record 92-yard touchdown. Former Brown and current Jaguar Carlos Hyde is a good runner, too, but the Browns clearly made the right decision by finally giving the rookie runner the lead back role a few weeks ago—and that’s not a hindsight take, as it’s been obvious Chubb has exceptional ability. The Browns will look to continue competing under Gregg Williams.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) | Last week: 22 (-1)
Leonard Fournette’s return was a big boost for Jacksonville’s offense, and Blake Bortles had another strong game against a Colts team he typically plays well against, but the defense is the major issue for the Jaguars right now. They still have plenty of talent, but they simply are not playing well—the busts in coverage that allowed a couple of easy touchdowns for Eric Ebron on basic corner routes is something that shouldn’t happen in the Big 12 let alone for a team like the Jaguars. The offense has the potential for big weeks, but the Jags aren’t going to win many games when their defense is playing this poorly.
24. Detroit Lions (3-6) | Last week: 23 (-1)
The Lions have one of the league’s better quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford and a lot of talent on offense and defense, but things just haven’t come together consistently in Matt Patricia’s first season as the team’s head coach. Detroit could still go on a run, but it’s going to take quite the effort over the final seven games of the season—and it’ll start up front with the pass protection. Stafford isn’t getting enough time to deliver the ball down the field to his playmakers, and it’s already tougher on him with no Golden Tate as a security blanket. The Lions have three straight home matchups coming up, but they come against Carolina, Chicago (Thanksgiving), and the Rams.
25. Denver Broncos (3-6) | Last week: 26 (+1)
A playoff run also looks unlikely for the Broncos, but the good news is they’re been playing much better than in Vance Joseph’s first year as head coach last season. Look for the team to get impressive second-round rookie receiver Courtland Sutton going after the bye, and fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton should also return this week after missing time with a knee injury, so we’ll get a good look at their future receiving corps along with the veteran Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos defense should help keep them in games, but this week against Philip Rivers the Chargers is not an easy task.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-7) | Last week: 27 (+1)
With Nathan Peterman struggling (and waived yesterday), former USC quarterback Matt Barkley received an opportunity to start for the Bills, and he took advantage by playing very well while helping lead Sean McDermott’s team to a blowout win over the Jets. Remember, Barkley was once considered a future top-five pick in the NFL draft before he had a subpar final season in college which ended with a shoulder injury. The Bills should be in a good spot with him as their long-term backup, and Josh Allen should be good to go after the team’s Week 11 bye as he comes back from a right elbow injury. I like what first-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is doing with the offense, which has a bright future.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) | Last week: 24 (-3)
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter surprisingly took over offensive play-calling duties, and an offense that’s been putting up some good point totals this season was held to a season-low three points against the Redskins. The good news is the defense played its best game of the season, but things aren’t looking for the Bucs right now. Perhaps they’ll put everything together and go on a run, and it must start this Sunday with a matchup against the Giants.
28. New York Jets (3-7) | Last week: 25 (-3)
That might have been the most disappointing game of the Todd Bowles era for the Jets, and some of the players might have been a bit overconfident against the Bills—it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why they didn’t play well. Now the Jets have their bye week, and we’ll see if rookie quarterback Sam Darnold can get healthy for Week 12 against the Patriots. I think Bowles is a good coach that should get more time to get this thing turned around, but he might need some wins to end the season.
29. New York Giants (2-7) | Last week: 29
Eli Manning received solid pass protection and played well last night against the Niners, which was good to see with his time as the Giants’ starting quarterback soon coming to an end. The run defense did not do a good job of containing Matt Breida and company, and the cornerback group hasn’t had a great season, but the players are still giving effort—which should obviously always be the case but is particularly an absolute necessity with more roster turnover coming this offseason. The Giants will look to make it two straight wins in a nice home matchup against the Buccaneers this Sunday.
30. Arizona Cardinals (2-7) | Last week: 30
After an embarrassing home Thursday night loss to the Broncos nearly a month ago, the Cardinals have been much better on both sides of the ball and have a 1-1 record and two solid performances to show for it. The early touchdown to Tyreek Hill, who ran right down the field for an easy score, wasn’t good, but overall Steve Wilks’ defense played well and limited the Chiefs to their lowest point total of the season. And David Johnson (28 touches, 183 yards, two touchdowns) was the most involved he’s been all year for the Cardinals, which is a recipe for success moving forward.
31. San Francisco 49ers (2-8) | Last week: 31
Nick Mullens again showed great poise and command of the offense in his second NFL start, but the Niners fell just short against the Giants. The defense did a pretty nice job on Saquon Barkley, but I’d like to see more domination (particularly as pass rushers) as a group with a lot of high draft picks. San Francisco now has the bye to give players like Reuben Foster (and Matt Breida, though he hasn’t missed a game while playing through injuries) time to hopefully get back on the field.
32. Oakland Raiders (1-8) | Last week: 32
I thought Oakland’s offense would be extremely explosive in Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline, so another week without touchdowns is an obvious disappointment. However, this team looks a lot different than was expected when Gruden first took the job, and it’s going to be a process. It’s interesting that in an ESPN interview Raiders owner Mark Davis admitted the national anthem controversy during last year’s Sunday night game against the Redskins caused issues with the team. It’s something we’ve long been speculating about after the team’s previously-exceptional pass protection drastically declined, and it’s a big indication that this roster is a huge project that’s going to need major changes moving forward.