It’s Week 7! Where does the time go? Here in the year 2020, I honestly couldn’t tell you.
But it’s a fun time of year for the power rankings (aren’t they all?) as some teams start separating themselves from the pack, others sink to the bottom and others swing wildly from good to bad and back again on a week-to-week basis.
Everyone treats power rankings differently. Am I supposed to just sort the teams by who would win on a neutral field right now? Do I go with who is having the best overall season? Should I factor in a team’s long-term outlook or preseason expectations if that impacts how they might feel about their season? Do I add weight to the most recent games, since that often informs the general mood and vibe of each team? The answer: Probably a little of everything, in moderation.
But one thing I try hard to do is avoid overreacting to each individual game. What makes this time of year fun is that nearly every week we see a major upset, an unexpected blowout or some other outcome that we just couldn’t see coming. One of the strangest things about the NFL is that the relatively small sample size of a 16-game season still gives us plenty of time for variation. Sometimes a very good team has a very bad game. Sometimes vice versa. Oftentimes things go back to normal seven days later.
So let’s all take a deep breath. We have seen six weeks. We have a big enough body of work on most of these teams not to overreact every single time we do this. Off we go…
1. Kansas City Chiefs (5–1)
Last week: Win at Buffalo 26–17
Next week: at Denver
I tried to talk myself into one of the undefeated teams for the No. 1 spot, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. A week ago I would not have had the Chiefs in the top spot, because it’s harder to do that after a loss. But I’ve felt all along that the Chiefs are the best team, and every team is going to slip up at some point like they did against the Raiders. It was good to see a rebound on Monday night with a dominant game against a good Bills team on a rainy night. I would pick the Chiefs to beat any other team on a neutral field right now and I still expect them to repeat as Super Bowl champs, so they’re back to being my No. 1.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5–0)
Last week: Win vs. Browns 38–7
Next week: at Tennessee
There are arguments for and against all three remaining undefeated teams, but I will give the edge to the Steelers by a hair. Their defense is not just the best in the league, but really one of only three or four good ones. Back-to-back road games at Tennessee and Baltimore will give us a much better idea of just how good, and we can always update the power rankings then. For now, I will let Steelers fans bask in their team’s smothering defense, Chase Claypool’s breakout and the No. 2 spot in my rankings.
3. Seattle Seahawks (5–0)
Last week: Bye
Next week: at Arizona
The Seahawks are coming off a bye, and it is tempting to give an edge to the teams we saw look good this weekend, but let’s not forget how great Russell Wilson and this offense have been in 2020. You are allowed to have some concerns about the defense and that some of the games have been a little closer than you might want, but it hasn’t caught up to them yet. So far the Seahawks have been able to outscore everyone, and they’ll remain a top-three team until that is proven otherwise.
4. Tennessee Titans (5–0)
Last week: Win vs. Houston 42–36 OT
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh
If you just watch the highlights, you could come to the conclusion that the Titans are an absolutely unstoppable force. Ryan Tannehill is playing great, Derrick Henry has stiff-armed three people and trampled four others while you were reading this sentence and Mike Vrabel has internalized his own streak of Belichickian gamesmanship, as we learned from his intentional 12 men on the field penalty that came to light Monday. Of course, they did take advantage of a series of breaks Sunday to get that big win over Houston, including Romeo Crennel’s decision to go for two, a review on A.J. Brown’s game-tying TD giving him the score by an inch and the coin toss to open overtime. So I’m slotting the Titans in fourth here, behind the Chiefs and the other two undefeated teams. But I hope nobody takes this as a slight. The Titans are very good, getting better and will get their shot to move up when they play Pittsburgh next week.
5. Baltimore Ravens (5–1)
Last week: Win at Philadelphia 30–28
Next week: Bye
The Ravens seem to be quietly taking care of business, but have done most of what has been asked of them. Their offense has not quite clicked like last year, but they lead the league in point differential (and total points, though of course not every team has played six games), even after letting the Eagles climb back into things on Sunday. And of all the one-loss teams, their defeat is the easiest to excuse away. Their schedule is about to get more challenging, which should give us some fun games to watch. The Ravens have entered the realm where most fans will only care about what they do in the playoffs, but it’ll still be telling to see how they compete in potential previews against the teams they’ll meet when they get there.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4–2)
Last week: Win vs. Green Bay 38–10
Next week: at Las Vegas
A shout out to MMQB senior editor Gary Gramling, who had the Bucs third in the power rankings last week, even before Tampa Bay dismantled the Packers. Third! Last week! I laughed at him about it over Zoom. Thankfully I haven’t seen him in person in eight months, and he will likely forget about this by the time I see him again in, hopefully, 2021. I still think he’s a little too high on them, though I admire his willingness to make a statement. (Side note: It’s a little funny to think about how many people out there don’t realize The MMQB is rotating power rankings authors this year and will just look at websites that aggregate their favorite team’s rankings across the internet and see that Sports Illustrated has dropped the Bucs from No. 3 to No. 6.) Anyway, of course Tampa Bay looked like a top-five team on Sunday. But I guess you can call me stubborn that I’m not quite ready to leapfrog them over the Chiefs, the Ravens or the undefeated squads.
7. Green Bay Packers (4–1)
Last week: Loss at Tampa Bay 38–10
Next week: at Houston
The Packers are a good football team. Yes, they got waxed for the final three quarters against Tampa Bay, but I don’t want to overreact too much to one game. Look at the 49ers, who got crushed by the Dolphins in Week 5 and then came back to beat a strong Rams team. So of course the Packers slide down the board a bit, behind the undefeated teams and those Buccaneers, but you should never say the sky is falling after just one bad game—often no matter how bad it feels the day after.
8. Buffalo Bills (4–2)
Last week: Loss vs. Kansas City 26–17
Next week: at New York Jets
That’s two straight losses for the Bills now, but I wouldn’t say it’s knocked their season off course. They are the best team in their division, but seem to be a cut below the top-tier teams in the conference. They are dangerous enough to beat anyone on any given day, but come January they’ll likely have to do it on the road.
9. Los Angeles Rams (4–2)
Last week: Loss at San Francisco 24–16
Next week: vs. Chicago (Monday)
The Rams appeared to be cruising until they went into Santa Clara Sunday night, even if an NFC East sweep doesn’t mean much this year. I’m still bullish on them in the NFC playoff race, and I don’t want to overreact to one division loss on the road. (As mentioned in the intro: Trying not to overreact to one game is a common theme in this column!) But it sure seems like the Rams will need to go .500 in their division games, given that everyone else is fighting for those playoff spots too. And they've gotten off on the wrong foot there.
10. Arizona Cardinals (4–2)
Last week: Win at Dallas 38–10
Next week: vs. Seattle
We know the Cardinals have firepower, which they showed on Monday night against a depleted Cowboys team. At their best, they are certainly good enough to compete in the NFC’s second-tier. But they are also a young team that could face some growing pains, as we saw in the back-to-back losses to the Lions and Panthers. But I’m definitely buying the future of the Kliff/Kyler Cardinals and excited to see them engage the Seahawks in a shootout next week.
11. New Orleans Saints (3–2)
Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Carolina
The Drew Brees discourse (and it’s close relative, the Taysom Hill discourse) would probably be a dominant story line of this season anyway, but it feels like it’s been even more under the microscope because the Saints played three of their first five games in prime time, plus the Week 1 game against the Bucs was the top game in the late Sunday window. Now they return from a bye week to a cozy spot in the 1:00 ET window. I think many of us expected to see New Orleans dominate the regular season or at the very least sleepwalk their way into the playoffs, but I think watching them have to scratch and claw in what feels like the end of the Brees era is a much more entertaining plot if that’s what they need to do as the season rolls on.
12. Chicago Bears (5–1)
Last week: Win at Carolina 23–16
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams (Monday)
The Bears are 5–1! They are doing it on the strength of their defense, which is a recipe not many teams are following here in 2020. I’m not sure if they can sustain this for the whole season, especially as the schedule tightens up, but they have banked enough wins already to be in the playoff chase for the long haul.