It’s a different type of NFL campaign.
No more parity party. No wild-card team streaking its way to a Super Bowl — not this season. Nope, this year has charmed us with a group of teams that can be considered the league’s elite. That includes the Saints, Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Chargers and Panthers. Maybe the Steelers. Yet, it’s those front four that might become the final four in late January.
The rankings below try to separate those top-shelf Scotches, although you could make an argument for any of the top four being perched at No. 1. Here are my quick-and-dirty thoughts:
1) New Orleans Saints: Have won seven straight, won on the road, are incredibly balanced.
2) New England Patriots: Already beat the Chiefs, top QB in the game, still the best-coached.
3) Kansas City Chiefs: Prolific offense hasn’t been stopped yet. Defense still too questionable.
4) Los Angeles Rams: Most talented top to bottom, but probably should have lost two in a row.
Sean McVay’s defense has struggled of late, making the Son of Bum feel more bummed out than anything. Meanwhile, some readers will be bummed out, some happy, with how the top shakes out:
I hope when @HarrisonNFL is doing his power rankings he takes in account kc only lost by 3 when they played against the goat.
â jon (recently back to earth) (@Jeighty7)
November 5, 2018
â Kai Pedersen (@kpedersen77)
November 5, 2018
Then there’s this …
So maybe it wasnât Dezâ fault?
â Patrick Claybon (@PatrickClaybon)
November 6, 2018
For full thoughts on the elites — and everyone else — see below. The teams right outside of the playoff bubble moved plenty, as well, despite such a heavy bye week. The NFC East is still a mess. Your musings on that division, or any other, are welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for “The Power Rankings Show.” Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts in a tweet to @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.
Beat the top-ranked team, take the top spot — that’s how it works for the
Saints this week. While the
Chiefs have been more consistent over the course of this season, your favorite Power Rankings have been consistently conservative with New Orleans despite the
Saints‘ unquestionable surge — they didn’t even move up a single spot on this board after
a Week 8 road win over another surging outfit in Minnesota. So, yes, this leap was due. On Sunday, New Orleans went old school, back to the 2014 days when
Drew Brees seemingly had to put up 45 points for this team to even contemplate winning.
That long ball to Michael Thomas late in the fourth quarter was the definition of clutch — a true
Hall of Fame play. Oh, we forgot to note
Saints‘ defense. Well, that unit
did force two big stops late. That was enough.
Before you pick at this ranking, realize that the
Patriots won —
by multiple scores, no less — without
Sony Michel and
Tom Brady picked at the Pack’s defense most of the night, being quite familiar with the scheme’s czar, Mike Pettine. Then Brady
hit the Joshpot with that odd-looking intermediate throw to Mr. Gordon — a ball that
Julian Edelman initially elevated for … before bringing his hands down in a move that made him look like a red, white and blue PEZ dispenser. Michel’s absence meant more was required of
James White, who was obviously gassed after
that trick-play beaut of a screen. What a well-planned, well-timed, well-better-than-anything-the-Packers-showed play call from New England. Edelman delivered calmly and coolly.
The last of the undefeated fell. Was it bound to happen? Sure. Was the loss concerning? Yes. The
Rams‘ defense has now given up 27-plus points in four of their last six games, including 45 on Sunday. And don’t forget that they were also
bailed out by the eccentric ways of
Ty Montgomery last week. The absence of injured cornerback
Aqib Talib affects Wade Phillips’ group more than any L.A. fan might want to admit (while they are busy acquiring their pumpkin-spice lattes at one of the 18,157 Starbucks in the Los Angeles area, not counting suburbs). You knew it was going bad Sunday when Troy Aikman mentioned on the Fox broadcast that holding the
Saints to a field goal midway through the fourth quarter was a win for the defense. Perhaps so — but then
Jared Goff and the offense went three-and-out on the next series, setting up
the Michael Thomas home-run ball. Oh, well. #8-1butthey’lllive
Got hazed by a
Seahawks fan I met at the airport for being lazy. He said I was pulling generic stats when, in my blurb for Chargers-
the Week 9 Game Picks, I noted how many chunk runs the
Chargers have manufactured this season. Well, I am not one to take glee at another’s misfortune, so I won’t say anything. Anyway,
important win for the Bolts in a tough place to play. (OK, so now I
will mention that the
Chargers‘ runners produced gains of 28, 16, 34, 20, 21 and 14 yards. That’s a helluva lot of 10-plus-yard runs for a single game. Oh, let’s get back to the column …) Close call there at the end, as it appeared
Jahleel Addae tweaked
that last Russell Wilson offering jusssssssssssst a smidge … but it was enough for big W.
For a team whose reputation is still tied more strongly to its defense than its offense, Carolina sure does enjoy scoring points — almost 80 in the last two weeks.
Against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the
Panthers generated more than 400 yards of offense while making the end zone their own discoteca, scoring six touchdowns, including on an all-important long drive to move the score to 42-28 in the fourth quarter. After Carolina built a daunting 35-7 lead, Bucs QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick got hot, hooking up with
Adam Humphries often en route to 21 unanswered points. That’s when the
Panthers marched down the field, eating enough time while squeezing Tampa into pressing on offense.
Run-CMC has become a legit star, recording 22 touches, 157 yards and two more touchdowns Sunday.
Don’t look now, but Pittsburgh is 5-2-1 and streaking. Credit goes to
Ben Roethlisberger, who is much-maligned for his road work (which, it should be mentioned, is not nearly as pitiful as has been reported). Roethlisberger made two highly accurate throws on what was truly the deciding drive in the
win over Baltimore, when the
Steelers were trying to grind out as much time as possible on their final possession. Twice,
Big Ben delivered catchable balls in front of
Antonio Brown to convert third downs, eating away precious minutes and thwarting
Joe Flacco‘s ability to answer. When the
Ravens finally did retrieve the pigskin, Cam Heyward drove his man right in Flacco’s face, with
Stephon Tuitt arcing around for the close-the-door sack. Vintage
Next up: Panthers.
Welcome back, Mr.
Dalvin Cook. The Vikes’ defense put on a stellar show — and Cook stole it, just by virtue of being out there on the field. Fans in Minnesota have waited weeks (and the lion’s share of last season) to watch Cook rumble, which he did
against these particular Lions. While he might not have had a workhorse day at the office, Cook made enough of his opportunities, picking up 89 yards rushing on only 10 carries and catching four passes for 20 more yards. Back to Mike Zimmer’s defense: 209 yards allowed, with Detroit converting on just four of 15 third downs.
Adam Thielen‘s streak of games with 100-plus receiving yards came to a close Sunday. The good thing: The Vikes didn’t need him to do much. And he
still caught a touchdown pass, by the way.
Of all the teams ranked in the top 10 of
last week’s column, the
Bears were the least trustworthy — hence, they were in the 10-spot. While
beating the Bills wouldn’t typically launch a team upward, do consider the manner in which Chicago toppled Buffalo
in Buffalo. The defense accounted for multiple touchdowns, making this a non-affair in which offense was optional — for both teams. Most notable were the linebackers.
Roquan Smith tallied 12 tackles, as did
Leonard Floyd managed three, as well as
a pick-six. Notice which OLB/edge rusher is missing? Yeah, Da
another win for the
Texans. This time you can’t cite the schedule, either, as Denver has been a difficult road challenge for even the premier teams (like the
Chiefs and Rams). Houston did receive the gift of bad coaching by the opposition (again), as
Broncos boss Vance Joseph settled for an ill-fated 51-yard field-goal try at the end instead of opting to push his kicker closer. Call the move
Jason Garrettypical. And don’t forget Frank Reich
handing the Texans the football on the
Colts‘ side of the 50 in September. What do playoff teams do with those kinds of openings? Take advantage. The
Texans had the honor and privilege of watching
Brandon McManus‘ boot
sail wide right. Well, not his actual boot. The kick. But Uggs for every Texan for winning six straight. Next: bye week.
It’s an arduous task to win games in the NFL while possessing the ball for just 23 minutes and making good on just one of four red-zone chances. Especially without causing takeaways, which the
Ravens couldn’t do against the
Steelers on Sunday. Somewhat surprisingly, Baltimore’s defense — which is tied for second in the NFL in sacks even
the loss to Pittsburgh — couldn’t get to
Ben Roethlisberger, securing only one sack all game. That came on the
Steelers‘ last drive, when Roethlisberger decided to eat it rather than force a throw or stop the clock with an incompletion. The
Ravens earned the close loss. John Harbaugh being
questioned about his job security? Seems like an overreaction to losing to the
Steelers, all top-seven teams, in the past three weeks.
The award for
Effort Win of Week 9 goes to the gritty
Falcons, who refuse to make excuses despite being able to construct their own mini-
Pro Bowl team out of the players on their injury reports and injured reserve. Atlanta is getting a little healthier —
including in the standings — because of a defense that has bent (plenty) without busting in the past couple of weeks.
Matt Ryan had his best road showing since
that blowout win over the Jeff Fisher
Rams two years ago.
Of all the individual plays on Sunday, I thought a single pass to
Mohamed Sanu, insignificant in terms of outcome, signified the heart of Dan Quinn’s football team. Up 17 and trying to run out the clock with six minutes and change left, Ryan hit Sanu over the middle in tight coverage on third-and-7. Sanu tried to drag two defenders for the first down, only to have center
Alex Mack (the center!) come running in to push the pile. All heart. Atlanta clearly hasn’t given up on making the postseason as easily as all the analysts have given up on them.
Eagles sure as heck improved themselves during their Week 9 bye. Love
the Golden Tate trade for this team. While
Alshon Jeffery and
Nelson Agholor (who has been mostly effective in the slot) add certain elements to the offense, neither bring the kind of
running-back-in-a-wideout’s-body impact that Tate does. The former
Lions receiver will be far more dangerous, or at least productive, on those bubble screens Jeffery occasionally gets. Tate is more explosive off his first step. Other notes: Tate averaged 93 receptions per year from 2014 to ’17, and he was on pace for 101 with Detroit this season. While he has a higher drop rate than Agholor this year, in the past, he’s been as reliable as they come. From 2011 to 2013, when Tate was with the
Seahawks, he boasted the lowest drop rate in the entire league (a scant 3.4 percent).
Sunday night’s loss turned on that
Aaron Jones fumble in the fourth quarter, with the
Packers unable to recover.
Unable to recover — kind of like Mike McCarthy’s play calling after a timeout. Which is precisely what Twitter cheeseheads complained about, among other matters, such as …
Bashaud Breeland‘s debut,
Aaron Rodgers‘ less-than-Rodgers-esque play, everything McCarthy, the offense’s fascination with using every last morsel of the play clock, McCarthy,
Randall Cobb‘s acceleration and — of course — all things McCarthy. That about covers it, right?
Did a bit of side reading on Pro Football Focus this past week, where I learned that rookie safety
Jessie Bates made
their midseason All-Pro team. Significant, given the slight panic that came when Cincy suddenly let
George Iloka walk
before the season. Perhaps the
Bengals knew something everybody else didn’t. Most folks wouldn’t consider Bates a household name. Cincy took him at the back end of the second round this past April, and they have already received fantastic ROI: three interceptions, a touchdown
(last week, off Jameis Winston) and, perhaps most impressively, 60 tackles. That’s in eight games.
Ever get the feeling
Russell Wilson could win league MVP every year? Where would the
Seahawks be without him? Seattle
dropped a game to the Chargers on Sunday, and Wilson was far from perfect. Yet there he was, pesky as ever, placing the football between two lunging defenders — while on the run, mind you — and straight into
David Moore‘s grill.
Drop. Ballgame. (In Moore’s defense, the pass was slightly tipped, making it an 8.0 on the difficult-catch scale.) Wilson took off on Sunday more than he has all season, using his legs to advance drives and keep the
Seahawks in the game. In the end, Seattle’s run defense — the perceived strength of this group — owns much of the blame for faltering against a verifiable contender. Those 160 rushing yards on a mere 22 attempts were the backbone of multiple scoring marches by the
Wow. That Monday night
triumph over the Cowboys was this franchise’s most important regular-season win in a long time. Shoot, maybe even more significant than
the playoff victory in Kansas City. There was nothing fluky about the
Titans‘ win. Tennessee straight took it to Dallas — gang tackling, holding coverage and pushing the football down the field on offense. On that note, OC Matt LaFleur deserves much credit for making the appropriate calls time and again, taking advantage of what had been the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL.
Marcus Mariota delivered, as well, especially
on that skinny post that he laced between
Sean Lee and two
Dion Lewis performed. Put another way: This was a total team win.
Next up: Patriots. Double wow.
The road blues are such pretty uniforms. The
Cowboys never fail to play ugly in them. There is no overrating what a putrid loss that was
on Monday night. On a night when the Dallas defense wasn’t playing to the high standard it has set in 2018, a competent offense could’ve mitigated the difference. (The
did force two turnovers, and while allowing 28 points is never a wonderful thing, it’s not like they gave up 58, 48 or even 38.) Many Dallas fans point to the play caller. Maybe, but how effective can OC Scott Linehan be if he never has an ace in his hand?
Dak Prescott has not progressed, he’s regressed — and two and a half years into his NFL career, he’s yet to develop much pocket presence. There is a massive gulf between athletic ability and
pocket mobility. Think of
Tom Brady or even
Philip Rivers. They don’t stand in place. They move in and around the pocket, with their focus always down the field.
Does anyone out there know why Vance Joseph — or any other head coach — plays for field-goal tries of 50-plus yards on grass?
With a timeout in their pocket? There was no reason that, with over 10 seconds left,
Case Keenum couldn’t have spiked the football on that final drive before trying to get his kicker a wee bit closer. Run a shallow cross over the middle. Or, if you’re concerned about a pick-play OPI pushing you out of field-goal range, try a quick sideline throw for 5 yards. The
Texans‘ defensive backs were giving Denver that much ground on cushion alone, as we saw on earlier Keenum completions on the drive. Yes,
Brandon McManus pushed it, and that’s on him — but find any kicker, or smart coach, who thinks 50-yard boots on grass are gimmes with the game on the line. Get your kicker closer. THE END.
Here’s another team that probably would’ve preferred to keep playing rather than take a bye. After faltering in close game after close game early on (SEE:
against the Bengals,
and Texans), the
Colts put together consecutive comfortable wins
in Weeks 7
and 8 before their prescribed Week 9 break. If they are to have any chance of pushing the envelope in the AFC South after such a rough start, they must take advantage of an impending three-game home stretch
against the Jags,
and Dolphins. Each is a winnable matchup, given the way those teams are playing right now — they are a combined 3-9 over their last four games. Meanwhile, the
Texans play two of their last three contests on the road. Not saying Indy will catch up. But I am saying the
Colts sure can close the gap quickly.
Gut-check win for the
Dolphins, who really needed a W after a pair of fugly losses
to the Lions
and Texans in successive weeks. Miami didn’t utilize its RBs quite as much as I envisioned in
the Game Picks piece last week, although
Frank Gore did end up with 20 carries. The offense stunk to high tide, overall.
Leonard Williams and Co. stonewalled several of Gore’s runs. But then, there was the
Dolphins‘ defense to call — then raise — when Adam Gase’s team needed it the most.
Side note No. 1: Thought it odd that, facing a third-and-9 just on the other side of the two-minute warning, and with New York owning no timeouts, Miami opted to pass. Run the ball, burn 40 seconds and punt. Don’t give
Sam Darnold any cushion in which to feel comfortable.
Side note No. 2: Dem boys on the ’72 team will be
tossing a few back together this week. Love it.
moving on from Golden Tate might not signify tanking, one could regard
the loss in Minnesota as unfavorable circumstantial evidence. The
Lions were flat-out, well,
flat at the Great Bird-Killer on Sunday. The offense was purely offensive, totaling 209 yards and all of nine points against a
Vikings unit that hasn’t played anywhere near the level it did last year. Kudos to Matt Patricia and staff for trying to run the football more. Of course, now we know why they’d previously been avoiding that tactic like a kale burger: They couldn’t run a lick against Minnesota. On the whole, the Jim Bob Cooter “attack” was in retreat mode for most of the afternoon, averaging a not-so-sterling 3 yards
per play … not per rush, per play.
Side note: Yuck.
Jacksonville is coming off a London travel-based bye, which is often scheduled so that organizations aren’t behind the eight ball for enduring such an inconvenient trip midseason. To make the most of the back half of the season, the Jags will need
Leonard Fournette to hit the ground running
(he’s set to return Sunday) and
Blake Bortles to perform as he did
against the Eagles. Translated: Bortles should take what the defense gives him rather than pressing, and he should use his formidable mobility. Dropped passes have also hindered this team, helping to leave the defense on the field for far too long. The average time consumed on the Jags’ offensive possessions is 2 minutes, 32 seconds. That’s 24th in the NFL. They are 30th in points per drive. The defense still boasts robust talent, but that unit needs an assist every once in a while. Let’s hope Fournette can be John Stockton this weekend.
lost the game Sunday, and they deserved to — this space will not dispute those facts. That said, there is no way you can watch Tampa’s offense and feel that
Jameis Winston provides his team a better chance to win than
Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick plays a fearless brand of football that, sure, sometimes leads to interceptions — but it also puts points on the board and keeps defenses on their heels. Fitzmagic struggled mightily in Chicago
back in Week 4. OK … so have other QBs, especially against that defense. (Did you happen to catch the
Bears-Bills score?) I prognosticated that Fitzpatrick would produce at least four touchdowns as a bold prediction on “The Power Rankings Show” last Tuesday (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: check it out on NFL Network at 6 p.m. ET every Tuesday), partially because he was sure to hear the noise from the peanut gallery. You know, the
heplaysjustwellenoughtogetyourhopesup stuff. Well, down four scores Sunday, Fitzpatrick started firing passes against a decent defense and loud crowd, hundreds of miles away from the pirate ship. And he did indeed log four TD passes. Keep starting him.
A week of turmoil morphed into a
Sunday full of discombobulation for the new-look/old-look
Browns. Even Bruce Arians, who has been more of a tame pussycat with a Kangol in the broadcast booth than the fiery guy with a Kangol hat he used to be on the sideline, mentioned the variety of mistakes Cleveland made against a premier team. The
Chiefs are not the kind of group against whom you can turn the ball over, commit dumb penalties or dink and dunk. That said, all was not bad in this matchup — far from it.
Nick Chubb offered a nice complement to
Baker Mayfield, showing he can be a workhorse with 22 carries.
Duke Johnson is an underrated sidekick to Chubb, posting nine catches for 78 yards and two scores. OK, enough with the New Age positive energy … the secondary got torched.
Next up: Falcons.
Hard to win division games on the road when your quarterback throws four picks,
the last of which was a flutterball right between a dude in aqua’s numbers on the
Jets‘ final possession
against the Dolphins.
Sam Darnold engineered a nice drive right before halftime, leading to a
Jason Myers kick that pulled the
Jets within three. However, the next four
Jets drives would define the day: punt, punt, missed FG try, pick-six.
Jarvis Jenkins (two sacks) and the rest of Todd Bowles’ defense held up their end of the bargain, holding the
Dolphins to a mere 168 yards. Turnover diff: The ultimate determinant of NFL games.
As mentioned before in the Power Rankings, it stinks when a team
earns an emotional win, then immediately goes into a bye week. Especially for these
Cardinals, who have taken a lot of lumps in their first season under head coach Steve Wilks. The week off should definitely have helped new OC Byron Leftwich take more of a deep dive with rookie
Josh Rosen, as well as pore over what has gone swimmingly … and what hasn’t (HINT: most everything) through eight games.
Next up: at Chiefs. Great googly moogly.
49ers QB has ever enjoyed a debut in his first career start like
Nick Mullens did last week. Not Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Brodie, Jeff Garcia or even the great — and all-too-often forgotten — Y.A. Tittle. Mullens earned rave reviews for his nearly flawless three-touchdown performance, although it was difficult for any of us to decipher if he was that good, or the
Raiders that s$&@@y. The question now is whether
C.J. Beathard, whose wrist injury opened the door for Mullens to play, will see the field again. Nice to see Kyle Shanahan
not make the same quarterback-centric excuses thinly veiled as explanations like other head coaches. Read into that what you will.
What to write about the
Giants … got any suggestions?
Lawrence Taylor himself recently weighed in on his former team, wondering aloud why
Eli Manning won’t get after his teammates when obvious mistakes are made. Then L.T. answered his own query, acknowledging that the
in-your-face quarterback he thinks the franchise needs does not fit the description of the current starter. Manning has never been that dude. Not everyone is Phil Simms. Or even Phil Rivers, for that matter. Maybe Manning should holler at the OC, as in, why not run
Saquon Barkley more? The rookie phenom received
13 carries last time out. Given that the
Redskins led by a touchdown or less for most of the afternoon, the lack of work wasn’t based on game flow. If Big Blue felt compelled to draft a running back that high, place
running the football higher on the priority list.
If you watched the
on Sunday, you must be pondering how this group has won two games this season. If you’re scoring at home … well, Buffalo couldn’t. In fact, the
Bills probably wouldn’t have scored their lone garbage-time touchdown if not for receiving a gift DPI call on
Prince Amukamara when
Kelvin Benjamin clearly stumbled on his own feet in the end zone. Even the refs felt for Nate Peterman at that point. Speaking of, it took him 49 attempts to limp to 189 yards. On that many throws, a quarterback should, at a bare minimum, reach 300 yards passing. Three interceptions were not helpful. Neither was
Terrelle Pryor. Thank goodness for the
Raiders can’t possibly be
that bad, can they? Yes, they can. Their
Thursday night ordeal might have been one of the worst prime-time performances in the modern history of the NFL, given the circumstances. When is the last time you saw a team lose 34-3 to an opponent whose quarterback had never thrown an NFL pass? (Throw out Week 1 games, because those starting quarterbacks received all the reps in training camp.)
Nick Mullens was the
49ers‘ third-string quarterback this summer. Oakland’s defense allowed the Mullens-fueled offense to rack up 405 total yards. We’d give the
Raiders a mulligan here if they hadn’t been awful all season. Make that a Mullens-gan. (OK, that was bad. Sorry.) And then Oakland
released its most experienced remaining pass rusher. QB
Derek Carr says he’s in it for the long haul, but that long haul might not lead to any wins for a long time. #Raiders
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.