With the NFL regular season moving into a phase, where all games seem to be of higher magnitude and teams are trying to make a playoff push, I wanted to take a look at the league’s landscape and where I’d rank all 32 squads heading into week 13. All those teams, which are currently part of the playoff picture or in the hunt, have crucial matchups coming up on their schedule and a lot of them still play each other to determine who will be there in the end. I’d like to point out at this point, that standings are secondary and that this list is about how well teams are playing as of right now.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
This team has owned the league’s best record ever since the Chiefs started their free-fall in the middle of October and those two have gone towards completely different directions. Philly was handed their lone loss of the season against that KC team in week two and they have been dominant ever since. Carson Wentz still has my vote for MVP and his numbers would be even better if their games over the last month hadn’t been decided after three quarters or even earlier. The Eagles are first in points scored and third in points allowed per game. They are the most complete team and they have depth at a lot of important positions, particularly running back and defensive line. The scary part about Philadelphia is the fact, that while everybody is getting more banged up at this point of the year, they are just getting back to full strength. Losing Jason Peters for the year hurts, but his replacement has played very well, their number one cornerback Ronald Darby just returned a couple of weeks ago and has been outstanding, as well as their rookie Sidney Jones at the same position maybe still making his debut, who I had as my number two prospect at corner before tearing his Achilles. Early on in the season, you could have pointed out the secondary is the Eagles’ one weakness, but they have been one of the best units over the last month, holding opponents to an average of 145 yards through the air.
2. New England Patriots (9-2)
When I did my last Power Rankings after week four, I had the Patriots outside the top ten looking in, but noted I expect them to be near the top once again as the season goes along. And surprise, here they are as the best team in the AFC once again. After starting the season on a historically bad pace on the defensive side of the ball, they have gotten their act together. They are communicating much better in coverage, Kyle Van Noy has done an outstanding job taking over in the middle for Dont’a Hightower and Trey Flowers has emerged as their designated pass-rusher. Since their horrendous start to the season, the Pats’ defense has given up just 13.1 points a contest – second-fewest in the league. Leading their offense is this 40-year old quarterback, who by the way is playing better than anybody else at the position right now and probably ever. Brady has been truly amazing. Even without his favorite target Julian Edelman, he has found a way to lead the NFL in passing yards. The connection with Brandin Cooks is becoming more lethal as the year goes along, Gronk seems to finally be healthy again and New England has been using like 20 different running backs out of the backfield, giving opponents a hard time figuring out how to deal with them.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2)
I don’t know what it is about these Steelers, but they always seem to be playing down to their competition. Last week they blow out the AFC South-leading Titans and then they barely squeeze out the W versus the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, who I have been preaching for years now, have one of the worst rosters outside of the quarterback position. While Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell have been getting better throughout the season, on Sunday it was their defense that didn’t look good at all for most of the game against Brett Hundley and the Packers. They gave up two really long touchdowns to wide open receivers. Brady will shred you if you make those kind of mistakes against him. I have to note at this point that Joe Haden is still out for them and Pittsburgh’s defense is so much faster than they have been over the last five or six years, but that Packer offense was just shut out at home by the Ravens a week prior to that. The reason I have the Steelers this high though, is the fact their potential is through the roof. Before Sunday, their defense was number two in terms of points allowed and they have more weapons than anybody in the league. Right now, they look like the only team, which is able to compete with the Patriots. And how are we not talking about Antonio Brown in the MVP-conversation?
4. New Orleans Saints (8-3)
The Saints just lost their first game after riding an eight-game winning streak. They were in trouble the week before as well, needing a furious Drew Brees-led comeback to beat the Redskins at home, but they are a completely different team to the ones that finished 7-9 the last three years. While it has been their Hall of Fame QB trying to bring them back late in their last two games, they have a running game, which we haven’t seen since their Super Bowl win in ’09. I stated last week that New Orleans has the top running back duo in the league and if they can get those two going, they’re basically unstoppable. Mark Ingram is the thumper inside to make defenses tired and rookie Alvin Kamara the electric guy on the edges and in the passing game. The second facet to the Saints team that’s unlike any they’ve had in years, has been their defense. I know they just allowed 26 points to the Rams and could barely stop them for the most part, but they were without their two starting cornerbacks and those pieces they have are coming together. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is the unquestioned Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sheldon Rankins is becoming a three-gap penetrating terror, Kenny Vaccaro has been fueled by the trade-talks and finally found his role and Cameron Jordan is a monster off the edge.
5. Los Angeles Rams (8-3)
I have the team that just beat the Saints ranked right behind them. Those Rams were in a must-win situation for me, after being held to seven points by the Vikings and being outgained by 200 yards. That was the only game first-year head coach Sean McVay was outsmarted by the opposing defense. Mike Zimmer’s troops penetrated versus the Rams zone-run scheme and played the backside defensive ends very conservatively to avoid easy completions off play-action bootlegs. Outside of that contest, the LA offense has been moving and scoring at will for the most part. Todd Gurley has turned into the best two-way player out of the backfield not named Le’Veon Bell, the Rams’ weapons in the passing game are nothing like in years past and most importantly, Jared Goff has looked so much more comfortable under the tutoring and with the scheming of his new HC. With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter on Sunday, last year’s first overall pick was trusted to throw the ball five straight times to move them into field-goal range, which ended up deciding the outcome of the game. Defensively, Wade Phillips has finally been the man to bring all that talent together and make it work. Aaron Donald is an all-world player, the entire front-seven is loaded with first-rounders and they have three excellent cornerbacks. The only thing this team lacks is experience.
6. Minnesota Vikings (9-2)
How about that guy Case Keenum? I’m still not a hundred percent sure he is the quarterback who can lead you to a championship, but he deserves a lot of respect for making the most of his opportunity, jumping in as the third-string QB. The coaching staff and players around him have done an outstanding job setting him up to be successful. I said a week ago that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen combine for the top wide receiver-duo in the NFL and I really like what those two running backs have done for the Vikes. Yet, what has been the key to the offensive turnaround for them, has been the transformation of the O-line. Last year, that unit couldn’t protect the passer for more than two seconds nor could they open up any running lanes, leading to a per-carry-average of 3.2 yards for their running backs. They brought back only one starter from a year ago in Joe Berger and moved him to guard. The free-agent signing of Riley Reiff at left tackle and drafting center Pat Elflein have paid major dividends. Mike Zimmer’s defense is one of the elite once again. Their front-seven physically imposes its will, their two cornerbacks get into the face of the opposing receivers and Harrison Smith is a beast at safety. They don’t do anything confusing, they just play hard, disciplined and dare you to beat them.
7. Carolina Panthers (8-3)
The Carolina Panthers are that one team, which can beat anybody in the league if they have a good day. Coming off a bye-week, Cam didn’t look sharp at all and they still found a way to beat an extremely competitive Jets team. Before that, he looked like Superman on Monday Night versus the Dolphins. Sure, Miami’s not a very good team, but when Cam is in a zone he’s borderline unstoppable. The Panthers running game has been coming on lately and the quarterback’s legs have been a huge part. Christian McCaffrey is quietly having an Offensive Rookie of the Year-type campaign with 736 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns, Devin Funchess has thrived as the number one receiver and hopefully Greg Olsen will be back healthy for them. The Carolina defense is reminiscent to the one that went to the Super Bowl two years ago. They are a different unit with Luke Kuechly in the middle (30-10 with compared to 5-5 record without him in the lineup). With 32 sacks the Panthers are tied for fourth in the league in that category, their young cornerbacks have taken a big step from where the were a year ago and free-agent signee safety Mike Adams has been outstanding for them. This might be the most dangerous teams in the NFC, they just have to put everything together.
8. Falcons (7-4)
Falcons fans and fantasy owners (including me) were waiting for a big performance by Julio Jones and boy, did we get one. Number 11 went off on the Bucs, as he has done throughout his career, hauling in 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. I know Tampa’s defense has been poor all season long and those 34 points in Seattle don’t look quite as big without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the lineup for the Seahawks, but doesn’t it kind of feel like Atlanta’s offense is getting back on track? Steve Sarkisian isn’t the gifted tactician Kyle Shanahan was for them as OC a year ago and Matt Ryan is closer to his average NFL career than his 2016 MVP campaign, but with the offense finally running more through Julio and a better job at stringing plays together, those Falcons can put up some points now. I want to see Devonta Freeman run through defenses with an angry demeanor once again, but I feel like they got a wake-up call in New England week seven. What’s different about the Falcons this season has been their defense. Some of their young players on that side of the ball have gained experience and they have their number one corner Desmond Trufant back from injury. I had Trufant as one of my top ten corners right now and the Atlanta’s defensive line has been wreaking havoc in recent weeks.
9. Jaguars (7-4)
It has taken a long time, but Jacksonville has been finally become a contender in the AFC. The identity of this team is clear – they want to punch you in the mouth with Leonard Fournette carrying the ball 25-30 times a game and get after opposing offenses with their number-one ranked defense. On Sunday, their fourth overall pick in the draft got the rock just 12 times for 25 yards because they were down multiple scores early on and put the ball into the hands of Blake Bortles. Even though he had some nice runs, that’s not a recipe for success. Outside of that game, their formula has worked very well. The Jags still lead the league in rushing and their defense is ranked number one in yards as well as points allowed. Like I said over the last two weeks now, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye combine for the top cornerback-tandem in the NFL today. But this Sacksonville defense is loaded at all levels and they function perfectly together. They have two super-fast linebackers who can chase plays sideline-to-sideline and they have so many guys who can just tee off and get after the passer. Calais Campbell is on a Defensive Player of the Year campaign with 11.5 sacks, Yannick Ngakoue is close behind with 10 and specializes in stripping opposing QBs with six forced fumbles, Malik Jackson pushes the pocket from the middle with five sacks and Dante Fowler also has 6.5 off the bench. Oh, and they traded for Marcell Dareus a month ago.
10. Chargers (5-6)
No team in the league is hotter than these Chargers right now. Their only two losses have come due to an interception at the goal-line in New England and in overtime against a really good Jacksonville team. Over the last two weeks, they have blown out the Bills and Cowboys by a combined score of 82-30 and 14 points came against them in the fourth quarter versus Buffalo, when Philip Rivers sat on the sideline already because they were up by five TDs. The 13-year QB and the entire team had a horrible start to the season with four straight losses, but with 16 touchdowns compared to just three picks from week four on, Rivers has been the hottest veteran signal-caller in the league outside of Brady. Keenan Allen has been on a tear lately as well, hauling in 23 catches for 331 yards and three scores over those last two blowout wins. Defensively, they have taken the ball away from the opposition a combined nine times during that stretch and put the ball into the endzone twice themselves. I declared Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa as the premiere edge-rushing duo last week, combining for the most total pressures by a large stretch. Denzel Perryman has looked great for them since coming back from injury three weeks ago and this secondary is coming into their own with Casey Hayward just balling out. Right now, the Bolts are clearly the most dangerous team in the AFC West.
11. Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
The Hawks have no Richard Sherman, no Kam Chancellor and no active running back with at least 200 yards rushing on the season. What they do have if Russell Wilson and man, has he been amazing. If there was anybody else under center for Seattle, I wouldn’t give them a chance to do anything this season, but I just can’t bet against number three. The offensive line is a mess. They can’t open up running lanes and Wilson has no chance to stay in the pocket and work through his progressions. He has to scramble around, make defenders miss and just create ridiculous plays. Week 10 at Arizona he was flushed to his left, spun away from two defenders, pump-faked, spun again and then just lobbed the ball to Doug Baldwin on the sideline. The week after that he nearly topped that play versus Atlanta, when he had to run away from the rush to his left and just fired the ball off balance to the end-zone, where Jimmy Graham nearly brought the pass in. The problem is they can’t sustain solely relying on their QB, as he has accounted for a ridiculous 86 percent of their offense. Even with those two enormous losses to their defense, they still have some elite players on that unit. Earl Thomas is back healthy as the premiere center-fielder, Bobby Wagner might be the best linebacker in all of football and the Seahawks have depth on their defensive line even without Cliff Avril.
12. Tennessee Titans (7-4)
None of us really know who the Titans are to this point. Their smash-mouth running game is ranked 13th in the league and their defense is giving up 24.5 points per contest despite having faced just two teams which are currently ranked higher than 25th overall in points scored – an inconsistent offensive Ravens squad and the Steelers, who just hung 40 on them a couple of weeks ago. Even more significantly, Marcus Mariota has thrown just two touchdowns compared to six INTs over the last two games and he just hasn’t been himself at any point of this season, partly because of being banged up. I expected the Tennessee offensive line to be the best unit in the NFL this season, but they are three sacks and one hurry away from their 2016 totals already. The upside with this Titans squad is still very high though – Mariota is only getting healthier, Derrick Henry is starting to become their featured back with 5.3 yards a clip over his last three games and they are on top of the AFC South at 7-4 even with a turnover-differential of -4. If they can start dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball again, which they already do to a large degree on defense (5th in rushing yards allowed), and some of those young pass-catchers continue to emerge, they could still make a playoff run.
13. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
This Ravens defense is for real. Tom Savage looked pretty good against them early on, but DeAndre Hopkins is just a beast on the outside and Baltimore killed themselves with a bunch of penalties to keep drives moving for the opposition. Overall, the Ravens D is ranked second overall in points allowed with 17 per game, they lead the league with 18 interceptions and they have already pitched three shutouts this season. To put that into context – outside of a crazy week seven, all the other 31 teams have held an opposing team scoreless just once. Baltimore has one of the top cornerback trios, the best safety-duo right now in my opinion, an outstanding middle-linebacker in C.J. Mosley and a ferocious defensive front led by Terrell Suggs. T-Sizzle is displaying the same motor he did when he came into the league 15(!) years ago and he has taken some of those young Ravens defenders under his wings. Brandon Williams is the key to this unit. When he’s on the field, opponents can’t run on them whatsoever and he’s being used to push the pocket on passing downs much more this year. On the other hand, the Raven passing offense is inconsistent at best. They are 31st in passing yards, their receivers haven’t produced nearly enough for most of the season and Joe Flacco is having his worst year yet. Some of those injuries on the offensive line haven’t helped, but they need to push the ball down the field more effectively to open everything else up. The return of Danny Woodhead is big, as Flacco loves to dump it off to his RBs. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if your kicker is basically automatic from 60 yards in.
14. Buffalo Bills (6-5)
Sean McDermott and the Bills coaching staff made a horrible mistake a couple of weeks ago when they decided to bench Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman. The first-year man then proceeded to toss five INTs in the first half against the Chargers and Buffalo made the move back to their vet. Sure, the Bills offense had struggled recently and Taylor hasn’t been putting up monster numbers in the passing game, but he takes care of the football with a TD-to-INT ratio above three-to-one and keeps drives moving with his legs. The wide receiving corp was one of the least accomplished until they traded for Kelvin Benjamin a month ago as well and this offense revolves heavily around Shady with an average of about 22 touches per game. Buffalo needs to keep their defense fresh and on the sideline, because that’s when they are playing good ball. Not including their two blowout losses to the Saints and Chargers, they have given up an average of 17.7 points per contest. New Orleans simply ran all over them without Marcell Dareus in the middle and the offense only picked up five first downs through three quarters, while Philip Rivers & company were constantly set up with short fields due to those five picks. I really like the revamped secondary through free agency, trades and the draft. Rookie Tre’Davious White has proven to the be one of the best value picks in the draft and Micah Hyde has probably been the best addition in free agency. Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson are two underrated edge-rushers and the entire unit is much more than just the sum of its parts.
15. Washington Redskins (5-6)
Please explain to my how this is a sub-.500 team?! They beat the Rams in LA, the Seahawks in support of the 12th man and they were up by 15 in the Superdome. I believe those Redskins can play with anybody, but they haven’t been able to put it all together and win week after week. Kirk Cousins is second in the league in passing yards, has a QB rating north of 100 and clearly has been among the top ten at the position. Terrell Pryor has been one of the biggest disappointments for me because I expected him to grow at the wide receiver position and be the solution to Washington’s red-zone problems. The two players who are starting to come into their own for them are Jamison Crowder, who does a lot of his damage from the slot, and rookie Samaje Perine, who has become their workhorse at RB with those other two guys on IR. Defensively, the ‘Skins have been too inconsistent. They were all over Russell Wilson against a horrible offensive line and they absolutely dominated the Raiders early on this season, holding them a total of 128 net yards, seven first downs, zero of eleven on third downs and forcing three turnovers. But they have also given up an average of more than 30 points in all their other games coming into a matchup with a 2-9 Giants squad. Josh Norman is a playmaker at the cornerback position, but he has been falling off throughout the season, Ryan Kerrigan is one heck of an outside rusher and D.J. Swearinger has emerged as their emotional leader.
16. Detroit Lions (6-5)
Once again, this Detroit squad is all about Matthew Stafford. Other than Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson no team relies more heavily on their signal-caller than the Lions. When I did my first power rankings after four weeks, I said Detroit finally is about more than their QB, when they were leading the league in turnover-differential, but they are once again 30th in rushing yards and the defense gives up 24 points a game. Ameer Abdullah has shown flashes at times this season, but he is averaging just 3.4 yards a carry and Stafford just has no consistent ground attack to rely on. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones have been one of the most productive wide receiver-duos, but Eric Ebron is getting booed by fans and his backup at the tight-end spot has been prone to drops as well. On defense, cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin Jr. are having career-years, but the rest of the unit has only four interceptions and 23 sacks. Anthony Zettel has stepped up big-time in his first year as a starter with 6.5 quarterback-takedowns, but Ezekiel Ansah just recorded his first sack on Thursday since week five. They Lions have been able to overcome a lot of deficiencies with Stafford’s fourth-quarter magic, but they need Ziggy to turn things up and protect their signal-caller better, as they are tied for the third-most sacks allowed due to a lot of shifting around through injuries.
17. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)
This Chiefs team is in absolute free-fall. Alex Smith went from MVP candidate to potential benching for a rookie and the front-runner for Rookie of the Year to being held to 281 yards rushing and zero touchdowns over his last six games. I think all of this has been in large part due to opposing defensive coordinators figuring out this gimmick offense. The principles to stop it are the following: Always put one more defender in the box they can’t block, be disciplined on the edges to allow yourself to be aggressive inside and don’t give yourself away pre-snap. What that means is that your cornerbacks are key to force everything inside, you can’t be afraid to bring extra pressure and expose the KC pass-protection, while playing aggressive on the back-end and disguising your coverages with looks the Chiefs can’t just pick apart. Early on in the season, opposing teams played a lot of soft zones and were not disciplined enough in some spots, but now they are taking away Kareem Hunt and forcing Smith to beat man-coverage. This has led to an average of 12 points over their last three games, which all resulted in losses, because their defense can’t really stop anybody. They are ranked 28th in passing and 29th in rushing yards allowed. Justin Houston was unstoppable until a couple of weeks ago, when OCs started to chip and double him, while Marcus Peters has made some big plays, but has also given up his fair share, and whatever guy they line up on the other side of him has been picked on constantly. They still lead their division, but the Chargers are playing so much better right now.
18. Arizona Cardinals (5-6)
The Cards’ win over the Jaguars was the biggest upset of the weekend for me. On paper this was a really bad matchup for Arizona. Sacksonville has an elite defense, which was licking their chops thinking about facing a third-string quarterback, and even with Adrian Peterson the Cardinals don’t have a very strong running game (league-low 3.0 yards per carry), which would mean having to throw the ball against those two superstar cornerbacks and having a ferocious pass-rush breathing down Blaine Gabbert’s neck. The first-round bust didn’t look like the former Jaguar at all on Sunday though and he has given me a reason to move this team into the top 20. I’m also encouraged by the offensive line allowing just one sack on Sunday and the overall improvement after a horrific start to the season. Tight-end Ricky Seals-Jones has been coming on lately and Larry Fitzgerald is playing as well as any 34-year old ever at the position. Defensively, Arizona isn’t where they wanted to be at this point, but they are improving steadily. As I mentioned earlier, they held Leonard Fournette to 25 yards on 12 carries and overall, they are now tenth in rushing yards allowed per game. Chandler Jones just had a monster game on Sunday and is having a really big year as the only threat off the edge for this team. I really like the trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Antoine Bethea and Tyvon Branch at safety for them because of position flexibility. And two weeks ago, I stated Patrick Peterson was still the top cornerback in the league. This still feels like a lost season for the Cardinals with their starting QB and RB out, but they can compete.
19. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
I only didn’t drop the Cowboys any lower than this, because I never had any doubt they’d be screwed without Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee. Zeke is the driving force of this Cowboy offense and without him as a threat, defenses can stay with seven guys in the box and dare Dak Prescott to beat them with his arm – a position he has struggled in. On the other side of the ball, Lee is the glue who holds the defense together. There’s only a few defensive players in the league, who mean more to their team and the statistics with compared to without him back this up. Dallas has been blown out in second halves without the leader on D recently. In the five games he either left the field early or was ruled out, they have been outscored by a combined score of 114-22. That’s crazy. Without last year’s rushing leader in the NFL, a lot more pressure has been put on Dak and quite frankly he has struggled. Not as bad as the numbers might suggest, especially when you look at Dez Bryant not being nearly as dynamic as he has been since coming into the league, but he’s not as successful taking a straight drop-back as he is off play-action. Therefore, the defense has been tired as well. Their pass-rush was phenomenal until a couple of weeks ago, with Demarcus Lawrence and David Erving wrecking hell. And let’s not forget this is a reshuffled, young secondary, which just saw Keenan Allen go off on them at Thanksgiving.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
Joe Mixon finally had his coming-out party. His 165 yards from scrimmage may not seem quite as impressive since it came against the winless Browns, but they have been pretty tough on running backs for most of the season, still being in the top ten against the run and with Leonard Fournette having been the only 100-yard rusher until Sunday, which took him 28 carries to do so. The offense has been lackluster for most of 2017, but their young running back breaking out is a big sign for change from being the second-worst team on the ground. Andy Dalton has been getting better as the season has gone along, having thrown nine touchdowns and no picks over the last five weeks, and A.J. Green is clearly still one of the elite receivers in the game. Cincy’s defense is better than people give them credit for. They are fifth in passing yards surrendered and tenth in points allowed. Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t had his best year, but last season he was close to being a top ten corner in the league. He’s still there and when Vontaze Burfict doesn’t get in trouble, he’s a really good linebacker. What I like best about that unit is the defensive line though. We know Geno Atkins is a force in the middle and Carlos Dunlap had 13.5 sacks two years ago plus an absurd 15 pass deflections last seasons, but it’s rookie Carl Lawson off the bench, who has been a freak with seven sacks on the season.
21. Oakland Raiders (5-6)
Sure, the Raiders have been a huge disappointment for everybody, who thought they’d be the one challenging the Patriots for the AFC crown, but for as bad as they have played this year, they are sitting at 5-6, just one game out the lead in the AFC West. Derek Carr hasn’t played up to his big contract at this point, but his receivers have let him down quite a bit with drops and Marshawn Lynch hasn’t surpassed the 70 yard mark since the season-opener. Beast Mode has been coming on lately though and the QB has had some big games. While Carr has had three outings with one touchdown compared to two interceptions, in all other the contests he has amassed 13 scores compared to just two picks. Defensively, the Raiders have been terrible all year long. They just got their first interception of the season against the Broncos, when the ball was bouncing around, between hands and helmets in the endzone, while they have given up 19 touchdowns through the air. Their sack total on the year is just at the same number of passing TDs allowed after Khalil Mack had 15.5 himself last season. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t been able to take over games like he did in 2016 and their cornerbacks have been really struggling. That has resulted in opponents converting 45 percent of their third down against, the second-worst mark right behind Tampa Bay.
22. Green Bay Packers (5-6)
Let’s start like this – Brett Hundley had a phenomenal game at Heinz Field. The third-year man out of UCLA carved up one of the top statistical pass defenses in the league for three touchdowns and a passer rating above 130. The start to his career hasn’t been the best, but I liked him coming into the 2014 draft and he made a couple Aaron Rodgers-esque throws against Chicago and now Pittsburgh. The Pack should also be encouraged by the success of their third-string running back Jamaal Williams and the other rookie – Aaron Jones – before that. Jordy Nelson has been nearly invisible since Hundley had to take over for Rodgers, recording just 13 catches for 103 yards and no touchdowns with him at the helm. On defense, the Packers might not have a single Pro Bowler and there’s a bunch of names the average fan won’t know. Yet, they are about average in points allowed and that’s with Clay Matthews injured right now. Mike Daniels is a beast up front, Nick Perry can rush the passer from the outside and HaHa Clinton-Dix is one of the more underrated safeties in football. Green Bay’s playoff chances a very slim, but this team has been better than I expected them to be without their superstar quarterback. And Rodgers could be coming back soon.
23. New York Jets (4-7)
I give this Jets team a ton of credit. We all talked about them tanking for one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft and I expected them to not win more than one or two games. Yet, here they are at a more than solid 4-7. Instead of letting one of those young guys on the roster get smoked, they stuck with veteran Josh McCown, who has played by far the best season of his career. Wide receiver Robby Anderson just made his Pro Bowl plea when a camera was put in his face on Sunday and to be honest, he could certainly deserve some votes. He’s been outstanding and that was highlighted with one of his two TDs on Sunday against two defenders in the endzone, who were all over him. Their rushing totals on the season might not impress anybody, but they’ve had a couple of games in which their O-line owned the line of scrimmage. They have done so on the opposite side of the ball as well. The Jets defense plays with a swagger they haven’t had in years under the leadership of rookie safety Jamal Adams. Everybody has seen them jumping around all pumped up and that’s why they are not getting crushed on a weekly basis despite a below-average roster. In fact, since their only blowout loss to the Raiders in week two, New York has been competitive every single week, not losing any games by more than one score. And who knows what this would look like if Austin Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t robbed a touchdown versus the Patriots and arguably another one last Sunday against the Panthers.
24. Houston Texans (4-7)
If the Texans were fully healthy right now, I think they could be the third-best team in the AFC. If you doubt that, just think: Would the midseason Rookie of the Year DeShaun Watson, three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and an outside linebacker with 20 sacks over the last two years not make an enormous difference for them? I think they would be making some noise. But as it is, Tom Savage, a guy with 20 tackles in two seasons and an undrafted free-agent have replaced them. I’m not saying they’re playing bad, but you would agree that’s quite a drop-off. Savage actually played a solid three quarters in Baltimore on Sunday, but then he turned back into the guy with a career 68.0 passer rating and turned the ball over twice in the fourth. DeAndre Hopkins a big reason for the Texans not being any lower in these rankings. Jimmy Smith has been one of the absolute best cornerbacks in the NFL this season and he just couldn’t cover Nuk one-on-one. That dude has been one of the best in the game despite lackluster QB play. Defensively, Houston has a problem as well. There’s only three teams, which have given up more points and they have been picked apart by Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Russell Wilson and even Jacoby Brissett. Jadeveon Clowney is absolutely one of the most disruptive defensive players in all of football and that was on display Monday Night, but there’s nobody else on this team, who even cracks three sacks and without any pressure, opposing signal-callers will eventually exploit the coverage.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
We all fall in love with the Hard Knocks team and every year we get disappointed. People said Jameis Winston would be the breakout quarterback this season – he has turned the ball over routinely when he was healthy. This young defense came along towards the end of last season – they are the worst in a lot of major categories this year. DeSean Jackson was supposed to be the deep threat to complement Mike Evans – he has two catches for 30+ yards this season. I personally had the Bucs outside the playoffs at 8-8 in my preseason predictions, but even I have been disappointed so far. I thought Doug Martin would have a bounce-back year once he returns, but even though he looked dynamic in his first game back versus the Patriots, he is averaging just 3.2 yards a carry on the season. On defense, with Gerald McCoy on the interior, Noah Spence as a potential breakout candidate as an edge-rushing sophomore, an outstanding linebacking corp and young secondary members, there was a lot of promise as well. Yet, here they are allowing 395.5 yards per game, 6.1 per play and 49 percent on third downs – all worst in the league. They have finally won two out of their last three and that was with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm. Winston is expected to return this Sunday for Tampa Bay, but at 3-7 their playoff chances are at about 0.1 percent and they are more likely to finish with a top five pick in next year’s draft.
26. Chicago Bears (3-8)
Last week, I would have given this Bears squad much more love. They were averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry with an excellent interior three guys on the O-line and they did so pretty consistently throughout the year. Jordan Howard has just been bruising through defenses for the most part and then there was the electric Tarik Cohen changing things up. I mean, they rushed for 231 yards against the Ravens defense in week six. Yet, on Sunday they amassed a total of just seven yards on the ground, compared to 167 by the Eagles. There’s just no way you’ll even be competitive if your rookie QB has thrown for more than 180 just once in his seven starts. In general, I really like what Chicago has done with Mitchell Trubisky. They clearly wanted to ease him into the job and make him comfortable in his role. They want to establish the run, to get their future signal-caller on the move and complete simple throws. He has shown some promise with big throws down the field and a crazy scramble to set up a potential game-tying field goal against the Lions, but right now the Bears just have no weapons on the outside. Defensively, I also think they have taken a big step forward. Leonard Floyd has become a real threat off the edge in his second season, their secondary has exceeded all expectations by analysts coming into 2017 and they are hitting people in the mouth.
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-8)
Let me tell you one thing: Jacoby Brissett is a quality starter in this league. Nobody has been hit or sacked more than him and the Colts average just 3.5 yards a rush to complement him. Moreover, their defense has allowed the most points per game and miraculously, they have still squeezed out three victories on the season. Brissett isn’t Rodgers, Brady or Brees, but he’s a hell lot better than everybody the Browns, Dolphins or Broncos have on their rosters. T.Y. Hilton can go off any week and Jack Doyle is the best tight-end nobody talks about, but outside of those two guys, there’s not much to work with on this offense. Combine that with the fact, they would have to score an average of 28 points a week to win and you’d expect them to be the worst team in the league – but they are not. I have said this for the last couple of years – Indy has one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL. Defensively, they are the only team I know, which doesn’t have a single starter from the 2016 season-opener returning. This unit was wildly shuffled together and there was no reason to believe they would be something better than a disaster. Yet, there’s some bright spots her: Before tearing his ACL in week seven, Malik Hooker had recorded three picks and shown much better tackling-form than at Ohio State, free-agent acquisition Jabaal Sheard is top five in total QB pressures and they will be in position to draft an impact defender early in 2018.
28. Miami Dolphins (4-7)
Coming into the year, the expectations for a playoff team from a year ago with Jay Cutler as their quarterback were pretty high, but they plummeted more and more. Their offense has just been a mess, averaging a lackluster 15.8 points per game and 4.7 yards per play – the third- and second-lowest numbers in the league respectively. In addition, they convert less than 34 percent of their third downs and they have gained less first downs than the Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch Broncos. If you consider the fact they have turned the ball over 20 times already compared to taking it away from the opposition only half that many times, you have a recipe for disaster at your hands. With the trio of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills at wide receiver you’d expect their QBs to succeed, but with Matt Moore having a negative TD-to-INT ratio and Jay Cutler leading them to more than 20 points just twice all year, I’d have to say they have struggled. The Miami defense was average until being blown out 40-0 by the Ravens in week eight. Since then, they have surrendered an average of more than 35 points per game. While Cameron Wake, Ndamokung Suh and Reshad Jones all have pretty good statistical season, the Dolphins only have two players, who have recorded any interceptions, and they’ve lost five in a row now.
29. Denver Broncos (3-8)
When I did these rankings eight weeks ago, I had the Broncos as the number two team in the league with a 3-1 record heading into the bye week with the league’s top defense and Trevor Siemian playing as well as ever. Oh, how times have changed. Since then, Denver has lost all seven games and they have had three different quarterbacks starting for them. Siemian fell off over those next three games, but he was without his favorite receiver Emmanuel Sanders, in the first two of those contest his team had 69 net yards rushing and in Kansas City it felt like Justin Houston was in his face every single snap. Of course you would like to see more from your signal-caller anyway and not lose three games in a row, but did they really think Brock Osweiler was a better option? And after three games with him at the helm, when opponents put up twice as many points as them, they finally could put Paxton Lynch in, but he snapped his ankle in the third quarter. No matter who has been at quarterback for the Broncos, the offensive line hasn’t been able to protect them, having allowed the third most QB hits on the season. It’s easy to blame their signal-callers and say it’s not the fault of the defense, but they have been a completely different unit since the first quarter of the season as well. Yes, the Broncos defense has had to deal with the worst starting field position (34.2 yard-line) and they are third in total yards allowed, but they give up the fifth-most points per contest, the vaunted No Fly Zone has allowed a league-high 24 touchdowns through the air and has recorded just one interceptions over that seven-game stretch. A turnover-differential of -16 just won’t do it.
30. San Francisco 49ers (1-10)
The Jimmy Garappolo-area is starting in San Francisco. Originally, I think the organization didn’t want to play him at all this season or maybe only a couple of games, but now we’ll see what he can do in the red and gold colors. Unfortunately, this story has been the most interesting for the 49ers this season, as they are 28th in both points scored and allowed. Rookie C.J. Beathard has looked okay and I think they believe in him as their backup going forward. This offseason will be about bringing offensive playmakers to the Bay to give Jimmy G what he needs to succeed. Pierre Garcon was really good until he got hurt and Marquise Goodwin has had a couple of big plays as their primary deep threat. I also like the versatile rookie tight-end George Kittle, as I have done since watching him at Iowa. The Niners defense is not yet what they need to be as a unit, but they have some impressive pieces. DeForest Buckner can disrupt games on a play-to-play basis and he’s only getting better with NFL coaching, Reuben Foster has been so good, the team let go of NaVorro Bowman, as soon as the rookie returned from an injury and Eric Reid looks comfortable with the transition to strong safety. The 49ers have averaged the lowest number in time of possession and their rush defense has been too vulnerable, highlighted by giving up 159 yards on the ground to Adrian Peterson despite the Cardinals averaging the least amount of yards on the ground.
31. New York Giants (2-9)
I understand this is a lost season for the Giants and Eli Manning hasn’t had his best year, but the way the organization has handled the whole situation has been disrespectful towards their leader for the last 13+ years. There is no competitor, who wants to start a game just to keep a streak alive and then exit for somebody else. Like Eli said himself, that would be unfair to him and the other guys. As a football decision, I understand wanting to see what you have in rookie Davis Webb, but why would you start a quarterback, who the Jets didn’t even want anymore? Big Blue is the only team that punts twice as much as they score (including field-goals). Eli has basically had no protection, barely any rushing attack and he has been without his top three receivers for most of the year. For as good as the Giants D was in 2016, they have given up the second-most yards in the league and 42 plays of 20+ yards. Their top cornerbacks have been suspended by the team, their edge-rushers have been hurt and they just haven’t been able to stop the run. Obviously, this team has been a mess and I believe head-coach Ben McAdoo has lost this locker room. I’d be shocked if they didn’t have a new head coach and quarterback at the start of next season. I want to see what Davis Webb looks like, but I think I’ve seen enough of Geno Smith.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-11)
I’m done talking bad about the Browns. It’s just not fun anymore. Obviously, they haven’t won a game this season and even I thought they would at least be victorious two or three times, but this is a long-term project. Nobody expected Cleveland to make the playoffs this year, so ending up with the top overall pick again would probably be better for them anyway. That brings me to my first point – I’m not close to being done with my film study, but I believe there’s a bunch quarterbacks with the potential to be the franchise guys in next year’s draft. Even if they have the number one pick, they don’t necessarily have to spend it one on one of those guys, because they might end up with another one in the top ten via the Texans. The 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett has five sacks in his first six career games, Jason McCourty has been close to a shut-down corner this season and look who’s coming back – Josh Gordon. I know he hasn’t been on the field for more than three years and we don’t know if he can stay clean, but when we saw him the last time, he was one of the biggest freaks at the wide receiver position. The Browns have suffered a bunch of injuries and they may not win any games the rest of the year, but if the front office is smart and keeps Hue Jackson, the Browns might turn into a different team going forward.
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