To review, for those of you not familiar with the concept of Power Rankings: Every week someone on our staff is tasked with ranking the NFL teams from 1 to 32, based on the quality of those teams rather than just listing the current standings. In response, folks in the audience fill their metaphorical diapers over the fact that teams are not ranked strictly in order of current standings. Meanwhile, the season champion will be determined on the field. And the circle of life is complete.
Feel free to send your typo-ridden missives via Twitter. And… enjoy?
THE SUPER BOWL CONTENDERS
1. Kansas City Chiefs (7–4)
Last week: Win vs. Dallas, 19–9
Next week: Bye
But they have four losses—outrageous! You should stop reading right now and go do something else with your day. The funny thing about the Chiefs is that they’ve been the best team in football all year, it was just a matter of the fluky turnovers drying up, which they always do. But the fluky turnovers haven’t dried up—Sunday’s win featured a chase-down fumble and an interception that bounced off Travis Kelce’s hands—and they’re still on a four-game winning streak.
(tie)2. New England Patriots (7–4)
Last week: Win at Atlanta, 25–0
Next week: vs. Tennessee
This team suddenly smells a lot like the 2018 edition: power run game, efficient quarterback, dominant defense, one of those vanilla-scented car air fresheners. There’s a narrative that the five-game winning streak has come against a soft part of the schedule, but while the Chargers, Browns and Panthers aren’t elite, they’re all quality teams, and the Patriots outclassed all three.
(tie)2. Green Bay Packers (8–3)
Last week: Loss at Minnesota, 34–31
Next week: vs. L.A. Rams
It was vintage Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but also an injury-plagued defense that finally came crashing back to earth. The Packers would be the best team in the NFC if healthy, but there’s no indication of when Jaire Alexander or Za’Darius Smith will make it back.
(tie)2. Dallas Cowboys (7–3)
Last week: Loss at Kansas City, 19–9
Next week: vs. Las Vegas (Thursday)
I’m not sure there are any real conclusions to be drawn from the loss in Kansas City—a rash of injuries in one position group will do that to you—but I did think it was a positive that the defense held on. Based on the whole body of work, there’s still an argument that this is the best team in the NFC.
(tie)2. Arizona Cardinals (9–2)
Last week: Win at Seattle, 23–13
Next week: Bye
They came away with two wins in three Colt McCoy starts (though they should start McCoy every time they face the Seahawks considering how thoroughly he owns that team) and head into the bye with the best record in football. The 2–2 stretch over the last month saw them regress closer to the mean in small-sample-size stats like fumble-recovery rate, fourth-down efficiency and red-zone efficiency (though all three are still unsustainably high on the season as a whole), but nine wins with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins coming back (presumably) fresh is a good place to be.
(tie)2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7–3)
Last week: Win vs. N.Y. Giants, 30–10
Next week: at Indianapolis
The offense might not quite get there until Antonio Brown is back, but the news is good on Vita Vea's knee and Carlton Davis could be back soon. Basically, it looks like they're getting healthy just in time for December and January.
7. Indianapolis Colts (6–5)
Last week: Win at Buffalo, 41–15
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay
They were always one of the five best teams in the AFC. The issue was that they gave away so many red-zone possessions early in the year—and therefore games early in the year—that they put themselves in this hole. They’ve won six of their last eight with the two losses coming in overtime, one because their kicker got hurt in Baltimore and the other in the third-most poorly officiated game of 2021 (behind Bills-Jaguars and Bears-Steelers), against Tennessee.
8. Buffalo Bills (6–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Indianapolis, 41–15
Next week: at New Orleans (Thursday)
Hand-wringing about this offense isn’t going to do you any good. Hand-wringing about this defense, that’s where it’s at. Strength of schedule often gets overrated, but there’s no denying that, coming off a relatively down year in 2020, the Bills D got fat off some truly bad offenses early in the year (Houston, Pittsburgh, Jets, Miami, Miami). They let one slip away in Nashville earlier this season when they couldn’t tackle Derrick Henry, it got out of hand Sunday because they couldn’t tackle Jonathan Taylor, and in December they’ll face power run games against the Bucs, Panthers and, most importantly, Patriots twice (have you seen what Rhamondre Stevenson has been doing to people lately?).
9. Los Angeles Rams (7–3)
Last week: Bye
Next week: at Green Bay
The Robert Woods injury is devastating—his versatility and value as a perimeter blocker can’t be replaced, and the Rams would be better off with a healthy Woods than Odell Beckham Jr. (which apparently isn’t an option). They have some things to smooth out offensively, and defensively this unit has undeniably slid back compared to last year, but a post-bye week trip to Green Bay, to face a familiar opponent ravaged by injuries on defense, should give us a good read on where the Rams are going in the second half of the season.
THE DARKHORSE CONTENDERS
(tie)10. Cincinnati Bengals (6–4)
Last week: Win at Las Vegas, 32–13
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh
The Bengals’ fast start was as much their sound, solid defense as it was Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, and in back-to-back losses preceding their bye week that defense struggled to get people on the ground. Sunday’s win in Vegas looked much more like the team that started 6–2.
(tie)10. Cleveland Browns (6–5)
Last week: Win vs. Detroit, 13–10
Next week: at Baltimore
Tim Boyle is probably not a great litmus test for this defense, but it was good to see them get back on track after the meltdown in Foxboro. Baker Mayfield’s play is an issue, though. It was a similar issue this time last year, then he snapped out of it for a big finish. If that doesn’t happen this year, the Browns will be completely dependent on grabbing early leads and keeping the offense as highly schemed as possible to take matters out of the quarterback’s hands.
(tie)10. Baltimore Ravens (7–3)
Last week: Win at Chicago, 16–13
Next week: vs. Cleveland
The way they win games doesn’t seem to be replicable, but the fact that they keep winning nonetheless probably shouldn’t be overlooked either.
(tie)13. San Francisco 49ers (5–5)
Last week: Win at Jacksonville, 30–10
Next week: vs. Minnesota
The question is whether this secondary can hold up over the long run (they’ve held on the past two weeks after embarrassing themselves in the home loss to Arizona) but the last two weeks—wins over the Rams and Jaguars—were Kyle Shanahan masterpieces.
(tie)13. Minnesota Vikings (5–5)
Last week: Win vs. Green Bay, 34–31
Next week: at San Francisco
Kirk Cousins has been consistently tasked with delivering late-game heroics this year, and he’s done so repeatedly. The schedule is about to soften up for the Vikings, and anything less than 10 wins would be a disappointment.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (6–4)
Last week: Win vs. Pittsburgh, 41–37
Next week: at Denver
Even setting aside the wacky events that got the Steelers back into it on Sunday night, this is still a team that feels a little too dependent on the quarterback’s heroics (even if the quarterback is very, very good). Justin Herbert plus bend-don’t-break (in theory) defense isn’t the worst formula, it’s just going to lead to a lot of coin-flip games.
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16. Philadelphia Eagles (5–6)
Last week: Win vs. New Orleans, 40–29
Next week: at N.Y. Giants
Despite looking everywhere else but their own roster, it looks like they found a potential franchise quarterback (the guy they spent a second-round pick on 18 months ago, who knew!). Nick Sirianni has put an emphasis on Jalen Hurts’s legs and mobility in the passing game the past few weeks, and DC Jonathan Gannon dialing up the blitz in Sunday’s thumping of the Saints, this team has enough tricks up its sleeve to make a run at a wild-card spot.
17. Tennessee Titans (8–3)
Last week: Loss vs. Houston, 22–13
Next week: at New England
The defensive performance (and some sloppy play by opposing offenses) masked the deficiencies of the Derrick Henry–less offense the previous two weeks, but the Titans were exposed by the Texans of all teams on Sunday. Without Henry (and now without Julio Jones and possibly A.J. Brown), the soul has been sucked out of this offense.
18. Carolina Panthers (5–6)
Last week: Loss vs. Washington, 27–21
Next week: at Miami
Their simplified passing game in Cam Newton’s first start (understandable, considering he’d been there for 10 days) was an issue against a Washington defense that’s been busting coverages regularly; maybe it was just a bad matchup. But the Panthers have the defense, and now the offensive identity, to be a playoff team, and a home loss to an inferior opponent is a red flag.
STILL A SLIVER OF HOPE
19. Las Vegas Raiders (5–5)
Last week: Loss vs. Cincinnati, 32–13
Next week: at Dallas (Thursday)
They’re not as bad as the last two final scores would indicate (41–14 to the Chiefs, 32–13 on Sunday), but situational football has crushed this team. The offense went 1-for-7 on third down against the Bengals, and they rank near the bottom of the league in red-zone efficiency on both sides of the ball. Those things are correctable, but they’ve dug themselves in a hole.
(tie)20. Pittsburgh Steelers (5–4–1)
Last week: Loss at L.A. Chargers, 41–37
Next week: at Cincinnati
They have some similarities to the Ravens, in that they’re hanging around in games they probably shouldn’t be hanging around in, but the Steelers lack of offensive firepower to close. They could steal a playoff spot if the defense gets back to full strength soon, but they don’t stop the run and if T.J. Watt and/or Minkah Fitzpatrick miss time, there’s just not enough talent here.
(tie)20. New Orleans Saints (5–5)
Last week: Loss at Philadelphia, 40–29
Next week: vs. Buffalo (Thursday)
It’s not all his fault, but the Saints are 0–3 since Trevor Siemian stepped into the lineup. They might feel like they need Taysom Hill as an offensive weapon more than a quarterback right now due to all their injury woes, but really they just need a new offensive identity.
(tie)20. Denver Broncos (5–5)
Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. L.A. Chargers
Vic Fangio’s defense will never be fun to play against, but when you ride defense-plus-run game and don’t take the ball away, it’s a very narrow path to victory. The Broncos are 4–0 when they get multiple takeaways in a game, 1–5 when they don’t.
(tie)20. Washington Football Team (4–6)
Last week: Win at Carolina, 27–21
Next week: vs. Seattle (Monday)
The Chase Young injury is huge for a team that has struggled on the back end and needs to dominate in the trenches, but at least for one week Taylor Heinicke bailed them out with a number of game-altering second-reaction plays in Carolina.
GET ’EM NEXT YEAR
(tie)24. Seattle Seahawks (3–7)
Last week: Loss vs. Arizona, 23–13
Next week: at Washington
Maybe the matchups were just bad, but the Seahawks scored one touchdown the past two weeks. On the season, Russell Wilson’s third-down completion percentage (35.1%) is the lowest the league has seen since Dallas’s Chad Hutchinson in 2002 (34.8%).
(tie)24. New York Giants (3–7)
Last week: Loss at Tampa Bay, 30–10
Next week: vs. Philadelphia
What a brutal way to come out of the bye week, with an offense that remains completely disjointed despite having the quarterback and the weapons in place. It doesn't help that the offensive line couldn't handle Tampa Bay's second- and third-stringers up front, but that couldn't have been a surprise. At some point, there has to be a method to the play-calling.
(tie)24. Atlanta Falcons (4–6)
Last week: Loss vs. New England, 25–0
Next week: at Jacksonville
In retrospect, it’s impressive that this team has four wins. But the past two weeks, during which they were outscored 68–3, is more indicative of the talent level on this roster.
27. Chicago Bears (3–7)
Last week: Loss vs. Baltimore, 16–13
Next week: at Detroit (Thursday)
We know the offense has issues, and the defense is expected to carry this team even without Khalil Mack. But to allow late scoring drives to let games slip away against the Steelers and the Tyler Huntley-led Ravens is a big issue.
28. Miami Dolphins (4–7)
Last week: Win at N.Y. Jets, 24–17
Next week: vs. Carolina
The Dolphins probably belong one tier lower, but it’s the holiday season. Almost the holiday season.
ABANDON ALL HOPE
29. Detroit Lions (0–9–1)
Last week: Loss at Cleveland, 13–10
Next week: vs. Chicago (Thursday)
Sunday was a bummer for anyone holding out hope that Tim Boyle was the answer, but the Lions continue to be game most weeks and have a chance to get on the board against the Bears on Thursday.
(tie)30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2–8)
Last week: Loss vs. San Francisco, 30–10
Next week: vs. Atlanta
Surely there’s something in Florida’s statutes that would hold the appropriate parties responsible for what they’re doing to Trevor Lawrence.
(tie)30. New York Jets (2–8)
Last week: Loss vs. Miami, 24–17
Next week: at Houston
Really, there’s no shame in starting Joe Flacco. But there is shame in giving up 24 points to that Dolphins offense in your own building.
(tie)30. Houston Texans (2—8)
Last week: Win at Tennessee, 22–13
Next week: vs. N.Y. Jets
0–17 was a realistic possibility with this roster. Give David Culley, Tim Kelly, Lovie Smith and Co. a thumbs-up for winning two games already, with a chance to win a third this weekend.
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