Have we ever heard the term “false positive” more than we did this week? Or “abundance of caution,” for that matter? After several teams have already had to reschedule games for later in the season, any positive COVID-19 test leads to an immediate closure of the affected organization’s facility. Out of an abundance of caution, naturally. Sometimes, those turn out to be false positives. Thankfully, the league is able to retest swiftly and accurately to determine the next course of action. But enough about the virus for now–let’s talk football.
With five or six games played leaguewide, we are seeing an even clearer separation of wheat from chaff. There will still be occasional upsets, sure, but it is becoming easier to project a playoff picture. Keep in mind that this season brings an additional postseason entry to each conference, with seven teams earning a berth and only the number-one seed getting a first-round bye. Will the top 14 teams in October be the 14 playoff teams in January? Almost certainly not, although our current top 14 spots are comprised of seven AFC teams and seven NFC teams…
32. New York Jets (0-6, Last week: 32)
The Texans fired their head coach and won their first game. Then, the Falcons fired their head coach and won their first game. Are you paying attention, Jets? Another listless showing in a loss to Miami may (should?) cost Adam Gase his job. Would it earn the Jets their first win next weekend?
Next week: vs. Buffalo (4-2)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5, Last week: 31)
Gardner Minshew scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) but also lost two turnovers (one interception, one fumble). That seems like a microcosm of the Jaguars’ season: some positives, but not enough to overcome the negatives. Jacksonville’s defense could not muster any sort of pass rush, as they produced four quarterback hits and zero sacks.
Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers (1-4)
30. Washington Football Team (1-5, Last week: 29)
After taking over for Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen has been sacked five times, turned the ball over twice, and lost both of his starts. Washington needs more than just improved quarterback play. Without consistent performance on both lines of scrimmage and an influx of talent in the secondary, Washington is doomed to linger in mediocrity for a while longer.
Next week: vs. Dallas (2-4)
29. Minnesota Vikings (1-5, Last week: 20)
After pushing undefeated Seattle to the limit last weekend, Minnesota laid an egg against winless Atlanta at home. The Falcons led by as much as 26 before the Vikings trimmed the final margin to 17. Kirk Cousins tossed up three interceptions, and Atlanta possessed the ball for over 40 of the game’s 60 minutes of play.
Next week: idle
28. Atlanta Falcons (1-5, Last week: 30)
“It’s just nice to win one.” After firing their head coach and general manager, the Falcons notched their first win of 2020 and then quoted The Office’s Kevin Malone on Twitter to celebrate. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley have been playing well all year, and their efforts were finally rewarded against surprisingly-defenseless Minnesota.
Next week: vs. Detroit (2-3)
27. New York Giants (1-5, Last week: 28)
How bad is the NFC East? By earning their first victory of the year, the Giants moved within one game of first place in the division. All four teams have both a negative point differential and a negative turnover differential. Still, one of them will host a playoff game in January. Oh, right, congratulations to the Giants for beating rival Washington!
Next week: at Philadelphia (1-4-1)
26. Cincinnati Bengals (1-4-1, Last week: 25)
Joe Burrow and Giovani Bernard built an early 21-0 lead in Indianapolis Sunday. They were outscored 31-6 after that initial onslaught, but Burrow was still in position to lead his first career fourth-quarter comeback win. Winning both the turnover and time of possession battles will likely lead to more wins in this young team’s future.
Next week: vs. Cleveland (4-2)
25. Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1, Last week: 23)
Of the Eagles’ 11 offensive starters on Sunday, only quarterback Carson Wentz and center Jason Kelce were listed atop the depth chart heading into the season. The war of attrition has taken its toll on Philadelphia, and bright spots are few and far between. Travis Fulgham is one. Brandon Graham is another. But with such poor protection up front, can Wentz stay healthy for a full season when his team needs him the most?
Next week: vs. New York Giants (1-5)
24. Houston Texans (1-5, Last week: 24)
Houston nearly got blown out by Tennessee (trailed 21-7 early), then nearly completed a monster comeback win (led 36-29 late), then lost in overtime to end the rollercoaster of emotions. Interim head coach Romeo Crennel’s defense was shredded for 601 total yards, and they failed to make a game-saving stop in the final two minutes or in overtime. The Texans’ problems go far beyond just Bill O’Brien.
Next week: vs. Green Bay (4-1)
23. Dallas Cowboys (2-4, Last week: 21)
Dallas was able to hold Arizona scoreless through one quarter of play Monday night, but that was about their only positive accomplishment. The Cowboys gave up 261 yards and three scores on the ground, continuing a season-long trend. Their offensive line is now missing all five presumed starters, and Andy Dalton lacks the escapability of Dak Prescott.
Next week: at Washington (1-5)
22. Detroit Lions (2-3, Last week: 26)
D’Andre Swift finally had his breakout game against Jacksonville Sunday. The rookie running back earned 14 carries (his season total coming in was 12) and converted them into 116 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Romeo Okwara racked up a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery on the other side of the ball.
Next week: at Atlanta (1-5)
21. Denver Broncos (2-3, Last week: 27)
Quarterbacks historically get too much credit for team success and too much blame for team failures, and Drew Lock is no exception. The 23-year-old from Missouri became the youngest starting quarterback to ever win a game at Gillette Stadium. His 10/24 statline did little to fuel the victory, whereas Denver’s defense contributed three turnovers, four sacks, and six pass deflections.
Next week: vs. Kansas City (5-1)
20. Los Angeles Chargers (1-4, Last week: 19)
The Chargers are sitting at 1-4 in the standings, but their -15 point differential has them sandwiched between two 4-2 teams in the AFC: both Cleveland (-24) and Buffalo (-12) are in the thick of the playoff race, so Los Angeles is perhaps better than its record indicates.
Next week: vs. Jacksonville (1-5)
19. New England Patriots (2-3, Last week: 16)
Cam Newton returned from his coronavirus scare, yet his comeback was less than triumphant. Newton fumbled twice–although he did not lose either one–and threw two picks to lose a pillow fight against the Broncos. The Patriots now find themselves with a losing record in October for the first time since 2002. How long will that last?
Next week: vs. San Francisco (3-3)
18. Carolina Panthers (3-3, Last week: 17)
Carolina deflated a tad coming off of their three-game winning streak. Teddy Bridgewater threw two interceptions without a score, and Mike Davis punctuated a subpar rushing day with a lost fumble. The Panthers’ three turnovers were insanely costly; they came on the team’s first drive of the game, first drive of the second half, and final drive of the game. Ouch.
Next week: at New Orleans (3-2)
17. San Francisco 49ers (3-3, Last week: 22)
Jimmy Garoppolo dinked and dunked the Rams to death on Sunday night, completing two-thirds of his passes with three touchdowns and a 124.3 passer rating. Defensively, the 49ers deflected nine Los Angeles pass attempts, which more than made up for their lack of sacks. At 3-3, San Francisco is in last place but still alive in the NFC West.
Next week: at New England (2-3)
16. Miami Dolphins (3-3, Last week: 18)
The Dolphins won in such a dominant fashion on Sunday that they were able to clear their benches for mop-up duty. That meant Tua Tagovailoa got to see the field for his first NFL action, and he completed both of his pass attempts. Ryan Fitzpatrick will continue starting as long as Miami continues winning, but Tagovailoa stepping on the field at all is an accomplishment in itself.
Next week: idle
15. Buffalo Bills (4-2, Last week: 7)
The Curse of the Seven strikes again! Buffalo, our seventh-ranked team coming in, lost to Kansas City on Monday, giving our seventh-seed a record of 1-5 on the year. Josh Allen was the Bills’ leading rusher once again, but his passing left much to be desired. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss combined to run for 42 yards on 15 carries. One plus is that Jordan Poyer secured two of Buffalo’s seven tackles for loss.
Next week: at New York Jets (0-6)
14. Indianapolis Colts (4-2, Last week: 15)
The Colts have built their 4-2 record on a mediocre-at-best slate of opponents to this point. After their upcoming bye, they take on lowly Detroit, and then we will all see what kind of team the Colts really are. If they don’t figure out how to run the ball, November will be a very long month in Indy.
Next week: idle
13. Cleveland Browns (4-2, Last week: 9)
Trailing 31-7 in the third quarter, Browns’ coach Kevin Stefanski benched Baker Mayfield in favor of Case Keenum. No, Keenum is probably not going to be the team’s starter moving forward, but Mayfield threw two interceptions and was sacked four times as Cleveland failed to show up against their division rival. Winning cures all ills, so a trip to Cincinnati could be just what the doctor ordered.
Next week: at Cincinnati (1-4-1)
12. Los Angeles Rams (4-2, Last week: 8)
The Rams failed to disrupt San Francisco’s short passing game on Sunday, breaking up only two passes and not recording a single sack. While the running game was productive on offense, Jared Goff was the definition of average as a passer: 19/38 for under 200 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. “Meh” all around.
Next week: vs. Chicago (5-1)
11. New Orleans Saints (3-2, Last week: 13)
Hopefully some time off has allowed New Orleans to regain its composure and recover from injuries. Despite a season-opening win over Tampa Bay, the Saints are now looking up to the Bucs in the NFC South standings…and our NFL Power Rankings, of course.
Next week: vs. Carolina (3-3)
10. Las Vegas Raiders (3-2, Last week: 11)
The Raiders have had plenty of time to sit and reflect on their thrashing of the Chiefs two Sundays ago. Would they have preferred to keep playing to maintain their momentum?
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay (4-2)
9. Arizona Cardinals (4-2, Last week: 10)
The Cardinals must take comfort in knowing that they can win a game without a stellar passing night from Kyler Murray. Murray completed less than half of his attempts, but he still threw for two scores and ran for another. Budda Baker and the Arizona defense forced Dallas into four turnovers, as well.
Next week: vs. Seattle (5-0)
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2, Last week: 14)
This was the type of game most Buccaneers fans expected when Tom Brady signed on in the offseason. Brady and the Bucs’ swarming defense dropped 28 points in the second quarter, and Green Bay was dead in the water after that. Jamel Dean started the comeback with a pick-six, and Rob Gronkowski made his first sizable contribution to the passing game with 78 yards and a score.
Next week: at Las Vegas (3-2)
7. Chicago Bears (5-1, Last week: 12)
Despite their 5-1 record, the Bears are middle-of-the-pack in both scoring margin (+12) and turnovers (+1). Can they survive 16 games living on a razor’s edge? Roquan Smith and Khalil Mack will certainly do their part, but they need more helpful contributions from their offensive counterparts.
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams (4-2)
6. Green Bay Packers (4-1, Last week: 1)
On the bright side, the Packers scored 10 straight points to open their game in Tampa Bay. Aaron Rodgers then threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, which proved to be too much to overcome. Star left tackle David Bakhtiari should be able to return to action after injuring his chest on Sunday, which may prevent a bad loss from becoming even worse.
Next week: at Houston (1-5)
5. Baltimore Ravens (5-1, Last week: 6)
The Ravens survived a scare in Sunday’s battle of the birds. After building a 24-6 third quarter lead, Baltimore came within a failed two-point attempt of overtime against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Was this simply a case of easing off the throttle, or are there cracks in the foundation? Either way, the team’s 12 penalties for 132 yards must be corrected.
Next week: idle
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-1, Last week: 5)
On a rainy night in upstate New York, Patrick Mahomes still managed to complete over 80 percent of his passes. The real story, though, was the Chiefs’ dominant running game. Kansas City’s patchwork offensive line allowed Clyde Edwards-Helaire to run for 161 of the team’s 245 rushing yards. Soon, Le’Veon Bell will join the backfield for some additional firepower.
Next week: at Denver (2-3)
3. Tennessee Titans (5-0, Last week: 4)
Derrick Henry is breaking 90-yard touchdown runs, Ryan Tannehill is playing at Mahomesian levels, and Mike Vrabel is showing a masterful understanding of both clock and game management. Unfortunately, the 5-0 Titans now have to face 5-0 Pittsburgh without left tackle Taylor Lewan, who tore his ACL. With three of their next four games at home, Tennessee could potentially be 9-0 when they travel to Baltimore in late November.
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh (5-0)
2. Seattle Seahawks (5-0, Last week: 3)
Seattle takes advantage of the Packers’ first loss to claim the top spot in the NFC. What more could they ask for?
Next week: at Arizona (4-2)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0, Last week: 2)
Pittsburgh might actually be the best team in the league. They are not only undefeated but just dismantled red-hot Cleveland in a blowout win. Their next test will come in the rescheduled Tennessee Titans game (who also sit at 5-0), followed by road trips to Baltimore (5-1) and Dallas (2-4).
Next week: at Tennessee (5-0)