The top three teams in the NFL this past week scored a combined 153 points. Welcome to the NFL in 2018.
The Los Angeles Rams’ 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs will go down as one of the greatest games in NFL history, quite likely the greatest regular-season game the league has seen. It was amazing on many levels. That game will be remembered decades from now.
Yet, when we talk about the game that shaped the hierarchy of the NFL this season, the stunner in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon might matter more.
The Chiefs deserved the top spot in the power rankings before Week 11. Their resume over the first 10 weeks was slightly better. Their only loss came on the final play at New England. The Saints lost at home to a Buccaneers team that is now 3-7. The Saints have been the best team since the start of October, but September counts too.
But after the Saints embarrassed the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, it’s hard to argue against them as the best team in football.
While the Chiefs and Rams were also each giving up 50 points, the Saints allowed just seven to the Eagles. They allowed less than 200 yards, too. They have allowed 21 points the past two weeks in blowout wins over the Bengals and Eagles. That doesn’t mean the Saints’ defense is elite, but it’s good enough to help out a fantastic offense.
The Eagles aren’t what they were last season, but it’s still a talented team with a good coach. And they were dealt the biggest loss ever for a defending Super Bowl champion. It said something about the quicksand the Eagles find themselves in, but it also said a ton about the Saints. They’re a machine right now, a team that looked like it could have won a Super Bowl last season before the “Minneapolis Miracle” and wants to close the deal this time around.
The Rams and Chiefs gave us a show for the ages. It’s not like the gap between the top three teams is wide; the Rams and Chiefs might end up running it back in the Super Bowl. But the Saints made history too. They have been absolutely dominant lately, and they’re looking like the best bet to make this season’s Super Bowl.
Here are the power rankings after Week 11 of the NFL season:
32. Arizona Cardinals (2-8, Last Week: 31)
Losing like that stinks but the loss to the Raiders might end up landing Arizona the first pick of the draft. That eases some of the pain.
31. Oakland Raiders (2-8, LW: 32)
It’s important over the rest of this season to find some young talent, and receiver Marcell Ateman might be a good one. The seventh-round pick had four catches for 50 yards in his debut, including the key 32-yard grab on Oakland’s game-winning drive. Veteran Brandon LaFell is done for the season with an Achilles injury, so Oakland can get a long look at the big-bodied Ateman the rest of the year.
30. New York Jets (3-7, LW: 30)
Sam Darnold still wasn’t practicing Monday due to a foot injury. Some time off won’t be bad for him, and the Jets should be very conservative with his return.
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-8, LW: 29)
Could San Francisco steal the first pick of the draft? The Raiders’ recent win helps. The tiebreaker is strength of schedule, and the 49ers currently have the worst SOS among the three two-loss teams, according to SB Nation. That can still change, but it would be something for the 49ers to get the No. 1 pick and bring Jimmy Garoppolo back in 2019.
28. Buffalo Bills (3-7, LW: 28)
Josh Allen is on track to return as the Bills’ starting quarterback this week. That’s good news for the Bills, and good news for Matt Barkley too. He’s on a one-year deal, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing for him to have one very good game against the Jets, then hit free agency again.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7, LW: 25)
Jameis > Fitzpatrick > Jameis > Fitzpatrick > Jameis. Is the latest switch back to Jameis Winston the end of it or do we have another change coming? The risk with playing Winston again is that his $20.9 million option for next season is guaranteed due to injury. Keep that in mind as Winston gets his last (?) chance to impress before the offseason.
26. New York Giants (3-7, LW: 27)
Have to love the NFL. A 1-7 team wins two straight close games and all of a sudden we’re talking about playoff possibilities. Guess that’s better than talking about benching the quarterback.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7, LW: 22)
I still can’t believe how tight the Jaguars got in the fourth quarter against the Steelers. Last season they lost the AFC championship game because they tried to sit on a second-half lead. On Sunday, they barely played offense in the fourth quarter, then ran the ball up the middle on a late third-and-5. The Jaguars coaches might be the only people who didn’t know exactly what would happen next.
24. Cleveland Browns (3-6-1, LW: 24)
If the Browns-Condoleezza Rice story came from somewhere within the organization, Cleveland probably assumed it’d get universal praise for thinking creatively about its next coach (there was never a chance of Rice coaching the Browns, so there had to be some reason to leak that story). As we know, universal praise did not happen.
23. Denver Broncos (4-6, LW: 26)
I’m not sure how we got here but the Broncos aren’t out of the playoff race. They’re just a game behind a glut of teams that are 5-5 for the final wild-card spot. The wild-card races might be really crazy this season.
22. Miami Dolphins (5-5, LW: 21)
Four of the Dolphins’ final six games come against teams who sit at .500 or less. Two of those games are against the Bills. If the Dolphins can win those games and get to 9-7 … just saying. It seems like some 9-7 team will make the AFC playoffs.
21. Detroit Lions (4-6, LW: 23)
Teams like the Broncos and Lions dealt away key players before the trading deadline, but they’ll go into Thanksgiving still in the playoff race. The Lions aren’t in great shape but not out of it sitting a game-and-a-half behind the current No. 6 seed Vikings. They could probably use someone like Golden Tate for a playoff push.
20. Atlanta Falcons (4-6, LW: 20)
The Falcons have had four games decided in the final seconds this season and are 0-4 in them. I mostly believe an NFL team’s record in very close games is mostly luck-driven. But there’s something to be said about having a fatal flaw that prevents teams from closing games, and maybe that’s the Falcons’ issue this season.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5, LW: 19)
Bengals running backs had 19 yards on 14 attempts against the Ravens. A.J. Green’s absence doesn’t just affect the passing game. Without much to worry about in the pass game, opponents can focus on turning Joe Mixon into a non-factor.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6, LW: 15)
It can’t be possible that losing Frank Reich, last season’s offensive coordinator who left to coach the Colts, was that big of a factor. The Super Bowl hangover is real, and that has affected Philadelphia. Some injuries have been an issue, but a lot of teams deal with injuries. Even if you could see the potential of a dip after an amazing Super Bowl season, the Eagles’ struggles are startling. And hard to explain.
17. Green Bay Packers (4-5-1, LW: 11)
We can talk about Mike McCarthy’s decision to punt on fourth-and-2 last Thursday, or not challenge a big pass to Tyler Lockett that he appeared to drop after Green Bay had already wasted two second-half timeouts. It’s more than mismanagement in one game. This team hasn’t been that good all season, and there’s too much talent on the roster for that to be the case.
16. Tennessee Titans (5-5, LW: 13)
It wasn’t too crazy to think the Titans might lose on the road to the Colts. But like that? Can the Titans pick a lane and go with it? They’re not just .500, they have switched between looking great and absolutely awful multiple times already this season. Marcus Mariota’s latest injury might not help calm that down either.
15. Indianapolis Colts (5-5, LW: 18)
It seems clear already that Frank Reich is a very good coach. Still, his most notable decision this season might haunt the Colts. Remember that he went for it on fourth down in his own territory late in overtime of a game against the Texans. They didn’t get it and the Texans won after a short drive. Reich could have punted and taken the tie. The Colts are two games behind the Texans, but they’d be just one back if Reich punted and took the half-win.
14. Baltimore Ravens (5-5, LW: 17)
I’m fascinated by what the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson on Sunday and its sustainability. Mostly I think it’s not. A quarterback can’t hold up running 27 times, like Jackson did against the Bengals on Sunday. And in the NFL, you need to pass. Still, did it look like the Bengals could stop Jackson on the read option? Maybe a better defense can. The ideal situation is Jackson continues to improve as a passer and that makes the Ravens offense dynamic. It would be great if the Ravens stuck with Jackson, regardless of Joe Flacco’s health, because it would be interesting to watch this experiment play out the rest of the season.
13. Seattle Seahawks (5-5, LW: 16)
The Seahawks still play at Carolina, host the Vikings and the Chiefs. At very least the Seahawks are probably going to have to beat the Vikings to make the playoffs. They might need to win at least one other game there, and not blow any of the other three winnable games. Their schedule has been really tough.
12. Washington Redskins (6-4, LW: 12)
We’ll see if Colt McCoy can fill in adequately for Alex Smith. What might be more of a mystery is what happens after this season. Joe Theismann suffered a similarly awful injury at age 36 and he never played again. Smith is 34 and in great shape so maybe be bounces back and is fine next season. What makes it tricky is Washington gave Smith $71 million guaranteed and he’s on the cap for $20.4 million next season no matter what.
11. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, LW: 14)
Not to be negative, but now that the Cowboys look like favorites in the NFC East and have gotten everyone’s hopes back up, if Dallas ends up not making the playoffs now it’s going to look even worse on Jason Garrett.
10. Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1, LW: 7)
You can’t lay all of the Vikings’ issues at Kirk Cousins‘ feet. Though, they paid him all that money to play better in games like Sunday night. Whoever you want to blame, the Vikings were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders and they’re barely .500, probably resigned to chasing a wild-card spot and having to beat the Rams and Saints on the road in back-to-back weeks to make a Super Bowl. Not good.
9. Carolina Panthers (6-4, LW: 9)
The Panthers lost, and their decision to go for two and the win at the end was questionable, but rookie D.J. Moore’s seven-catch, 157-yard day was a nice development. It seems like the Panthers might have finally found a real No. 1 to grow with Cam Newton.
8. Houston Texans (7-3, LW: 10)
Demaryius Thomas had one target and no catches on Sunday. Thomas still might end up being a huge part of the Texans offense, but Sunday’s quiet day was a reminder that it’s hard for any player to join a team midseason and contribute right away. Keep that in mind next year when you’re hoping your team adds that player who is on the trading block.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3, LW: 4)
Now that the Chargers have lost at home to the Broncos, you look back at their wins in a different light. They haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season. Their best wins are the Titans and Seahawks. Maybe they’re not as good as it looked during that winning streak.
6. Chicago Bears (7-3, LW: 8)
It’s concerning that the Bears said Mitchell Trubisky wouldn’t have been able to practice on Monday due to a right shoulder injury. It’s a short week for them. We’ll assume Trubisky should be fine since he finished Sunday’s game, but it’s worth watching.
5. New England Patriots (7-3, LW: 6)
There aren’t many more important injury-related questions in the NFL than how Rob Gronkowski comes out of the bye week. He’ll have three full weeks off, after missing two with his injuries, and if he doesn’t look right this week then it probably isn’t happening this season. And that’s a big issue for the Patriots.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1, LW: 5)
The Steelers looked bad for almost three quarters on Sunday, but a win is a win. They’ll need every one as they chase that second AFC bye (and they’re not that far from grabbing the No. 1 seed either).
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2, LW: 1)
A leftover thought from the Monday night thriller: I wonder if Patrick Mahomes loses ground in the MVP race despite 478 yards and six touchdowns. That sounds crazy, but he did turn it over five times. The argument for Drew Brees for MVP has been his insane efficiency. Brees has turned it over one time all season. It depends if voters see the crazy production or dwell on the mistakes.
2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1, LW: 3)
I know, the offenses were great. And I know defensive players are practically ineligible to win MVP. But Aaron Donald should be considered a legitimate candidate for the award. Without his two enormous strip-sacks on Monday night, the Rams don’t win that game. He’s still got a shot at 20 sacks from the defensive tackle position, which would be every bit as impressive as any number Drew Brees or Patrick Mahomes will post.
1. New Orleans Saints (9-1, LW: 2)
Here was the offensive yardage from each of the Eagles’ drives on Sunday, and remember this is still a Philadelphia offense with a lot of talent: 9, 6, 0, 75, 19, 0, 16, 17, 9, 14, 31. And that last drive was meaningless (it was insane that Doug Pederson still had Carson Wentz dropping back to pass). So over the Eagles’ first 10 possessions, they had one drive with more than 19 offensive yards. If the Saints defense is going to play like that the rest of the season? Game over.
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