1. Philadelphia Eagles
Keep sleeping on Philly. They’ll just keep winning. I honestly went back and forth several times between Philly and Dallas for this spot. Both teams won blowouts, but Philly did it to a quality team and more importantly, put up 35 on a strong defense. Outside of Buffalo, no one has put up more than 22 on the Titans. Hurts has options galore, and he’s always so prepared, which allows him to deploy those options strategically. It really is a thing of beauty to watch him run an RPO. Defense still has some consistency issues, and holding Tennessee to 10 can’t really be seen as a huge accomplishment, but doing so while causing 0 turnovers is weirdly impressive, and bottling up Derrick Henry (11 carries, 30 yards) is always admirable. As much as everyone is already looking ahead to Christmas Eve in Dallas, they still have to go on the road against the Giants and Bears before that. Not terribly tough wins to get, but on the road is never easy, especially in division, and 11-1 makes them a juicy target for anyone in their path.
2. Dallas Cowboys
The early struggle against the Colts wasn’t easy to watch, but also not terribly surprising. Every game the Colts have left this season will include an extra effort to win for Jeff Saturday. Former player-turned-coaches always seem to have that effect. The problem with extra effort sometimes is it leads to forced throws and lazy ball carrying, of which Dallas took full advantage en route to 5 turnovers. They’re now 2nd in the league in turnover differential at +9, quickly closing the gap with Philly’s +13. Unlike Philly, Dallas has a bit of a cakewalk before the Christmas Eve battle, with a home game against the Texans, then on the road in Jacksonville. The latter can turn it on at any time, so it will be critical to keep their focus on that game and not look ahead to Philly. The Zeke/Pollard split has been fairly even the past few weeks, owing partially to having late leads and using Zeke to grind the clock, which is his best use. Would like to see them get Pollard back into the passing game more consistently.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
First of all, I know he’s talented and I know he’s a difference-maker, but kickoff returns are basically dudes slamming into each other at full speed, so for the love of all that is holy, please get Isiah Pacheco off the return team. KC has plenty of talented speedsters who could handle those duties, most of whom aren’t even remotely as important as Pacheco will be for as long as their season lasts. Now then, onto more important topics, like how Isiah Pacheco is really good and needs more touches on offense (offense, not special teams). 16 touches against a team as good as the Bengals isn’t gonna cut it, especially since Cincy’s defense had Kelce and JuJu bottled up. KC is still an overall better team than Cincy, which is why they still have an edge in these rankings, but after losing to them 3 games in a row now, they really need to get over that hump before it becomes psychological for Mahomes, if it hasn’t already. Decent chance they’ll have that chance in the playoffs.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
I was on the road for most of this game so I didn’t get to see much of it, but I got home just in time to see Burrow deliver an ice cold 3rd and 11 conversion. Under pressure, took a hit, and dropped it so perfectly to Tee Higgins to all but end the game. The guy is on another level, and his price keeps going up. Think it’s any secret why the owners had to sell naming rights to the stadium? League rules combined with the Watson contract guarantees are gonna require Bengals ownership to put up a hefty escrow check in the next year. They’ll need disposable cash of at least 9 figures, and as rich as Mike Brown is, I doubt he has that kind of money floating around. On the bright side, ticket sales aren’t about to waver with the product this team is putting on the field. Burrow is a point guard dealing it out to an offense full of 7 footers, and somehow all these guys are getting better as they grow together. Tough schedule to finish out the year, but all winnable games.
5. Minnesota Vikings
They gave the Jets so many opportunities to win the game, but then continually squashed those opportunities. I’m really a bit surprised by how much people are downplaying. This team is still 10-2 and beat a good Jets team. That said, I know I say all the time that Cousins needs to force it to Jefferson, and I still stand by that, but I feel like Kirk may be misunderstanding how big the range is for Jefferson. Like, it may be the biggest in the league, but that doesn’t mean 10 feet over his head is workable. And maybe don’t throw it behind him while he’s running in the opposite direction… he’ll still catch those cause he’s a freak, but in stride will work out better. Good thing Cook and Matteson delivered, cause Cousins was way off, and he needs to clean that up fast. If he can’t, we may learn quickly why the Lions are inexplicably favored over them this week.
6. Buffalo Bills
It’s okay, I’ll keep sleeping on Buffalo. I’m comfortable with it. That was an ugly win on Thursday against a dysfunctional Patriots team. But alongside some ridiculous plays that human beings shouldn’t be able to make, Josh Allen made some mistakes that rookies shouldn’t make. And that run trying to get the touchdown where he just launched his right shoulder… dude, slide to the ground. He’s far too reckless, and this is an offense that can’t function without him. Teams so centered on one offensive player, especially the one guy everyone is trying to hit on every play, are a dangerous bet every week. Even a quarter of Case Keenum could lead to a loss at any time, and you don’t get those back in the playoffs.
7. San Francisco 49ers
This seems like a good hovering spot for SF at the moment. Brock Purdy looked good, and may end up being the most relevant Mr. Irrelevant since Ryan Succop, but let’s not pretend being thrown into the middle of a game is the same as preparing to lead a Super Bowl contender through the end of the season and into the playoffs. It helps that Shanahan’s offense is designed to get the ball out of the QB’s hands and into the hands of playmakers, and it helps that they have SO many playmakers, so Purdy couldn’t ask for a better situation to prove himself. Also helps to have a future Hall-of-Famer at LT and such a dominant defense. Like Garappolo, Purdy has one job, and that’s to get out of the way. Don’t make it about you. Just get it to your playmakers and take the stats that come with it.
8. Miami Dolphins
It’s possible Shanahan’s knowledge of Mike McDaniel gave him an edge, or the Niners defense is just that good. Or both. Probably both. Didn’t help that Miami had to go up against a backup QB they didn’t gameplan for, which I almost always consider an advantage for a team’s offense. I’m legitimately waiting for a team to have two good QBs with different skillsets and split their time sporadically. In any case, it’s tough to win a game when you have the ball for less than a third of the game, and only running it 8 times is a pretty clear reason why that happened. With so many weapons, they can’t have Tyreek be the only focal point and not get anyone else involved. That’s not a Mike McDaniel’s-style offense. I don’t know if Tua got some tunnel vision or if McDaniel called the game this way, but Mostert, Wilson Jr, Waddle, and Gesicki can’t combine for single-digit touches. Still a lot of season left to clean things up, but an unforgiving schedule will make that hard. They seriously went from the easiest 5 game stretch into the hardest 6 game stretch with no chill time between. But they won all 5 in that stretch, which is easier said than done, so at least they’re in good playoff positioning.
9. Baltimore Ravens
I don’t know what to think of these guys. Props to Tyler Huntley for putting together an impressive game-winning drive against a good Denver defense, but they never should’ve been in that position. We know Huntley can ball and should keep them in a good position until Lamar can come back, but Lamar needs to take some of this time to get his head right. Or maybe the coaches need to rethink how they’re using him. Or maybe his receivers need to step it up and actually catch what Lamar puts right in their hands. Perhaps a stint with Huntley where the offense can’t rely on Lamar to do everything will wake them up so they can be ready for a playoff run when he gets back.
10. New York Jets
Defense is still really good, but last week was a bit of a clunker for them. Statistically, they held Minnesota’s passing game in check, but that was more about Kirk Cousins throwing unpressured Ricky Vaughn pitches all over the place. Mike White is still a far better option than Zach Wilson, but I do wonder what they’ll do if the playoff race starts slipping away. They’ve got the 7 seed for the moment, but with the Chargers and Pats both right on their heels, and the Pats have the tiebreaker from beating them twice. However, beating the Bills this week would be a huge step, putting them only a game out of the division lead and holding the tiebreaker over Buffalo. They’ve also beaten the Dolphins already, and can seal that tiebreaker the final week of the season. But they really need this week. Falling 3 games out of the division race and potentially into last place if the Pats win would be difficult to come back from. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see Zach Wilson back under center.
11. Seattle Seahawks
Currently locked into a battle with the Giants and Commanders for 2 of 3 wildcard spots, while also only a game out of the division, the Seahawks are also at a bit of a crossroads. Beating the Panthers this week is critical, as the rest of the season is rough. After this week, they start with a rematch against the Niners that could tie them for the division lead and split the head-to-head tiebreaker. Then they get top 10 teams in a row with the Chiefs and Jets. That’s a brutal 3 game stretch, which makes Carolina an absolute must-win this Sunday.
12. Los Angeles Chargers
I still don’t get how you have Justin Herbert’s arm and won’t unleash him. I almost never say this when it’s a young, developing QB, but they need a new direction on offense. Specifically, they need that direction to be forward, down the field, not sideways. I can’t imagine they would fire OC Joe Lombardi during the season, but if they miss the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Staley cut him loose just to save his own job. Though it may be too little, too late for Staley as well. They need to go on a run, fast, and they’ve got the schedule to do it. Tough games against Miami and Tennessee are both at home, then they get the Colts, Rams, and Broncos to close out the season. Anything less than 4-1 in that span should have multiple coaches, up to and including Staley, on the chopping block.
13. Cleveland Browns
Good thing their defense and special teams came to play or they might’ve dropped DeShaun Watson’s first game in 2 years. Not that Watson was any help. Chubb and Hunt were the entire offense, as it should be, combining for 28 carries and 136 yards rushing. There’s really no better situation for Watson to step into than this running game as he tries to remember what it’s like to get hit. If they keep remembering how good their running game is, they might still hang in the playoff race, but they’ll likely have to run a tough table for that.
14. Washington Commanders
I hate ties so much. The only saving grace of this one is now the Commanders get a bye, after which they get a Giants rematch right away. And since last week ended in a tie and these 2 teams are locked in a playoff wildcard fight, that week 15 game, will be huge, which is why the NFL flexed that game into Sunday night. More on that when I get to the Giants.
15. Tennessee Titans
That was an ugly showing. I know it was Philly and I know how good Philly is, obviously since they top my rankings, but still… a division leader shouldn’t get beat down that badly. Bad enough apparently that they fired Jon Robinson, their (now former) GM. I know all the talk is that he was fired because he traded AJ Brown to the Eagles and then Brown lit them up last week, but if anything, that was just the straw. This has to have been bubbling for some time. Vrabel gets them in good positions to inexplicably win games with Ryan Tannehill. Robinson was good at drafting, and I imagine he thought the Malik Willis pick bought him some time, but perhaps trading Brown and never truly upgrading from Tannehill got to be too much for an ownership that likely believes in Vrabel more than Robinson.
16. Detroit Lions
What a fun team. What a fun season. And I know people probably think they’ll be looking for a QB upgrade this offseason, but I don’t see it. I think they see Jared Goff as their guy, and I think Dan Campbell has spent two years drilling that into Goff’s head. And it’s paying off. I never quite understood the limited ceiling talk about Goff. All he’s been missing is confidence, which will happen when your team trades you and you hear it on the news before hearing from your coach. He’s still only 28 and looking like he’s back in his Pro Bowl form from early in his career. Lions are a playoff team next year. Oh, and just to pile on a bit, thanks to the Stafford trade and the Rams implosion this year, Detroit is currently sitting at the 4th pick in the 2023 draft. In fact, according to Tankathon, which is just an awesome site name, 3 of the top 5 picks are currently going to other teams.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
Heard some chatter last week in a Pats discussion about how Josh McDaniels’ offense was so complicated in New England that it was difficult for free agent skill players to pick it up. The conversation was meant to be about how the Pats have tried to simplify things on offense, which is part of the reason why they never really replaced McDaniels. But what I heard in that conversation was an explanation for the Raiders slow start and their sudden surge. The Vegas offense looked lost all year, then all of a sudden it just seemed to click. McDaniels still has a genius offensive mind… he just needed his players to catch up. Seems like they figured it out. Playoffs this year is still a stretch, but assuming McDaniels isn’t fired (and I doubt he will be), 2023 could be wild.
18. Green Bay Packers
Given the design of Rodgers contract and the way the offense has put things together, I’m really starting to think he’ll want to stick around for one last run. He could go into 2023 with Jones/Dillon and Watson/Doubs/Lazard. Might even have Bakhtiari fully back. I’m not saying it’s what I want, because truthfully I’d rather see what Jordan Love can do with all those weapons, but it has to be awfully tempting for Rodgers. It’s possible this is exactly why he wanted the contract he got, knowing it would take some time to get comfortable with the new receivers. So next time maybe, I don’t know, show up and work with them more in the offseason. Speaking of Watson, there wasn’t a person watching who didn’t know right away that Watson was taking it to the house. He just has that stride that looks like everything he touches is going for 6. And it seems like it always does.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do you think there’s a chance Brady would stay with the Bucs and just play the 4th quarter? Like, imagine you’re trying to groom the team’s future QB, so you let him play the first 3 quarters. Then if the team is winning, keep him in. If they’re losing, bring in Tom. I’m just saying, he could do that til he’s 50. Also, it bears mentioning that Todd Bowles is lucky Tampa pulled it off after sending the punt team out in the middle of the 4th quarter. Brady was literally just staying on the field and trying to overrule him. What a wild sequence. I really wanted the Bucs to lose just to see his post-game presser about that punt.
20. New England Patriots
I’m now fully convinced Mac Jones went rogue against the Vikings. It was clear from last Thursday’s game against the Bills that he was no longer allowed to throw down the field for chunk plays. I know that was kind of the joke after he was caught on screen complaining about the short game, but it makes so much sense after the way he played in Minnesota. The guy can deal. Time to let him.
21. New York Giants
It would be advisable to go into their Commanders rematch in week 15 a game ahead of them. All the Giants have to do to accomplish that is beat the best team in the league. The more likely outcome is Philly embarrasses them and they go into week 15 tied in every way with the Commanders. Good chance to see them fully exposed on national TV.
22. Atlanta Falcons
I was almost thinking of getting this out and published on Tuesday, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Because the Falcons just announced Desmond Ridder as their starting QB after the bye this week. Good timing, and while sitting and watching can be great for a rookie QB, using the end of the season to give him a taste can work as well. They’re also not out of the playoff race… if the Bucs lose to the Niners, Atlanta will go into week 15 just a game out of the division lead, plus a rematch with the Bucs in the final week of the season.
23. New Orleans Saints
Not mathematically out yet, but I think it’s safe to say they’re out. In desperate need of a QB for the future, they’ll have to wait til the second round after trading their 2023 1st rounder to the Eagles. Dalton is obviously a bridge, it’s clear they don’t see Jameis as their future… maybe kick the tires of Trubisky? I don’t know, but they’re more or less out of the playoffs and 2023 isn’t looking great for a rebound.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
When I create my list of bad takes in my power rankings at season’s end, Kenny Pickett will be near the top. I really thought he would struggle and Steelers fans wouldn’t let it slide. But the Steelers have something so many teams don’t have… ownership that lets their coach, coach. I’ve actually heard people say Tomlin is on the hot seat. That’s absurd. Tomlin came into this season with confidence from his front office, allowing him the time to rebuild. The same confidence Tomlin was given to work things out was then extended by Tomlin to his rookie QB, and that’s how organizations should handle these kinds of transitions. After a rough start, they’ve won 3 of the last 4 and may finish the season over .500. Playoffs are still a stretch, but it was never about that.
25. Chicago Bears
I still don’t understand playing Justin Fields going into a bye week in a lost season while he’s recovering from an injury. I get the football mentality of it, but in the NFL, there are other factors that need to be considered. Like money. Your franchise needs this kid to stay healthy for a long time, so protecting him should be a higher priority than trying to beat the Packers for no other reason than pride.
26. Arizona Cardinals
There’s gonna be a lot of soul searching in Arizona the rest of this year and into the offseason. Now that we’re seeing records play out, it’s worth taking a look at the Cards 4 wins this year.
That’s rough. Kyler got his money so he’s not going anywhere. I’ll be surprised if those who gave him that money or coached him will be able to say the same.
27. Carolina Panthers
Panthers didn’t trade their 1st round pick. Now they just need to stop winning so they can get back in that top 5 QB sweet spot.
28. Los Angeles Rams
Another reason I’m glad I didn’t publish early. Baker Mayfield! As of this writing, the team isn’t sure John Wolford can go tonight and won’t know for certain until pregame warmups. If he can’t play, it’s Baker’s show. I actually think that could go well for him, as QBs stepping in at the last moment means the other team’s defense didn’t prepare for them. The hard part for Mayfield, however, is having no one to throw to or hand it off to or really any offensive weapons whatsoever. This just became the most interesting uninteresting game of the year! Unless Wolford starts… then I might fall asleep.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Couldn’t have been fun watching DJ Chark light them up last week. The ups and downs of this season are a great way to learn just how much you hate the constant swing of ups and downs.
30. Indianapolis Colts
Matt Ryan finally remembered he’s allowed to throw it downfield and they started making plays and hung in there against Dallas. And then 5 turnovers later they got the beating of a lifetime. I don’t know where this team goes from here. Do they still think they’re just a QB away? If not, it’s probably a good time to see what you can get for Jonathan Taylor before his rookie contract ends next year. He’s gonna cost a lot.
31. Denver Broncos
Another post I’ll have to put together near season’s end is a collection of the different ways the Broncos found to lose. I hope they show Denver’s war room during the draft when Seattle is on the clock for the 3rd pick.
32. Houston Texans
Feels like the 1st pick is all but locked down. It’ll be interesting to see if they take a QB and keep Lovie around, or if they’ll look to replace him with a coach who can develop QBs.