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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
As we enter the second half of the NFL season, we’re seeing the top-tier teams beginning to pull away.
One thing all of these top teams have in common is at least one facet of the game that is elite. While the NFL is a matchup league, having a piece of your team that is elite gives you something to lean on when games get messy or don’t go as planned.
The two best teams I was on during my career were the 2005 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2008 Tennessee Titans. Each of those teams had something elite to hang its hat on.
I was the quarterback in Tampa, and let me tell you, having an elite defense and Cadillac Williams running the ball opened up what we were able to do. That defense allowed us to be conservative on offense if that’s what we wanted. If defenses sold out to stop the run, though, it would open up downfield throws to guys such as Joey Galloway.
I was the backup with the Titans, but the situation there was similar: A dominant defense that featured Albert Haynesworth in his prime dominated on a weekly basis. A few big plays from Chris Johnson or Kerry Collins were usually enough to win most weeks.
Like those teams from my past, this year’s best teams have aspects that are elite. The New England Patriots, for example, have an elite pbading attack. The Philadelphia Eagles have an elite quarterback and an elite defensive line. The teams that are at the bottom of the league are missing that element that makes them challenging for opponents.
Here’s how I view all 32 teams heading into Week 10. Last week’s power rankings can be found here.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 31
The San Francisco 49ers have pbades the Cleveland Browns as the worst team in football. The Browns at least play solid defense. There’s nothing the 49ers are doing well right now.
San Francisco had one of the best chances of the year to win a game in Week 9. The Arizona Cardinals were relying on backup quarterback Drew Stanton, yet they still had their way with the 49ers defense. San Francisco allowed Adrian Peterson to run for 159 yards.
Offensively, the 49ers don’t have anything special, either. Rookie C.J. Beathard isn’t good enough to be a starting quarterback at this point. He might not be a legitimate backup, either. I don’t think the 49ers are going to be able to win a game from here on out unless they’re willing to put the newly acquired Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
If the 49ers don’t turn to Garoppolo, they’re admitting they’re tanking.
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Tim Ireland/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 32
It has to be hard for the Cleveland Browns to stay positive coming out of the bye week. They’ve won just one game since the start of last season and are dealing with ineptitude at the quarterback position. I just hope for the fans’ sake Cleveland is able to win one or two games before the end of the season.
Winning isn’t going to be easy for Cleveland, though. There’s nothing special about the team. The defense is good enough to slow down opponents—it’s ranked ninth in yards allowed—but the offense is so bad it consistently puts the defense in tough positions.
Until the Browns start getting average to above-average play out of the quarterback position, this is going to continue to be the case. The franchise has been looking for answers at the position since it returned in 1999.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 29
The crap has hit the fan for the New York Giants
Do you believe me now that the Odell Beckham Jr. is the Giants offense? I never thought he should have played without a new contract this season because of the injury risk. Now that he’s out for the year, the Giants are learning just how valuable he is.
Without Beckham, the Giants cannot move the ball with any consistency. They don’t have a go-to target aside from Evan Engram, and for as useful as Eli Manning can be at times, he doesn’t often elevate the talent around him.
Defensively, New York still has talent. However, the Giants haven’t been making the kind of game-changing defensive plays they did a season ago. The 2016 Giants had an elite defense, which allowed them to stay in games when the offense wasn’t clicking. This defense isn’t elite and has been one of the biggest disappointments in football this season.
With just one win so far, there’s a chance the Giants finish the year 2-14 or 3-13. If we see that, we’re also likely to see wholesale changes in New York.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 27
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a mess.
This is a team that was supposed to thrive on its downfield pbading attack, but Jameis Winston and Co. have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. He hasn’t found the chemistry with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard that we expected, and now he’s dealing with a shoulder injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick finished Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
Defensively, the Buccaneers have little to brag about. There are a couple of standout players on that side of the ball—such as Gerald McCoy, Vernon Hargreaves and Kwon Alexander—but as a unit, the defense is atrocious. It doesn’t help that coordinator Mike Smith fields a basic scheme.
The Buccaneers were widely expected to be one of the NFC’s breakout teams this year. Instead, they’ve struggled to find any success against quality opponents.
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Bob Levey/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 30
You have to give the Indianapolis Colts credit for continuing to fight through a tough season. Indianapolis isn’t a playoff team and isn’t getting Andrew Luck back this year, but the players keep battling.
As a team, though, the Colts are bad. They have one of the worst defenses in football and possibly the worst pbad defense. Had quarterback Deshaun Watson not gotten injured in practice, there’s no way Indianapolis would have beaten the Houston Texans.
One positive is the Colts are pulling out the potential of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. He’s quickly becoming one of the best deep pbaders in the NFL and is finding T.Y. Hilton downfield with consistency. Hilton racked up 175 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.
Don’t expect the Colts to make a push for the postseason down the stretch because the talent isn’t there, but don’t expect them to roll over for anyone, either.
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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 28
The Arizona Cardinals aren’t out of the NFC West race yet, but they aren’t true contenders. The Cardinals managed to get to 4-4 thanks to the hapless 49ers, but this is a team that is all over the place from week to week.
Offensively, the Cardinals are a mess. They have talent, but they’re missing quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson. The offensive line is suspect, and while Adrian Peterson has had a couple of great games on the ground, he isn’t going to go off every week. His two good games this season have come against the 49ers and the Buccaneers—two of the worst defensive teams in football.
Defensively, Arizona has some playmakers. However, there isn’t a lot of consistency there, and the Cardinals still give up too many big plays.
While their record says the Cardinals still have a shot at the postseason, this is a middle-of-the-pack team at best.
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Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 21
The Cincinnati Bengals continue to underachieve despite having a boatload of talent on the roster. The defense is still effective on all three levels, but it isn’t quite elite.
The big problem with Cincinnati is the offense. It’s far too basic, and it lacks the kind of playmakers needed to succeed with a simple scheme. A.J. Green is a top-tier pbad-catcher, but when the Bengals cannot get the ball into his hands, they struggle to produce big plays.
Green was tossed from Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the offense became stagnant. Coordinator Bill Lazor doesn’t do anything special to get his guys open, and quarterback Andy Dalton is incapable of creating plays on his own.
Cincinnati’s defense will keep the team in games, but it won’t overcome the lack of creativity and production on the other side of the ball. If the offense doesn’t figure out how to pick things up, Cincinnati is looking at another lost season.
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Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 24
It will be worth watching to see what kind of changes the Green Bay Packers made during their bye week. If they’re going to have a chance against the Detroit Lions on Monday night, the offensive game plan cannot be the same as it was with Aaron Rodgers on the field.
This will be Brett Hundley’s second start of the season at quarterback. The first didn’t go so well, as he produced fewer than 90 pbading yards with an interception. The Packers can’t lean on him the way they did Rodgers. They also don’t have a dominant defense to rely on, and they aren’t physical enough with the run to control games.
The Packers aren’t a playoff team without No. 12.
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Bob Levey/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 12
It sucks that Deshaun Watson tore his ACL and is out for the year. There’s no other way to put it. He had the offense playing like one of the best in the NFL, and he had Houston looking like a possible playoff contender.
Now with Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus all out, I don’t see how the Texans can reach the postseason.
It didn’t help that Bill O’Brien had his offense just standing around all game against the Colts. I realize that Tom Savage isn’t as mobile or as talented as Watson, but a little pre-snap motion and a few gadget plays might have allowed Houston to have more success against a putrid Indianapolis defense.
This was the type of game Houston was supposed to win, even with Savage under center. If the Texans can’t win these types of games, they can wave goodbye to their playoff hopes.
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 16
It’s over for the Denver Broncos. Falling to 3-5 isn’t the end of the world for Denver, but an inability to play through its championship-caliber defense is.
The Broncos have an elite defense. Only the Carolina Panthers allow fewer yards per game. If they could figure out how to lean on that defense and stop making mistakes in the other two phases, they’d be a playoff team. Unfortunately, Denver cannot stop making mistakes on offense and on special teams, and it’s costing the team wins.
Turnovers have been the biggest issue, as they constantly put the defense in rough spots. Denver tried switching to Brock Osweiler at quarterback in an effort to put an end to them, but it didn’t work. He tossed two interceptions against the Eagles.
Sometimes turnovers are just a part of your season. I’ve been there; it feels like there’s nothing you can do about it, and it stinks. Barring an unexpected turnaround on offense over the final eight games, Denver is going to miss the postseason and waste another year of having this special defense.
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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 20
The Miami Dolphins are a solid team. The offense has potential with Jay Cutler being healthy, and the defense is better than it was last season. Miami outplayed the Oakland Raiders, but mistakes cost them in the end. Kenyan Drake’s fumble after a terrific onside-kick call by Adam Gase was a huge blow.
Other than the fumble, Drake played well, and there are other weapons on Miami’s offense. That side of the ball should get better as Gase and Cutler continue to figure things out. The defense is above-average; it’s at least good enough to keep the Dolphins in games.
Miami will be in the hunt for the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC all season.
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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 26
The Raiders won against the Dolphins in a manner the team is built to win by: big plays in the pbad game and a strong running game to complement it.
I’m still not convinced Oakland is a strong team, but they’ve won two of the last three. The loss to the Buffalo Bills wasn’t as bad as it looked, either. That game would have been tied at the half if not for a fumble returned for a touchdown right before. Oakland got away from its formula after that.
Regardless, there’s no doubting the Raiders have firepower on offense and team potential. The defense is still a liability, though, and it could prevent Oakland from being a threat leading up to or in the postseason.
I’m not ready to give up on the Raiders, but I’m not ready to say they’re back.
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 23
Offense continues to be a major issue for the Baltimore Ravens. There isn’t any consistency there. A week after dominating the Dolphins on the ground, the Ravens got little going against the Tennessee Titans.
The pbad game is just as inconsistent as the run game. Joe Flacco is capable of making a wowing throw on one play and then turning around and tossing an ugly interception on the next. He had two more interceptions Sunday, which brings his total to 10 with just eight touchdowns.
Unfortunately, poor offense is destroying a strong defense for Baltimore. Even with guys like Brent Urban and Tavon Young out for the year, the defense is still capable of winning games. However, even a great defense can only carry the load for so long. Too much time on the field and too many bad situations frequently prevent the defense from dominating.
At 4-5, the Ravens are still technically in the playoff race. I can’t say the same for teams that dipped below Baltimore this week, like Denver and Houston.
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Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 19
The Los Angeles Chargers have let a handful of games slip through their fingers this season, including the game against New England before the bye.
This is why the Chargers are more dangerous than their 3-5 record might suggest. If L.A. had gotten some lucky breaks late in games where it did not, the Chargers could easily be 4-4 or 5-3 right now. If they do get those breaks down the stretch, they’re going to be tough to beat.
The L.A. defense is starting to come together, and the pbad rush—led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram—is special. Every team knows Philip Rivers and the pbad game is something to worry about. When the run game gets going too, the Chargers offense can be nearly impossible to stop.
Unfortunately, the rocky start to the season likely has the Chargers looking at an eight- or nine-win campaign at best. That won’t be good enough for the postseason.
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Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 22
The Chicago Bears know who they are and they know what they want to do. They’re going to beat you up in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and they’re going to rely on their front seven defensively and their run game offensively.
This allows Chicago to mask a secondary that is on the shaky side. It also means the Bears don’t have to ask too much of rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago only needs him to make a couple of plays each game, and he should have a better grasp of the offense coming out of the bye.
The Bears aren’t a playoff team, but they’re going to be a handful all year long. As Trubisky becomes more accustomed to the offense and the NFL in general, the Bears could become dangerous.
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David Richard/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 25
The New York Jets won’t go away. A team that many believed was tanking in 2017 keeps managing to hang around. Thursday night’s domination of the Buffalo Bills was the team’s most impressive win to date.
The difference in Week 9 was the Jets finally got some big plays out of the running game. That’s huge because New York cannot expect to ride the right arm of Josh McCown every week. If the Jets can continue running the ball like they did against Buffalo, they’re going to be a lot tougher to defend moving forward.
Defensively, the Jets aren’t elite, but they are solid. The defensive line is still one of the best in football, and New York has found two special safeties in rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.
When the Jets can run the ball effectively and don’t get boneheaded turnovers out of McCown, they can be a pain in the butt for any opponent.
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Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 15
The Lions will have a chance to get back to .500 Monday night, and they’re fortunate to be facing the situation they are. It’s an important divisional game, and without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers don’t present nearly the same challenge.
I don’t know if the Lions have enough to push for an NFC North title down the stretch, though. The pbad defense is suspect, and the run defense took a hit with the loss of Haloti Ngata. The run game is inconsistent, and even though Matthew Stafford is as effective as anyone at making late-game magic, the Lions need more weapons in the pbad game.
The Lions may be able to push for a wild-card spot, but they don’t have the talent to challenge teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles or New Orleans Saints in the postseason.
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Bob Leverone/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 13
Early in the game against the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons looked like the Falcons from 2016. The offense was moving up and down the field, and the defense was flying around and making plays. As the game went on, though, the Falcons started playing against their identity.
Aside from some individual players, the one elite trait the Falcons have is team speed. They must have forgotten this when they had 2nd-and-2 in Panthers territory in the second quarter. They tried to power run up the middle three straight times against one of the most physical defensive fronts in football. That’s not their game; they should have tried to hit the edge with speed.
Atlanta didn’t convert, and it was a turning point in the game.
If the Falcons want to push for a playoff spot, they need to do a better job of playing to their strengths. Even if they manage to, they’re no better than the fifth or sixth seed in the NFC this season.
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
I keep saying these aren’t the same Seattle Seahawks we’ve become familiar with over the last few years. Perhaps after Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins people will finally believe me. Let’s not forget that Seattle has beaten three of the worst teams in football this year (49ers, Giants and Colts), which lifts the Seahawks record above where it probably should be.
The Seattle defense is still good, but it’s no longer elite. It isn’t on the level of the Denver, Jacksonville or Minnesota Vikings defenses. It cannot win games on its own the way it did back in 2013, and that’s a problem.
It’s a problem because Seattle’s offense isn’t the same, either. It can’t control the game or punish defenders on the ground. The Seahawks ask Russell Wilson to do everything on his own—pbad, run, avoid pressure—and when he can’t there’s no fallback option.
Wilson was able to pull out some late magic against Washington because he’s that talented. However, the once-mighty defense allowed Kirk Cousins to turn around and make some of his own. The Seahawks we’re accustomed to would have closed out the game. This isn’t that team.
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Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 17
The Tennessee Titans have carried the same questions all season long. They have talent on both sides of the ball, but the only thing close to elite on the team is the run game. The question has been whether Tennessee can get enough out of its defense or Marcus Mariota’s right arm to win when the run game is struggling.
Well, with just 71 total yards and 3.4 yards per carry, it’s safe to say the ground game struggled against the Ravens. Yet, Mariota did enough through the air to get the Titans the win. He wasn’t spectacular, but he kept the chains moving when the running backs couldn’t.
The defense is still a concern. It allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a game that should have been wrapped up early. I need to see it hold up against top-tier offenses—Baltimore is not one—before I buy in.
Still, the Titans are 5-3, tied for first place in the AFC South and potentially on a path to the postseason.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
The Bills didn’t play like themselves at all in Week 9 and, really, for the first time all season. Usually, Buffalo is tough to beat because it doesn’t beat itself with mistakes and because the defense makes you earn every yard against it.
Against the Jets, though, the Bills made frequent mistakes and gave up way too many big plays. Three lost fumbles and a number of big surrendered plays sunk the Bills against a team they should have beaten.
Not being able to get the ground game going—Buffalo had just 63 yards rushing—didn’t help.
I still believe in Buffalo, though. I like this defense, and I like how Sean McDermott has the team playing on both sides of the ball. Buffalo is still just a game behind the Patriots in the AFC East, and the Bills are going to remain relevant all year.
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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 18
The Washington Redskins deserve a ton of credit for continuing to battle through injuries. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan deserves credit for patching together a unit that is down four players. It would be easy for the Redskins offense to collapse with some of the injuries it has, but Washington has persevered.
The Redskins did a great job of adapting to the injury situation in Week 9. They leaned on their defense and a strong pbad rush against the Seahawks instead of leaning on Kirk Cousins and the pbad game. With a makeshift line and against a Seattle defense that is still formidable, the latter plan could have resulted in disaster. Instead, the Redskins made a disaster out of Seattle’s offense.
When the Redskins needed Cousins to make some big plays late in the game, though, he delivered.
I previously wondered if Washington had too many injuries to overcome, but it looks like they’ll be able to keep fighting. I still don’t know if the Redskins are playoff contenders, but they’re going to be a challenge each and every week. I expect them to be in the playoff race right to the end.
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Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
The Kansas City Chiefs have cooled off considerably after being the hottest team in football to start the season. What we’ve learned in the Chiefs’ losses—especially in Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys—is that this is a flawed team.
The offense can be high-octane. There’s talent there. However, when the explosive plays don’t come from the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the offense can struggle. Quarterback Alex Smith is capable of hitting the big play when he sees a wide-open receiver, but he’s still not as aggressive as I’d like.
When I see a quarterback not throw an interception until Week 9, that tells me he’s being careful and conservative.
Defensively, the Chiefs are bad, plain and simple. They give up too many big plays and haven’t been forcing enough turnovers. Marcus Peters hasn’t been getting them, and safety Eric Berry obviously isn’t there to get them. Turnovers helped an average defense look good in 2016, but that isn’t happening this year.
The Chiefs are still a playoff team, but they’re a notch below the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC.
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Logan Bowles/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 14
We’ve talked a lot about the elite aspects of top-tier teams. While the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t top-tier yet, they’re moving in that direction because of an elite defense and a running game that is elite when Leonard Fournette is healthy.
Even without Fournette on the field Sunday—he was suspended by the team—the Jaguars were able to dominate the Bengals because of their defense. The Cincinnati players knew they weren’t going to be able to move the ball against Jacksonville, and you could see it on their faces. I’ve been there before, and it’s a sinking feeling.
That’s how dominant Jacksonville can be on defense. It can demoralize a team. So can Fournette, who is a once-in-a-generation running back. Not only can he punish, run over and away from defenders, he can do it against eight- and nine-man fronts.
When the defense and the ground game are clicking, the Jaguars only need a few big plays from quarterback Blake Bortles. This is a formula that can allow Jacksonville to have success in December and January.
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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
The Carolina Panthers are figuring out who they are this season, and positive results are following. This is a team that can win with sound defense, power rushing and a few big plays from Cam Newton each game.
Newton isn’t going to slice up defenses with any kind of consistency, but he doesn’t have to. As long as he takes care of the ball, keeps defenses off-balance with his running ability and hits a few deep shots each week, the Panthers are going to win more often than not.
I’d still like to see Carolina get more from its running backs, but sticking with the run is what’s important. It helps eliminate turnovers and allows the Panthers to play through their defense, which is special in the front seven.
Unlike the Denver Broncos, the Panthers know how to get out of their own way. They’re going to stay in the playoff race all season and are going to be dangerous if they get in.
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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
The Dallas Cowboys took it to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, thanks to the elite offensive and defensive lines. This is the strength of the Cowboys. They can run the ball as well as any team in the NFL, and they can make life miserable on opposing lines, ball-carriers and quarterbacks.
The fate of running back Ezekiel Elliott will obviously play a big role in how the rest of Dallas’ season unfolds. However, quarterback Dak Prescott continues to get better and is going to keep the offense afloat even if Elliott finally faces his six-game suspension.
Prescott is never overwhelmed with the situation. He’s mobile, he’s accurate and he can create offense on his own. Dallas is unquestionably better off with Elliott, but Prescott and the offensive line can keep things rolling without him.
The bigger question is how Dallas’ secondary can hold up against top-level offenses. The havoc created by the line helps mask a questionable secondary, but elite offense can still take advantage. The Cowboys can get to the postseason, but I’m not convinced they can get past a team like the New Orleans Saints or the Los Angeles Rams once there.
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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
The Minnesota Vikings defense is special. As is the case in Jacksonville, Minnesota can lean on its defense, play through it and win games. Of course, this was the case last year too. What’s different about this year’s version of the Vikings, though, is the offense is also playing like a quality unit.
The offensive line is better than it was a year ago, and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is finding ways to create big plays—regardless of who is at quarterback. When Stefon Diggs is healthy and able to play alongside Adam Thielen, the offense can be as explosive as any in football.
With No. 12 out in Green Bay, the Vikings are the clear favorites in the NFC North. Don’t be shocked if they run away with the division down the stretch.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
It’s amazing what Sean McVay and his schemes have done for the Los Angeles Rams offense. When I watch film each week, I can’t believe how many wide-open receivers I see for L.A. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s helped Jared Goff become the quarterback the Rams thought they were getting when they drafted him first overall.
The Rams defense isn’t quite as strong as it has been in years past, but there’s talent there. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is always going to call a smart game, and he’s going to have the defense in position to make big plays.
Creating big plays is more important than limiting opposing production because L.A. has the league’s top scoring offense. When you’re averaging nearly 33 points per game like the Rams are, a timely turnover or sack more than makes up for a ton of surrendered rushing yardage—which is the defense’s biggest weakness.
The Rams are a tough matchup for almost anyone. They’re one of the best teams in the NFL, plain and simple, and I have a feeling they’re going to make some noise in the postseason.
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Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Why are the Pittsburgh Steelers one of the top teams in the AFC? They have an elite front seven and some elite playmakers on offense.
Ben Roethlisberger isn’t shredding defenses like he did in his prime, but he’s still capable of hitting some huge plays. With playmakers like Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster playing around Big Ben, the Steelers offense is potent enough.
That front seven is more than potent, and the Steelers are getting enough out of their secondary to forge an overall defense that is special. My one concern is that their zone-based scheme may not hold up against the top offenses in the league come January.
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Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
The New Orleans Saints are one of the best teams in football. The defense has gotten better each and every week, and the offense is able to beat you in a variety of ways. The addition of Alvin Kamara in the draft has added balance to the offense.
Kamara is one of the most special backs in football, both as a runner and a receiver. The Saints can beat you on the ground or through the air.
This is no longer a team that has to rely solely on Drew Brees to win each week. That’s big because Brees had a tendency to make mistakes late in games last season while being forced to attempt comebacks. The defense is keeping things close and allowing the offense to stay balanced and avoid mistakes.
Of course, Brees is capable of taking over games with his arm if needed. The fact it isn’t always needed makes the Saints a much more dangerous team and a legitimate title contender.
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Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This is the time of year we start to see the New England Patriots pull away. They have a half season’s worth of film to badyze now, and no one coaches or makes adjustments better than the Patriots. Expect them to come out of the bye with new wrinkles on both sides of the ball.
The fact New England survived early struggles to enter the bye with a 6-2 record is trouble for the rest of the league. The defense has continued to improve, the pbading game is elite, and the time to take advantage of New England’s struggles and miscommunication has pbaded.
The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, and I don’t expect that to change between now and the end of the season.
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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
If the Patriots are the best team in the AFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the NFL. Adding running back Jay Ajayi to help balance out the offense puts an already elite team over the top.
What’s elite about Philadelphia? Well, quarterback Carson Wentz for one. His play in year two has been incredible. He can attack downfield, buy time in the pocket, make plays with his legs and create offense on his own. There isn’t anything he cannot do, and when the Eagles need to rely on him, he delivers.
The fact Wentz and the Eagles offense just dropped 51 points on Denver should tell you all you need to know about how dangerous this unit is.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is elite. Fletcher Cox and Co. are capable of wreaking havoc and messing up plays with such frequency that teams rarely have the time to expose Philadelphia’s below-average group of cornerbacks.
The Eagles don’t have many weaknesses, and they have to be considered the favorites in the NFC after nine weeks.