Who’s better than who in the NFL? It’s all anybody really wants to know about the league each week. And after six 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
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Browns were surprisingly feisty in a noble, but futile defeat. Still last place.
31. New York Jets
There’s so much talent on this team, but talent doesn’t equal results — and the benching of Ryan Fitzpatrick signals the end of this team’s relevance. Starting a quarterback the entire organization wants no part of is the ultimate white flag.
.@millertime_6 did WHAT?
He just made half the Colts D miss.
And scored a @HoustonTexans TD.
30. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck has been doing everything you could possibly ask, but this team has fallen apart around him. He’s got no protection, no help beyond T.Y. Hilton and the defense is completely ineffective. They’re struggling mightily with some of the weakest teams in the league, and getting worse instead of better.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
A winning streak, technically! Dramatic, if not actually impressive, wins over the Colts and Bears mean this team’s season isn’t over yet. But they’re still going to have to play a lot better to climb much further up the power rankings.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 16, 2016
28. San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick brought a spark to the offense, but it wasn’t nearly enough against the red-hot Buffalo Bills. It was great to see Kaep play with confidence and make some plays, but this team just doesn’t have enough talent to be competitive. Somehow, Chip Kelly’s got to make a case that he’s the guy to lay the foundation for whatever comes next.
27. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton and the offense is scoring just four-and-a-half fewer points per game than they did in 2016. But the difference between being the league’s best scoring offense and sixth-best scoring offense has been the difference between weathering their defensive regression at 4-2 and… this.
From 15-1 to 1-5 is a flat-out implosion, but they’ve still got enough pieces in place to play better than this. It just might be too late to save their season.
26. Chicago Bears
Brian Hoyer and tall, fast receivers go together like beer and football. He keeps putting up yards in chunks and the Bears are scoring enough to be competitive. They’re still desperately thin in a lot of key areas, but at least they’re entertaining.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Yes, the Panthers are in free-fall, but picking up that Week 5 division win turned out to be a lifeline for a Buccaneers team with playoff aspirations. Just one win off of .500, coming off the bye, with a winnable game against the 49ers in Week 7? It could be worse.
Just ask the Panthers.
The NFL Network was at least a little more objective with their Dolphins vs Steeler highlights. pic.twitter.com/NHSGi1cXiN
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) October 17, 2016
24. Miami Dolphins The Steelers lost a classic “the Steelers always lose this kind of game” game, but credit Miami for finally getting Ndamukong Suh loose and finally protecting Ryan Tannehill. We got a glimpse of the team the Dolphins could be every week… but this is as high as they can climb on one good week.
23. Los Angeles Rams
The Detroit Lions secondary makes everybody look good, but dang Case Keenum! 27-of-32 for 321 yards and three touchdowns is a great outing even in scrimmage. Too bad about the one interception that sealed the deal. Hopefully, the Rams can build off this offensive performance, and help the defense out a little down the stretch. Hey, remember Jared Goff?
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) October 17, 2016
22. Houston Texans
Who would have thought the Patrick Ewing Theory would apply to a player who’s won Defensive Player of the Year in three of the last four seasons? In the absence of J.J. Watt, it turns out Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Vince Wilfork and Benardrick McKinney can actually play defense really well. A thrilling overtime winner should give Brock Osweiler a little boost going into this pivotal Week 7 matchup against the Denver Broncos.
21. Tennessee Titans
Cleveland made it close at the end, but the Titans had the game well in hand. Now they face two winnable division games against the Colts and Jaguars, and suddenly we’re talking about pushing the Texans for the division lead. Head coach Mike Mularkey’s got to work harder to find ways to get Marcus Mariota involved.
20. Cincinnati Bengals The 2-4 record suggests they should be ranked even lower than this, and I’m almost tempted to. But there’s no way a team with this much talent and experience on both sides of the ball isn’t going to bounce back down the stretch. Head coach Marvin Lewis has to earn his keep right now.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have been parked in the top handful of teams all year long, but their disastrous egg-laying against the Dolphins doesn’t just mark their second disastrous egg-laying in six games, it marks the loss of Ben Roethlisberger for four to six weeks. They’d be dropping a bit anyway, but with Landry Jones under center, this is a mid-pack team.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 19, 2016
18. Kansas City Chiefs
Oh hi, Jamaal Charles. Hey there, Dee Ford. Oh, right — a balanced offense and relentless defense. Look at that: A resounding win over the red-hot Oakland Raiders, and maybe the Chiefs are back in the thick of things.
17. Baltimore Ravens
All of the Baltimore Ravens beat all of the New York Giants in Week 6, but Odell Beckham, Jr. singlehandedly won that game. If they can do to Geno Smith this week what everyone else has been doing to Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Ravens will take a winning record into the bye week — and, two weeks after firing their offensive coordinator, possibly tied with the Steelers atop the division.
How would you name @brandincooks 87-Yd TD?
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2016
16. New Orleans Saints
Whew, what a game. In an exact flip-flop of the final score from the last time the Panthers came to New Orleans, Drew Brees and company outdueled Cam Newton and the Panthers, 41-38. Once again, we see the Saints can put up an almost unlimited number of points at home—and their defense can surrender just as many anywhere they play.
15. New York Giants
How do you doubt a team that keeps proving it has enough playmakers to pull a fourth-quarter rabbit out of the hat whenever they want? How do you put any faith in a team that limps into the fourth quarter no matter who they play?
— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2016
Technically, this is “one of the hottest teams in football,” rolling up a four-game win streak. On the other hand, every game has either been a turnover-laden nail biter or a not-that-impressive win against a bottom-feeder. Kirk Cousins is making more plays, but he’s got to make fewer mistakes.
13. Detroit Lions
Much like Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford is playing lights-out. If Lions receivers weren’t leading the league in drops, the Lions might be a lot better than 3-3. As it is, it keeps coming down to fourth-quarter game-winning drives and Stafford keeps winning them. If they could play any defense whatsoever, the Lions would be in great shape.
12. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are one of the league’s big success stories, but they were never going to go 15-1. The division-rival Chiefs brought the defensive thunder for the first time all year, and the Raiders couldn’t do much about it. Twice would make a trend, but for now, I can’t drop the Raiders too much on that one loss.
145 YDs against the league's leading rush defense…
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) October 16, 2016
11. Green Bay Packers
Yes, the Cowboys were the first team to really put a hurting on the Packers’ run defense, but the Cowboys are doing that to just about everybody. A bigger concern is the unavoidable failures of Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy and the wide receivers, but they had all the same concerns last year and nearly won the division.
10. San Diego Chargers
What? Top 10? Yup: These Chargers have had one of the best offenses in the NFL all season, even without Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead, and Joey Bosa’s given them the spark they need on defense to get over the hump. These next two road games — at Atlanta, and then the rematch at Denver — will determine if they stay up here.
— MrAz (@mraz59) October 18, 2016
9. Arizona Cardinals
*throws up hands*
I mean, whatever. The Cardinals decimated the Jets, which probably says more about the Jets than the Cardinals. But Carson Palmer played like Carson Palmer, the Cards aren’t playing losing football anymore and they’re in position to stay right with the Seattle Seahawks.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Yeah, they dropped two close games to Detroit and Washington, but we’re still talking about the No. 4 scoring offense and the No. 3 scoring defense. This team is going to win plenty more games this season.
— NFL France (@FirstDownFR) October 16, 2016
7. Buffalo Bills
I don’t know if Greg Roman was The Problem — he certainly couldn’t have been The Problem on defense — but since the Bills fired the league’s highest-paid offensive coordinator they’ve been completely unstoppable. You have to figure they beat the Dolphins this week, then play a potentially division-deciding rematch against the Patriots the week after. Exciting times for a football-loving region that hasn’t seen the playoffs since BILL Clinton was President.
6. Denver Broncos
Woof. Thursday Night Football took a toll on quarterback Trevor Siemian, for whom preparation seems to be a crucial factor in his game. With more than a week to get ready for the Houston Texans, I expect he’ll play more like the guy who won all those games at the beginning of the year—and earned the grace I’m extending by keeping them up here.
When you're feeling grumpy on a Monday morning and you're work mates try and pick you up…
5. Seattle Seahawks
I’d love to put the Seahawks higher, as hot as they are. But even coming off a huge win over the Atlanta Falcons, I’m not sold yet that this team is better, or more complete, than the teams above them. That’s how power rankings work!
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons came into Seattle and gave the Seahawks all they could handle — and very, very nearly more. On a neutral site, or in Atlanta, that game goes the other way. That’s why I’m giving the Falcons the slimmest of edges over the Seahawks this week, despite the Week 6 result.
3. Dallas Cowboys
You can’t say enough about the offensive line, Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott. But how about them Cowboys coaches? Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli have all done incredible jobs. This team looks like they can beat anybody anywhere.
Anyone, maybe, except…
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 16, 2016
2. New England Patriots
The Pats don’t exactly need any help, but going to Pittsburgh without having to face Ben Roethlisberger is a huge boon. After they take care of business there, Tom Brady and company have a score to settle in Buffalo.
1. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings spent a relaxing bye week at the top of the world, just like the Eagles did a few weeks ago. Now, the Vikings have to face the exact same test the Eagles failed: Going on the road to face a hungry, dangerous opponent. It just so happens that opponent is the Eagles.
If Sam Bradford can lead his new team to victory against his old team, there’ll be no doubt the Vikings are the most unstoppable force in the NFL — now, and for the foreseeable future.