The Steelers-Ravens has just ended and thus concludes the longest week in NFL history. Finally. Let’s get into the rankings. I’ve added up and down #Stonks symbols (or a sideways arrow to indicate no change) next to the teams to show how teams compare to last week’s rankings.
- ↔️ Steelers: People might knock them for not straight-up massacring the depleted Ravens, who were missing their top 2 RBs, Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews on offense, but this game was never going to be a 38-3 beatdown. It’s a division rivalry game. The Ravens are a talented team with an experienced head coach. They do not get blown out often, especially not by the Steelers, their greatest rival. That said, the Steelers didn’t look all that great against a team that hadn’t been able to practice much, if at all, over the past 10 days. Diontae Johnson had a bad case of the drops in this game, dropping a sure TD in the second quarter and another ball that would have given the Steelers a first and goal from the Baltimore 1 later in the game. Both times they had to settle for field goals. Plus Pittsburgh gave up a late TD that made the score 19-14. The Steelers have a bad habit of playing down to their competition, for whatever reason. While I do consider the Steelers unquestionably one of the top 3 teams in the league, I’ve never been supremely confident in them. I feel like they could lose to both Kansas City and New Orleans, but they could also beat both teams, too. Steelers will continue to get the nod until they lose, but they have not been quite as dominant as their 11-0 record would indicate. Plus, they just lost Bud Dupree for the season with a torn ACL. That is a massive loss for a defense that has already lost Devin Bush for the season with a torn ACL. It’s obviously not a death-blow to the Super Bowl chances the way losing Big Ben would be, but this really hurts them.
- ↔️ Chiefs: I have never been more tempted to put them at #1, but I have to respect the Steelers’ unblemished record. The Chiefs went on the road and jumped out to an early 17-0 lead against the Bucs. Mahomes was slinging it all over the place, Tyreek Hill had 203 receiving yards in the first quarter and was backflipping into the endzone. It looked like the Chiefs were about to hang 50 on the Bucs. But then they were outscored 24-10 in the next three quarters of the game. Give credit to the Chiefs for closing that game out and getting first downs at the end to run out the clock, but Tampa turned that into a ballgame. I’ve got to ding the Chiefs a bit for taking their foot off the gas after the first quarter, but that was still an impressive road win for them. They’re 10-1 and very much alive for the #1 seed in the AFC should the Steelers lose. The Chiefs are now 19-1 in their past 20 games including their Super Bowl run. Yes, they’ve had a lot of close wins, but it feels they’re almost unbeatable unless you have like a 21-point 4th quarter lead on them. They consistently hold on to late-game leads, and and consistently pull out last-minute wins when they don’t have the lead. They should be able to take care of Denver and Miami over the next two weeks, and then they travel to New Orleans in week 15 for a potential Super Bowl preview.
- ↔️ Saints: The top 3 teams are, in my view, in a class of their own right now. The 9-2 Saints are riding an 8-game winning streak and easily handled the Broncos and QB Kendall Hinton on the road as expected, 31-3. Really not much to say about the Saints. They keep rolling. They should be fine in week 13 against the Falcons on the road, and hopefully they will get Drew Brees back by the time they play the Chiefs in week 15. Taysom Hill has some serious limitations throwing the ball, but fortunately their defense is so good they don’t really need him to throw much. His running ability–plus Kamara and Latavius Murray–are more than enough for them to win right now. They currently have the #1 defense in terms of yards allowed per game, although that could change when the Steelers’ game against the Ravens gets factored into the stats. After the top three teams, this is where it gets interesting as there are now five teams that are 8-3 in the league and four of the five have a case to be #4 in the power rankings.
- 📈📈 Packers: I’m going to rank these next few 8-3 teams based purely on who I think would win head-to-head, and I think the Packers would be favorites over both Tennessee and Seattle. They wouldn’t be big favorites by any stretch, but they’d be favorites, I think. However, the Seahawks do have the #2 seed in the NFC right now over the Packers, who are #3. While the Packers’ defense is spotty, I just have a hard time betting against them given that they have the most experienced QB in the league that is still playing at or around his prime level. Obviously guys like Brady, Brees, Big Ben and Rivers have been around for a bit longer than Rodgers, but none of those guys are still playing prime-level football. Rodgers is. He’s got 33 TD passes vs. 4 INTs. He’s completing 68.5% of his throws, which ranks 9th in the league and just behind Mahomes’ 68.8%. He’s got an 85.1 QBR, which is behind only Mahomes’ 86.1. Then the next closest is Drew Brees’ 81.1, and then there’s a bunch of guys in the mid 70s. In terms of regular old QB Rating, Rodgers is #1 in the league at 117.6, followed closely by Mahomes at 115.5. I’d say Mahomes is playing better than Rodgers this year, but not by much. In terms of yards-per-attempt, Mahomes is 8.3 and Rodgers is 8.1. They’re almost identical in terms of on-target throws: Rodgers 79.9%, Mahomes 79.6%. The main difference is in passing attempts, where Rodgers only has 381 (13th in the league) while Mahomes has 423 (3rd in the league). These two guys are the best QBs in the league. It’s a two-man race. As much as I like Russell Wilson, I think he’s just a notch below these two. So I’m a believer in the Packers. Their defense isn’t really all that special, but having a transcendent QB like Aaron Rodgers covers up a lot of deficiencies. My biggest worry with this Packers team is that they’re virtually identical to last season’s Packers team and will lose in the playoffs to a team like the Saints that will absolutely gash them on the ground. Don’t let the Bears game fool you into thinking the Packers are elite on defense: the Bears are the worst rushing offense in the NFL and might just be the worst offense in the league in general (other than the Jets). The Packers are still very much vulnerable to the run. It would be bad news for the Packers if the Vikings sneak into the playoffs as the #7 seed because the Vikings have already beaten the Packers and Dalvin Cook was running wild the whole game.
- 📈📈 Titans: I believe the Titans are better than the Seahawks, but not by much. The Titans just avenged one of their three losses this season in destroying the Colts. They’ve also got a 3 point home loss to the undefeated Steelers, and a head-scratching 31-20 loss to the Bengals. But they’ve got some quality wins: Bills, Ravens, Colts, Vikings. They should be able to beat Cleveland this week, too. Tennessee is now in 1st place in the AFC South and in prime position to secure at least one home playoff game, as opposed to last year when they were a wild card team and had to go on the road three times in the playoffs. It feels like their defense is coming around and they’re a team built for the playoffs. Nobody wants to tackle Derrick Henry, and Ryan Tannehill has been sneaky-good all season long. The question I have about them is, can they beat the Chiefs? Right now I’d say probably not. But I could see them beating the Steelers.
- 📈📈📈 Seahawks: I want to say the Seahawks’ defense is coming around, but they played the Eagles, who are absolutely horrible, so I can’t take too much from that game. Still, they sacked Wentz 6 times and picked him off once. They didn’t allow a TD until that late garbage-time Hail Mary, and they really held the fort down early after the offense failed on a few fourth down tries in Philly territory. This team really benefits from having Chris Carson back, and they’ve got a whole stable of running backs in addition to him including the very capable and underrated Carlos Hyde. This team goes through Russell Wilson, though. They will go as far as he can take them. If the defense is even league-average level going forward, I think they can beat just about anyone. But if it’s bottom-five in the league level like it was earlier in the season, they will not be able to make it to the Super Bowl. I’m not ready to say the defense is “fixed,” but it’s certainly trending in the right direction. Also, DK Metcalf had 10 catches for 177 yards despite being shadowed by Darius Slay. Why don’t the Seahawks use Metcalf like that every game? Metcalf is becoming unguardable. They should be giving him 20 targets a game. Yes, he is prone to drops, but the guy is an absolute monster. As I was watching the game on Monday night and seeing Metcalf make catch after catch after catch, all I could think was, “Why don’t they throw it to him this much every game?” Pete Carroll should ask himself this: “What’s the one thing we do that our opponents are the most afraid of?” And the answer to that is, “Throw the ball to DK Metcalf.” That’s why the Seahawks should do more of it. Just air it out deep to the guy at least once every drive. Chances are he’ll be open because he’s faster than every defender in the league, and if he’s not wide open, he’ll probably win the battle for the ball because he’s bigger and stronger and more athletic than basically every defensive back in the league. Get him the ball and watch him dominate. He’s aman among boys out there. The less Seattle throws to him, the happier their opponents are.
- 📉📉📉 Rams: I initially had the Bills a spot ahead of the Rams because the Bills won this weekend and the Rams lost, but after some thought I flip-flopped them. I think these teams are very close, but I give the edge to the Rams because I think they’re more complete. They’re definitely better on defense, are underratedly good on offense, have more playoff experience, and have comparable offensive weapons. The only difference is that Josh Allen is undeniably a superior QB to Goff, although I don’t think the gap is that wide. I think the Bills are better equipped to win shootouts, but overall I think the Rams are just a hair better than the Bills. I’m not going to overreact to the Rams loss to the 49ers, as Kyle Shanahan just seems to have their number for whatever reason. The Niners are now 4-0 against the Rams over the past two seasons. My question about the Rams is this: do they have enough firepower to beat the Saints, Packers and/or Seahawks? Because it’s possible that will be their road to the Super Bowl. Seattle has taken the lead in that division and now the Rams are the #5 seed in the NFC. Yes, the Rams did beat the Seahawks just a few weeks ago, but it feels like the Seahawks have turned a corner and really started figuring things out over the past couple games. If the playoffs started today, the Rams would get the favorable draw and face the Giants. But then they’d face either the Saints or the Seahawks in the divisional round (the team with the bye will play the lowest remaining seed for the divisional round, so it depends on how the Wild Card round goes). And then in the NFC Championship they’d get either the Saints, Seahawks or Packers. I just have a hard time seeing the Rams winning consecutive playoff road games against at least two of those teams, even if they do get the cupcake Giants in the Wild Card round.
- ↔️ Bills: They had a business-as-usual 27-17 win against the underrated Chargers this past weekend and improved to 8-3. What’s impressive is that they were outgained by LA and lost the turnover battle 3-1, yet they still won by 10. Josh Allen didn’t even really have that great of a game, going 18/24 for 157 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. But their running game came alive for what feels like the first time all year: Singletary, Moss and Allen combined for 172 rushing yards on 30 attempts, or 5.7ypc. Herbert still threw for over 300 yards against the Bills defense, but it took him 52 passing attempts to do so. I still don’t trust this Bills defense, and the only QB aged 25 or younger that I fully believe in with no reservations whatsoever if Mahomes, so I’m not a believer Josh Allen’s ability to carry this team to the Super Bowl just yet. But Buffalo is undeniably one of the best teams in the league.
- 📉📉📉📉 Colts: Just when I start to believe the Colts are for real, they go and get blown out by the Titans at home. Yes, they were missing their main run-stopper DeForest Buckner, but their offense was ineffective in that game, too. They didn’t just lose because they couldn’t stop Derrick Henry; they were dominated in all facets of the game. It took 10 games for me to finally start believing in the Colts, and then the very next week they get their asses kicked and now I’m a Colts-doubter again. They’ve allowed 45 and 31 points in their past two games, and although they split those games, people are now starting to question the defense. They had other major injuries on defense against the Titans this week beyond just DeForest Buckner, so I don’t want to bury their defense too much, but right now I see the Colts the same way I saw them earlier in the season: a good-not-great team that should make the playoffs and possibly even win a game, but cannot win the Super Bowl. For a brief moment last week, I thought maybe, just maybe, the Colts were the real deal. I was, with some reservations, finally officially in on the Colts last week. But now I’m back to being out on the Colts.
- ↔️ Bucs: Tom Brady is leading the league in passing attempts by a wide margin with 474. The next closest is Matt Ryan with 427, although the Bucs are the only team in the league that has played 12 games already. The issue is that he leads the league in bad throws with 95 and ranks 6th in bad throw percent with 20.5%, and 26th in the league in percent of throws on target at 72.8%. The bad news doesn’t stop there: the defense no longer looks as great as it once did, and it has shown some serious weakness against the pass against teams that get rid of the ball quickly. Quick-release offenses, as well as QBs that can roll out and extend plays, really neutralize that Bucs pass rush, and it exposes their vulnerable secondary. The Bucs have a lot of problems. I went into them in more depth in my Week 12 reaction post, but I will end on a high note here: they’ve played the toughest schedule in the NFC. They have played one of the toughest schedules in the league. Most of the teams in the top 10 have played easy schedules, like the Steelers who have played the easiest schedule in the league. So I’m not going to bash the Bucs too much. This stuff matters. It’s not an excuse for losing to the Rams and Chiefs, because if they’re going to win a Super Bowl they’re going to have beat teams like them. But they’ve had a much tougher schedule than any of the teams ahead of them. That is not a situation conducive to integrating a new QB into the system. I am not giving up on the Bucs yet.
- ↔️ Ravens: As much as I want to hammer the Ravens for losing three straight games and 4 of their last 5, they’re still only a game out of the playoffs. And they have the tiebreaker over the AFC’s #7 seed, Indy, due to their head-to-head win over the Colts four weeks ago. They were competitive against the Steelers despite missing Lamar Jackson, their two best running backs, and Mark Andrews on offense. The game wasn’t quite as close as the 19-14 final score indicated, but I was very impressed that the Ravens hung around in that game for so long. They probably should’ve spiked the ball and kicked the field goal at the end of the first half which would’ve made it 12-10. Instead they tried to get a TD and the play almost worked, but Minkah Fitzpatrick knocked the ball out of Luke Willson’s hands. Then, in the third quarter, the Ravens had the ball at the Steelers 30 and looked like they were about to get some points, but a holding call brought them back to the 40 and they ended up punting from the Steelers’ 39. I’m not going to knock them for punting there. I know they have the best kicker in the league, but a 56 or 57 yard field goal is a tall order even for Justin Tucker. The point is, the Ravens competed in that game despite all the adversity they were facing. That’s impressive. However, the Ravens have now lost to the Steelers twice, the Titans, the Chiefs and the Patriots. Their quality wins are over the Browns in week 1 and the Colts 4 weeks ago. I don’t think Baltimore is an elite team. It feels like the other teams have the book on Lamar Jackson now.
- 📈📈 Dolphins: Really not much for me to say about you when you play the Jets. They won 20-3 with Fitz as the starting QB. You don’t get any credit from me for beating the Jets. It’s expected. Nothing really changes for me in my appraisal of a team when they play the Jets, unless of course the team loses to the Jets or struggles with them. The Dolphins won easily, and they only moved up in the rankings because I moved the Cardinals and Raiders down. They’re now the #6 seed in the AFC and just a game behind the Bills in the AFC East. They should have an easy win against the Bengals this week, but their final four games of the season are brutal: vs. Chiefs, vs. Patriots, at Raiders, at Bills. That stretch of games will make or break their season. If they’re actually a legit team, the Dolphins could very well go 3-1 in those games: they’re probably going to lose to the Chiefs, but they can get revenge on both the Patriots and Bills, plus the Raiders will be basically a tossup.
- 📈 Browns: Is a nail-biter 27-25 win over the Jags in Jacksonville a cause for concern for the Browns? I don’t think so, but that’s probably because I still don’t fully buy the Browns as a legitimately great team. First of all, there were some bad calls by the refs in that game that kept the Jags alive. Second, Baker missed some pretty easy TD passes that he would normally hit. Maybe he was just thrown off by the fact that he was playing in nice weather for the first time in like 5 weeks and was not used to being able to throw the ball normally and not have to account for gale-force winds and/or ice storms. Look, the Browns were missing 5 defensive starters in this game including their two best defensive players, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. Plus, this is a game the Old Browns would 100% have found a way to lose. They’re 8-3 and the #5 seed in the AFC against an admittedly easy schedule thus far, but it gets tougher from here. They’re traveling to the Titans this week, and then they host the Raiders. They need to win one of those games. I’m not expectign them to win both, but they need to win at least one. It’s time for them to take that next step and solidify their spot in the playoffs. They should be able to reach 10 wins as they still have the Giants and Jets on their schedule, but the Giants are kind of… decent-ish, maybe…? right now, so it’s no guarantee there. Time for the Browns to prove they’re a good team. If they can beat Tennessee, I’ll put them in the top 10. But until they get a win over big-time team like the Titans, I’m keeping the Browns outside the top 10. It’s going to be a game that features a ton of running. Obviously Derrick Henry is the baddest, scariest running back in the league, but Nick Chubb is right behind him. The dude is a mauler. He is so good. The Browns should be able to compete with Tennessee, but they’re clearly going to be underdogs in this one. Let’s see what the Browns are made of.
- 📉📉 Cardinals: A loss to the Patriots drops the Cardinals to 6-5. People always talk about how Bill Belichick is a nightmare for young QBs because he is a master at taking them out of their element, and it was no different on Sunday: Kyler Murray had his worst game of the season. He was 23/34 for 170 yards passing with no TDs and 1 INT. He finished with a 54.6 QBR and had 31 yards rushing. The Pats sacked him twice. I just saw an interesting stat: in the Cardinals past four games, opponents have blitzed Kyler 39% of the time. The Cardinals are 1-3 in those games. In Arizona’s first seven games, opponents only blitzed 17% of the time and the Cardinals were 5-2. Have the Cardinals been figured out? It’s possible, but I will add that all three of their recent losses were one-possession games. Still, though: the Cardinals’ two biggest wins (Seahawks and Bills) they very well could’ve lost. It took a miracle Hail Mary to beat the Bills and they went to OT and beat Seattle earlier in the year. The Cardinals are still clinging to the #7 seed in the NFC but they’ve got the Vikings closing in on them fast. They had better get back on track against the Rams this week or this season could slip away from them. It’s not going to be easy.
- 📉📉📉 Raiders: What the hell, man? A week after taking Kansas City down to the wire, they go to Atlanta and lose 43-6? Not only that, but their injury report as of right now looks like it’s about 3/4 of the roster. Fortunately for them they play the Jets this week, so they should be just fine. Still, they lost the turnover battle to the Falcons 5-1. Derek Carr lost 3 fumbles and threw a pick, plus Josh Jacobs lost a fumble. Not many teams in the league are going to win while turning the ball over 5 times. This was only a 6-3 ballgame with about 4 minutes to go in the first half, and the Raiders had just held the Falcons to a field goal, which Younghoe Koo missed, but the Raiders got flagged for a pretty weak roughing the kicker foul and the Falcons ended up scoring a TD to make it 13-3. So that was a big momentum shift in the game. Then, as the Raiders were driving to get some points before the half, they had the ball on the Atlanta 30 but Carr got sacked and lost a fumble, giving Atlanta the ball back. The Falcons ended up getting a field goal to make it 16-3. Just a disastrous turn of events for the Raiders at the end of the first half. On Vegas’ first possession of the 3rd quarter, Carr threw a pick six to make it 23-3. The Raiders had two possessions inside the Atlanta 5 yard line and only got 6 points out of them. Henry Ruggs dropped what was probably a TD in the 3rd quarter. The Falcons their first legit TD of the game (meaning not off a turnover or bailed out by a penalty) on their next drive, but when the Raiders got the ball back, Jacobs fumbled at the Raider 26 which Atlanta turned into another field goal. At this point it was 33-6 early in the 4th quarter and the game was over. Even Atlanta was not blowing that lead. Just a real sloppy, terrible game by the Raiders. That’s a game they have to win if they’re going to be considered a good team. They’re only a game behind the Colts for the 7th seed in the AFC, and they do get the Colts at home in two weeks, but it feels like this Raiders team is just too inconsistent to trust. They’ve got promise, but they’re not there yet.
- 📈 Vikings: After a terrible 1-5 start, the Vikings are now 5-6 and just a game behind the Cardinals for the final playoff spot. And the Vikings are hosting the Jaguars in week 13, which is great news. Even better news? The Cardinals play the Rams this weekend, so the Vikings could be the #7 team in the NFC by Sunday night. This Vikings team could be 8-3, too: they had some tough, close losses early to Tennessee and Seattle, and somehow they dropped the game last weekend against the horrendous Cowboys. Those were three very winnable games, and while I think the Vikings are an underrated team, you’re only as good as your record. If the Vikings were truly an 8-3 caliber football team, they would’ve found ways to win those games. But they didn’t. Still, this is a team on the rise and if they make it into the playoffs, they could make some noise: remember, they went down to New Orleans and won in last year’s Wild Card round. And they’ve beaten the Packers once this year already by running all over them.
- 📈 49ers: The 49ers could just sneak into the playoffs. They’re 5-6 after completing a season sweep of the Rams and are now just a game out of the 7th seed. They’re behind the Vikings and the Bears, but I’m sure the Bears will continue losing and the Vikings will pass them up. This team has been scrwed over left and right due to injuries and now having to play their next couple of home games in Phoenix, but Kyle Shanahan is a great coach and I think the 49ers will keep competing. I like the Vikings a bit more than San Fran in the race for the #7 seed in the NFC, but this is a competitive team that has a real shot at making the playoffs despite being written off by almost everyone.
- 📈 Patriots: I still think the Patriots are done this season, but man, this team’s record could be so much better than the 5-6 it currently is. They should’ve beaten the Bills a few weeks back had Cam not fumbled at the end. They’d be 6-5 if they had that win. They also could’ve beaten the Broncos back in week 6, and they were a yard away form beating the Seahawks in week 2. This team could very well be 8-3 right now. I know, I know: you’re only as good as your record. But my point is that the Pats have been very competitve this season. Honestly, I thought they might’ve beaten the Chiefs back in week 4 if they had Cam. The final score was 26-10, but early in the 4th quarter of that game, the Patriots were only down 13-10. The Chiefs extended their lead to 26-10 off a fluky pick-six. The Pats this year really only have one egregiously bad loss, 33-6 to the 49ers in week 7. And that’s impressive because they have potentially the least-talented roster in the entire NFL other than the Jets and Jaguars. They had so many key defensive guys opt out before the season, and still they’re pretty solid on defense. They were barren on offense last season and this season they’re even worse given that Edelman has been out most of the year and Belichick has a new QB in his system for the first time since 2001. This is actually a hell of a coaching job by Bill Belichick. If they can get some more talent next season they’re going to be good. Imagine if they can get Sam Darnold or hit on a QB in the draft. Or if they stick with Cam and he takes a step forward in that system in year 2. They’re not going to be bad for long.
Teams 19-32: whatever. Not worth your time. I guess I should say a bit about the NFC Least teams because one of them is going to make the playoffs. I think the Washington Football Team is the best team in that division even though the Giants currently are leading it. At least the Football Team has a legit defense. And even though they’re on their third-string QB, they have a really good rookie running back in Antonio Gibson, and they have a really good young WR in Terry McLaurin. That’s really all I’ve got about that division.
Statistical rankings out tomorrow once all the numbers are updated with the Wednesday game’s results.