Monday Night Football has just concluded. The Rams got an impressive 27-24 win in Tampa over Brady and the Bucs. Now we can do the power rankings for week 11:
- Steelers (10-0): Pretty simple. They haven’t lost. You might think the Chiefs are better, and I think that’s a perfectly valid opinion to have. In fact I think if the Chiefs and Steelers played on a neutral site right now, the Chiefs would probably be slight favorites. But I just respect the fact that the Steelers haven’t lost. They have offensive weapons, a veteran QB who has seen it all, one of the best coaches in the league, and a top-tier defense. They’re pretty much a complete team. Big game upcoming on Thanksgiving Night against the Ravens, although the Ravens come into it pretty desperate so the Steelers will have their hands full.
- Chiefs (9-1): They’ve just avenged their only loss of the season, although I can’t imagine they want to play the Raiders again this season. As I wrote yesterday, the Chiefs have been in two one-possession games (in terms of final score) this season, and two of them were against the Raiders. The Raiders are the only team that seems to be able to beat Kansas City. I’m not going to say the Chiefs were lucky to get that win in Vegas, because it was fairly easy for Mahomes to lead them down the field in the final 1:15 to score the game-winning TD, and just about everyone was expecting that to happen. But the Raiders gave them everything they could handle. Still, the Chiefs are incredibly difficult to beat. They are now 18-1 since week 11 of the 2019 season, as they went on a 6-0 run to end the regular season, then won the Super Bowl, and have started this season 9-1. Does anyone really want to bet against them right now?
- Saints (8-2): No Brees, no problem. They made it work with Taysom Hill. Their defense is coming around and seems capable of carrying this team not just with Brees out but in the playoffs, too. The Falcons started this season awful, but since firing Dan Quinn they’ve actually come around a bit and were 3-1 in their previous 4 games coming into the Saints matchup. But New Orleans’ defense just absolutely smothered them. They sacked Matt Ryan 8 times and picked him off twice. They’ve also got two dominant wins over the Buccaneers. The Saints’ defense is really coming into peak form and their offense seems just fine–arguably even more dynamic–with Taysom Hill at QB. Hill has a bigger arm and is obviously way more athletic than Drew Brees. I don’t see Hill replacing Brees permanently, but they might be even scarier with Hill at QB. 7 straight wins for New Orleans has put them on top of the NFC. However, after the top 3 teams in the league, the power rankings start to get a little messy.
- Rams (7-3): Their win over Tampa puts them in the #2 spot in the NFC (although with the same record as Green Bay) and atop the NFC west, albeit with the same record as the Seahawks. When you look at all the teams that could possibly be #4 in the power rankings, it’s hard to really make the case for any team over the Rams. The Rams just beat the Seahawks a week ago, the Packers just lost, obviously the Rams just beat the Bucs, I’m not ready to put the Colts as high as #4, and though the Bills did beat the Rams in week 3, it was mainly because of a weak PI call that basically gave the Bills the game. The Rams should’ve won. I think by default you have to put the Rams at #4. That was a very impressive road win against a loaded offense. They’ve got playmakers on offense, and it’s getting harder and harder to justify still not fully trusting Jared Goff. This team is going to be tough to beat given that they have a one-man wrecking crew in Aaron Donald up front, plus one of the best shutdown corners in the game in Jalen Ramsey. When they went to the Super Bowl a few years ago they were seen as more of a finesse team, and when they lost many started calling them soft. But nobody’s calling them soft now. This is a tough, physical team. They out-gained Tampa 413-251 last night. Although LA was unable to run (20 carries for just 37 yards), Jared Goff was able to pick apart Tampa’s secondary for 376 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs on 39/51 passing.
- Colts (7-3): I can’t put the Packers ahead of Indy given that the Colts just beat the Packers. And I can’t put Tennessee ahead of Indy given that the Colts just beat them the week prior. The Colts are a good team, they belong here at #5 in the power rankings. They’ve got a top-5 defense, and Philip Rivers can still sling it when he has to. People were wondering if their defense was for real, and I think the answer is yes. They shut down the Titans in week 10, and held the Packers to 3 points in the second half + OT in week 11. If they manage to beat the Titans in week 12, they’ll be in great shape going forward here.
- Packers: The Packers really only have one impressive win this season, 37-30 over the Saints in week 3. It was before the Saints truly rounded into peak form, but it still obviously counts. I point this out because as I was looking through their schedule, I realized their wins this season (excluding the Saints) have come against teams with a combined record of 19-41, or an aggregate 31.7% winning rate (equivalent to a 5-11 team). Include the Saints and it’s 27-43, a 38.5% winning rate (a 6-10 team on average). Their 3 losses this season have come against teams with a combined 18-13 record. The Packers have beaten the Vikings, Lions, Saints, Falcons, Texans, 49ers and Jaguars, while losing to the Bucs, Vikings and Colts. The Packers have beaten up on bad teams while losing to most of the good teams they’ve played. Again, yes the Packers did beat the Saints in week 3, but the Saints playing better now than they were early in the season. The problem with the Packers is that they still can’t stop the run. They’re ranked 13th in the league in rush defense at 113ypg, but in their three losses they’ve allowed 158 (TB), 173 (MIN) and 140 (IND). And the Saints had 122 rushing yards for an average of 6.1ypc on Green Bay’s defense. Fortunately for the Packers, outside of the Saints, none of the other NFC playoff contenders really have dominant rushing attacks. So it might not matter that the Packers can’t hold up against the run come playoff time.
- Titans: The Titans really needed to beat Baltimore. They came back to win from down 21-10 in the third quarter and managed to keep pace in the division prior to a week 12 matchup with the Colts for first place in the AFC South. That win over Baltimore told me a lot about who the Titans are: a tough, feisty team that never throws in the towel. They were 1-3 in their 4 games prior to week 11 and looked to be trending downward, but they were able to rally and get their season back on track. Give the Titans a lot of respect for that. They have the scariest running back in the league, a capable and slept-on QB, and it seems like everyone on that team would run through a brick wall for coach Mike Vrabel. Their defense, however, is concerning. Their next two games are at Colts, vs. Browns, and they travel to Green Bay in week 16. They also play the Jaguars, Lions and Texans along the way. They should be able to finish with 10-11 wins at least, but the biggest game of their season is this weekend at Colts. They need to retake control of that division and put themselves in position to have some home playoff games.
- Bills: They were on bye this week and teams on byes usually end up falling in the power rankings even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it. It’s just the way it goes–we focus on what teams have done most recently . However, in the Bills’ case, they stayed put at #8. This is mainly because the Ravens, Cardinals and Bucs all got knocked down a peg after losses in week 11. The Titans stay ahead of the Bills because the Titans beat the Bills by 26 points in week 5, but the Bills stay ahead of the Seahawks because the Bills beat the Seahawks 44-34 in week 9. Overall, I’ve been kind of underwhelmed by the Bills defense, and that’s unfortunate because it has been the team’s strongest unit in the Sean McDermott era (2017-present). I don’t think the Bills’ defense has been horrible this year, but it also hasn’t been anything special. They rank 20th in the league in yards allowed (17th pass, 28th against the run). But they’ve played a tough schedule this year (Dolphins, Rams, Raiders, Titans, Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, Patriots–plus they play the Dolphins and Pats once more each this year) and are 7-3 thus far. So it’s hard to knock them too much. I don’t know if I fully believe in them, but there’s not too many teams out there that can outscore them.
- Seahawks: I know they just had a big win over the Cardinals, but I’m not going to act like every concern about the Seahawks is magically alleviated after one win. Yes, they did beat one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, but this doesn’t mean their defense is suddenly good. It’s better, but it’s too soon to consider it “good.” Still, the win over the Cardinals was probably the Seahawks’ most impressive of the season. They were 1-3 in the 4 games prior and seemed to be heading in the wrong direction, and may have just saved their season.
- Bucs: I don’t want to ding them too much for losing at home to the Rams, because the Bucs very well could’ve won that game if not for Brady being careless with the ball on their final drive. But that’s just a killer loss for a team that’s supposed to be a legit Super Bowl contender. I hate to start throwing the “s” word around, but are the Buccaneers soft? They were physically dominated by the Rams, and now have four losses to teams with great defenses: New Orleans twice, Chicago and now the Rams. In all four games, Tampa was manhandled. The blueprint for beating Tampa is simple: be physical, and their secondary is a liability. The Rams only sacked Brady once, but they were consistently in his face and hurrying him. I no longer view the Bucs as a true elite team. Other than their run defense, they didn’t look that good against the Rams. Tampa is now 7-4 and 1.5 games back of New Orleans. Tampa is now the #6 seed in the NFC with little hope of rallying to win that division over their next five games. Yes, Tampa only lost by 3 against a very good team, and had Brady not thrown a pick trying to go deep to a guy who wasn’t even close to open, the Bucs could’ve won 31-27 and we’d be talking about what a great win it was for Tampa. But they didn’t. And the reason I’m moving them down so much is because the Rams exposed the Bucs’ secondary. The Saints, despite beating Tampa twice, did not expose the Tampa secondary because the Saints are not a team that pushes the ball down the field aggressively. But Jared Goff threw for 376 yards last night. That’s a problem. Above all, Brady just doesn’t seem as scary as he was in the past. Whether it’s because he’s just not as good as he once was now at age 43, or because he’s not fully on the same page as his new Bucs teammates, it just doesn’t seem like he strikes fear into other teams. Not leading a game-winning drive against the Rams was unusual for Tom Brady. I just don’t have as much faith in him as I used to. He doesn’t feel unstoppable in the 4th quarter anymore.
Missed the cut:
- Ravens: As much as I want to crush them for blowing a 21-10 lead to the Titans, the Ravens are still a good team. But it feels like other teams are starting to figure out Lamar Jackson at this point. If they lose to the Steelers on Thanksgiving then it will confirm this team is in a complete tailspin. However, if they’re able to beat the Steelers on Thanksgiving it might just save their season.
- Raiders: I debated whether to put the Cardinals here or the Raiders, but both teams just lost and the Raiders had the more impressive loss. They’re the only team that has been able to make the Chiefs look mortal. Jon Gruden has done a phenomenal job with this team this season and they’re currently the #7 seed in the AFC. The Raiders are the one team the Chiefs don’t want to play in the playoffs.
- Cardinals: I know it was a close loss to the Seahawks, but I feel like the Cardinals should’ve been able to score more on that Seahawks defense. The Cardinals have lost to both the Lions and the Panthers this season, and their two biggest wins of the season (37-34 over Seattle in OT in week 7, and 32-30 over the Bills in week 10) could’ve easily been losses. I just don’t trust this team very much.
- Browns: They’ve lost to 3 of the 4 best teams they’ve faced. Their only win over a team with a winning record is their 32-23 week 5 win over the Colts. Their other six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 14-34-1 (only counting the Bengals once even though they’ve played them twice). But this is the Cleveland Browns we’re talking about: this is the best season they’ve had in decades. And they’ve managed to win games without Nick Chubb and Odell Beckham. They’ll be without Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett this week at Jaguars, and those are their two best players on defense. They should still be able to win, but they’ll need those guys down the stretch. In week 13 they’re at Titans, then host the Ravens. The Browns have a great shot at making the playoffs, but they’ll have to beat some good teams to get in. The next 6 weeks will tell us who the Browns really are.
- Dolphins: Apparently the Tua benching wasn’t due to injury but rather because coach Brian Flores wanted to shake things up and thought Fitz-magic could provide a spark for the team. He almost did; he threw a pick in the endzone to seal the loss to Denver. Just when I start wanting to believe in the Dolphins, they go and lose to the Broncos, although the Broncos aren’t as bad as their record. The Dolphins have the potential to be good, but they’re too young and inexperienced to be able to consistently win. They really needed to beat the Broncos: had they done that, they would’ve been 7-3 and in great shape to take the lead in the AFC East with the Bills on bye (although the Bills still hold the tiebreaker and would’ve been in first even had the Dolphins won). Now with the loss, they’re in 9th in the AFC. That hurts. Still, though, they’re very much alive in the playoff hunt. The rebuild is ahead of schedule, but you have to wonder what kind of message it sends to both Tua and the rest of the team that they benched him mid-game yet still consider him the starter going forward. It’s an unusual situation.