The NFL once again gave power rankers plenty to think about after a hectic Week 9.
Impressive wins by the Oakland Raiders and backup-reliant Kansas City Chiefs made it three top-10 teams for the AFC West. The Denver Broncos, though, will have to show some improvement if they expect to remain there.
Other rises include the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins – teams who many had left for dead a month ago.
Not every team was so fortunate. The Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, three teams who’ve regularly been featured near the top of these rankings, slid after demoralizing defeats.
As always, plenty of movement in this week’s edition of Today’s Pigskin power rankings. Read on to see who rose, who fell and where your own team ranks.
And, remember, these rankings are intended to inspire discussion, so, whether you agree or disagree, let us hear it in the comments below.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-9) Last Week: 32
*Insert short paragraph in which your author tries to express that the Browns aren’t very good here*
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-7) Last Week: 31
Who’d have guessed that the 49ers weren’t built to win in a shootout? Or to win, for that matter. San Francisco got gashed on the ground all game long by a normally pass-heavy Saints’ offense. Of course, that continued a year-long trend. The 49ers surrendered their seventh consecutive 100-yard game to a back on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, Colin Kaepernick had a strong statistical day (398 yards, two touchdowns), which might be enough to convince some hapless fool to give him a starting job next season.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) Last Week: 30
A win over Kansas City probably doesn’t turn the Jaguars’ season around, but it could’ve been a nice little footnote on their seemingly endless search for relevancy. The Jaguars had an excellent chance at the win too. They had a second-and-one in Chiefs territory near game’s end. Down just five points, a touchdown would’ve all but assured their victory. The next three plays? Incomplete, loss of two, incomplete. A sadly predictable result for this team.
29. Chicago Bears (2-6) Last Week: 29
Don’t look now, but the Bears are suddenly just three games back in the race for the NFC North. Of course, the fact that a team can’t lose during its bye definitely helped Chicago keep pace. Of course, there are some things to like about these Bears. For one, Jordan Howard has quietly emerged as perhaps the league’s second-best rookie back. First-rounder Leonard Floyd has also made strides as the year’s gone along. Those two, along with fellow youngsters like Cameron Meredith and Adrian Amos, provide a good base for Chicago’s future.
28. New York Jets (3-6) Last Week: 28
Jets fans were dealt a gut-punch on Sunday. After taking a late-game lead against the Dolphins, New York hoped its defense would stand up with Miami pinned at its own 19. That was the case, at least, until a penalty on the kickoff forced a re-kick. Miami’s Kenyan Drake took full advantage of the opportunity, trotting through a crowd of green jerseys for a game-icing 96-yard score. As a result, the Jets have now lost as many games as last season with seven left to play.
27. Los Angeles Rams (3-5) Last Week: 27
Jeff Fisher continues to frustrate the masses by riding with Case Keenum over Jared Goff. Keenum’s been at the helm of two miserable, 10-point outings for the Rams’ offense in as many games. In turn, Los Angeles has squandered two stellar defensive efforts in which it allowed 17 and 13 points. Can Jared Goff provide a spark to this stagnant offense? It’s doubtful, but given that Los Angeles is trending towards mediocrity anyway it’s at least worth looking into.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) Last Week: 24
Peyton Barber’s story warms the heart. The rookie eschewed two years of collegiate eligibility to support his homeless mother. With just one strong collegiate season it’s not too surprising that he went undrafted — small sample sizes and all. That, of course, made his landing on Tampa Bay’s roster a story all could feel good about. What the Buccaneers don’t feel as good about, though, is that they’ve been forced to start him. Tampa Bay’s seen four backs go down this year and until it can get one (preferably Doug Martin) back, its run game is tethered to the rookie Barber.
25. Carolina Panthers (3-5) Last Week: 25
Winning ugly certainly beats what the Panthers did earlier this year, but it doesn’t garner them much in the way of style points. The Panthers scored 31 points a game last season and returned almost all of their offense this year. And yet, they’ve scored 20 or less in half of their games. It’s tough to downgrade them much because, hey, they got the win. But they’ll need to find some offensive consistency if they’re to rally into the postseason.
24. Tennessee Titans (4-5) Last Week: 18
The Titans take a big tumble after dropping one of the more winnable games left on their schedule. Granted, the Chargers are no slouch, but getting run over by them doesn’t bode well for Tennessee’s playoff hopes. Not with Green Bay, Denver, Kansas City and three divisional games left on the schedule.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1) Last Week: 19
Is it fair to drop the Bengals this far on their off week? Perhaps not, but this week provided an instance in which several teams ranked below them were more impressive than, frankly, Cincinnati’s been all year. The good new? The Bengals are suddenly just half a game back in a division that’s competing with the AFC South for the league’s worst at the midway point.
22. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) Last Week: 26
We’ve maintained all year that the Colts go as Andrew Luck does. That wasn’t the case this weekend, however. Luck had a pretty lousy start and, yet, Indianapolis ran away with a road win over Green Bay. Credit that to special teams play and a defense that was surprisingly stout for the first 50 or so minutes. And, though it wasn’t his best outing, Luck did enough to clinch the win for Indy in the four-minute drill.
21. Baltimore Ravens (4-4) Last Week: 23
The Ravens weren’t exactly great on Sunday. Their offense, outside of one big play, couldn’t get much going. Their defense smothered the run, but a woozy Ben Roethlisberger made their work defending the pass infinitely easier. But they did enough to earn a convincing victory and the top spot in a tumultuous division. After a four-game slide, they couldn’t ask for much more than that.
20. Buffalo Bills (4-5) Last Week: 16
It’s tough to knock the Bills too much. They did, after all, give the Seahawks a hell of a fight on their home field. And one can’t help but to wonder how some situations might’ve played out were it not for that horrifically botched sequence near the end of the first half. Regardless, right now the Bills are what their record says they are – a streaky team that’ll hover around .500 all year long.
19. San Diego Chargers (4-5) Last Week: 22
The Chargers have seemingly found their recipe for success and it involves a heck of a lot of Melvin Gordon. The one-time goat pulverized the Titans for 250 yards from scrimmage and posted his third 100-yard rushing day of the year (zero in 2015). Unfortunately, San Diego plays in the NFL’s best division, which, combined with its slow start, should keep it from reaching the postseason.
18. New Orleans Saints (4-4) Last Week: 21
Drew Brees, at 37, is on pace to complete 70 percent of his passes for 5,378 yards, 42 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. The yards and touchdowns would be his best since 2011 while the interceptions would be his fewest ever in a 16-game season. Meanwhile, New Orleans’ defense has allowed a respectable 23 points per game over its last three. If that keeps up, a white-hot Brees should be more than enough to get the Saints into the playoff picture.
17. Miami Dolphins (4-4) Last Week: 20
It wasn’t pretty. Matchups between the other teams in the AFC East rarely are, but, in the end, the Dolphins did enough to extend their win streak to three games. Jay Ajayi continued to prove he’s the real deal with a 100-yard day against a usually stout Jets’ run defense. The Dolphins still have some ground to make up, but the fact that they won’t play a team with a winning record again until Week 17 bodes well for them.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) Last Week: 11
Each of Philadelphia’s four losses has come by seven points or less. Against the Redskins and Cowboys, one can point to critical late-game errors by the Eagles as the deciding factor. In their loss to the Giants, two coaching mistakes committed early on stand out. The Eagles went for two fourth downs in New York territory in the first half and neither play even had a shot. The Eagles left six points on the board and, in what was ultimately a five-point game, that looms large.
15. Washington Redskins (4-3-1) Last Week: 15
The Redskins went into the bye with a sour taste in their mouths. After rattling off four straight wins, Washington fell to Detroit and then was forced to settle for a tie in London. Now awaiting the Redskins is a daunting five game stretch in which they’ll see the Vikings, Packers, Cowboys, Cardinals and Eagles. Here’s hoping they took full advantage of the break.
14. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) Last Week: 13
The Cardinals were one of the league’s more frustrating teams in the season’s first half. They played up to their potential three times, were frustratingly close against top-tier teams in Seattle and New England and looked flat and underprepared against three teams most expected them to dominate. We know the Cardinals have the talent to go on a late-season run, but, after a first half that fell well short of expectation, do they have the resolve?
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) Last Week: 9
The Steelers’ Jekyll and Hyde routine is one of the NFL’s greatest mysteries. In four wins, they’ve looked like contenders. In four losses, they’ve looked flat and woefully unprepared. The latter was the case in Sunday’s crucial game against the Ravens. One can point to Ben Roethlisberger’s rustiness as the primary reason, but uninspired play calling, lackluster O-Line play, penalties and special teams gaffes aplenty all did their part as well.
12. Green Bay Packers (4-4) Last Week: 10
Most expected the matchup between the Packers and the Colts to go one of two ways - either a Green Bay romp or a quarterback-friendly shootout. Instead, the Colts flipped the script by rolling over the Packers in Lambeau. Poor kickoff coverage and defensive play had its hands in the loss, but an Aaron Rodgers-led offense putting up 13 meaningful points against an exploitable Colts defense, at home no less, is inexcusable. Yeah, it might be time to P-A-N-I-C.
11. Houston Texans (5-3) Last Week: 12
Houston’s slight bump is based largely on the fact that it didn’t get to play this past Sunday. Ergo, the Texans didn’t get the chance to disappoint. Did the Texans use the bye to cure their offensive woes? Time will tell. Couldn’t ask for a much better opponent than the Jaguars to put any concerns to bed.
10. Minnesota Vikings (5-3) Last Week: 8
Cheer up Vikings fans; sometimes it’s just not your day. Like when the Lions get the ball back with under 30 seconds left and manage to kick a tying 58-yard field goal and force overtime. Then, in the extra quarter, Golden Tate has a touchdown catch (and run) for the ages to break your back. Yeah, it’s probably just not your day. On the bright side, can’t ask for much more than 5-3 without Bridgewater and Peterson.
9. Detroit Lions (5-4) Last Week: 17
A few weeks ago the Lions were being discussed as the league’s best-worst team. Viewed as a group that could compete most weeks, but come up short more often than not. Don’t look now, but Detroit’s won four of five and suddenly controls its own destiny in the NFC North. We’ll see how the next few weeks play out, but Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Vikings just got a whole lot more interesting.
8. New York Giants (5-3) Last Week: 14
Admittedly, your author isn’t brimming with confidence about ranking the Giants so highly. It’s more a matter of momentum and the teams who’ve been rounding out this top 10 have next to none. The G-Men have a subpar run game and a quarterback that could self-destruct at a moment’s notice. But, they’ve got an ultra-talented defense that’s beginning to gel and an elite receiver who’s got his mojo back. When the rest of the parts are clicking, that’s enough for the Giants to compete on a weekly basis.
7. Denver Broncos (6-3) Last Week: 3
Going as far as to say that Denver’s vaunted defense was exposed during its Sunday night loss to the Raiders seems a bit far-fetched. The group, after all, has done enough to earn its lofty reputation over the past few seasons. That said, Denver’s defense certainly hasn’t been quite so stout through this half-season, especially against the run. The Broncos rank 29th against opposing run games after ranking third a year ago. With an offense that struggles to reach 20 many weeks, that could spell trouble for the Broncos’ hopes of a Super Bowl repeat.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) Last Week: 6
Dee Ford has been white hot over the last few weeks, racking up 7.5 sacks in his past four. Ford, a 2014 fourth-rounder, managed just 5.5 sacks in his first two seasons. His meteoric rise has coincided with that of a Chiefs’ D that’s allowed 14 points or less in three of their last four. With Justin Houston set to return soon, these two are gonna keep AFC West tackles up at night.
5. Seattle Seahawks (5-3-1) Last Week: 7
There are just a handful of defenses you can feel confident in when they’re faced with a critical, late-game, goal-to-go situation. The Seahawks are most certainly on the short list. Now, their defense certainly wasn’t perfect all game long, but they stood up emphatically when it counted most. Add in an offense that mostly had their way with a decent Bills’ defense and it appears that Seattle is once again poised to go on a late-season run. Now if only it could get its own run game going.
4. Oakland Raiders (7-2) Last Week: 5
Your author was admittedly hesitant to insert the Raiders into the top five of these rankings last week. Their schedule hadn’t been particularly challenging and their recent history made them tough to buy as a contender. So what a pleasant surprise it was when Oakland laid down a thorough beating on the rival Broncos. The Raiders gashed Denver for 218 rushing yards and their own defense flustered Trevor Siemian all game long. Exclude one garbage time score (though it was an impressive one), and this game was a surprising rout.
3. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) Last Week: 4
Thursday night football can be a challenging platform for any team. The short week and the atrocious uniforms can cause slip-ups from even the best teams. But the Falcons didn’t fall victim to Thursday’s spell — not even close. Atlanta made quick work of its division rival Buccaneers, rattling off 27 straight points after falling behind 14-13. After yet another stellar outing, Matt Ryan is on pace for 5,300 yards, 40 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
2. Dallas Cowboys (7-1) Last Week: 2
Yes, the Browns are the Browns, but a 25-point decimation of any pro team is impressive nonetheless. Especially given how close Cleveland has played many of its games this year. Against Cleveland, Zeke Elliott continued to do Zeke Elliott things and Dak Prescott was a few completions away from a perfect passer rating. What’s curious is the lack of involvement from one Dez Bryant (one catch, 19 yards). Bryant is saying all the right things, but one has to wonder if the mercurial wide out is OK with being a decoy.
1. New England Patriots (7-1) Last Week: 1
No change for the Patriots on their off week and, frankly, why would there be? With its second-half schedule, it’s hard to see New England coming out of this year at anything worse than 13-3. That should be plenty good enough to earn the Pats the top seed in a cluttered AFC. It’s worth noting, though, that one of New England’s potential losses is next on deck. The Patriots host the Seahawks next Sunday in a prime time, Super Bowl 49 rematch that should serve as a good litmus test for both sides.