Who is king of the NFL castle, and who are the dirty rascals? We’re roughly two thirds of the way into the season now, which means it’s business time, and the power balance in each conference really starts to matter.
We have two new entries in the top three this week, plus plenty of big rises and some dramatic tumbles. We don’t do boring around here.
The last time we did these rankings was back in week four, so all jumps and falls are since then. It shows how much - and how quickly - things change in the NFL...
32. Cincinnati Bengals (down 2)
The Bengals played the Ravens close less than a month ago, only going down by a score to Lamar Jackson’s jet-fuelled offense. They rectified that by getting absolutely thromped on Sunday. They could have lost by 50 if John Harbaugh didn’t take mercy on the wounded tigers and pull Jackson out of the line-up in the second half. 0-16 is a very real possibility.
31. Washington Redskins (down 3)
All I can remember the Redskins doing this past month is scoring zero points in that water polo game against the 49ers. Who else have they played? Who’s their starting quarterback now? Who knows, and frankly, who cares?
30. Miami Dolphins (up 2)
Well done Miami, you’ve somehow managed to screw up tanking. If Ryan Fitzpatrick beats the Bills this weekend is he in danger of becoming the first quarterback to get benched for being too good?
29. New York Jets (up 2)
That win over the Giants was fun. Everything else they’ve done this season has made me want to take a jackhammer to my own skull. Still, the last time we did these rankings Sam Darnold still had mono.
28. Atlanta Falcons (down 6)
The Falcons defense almost doubled its sack count for the season by downing Drew Brees six times in their stunning win over the Saints on Sunday. Dan Quinn has thrust one gnarled hand through the soil of his shallow grave, but doesn’t have much time left to get his head above ground.
27. New York Giants (down 2)
Daniel Jones has now thrown for 300+ yards and four touchdowns twice this season and lost both times. Saquon Barkley carried 13 times for one total yard against the Jets. The Giants are broken. Again.
26. Denver Broncos (up 3)
Is there a less interesting team in the league this year? It’s been a hard and fast fall for a franchise that - until last year - hadn’t posted a losing season since 2010.
25. Arizona Cardinals (up 2)
I like the Cardinals this year and that’s only partly because Kyler Murray has been doing bits for my fantasy team lately. Kenyan Drake looks to be a great addition at running back - he, David Johnson and Chase Edmonds might be the strongest trio of backs in the league. If they sort the defense out next season there is plenty of reason for hope in the desert.
24. Cleveland Browns (down 8)
There is no better way to sum up the expectations vs the reality of the Browns’ season than these two pictures of Baker Mayfield. Even Thursday’s win over the Steelers they managed to tarnish by Myles Garrett trying to kill Mason Rudolph with his own helmet. The Browns will always be the Browns.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (up 3)
Nick Foles is back in at QB in Jacksonville - but if he and his surgically repaired struggle out of the gate how long will he last before they pull the plug and reinstate Gardner Minshew’s glorious moustache under centre? The Jags can’t afford to lose many more in a tight AFC Wildcard race.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (down 7)
Are the Bucs good? Not really, no. Are they fun? Yeah, they kinda are! Sure, that’s partly because their quarterback is a turnover machine, and turnovers always make a game enjoyable, but their surprisingly good defense has also made Tampa worth watching, and that definitely has not always been the case.
21. Detroit Lions (down 10)
I had really bought in on the Lions being a decent team after the first few weeks of the season, and that is because I, frankly, am a gigantic idiot. Matthew Stafford has been excellent and his receivers have come up big too, but that defense… oh man, that defense.
20. Chicago Bears (down 13)
It is now painfully clear that Mitchell Trubisky is a giant bust as quarterback, something only made worse when you remember the Bears a) picked him ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and b) traded up to get him. He is holding this team back, and they would be smart to look elsewhere as soon as this exact second.
19. Indianapolis Colts (-)
Has a brief stint with Brian Hoyer at quarterback irreparably damaged the Colts’ playoff chances? Not quite, but it has opened up the AFC Wildcard picture considerably. At least it’s up to Jacoby Brissett - back from injury and practising in full - to try and close it again.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (down 4)
I keep waiting for the Chargers to put it all together and go on a run. I’m starting to suspect I may be waiting a long time. They should get Derwin James back after their week 10 bye, which would be a huge boon. Maybe it could even inspire them to put it all together and go on a… oh for god’s sake.
17. Oakland Raiders (up 6)
Fair play Jon Gruden. The silver and black have made huge strides in his second year in charge, and their weak schedule down the stretch means they could find themselves playing in January. The offensive line has been the surprising standout unit - Derek Carr was sacked just twice in five games before last Thursday’s win over the Chargers.
16. Tennessee Titans (up 4)
If you would like to have less hair, and for some reason you would like to achieve that by ripping it in clumps from your own skull, may I suggest supporting the Tennessee Titans, a team who can get blown out by the Broncos and beat the Chiefs in a thriller in the space of a month.
15. Buffalo Bills (down 5)
Their record is good, but they can only beat terrible teams. Their defense is good, but they can’t stop the run. The Bills are going to make the playoffs because of their ridiculously light schedule and get stamped 31-13 in the Wildcard round. Book it.
14. Los Angeles Rams (down 6)
Last season everyone was heralding the Rams as the future of football and Sean McVay as the sport’s next game-changing genius. I’m not saying that can’t still be the case, but some of the sparkle has definitely been lost in the Super Bowl hangover. Get the man a Lucozade*, that normally works for me.
*Other rehydrating soft drinks are available.
13. Carolina Panthers (up 5)
The Panthers lead the league in sacks and have a superhuman at running back in the form of Christian McCaffrey - he has a chance to break Chris Johnson’s single-season yards from scrimmage record of 2,509 set a decade ago in 2009. They also have a world of uncertainty at quarterback with Cam Newton’s injury situation, with noises already being made about Kyle Allen taking his job permanently. Those noises feel far too eager for me, but if he can direct Carolina to the playoffs the undrafted second-rounder certainly stand a chance...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (up 12)
This defense is excellent. The offense however, and particularly the quarterback, is very, very bad. It’s a good job Christmas is coming up, because helping Santa deliver presents might be all Mason Rudolph is good for.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (down 2)
The Eagles were a trendy Super Bowl pick heading into the season, but it’s now looking increasingly likely only one of them and the Cowboys emerges from the NFC East. Injuries have hurt Philly a lot, but so has a chronic lack of depth, particularly at receiver and in the secondary.
10. Dallas Cowboys (down 6)
Dak Prescott is having an outstanding season - maybe better than his rookie year. His QB rating is tied with Russell Wilson at the very top of the league, he’s completing more than 68 per cent of his passes and is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. The Cowboys as a whole have been a little disappointing this year, given the strength of their roster, but Prescott is flying.
9. Houston Texans (up 12)
The Texans started the season a little iffily (is that a word? No idea, but it’s fun to say), but have solidified as the weeks have gone on and look a comfortable pick to defend their AFC South crown. Deshaun Watson has established himself as one of the five best quarterbacks in the league, and the defense is improving even with JJ Watt out for the season - again.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (down 6)
Even when the Chiefs lose Patrick Mahomes looks like he’s being controlled by a 10-thumbed alien playing Madden (in this scenario the alien is well versed in both the rules of football and an experienced gamer). The problem is they’re losing too often (that does tend to be a problem in professional sports). Two more and they can probably say bye to their playoff bye.
7. Minnesota Vikings (up 10)
Kirk Cousins is… good now? That doesn’t sound right, but it sure seems to look like that’s what’s happening on the field. He even won a game against a good team in prime time! In Dalvin Cook the Vikings also have the league’s leading rusher (though he’s played one more game than CMC) and Kyle Rudolph is making one-handed grabs like he’s an oversized Odell Beckham.
6. Seattle Seahawks (down 1)
The Seahawks keep playing close games, but they also keep winning them. The reason for that? A certain Russell Carrington Wilson (things I did not know until today: Russell Wilson’s middle name is Carrington). He is deservedly the frontrunner in the MVP race, and has put Seattle in a great position to win the NFC West with that win over the 49ers on Monday.
5. New Orleans Saints (down 2)
What happened against Atlanta last weekend? Like, seriously, what happened? The offensive line fell to pieces against a previously anaemic pass rush, Drew Brees had nothing to work with outside of Michael Thomas - not for the first time this season - and the defense couldn’t stop Mtt Ryan in key situations. Let’s call it a blip until further notice.
4. Green Bay Packers (up 2)
What a first season Matt LaFleur is having in Green Bay. People questioned how he’d handle a potentially delicate relationship with Aaron Rodgers, but the best way to keep Rodgers happy is to keep winning. The Packers are doing that, and look destined for a deep run into January.
3. Baltimore Ravens (up 9)
There’s a solid argument for the Ravens being No 1 after they slapped the Patriots into 2020 two weeks ago. They’re the only team I believe can stop Tom Brady and co in the AFC. Lamar Jackson, the fifth quarterback off the board in the 2018 draft, being comfortably the best of the bunch is a delicious nugget. He’s been outstanding, proving the doubters wrong with his arm and his greatest fans right with his legs. A genuine joy to watch every week.
2. San Francisco 49ers (up 11)
If anyone had money on the Niners being the last team to lose this season I will match whatever you won from the bookies*. They have a tough run of games coming up, with the Packers, Ravens and Saints to come after this weekend’s meeting with the Cardinals, but San Fran have already done enough this year to prove they’re legit.
*I won’t, I’m really quite poor.
1. New England Patriots (-)
Yes they lost to the Ravens but you realise Bill Belichick did that deliberately to awaken a seed of false hope deep in your loins and make it even more satisfying when he crushes it with his heel and wins his seventh Super Bowl in February, right? Like, you know that’s what’s happening? OK good, glad we’re on the same page.