Just when we thought we had a better understanding of the NFL’s haves and have-nots, Week 8 happened. Minnesota beat Green Bay. The Dolphins topped the Rams. Las Vegas upset Cleveland. Even the Bengals got in on the action, taking the Titans to task. One thing that kept the earth spinning right along, though, was Kansas City handling the Jets without issue. We may not have been able to recover from an upset that monumental.
In the weekend’s biggest showdown–rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh facing off for the AFC North lead–the Steelers were able to complete a comeback after trailing 17-7 at halftime. That gives the Steelers a two-game lead in the division with roughly half the season still to play. If there’s anything we can count on, however, it’s that no lead is safe in the topsy-turvy NFL. Let’s get to the latest rankings!
32. New York Jets (0-8, Last week: 32)
Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco have combined to throw four touchdowns this year. On Sunday in Kansas City, New York gave up five touchdown passes. If you’re a Jets fan and need some consolation, then look no further. Gang Green held the Chiefs to 50 rushing yards on 20 carries and did not yield a touchdown on the ground.
Next week: vs. New England (2-5)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6, Last week: 31)
Next week: vs. Houston (1-6)
30. Dallas Cowboys (2-6, Last week: 29)
The Cowboys forced four turnovers, recorded four sacks, and lost by double digits. Ben DiNucci survived his first NFL start, but he may be considering another line of work after Sunday night. The defense did play relatively well, spearheaded by Trevon Diggs (four pass breakups) and DeMarcus Lawrence (three tackles for loss).
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh (7-0)
29. New York Giants (1-7, Last week: 28)
To quote the legendary Lee Corso: “Closer than the experts think!” But also “Not so fast, my friend!” The Giants held a 14-3 lead in the first half, but it disappeared in a New York minute. Joe Judge’s squad put up much more resistance than most of us would have thought, so maybe his philosophy is starting to take hold in the Giants’ locker room.
Next week: at Washington (2-5)
28. Houston Texans (1-6, Last week: 26)
Rumors abound regarding which Texans players may be traded away. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this team looks coming out of a bye, and how it will shape up for the remainder of the disappointing season.
Next week: at Jacksonville (1-6)
27. Los Angeles Chargers (2-5, Last week: 18)
The Chargers can’t keep blowing leads. They simply can’t. Los Angeles led 24-3 midway through the third quarter and found a way to lose at the buzzer. The locker room seems to support head coach Anthony Lynn, but will the organization feel differently if his team continues to lose winnable games?
Next week: vs. Las Vegas (4-3)
26. New England Patriots (2-5, Last week: 23)
Bill Belichick mentioned salary cap constraints in an interview last week as a reason for the Patriots’ struggles this season. It’s true that they had little cap room, suffered some lost games to injury and illness, and also had several key players opt out of the season from COVID-19 concerns. But it’s also true that we just aren’t used to seeing New England lose four consecutive games under any circumstances.
Next week: at New York Jets (0-8)
25. Washington Football Team (2-5, Last week: 22)
If Washington can channel its tenacious pass rush against opponents not named Dallas or Philadelphia, they could steal the NFC East title. If they can’t, well…then it’s the same old story in Washington.
Next week: vs. New York Giants (1-7)
24. Atlanta Falcons (2-6, Last week: 30)
Since firing their head coach and general manager, the Falcons have now won two of their last three games, and the loss was by a single point against Detroit. Have they turned a corner, and if so, can they sustain it? This is a nice midseason stretch, but keep in mind that Atlanta’s season finishes against Tampa Bay, at Kansas City, and at Tampa Bay.
Next week: vs. Denver (3-4)
23. Minnesota Vikings (2-5, Last week: 27)
Dalvin Cook, how do you do?! The fourth-year running back compiled 226 total yards and four touchdowns (three rushing and one receiving) in the Vikings’ monster upset of division-leading Green Bay. The 34 rush attempts to 14 pass attempts offensive ratio is a Minnesota specialty, and they seem to be due for one a couple of times every season.
Next week: vs. Detroit (3-4)
22. Carolina Panthers (3-5, Last week: 19)
The streaky Panthers lost two straight games to open the season, then won three straight, and have now lost three straight after being upset by Atlanta. They now travel to Kansas City before hosting Tampa Bay. This current streak might get worse before it gets better.
Next week: at Kansas City (7-1)
21. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1, Last week: 25)
Cincinnati took advantage of an interception and a missed field goal to build an early 10-0 lead on Tennessee. They later led 24-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter after a whopping 12-play, 88-yard drive. In one of the day’s larger upsets, the Bengals simply held on to the ball and limited their mistakes. That’s all it takes sometimes.
Next week: idle
20. Detroit Lions (3-4, Last week: 21)
What can the Lions do to help Matt Stafford when the run game is shut down? Sunday against Indianapolis was an example of what not to do. Stafford put up 336 yards and three scores, but he was sacked five times, threw a pick-six, and lost a fumble. Detroit needs to focus on complementary football to get back into the playoff hunt.
Next week: at Minnesota (2-5)
19. Denver Broncos (3-4, Last week: 24)
The Broncos crawled back from a three-touchdown deficit to steal a home win against the rival chargers. It took Denver 14 plays to cover 81 yards in the game’s final two-and-a-half minutes, and Drew Lock connected with K.J. Hamler with zeroes on the clock to cap off a crazy 31-30 victory. Phillip Lindsay and Alexander Johnson were among the game’s other stars.
Next week: at Atlanta (2-6)
18. San Francisco (4-4, Last week: 14)
The losses keep piling up for San Francisco. They dropped a 10-point defeat to Seattle after trailing by as many as 23 points, and then the injury news came in. George Kittle could miss the rest of the year with a broken foot, and Jimmy Garoppolo will not come back until his lingering high ankle sprain is gone for good. Nick Mullens replaced Garoppolo against the Seahawks, and he will presumably be the 49ers’ starter moving forward.
Next week: vs. Green Bay (5-2)
17. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1, Last week: 20)
Carson Wentz kept giving Dallas opportunities to stay in the game Sunday night, but his defense eventually sealed the victory with a fourth quarter scoop and score. Wentz threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, yet his touchdown passes to Travis Fulgham and Jalen Reagor provided the 14-point margin of victory to stay in first place of the NFC East. Fulgham and Brandon Graham are both enjoying individual success in a strange 2020 season so far.
Next week: idle
16. Chicago Bears (5-3, Last week: 12)
Chicago’s struggling offensive line gave up five sacks to New Orleans, which played a vital role in the offense’s struggles during an eventual overtime loss. A team scoring just two touchdowns in 11 possessions (technically 12, although one was a single-play kneel-down) will rarely get the job done in a professional football game. At this point, the Bears may be well-served to force the ball to Allen Robinson every play. He is their only legitimate threat.
Next week: at Tennessee (5-2)
15. Cleveland Browns (5-3, Last week: 11)
In foul weather, it is not uncommon for offenses to struggle moving the ball through the air. The Browns could have leaned on their mighty running game the way they have for much of the season, but they struggled on third down and in the red zone. Converting only three of 10 third downs and failing to score on their one trip inside scoring territory surely cost Cleveland their chance at victory.
Next week: idle
14. Los Angeles Rams (5-3, Last week: 7)
Brian Flores must have kept his notes from Super Bowl LIII. Jared Goff had a nightmare game against Flores’ defense Sunday, just as he did when Miami’s head coach was running New England’s defense a few years ago. Goff heaved 61 pass attempts, was sacked twice, lost two fumbles, and threw two interceptions. The Rams put up 471 total yards, yet those four turnovers doomed them in the end. Well, that and the curse of our seventh-ranked team.
Next week: idle
13. Las Vegas Raiders (4-3, Last week: 17)
Josh Jacobs carried the ball 31 times for 128 yards to fuel the Raiders’ offense in nasty Cleveland conditions. Las Vegas held onto possession for nearly 38 minutes and racked up 24 first downs along the way. On defense, Nevin Lawson and Nicholas Morrow stymied the Browns offense and forced the game’s only turnover. Vegas is now right back in the thick of the playoff race.
Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)
12. Miami Dolphins (4-3, Last week: 16)
Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t asked to do much in his first professional start. Truth be told, he didn’t have to. Miami’s defense returned a fumble for a touchdown, took another to the one-yard line, and its special teams returned a punt for another score. Tagovailoa’s 93 yards through the air turned out to be plenty.
Next week: at Arizona (5-2)
11. Tennessee Titans (5-2, Last week: 6)
The Titans have now dropped two in a row after their impressive 5-0 start. Losing to Pittsburgh is understandable. To Cincinnati? Less so. Ryan Tannehill failed to cause any significant damage downfield, and Tennessee’s lack of pass rush came back to bite them. The Bengals attempted 37 passes and did not yield a single sack.
Next week: vs. Chicago (5-3)
10. Green Bay Packers (5-2, Last week: 5)
The bad news is that Green Bay was thoroughly outplayed by Minnesota on Sunday, at one point trailing 28-14 in the fourth quarter. The good news is that the Packers are still in sole possession of first place in the NFC North thanks to the Bears’ overtime loss. Green Bay and Chicago will play each other twice in the final six games of the season.
Next week: at San Francisco (4-4)
9. Indianapolis Colts (5-2, Last week: 15)
For the first time in a long time, the Colts are now consistently winning games because of their defense. What production they get out of Philip Rivers and the offense will determine the team’s legitimacy as a championship contender. Nyheim Hines (two receiving touchdowns) and Jordan Wilkins (89 yards and a score) did a great job offsetting a quiet afternoon from Jonathan Taylor.
Next week: vs. Baltimore (5-2)
8. Buffalo Bills (6-2, Last week: 13)
Zack Moss and Devin Singletary each ran for over 80 yards against the Patriots, and Moss twice punched a ticket to the end zone. Buffalo’s two safeties absolutely went off; Jordan Poyer had 11 solo tackles and a quarterback hit, while Dean Marlowe had six solo tackles of his own, a tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery. Who would have guessed that Buffalo’s closest competition in the AFC East would be Miami and not New England?
Next week: vs. Seattle (6-1)
7. New Orleans Saints (5-2, Last week: 10)
Alvin Kamara gave Chicago’s rangy inside linebackers fits on Sunday, rushing for 67 yards on 12 carries and adding another nine catches for 96 yards. Kamara did not score a touchdown, but he did a lot of the heavy lifting from a yardage standpoint. Defensively, C.J. Gardner-Johnson hit the Bears for two of his team’s 10.5 tackles for loss.
Next week: at Tampa Bay (6-2)
6. Baltimore Ravens (5-2, Last week: 4)
Lamar Jackson threw two picks versus Pittsburgh, which led to 14 points for the rival Steelers. Jackson played well in spurts, but he was also sacked four times, lost two fumbles, and could not shake loose in the running game either. On the bright side, J.K. Dobbins finally had his breakout game on the ground, topping 100 yards for the first time in his career, and doing it on only 15 carries.
Next week: at Indianapolis (5-2)
5. Seattle Seahawks (6-1, Last week: 9)
As scary as it sounds, D.K. Metcalf is continuing to improve in his second year. The 6’4″ 230 pound receiver hauled in 12 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco. The rest of the league better figure out how to slow Metcalf and Russell Wilson down soon, or it may be too late to stop them by January.
Next week: at Buffalo (6-2)
4. Arizona Cardinals (5-2, Last week: 8)
Arizona has been a pleasant surprise thus far. How they respond to a challenging second half of their schedule will determine just how pleasantly surprising the entire season becomes.
Next week: vs. Miami (4-3)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, Last week: 3)
Tampa Bay survived a scare in New York Monday night. The Buccaneers trailed 14-6 at half and 17-15 after three quarters, but their defense intercepted Daniel Jones twice, and Tom Brady handled the rest. Even so, Tampa had to sweat this one out over a failed two-point conversion to tie it up under 30 seconds.
Next week: vs. New Orleans (5-2)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-1, Last week: 2)
Kansas City did what great teams do: avoid playing down to the level of your competition. The Jets are among the worst teams in the league, and the Chiefs are among the best. The defending champs had more drives end in a touchdown (five) than a punt (three). They gained 496 yards and held New York to 221, and they held the edge in first downs gained, 25 to 13. It was exactly what fans expected it to be.
Next week: vs. Carolina (3-5)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0, Last week: 1)
Congratulations are in order for Mike Tomlin, who broke a tie with Tony Dungy on Sunday to become the winningest Black head coach in NFL history. All 140 of his regular season wins have come at the helm in Pittsburgh, where he has also won two Super Bowl titles. It sure looks like his 2020 squad is a serious contender to win a third.
Next week: at Dallas (2-6)