College football and basketball rankings are predictable in one way. If you’re ranked No. 1 and you lose, almost always, you move down.
Why is that practically automatic? There should be more to ranking teams than simply when you lost. Every week should be a fresh look at the resume of a team and where they stand at that moment.
That brings us to the Los Angeles Rams. They were the runaway No. 1 team in the NFL before Sunday. Then they lost at the New Orleans Saints, which is a game most NFL teams would lose now that the Saints have hit their stride. There’s nothing wrong with that loss (although it has clear playoff implications).
Do the Rams still have an argument as the best team in football? Don’t we have to factor in that the Saints did win and have looked like a Super Bowl contender for more than a month? And what about the Kansas City Chiefs, whose only loss is by a field goal at New England?
It’s time to take a look at who deserves the No. 1 slot, and we’re only accepting nominations for the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. The Patriots are a fine team too, but two losses to the mediocre Jaguars and Lions factor in, even though they’ve improved since, as was expected.
Rams: One easy question to ask yourself: If you had to pick a Super Bowl winner today, would it be the Rams? Probably, if you’re being honest. BetOnline.ag still has the Rams as the favorite to win the championship, according to OddsShark. That’s not a surprise. The Rams’ offense is great, they have a very good coach and the defense is good, though maybe not as good as advertised. Cornerback play is becoming an issue, if Marcus Peters doesn’t turn things around. But still, it’s a team with a good resume — though their best road win is either Seattle or Denver, and neither of them are great — and still probably the highest upside of the trio. One loss at New Orleans doesn’t change that.
Saints: Early in the season, it seemed like New Orleans would be nowhere near the top of the rankings. They looked bad against the Buccaneers in a home loss, then probably should have lost to the Browns at home in Week 2. They needed a last-minute score on a great Drew Brees run and overtime to beat Atlanta, then struggled for a half against the Giants. They were fortunate to come out of that stretch 3-1. Since then? They’ve been dominant. They blew out the NFC East-leading Redskins, won at Baltimore and Minnesota and beat the Rams. That’s a quality stretch. They have a great, balanced offense and a defense that might not be great but has generally improved since early in the season.
Chiefs: The Chiefs lead the NFL in point differential at plus-101, a testament to a great offense. The defense is suspect, but this is 2018. You can win in this NFL with a great offense and little else. And the Chiefs’ offense is undeniably great; Kansas City leads the NFL in points scored. Road wins against the Steelers and Chargers have aged very well, and blasting the Bengals by 35 at home was impressive. Five of their eight wins are by double digits. The lone loss is by three points at New England on the final play of the game. They had the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL coming into Week 9 of the season according to Football Outsiders, the toughest schedule of any of these three teams (Rams were No. 21, Saints were No. 32). You can criticize the defense but it hasn’t bothered them yet. The Chiefs have proven they’re worthy of their 8-1 record.
Each team has a great argument to be No. 1. So who gets the top spot?
Here are the power rankings after Week 8 of the NFL season:
32. Oakland Raiders (1-7, Last Week: 32)
You could probably have a similar argument to the one above for which team should be No. 32. The Bills certainly made a strong case for it Sunday. But that Raiders performance last Thursday was so absolutely dreadful, they have to stay in the basement.
31. Buffalo Bills (2-7, LW: 28)
This is the worst offense we’ve ever seen, right? In this era of offenses moving the ball at will, it certainly seems like it’s the worst ever.
30. New York Giants (1-7, LW: 31)
Are we sure the NFL can’t flex Giants-49ers out of “Monday Night Football” next week?
29. Arizona Cardinals (2-6, LW: 29)
David Johnson has had more than 20 touches in a game just once this season. I get that the Cardinals can’t sustain drives and game scripts have been bad, but the first game-plan meeting each week for the offensive coaches should start with how they’ll get Johnson more than 20 touches.
28. San Francisco 49ers (2-7, LW: 30)
My guess is that Nick Mullens caught the matchup of a lifetime against a Raiders defense that is horrendous and also looked like it quit. But, the 49ers’ next two games are against the Giants and Buccaneers, and neither of those teams are scary on defense. If Mullens gets another shot — and it would be a shock if he didn’t — he might continue this fun story for a while.
27. Cleveland Browns (2-6-1, LW: 27)
One thing new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens figured out right away: Get the ball to Duke Johnson. He had a season-best nine catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. Johnson didn’t have more than four catches in any other game this season. It shouldn’t have taken this long to figure out.
26. Denver Broncos (3-6, LW: 26)
I have no idea what to make of John Elway saying he’s more encouraged this season by the Broncos, who have lost six of seven, and that he isn’t planning any significant changes. Let’s just say that was unexpected.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5, LW: 21)
Most years, we get one Week 1 result that looks absolutely crazy by the end of the season. This year’s inexplicable result is Buccaneers winning at the Saints in Week 1, and there’s no other candidate.
24. New York Jets (3-6, LW: 18)
We’re at a fine line with Sam Darnold. Not every mistake is proof that he’ll be a bad quarterback. But he also can’t keep putting up games with ratings of less than 40. He has done that three times in his last seven starts. We need to remember Darnold is a rookie and patience is needed, but he’s not making it easy with all his mistakes.
23. Dallas Cowboys (3-5, LW: 20)
That about does it for the Cowboys’ season. Mathematically they’re not done, but they don’t look like the type of team that can get on a roll against the tough schedule that remains.
22. Indianapolis Colts (3-5, LW: 25)
It was nice to see guard Quenton Nelson win AFC rookie of the month for October. An offensive lineman has never won offensive rookie of the year and because Saquon Barkley has been as good as advertised I don’t see it happening this season either, but Nelson might end up getting a vote or two. That would be progress.
21. Detroit Lions (3-5, LW: 17)
Golden Tate is good, but trading him shouldn’t make that big of a difference. The Lions looked horrendous on offense in their loss to the Vikings on Sunday. They’ve invested too much into the offensive line for it to be giving up 10 sacks. Matthew Stafford was at fault too for holding the ball too long. Maybe he had to hold it because nobody was getting open. It was a total mess.
20. Miami Dolphins (5-4, LW: 22)
The best theory on the weird Reshad Jones situation, in which he pulled himself out of the game for the final three quarters, came from ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe. Wolfe wondered if the Dolphins rotating safeties to get rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick on the field didn’t sit well with Jones. There was a lot of talk Monday from Dolphins coach Adam Gase of defensive coordinator Matt Burke communicating with players better. It’s as good of a theory as any at this point.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5, LW: 19)
This seems like a big week for the Jaguars. If they can get Leonard Fournette back and win at the Colts, they would be 4-5 and likely favored to win five of their next six games before going to Houston in Week 17. But, can they win at Indianapolis? Nothing in their recent play has shown they can.
18. Tennessee Titans (4-4, LW: 23)
The Marcus Mariota roller coaster continues. It was up on Monday, with 240 passing yards and two touchdowns, to go with 32 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Titans desperately need that Mariota most weeks over the second half of the season.
17. Baltimore Ravens (4-5, LW: 16)
There’s a lot of chatter about John Harbaugh’s job security. If the Ravens fire him, would they do so without asking themselves, “Can we find anyone better?” Because I think the answer to that question is clearly no.
16. Seattle Seahawks (4-4, LW: 14)
This current six-game stretch will define the Seahawks’ season. The six games come against the Chargers, at Rams, Packers on a Thursday night, at Panthers, vs. 49ers and then they host the Vikings. Even if we count the 49ers game as a win, the other five games are tough. The Seahawks might need to go at least 3-3 in that stretch, and they’re already 0-1 after losing to the Chargers at home.
15. Washington Redskins (5-3, LW: 10)
Not many teams had a worse Sunday. It wasn’t just the blowout loss at home. Right guard Brandon Scherff, left guard Shawn Lauvao and wide receiver Paul Richardson suffered season-ending injuries. Left tackle Trent Williams will miss multiple weeks after thumb surgery. Washington signed three offensive linemen on Monday just to patch something together on the line. That’s a lot to lose all at once.
14. Atlanta Falcons (4-4, LW: 24)
If we assume it’ll take 10 wins to get a wild-card spot in the NFC, that means the Falcons have to win six of their last eight. They have road games at the Saints, Packers and Panthers remaining. They’ll have to win at least one of those and not trip up in any other games. It’s still a very long road, but at least they’ve given themselves a chance.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3, LW: 12)
A.J. Green will miss “at least” two games with a toe injury, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said. There are some news items that don’t need much more explanation, because we all know what it means.
12. Green Bay Packers (3-4-1, LW: 11)
Since we all know the hole the Packers are in now, how about some positive news: Rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a serious find. The third of three fifth-round picks by the team, Valdes-Scantling has two 100-yard games in the past three weeks and looked great on Sunday night. That looks like a home-run pick.
11. Houston Texans (6-3, LW: 15)
Three times this season Houston has benefited in a very close game from an opposing coach’s weird decision. There was Frank Reich’s decision to go for it in overtime from his own territory, then Jason Garrett punting from Texans territory in overtime when he should have gone for it. On Sunday, Vance Joseph gave away three points with an ill-advised attempt at a 62-yard field goal late in the first half, then he made the questionable call to settle for a 51-yard field goal instead of being aggressive, which resulted in a long miss at the end of the game. Having other coaches screw up regularly certainly doesn’t seem like a sustainable plan for the Texans, but it has gotten them to 6-3.
10. Chicago Bears (5-3, LW: 13)
Most coaches wouldn’t do what Matt Nagy did. While it’s possible Khalil Mack absolutely couldn’t play with an ankle injury, it sure seems like Nagy gambled they could beat the Jets and Bills without him and give him two weeks to heal. The Bears won both games. Most veteran head coaches don’t like gambling like that, much less a rookie head coach. But it was smart.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4, LW: 9)
Considering the Eagles still have road games remaining against the Saints and Rams, they still don’t have a lot of room for error. But seeing the Redskins get blown out and lose some key players in the process (and then seeing the Cowboys fall on their face against the Titans) was a reminder that the NFC East is there for the taking.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1, LW: 8)
It’s not like the Lions are that bad on offense. The Vikings just made them look bad, with 10 sacks. Is that the sign the somewhat dormant Vikings defense is back? If that’s a sign of things to come, don’t sleep on the Vikings the rest of this season.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1, LW: 7)
If the Steelers end up winning the AFC North, I hope Joshua Dobbs’ contribution is properly noted. When Ben Roethlisberger got the wind knocked out of him, Dobbs came into a terrible situation: second-and-20 at their own 5-yard line, with the Ravens trailing by only a touchdown in the fourth quarter. And Dobbs was cold off the bench against a good defense. Dobbs calmly hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for 22 yards and an enormous first down, then Roethlisberger came back in. The Steelers kicked a field goal at the end of that drive, and ended up holding off the Ravens. That’s one heck of a clutch play by Dobbs.
6. Carolina Panthers (6-2, LW: 6)
Who is the most under-the-radar 6-2 team in the NFL? Because it seems like everyone is sleeping on the Panthers and Chargers at an equal rate. The Panthers are very good, and Thursday night’s matchup against the Steelers is a great one.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (6-2, LW: 5)
It seems like the Chargers haven’t had an easy win since the 1980s. Every game seems to be harder than it should. But, they got a big road win at Seattle, and they’re still keeping the pressure on the Chiefs in the AFC West. And, hopefully, they get Joey Bosa back at some point.
4. New England Patriots (7-2, LW: 4)
Josh Gordon had 130 yards and it looks like he’s going to be a dominant force down the stretch. Who could have ever guessed that the Patriots paying nothing for a player of Gordon’s talent in a trade could end up being a good deal? Never saw that coming.
3. Los Angeles Rams (8-1, LW: 1)
It’s tough to put the Rams at No. 3. I wouldn’t fault anyone for putting them at No. 1. But I am very impressed with the Saints since Week 5, and although they let the Rams back in Sunday’s game, they still did lead Los Angeles by 21 in the first half and won by 10. That has to factor in.
2. New Orleans Saints (7-1, LW: 3)
Over the last four games, I think the Saints are the best team in football. It might not be all that close. But the first four games weren’t that long ago. It’s tough to put them ahead of the Chiefs, who have been a force since the opener. Kansas City’s only loss was a tight one at New England. Fluky or not, the Saints did lose at home to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1, LW: 2)
I thought the Saints’ win over the Rams would vault New Orleans to the top spot, but when you review the totality of the resumes, the Chiefs earned this ranking. I hate to dock them too much for the defense giving up a lot of yards, because it hasn’t been a problem yet. The Chiefs are No. 1 for now, though the margin is razor-thin among the top three teams.
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