All anybody really wants to know about the NFL is who’s better than who. We’re now seven weeks into the 2016 season, and the answer to that question seems a bit clearer. Yet still, so many questions remain. Which teams are true contenders, which ones were early flashes, and who’s going to emerge in the second half of the season?
Take the analysis, previews, breakdowns and smack talk, and it boils 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
The poor Browns have had to use six different quarterbacks in seven games. They have not won any of those games.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
A not-that-close, 33-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders puts the kibosh on any mid-season revival talk. At this point, the Jags aren’t just in danger of repeating last year’s 5-11 record, they’re in danger of doing worse. Unthinkable, given how much talent they added in the offseason.
Kap escapes the rush.
Draughn gets 2 feet in.
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2016
30. San Francisco 49ers
If they aren’t going to beat a middling Tampa Bay Buccaneers team at home, they aren’t going to beat very many teams going forward. The 31st-ranked defense is absolutely decimated.
29. Chicago Bears
Hey, the Bears are doing surprisingly well, right? They’re all piling up yards and stuff? And getting Jay Cutler back? And they beat… wait, they only beat the Lions? They’re 1-6? Woof. That’s brutal.
Luck might have a new favorite target…
28. Indianapolis Colts
A win over the the Tennessee Titans puts the Colts within a game of .500, as the No. 4 scoring offense finally does enough to overcome that swiss-cheese defense. Even so, this is a poor team entering the meat of their schedule, and it’s hard to see them beating teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings down the stretch.
27. New York Jets
This team is a months-long, slow-motion trainwreck — but hey! Fitz came off the bench and got them a comeback win against a nominal AFC playoff contender! Let’s hope, for his and the Jets’ sake, this is the game that helps him flip the switch back to being the Fitz of the previous two seasons. The Jets’ next three games are against the Browns, Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Rams; it’s entirely possible they’re 5-5 going into their Week 11 bye.
It’s also possible they’re not.
26. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins aren’t just on a two-game win streak, they’ve beaten two of the best teams in the AFC. The offensive line seems to have finally figured out that whole pass-protection thing, and — wonder of wonders — Ryan Tannehill is suddenly effective again. If the Dolphins of the past two weeks has shown up at the beginning of the year, it would be a very different story in Miami.
All that said, two games out of seven isn’t quite enough to vault them up into the middle-third of the league, and they’ve got a bye week to contend with. Watch this space if they keep it up when they come back.
25. Los Angeles Rams
Remember when the Rams lost to the 49ers, 28-0? And when they beat the Seattle Seahawks? How about when they beat the Arizona Cardinals, or lost to the New York Giants?
At 3-4, the Rams remain one of the hardest teams to get a real bead on… it’s hard to see them finishing the season at .500. But in fits and spurts, they’ve done almost everything well, and almost everything poorly. Almost inevitably, it seems like they’re trending towards the inevitable 7-9 — and I think they’ll be lucky if they make it.
24. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers didn’t lose last week!
… because they didn’t play last week. Whether they put up a fight against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday determines whether they stay right around this level, or drop into the league’s bottom five.
23. Houston Texans
The Texans have the league’s second-worst scoring offense, a middling scoring defense and are completely incapable of beating good teams.
They’re also 4-3 and cruising towards their second straight division title, in case you were curious how the AFC South is doing this year.
22. Tennessee Titans
Oh, hey, speaking of: Despite dropping a game to the division-rival Colts, the Titans are still just one game behind the Texans, and have a better scoring differential, despite playing a harder schedule. I’m giving them the slimmest of edges right now.
— SportzNow1 NFL (@SportzNow1NFL) October 23, 2016
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Finally. An emphatic road win over the San Francisco 49ers gets the Bucs on a two-game win streak, back up to .500 and — believe it or not — just a half-game behind the Atlanta Falcons in the AFC South. The Falcons have played much more impressively and against a much harder schedule, but the Bucs are finally back to where we thought they’d be.
20. Baltimore Ravens
Here’s why the Ravens fired their offensive coordinator when things seemed to be going well: They weren’t going that well. The offense isn’t measurably better under Marty Mornhinweg, and now the team with the sixth-best scoring defense in football is under .500 and taking on water. If they want to stay in the AFC North race, they’d better steal a win from the Roethlisberger-less Steelers this Sunday.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
Maybe blowing up the hapless Browns is just what the Bengals needed to re-ignite their explosive offense. They host Washington in what will likely be a sloppy track meet, then get a bye week to get their heads on straight.
Comeback time in KC?
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2016
18. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have the No. 3 scoring offense in the league, racking up 29.3 points per game. The only problem is they have the worst defense in football, allowing 32.5. That’s not a formula for season-long success, and certainly not for beating the Seahawks this week, either.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Playing the New England Patriots without Big Ben went about as well as expected. If they can’t give the Ravens a game after this week’s bye, the Steelers are in serious trouble.
16. New York Giants
The Giants’ top-ten scoring defense… yes, that’s right, the Giants’ top-10 scoring defense, is enabling Odell Beckham, Jr. to win games all by himself. They’ve gutted out two wins against two bad teams and are now one game above .500. If head coach Ben McAdoo ever figures out the side of the ball he was hired to coach, this team will be dangerous.
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2016
Losing a heartbreaker to the Detroit Lions put the lie to the “hottest team in football” talk. After a four-game win streak that involved some weaksauce opponents and close margins, Washington’s bill came due. Their 4-3 record still paints their negative scoring differential and mediocre effectiveness numbers in a positive light.
14. Detroit Lions
The Lions’ defense turned another game into a heart-pounding shootout; Matthew Stafford put another notch in his gun. Over the season, the Lions have scored exactly as many points as they’ve allowed, and their next six games are four patsies and the Vikings twice. If their season-long patterns hold, the Lions will beat the Vikings once, lose to the Bears again and somehow end up 8-5 with three games to play.
— NFL Now (@NFLNow) October 23, 2016
13. Oakland Raiders
Whew. After running into a surprise buzzsaw in Week 6, the Raiders bounced right back and beat the teal out of the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7. If Derek Carr can keep putting his defense in position to be aggressive, this team is going to be right there in the wildly competitive AFC West.
12. Green Bay Packers
… I mean, I guess. It was way too close for way too long against the one-win Bears last week, before Aaron Rodgers finally flipped the switch and made it look good. A microcosm of their season?
11. Kansas City Chiefs
Like the Dolphins, the last two weeks have shown us the Chiefs we always expected to see. Of course, these Chiefs are 4-2 and about to face the Colts, Jags, Panthers and Buccaneers, so they might have more wins before Thanksgiving than the Dolphins get all year.
10. Arizona Cardinals
I still have no idea if this team is any good.
9. Buffalo Bills
There had to be a crack in the wagon circle sometime. It takes an incredibly strong team playing incredibly well to push a winning streak out to five games. There’s no shame in a divisional road loss, though, and the Bills boast both the No. 6 scoring offense and the No. 8 scoring defense. They’re going to be just fine.
8. Atlanta Falcons
Back-to-back soul-crushing losses to two red-hot opponents is exactly the kind of test so many pundits (like me) said the Falcons hadn’t passed yet. How they handle the adversity and play against the Packers, will tell us if this team is really an NFC title contender.
7. Seattle Seahawks
I am struggling to give the Seahawks any cookies for the ugliest tie since I was young enough to be trick-or-treating. As mentally and physically tough as they are, this team has flaws.
MG x 3!
6. San Diego Chargers
Maybe they got all the worst luck in the world over the first five games. Maybe they caught a couple breaks against the Broncos and Falcons. Either way, this is a team that’s been outscoring opponents by an average of a field goal a game, and “should” have four or five wins. Despite all the injuries, their No. 2 scoring offense is only heating up.
5. Denver Broncos
Trevor Siemian, with a long week of rest and prep, was able to Trevor Siemian against the Texans, which is all the Broncos needed. The Broncos might need a bit more against the Chargers this week, though.
— NFL (@NFL) October 27, 2016
4. Philadelphia Eagles
As I predicted everywhere they’d let me predict, the Vikings fell into the same trap the Eagles did two weeks earlier: Coming off a bye week that followed an emotional win, undefeated, going on the road against a desperate, dangerous team. Even so, the Eagles more than proved their mettle.
3. Dallas Cowboys
Now the question becomes, how do the Cowboys handle the same pressure? After a one-point loss to the Giants in Week 1, the Cowboys ripped off a five-game win streak that culminated in a road blowout of the Packers. Now they’ve got another primetime game against — who else? — the Philadelphia Eagles.
2. Minnesota Vikings
This team is still one of the very best in football; losing a classic trap game against one of the other better teams in the league doesn’t change that. But it DOES knock them out of the top spot.
— Bovada Official (@BovadaLV) October 23, 2016
1. New England Patriots
The degree of difficulty wasn’t nearly as high without Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup, but winning in Pittsburgh is still nothing to sneeze at. With the Vikings’ loss, the Pats are now top dog by any rational or irrational standard.