Skip to main content

NFL Power Rankings: Heavy Hitters Hail From Continuously Dominant NFC

The top four teams come from the same conference, though choice No. 4 may shock you. Plus, how the postseason picture is taking shape.

A full thirteen weeks into the first-ever 17-game NFL season, the postseason picture is starting to take shape. And yet, after another Sunday of surprises, the shape that’s emerging is different than expected, even when compared to last week.

To that end, this week’s MMQB Power Rankings features a few trends that are not likely to hold in a year that’s even stranger than usual.

1. The NFC continues to separate as the dominant conference, to the point where some pundits—raises hand sheepishly—believe the top four teams hail from the same conference. My list includes the usual contenders—Arizona, plus the Bays (Green and Tampa), along with a potentially controversial choice at No. 4, plus the return of an early-season favorite to the top six. This means the rankings are top heavy, not lacking AFC teams overall in the top half. (Can I use “top” more times in one paragraph?)

2. What I’d label the second tier is AFC heavy. The contenders in that conference, outside of the Patriots, land there because significant question marks remain for all. Whether it’s the up-and-down play of the Titans, Bills, Chargers (this week’s biggest jump) and Ravens (this week’s biggest drop); the Chiefs flummoxing/continued offensive struggles; the Colts’ start (and, on some level, their quarterback); the landscape is complicated, everywhere and ever-changing.

3. I’d put the streaking Washington Football Team in a third tier, by itself, as a playoff hopeful heading in the right direction. I put Washington a slight level above the bunch of teams below it. But Washington is also not at the level of the 12 teams that I think have a legitimate shot to win a playoff game in January.

4. The muddled mess starts at No. 14. There, it’s an exercise in throwing darts at teams with potential (Bengals, depending on the severity of a crucial injury), flawed teams on the upswing (Eagles, Dolphins), teams that continue to whipsaw between just maybe and no way (49ers, Broncos, Steelers) and a gaggle of bottom feeders near the end. Perhaps it’s a good thing that there’s an extra week to sort everything out.

1. Arizona Cardinals (10–2)

Last week: Win at Chicago, 33–22
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams (Monday)

There’s a lot to love about this Arizona team. Like the return of Kyler Murray (without any apparent rust, with four touchdowns scored) to the starting lineup, and just in time for a difficult final slate that includes big games against the Rams (next week, Monday night), Colts and Cowboys. Like the defense, which intercepted Andy Dalton four times on Sunday. Like the roster depth, after an expert reshaping by general manager Steve Keim and his personnel staff. Like Isaiah Simmons, defender of many purposes. Like Chandler Jones, sacker of quarterbacks. Like Kliff Kingsbury, remover of strong doubts. Like games remaining against the Lions and Seahawks. The Cardinals are formidable on both sides of the ball, and balanced, and primed for a real run. Oh, and game-changing wideout DeAndre Hopkins is back, too, after scoring in his first game back.

2. Green Bay Packers (9–3)

Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Chicago

The saga that is the 2021 NFL season for the Packers took a well-deserved interlude in Week 13. That meant rest for Aaron Rodgers and (in theory) healing for his broken toe. That meant time for the rest of the roster to recover and reset, time for offensive wizard Matt LaFleur to spend in his laboratory cooking up schemes and time for Green Bay to figure out how to navigate the rest of its season. Due to the well-timed bye, and performances in other recent weeks, there’s no reason to move the Fighting Lombardis this week.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9–3)

Last week: Win at Atlanta, 30–17
Next week: vs. Buffalo

In some ways, the Bucs gained from the Packers not playing, if only because the Bucs did more than might have been expected of them in a resounding trouncing of the Falcons. Ageless Tom Brady threw four touchdowns against Atlanta, including a pair of scores to tight end Rob Gronkowski, which bolstered a significant point: Tampa is better when Gronk is in its lineup, both from a passing perspective and from a run-game one thanks to Gronk’s blocking prowess. Brady and Gronk have now connected for the second-most regular-season touchdowns (90) from any one pair in NFL history. The Buccaneers will also welcome back Antonio Brown soon, after the wideout’s latest misstep with a fake vaccination card. The franchise’s continued embrace of Brown, despite the if-he-makes-one-mistake-he’s-done comment from Coach Bruce Arians, marks one of the low points of the 2021 season. But his return, from a strictly football perspective, gives Tampa a complete offense for much of its stretch run, which features only one likely playoff team, the Bills, next week.

4. Dallas Cowboys (8–4)

Last week: Win at New Orleans, 27–17 (Thursday)
Next week: at Washington 

Imagine there will be some disagreement here. But, in fitting with the theme for the week, I’m moving the Cowboys from No. 10 into the top tier. Yes, I realize that Dallas has lost two of its past three games. The counter: every team from No. 4 to No. 12 is flawed, and, if we’re considering things like top-end potential and schedule, the Cowboys win in both respects. Their banged-up offense is getting healthier. Their defensive (biggest trouble spot) played well on Sunday against injured New Orleans with Dan Quinn replacing Mike McCarthy (COVID-19 protocols) on the sideline, and their schedule, other than a date with Arizona on Jan. 2, features four other games they will be favored to win. Combine those factors, and Dallas should challenge for higher seeding in the playoffs, which could lead to an easier path to the Super Bowl. That is, of course, barring another letdown.

Friendly reminder that Dak Prescott predicted a run to Sports Illustrated before the season started—and how his story highlights just how much the Cowboys, and, in particular their quarterback, have already overcome. 

5. New England Patriots (9–4)

Last week: Win at Buffalo, 14–10 (Monday)
Next week: Bye

Has a 14–10 victory ever felt more dominant? Watch the Patriots in winds that gusted up to 55 miles an hour, as Buffalo kept it close, and as rising quarterback Mac Jones threw only three passes—including a single attempt in the first half—and, still, the outcome of an important AFC contest never seemed in doubt. Just as Tom Brady proved in winning the Super Bowl last season with—and in—Tampa, the whole Brady-Belichick credit debate was never fair to either, let alone telling in regard to their spectacular, two-decade run. The answer, all along, was both of them, as evidenced, once again, by the twist Belichick put on his team’s seventh-straight win, not to mention his brilliant off-season that repositioned the Patriots. We could argue whether the Rams deserve this slot more, or whether the Chiefs do. But it would be foolish—now, or at any point in the near future—to doubt what Belichick has up his, well, um, the shoulder parts of his cut-off sweatshirts. With Jones playing capably, the defense playing better and a bye week ahead, here comes New England, in fast pursuit of what would be an all-time Super Bowl match-up. Do we even need to say who would play in that scenario? It’s not time to lock it in yet, but it sure seems like one of the more likely possibilities.


6. Los Angeles Rams (8–4)

Last week: Win vs. Jacksonville, 37–7
Next week: at Arizona (Monday)

What to make of the Rams? has become a regular, potentially NFL-season-defining inquiry the past few weeks. I went back and forth on this one. The loss of wideout/team leader Robert Woods will continue to hurt down the stretch, but that could be mitigated by an increased role for Odell Beckham Jr., who scored again on Sunday. Difficult games remain on the schedule; Arizona and Baltimore, not to mention three other problematic contests with two division rivals (Seattle, San Francisco) that tend to play LA tough, and a Minnesota team that keeps it close every week. But if I’m looking specifically at how the Rams relate to the teams that are ranked right below them—Kansas City, Tennessee, Buffalo—I’m betting on L.A.’s firepower over any of the others, at least in combination with a defense that boasts two of the NFL’s best players in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. There’s not a ton to take out of the Rams blowout victory over the Jaguars, beyond Matthew Stafford throwing for three touchdowns and taking better care of the football. No, I have the Rams this high based on what I’m predicting lies ahead.

Also of note, per the NFL: Cooper Kupp became only the fourth wideout in NFL history to surpass 100 receptions in the first 12 games of any one season. (Others: Michael Thomas, Marvin Harrison, Julio Jones.) Of that group, only Kupp also grabbed 10 touchdown passes in the 12-game stretch. In more fun with Cooper Kupp numbers, the wideout also became the third-ever NFL receiver with more than 1,350 receiving yards in the first 12 games of any one season, joining Calvin Johnson and Torry Holt.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (8–4)

Last week: Win vs. Denver, 22–9
Next week: vs. Las Vegas

Rather than writing “don’t look now,” the accurate phrase here is “please, look now.” When I put together these power rankings before heading into the glorious, diaper-changing existence that is paternity leave, the Chiefs were being written off, their defense too porous, their normally high-flying offense in a Super Bowl-hangover funk. I wrote then that I believed coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had the chops and the talent to turn things around. I heard from many on Twitter who disagreed. But … he has. Since Tennessee blew out Kansas City on Oct. 24, the Chiefs have allowed: 17 points (Giants), 7 points (Packers), 14 points (Raiders), 9 points (Cowboys) and 9 points (Broncos, last Sunday), while winning all five of those games. Example of impact: a 20-play Broncos drive that netted no points just before halftime. Or: “Dirty” Dan Sorensen’s Pick-Six in the fourth that sealed another win. In fact, the Chiefs D surrendered its first touchdown since the Raiders game against the Broncos, and after the Sorensen turnover, when the game was all but decided.

And, despite the Chiefs continued—and continually perplexing—offensive struggles, in terms of scoring offense, they’re tied for 13th (25.3 points per game), and that’s accounting for their sluggish start. Kansas City will need to bring that ranking up to make another run, but it’s worth noting that when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl two years ago, their defense played far better in the second half the season, carrying an offense that was still rounding into top form. Sound familiar? (Tyreek Hill catching the ball would help, as would fewer turnovers from Patrick Mahomes and additional cohesion from a new offensive line.)

8. Tennessee Titans (8–4)

Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Jacksonville

I considered dropping the Titans a little lower in this week’s rankings. Instead, they moved up one slot, after taking the week off but shifting ahead of Buffalo based on the Bills performance on Monday night. That’s because even though a few teams (Cowboys, Rams) surged above them, Baltimore also lost, and, despite statement wins from the Chargers and the Colts, for now I’d still keep the Titans above both based on their body of work. Plus, I moved the Ravens below the Titans (more on that shortly). Why? Tennessee has a get-right game against Jacksonville this week, which follows the recovery inherent in its bye, and it doesn’t face another true contender the rest of the regular season. So even though the Titans will be without stud running back Derrick Henry, and even though I think the Ravens ultimately have a better team with Henry out, when I considered factors like roster depth, division strength and upcoming schedule, I gave Tennessee the slight nod, and then still went back-and-forth about it.

9. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)

Last week: Loss at Pittsburgh, 20–19
Next week: at Cleveland

For a team with depth, talent, coaching and, always, quarterback Lamar Jackson, I remain unsure of just what to make of the Ravens. For proof, consider Baltimore’s last six games. Since blowing out the Chargers on Nov. 17, when many tabbed the Ravens as the class of a conference with several teams vying for top-contender honors, they have been blown out by the Bengals, narrowly won a thriller against the faltering Vikings, stumbled against the rising Dolphins, eked out a win over the scuttling Bears, barely topped the beat-up Browns and lost, last week, in a close game with the Steelers. All of which is to say, there’s little evidence from the past six weeks to indicate that Baltimore deserves a higher slot, even in the what-to-make-of-it AFC. One dominant performance would change that quickly, but for now—RIP Twitter mentions—in this week’s rankings, the Ravens endure the steepest fall. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the (healthier) Browns, Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers remaining. Props to John Harbaugh for going for the end of regulation, though, even if the decision was based, in part, on losing cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the season. Consider that injury, one of many the Ravens have suffered this season, a big one moving forward.

10. Buffalo Bills (7-5)

Last week: Loss vs. New England, 14–20 (Monday)
Next week: at Tampa Bay

Consider the Bills last six games, an even split between three wins and three losses. There were dominant victories over subpar (NY Jets) or banged up (New Orleans) teams, along with a solid win over Miami. The losses—to Jacksonville, period; a beatdown suffered against Indianapolis and Monday’s ran-down-your-throats affair with New England—were more perplexing. An argument could be made that the Chargers should be here, or the Colts, especially given their 41–15 victory. The choice here is to split some hairs, and I’ll give the Bills the edge based on the strength of their overall roster, its depth, and the experience of quarterback Josh Allen, which is especially important as Buffalo chases a playoff bid—and position—against Justin Herbert and Carson Wentz. That said, future angry social media poster, I acknowledge that you are right, in whatever capacity you take issue with this pick. The teams ranked 9–12 this week are all pretty close for me. And, even then, the Bills may finish the entire season the way the last six weeks have gone, as the schedule features Tampa and another date with New England, along with three winnable games in Carolina, Atlanta and the New York Jets. Wonder if those teams will run the ball …

11. Los Angeles Chargers (7–5)

Last week: Win at Cincinnati, 41–22
Next week: vs. New York Giants

The Chargers find themselves in a similar position to all the teams ranked around them, up or down, in the immediate vicinity. Fresh off an emphatic drubbing of the Bengals, they must lean on a budding superstar at quarterback (Justin Herbert), a running back likely to win more than a few fantasy football playoffs (Austin Ekeler), a defensive guru in Coach Brandon Staley, and a talented roster that sometimes plays to its potential—and sometimes looks more like a pretender. A meh upcoming schedule should help cement a playoff bid. Also of note: Herbert became only the third signal caller in NFL history with at least 25 touchdown passes in his first two seasons (others: Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson), per the NFL.


12. Indianapolis Colts (7–6)

Last week: Win at Houston, 31–0
Next week: Bye

There’s an argument to be made that the Colts belong higher up this list. It’s not one I’m willing to make yet. The 1–4 start remains a factor. As does the lack of a signature win beyond Buffalo—Miami? San Francisco? Indianapolis plays New England and Arizona in its next two games, which should help the sorting out process. First question: is Indy becoming the team many expected it to be? Most pundits picked the Colts to make the playoffs based on the overall strength of their roster, which remains. The question, as always, will be at quarterback. Let’s not diminish how well Carson Wentz has played this season (starting with 22 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions)—or how well the line has protected him (at 22 sacks allowed now, compared to 50 last season). But let’s also not ignore his risky style of football, and how that might sink a playoff game for the Colts in January. Verdict: none yet, jury’s still out.

13. Washington Football Team (6–6)

Last week: Win at Las Vegas, 17–15
Next week: vs. Dallas

Who’s not here for the Taylor Heinicke show? We’d like a word. Part fill-in, part folk hero, Heinicke continued to bolster his easy-to-like legend as the season went along. He has completed more than 70 percent of his pass attempts in each of the last four games—all wins—while throwing seven touchdown passes, against two interceptions. With a telling stretch upcoming—Dallas, Philadelphia, Dallas, Philadelphia—Heinicke and the WFT will either continue to separate from the rest of the muddled mess below them, or fall right back into the quagmire.

14. Cincinnati Bengals (7–5)

Last week: Loss vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 41–22
Next week: at San Francisco

Sometimes, NFL seasons hinge on something as small as a pinky finger. The Bengals understand that better this week, after their quarterback, Joe Burrow, finished out the loss to the Chargers with a digit so swollen that it was visible even on TV, without requiring a zoomed-in angle. Cameras never missed an opportunity to show Burrow—on the sideline, in pain; warming up, still in pain; shaking his hand, in pain; throwing passes, in pain; or sitting while holding his hand, in pain, and all afternoon. His default facial expression was: grimace. That the injury happened on pinky in his throwing hand only made it worse, both last week and in weeks upcoming. While Burrow played every snap last week, the health of the Bengals playoff hopes will rest on his dislocated right pinky, and how quickly it can heal, with contests against formidable defenses—49ers, Broncos, Ravens, Chiefs—next on the schedule. Still, if the postseason started today, the Bengals would be in.

15: San Francisco 49ers (6–6)

Last week: Loss at Seattle, 30–23
Next week: at Cincinnati

Like the Bengals, the 49ers would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today. Like the Bengals, their chances moving forward will hinge on quarterback play. But, unlike the Bengals, there’s no injury—not this week—to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s not that Jimmy G played terribly in a brutal loss to Seattle; he threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, while re-cementing his connection with George Kittle (12 targets, 9 catches, 181 yards, two scores). It’s that Jimmy G’s role specifically is to not screw up games, to keep his team close, and to let the rest of San Francisco’s talented roster win around him. The two picks he threw against Seattle were especially harmful, and they reinforced the notion that the Niners will not be dynamic enough offensively to do any more than remain on the playoff fringe. Enter Trey Lance? We’ll see.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)

Last week: Win vs. Baltimore, 20–19
Next week: at Minnesota (Thursday)

Mike Tomlin deserves much credit for all he has helped Pittsburgh weather the past several seasons, from Ryan Shazier’s scary neck injury, to Antonio Brown’s insubordination, to Le’Veon Bell’s messy exit, plus last season’s injuries at quarterback. That the Steelers remain in the postseason mix in 2021, despite some brutal, head-scratching losses, and a statuesque quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, speaks to Tomlin’s vast influence and quality as a coach. But even with a big upset of the Ravens last week, Pittsburgh remains in a Flip A Coin City, along with every other team around them in the power rankings. If the Steelers manage to sneak into the playoffs, don’t expect the run to last that long. Also of note: with a career-high 3.5 sacks on Sunday, T.J. Watt set a season career-high, with 16 total sacks—and five games left.

17. Denver Broncos (6–6)

Last week: Loss at Kansas City, 22–9
Next week: vs. Detroit

The Broncos simply have too much offensive talent to turn in the putrid efforts they have slogged through in recent weeks, as evidenced in recent losses to Philadelphia (13 points scored) and Kansas City (9). It’s not fair to put the blame squarely on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With a loaded receiving core, and the emergence of speedy back Javonte Williams, Denver has enough offensive punch to put up points. They have done just that, in fact, several times this season. Just not enough to inspire confidence in a playoff bid. Not with a unit that ranks 20th in total offense (343.9 yards per game) and 22nd in points scored (19.8 per game).

18. Philadelphia Eagles (6–7)

Last week: Win at New York Jets, 33–18
Next week: Bye

Considered placing the Eagles higher this week, if only because they’ve piled up points in three of their last four games, all of which they won, with a clunker against the Giants thrown in to cast some doubt. What’s obvious: Jalen Hurts can play, and the Eagles do not need to find his successor this off-season, not with other, more obvious holes to fill, and a high-level backup already in the building. What may soon be obvious: Philly’s offense, as a whole, is rounding into form. With Gardner Minshew behind center against the Giants, the Eagles put up 33 points—and put the Giants stumble behind them momentarily. With three winnable games following a bye week, there’s reason to believe Philadelphia can make a run. Just don’t confuse “reason to believe” with “likely.” And, if you want to feel better about the world, just watch this video of Minshew embracing his father after the big win. Makes me want to hug my kids a little tighter.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mack Hollins (86), makes a touchdown catch.

19. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Last week: Win vs. New York Giants, 20–9
Next week: Bye

It’s odd, consistently, how quickly we anoint, or give up, on young NFL quarterbacks. It’s like their development is viewed only in straight lines, all the way up, or all the way down, always “disaster or euphoria” to paraphrase Bill Parcells old quote on playing football in New York. As the Dolphins rattled off their fifth-straight win on Sunday, their young QB, Tua Tagovailoa, played at a level reminiscent of his Alabama stardom days, while reminding the world of pro football, once again, that quarterbacks develop at vastly different paces, while beholden to factors like injury and offensive line play that exist outside of their control. The Dolphins will need Tua’s consistency to make a run, especially with games against New England and Tennessee in the final two weeks. And who said the AFC East was the worst division in football? (Again, raises hand sheepishly.)

Watch NFL games online all season long with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!

20. Cleveland Browns (6–6)

Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Baltimore

It’s safe to say that no team has endured quite as much turmoil in the 2021 season as the Browns, who traded their star wideout (Beckham Jr.), dealt with COVID-19 positives and a rash of injuries, and have staggered forward with quarterback Baker Mayfield in both peak-petulance mode and far from full health. A run, while still possible, seems improbable, especially with five teams at .500 or better remaining on the schedule.

21. Las Vegas Raiders (6–6)

Last week: Loss vs. Washington, 17–15
Next week: at Kansas City

In regard to the most turmoil in 2021, the Raiders would like to say, wait, hold on a second. After my buddy Ken Belson broke the Jon Gruden emails story in The New York Times, Gruden was fired. Emerging wideout Henry Ruggs III was eventually charged with four felonies after a drunk-driving arrest for a car crash where the other driver was killed. The look-at-how-much-the-Raiders-are-overcoming pieces were head-scratching the past few weeks, and even then, their play started to match the dramatic, chaotic mess that is their season in a loss to Washington last weekend. Feels like a tipping point in the wrong direction, an understandable one at that. Plus, Las Vegas just lost Kenyan Drake to a broken ankle suffered in Sunday's game.

22. New Orleans Saints (5–7)

Last week: Loss vs. Dallas, 27–17 (Thursday)
Next week: at New York Jets

The Saints have a better team than their place in these power rankings indicates. But they’re simply too injured to consider a playoff hopeful. Whether it’s quarterback Jameis Winston, or quarterback Taysom Hill, or running back Alvin Kamara, or wide receiver Michael Thomas, or any number of others, a team with a deep roster has encountered too much damage to make a realistic push.

23. Minnesota Vikings (5–7)

Last week: Loss at Detroit, 29–27
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh (Thursday)

The Vikings are one of the NFL’s most befuddling teams. Maybe the most befuddling. Over the course of the season, Minnesota narrowly lost to some of the league’s top contenders (Arizona, 1 point; Dallas, 4 points; Baltimore, 3 points). The Vikings haven’t dropped any of their seven losses by more than 8 total points, and five of those defeats came by four points or fewer. Even then, Minnesota’s victories have mostly resulted from similar margins, and their last game—Detroit’s first and only win this season—only proved how far the Vikings have to go. With the Steelers, Rams and Packers remaining on the schedule—along with two games against the Bears—they’ll have to move forward without wideout Adam Thielen who suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday, adding injury to insult. Star running back Dalvin Cook already missed last week with a shoulder injury, and he’s not likely to play this week, either. But, hey, at least Vikings fans can debate whether Justin Jefferson is now the best receiver in all of pro football.

24. Atlanta Falcons (5–7)

Last week: Loss vs. Tampa Bay, 30–17
Next week: at Carolina 

Matt Ryan isn’t having a bad season. Yes, his yards-per-attempt (6.9) is down and his interceptions (11) are up. But those dips are due, in part, to losing Julio Jones (traded to Tennessee) and Calvin Ridley (stepped away to tend to his mental health). The question that must be answered over the season’s final weeks is whether the Falcons should move on from Ryan and start anew. It’s not his fault that the answer seems to be, yes.

25. Seattle Seahawks (4–8)

Last week: Win vs. San Francisco, 30–23
Next week: at Houston 

There’s not a more optimistic franchise in the NFL than the one in Seattle led by Coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson. But the sunny-side-up outlook being peddled after a single, close victory over the 49ers is a little much, even with those familiar rose-colored glasses being placed back on so many faces. With games against the Rams and Cardinals remaining, optimism in Seattle is really a delusion in disguise, which sets up a big question for the off-season: is Pete Carroll gone? Is Wilson? Are both? That’s the bet here. Regardless, it’s worth watching down the stretch, if only to see how a remarkable era wins.

26. Carolina Panthers (5-7)

Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Atlanta 

The Panthers have shown flashes this season. But with running back Christian McCaffrey shelved, offensive coordinator Joe Brady fired, quarterback Cam Newton adjusting in his return and games remaining against the Bucs (twice) and Bills, Carolina seems more likely to continue its freefall than to right its season.

27. Chicago Bears (4–8)

Last week: Loss vs. Arizona, 33–22
Next week: at Green Bay

The best thing that can be said about the Bears 2021 season is … at least Justin Field flashed some tantalizing potential when he was both healthy and starting. Otherwise, six losses in seven games say all that’s needed, as the Bears edge out the teams below them based simply on the four games they have managed to win.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2) reacts after breaking up a pass

28. New York Jets (3–9) (starting to play a little better, relative; Wilson back)

Last week: Loss vs. Philadelphia, 33–18
Next week: vs. New Orleans 

Maybe it’s simply life as a former Jets beat writer, but I watch this team, through loss after loss, and still, somehow, manage to see progress. In this case, it’s relative, but from quarterback Zach Wilson to slot receiver Elijah Moore to some (small) offensive improvement, and … ah, who am I kidding? The J-E-T-S are still J-E-T-ing, but were bumped above the Giants for that very (again, relative) improvement.

29. New York Giants (4–8)

Last week: Loss at Miami, 20–9
Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers 

Pity the professional football fan in New York in 2021. Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has worked some of his typical magic in this downtrodden season. But for an offense with this much money and draft capital put into players like quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay, who injured some ribs this week, among many others, there’s simply no good explanation for how truly bad the offense is.

30. Houston Texans (2–10)

Last week: Loss vs. Indianapolis, 31–0
Next week: vs. Seattle 

Shut out this week, fortunate to have not been shut out of the win column this season. That’s the Texans, more or less. They are what we thought they were, which is to say really bad.

31. Detroit Lions (1-10-1)

Last week: Win vs. Minnesota, 29–27
Next week: at Denver

Lions get a one-slot bump for their first—and understandably emotional, after the nearby Michigan school shooting—win on Sunday. Written without snark, in all seriousness: given the circumstances, and the lack of talent throughout the roster, it’s laudable how Jared Goff has performed this season. That’s not to say the Rams should have stayed put, rather than trade for Stafford. It’s to say that Goff has shown some enviable mettle this year—and his resolve, coupled with his team’s character, netted that last-second triumph. If that’s the highlight of the 2021 season in Detroit, it’s not an insignificant one. Also of note: this marked the 26th time this season that a game was decided on the final play, per the NFL. That’s the most such games ever through Week 13.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2–10)

Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Rams, 37–7
Next week: at Tennessee 

The most important question that remains in this Jacksonville season should sound familiar: is it time for another extreme makeover? Meaning: another one. And, related question: will the franchise ruin Trevor Lawrence before one reclamation project or another finally takes hold?

More NFL Coverage: 
Breaking Down the NFL Playoff Picture With Five Weeks to Go
Breaking Buffalo: Belichick Sends Bills Back to the Drawing Board
MAQB: Jared Goff Deserves to Feel Good After First Win With Lions
MMQB: T.J. Watt Explains How the Steelers Did Just Enough to Beat the Ravens

Sports Illustrated may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.