The Colts almost beat the Eagles on Sunday. They were one last-minute drive away from handing Jeff Saturday his second straight victory to begin the most bizarre interim coaching season we can remember.
MMQB Podcast cohost Gary Gramling and I discussed the situation this week and came away with several thoughts, which may seem like they are not related but can almost certainly exist in the same universe together.
• We may have collectively overreacted a little bit. Everyone in the industry we were hearing from was disgusted by the maneuver, which certainly colored our opinions. But, like many events or decisions, we are always more demonstrative when life is happening in the moment. Time adds a gentler perspective, and it could also make this move seem far more ridiculous in hindsight. But … the idea that a Jeff Saturday regime would look like some freewheeling bootleg operation, with coaches, pantless and bumbling, communicating via strung pipe cleaner and tin can, did not happen.
• Saturday’s success—and, again, we’re not quite sure what to call it yet—could lead to some wild developments in the NFL coaching world. In many ways, we should have seen this coming. Major League Baseball and the NBA pivoted to this model (hiring coaches with a background as a player but no direct coaching experience) years ago, to varying degrees of success. The difference, of course, is that an NFL head coach touches so many more corners of the operation, and the operation is so much larger. There is such a massive cottage industry of analysts and talkers with an ability to grab the ear of an owner, and there are also owners who listen to people who have absolutely no business advising on matters of professional football. I would guess the hope among coaches was that Saturday would bottom out so vigorously that the door would be shut on this conversation forever. That has not (yet) happened.
• How do the players really feel? Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said after the game that he’d like to keep what some current Colts players told him private. Sirianni was mentored by Frank Reich, the former Colts coach. He wouldn’t say much else, though it was clear the move rubbed him the wrong way. As one person explained, right now, Saturday could have an upper hand from a public relations standpoint because he’s a breath of fresh air. He has unusually high energy, and he is not yet infected by cynicism or any of the myriad of personality quirks coaches develop over long hours of watching film—only to have their hearts ripped out when the play doesn’t work the way it is supposed to—on a regular basis. What happens when he does get infected? What happens the first time he makes a really horrendous mistake?
While there is lots of football going on, there may not be a bigger story in the NFL than Saturday. Think we’re making too big a deal out of this? When Dwayne Johnson replaces a retired Sean McVay as head coach of the Rams, remember this post.
P.S. We’ve been asked in recent comments to make the blurbs more about why teams are in certain positions relative to other teams. That makes sense, and we will do our best to explain why certain teams have risen and fallen, or are stuck behind other teams.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8–2)
Last week: win at Los Angeles Chargers, 30–27
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams
I debated putting both the Cowboys and the Bills at No. 1, and we’ll get to that in a moment. Right now, the Chiefs are ahead of both Dallas and Buffalo because they have completely overcome their weaknesses. Patrick Mahomes’s 16-yard run on Sunday night was another reminder to opposing teams that he doesn’t need a running game, even if Isiah Pacheco is going to randomly sprinkle in a 100-yard game once every solstice. There is no way to defend this team; there is only acceptance of what is.
2. Dallas Cowboys (7–3)
Last week: win at Minnesota, 40–3
Next week: vs. New York Giants
The Cowboys are a multiple defense that is on the same page right now. They are healthy, deep with playmaking talent and can score against any opponent. If we’re looking seriously at deep playoff run potential, Dallas has all the necessary components (run game, quarterback efficiency, pass rush stars and an aggressive, shape-shifting secondary) to succeed. The Cowboys are one spot ahead of the Bills right now because Josh Allen seems a bit limited as he deals with a right elbow issue.
Watch the Cowboys on Thanksgiving: Full schedule here.
3. Buffalo Bills (7–3)
Last week: win vs. Cleveland, 31–23
Next week: at Detroit
I moved the Bills down on the list due, in part, to Allen not looking quite right, and, in part, to the secondary falling to No. 23 in dropback success rate. While Amari Cooper’s performance against the Bills was somewhat of a choice—the Bills brought some pressure in this game and had a third linebacker on the field for 57% of their snaps—they did look situationally sloppy.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (9–1)
Last week: win vs. Indianapolis, 17–16
Next week: vs. Green Bay
The Eagles are going through their difficult period right now. They are regressing to the mean in terms of turnover margin, which narrows the ability of Jalen Hurts to make mistakes and correct them over the course of a game. I placed them fourth at the moment as I wait to see how their new run-stopping pieces will blend in, and whether they can run an effective RPO-based offense when their lead backs are plodding at 3.5 yards per carry.
5. San Francisco 49ers (6–4)
Last week: win at Arizona, 38-10
Next week: vs. New Orleans
This is what they are capable of in the Christian McCaffrey era—complete and utter dominance. No defense that can completely encase them. It's a really terrifying prospect for anyone who assumed the NFC was locked up a few weeks ago.
6. Tennessee Titans (7–3)
Last week: win at Green Bay, 27–17
Next week: vs. Cincinnati
No team is defending the run better than the Titans, which is why, ultimately, they may be a wild-card contender for a deep playoff run. Shutting down a running game eliminates the kind of dependable efficiency teams rely on to counter the Titans’ defense. I am placing them sixth because, with Derrick Henry hitting a late-season stride, their offensive efficiency numbers should bloom late in the season and catch up to their defense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5–5)
Last week: BYE
Next week: at Cleveland
The Buccaneers find themselves at No. 7 this week. With one of the easiest remaining schedules left, and an offense that seems to have finally found a groove, they will be one of the more dangerous-looking clubs through the final weeks of the season.
8. Baltimore Ravens (7–3)
Last week: win vs. Carolina, 13–3
Next week: at Jacksonville
This feels like the right location for an upper-middle-tier team in the AFC that is likely right below that first group of teams. They are a step below the Titans at the moment, given that both defenses are playing well but one offense seems to have more options.
9. Miami Dolphins (7–3)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. Houston
The Dolphins come off their bye week with a gift of a matchup against the Texans. While teams have been able to figure them out situationally, roster attrition around the league and overwhelmed defensive coordinators everywhere are ultimately powerless against their suite of playmakers.
10. Minnesota Vikings (8–2)
Last week: loss vs. Dallas, 40–3
Next week: vs. New England
While this may seem like a punishment for the Vikings, whom I had in the No. 1 spot a week ago, I think there was always going to be some regression here. I understand the frustration from fans who felt that perhaps they didn’t get their earned respect until late in the season—and that it’s already getting taken away—but the loss to the Cowboys exposed some of Minnesota’s more fatal flaws. This team isn’t tackling well, didn’t run the ball especially well and, in situations where Justin Jefferson can’t get a steady diet of targets, its system can be hampered.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (6–4)
Last week: win at Pittsburgh, 37–30
Next week: at Tennessee
The Bengals have been one of the trickiest teams to place on this list throughout the year, and I could entertain the argument that they deserve to be higher based on how they’ve performed without Ja’Marr Chase. Ultimately, they could emerge, just like they did last year, as a fierce contender without garnering much of our attention during the regular season. They still have a top-10-ish defense and a top-five-ish offense, and they survived a T.J. Watt onslaught Sunday, which is difficult for any traditional pocket passer. Their game against Tennessee, a rematch of the thrilling AFC divisional round matchup from last year, will provide many answers.
12. Los Angeles Chargers (5–5)
Last week: loss vs. Kansas City, 30–27
Next week: at Arizona
While this was a disappointing loss, the Chargers can say they resembled a professional-looking offense for the first time in months. It was only their inability to cover crossing routes deep in their territory that doomed them against the Chiefs. Still, this is a 5–5 team with upside, at least from where I’m sitting. I am moving the Chargers up for what I’ll deem a quality loss. They could be (like many of the best teams from a year ago) making their move a bit later in the season.
13. New England Patriots (6–4)
Last week: win vs. New York Jets, 10–3
Next week: at Minnesota
Their Thanksgiving matchup against Minnesota will show us whether Bill Belichick has another solid plan in the holster. After blanking the Jets and faring well against some of the better offenses in the league to this point, the Patriots will arrive this week as the league’s No. 1 defense. I have moved the Patriots up for this reason, as it seems their tentpole strengths—a versatile, ever-changing scheme and a strong running game—are moving along well.
14. Seattle Seahawks (6–4)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. Las Vegas
At this point, the Seahawks need to be in win-accumulation mode. They have two games against the gutted Rams, a Panthers matchup and a home contest next week against the Raiders, left. They sit at No. 14 this week in a position that reflects our diminishing skepticism. Here’s what we mean: A convincing win over the Raiders not only improves their 79% playoff odds but also shows that they will not be susceptible to a handful of trap games deep in the season.
15. New York Giants (7–3)
Last week: loss vs. Detroit, 31–18
Next week: at Dallas
The Giants are at No. 15 this week. Why? They are absolutely wiped out on the injury front, and their remaining strength of schedule is the hardest in the NFL: two games against the Eagles, two games against the surging Commanders, a short-rest