NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 8?
I usually lead this off with a comment about how zany a Sunday of football this was, at least in comparison to the zaniness of other Sundays.
The zany scale is not scientific, but here's all you need to know:
- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team in rushing with a whopping 15 yards. And the Patriots won.
- For the first time in 64 years, the New York Giants had kick- and interception return touchdowns during the same game.
Five teams still remain undefeated, though in Week 7 three of them benefited from, you know, not playing. And the AFC South is quickly emerging as the armpit division of 2015, with three of its inhabitants currently showing a five in the loss column.
Let's try to make sense of all the lunacy with power rankings. These rankings aren't the standings, and instead what follows is an analysis of how each team stacks up based on performance, regardless of what its record says. It's subjective, sure, but agreeing on everything (or anything) isn't fun, right?
And remember, I probably hate your favorite team.
32. Houston Texans (2-5)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 32
The Houston Texans are beyond laughably bad. They may be beyond the tear-inducing stage, too. They've achieved perhaps the lowest low: We're nearly through Week 7 and not quite at midseason yet, and the Texans are completely irrelevant.
When exactly did that happen Sunday? There were several options during a 41-7 drubbing from the Miami Dolphins.
Personally, I'll go with the entire first half, when the Dolphins scored all of their points. That came from the same Dolphins offense that had been moving along at a putrid 20.6 points per game prior to Week 7 (24th).
But giving up an 85-yard rushing touchdown to Dolphins running back Lamar Miller is also a fine choice for when the Texans truly imploded. Incredibly, that was one of four 50-plus-yard touchdowns allowed by Houston during the first half. That led to an ugly-yardage scoreboard over those first two quarters, with the Texans outgained 392-65.
If the misery continues Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will get the most obvious mercy firing in recent NFL history.
31. San Francisco 49ers (2-5)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 31
During the first preseason edition of these rankings, the San Francisco 49ers were slotted dead last. That was generally greeted with venom, which was sort of expected, but it was also a little confusing.
An offseason of player and coach departures isn't typically a recipe for success. Expecting to weather that gutting and just keep going about the business of winning reeks of delusion.
Now the 49ers have scored seven or fewer points in three of their five losses. The latest was a 20-3 stinker Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
Their offense was so horrendously brutal Thursday that San Francisco recorded only eight first downs all game. It gets worse: When we look down the sad list of fewest first downs in a game this season, the 49ers are on it three times (via Ben Fennell of NFL Network):
- Chicago Bears: seven vs. Seahawks
- 49ers: eight vs. Seahawks and eight again vs. the Green Bay Packers
- 49ers: 10 vs. the Arizona Cardinals
30. Tennessee Titans (1-5)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 30
The Tennessee Titans still get a slight bump even after a loss.
That's partly due to the 49ers and Texans having their own special garbage stench. But mostly, the Titans get a little love because their defense was impressively effective against the Atlanta Falcons' loaded offense.
The Falcons were averaging 30.5 points per game prior to Week 7. Then they were held to a mere 10 points during a defensive slugfest.
29. Detroit Lions (1-6)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 29
Briefly there was hope for the Detroit Lions in Week 7, which in itself is a mild accomplishment. Hope has sometimes been erased quickly during a season that's featured only one win so far.
At the end of one quarter Detroit led the Minnesota Vikings 14-3. Even better, both of the Lions' first-quarter touchdowns came in high-octane fashion: One was set up by a 46-yard heave from quarterback Matthew Stafford to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and the other was the result of a 55-yard connection with tight end Eric Ebron.
But much like the Seattle Seahawks this season, the Lions are discovering that winning doesn't happen much when your quarterback is busy eating grass. Stafford was sacked seven times, and the Lions offense scored just three points after the first quarter.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 28
Hey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, it seems like you need some cheerful news in your life. Well, wide receiver Mike Evans is still generally superhuman and averaged 20.5 yards per reception Sunday (164 yards on eight catches). And Bucs running back Doug Martin has totaled a pretty absurd 472 yards from scrimmage over his last three games.
There, did that make your soul smile just a little? The search for happiness requires some serious creativity after the Buccaneers were determined to let their 24-point lead evaporate Sunday.
Tampa jumped out 24-0 over the Washington Redskins and led 24-7 at halftime. Then as the Buccaneers defense kept crumbling and their offense only scored six more points, they became part of a uniquely awful group.
Over the past 15 years, teams with a 24-plus-point lead were 733-4, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Now the Bucs have added to both that loss column and their overall depression this season.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 27
Recently I spent a day watching Blake Bortles' game film. I wouldn't recommending that for anyone with a weak stomach.
I studied it, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. And what I saw repeatedly was two different quarterbacks within the same body.
Often that's what progress looks like for a young, raw quarterback still adjusting at the next level. On one drive or even several of them, we'll see pinpoint passing and difficult completions on the run. Then during the same game, we'll also see poor decisions that make you wonder if the passer in question will ever be a true NFL quarterback.
Bortles was still confusing Sunday during a win over the Buffalo Bills, with a few steps forward followed by another tumble backward.
The effective Bortles sporadically appeared, making his presence known during an early 73-yard touchdown drive that featured two 20-plus-yard completions. That Bortles surfaced again when he fired an off-balance 31-yard throw to wide receiver Allen Hurns for the game-winning touchdown.
But in between the other Bortles, the wildly inaccurate quarterback impersonator chucked up an awful pop-fly interception that was returned for a touchdown. He also led an offense that went over 18 minutes of game time between first downs in the second half.
26. Baltimore Ravens (1-6)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 26
The Baltimore Ravens were able to make the final score look much better than the actual on-field results Monday night. The Arizona Cardinals made two late-game special teams mistakes that provided late life, and then Baltimore's comeback died with quarterback Joe Flacco's end-zone interception as the final seconds ticked away.
Which was an appropriate ending after the Ravens were able to generate only 276 yards of offense. That meager production was in another area code behind the 407 yards posted by Arizona.
The Ravens have been within reach during each of their six losses, as Monday marked the first time they dropped a game this season by more than seven points. But playoff teams execute in the final minutes to secure those tight wins.
And the Ravens certainly aren't a playoff team.
25. San Diego Chargers (2-5)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 25
False hope for the San Diego Chargers lingered when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers by a combined six points. But now they've dropped three straight, and the ground-gashing has reached a new low.
The Oakland Raiders were averaging only 90 rushing yards per game prior to Week 7. Meanwhile, the Chargers defense has been a gushing waterfall against the run while ranked 31st, and even weak competition didn't provide optimism for a brighter day on that front.
The Raiders surged past their previous per-game average, posting 130 rushing yards on the Chargers while cruising with a 30-6 lead at halftime (they won 37-29).
24. Chicago Bears (2-4)
Last Week: 24
This Week: N/A
The suddenly cardiac Chicago Bears headed into their Week 7 bye having won two of their last three games. The average margin of victory in those games? Oh, just three points, which is sort of a victory in itself after the Bears started 2015 with three straight losses by an average of 16.3 points.
23. Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 23
Spotting the Cleveland Browns' rushing offense requires some intense squinting.
Browns running backs totaled 56 yards on 17 carries during a loss to the St. Louis Rams. The math on that isn't pretty: They averaged 3.3 yards per attempt, and now overall this season Cleveland is plodding along at 3.6 YPC (tied for 27th).
The complete absence of a rushing attack is putting games Browns quarterback Josh McCown's hands. That's a dangerous place for any outcome.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (2-5)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 22
Life without running back Jamaal Charles is going to be miserable for the Kansas City Chiefs and filled with lots of losing. But maybe Charcandrick West can provide some intermittent moments of joy?
In his second start West chugged for five yards per carry during a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, totaling 110 yards overall. The Chiefs will keep living and dying on the ground offensively, because doing anything else when your quarterback is Alex Smith usually leads to throbbing headaches.
21. Dallas Cowboys (2-4)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 20
Matt Cassel was never going to be a solution for the Dallas Cowboys at quarterback until Tony Romo returns. He's a dice roll and a poor one at that. He's another prayer and a second lottery ticket for a team searching to find even an adequate backup.
Cassel's appeal lies only in his experience. He has more of it as a starting quarterback than Brandon Weeden, which fuels optimism that he could be successful in the classic game-manager role. The game-manager designation has always been football speak for "please just screw up as little as possible, thanks."
Maybe Cassel can still be that guy or something close to it over the next three games before Romo is eligible to play again. But in his Dallas debut he was wildly inaccurate and couldn't connect on critical throws during the team's fourth straight loss.
Basically, he was the Matt Cassel we've come to know in recent seasons. He's the same Matt Cassel who completed just 57.7 percent of his pass attempts over three games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014.
Against the New York Giants Sunday, he carelessly tossed up three interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown during a game decided by seven points, and another came in the Giants' end zone when he underthrew wide receiver Terrance Williams by a good three yards.
Cassel isn't the answer Dallas is looking for. That will only come once Romo is healthy.
20. Oakland Raiders (3-3)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 20
Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper started his sixth NFL game Sunday. Already in half of those games he's finished with 100-plus receiving yards, including his 133 yards during a win over the San Diego Chargers.
Cooper provides appointment television because of how he goes about getting those yards. He entered Week 7 second among all wide receivers in yards after the catch (239 yards), according to Pro Football Focus. He weaves to find open space while creating missed tackles and turning short, high-percentage throws into long gains.
That is what Cooper did Sunday when he set up his blocking after a screen pass and then sprinted for a 52-yard touchdown. It was one of his two 40-plus-yard receptions on the day.
Cooper is a unique talent, and the Raiders have an offensive foundation set to grow with him alongside quarterback Derek Carr.
19. Washington Redskins (3-4)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 19
Quarterback Kirk Cousins rewrote two sections of the Washington Redskins' history books Sunday. His first revision was a second-half surge against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he led an improbable comeback from being down 24-0. That now stands as the largest deficit ever overcome in Redskins franchise history.
And his second historic accomplishment seems even more unlikely. His 33 completions tied the all-time franchise single-game record.
That came from the same quarterback who completed only 58.1 percent of his attempts in Week 6 and has often lacked vision while throwing two interceptions in four of his eight starts. His completion percentage Sunday? 82.5.
Cousins isn't remotely consistent, but he has flashes of brilliance that lead you to believe he's capable of so much more. We'll see if his Week 7 was a jumping-off point or just another teasing performance.
18. Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 18
A 7-9 team might win the AFC South. But getting there could be exceedingly painful.
It's a division currently led by the 3-4 Indianapolis Colts, a vastly underachieving team still brimming with talent. The central question throughout their plunge has been this: What's up with quarterback Andrew Luck?
Luck has always coughed up his share of interceptions, but we could partly shrug it off as the product of high-volume throwing. He threw 16 picks in 2014 on 616 attempts. That translates to Luck throwing interceptions on 2.6 percent of his throws, which is a manageable rate.
Now seven games into 2015, that percentage has climbed to 4.3, shattering Luck's previous high during his rookie season (2.9). He's making poor decisions and trying to fit balls through narrow windows.
This is when I would usually end with a damning statement about Luck needing to right himself fast to save the Colts' season. But he can take his sweet time while the AFC South keeps stumbling.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 17
In 2013 Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly introduced his uptempo circus of an offense to the NFL. Although it was grounded in power running, Kelly still looked to stretch the field often. He finished his first season with an offense averaging 8.7 yards per pass attempt.
That average tumbled in 2014, but it still rested at a solid 7.4. Now? As the Eagles near the halfway point of their season, quarterback Sam Bradford is averaging just 6.4 yards per attempt, which is tied for dead last.
16. Miami Dolphins (3-3)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 16
Yes, the Miami Dolphins have beaten up on the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans over the past two weeks, and those teams are suffering from the same disease: repeated losses. Combined, the Texans and Titans have a 3-10 record.
But the quality of opponent matters so very little when we're discussing the Dolphins' sudden resurgence under interim head coach Dan Campbell. Why? Because in the not-at-all distant past, the Dolphins were among those awful teams after a 1-3 start, which included a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguar, and giving up 41 points to the Buffalo Bills.
Now the Dolphins are doing what seemed impossible under former head coach Joe Philbin. They're pounding teams that have far less talent.
The latest convincing win came Sunday against the Texans, when Miami scored 41 points by halftime. As Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post noted, the previous four Dolphins head coaches didn't lead a team that scored 40-plus points in a game.
Campbell did it in the first half of his second game. It was an effort powered by running back Lamar Miller, who erupted for 175 yards in that first half. Prior to Campbell taking over, Miller was averaging 32.8 rushing yards per game.
15. St. Louis Rams (3-3)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 15
It's now time for your weekly reminder that the St. Louis Rams will go only as far as Todd Gurley takes them this season.
The rookie running back has compiled 483 yards from scrimmage over just his first three NFL starts, and 163 of those yards came Sunday when St. Louis beat the Cleveland Browns, 24-6. Gurley accounted for 52.9 percent of the Rams' offense during Sunday's win, and he scored their only two offensive touchdowns.
At this pace he could secure the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award by mid-November. Averaging six yards per carry with 45-plus-yard runs in three consecutive games will have that effect.
14. Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 14
The Buffalo Bills did everything they possibly could to lose a game Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, one that was played in London in the wee morning hours Eastern time and could only be viewed through fancy Internet technology.
Quarterback EJ Manuel threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. One was returned for six points, and the other led to a touchdown three plays later. Because that wasn't enough game-gifting, he also had a fumble returned for a touchdown, and running back LeSean McCoy fumbled at the Jaguars' goal line.
Wrongs were righted in the second half, and Manuel found enough competence to lead a comeback. Somehow the Bills held a brief lead, only to see it fizzle away again when Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles shed his own awfulness while making a precise 31-yard throw to wide receiver Allen Hurns for the game-winning touchdown.
The lesson here? Maybe tone down the turnover generosity, because completing and maintaining a comeback is mighty difficult after four gifted first-half touchdowns.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 13
Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones did his best game-managing attempt Sunday. He fed Antonio Brown enough that the stud wideout finished with 124 receiving yards. That was a steep improvement over the 111 yards Brown had compiled over his previous three games.
Jones also stepped out of the way to let running back Le'Veon Bell do his cutting and missed-tackle creating (124 yards on 17 carries). But the margin for error is thin when a team is already starting its third quarterback this season, and Jones' two interceptions were the difference in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, these are the same Kansas City Chiefs who had just dropped five straight games.
Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return from his knee injury in time for a Week 8 divisional clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If that happens the Steelers will have gone 2-2 without their Pro Bowl quarterback, which is the outcome you hope for when a Roethlisberger-type crumbles. Take note, Dallas Cowboys.
12. New Orleans Saints (3-4)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 12
For the first time this season, the New Orleans Saints offense functioned according to its intended design. It hammered away on the ground, and then pounded some more while exposing a weak Indianapolis Colts run defense.
The Saints spent the offseason bolstering their rushing attack by acquiring center Max Unger, re-signing running back Mark Ingram and giving him C.J. Spiller as a backfield running mate. They had seen little return from those moves, as overall New Orleans is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.
But Sunday Ingram busted out with a 143-yard performance. It was an afternoon filled with chunks of yardage, as Ingram sprang free on four runs for 15-plus yards.
The Saints made a statement when they out-rushed Indianapolis by 108 yards. They've now won three of their last four games after an 0-3 start, and power running will continue to be critical going forward.
11. New York Giants (4-3)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 11
Remember back in Week 2 when the New York Giants had lost two straight games because of their own bumbling, and we all concluded they should no longer be permitted to play in the NFL?
They were 0-2 because of losses by a combined five points. Now the Giants have won four of their last five games, and they sit atop the compost bin otherwise known as the NFC East.
10. Seattle Seahawks (3-4)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 10
The Seattle Seahawks took the first step in a journey toward salvaging their season Thursday. We saw a familiar sight: a swarming and suffocating defense making every movement impossible for the San Francisco 49ers offense.
But even during a dominant 20-3 win, there was still reason to be concerned about the Seahawks' offensive line and its wobbly existence. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked five times, maintaining his overall pace for an absolute throttling in 2015.
Wilson has been sacked 31 times through seven games and is still headed toward a 70-sack season. An offense simply can't survive while regularly giving up that kind of pressure.
9. Atlanta Falcons (6-1)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 9
The Atlanta Falcons won a game Sunday, and winning is always so much better than losing. But this win still felt like a defeat, and they likely would have lost if the Tennessee Titans had a healthy Marcus Mariota.
Instead the Titans' franchise cornerstone quarterback sat out due to a knee injury, and in his place was Zach Mettenberger, who threw two interceptions. One came in Atlanta's end zone with Tennessee six yards away from a touchdown. And his second was of the game-ending variety.
That's about what we've come to expect from Mettenberger. And when his presence is combined with a Titans defense that's allowing 23.2 points per game, the Falcons should have been lighting fireworks.
But no, they managed a season-low 10 points. Their previous single-game low before Week 7 was 21 points.
8. New York Jets (4-2)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 8
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is pretty much matchup proof. You knew that, and it's not shocking information. Still, when Gronk stomps all over a defense that's otherwise been stellar against tight ends, it can be eye-opening after the dust settles and numbers are broken down.
Like these numbers: The New York Jets came into Sunday averaging 34.3 receiving yards allowed per game to tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. Then Gronkowski exploded for 108 yards and a touchdown.
He'll smash everything, including your eggs.
7. Minnesota Vikings (4-2)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 7
The Minnesota Vikings defense is giving up only 17 points each week (second). That is exactly the sort of smothering unit that serves as the ideal complement to an offense content to pound with Adrian Peterson all afternoon.
The workhorse running back broke free for a 75-yard touchdown during Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions. He's had a 40-plus-yard carry in three of Minnesota's six games so far and entered Week 7 with 18 missed tackles created as a runner, according to Pro Football Focus.
6. Arizona Cardinals (5-2)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 6
The Arizona Cardinals came close to blowing what should have been a cakewalk game Monday night. They held a 26-10 lead over the Baltimore Ravens with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Then two special teams blunders—a missed extra-point attempt and a blocked punt—gave Baltimore an opening.
But they held on, and if we set aside the glaring special teams gaffes, the other 52-ish minutes of gametime featured another domination of an inferior opponent. And the Cardinals did it with an offensive dimension that was missing in 2014.
They have a rushing attack that's beyond just reliable now, which was the low bar set a year ago. Running back Chris Johnson is acting like it's 2009 again, and he's the driving force behind his offense.
After 122 more rushing yards Monday night he's averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season. This is when I remind you the Cardinals averaged only 3.3 YPC as a team in 2015.
5. Denver Broncos (6-0)
Last Week: 5
This Week: N/A
The Denver Broncos were one of three undefeated teams that rested during a Week 7 bye. Maintaining their pristine record and playing football late into January will require at least a brief appearance by the old Peyton Manning sometime this season.
So far we've seen only the old—and rapidly fading—version of a surefire Hall of Fame quarterback. Manning can no longer be trusted to will his team to victory as he often has throughout a 17-year career. After Week 6 he led the league in interceptinos (10), and his 6.4 yards per attempt would be the lowest of his career if the season ended today.
4. Carolina Panthers (6-0)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 4
For the first time in franchise history the Carolina Panthers are 6-0. Their latest victory was impressive because it came with quarterback Cam Newton playing at a level below his best.
Newton was still solid against the Philadelphia Eagles while averaging 8.2 yards per completion and scoring his fourth rushing touchdown. But he threw three interceptions, which matched his total over the Panthers' previous four games.
It didn't matter, though, because a Panthers offense that moved along swiftly at 6.8 yards per play found another way to win. This time a victory push came from running back Jonathan Stewart, who finished with a season-high 125 yards on 24 carries.
For the fourth straight game, Carolina scored 25-plus points.
3. Green Bay Packers (6-0)
Last Week: 2
This Week: N/A
The Green Bay Packers face a daunting challenge immediately after their Week 7 bye: winning in Denver.
The also-undefeated Denver Broncos are teed up as two of the NFL's juggernaut teams are set for a midseason clash. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will face his stiffest defensive challenge yet. The Broncos defense is allowing only 281.3 yards per game, and after Week 6 they led the league with 17 takeaways.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0)
Last Week: 2
This Week: N/A
The Cincinnati Bengals were idle in Week 7 and emerge from their bye as still one of five undefeated teams. They've reached that early peak largely because of quarterback Andy Dalton, whose sparkling touchdown-to-interception ratio (14-to-2) has driven an offense that's averaging 410.3 yards per game.
1. New England Patriots (6-0)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 1
For the first time in his career, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished as his team's leading rusher in a game. Usually that will signal two things: a disaster for the Patriots and the forthcoming end of our Earth.
But no, it was all part of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's clear plan against the New York Jets and their second-ranked run defense. Brady handed the ball off just five times during a 30-23 win while attempting 54 passes. He picked away with routine precision on short-to-intermediate routes and showed the usual care to avoid turnovers.
Brady has now thrown one interception over 251 pass attempts. Even more remarkably, he's on pace to throw only two picks this season with 42 touchdowns.