NFL Power Rankings: Lamar Jackson and Ravens overcame challenges and are contenders again
The best thing about the Baltimore Ravens' win Sunday was that Lamar Jackson had an off day by his standards.
Jackson, who has been great at times this season, wasn't great against the Los Angeles Chargers. He threw a couple interceptions and had a 68 passer rating. He was fine on the ground with 51 yards but we've seen that and more before.
Jackson was just OK. And the Ravens still blew out a 4-1 Los Angeles Chargers team 34-6.
As the Ravens blasted the Chargers to improve to 5-1, you got the sense that the rest of the NFL missed an opportunity to put them in a hole. The Ravens were among the most injured teams in the NFL coming into the season. At one point they had 16 players on injured reserve. You'll hear some losing teams complain about injuries, but the Ravens overcame them. They started slow with an overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, and then started winning a ton of close games. They had a comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs, who fumbled away a win in the final minute. They got a long fourth-down completion and 66-yard field goal to beat the winless Detroit Lions in a miracle. They had a massive comeback to beat the Indianapolis Colts last week. Often they needed MVP-level performances and plays from Jackson to bail them out. He delivered.
And then Sunday, the Ravens looked like a complete team. How they won their first four games didn't matter, just that they won while they figured things out. And they looked like they've figured it out, with the knowledge that Jackson still has plenty of unbelievable games to go.
This is why John Harbaugh is one of the NFL's best coaches and the Ravens always win. They have an uncanny ability to develop players and make adjustments. They lost multiple running backs, and just found old veterans like Le'Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray on the street. They lost top cornerback Marcus Peters for the season, but Sunday they still shut down the Chargers' skill-position players. They confused Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert by disguising coverages and blitzes. They also got a ton of hidden yards by outplaying the Chargers on special teams.
This is what the Ravens do. They figure out what they have and utilize it well. Stars leave and new players step up. They rarely beat themselves. And the 5-1 Ravens emerged from a challenging stretch as the clear favorite to win the AFC North.
There were points weeks ago when it seemed like the Ravens were vulnerable. The truth is, they were. But they kept finding ways to win, and they've come out on the other side looking like a viable Super Bowl contender. As usual.
Here are the power rankings following Week 6 of the NFL season:
32. Detroit Lions (0-6, Last week: 32)
The Lions haven't played one offensive snap this season with the lead, via Mike Clay of ESPN. Detroit had perhaps its worst game of the season Sunday and coach Dan Campbell said of Jared Goff, "I feel like he needs to step up more than he has," It's not getting better for the Lions.
31. Houston Texans (1-5, LW: 31)
Among the Texans' past four games, they have scored 9, 0 and 3 points (it's weird how they put up 22 on the Patriots). They haven't reached 20 first downs in a game since Week 1. Meanwhile, since Week 1, they are allowing 30.2 points per game. Houston is lucky it got that Week 1 win over the Jaguars, or we'd be starting to focus on the possibility of the Texans going 0-17.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5, LW: 31)
After a bad start to his rookie season, Trevor Lawrence posted a 92 passer rating or better in three straight games. He had 319 yards without an interception Sunday. He can still win offensive rookie of the year, as long as the Jaguars win a few games.
29. New York Giants (1-5, LW: 28)
There will be a lot of talk about the Giants trading off pieces, perhaps even Saquon Barkley, before the deadline. Here's the problem: General manager Dave Gettleman is on the hot seat. Trading players for draft picks is best for the franchise, but is it best for him?
28. New York Jets (1-4, LW: 29)
The Jets are getting good production from their defensive line. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams in particular has played well lately. In a rebuilding year, establishing a strong defensive front is a positive.
27. Miami Dolphins (1-5, LW: 26)
Tua Tagovailoa looked good in his return. That's about the only positive thing you can say about the Dolphins, a 10-win team a year ago that has one win and got outplayed by the Jaguars. The future looked good for the Dolphins but it's not so clear anymore, and that includes coach Brian Flores. Miami needs to show some life this season.
26. Atlanta Falcons (2-3, LW: 27)
Kyle Pitts got going in the Falcons' game before the bye. It would be nice if that continued. Getting Calvin Ridley going wouldn't be too bad either.
25. Washington Football Team (2-4, LW: 24)
J.D. McKissic got more touches than anyone in the offense on Sunday. Nothing against McKissic, but that's not a good long-term plan. It doesn't help that Antonio Gibson's shin injury seems to be lingering and will for a while.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4, LW: 22)
The Eagles' remaining schedule is surprisingly soft. They have games left against the Lions, Broncos, Giants (twice), Jets and Washington (twice). If the Eagles handle business against beatable teams they could be in the wild-card race. It's hard to have much confidence they can do that.
23. Seattle Seahawks (2-4, LW: 20)
Geno Smith isn't and won't be the answer. Russell Wilson is reportedly doing well in recovery from finger surgery. The Seahawks need to stay afloat until Wilson is ready to return, and it's getting harder to see how they can.
22. Indianapolis Colts (2-4, LW: 23)
Carson Wentz has looked sharp for two weeks, including a 400-yard game against a Ravens defense that just shut down Justin Herbert. It's reasonable to believe now that Wentz is finally healthy, he can be a middle-of-the-road starter. That might be all the Colts need to stay in the division race.
21. Chicago Bears (3-3, LW: 21)
In a loss, rookie running back Khalil Herbert was a bright spot. He had 112 total yards and a touchdown. The Bears' sixth-round draft pick looked very good. He's another example of why it's bad business to invest a lot in the running back position.
20. Denver Broncos (3-3, LW: 16)
The good vibes off the 3-0 start are gone. The hot start by Teddy Bridgewater has dissipated. The defense, which was supposed to be Vic Fangio's calling card, got worked over by the Raiders. Fangio's seat is going to get quite hot if the losing streak continues.
19. New England Patriots (2-4, LW: 17)
I don't get why the Patriots didn't take a shot at a long pass with 20 seconds left in regulation. They had a timeout left. Sure, bad things could have happened, but there's also a chance of hitting a long play or getting a pass interference. There needs to be some trust in Mac Jones, or it'll be hard for the Patriots to dig out of this hole.
18. Carolina Panthers (3-3, LW: 14)
This is a Panthers team that felt well enough about itself to trade for cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore. That won't mean too much if the offense continues to falter. The receivers can't drop so many passes, Matt Rhule wants more of a commitment to the run game and yes, Sam Darnold needs to play much better.
17. San Francisco 49ers (2-3, LW: 12)
One post-bye goal should be to get Brandon Aiyuk involved. The 2020 first-round pick was impressive as a rookie. But through five weeks he unbelievably has 90 yards. It would boost the 49ers' offense to use one of their best players more, especially with George Kittle out.
16. Minnesota Vikings (3-3, LW: 25)
The Vikings are the NFL team that is a few plays from being 1-5 and a few from being 6-0. Every game but their win over the Seahawks has been tight in the final minutes. You can make a good argument that the Vikings are secretly good, but it would be nice if they weren't trying to blow every game.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3, LW: 18)
T.J. Watt didn't practice until he got a new contract, and he got a $112 million extension over four years. He's worth every bit of that and showed it again with his game-winning forced fumble on Sunday night.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (4-2, LW: 19)
Derek Carr was great, Henry Ruggs III continues to grow as a deep threat, Maxx Crosby's three sacks led a defense that shut down the Broncos. That was a great performance. Was that a one-time bump due to rallying in the wake of Jon Gruden's resignation, or what we can expect of the Raiders in their post-Gruden world?
13. New Orleans Saints (3-2, LW: 11)
For those waiting on a Michael Thomas return, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said that's still "weeks away" even if Thomas is eligible to come off the PUP list. There's still hope that the Saints can be in the playoff mix and then incorporate one of the NFL's best receivers back into the lineup.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2, LW: 15)
The contributions of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd have been inconsistent this season. A lot of that has to do with Ja'Marr Chase being as good as advertised as a rookie. When Boyd and Higgins are needed the Bengals can still depend on them, but right now Chase is the focal point of the passing offense.
11. Cleveland Browns (3-3, LW: 9)
Baker Mayfield's left shoulder seems like it'll be a problem all season, and even though it's not his throwing shoulder you have to wonder if it has caused his play to slip. The beat-up Browns now have a short week before playing Denver on Thursday night.
10. Tennessee Titans (4-2, LW: 13)
Derrick Henry is a unicorn. We've never seen a 247-pound back who can reach the fastest speed for any ball carrier this season on a 76-yard touchdown run. He's unstoppable. Teams shouldn't be investing in running backs ... unless they're Henry, who is a one-of-a-kind player in the NFL.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2, LW: 7)
What was that? There isn't one thing positive to come out of that loss to the Ravens. It doesn't undo all of the positive steps the Chargers made before Sunday, but it was troubling to see a team that thinks it can contend get handled so thoroughly.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3, LW: 10)
Darrel Williams filled in OK, but got just 62 yards on 21 carries without a run longer than 11 yards against a bad Washington defense (in fairness, most of WFT's problems are against the pass). Not that Clyde Edwards-Helaire was great, but his injury makes the Chiefs' group of playmakers even thinner around Patrick Mahomes.
7. Baltimore Ravens (5-1, LW: 8)
Receiver Rashod Bateman, the team's first-round draft pick, made his debut after recovering from core muscle surgery. He didn't have a huge day, but looked like he belonged in his four catches and 29 yards. His role will grow, and the Ravens offense will get even better.
6. Buffalo Bills (4-2, LW: 2)
It's not like losing in the final seconds at Tennessee is that bad. But for a team that has Super Bowl hopes, every loss is going to sting. The No. 1 seed is incredibly important because only one team gets a bye in each conference with the expanded playoffs. That failed fourth-down quarterback sneak, while the right call, is going to loom in the AFC playoff picture all season.
5. Green Bay Packers (5-1, LW: 5)
Matt LaFleur said he expects left tackle David Bakhtiari to return to practice from the PUP list soon, and then the team will determine when he might play again. Oh, that's right, the Packers have won five in a row without one of their three or four best players. The Packers are going to get a big boost, not that they need it.
4. Dallas Cowboys (5-1, LW: 6)
CeeDee Lamb hadn't had a big impact the past few weeks, mostly because the Cowboys were running the ball and winning easily. But we saw when Lamb put up a 9-149-2 line against the Patriots that he's a true No. 1 receiver and Dallas can use him as such whenever it's needed.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1, LW: 4)
Here are the Bucs' next six games: vs. Bears, at Saints, at Washington (after the bye), vs. Giants, at Colts, at Falcons. Anything less than 5-1 in that stretch would be a surprise. Every other team that wants the No. 1 seed in the NFC has no room for error over the next month-and-a-half.
2. Los Angeles Rams (5-1, LW: 3)
Darrell Henderson has become a versatile weapon for the Rams. He had 107 total yards and two touchdowns, one each rushing and receiving, Sunday. Henderson's strong play makes the Sony Michel trade look weird, but the Rams don't value draft picks anyway.
1. Arizona Cardinals (6-0, LW: 1)
The Cardinals justified their top spot with a heck of a win at Cleveland, blowing out a Browns team that is much better than its 3-3 record. While the focus is on Kyler Murray, the Cardinals defense has had some fantastic performances this season, including Sunday, in shutting down the Browns.