With the trade deadline drawing near, we might have an unprecedented number of deals based on the fact that there are so many haves and so many have nots. I don’t quite remember a year where it seems like the dividing line between playoff-capable and Tanking-for-Trevor was so clearly drawn at this point in the season.
Doing this exercise has been useful in identifying some of the sellers, painting a clear picture of who realistically sees themselves as a contender for the additional playoff spots and who will end up bottoming out due to a slew of injuries, COVID-related restrictions, roster flaws or a combination of all the above.
It makes me think about how many good players will be available and why some teams—one in particular this week—decided to cut the line for talent that could compromise the organization’s supposed moral code (and, in a far second place, whatever harmonious atmosphere exists in the locker room). I thought our senior writer, Jenny Vrentas, was insightful on this subject during our episode of the Weak-Side podcast this week, especially when it came to the league’s hypocrisy in standing by to allow it to happen. Give it a listen.
Maybe when you’re one of the haves you can talk yourself into anything. My good friend Chris Wesseling put it well last week when he wrote about the naked self-indulgence that lined the Antonio Brown recruiting process. What is he going to add to your team vs. what he will ultimately take away? That’s a question Bruce Arians will have to answer over the long term, but my bet is that one of these teams that are jostling for position alongside the Buccaneers at the top of these power rankings will wind up with a talent upgrade at the deadline who will make their team better without all of the cosmic, karmic side effects.
Anywho, let’s get into a fresh batch of power rankings this week. Last Sunday, I wrote about the Steelers barely scratching the surface of their potential and the following Monday I predicted on our podcast that they would weather this stretch against the Titans and Ravens remaining undefeated and atop these rankings (I also predicted them to go 13–3 back in August). Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty good.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (6–0)
Last week: Win at Tennessee 27–24
Next week: at Baltimore
This is a team that is still purposely scraping by on offense. The longer they can wait before forcing Ben Roethlisberger to let it rip, the better. In the meantime, they can continue suffocating opponents defensively and draining the clock.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6–1)
Last week: Win at Denver 43–16
Next week: vs. New York Jets
The Chiefs, like the Cardinals, are staying in business by making themselves impossible to match up against every week. There is simply too much talent here, too much magic at the quarterback position making it all run, too many gutsy well-timed defensive plays to count this team out of any game.
3. Seattle Seahawks (5–1)
Last week: Loss at Arizona 37–34 OT
Next week: vs. San Francisco
An uncharacteristic performance from Russell Wilson allowed the Cardinals to hang around on Sunday night, but that was always going to happen at some point. The difference between Wilson and the average quarterback is that a slump doesn’t manifest. He’ll move on and so will Seattle.
4. Baltimore Ravens (5–1)
Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh
Somehow, Baltimore has been quietly methodical this season. With all the focus on Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Lamar Jackson has been able to humbly mount another impressive campaign.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5–2)
Last week: Win at Las Vegas 45–20
Next week: at New York Giants Monday
The best defense in football combined with a quarterback/general manager hellbent on exorcizing issues with a former employer through wins and losses. What could possibly go wrong?!
6. Tennessee Titans (5–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Pittsburgh 27–24
Next week: at Cincinnati
I don’t think it should be legal for a team to lose the game on a missed field goal (I got you, Scott Norwood). In my mind, the Titans are still undefeated and one of the gutsiest teams in the NFL. Their ability to storm back against the Steelers shows that this offense is one of the cleaner and more functional units in the NFL.
7. Green Bay Packers (5–1)
Last week: Win at Houston 35–20
Next week: vs. Minnesota
They bounced back well after a dressing down at the hands of Tampa Bay. This team will be just fine, and watching Aaron Rodgers connect with Davante Adams will continue to be a thing of beauty.
8. Buffalo Bills (5–2)
Last week: Win at New York Jets 18–10
Next week: vs. New England
They were always going to hit a lull, but in that lull Josh Allen has yet to implode and cost his team dearly. This is a good sign.
9. Arizona Cardinals (5–2)
Last week: Win vs. Seattle 37–34 OT
Next week: Bye
If the Cardinals are able to land another receiver at the trade deadline, they might become the polar opposite of the Ravens—a team that presents an impossible matchup each week when considering the personnel employed by almost every other team.
10. Los Angeles Rams (5–2)
Last week: Win vs. Chicago 24–10
Next week: at Miami
When Sean McVay is cooking, there are not many coaches in the league who can match wits.
11. New Orleans Saints (4–2)
Last week: Win vs. Carolina 27–24
Next week: at Chicago
Another team that is shaking off injury and infighting but is talented enough to weather the severity of it all. I would expect us to be talking about a race down the stretch between Brady and Brees, as expected.
12. Cleveland Browns (5–2)
Last week: Win at Cincinnati 37–34
Next week: vs. Las Vegas
A good but not great team that will beat up on the soft, chewy center of its remaining schedule but will need to take down either the Steelers or Ravens (or, really, come within 20 points of them) before we make a serious overreaction.
13. San Francisco 49ers (4–3)
Last week: Win at New England 33–6
Next week: at Seattle
A dominant performance against the Patriots this weekend shows that Kyle Shanahan’s Rolodex of skill position game-breakers is still strong. Jimmy Garoppolo is working his way back to middling and could be headed toward middling-plus.
14. New England Patriots (2–4)
Last week: Loss vs. San Francisco 33–6
Next week: at Buffalo
Are you going to put them any lower than 15th? Are you really that brave? I don’t need to be part of Belichick’s game of three-dimensional chess. This team is still good. I believe!
15. Chicago Bears (5–2)
Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Rams 24–10
Next week: vs. New Orleans
As we’ve written before, Nick Foles can manifest luck, unlike any quarterback I’ve seen in modern times. Someone give him a 23 and Me and see if he is part leprechaun. Still, sometimes that is not enough.
16. Miami Dolphins (3–3)
Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams
I am on the record as saying Tua Tagovailoa will aid in Miami’s playoff push. The AFC East, for the first time since 2010, is going to be absolutely fascinating.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (3–3)
Last week: Loss vs. Tampa Bay 45–20
Next week: at Cleveland
A team that can’t seem to sustain the energy from a signature win, the Raiders are lacking in enough consistency to be considered a true contender at this point.
18. Indianapolis Colts (4–2)
Last week: Bye
Next week: at Detroit
At some point, we will find out where Indianapolis lands on the Philip Rivers-coaster. The roster is supremely talented, but do they have enough to clip the Titans?
19. Carolina Panthers (3–4)
Last week: Loss at New Orleans 27–24
Next week: vs. Atlanta (Thursday)
The meteoric rise of Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady continues. After resurrecting LSU and keeping this middle-tier Panthers offense buoyant, when is another team going to nab him for a head coaching gig?
20. Detroit Lions (3–3)
Last week: Win at Atlanta 23–22
Next week: vs. Indianapolis
At 3–3, Detroit is on pace to be confounding for another 10 weeks. Matt Stafford seems to be turning the corner, and the Lions have a very weak portion of their schedule coming up with games against Minnesota and Washington looming in the not so distant future.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (2–4–1)
Last week: Win vs. New York Giants 22–21
Next week: vs. Dallas
The class of the NFC East right now, Philadelphia is Carson Wentz pushing a rock up an endless mountain.
22. Los Angeles Chargers (2–4)
Last week: Win vs. Jacksonville 39–29
Next week: at Denver
Justin Herbert is for real. Fearless and a quick adaptor, L.A. may not be the trendy playoff team we all envisioned, but they will be a pain in the rear end for any team playing them from here on out.
23. Denver Broncos (2–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Kansas City 43–16
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers
I hope John Elway gives the Vic Fangio regime some freedom to grow. It’s not going to be perfect, but Fangio is a coach who can finally bridge the Super Bowl contenders from 2015 and a team that can contend in the AFC West sometime in the near future.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2–5)
Last week: Loss at Washington 25–3
Next week: at Philadelphia
On Monday their defensive coordinator missed a media conference call because he accidentally rubbed Tobasco sauce in his eye. So that’s about where this team is at right now.
25. Minnesota Vikings (1–5)
Last week: Bye
Next week: at Green Bay
I’d like to see the Vikings sell off a bit at the trade deadline. Mike Zimmer is a good coach who isn’t going anywhere and they deserve some capital after years of picking toward the back of the pack.
26. Atlanta Falcons (1–6)
Last week: Loss vs. Detroit 23–22
Next week: at Carolina Thursday
At this point, the only curiosity is what the franchise will decide to do with all its best players. Does the new coach get a clean slate, or, like Dan Quinn, does he inherit a franchise of stalwarts?
27. Cincinnati Bengals (1–5–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Cleveland 37–34
Next week: vs. Tennessee
Joe Burrow is a winner despite the roster burning down around him. He’s been a pleasure to watch this season—now, can Cincinnati get some draft equity at the deadline to help him out?
28. Washington Football Team (2–5)
Last week: Win vs. Dallas 25–3
Next week: Bye
The Kyle Allen experience sometimes gives gifts like Sunday, a 20-plus point throttling of a division rival, before settling back to earth. Can they come out of a bye week and hang tough against the Giants, Lions, Bengals and Cowboys and give this division a run for its money?
29. New York Giants (1–6)
Last week: Loss at Philadelphia 22–21
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay Monday
This team is not as far away as many think. Joe Judge needs players, but throughout this season seems to have figured out a lot of the other issues (namely, how to motivate this team to play).
30. Houston Texans (1–6)
Last week: Loss vs. Green Bay 35–20
Next week: Bye
Put Deshaun Watson on ice and save him for 2021.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1–6)
Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Chargers 39–29
Next week: Bye
Whether or not they cut ties with Gardner Minshew—is that really the problem?—this team is what it is. Young, inexperienced, dotted with talent but in need of a new direction.
32. New York Jets (0–7)
Last week: Loss vs. Buffalo 18–10
Next week: at Kansas City
Despite some signs of life on Sunday, the only question is whether the Jets will be able to get Trevor Lawrence to sign a rookie deal in 2021.