NFL NFL power rankings: Rams rise, Packers spoil Cardinals undefeated season
It is once again time for power rankings, a unique exercise that no other sports website has thought of. One fun byproduct of The MMQB’s rotation system (besides getting hate mail from readers because of rankings my colleagues wrote!) is that I get to just swoop in every six weeks or so.
The last time I was in this space, following Week 2, I was writing about the difficulty of looking at small sample sizes and trying to determine what was for real. Now it almost feels like we have too much information. Every team has an outlier game or two, in which it blew out some team that would otherwise be ahead in the rankings or laid an egg nobody expected. It can be distracting to look at a team’s overall body of work, but remember that one game when that one weird thing happened. Trying to rank certain combinations of teams this year is a fool’s errand with no logic. It makes me want to scribble, “The transitive property has no use to me” on a football and throw it off a moving cargo ship.
But we move on and try anyway, in hopes that anyone truly unhappy with where I’ve put their team will tweet at my coworkers by mistake.
1. Los Angeles Rams (7–1)
Last week: Win at Houston, 38–22
Next week: vs. Tennessee
I think the Rams are the best team in the NFL right now. How’s that for a compelling reason to rank them No. 1? They haven’t beaten a good team since the Buccaneers in Week 3, so they haven’t truly redeemed themselves for that loss to the Cardinals. But you have to play the schedule they give you, and the Rams have taken care of business against bad teams lately. They’re loaded with star power on both sides of the ball, and they’ve added Von Miller for the short term.
2. Green Bay Packers (7–1)
Last week: Win at Arizona, 24–21 (Thursday)
Next week: at Kansas City
The Packers told everyone who would listen that their 38–3 loss to the Saints in Week 1 was an anomaly, and I think, seven straight wins later, they were right. Soon, we’ll be deep enough into the season that we won’t feel obligated to bring it up in every week’s power rankings. Apparently not this week, but soon! The Packers are great.
3. Buffalo Bills (5–2)
Last week: Win vs. Miami, 26–11
Next week: at Jacksonville
If you made me bet on one team to reach the Super Bowl, I’d pick the Bills. I think they’re clearly the AFC’s best team right now, whereas the NFC is just about impossible to sort. Now that the Cardinals have lost, and Kyler Murray is banged up, prepare for the Josh Allen MVP talk to explode.
4. Arizona Cardinals (7–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Green Bay, 24–21 (Thursday)
Next week: at San Francisco
I try very hard not to be that guy who just ranks teams based on their records and overreacts to the tiny plays that swing entire games. And yet, it’s hard not to admit that the Cardinals would probably be higher than No. 4 if not for a last-second fade route that went very poorly for both the quarterback and the receiver. What a silly sport we all love! Anyway, the Cardinals will be fine. The race to win the NFC West is crucial for playoff positioning, and they do still have the inside track. For now.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6–2)
Last week: Loss at New Orleans, 36–27
Next week: Bye
As a general rule of thumb, let’s not make too much of road losses to division rivals. The Saints clearly have the Bucs’ number in some ways, playoff loss notwithstanding. That game doesn’t color my thoughts on this team too much. Seeing Rob Gronkowski exit with an injury after just a handful of plays was a bit concerning though. Tom Brady is always much better with him on the field, no matter what team they play for. That sounds very obvious, but I think people forget to mention it when they talk about Brady’s 2019 season in New England.
6. Dallas Cowboys (6–1)
Last week: Win at Minnesota, 20–16
Next week: vs. Denver
Make it five NFC teams in the top six! The Cowboys played it safe, holding Dak Prescott out of a primetime game and then survived without him. They’re a very good team in a very bad division, which means they have plenty of time to get right for the playoffs.
7. Baltimore Ravens (5–2)
Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Minnesota
The last time we saw the Ravens, they were getting waxed by the Bengals. But I still have a lot of faith in this team for the long-term, both the players and the coaching staff. It may not be perfect, it may not be pretty, but they’ve been around the block. I trust them more than some of the upstart teams trying to carve out space in the AFC’s upper tier for the first time.
8. Tennessee Titans (6–2)
Last week: Win at Indianapolis, 34–31 (OT)
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams
I probably would have had the Titans higher if not for Derrick Henry’s injury. I’m preemptively punishing them here, which is both a little unfair, and maybe a cop out to help me settle a very tightly-packed top of the board.
9. Las Vegas Raiders (5–2)
Last week: Bye
Next week: at New York Giants
The Raiders have settled in after the initial turbulence of Jon Gruden’s ousting, winning two straight under Rich Bisaccia leading into their bye. I never know quite what to do with them. This feels higher than I would have liked, but maybe I’m overcorrecting for having them too low earlier in the season? It’s hard to know how much I should reveal about my thought process. Anyway, I went to the Raiders’ home game in Week 7 and had a smoked brisket burrito that was excellent.
10. New Orleans Saints (5–2)
Last week: Win vs. Tampa Bay, 36–27
Next week: vs. Atlanta
That was such a great win for the Saints on Sunday, so it’s really a bummer to pair it with the news that Jameis Winston’s season is over. All that said, it’s sort of intriguing to think we could get another half a season of the Taysom Hill experience. But I say that as a person who enjoys watching fun story lines develop, not as a Saints fan hoping to win the Super Bowl. Anyway, a source told Albert Breer the Saints may stick with Trevor Siemian and just mix Hill the way they have in the past? That could be fun too. What I’m saying is: The Saints have just been predictably good for long enough that I’m interested to see them scrap their way toward the playoffs.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (4–3)
Last week: Loss vs. New England, 27–24
Next week: at Philadelphia
These power rankings are anti-small sample size overreaction, but they are pro recency bias—and the Chargers have lost some luster the last two weeks. I was willing to somewhat excuse the blowout loss to the Ravens, at least a little bit, like I can the Packers’ loss to the Saints or the Rams’ big loss to the Cardinals. But to follow that up with a loss to the Patriots coming out of the bye was dispiriting. It’s hard not to feel like the Chargers have let a golden opportunity slip away, failing to build a cushion as the Chiefs got off to a rocky start.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (4–4)
Last week: Win vs. New York Giants, 20–17 (Monday)
Next week: vs. Green Bay
Speaking of the Chiefs, I am fully aware of the issues they have had in their 4–4 start. And I know they don’t look like they have the last three years when they made things look laughably easy at times. But I still trust them to figure things out over the course of the long season, and they should still scare potential opponents down the line. I thought about having them lower than 12th, but look at the teams directly below them: the Bengals, Steelers, Browns and Patriots. I’d still pick them to beat any of those teams on a random Sunday on a neutral field (which every power ranker knows is the ultimate test).
13. Cincinnati Bengals (5–3)
Last week: Loss at New York Jets, 34–31
Next week: vs. Cleveland
The Bengals have climbed up from the very bottom of the football world, and are in Year 2 with a young QB they drafted with the first pick. So they are allowed growing pains—like a loss to the Jets—because the line to success is usually not linear. I’m sure fans are not happy about what happened, but it happens. If the Bengals win 11 games and go to the playoffs, with some thrilling wins along the way, they should be perfectly happy with that outcome. They should not recalibrate expectations and think they’re a Super Bowl contender just because they held the No. 1 seed after Week 7. I think they’ll learn from this, right the ship and keep the fun season moving along. That still sounds pretty good!
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (4–3)
Last week: Win at Cleveland, 15–10
Next week: vs. Chicago (Monday)
Don’t look now, but the Steelers have suddenly won three straight. Mike Tomlin has famously never finished a season below .500, a fact you no doubt already knew because you are a person who reads blurbs about the Steelers and anyone who has ever read a blurb about the Steelers has encountered this factoid. One of my favorite parlor games to play throughout the season is to guess which game will be flexed to Sunday Night Football in the final week of the regular season (I have strange hobbies), and I am circling Steelers at Ravens. Big Ben’s final chapter of that storied rivalry, with a playoff spot on the line. You can taste the drama. Of course the Steelers will stay in the race until then.
15. Cleveland Browns (4–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Pittsburgh, 15–10
Next week: at Cincinnati
It’s admirable that Baker Mayfield is playing through an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that is clearly affecting him. I’ve been thinking about his contract situation, and the risk that guys like he and Lamar Jackson take by putting their bodies in harm’s way on the field without having locked up their second contracts yet. On one hand, the injury is proof that guys should get what they can as soon as they are able. On the other, his willingness to play through it even without that contract is one of the reasons you want a guy like him leading your team. But Dak Prescott showed us that an injury, even one much harder to come back from, won’t prevent a good enough QB from getting paid. Anyway, the team has lost his last three starts, and everyone knows how high the stakes are for him personally this year.
16. New England Patriots (4–4)
Last week: Win at Los Angeles Chargers, 27–24
Next week: at Carolina
After kicking the snot out of the Jets and flying across the country to handle the Chargers, the Patriots appear to have turned things around. Sunday was their first win of the year against a team that isn’t the Jets or Texans, so it must have felt good. They still have a lot of experienced players who’ve won a lot of games, even without you-know-who around. I can’t imagine any of their opponents take them lightly.
17. Minnesota Vikings (3–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Dallas, 20–16
Next week: at Baltimore
With the Vikings, you can’t get bogged down by the week-to-week results. They’re just going to swing between good games and bad, somehow finding their way back to No. 17. Of course they lost to Cooper Rush on a Sunday night. Now watch them somehow take two out of three against the Ravens, Chargers and Packers. (O.K. maybe one out of three.)
18. Carolina Panthers (4–4)
Last week: Win at Atlanta, 19–13
Next week: vs. New England
The Panthers fancied themselves buyers, upgrading the roster in-season after a 3–0 start, so it was nice to see Stephon Gilmore make the game-clinching interception in his first game on Sunday. Matt Rhule clearly has this franchise headed in the right direction, but Carolina just feels like one of several teams in the league that’s treading water until it finds its quarterback of the future. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much how I felt about this team at the midpoint or final week last season.
19. San Francisco 49ers (3–4)
Last week: Win at Chicago, 33–22
Next week: vs. Arizona
The 49ers are underachieving most people’s expectations, but I still see them lurking in the NFC playoff picture. I tweeted this last night so that I could embed it in the power rankings—because everyone knows what a flex it is to embed your own tweets in your own posts—and I had the 49ers in mind.
I could see them getting better as they get healthier. Of course, this is what we said about them last year and they just kept getting more injured.
20. Denver Broncos (4–4)
Last week: Win vs. Washington, 17–10
Next week: at Dallas
I originally had the Broncos up a couple of spots from here after stopping the losing streak against Washington. But the Von Miller trade gave me pause. It’s buyers and sellers season, and I’ve chosen to punish the sellers.
21. Seattle Seahawks (3–5)
Last week: Win vs. Jacksonville, 31–7
Next week: Bye
Russell Wilson is either auditioning for a new reality show and social media experience in which he shares pictures of medical equipment, or he is nearing a return to the field. I am guessing it’s the latter. The team he returns to is not cooked (see: NFC standings above), but it sure would have helped if one of those three-point games had gone the other way. The Seahawks’ beleaguered defense actually hasn’t allowed more than 26 points since Week 3. But now they face the Packers and the Cardinals.
22. Indianapolis Colts (3–5)
Last week: Loss vs. Tennessee, 34–31 (OT)
Next week: vs. New York Jets (Thursday)
If you are not invested in the success of the Colts, watching their games through the lens of how many snaps Carson Wentz takes can make for a fun side experience. You may think, “Ooh, they’re going for it on fourth-and-goal,” and I’m thinking, “Ah, another snap for Wentz.” You think, “Wow that’s the worst interception I’ve seen in years,” and I think, “Oh, but he got a chance to go on another touchdown drive and then get more snaps in overtime.” Anyway, the team is still talented enough that it should keep fighting instead of playing any snap count shenanigans. But, they are perhaps two losses and/or one moderately sprained appendage away from Shenanigans Hour.
23. Chicago Bears (3–5)
Last week: Loss vs. San Francisco, 33–22
Next week: at Pittsburgh (Monday)
Taking a quick peek at the Bears’ schedule, did you realize that in their next six games we’re going to see them in prime time three times, plus a fourth game on Thanksgiving afternoon? That’s a lot of Bears football on TV. It’ll be worth it if we see more magic like that fourth-and-1 touchdown scramble from Justin Fields. But something tells me we will be pulling our collective hair out by the fourth time we’re gathering as a country to watch this team.
24. Atlanta Falcons (3–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Carolina, 19–13
Next week: vs. New Orleans
The Falcons turned things around after I’d completely written them off two weeks into the season, but they lost a winnable game Sunday against a team that did not trust its quarterback. Now they have back-to-back road games against NFC playoff contenders, which does present an opportunity, but the fact that I have them at No. 24 should tell you what I think will happen.
25. New York Jets (2–5)
Last week: Win vs. Cincinnati, 34–31
Next week: at Indianapolis (Thursday)
That was a genuinely great win for the Jets on Sunday. I think a lot of people are pulling for Robert Saleh in New York, but are still realistic about this roster, so to have wins over the Titans and Bengals (one with Mike White!) will be a nice keepsake no matter what the final record ends up being. Some teams roll over in the middle of a lost season, but it would not be surprising at all if the Jets have more wins in the second half of the season than the first.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (3–5)
Last week: Win at Detroit, 44–6
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Time for a quick tour of the NFC East, where the Eagles are second in the standings and second in these power rankings, despite coming in at No. 26. The Eagles have a positive point differential on the season—better than the Browns, Steelers, Chargers and Chiefs—thanks to a pair of blowouts in Weeks 1 and Week 8. That was a well-timed win, because Nick Sirianni’s agriculture lesson was meme fodder anyway, but it would have been much more mean-spirited if the team had lost. (This is true of most things in sports though—fun when you win and mocked when you lose.)
Last week: Loss at Denver, 17–10
Next week: Bye
Taylor Heinicke will keep his grasp on the starting job for a little longer, as Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t ready to return to the field. But the defending NFC East champs have now lost four straight games and haven’t scored more than 13 points since Oct. 10. I suppose I could have said Week 5, but Oct. 10 feels longer ago and I was going for some dramatic effect. If Washington thinks it has any chance to compete, I imagine they’ll give Fitzmagic another go when he’s ready.
28. New York Giants (2–6)
Last week: Loss at Kansas City, 20–17 (Monday)
Next week: vs. Las Vegas
The Giants hung tough at Arrowhead on Monday night, but they are banged up, and I just don’t trust them to show up like that every week. They are now tumbling toward an ugly 2–8 start with the Raiders on a short week and then the Bucs. Then the conversation will turn to draft prospects and job security.
29. Miami Dolphins (1–7)
Last week: Loss at Buffalo, 26–11
Next week: vs. Houston
We knew coming into the season that the Dolphins most important thing this year was simply Tua Tagovailoa’s development. But, it would be hard to overstate just what a mess this year has been. However you felt about Tua, it would have been hard to foresee, after last year’s 10 wins with he and Ryan Fitzpatrick shuttling in and out of the lineup, that the team could sink to 1–7. Dolphins fans just have to hope a lot of the good done early under Chris Grier and Brian Flores hasn’t been undone. I’m not burying them yet, they have half a season left, but I’m not encouraged.
30. Detroit Lions (0–8)
Last week: Loss vs. Philadelphia, 44–6
Next week: Bye
My Lions takes are probably not particularly original. Dan Campbell began as a curiosity, and he has quickly won me over with his sincerity and enthusiasm. The NFL’s last winless team is at the start of a deep rebuild, but is not the worst team in the league. I’d be happy to see them get at least one win this year, and they’ll probably get it in that three-game stretch against the Bears, Vikings and Broncos in Weeks 12 to 14.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1–6)
Last week: Loss at Seattle, 31–7
Next week: vs. Buffalo
I expected the Jaguars to be bad this season, but I think I may have somehow underestimated how much Urban Meyer schadenfreude would accompany their sputtering start. But people are quite happy to see this season going off the rails. I didn’t think there was any way he’d be a one-and-done coach, but this has been a pretty embarrassing foray into the NFL.
32. Houston Texans (1–7)
Last week: Loss vs. Los Angeles Rams, 38–22
Next week: at Miami
The Texans are the worst team in football, and they deserve this ranking after a three-week span that saw them lose 31–3 and 31–5, and then fall behind 38–0 before garbage time. I can’t rank them above the Lions just because they had the fortune of playing the Jags seven weeks ago.
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