NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 9?
The NFL season can test narratives, confirm them or toss them aside. All in one Sunday, too.
Throughout this season Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been plagued by doubts about his ability to be the central figure in an offense. So then against the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers he threw for 340 yards during a win, completing 72.4 percent of his pass attempts.
The Manning retirement narrative has been pushed away, at least for now, while the New Orleans Saints are challenging the notion their season is dead. It felt safe to assume the Saints were entering flameout mode when they started 0-3 and lost four of their first five games. Now they've won three straight and are back to .500.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers are confirming it's hard to stay competitive after an offseason when both their roster and coaching staff were torched. They've now scored single-digit points in four of their six losses.
Let's turn to the weekly power rankings then, and try to make sense of all that and more. 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. San Francisco 49ers (2-6)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 32
The San Francisco 49ers have reached a low that seemed unthinkable just two years ago, when they had appeared in the NFC Championship Game three straight times. They're irrelevant and a complete afterthought.
For the fourth time this season, San Francisco finished with a number in the single digits on their side of the scoreboard. This time that sputtering came against the St. Louis rams in a 20-6 loss—a game when the Niners could only crawl to 189 yards of offense.
Injuries to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and running back Carlos Hyde further handcuffed an offense that already lacks any sense of cohesion. And another backfield gut punch was delivered when Reggie Bush reportedly suffered a torn ACL, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
So the state of football in San Francisco is about to get a whole lot worse. And sunny days aren't on the horizon until at least 2016.
31. Detroit Lions (1-7)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 31
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has faced a steady flow of opposing pass-rushers punishing him for, well, this season. Prior to Week 8 he had to endure pressure on 38.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
But for the most part Stafford was able to wiggle free, avoid sacks and at least attempt to do something productive before usually failing. Over the Lions' first six games Stafford was sacked a modest eight times.
Now since Week 7 he's taken 13 sacks, with six more coming during a 45-10 pummeling in London early Sunday morning when Detroit was exposed by the Kansas City Chiefs' swarming front seven.
The Lions became the NFL's only seven-loss team, and they've lost those seven games by an average of 14.1 points. This feels like an appropriate time to remind you that a Lions team with the same core offensive pieces won 11 games in 2014.
30. Tennessee Titans (1-6)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 30
Tennessee Titans quarterback and first-round pick Marcus Mariota is expected to return from his sprained MCL in Week 9, according to Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com. That meant Sunday backup Zach Mettenberger had one more chance to show he still belongs in the NFL.
He responded by averaging 5.5 yards per attempt during a loss to the Houston Texans, and as a result Titans wide receivers combined for 50 yards on seven receptions.
Mettenberger will now resume his clipboard-holding duties, and somehow he'll still figure out a way to get sacked on the sideline after going down seven times Sunday.
29. Houston Texans (3-5)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 32
Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has finished a game with 90-plus yards through the air six times this season. And now for only the second time, one of his shining afternoons wasn't wasted.
The Texans beat Tennessee mostly through defense, with defensive ends J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus combining to sack Mettenberger six times. But Hopkins still added eight more receptions to his season total, and he now sits third in that category among all pass-catchers with 66.
That is even more impressive when he's catching those balls from Brian Hoyer, who's merely a placeholder until the draft next spring.
28. San Diego Chargers (2-6)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 28
Let's highlight some pleasant San Diego Chargers news here, because there's been so little of it this season from a two-win team.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen continued to be magnetized Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and caught five passes even though he missed the second half due to back spasms. His 67 receptions place Allen behind only former Denver Broncos receiver Rod Smith for second all time through Week 8, according to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Of course, that all came in another loss—the Chargers' fourth straight. A 29-26 score marked the third time San Diego has lost by a touchdown or less during its current stretch of woefulness.
Prior to 2015 the Chargers had put together two straight 9-7 seasons, advancing to the playoffs in 2013. They would now have to go 7-1 throughout the rest of their schedule to hit that mark for a third year in a row.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5)
Last Week: 27
This Week: N/A
It feels wrong to entertain postseason thoughts while looking at a 2-5 team coming off a Week 8 bye. But the AFC South has given us the gift of grimy football, so even the 2-5 Jacksonville Jaguars can't assume another season is spiraling uncontrollably just yet.
26. Chicago Bears (2-5)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 26
The Chicago Bears lost more than a football game Sunday when their defense became the latest unit Minnesota Vikings surging rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs carved up. They also lost the third-ranked running back in yards from scrimmage—and likely for a few weeks.
Bears running back Matt Forte left in the third quarter of an eventual 23-20 loss Sunday after suffering a knee injury. The dreaded ACL tear and the death of his season didn't result from his early exit—or at least that's the hope for now. Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported the Bears believe Forte instead injured his MCL.
An MCL injury is much lower on the knee-scare scale. But it still requires a multiple-week absence, meaning a team that had looked to be finally jelling over the past four games—two wins and two losses by a combined six points—will now go forward temporarily without a player who had accounted for 32.9 percent of its offense.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 28
This Week: 25
Flirting with disaster on a weekly basis isn't healthy for any football team. It can lead to hands that shake involuntarily deep into the night because nerves are shot, coaches who fear for their employment and a generally terrified fanbase.
For the second straight week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers danced with doom after cruising to a cozy lead. In Week 7 that ended in uniquely depressing fashion, with the Washington Redskins clawing back to win even though they trailed by 24 points in the first half.
Week 8 looked like it could have a similar ending when the Bucs were ahead 20-3 midway through the third quarter. Then 17 Atlanta Falcons points later there was bonus football at the Georgia Dome.
The Bucs held on to win in overtime, but yet again they learned the hazards associated with coasting.
24. Cleveland Browns (2-6)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 24
There are no certainties with a 14-point lead in the first half of any football game. A quarterback who suddenly starts locating his crosshairs properly can erase that deficit fast and so can a running back who's at his best late in a game when the defense is tiring.
But common sense says a two-touchdown lead at any point means the team holding it has a fine chance to win—unless that team is the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns held that advantage over the Arizona Cardinals at home Sunday in the second quarter and then entered halftime ahead 20-10. It was a half when Browns quarterback Josh McCown threw three touchdown passes, and he hadn't chucked three or more in an entire game since 2013.
So of course the Browns then crumbled defensively and were outscored 24-0 in a second half that started with Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd torching cornerback Joe Haden on his 60-yard touchdown reception.
Cleveland now has the league's 29th-ranked defense after allowing 491 yards to the Cardinals.
23. Baltimore Ravens (2-6)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 23
Normally I'd write something here about how the Baltimore Ravens regained a shred of league-wide respect with their second win of the season Sunday. But I'm too sad.
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith suffered a torn Achilles. The season-ending injury was confirmed by head coach John Harbaugh following a win over the San Diego Chargers, per the team's official Twitter account, and it comes after Smith had already declared 2015 would be his final year.
Harbaugh is already thinking happy thoughts, saying he has a feeling Smith won't want his career to end with an injury, and he'll be back in 2016. We can only hope, because right now it remains possible or even likely that Smith played his final snap Sunday.
And if that's the case, Smith will finish his career with three 130-plus-yard receiving games and 670 yards overall during his final season, even as a 36-year-old. He may not have enough career production to be included in the actual Hall of Fame, but Smith will forever be enshrined in the smack talk Hall of Fame.
22. Dallas Cowboys (2-5)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 22
Dez Bryant returned for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday. Having a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the lineup who's caught 41 touchdown passes over the past three seasons usually increases the odds of a positive result on game day.
Unless, of course, the guy who's throwing him the ball is named Matt Cassel.
The Cowboys continue to have perhaps the worst backup quarterback duo between Cassel and Brandon Weeden. Had Cassel been able to drive further downfield to convert even one of the Cowboys' four field goals into a touchdown Sunday, the team would have had a legitimate chance to hold on for the win.
But Cassel didn't ever drive downfield. He finished with 97 passing yards while averaging 3.9 per attempt. That feels impossibly brutal even against the Seattle Seahawks' stonewalling defense. It doesn't seem like any professional quarterback should be capable of sinking quite that low.
Cassel is an explorer then, I guess, daring to discover new depths of ineptitude.
21. Miami Dolphins (3-4)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 21
I don't think any reasonable-minded person expected the Miami Dolphins to strut into Gillette Stadium Thursday night with their newfound swagger from interim head coach Dan Campbell and hand the New England Patriots their first loss.
That would have required a Herculean effort, which was out of reach for even Campbell's grunt troops. What they needed to do, however, was have a respectable showing against the Patriots, just like the New York Jets did in Week 7.
They didn't come remotely close to clearing that low bar during a 36-7 drubbing. It was a slop-filled game, with the Dolphins offense waiting until the 12:18 mark of the third quarter to take its first snap in opposing territory and quarterback Ryan Tannehill finishing with 16 incompletions after misfiring only eight times over his previous two games.
20. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 20
I'm not sure if wins against the Detroit Lions should even count anymore. But they do, and maybe Sunday's shellacking overseas will be a catalyst for something more as the Kansas City Chiefs move forward after their second straight victory.
When they win the Chiefs do it with a simple formula: pass rushing and pounding.
The former came Sunday through six sacks, and the latter came from 206 rushing yards. Quarterback Alex Smith accounted for 78 of those yards on the ground—a franchise single-game quarterback record.
19. Washington Redskins (3-4)
Last Week: 19
This Week: N/A
Any team could win the NFC East right now—a division where the difficulty level has been cranked to easy.
It's led by the 4-4 New York Giants, so the Washington Redskins will see the sun rise after their Week 8 bye and be greeted by a 3-4 record still good enough for second place in their division.
Eventually one of the four teams will either get healthy or develop some consistent competence.
18. Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 18
There were two Andrew Lucks present Monday night, and the one you choose to focus on says a lot about your general worldview.
If you're the positive and cheery type, then the decision is easy. You'll celebrate Luck's fourth-quarter resurgence when he led a 17-point comeback to force overtime. Over two lengthy touchdown drives Luck threw for 143 yards.
Or if you're the negative and storm cloud type, you could instead turn to the rest of the game, when Luck threw three interceptions. Prior to those four-quarter drives he had 82 passing yards, and was inaccurate while making horrible decisions. Overall Luck is now averaging an interception once every 21.4 pass attempts.
Ultimately your mood doesn't really matter, because even after three straight losses the Colts still lead their division with a 3-5 record. Send the AFC South to Mars.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Last Week: 17
This Week: N/A
The Philadelphia Eagles offense has been in a state of confused disarray for much of this season. And yet like the Redskins, they'll still emerge from a Week 8 bye only one game back of the NFC East-leading New York Giants.
That will happen when your division resembles a tire fire. There will always be a team that's worse and others only marginally better. If the Eagles could muster even a sprinkling of offensive consistency they still have the talent to rise and take the NFC East, especially with running back Ryan Mathews averaging 9.1 yards per carry over his last three games.
16. Oakland Raiders (4-3)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 16
The Oakland Raiders are oozing with young talent at core positions, and we may be witnessing the rise of their most important foundation piece.
Quarterback Derek Carr now has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-to-3 this season, with four of those scoring throws coming during a win over the New York Jets Sunday. His touchdowns aren't a product of low-risk dinking and/or dunking either, as the Raiders have won two straight games, and during that time Carr is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt.
He's quickly growing into a legitimate offensive cornerstone, complete with the pocket awareness to minimize sacks (Carr has taken only eight sacks over seven games) and an ease when under pressure. Prior to Week 8 he had completed 56.5 percent of his passes when pressured, per PFF.
Finally there's some promise in Oakland, and the quarterback doesn't make you instinctively cringe.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 15
The Pittsburgh Steelers could fall much further than this soon. In fact, staying in playoff contention just became a steep challenge.
There was initially optimism when running back Le'Veon Bell suffered a knee injury during Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. A preliminary exam fueled hope that he had sustained only a minor MCL injury, according to Pro Football Talk's preliminary report, and the ACL wasn't damaged.
Then a further report from CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora revealed the damage was possibly beyond minor. Instead, Bell may have taken his final carry this season.
La Canfora reported Bell would potentially be placed on season-ending injured reserved Monday, "pending an MRI confirmation," leaving the Steelers without the core of their offense.
In just six games he had accumulated 692 yards from scrimmage and had accounted for 24.8 percent of Pittsburgh's entire offensive production. That's a significant chunk considering Bell missed two games due to a suspension and left midway through the second quarter Sunday.
14. Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Last Week: 14
This Week: N/A
The Buffalo Bills have defined inconsistency throughout their first seven games and have yet to put two straight wins together. Of course, not having quarterback Tyrod Taylor healthy for the past two games (both losses) hasn't exactly helped matters.
Head coach Rex Ryan told Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News he's "confident" Taylor will return after the Bills' Week 8 bye. Taylor being present and in one piece is key with divisional games against the New York Jets (Week 10) and New England Patriots (Week 11) coming up.
13. New York Giants (4-4)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 13
Losing when your quarterback throws six touchdown passes feels cruel. But it's explained easily when the other team's quarterback throws seven touchdowns passes, and your defense allows 614 yards.
That was the New York Giants' fate during a shootout against the New Orleans Saints. When both sides finally ran out of ammunition, 101 points had been scored, which was the third-highest combined total in NFL history.
For the Giants, the buckets of passing yards they allowed came through a familiar weakness.
The Saints finished with two 100-plus-yard pass-catchers, and one was tight end Benjamin Watson. He caught nine passes for a career single-game high 147 yards. Watson has been sizzling recently, but prior to Week 6 he still hadn't eclipsed even the 50-yard mark. The Giants made for the ideal opponent to keep rolling against, as they're allowing 76.6 receiving yards per game to tight ends, according to Football Outsiders.
12. St. Louis Rams (4-3)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 12
St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley was already blessed with the perfect cocktail of speed and size. Now he's historically skilled, too.
With 133 more rushing yards coming Sunday during a win over the San Francisco 49ers, Gurley has piled up 566 yards over just four starts. That's a new record, and it's the most over a running back's first four starts to begin his career since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN).
Gurley's latest dazzling afternoon was highlighted by a 71-yard touchdown run, which was already his fourth 45-plus-yard carry. Toss in his production as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and Gurley is averaging 128.6 yards from scrimmage per game.
Yeah, he's definitely justifying that top-10 pick spent on a running back.
11. New York Jets (4-3)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 11
It's a strange state of affairs when the New York Jets' season could rest with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's health. But that's where the Jets find themselves at midseason.
Fitzpatrick injured his non-throwing hand during the opening drive of an eventual loss to the Oakland Raiders. He was replaced by Geno Smith, who continued to look like Geno Smith. The second-round pick in 2013 averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt and had two three-and-outs followed by an interception over his first three series.
The Jets are driven by their defense, but the offense still needs to sustain drives. Fitzpatrick has proven to be the best option to accomplish that simple goal because of his comfort in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's system.
Now he has torn ligaments in his thumb, according to a report from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and will likely sit out for at least several weeks. The Jets will have to hope the Smith they saw in the second half Sunday—the one who led two long touchdown drives—shows up a little more often than the inaccurate quarterback who owns a 57.9 career completion percentage.
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-2)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 10
The Atlanta Falcons came into Week 6 undefeated. Since then they've played three teams (the New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) that currently have a combined record of 7-14. They lost two of those games and narrowly edged a Titans team Zach Mettenberger quarterbacked.
Suddenly the Carolina Panthers could pull away atop the NFC South with a win Monday night, and the Saints are closing in behind.
9. New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 9
Prior to Sunday, only seven quarterbacks in league history had thrown seven touchdown passes in a game. That fit perfectly, but now there's an eighth.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees joined the seven-touchdown group, tying the all-time record. Brees threw his seven touchdown passes during a win over the New York Giants, having only made 10 incompletions on 50 attempts. Five of his scoring throws were of the deep variety, too, as they sailed for 20-plus yards.
8. Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 8
There's a theme throughout the Seattle Seahawks' four wins this year. It's pretty predictable and has become the soul of Seahawks football.
They've now given up an average of 6.3 points in those wins, with the latest coming Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. And the losses? In the four games they've dropped, the Seahawks have not looked very Seahawk-like at all, coughing up 28.9 points.
7. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 7
The NFL isn't easy, and it never will be for rookie wide receivers. But Minnesota Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs is trying hard to prove that theory wrong by making cornerbacks do little more than flail because of his precise route running.
Diggs has now caught 25 balls for 419 yards over only his first four NFL games. That includes 95 yards during a win Sunday over the Chicago Bears—most of which came on his 40-yard, game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
He's averaging 16.8 yards per reception and is quickly turning into a fifth-round steal.
6. Arizona Cardinals (6-2)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 6
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer doesn't look like an elderly passer who's still not far removed from his second ACL tear and will turn 36 years old in December. No, he looks like a much-younger version of himself.
Palmer threw four touchdown passes Sunday as his Cardinals beat the Cleveland Browns, and three came during a second-half surge when Arizona scored 24 points. He's averaging an incredible 9.2 yards per attempt and is now on pace for 40 touchdown passes, which would easily be a career-high single-season record.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-1)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 5
The prime-time lights shined on two undefeated teams Sunday—two teams that have piled up their wins using different methods of destruction.
The Green Bay Packers pulverize opponents with a passing offense that's averaging 8.2 yards per attempt and has turned wide receiver James Jones into a touchdown-hungry pass-catching pillar (he's tied for third among wide receivers with six touchdown receptions). The Denver Broncos, meanwhile, have become a defense-oriented team and have the league's top-ranked unit.
It should have been a long, drawn-out battle of strength vs. strength. But, instead, one side won decisively, and it wasn't the Packers.
An offense that's averaged 27.3 points per game this season was held to only 10, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished with an astoundingly low 77 passing yards, which is the lowest single-game output of his career. He was overpowered repeatedly.
4. Carolina Panthers (7-0)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 4
The Carolina Panthers flirted with a seismic defensive implosion Monday night, though none of it would have mattered had kicker Graham Gano successfully converted his fourth-quarter extra-point attempt. And yes, those are still mostly routine, with 30 misses over nearly eight full weeks of football prior to kickoff Monday.
The sudden fourth-quarter surge by the Indianapolis Colts also wouldn't have mattered if Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn could grasp a football that's already pretty much in his hands. Ginn dropped what would have been a sure touchdown after quarterback Cam Newton heaved a deep ball over 50 yards. The Panthers' 20 points allowed throughout the fourth quarter and overtime could have been conveniently forgotten.
They still won, and they're still one of four undefeated teams. But when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck briefly became the Pro Bowl passer we've come to know, the Panthers looked vulnerable, and weren't able to generate any pocket pressure whatsoever. That's concerning with the Green Bay Packers teed up for Week 9.
3. Denver Broncos (7-0)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 3
The Denver Broncos have won with defense first—and everything else second—this season. That was still true Sunday night, as any game when Rodgers is held to only 3.5 yards per attempt is a special kind of smothering.
But offensively there was a lot to love about Denver, too, and that goes beyond wide receiver Demaryius Thomas' booming night (eight catches for 168 yards) or quarterback Peyton Manning's season-high 340 passing yards.
All of that passing was set up by a rushing offense that's suddenly awake and grinding. The Broncos came into Sunday averaging only 85 rushing yards per game (30th) and then posted 160 yards on the Packers.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (7-0)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 2
For the first time in franchise history, the Cincinnati Bengals are 7-0, and the latest win was the product of some road-team resilience.
The Bengals trailed 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers and then scored on back-to-back drives while taking advantage of short fields provided by their defense. Cincinnati intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice in the final quarter, setting up the 10-point run that secured a seventh consecutive win.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't at his best, as he threw two interceptions of his own. He had thrown only two over his previous 193 pass attempts.
1. New England Patriots (7-0)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 1
The New England Patriots' dominance is becoming routine, which is a little terrifying. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is especially scary—first for obvious reasons (he's a walking anvil) and now for potentially historic reasons.
Gronkowski recorded his fourth 100-plus-yard receiving game this season during Thursday night's trouncing of the Miami Dolphins. He's on pace for 1,476 yards, which would establish a new all-time single-year high for tight ends.
Who holds the current record? Gronkowski does, of course, with his 1,327-yard season in 2011. He's done all of that despite missing 14 games over a two-year stretch.
At 26-years-old he also might not quite be at his athletic peak yet. Now that's scary.