Who’s better than who in the NFL? It’s all anybody really wants to know about the league each week. And after five weeks, the picture seems a bit clearer.
But there are still plenty of teams that could be early flashes, who may or may not be contenders. All the analysis, previews, breakdowns and smack talk boil down to a simple hierarchy: If any two given teams played, who’d win? That’s what power rankings are all about, and that’s how the 32 NFL teams are slotted here each week.
32. Cleveland Browns
Oh, the poor Browns. They’ve been giving better teams a run for their money—and for a brief, shining moment it looked like they might do the same to the New England Patriots. But the quarterback injury bug hit again, and again, and the Browns had to resort to their fifth quarterback in five games and they got blown out.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
They got off the schneid against the Colts two weeks ago, but this team has way too much talent to be playing anywhere near this badly. If they didn’t get some stuff sorted out during the bye week, head coach Gus Bradley could be the first skipper shown the door.
Check the move Cameron Meredith puts on the DB before catching the TOUCHDOWN from Brian Hoyer…
30. Chicago Bears
The Bears almost had a foolproof way to prevent people from finding out they’re terrible: Catching other terrible teams on down weeks and barely beating them. Unfortunately, after scoring just two touchdowns on 522 yards of total offense, the Bears couldn’t quite top the Colts and stay in the plausibly-.500-ish window. They’re lucky to be 1-4.
29. Miami Dolphins
Every week, I point out that the rebuilding job Adam Gase has seems to get exponentially bigger. After a 30-17 capitulation — at home, no less — to the Tennessee Titans, it seems like the Dolphins have about three keepers on a roster that needs to be completely gutted.
Should I mention that the Dolphins have more committed to next year’s salary cap than the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos or Pittsburgh Steelers? I feel like maybe I shouldn’t.
28. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts surrendered 397 passing yards to Brian Hoyer last week.
27. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers continued to put up points despite terrible quarterback play, just not enough points to make up for the turnovers, mistakes and flat-out failure to execute the offense. Colin Kaepernick or may not play much better than Blaine Gabbert, but he really can’t play any worse.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a whole bunch of ugliness, the Bucs finally gutted out their second win—and at the perfect time, against the division-rival Carolina Panthers. At 2-3, plus a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers, the pirates of the NFC South are in a salvageable position. They just have to play a hell of a lot better going forward if they’re going to actually salvage this season.
25. New York Jets
The Jets are bad, and trending badward. They’re piling up losses both noble and un- against some of the best teams of the AFC. In fact, that’s what saves them from dropping any lower: Pro Football Reference judges their opening slate against the Steelers, Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals as the toughest of any yet played in the AFC.
El pick 6 a Case Keenum. https://t.co/tkmlfeWdof
— NFL Latino (@NFLlatino) October 9, 2016
24. Los Angeles Rams
Yes, the Rams are 3-2 — but no, they aren’t playing good football. The offensive line can’t open holes for Todd Gurley, and Case Keenum can’t make enough plays to carry the offense. This week’s contest against the Detroit Lions will tell if their defense is good enough to drag this team to their customary 7-9 finish.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
There’s no excuse for this team to be this low, but alas: They are. Next week’s potential return of All-Pro pass-rusher Justin Houston will be a huge boost — but it’s the problems in the passing game that have the Chiefs at a disappointing 2-2.
22. New Orleans Saints
The Saints, one of the handful of teams that were impossible to figure out over the first few weeks, have been figured out: They’re phenomenal on offense, terrible on defense, and could win (or lose) against anybody.
Ravens fumble into the end zone.
1st & 10 from the 20.
21. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens had been winning ugly — very ugly — over the first few weeks of the season. But after two straight ugly losses, it became apparent that this team isn’t a winning team with an ugly style, it’s just an ugly team. That’s why offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was shown the door this week despite the team’s winning record and Wild Card playoff position.
Guess who’s one spot ahead of the ugly-game specialists? The other ugly-game specialists, who just beat them! Despite losing two straight to open the season, and Kirk Cousins’ relatively rocky start, Washington is one game out of first place and on a three-game win streak. This week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles could be decisive — not just in terms of the rest of their season, but whether they’ll make a second straight postseason.
19. Tennessee Titans
I’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks now: This defense is actually good. They’re 10th in the league in points allowed, despite working with an offense that’s 24th in points scored. The power-running thing is actually keeping the ball out of other teams’ hands, and the defense has faced the eighth-fewest number of opponent snaps. If the Titans can keep controlling the ball, they’ll keep having chances to win.
18. Carolina Panthers
Losing Cam Newton last week cost them a division game. If they don’t have the reigning MVP this week, either, it might cost them two. But after that is the bye week, and then this talented team should be able to get healthy, make adjustments, and play like they ought to be playing down the stretch.
17. Houston Texans
That. Was. Brutal. The theoretically up-and-coming Texans went up north and got smacked down. The Minnesota Vikings obliterated the Texans in every phase of the game. Despite leading the AFC South by one game, they’re still not in the upper half of NFL teams.
16. New York Giants
Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard and the high-flying Giants passing offense is ranked 18th in yards, 27th in scoring and completely letting down their surprisingly decent defense. Head coach Ben McAdoo got the job specifically to produce the opposite of this. He has to fix it.
Turns out @cj_wentz is human after all…
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) October 9, 2016
15. Detroit Lions
Just when you write them off as a terrible team, they beat the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles. On a good day, this is a playoff team with a top-five offense. On a bad day, it’s a 5-11 squad with a bottom-five defense. After five roller-coaster weeks, I’ll put them right about in the middle.
14. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have exhausted all the usual ways to lose. So every week, they’re going out and inventing new ones. Jokes aside, though, this snakebitten 1-4 team has the No. 2 offense in the NFL, and No. 3 overall defender Joey Bosa looking like a stud in his debut.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
That was one of the most surprising, disappointing losses of the season: A Cincinnati Bengals team that prides itself on quality and depth on both lines was overwhelmed in the trenches by the Dallas Cowboys, hammered to the tune of 28-0 before softening the final score. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, knowing exactly what a team is going to do and being totally helpless to stop it is a very bad sign.
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2016
12. Oakland Raiders
Batten the hatches! Buckle the swashes! Black Jack Del Rio is the skipper of this here pirate ship, and the Raiders are on course to outscore people all the way to Las Vegas.
11. Arizona Cardinals
Okay, the Drew Stanton Experience is over (for now). The Cardinals are 10th in scoring offense, 10th in scoring defense, have their quarterback back and a winnable game this weekend. It’s been a rockier start than anyone could have imagined, but everything’s pointing up from here.
10. Seattle Seahawks
I sounded the alarm bell on this team louder than most, but they gutted out some tough wins in some tough times. Now, as Russell Wilson heals and adds mobility back to his game, they should keep winning (and doing it more impressively). That said, I still have my doubts about this team’s balance and depth. They’re still just one play away from 70 percent of their offense being Trevone Boykin.
Eli loses the football!@Packers cause the strip-sack.
9. Green Bay Packers
I guess I “don’t know where the flaws in the execution lie,” as Aaron Rodgers recently told gathered media, but any drunk in a bar can tell Rodgers that there are flaws in the execution — and have been, for a while. The Packers’ surprisingly stiff defense, and 3-1 record, are covering up for a lot of problems Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy need to fix.
8. Buffalo Bills
Once was a moment. Twice was a trend. After going into Los Angeles and whupping them at their own game — running the ball and rushing the passer — the Bills are now officially hot. With two games against the 49ers and Dolphins coming up, they should be on a five-game win streak when they rematch against the Patriots at home.
7. Dallas Cowboys
You can’t say enough about the job Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan did getting Dak Prescott ready to hand the ball off and avoid turnovers over the first four games. But after Prescott went wild on the Bengals, now you can’t say enough about how good this team can be. Week 6 is a pivotal matchup against the Green Bay Packers — one that could have playoff implications for both teams.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
Blow out the Steelers, take a week off, go on the road and face a talented team in a desperate, backs-against-the-wall situation. It was a classic trap-game situation — and if it weren’t for the refs, they might have gotten out of it.
5. Denver Broncos
The Broncos aren’t quite as good without Trevor Siemian. We know that now. Now they’ve got him back.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are hot, hot, hot, tearing up chunks of yardage and putting up points in bunches. As long as the defense can play with a lead, this team will be very tough to stop. I still have my doubts about what happens in December and January against tough defenses outdoors, but there’s no denying the Falcons will be playing meaningful football in December and January.
28/40 passing. 406 yards.
3 TDs. 1 @Patriots W.
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2016
3. New England Patriots
Sorry, nobody gets any cookies for blowing out the Browns on their fifth-string quarterback. Certainly not “back up to No. 1 in the power rankings” cookies, anyway.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have now made the Bengals, Chiefs and Jets look foolish. Le’Veon Bell is doing his thing, the defense has shored up what the Eagles exposed and they’ve got the Dolphins this week. This team is the class of the AFC until proven otherwise.
1. Minnesota Vikings
If you know my work at all, you know I’m the last guy to say UNDEFEETED TEEM MEENS BEST TEEM. Wins and losses might be the ultimate arbiter of history, but they’re not truest way to measure relative strength.
It just so happens this undefeated team has a historically great defense, and a better-than-average offense despite should-be-crippling injuries. Best of all, they seem to be getting stronger as the year goes on. The Vikings are, definitively, the best team in the NFL right now.