The trade deadline has passed as teams gear up for the second half of the season and attempt to go on playoff runs. The top five of this week’s power rankings remain the same, but Week 9 includes a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 4 team in the rankings, along with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers headlining a Sunday night matchup.
1. Los Angeles Rams (8-0) | Last week: 1
They were contained in the first half against Green Bay, but the Rams offense is simply too good to not eventually break through and put up big numbers with Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and company. LA’s defense stepped up against the Packers, too, as their strong first half ensured the offense wasn’t playing from too far behind. Aaron Donald recorded another two sacks—his fifth straight game with at least one sack—and he’s now up to a league-leading ten sacks this season as a dominant force on the interior. And the league’s last undefeated team got even better by adding talented pass rusher Dante Fowler from the Jaguars. Cooper Kupp is expected to return from his knee injury this Sunday, and the Rams could use him in a huge matchup in New Orleans.
2. New England Patriots (6-2) | Last week: 2
It was a peculiar situation when reports emerged that the Patriots were disciplining Josh Gordon for the start of last night’s game against the Bills and then the talented receiver was on the field to start the game. The reports must have been fake news, which is a good sign considering Gordon cannot blow this extraordinary opportunity he has with a great organization. Last night wasn’t a pretty win in Buffalo, but an all-around team effort gets the Patriots to 6-2 ahead of this Sunday night’s highly-anticipated matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) | Last week: 3
Sammy Watkins has been a very good option for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs all season, but it was his turn to break out with a huge 107-yard, two-touchdown performance by catching half of Mahomes’ scores against the Broncos. Watkins has been an underrated receiver since his time with the Bills, and he’s still being underappreciated by many in an offense that also has Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce—but he can take over a game with in-depth route running and elite ability with the ball in his hands. Kansas City simply has too many weapons to cover, which is part of why Mahomes is on pace for 52 touchdown passes through eight games.
4. New Orleans Saints (6-1) | Last week: 4
It wasn’t his best game of the season to this point, but Drew Brees completed 78.3% of his passes and kept the offense moving in a tough matchup at Minnesota. The defense stepped up with timely sacks and turnovers, including a pick-six by P.J. Williams to get separation in the second half. The biggest positive for the Saints was probably the performance of rookie pass rusher Marcus Davenport, who had two sacks and is already utilizing his raw ability to make a difference after the franchise was widely criticized for trading up to get him in the draft. This Sunday’s matchup with the Rams should be a lot of fun.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) | Last week: 5
As the Chargers return from their bye week at 5-2, attention will be on star running back Melvin Gordon’s hamstring injury. Austin Ekeler and rookie Justin Jackson can fill in well for Gordon (particularly Ekeler), but there’s no question the Chargers are a better offense when arguably their best overall player is on the field. Meanwhile, Joey Bosa is also looking to return soon, but he has yet to play at all this season while dealing with his foot injury. At full strength, the Chargers should be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) | Last week: 7 (+1)
Pittsburgh’s domination over Cleveland led to yet another Browns head coach being fired. With the Ravens’ recent struggles and the Bengals looking shaky defensively, the Steelers are currently the clear top team in the AFC North. However, a matchup this Sunday in Baltimore against the Ravens—who already beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this season—is big, though a tiebreaker (which the Ravens would ordinarily get with a season sweep) is unlikely to come into play because the Steelers have a tie this season. I wish this second Steelers-Ravens game was in December like it has been the last three seasons.
7. Washington Redskins (5-2) | Last week: 8 (+1)
Jay Gruden’s squad hasn’t been blowing teams out, but he doesn’t really care about that and will take the victories. Over the last three weeks (three wins), the Redskins have held Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley to just 31 rushing attempts for 91 yards, which is pretty remarkable and indicates how well they are playing up front on defense. Getting tougher on defense was a point of emphasis this season, and they’ve certainly accomplished that through seven games. I love the addition of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from the Packers, as I think he’s an excellent safety with a ton of range to help sure-up the backend of the defense. Clinton-Dix and D.J. Swearinger is quite the safety pairing.
8. Carolina Panthers (5-2) | Last week: 11 (+3)
The Panthers carried their momentum from 21 fourth-quarter points against the Eagles in Week 7 to rolling the league’s No. 1 defense with 36 points at home against the Ravens. Cam Newton is arguably in middle of his best season as a passer, as offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been a great addition, helping the former MVP complete 66.4% of his passes so far this year. And the defense also stepped up in Sunday’s win, playing great pass defense and intercepting Joe Flacco twice—but the run defense must get better. Carolina cannot look past Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs with a Thursday night matchup at Pittsburgh coming up after this week.
9. Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1) | Last week: 9
I have believed the Vikings should have kept Sam Bradford (which they almost certainly would have if not for his injury history), Teddy Bridgewater (which they would have if he didn’t get hurt before), or Case Keenum instead of signing Kirk Cousins to a big contract, but the talk of the big free-agent signing “looking like an $84 million flop” is flat-out ridiculous. Yes, Cousins has one of the best sets of weapons in the league, but he’s been playing well and making accurate throws all season. Minnesota just needs to get back to truly elite defense along with running the ball even more (Latavius Murray is averaging 5.1 yards per carry over the last four games and would be on pace for 1,288 yards on 252 carries at a 16-game pace).
10. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) | Last week: 13 (+3)
That was a needed win for the Eagles entering the bye, as they’re now at .500 with time off to get ready for a stretch run. Carson Wentz and the offense gets more firepower added to the mix, as the team acquired veteran wide receiver Golden Tate from the Lions for a third-round pick. The move will hopefully lead to the team using Nelson Agholor more as an explosive downfield threat, something I think they haven’t done enough.
11. Green Bay Packers (3-3-1) | Last week: 10 (-1)
Obviously because he fumbled the ball, Ty Montgomery turned out to make a bad decision returning a kick from his own end zone with the Packers down by two points with 2:05 remaining against the Rams. However, I’m more concerned about the NFL.com report (if you believe it to be true) with multiple Packers criticizing Montgomery anonymously for his decision. That’s not the way you handle things as a team no matter how you feel about the mistake one of your teammates made. Anyway, Montgomery is now with the Ravens, so the issue could just die down. Mike Pettine’s defense played relatively well against LA, and it’ll be interesting to watch how they play against Tom Brady in Foxboro. I still don’t understand how cornerback Jaire Alexander lasted until the No. 18 pick in the draft, and mostly everyone finally caught up that he’s a sticky man-to-man cornerback that has shutdown potential.
12. Baltimore Ravens (4-4) | Last week: 6 (-6)
It was on the road, but Baltimore’s loss to Carolina was disappointing because it was the type of game you’d expect the Ravens to win, or at least keep close. They didn’t pressure Cam Newton at all in the loss, as the Panthers scored in all four quarters of the 36-point effort. The offense wasn’t much better, though, as it was a sloppy game from both the receivers and quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens must bounce back this Sunday against the Steelers at home, or they’ll be in danger of needing too much help from other teams in the NFC North race. I like the addition of Ty Montgomery to the backfield, as he’s a versatile player that can run between the tackles and get open as a receiver.
13. Atlanta Falcons (3-4) | Last week: 14 (+1)
The Falcons return from their bye week to face a Redskins team that’s been playing exceptionally well defensively, so it’ll be a tough test for Matt Ryan and company on the road. There are not really any “must-win” games this early in the season, but getting to the .500 mark would be huge for the only NFC team that’s made the postseason in each of the last two seasons.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) | Last week: 12 (-2)
While they survived with a narrow three-point win versus the Buccaneers, the Bengals drop a couple of spots in the power rankings because of the concern about their defense. The last two weeks, Cincinnati has given up point totals of 45 (though there was a pick-six) and 34, allowing over 350 pass yards in each of those two games. No matter how well the Joe Mixon-led offense is playing, the Bengals are going to struggle against good teams if the defense doesn’t improve.
15. Houston Texans (5-3) | Last week: 16 (+1)
Big-time deep threat Will Fuller V went down with an ACL tear last Thursday night, and the Texans made the move to acquire Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos ahead of today’s deadline. Thomas certainly doesn’t give Houston the type of speed element that Fuller did, but he’s a veteran receiver that will look to make plays for Deshaun Watson. We’ll see how Watson, Thomas, and the Texans fare when they face Thomas’ old Broncos team at Mile High this Sunday afternoon.
16. Chicago Bears (4-3) | Last week: 15 (-1)
Teams were apparently interested in acquiring outside linebacker Leonard Floyd ahead of the trade deadline, and I think the Bears obviously made the smart move by holding on to the 2016 first-round pick. Floyd has dealt with a hand injury (including wearing a club) this season and has zero sacks, but he’s an excellent athlete that gets after the passer, stops the run, and plays great in coverage. Currently atop the NFC North, Chicago needs to get healthy—Allen Robinsin II was out in Week 7, and Khalil Mack missed his first career game—with three straight division matchups looming after this Sunday’s game at Buffalo.
17. Seattle Seahawks (4-3) | Last week: 19 (+2)
The Seahawks could certainly be up closer to the top ten, but there is a lot of depth in the NFL right now, and the upcoming schedule looks challenging. But I love the way Seattle is playing, as they’re basically getting back to the way they were during their two Super Bowl runs a few years ago, riding a strong running game and defense with Russell Wilson playing outstanding and avoiding mistakes. The Seahawks are the only team in the NFC that hasn’t given up more passing touchdowns than interceptions, and that’s thanks in large part to their young secondary.
18. Tennessee Titans (3-4) | Last week: 17 (-1)
Because the team’s wide receivers have struggled to create separation, I was partly hoping to see the Titans make a move for a wide receiver—but DeVante Parker would have been the only realistic option I’d be excited about, and the Dolphins are probably asking for a high pick because of their injury issues at the position. Now that November has hit, I’m looking for the Titans to start giving Derrick Henry 20+ carries per game, but that might not happen. This Monday night should be a tough battle against the Cowboys as the Titans look to get back to .500.
19. Dallas Cowboys (3-4) | Last week: 20 (+1)
The Cowboys already made their big move ahead of the trade deadline last week, giving up a first-round pick for former No. 4 pick Amari Cooper. We’ll see the Pro Bowl receiver’s first action with the Cowboys this Monday night against the Titans, as Dallas looks to get on the right track to make a run at the NFC East title. Look for a heavy workload for Ezekiel Elliott down the stretch, but the offensive line must do a better job protecting Dak Prescott. Perhaps the change at offensive line coach from Paul Alexander to Marc Colombo will work out, but we’ll see.
20. Detroit Lions (3-4) | Last week: 18 (-2)
Trading away Golden Tate was a bit of a surprise, but a third-round pick is an excellent return, and wide receiver was a luxury for Detroit. The Lions have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league this season, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why that’s been the case. The move to get big defensive tackle Damon Harrison from the Giants last week should give the run defense a major boost when he gets acclimated to Matt Patricia’s system; but both sides of the ball need to play more consistently—we’ve seen the type of games they can put together when they do.
21. Indianapolis Colts (3-5) | Last week: 25 (+4)
Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard made yet another gamechanging play by forcing a Doug Martin fumble late in Indianapolis’ win against the Raiders—the second-round pick has quickly become one of the best linebackers in the NFL. With Andrew Luck (23 passing touchdowns this season) leading the offense, the Colts have a legit shot to make a run despite having an inexperienced roster that would probably rank in the bottom part of the league for this season. It’s been great seeing Luck on the field and healthy—his return probably hasn’t been getting the recognition it deserves.
22. Miami Dolphins (4-4) | Last week: 21 (-1)
Some good play-calling, including a big trick play, led to the Dolphins remaining in the game against Houston for much of last Thursday night, but the Texans eventually separated late. The Dolphins are 1-4 in their last five games, and while Brock Osweiler is playing at least adequately, they probably need Ryan Tannheill—and the running element he adds—at quarterback. Miami is looking to get back over .500 with a season sweep of the Jets this weekend.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) | Last week: 22 (-1)
There aren’t many great things to say for the Jaguars’ first half of the season. The nightclub incident in London the night before their game is simply unacceptable, and it doesn’t reflect well on a team that’s fighting to get back to the playoffs after their breakout 2017. It’s almost as if the Jaguars relaxed a bit after they beat the Patriots back in Week 2, like they got over some hump by beating the NFL’s best franchise. After the bye, Jacksonville needs to get back to a week-by-week approach and just handle each game that’s in front of them. I wouldn’t look too much into the Dante Fowler trade for this season, as the Jags probably just wanted to move on and thought a third-round pick was a good return.
24. New York Jets (3-5) | Last week: 23 (-1)
A 4-4 record at the midway point would have been huge for the Jets, but the team is still fighting hard and battling injuries. Ideally, the supporting cast around rookie quarterback Sam Darnold would have been stronger from the offseason, so I don’t blame the team for not making a move in middle of the season to add another receiver given the likely asking price after the Amari Cooper trade. The good news is things should come easier for Darnold when he gets more talent around him this offseason and beyond.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) | Last week: 24 (-1)
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter is on the hot seat, so he essentially had no choice but to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick over Jameis Winston, who had at least two interceptions in each of his four appearances this season. Fitzpatrick could not play well and then give way to Winston re-assuming the starting role this season, but this could be the last we see of the former No. 1 pick on the field in Tampa Bay. And given his off-field issues and carelessness with the football, I would not be surprised if Winston doesn’t get another chance elsewhere. Anyway, the Bucs are in the playoff hunt, but Fitzpatrick and the offense are probably going to have to carry them.
26. Buffalo Bills (2-6) | Last week: 28 (+2)
I admire the fight Sean McDermott’s squad showed last night against the Patriots, as it was a close game despite what the score indicates. The Buffalo crowd was basically like a college atmosphere, and hopefully the franchise will start being in more primetime games as they get better in the coming years. The playoffs look like a long shot, but the Bills will continue to battle every week.
27. Oakland Raiders (1-6) | Last week: 26 (-1)
Jon Gruden’s offense got back on track (in the first game without Amari Cooper) after two straight subpar outings, and Derek Carr completed 75% of his passes with four total touchdowns in a tough loss to the Colts. The loss to drop Oakland to 1-6 obviously isn’t good, but there were positives, particularly on offense. Again, I’m high on the future of the Raiders with Gruden; so I don’t look forward to all the criticism he’ll be receiving from the media this Thursday night when his team takes on the Niners.
28. Cleveland Browns (2-5-1) | Last week: 27 (-1)
With all due respect to Hue Jackson, his firing was probably overdue after he went 1-31 with a talented roster the last two seasons, but Browns owner Jimmy Haslam wanted to give the coach he hired more time to get things turned around. Getting rid of offensive coordinator Todd Haley too was a bigger surprise than Jackson getting fired, but it’s clear Haslam wants his entire organization on the same page. Now it’s up to the Browns to get this coaching hire right, and there’ll probably be a lot of coaches interested with Baker Mayfield being a well-liked quarterback by many. I am intrigued by Gregg Williams getting eight games at the helm, and I expect his defense to come out fired up as they look to limit Kansas City’s offense on Sunday.
29. Denver Broncos (3-5) | Last week: 29
With Demaryius Thomas’ departure via a trade to the Texans, Broncos rookie receiver Courtland Sutton—and fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton when he gets healthy—will have a big role in the second half of the season. It’s going to be kind of awkward with Thomas facing his former teammates this weekend, but the Broncos will look to shut him and Houston’s offense down to avoid falling to 3-6.
30. New York Giants (1-7) | Last week: 30
They are obviously not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but it’s very hard to imagine the Giants coming close to making a run after their loss to the Redskins. There was some thought that the Giants would deal more players ahead of the deadline, but they kept the roster as is. Now the attention turns to how much time Eli Manning has under-center for the franchise.
31. Arizona Cardinals (2-6) | Last week: 32 (+1)
The Cardinals have two wins this season, both against the Niners, so that’s enough to get them out of the bottom of the power rankings. Josh Rosen showed poise down the stretch in the comeback win, and it could be a momentum-builder entering the bye week. I’d still like to see the offense get more creative with their use of David Johnson, and the bye might help with that, but they at least made Larry Fitzgerald much more of a focal point in Byron Leftwich’s first game as the offensive coordinator.
32. San Francisco 49ers (1-7) | Last week: 31 (-1)
I think Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch should be able to turn this franchise around, and they’re without their franchise quarterback, but as stated last week, clearly the previous two coaches were not the issue in San Francisco. The Niners will look to play well and finish with a win this Thursday night in a Bay Area battle against the Raiders.