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NFL Power Rankings: Chiefs and Cowboys Make Claim for No. 1 Spot

Week 11 is in the books, and we have a better read on the league’s true contenders.

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.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, left, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrate after the Chiefs defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 30-27 in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.

Mahomes, right, and Travis Kelce connected on three touchdowns to rally in Los Angeles.

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.

New England Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones (25) runs past New York Jets punter Braden Mann (7) on a return for a touchdown during the second half at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones’s punt return proved to be the difference in Sunday’s 10-3 win. 

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 Thanksgiving matchup with the Cowboys and a game against the Vikings. This, at least to me, reflects a team that has peaked thanks to some incredible schematic football. There is no shame in 7–2 being the high point of their season.

16. New York Jets (6–4)

Last week: loss at New England, 10–3

Next week: vs. Chicago

The Jets find themselves sitting just outside of playoff contention, as they are an upper-crust defense with glaring quarterback issues. In some way, every team in this area is lacking a true game-winner at the position, which ultimately hampers their ability to win games. An encouraging loss to the Patriots (encouraging in that they surrendered just three points and lost on a controversial punt return) keeps them hovering around the top 15.

17. Atlanta Falcons (5–6)

Last week: win vs. Chicago, 27–24

Next week: at Washington

I think Arthur Smith should be in the Coach of the Year conversation. Every week seems so laborious, and now without Kyle Pitts—who may very well be done for the season—the Falcons’ opponent coverage patterns shift and tighten again. The Commanders game could very well dictate their season as they desperately hang on.

18. Detroit Lions (4–6)

Last week: win vs. New York Giants, 31–18

Next week: vs. Buffalo

Why the 4–6 Lions over the 6–5 Commanders? The Commanders’ remaining schedule is quite a trek, while the Lions face the Bears (potentially without Justin Fields), the Jaguars and the Panthers. FiveThirtyEight has them at about a 12% chance of making the playoffs. I think, based on their ability to control the ground game and the potential diversification the offense sees if Jameson Williams comes back, we’re looking at a different football team come mid-December.

19. Washington Commanders (6–5)

Last week: win at Houston, 23–10

Next week: vs. Atlanta

The Commanders are at the back end of our fringe-contender area. They move up one spot from last week but aren’t soaring despite a convincing two-game stretch over the previous two weeks. As mentioned above, Washington’s schedule is prohibitive, but its quarterback play is also regressing to baseline levels while the running game and defense struggle to pick up the slack.

20. Chicago Bears (3–8)

Last week: loss at Atlanta, 27–24

Next week: at New York Jets

The loss of Justin Fields—for any amount of time—would be a clear backbreaker for this team. The Bears have to balance any hope they have for 2022 with the reality that a healthy Fields in ’23 is more important than a potential Baker Mayfield situation. (Mayfield also had a nonthrowing shoulder injury that dramatically derailed his progress.)

21. Green Bay Packers (4–7)

Last week: loss vs. Tennessee, 27–17

Next week: at Philadelphia

The Packers are free-falling, and with a game against the Eagles coming up, they could be wiped out of playoff contention entirely. The Packers’ recent game plans, which placed Christian Watson in advantageous situations and didn’t punish him for a percentage of drops well within the range of possibility, are encouraging but ultimately too late.

22. Los Angeles Rams (3–7)

Last week: loss at New Orleans, 27–20

Next week: at Kansas City

Speaking of teams that are cooked, the Rams will continue to drop. I even like the Steelers as a fringe playoff contender better than I like the idea of the defending Super Bowl champions running the table. Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t coming close to cleaning up this mess. It’s time to take a good hard look at this roster in the offseason.

23. Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1)

Last week: loss vs. Philadelphia, 17–16

Next week: vs Pittsburgh

The last two weeks, Matt Ryan has looked more agile in the pocket, the Colts’ run defense has had two of its best performances, and the entire operation looked as though we thought it would under Frank Reich. While we will never know if it would have looked that way under Frank Reich, we are left to shrug our shoulders. Next week, Ryan’s blind side versus T.J. Watt is a good test case for what kind of localized impact Jeff Saturday can have.

Indianapolis Colts interim head coach Jeff Saturday reacts to a call Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Saturday’s Colts came close to pulling off the upset against the Eagles, who prevailed 17-16.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers (3–7)

Last week: loss vs. Cincinnati, 37–30

Next week: at Indianapolis

I’m standing by my previous takes. I think the Steelers are worthy of the No. 24 spot because I think they will finish the season either 8-9 or 9-8. I think Kenny Pickett is closer than most. I think this defense can continue to rise to the occasion, and they will almost certainly finish well above 25th in EPA/down, as they currently sit.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (3–7)

Last week: BYE

Next week: vs. Baltimore

The Jaguars need to log a legitimate upset victory this season against a top-10 team. A banged-up Chargers club doesn’t count. Out of this thicket of sub-mediocrity, I also expect the Jaguars to finish the season toward the top of the pile (in this case, the top being the NFL’s middle class). Will Baltimore play victim here? Jacksonville’s defense is inconsistent, but they are young and athletic.

26. Las Vegas Raiders (3–7)

Last week: win at Denver, 22–16 (OT)

Next week: at Seattle

Josh McDaniels recovers with a win over the Denver Broncos in overtime. Whatever has been wrong with this team throughout the season, he must prove over the final seven weeks that he is the one who can fix it. We predicted the Raiders to go 9-8 this year in an increasingly troubling All-272 game prediction. It’s still in play … but barely.

27. Denver Broncos (3–7)

Last week: loss vs. Las Vegas, 22–16

Next week: at Carolina

Playcalling duties were handed off in yet another effort to throw hands at the field and say: see? This isn’t working for anybody. The Broncos are at the tail end of our power rankings because there are many years of hurt ahead of them. The Russell Wilson contract has just begun.

28. New Orleans Saints (4–7)

Last week: win vs. Los Angeles Rams, 27–20

Next week: at San Francisco

Why the Saints behind the Broncos, and why do the Saints only move up one? I don’t consider a win over the Rams a quality one at this point. The Saints and the Rams seem to be on a crash course for 25th in the season-finale power rankings. Andy Dalton is doing just enough to cause the Saints to squint and wonder if they’re still in this thing. This kind of self-deception has been dangerous for New Orleans to this point.

29. Arizona Cardinals (4–7)

Last week: loss vs. San Francisco, 38–10

Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers

A lost season gets worse. One could make the argument, that if Kyler Murray were lighting the world on fire when he was healthy, this could all be chalked up to bad luck. But ... it's not. Many of Arizona's problems are sown deep. This will take more than a long offseason to untangle.

30. Cleveland Browns (3–7)

Last week: loss at Buffalo, 31–23

Next week: vs. Tampa Bay

I wonder what the Browns thought was going to happen this season, honestly. Did they think they’d have five or six wins by the time Deshaun Watson came back and would wedge themselves into the playoff race? Working off that assumption, they belong at the tail end of anyone’s power rankings. This season was an absolute waste of Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett’s prime.

31. Carolina Panthers (3–8)

Last week: loss at Baltimore, 13–3

Next week: vs. Denver

I could make an argument that the Panthers are actually more deserving of the last spot in the power rankings, as they are still circling rock bottom, whereas the Texans seem to have found it and are working their way out of the pit. With Baker Mayfield struggling, there is really nothing to learn here. Most of this operation will be upended in three months.

32. Houston Texans (1-8-1)

Last week: loss vs. Washington, 23–10

Next week: at Miami

We are clearly transitioning into “Bench Davis Mills” season, which will dovetail nicely into “who are the Texans drafting No. 1 overall?” season. Could Lovie Smith once again secure a No. 1 pick for a wayward franchise like he did in 2014, leading to the Buccaneers’ selection of Jameis Winston?

More NFL Coverage:

This Patriots Defense Is a Belichick Masterpiece
Pros and Cons of Odell Beckham Jr. Picking the Cowboys or Giants
Justin Fields Has the Potential to Be a Top-Five Quarterback
Best NFL Week 11 Performances: MMQB Hands Out Game Balls
How the Commanders Saved Their Season by Not Panicking