Chris Simms' NFL Power Rankings Ahead of Week 9

Chris Simms@@CSimmsQBNFL Lead AnalystOctober 31, 2016

Chris Simms' NFL Power Rankings Ahead of Week 9

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    I’ve ranked all 32 teams from worst to first for half a season.  

    My findings: The Patriots are great. A few franchises probably aren’t that great. And everyone else is either a Super Bowl dark horse or a favorite to draft Myles Garrett in April.

    Take the Chargers. They have Philip Rivers and an occasionally great defense. They have a few wins over upper-echelon teams under their belt. And yet, would you call them a top team? I wouldn’t.

    That’s just one of about 20 examples. Scroll through my latest power rankings—beyond the teams that are already planning for 2017—and you’ll find a glut of middle-of-the-pack mainstays. I’ve excluded the Monday Night Football competitors for obvious reasons.

    Are they good? Are they bad? I have a semi-decent idea, but that’s about it.

32. San Francisco 49ers

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    Current record: 1-6

    Last week: 32 (same)

    The inhabitants of the NFC West's cellar had a bye week in Week 8.

    Looking forward: It takes a certain level of stench to outdo a winless Browns team. So congrats, Chip Kelly. Your club is still the bottom-feeder of the NFL, even after a week in which it didn’t take the field. And it should stay there after a Week 9 tilt against Drew Brees and the Saints.

31. Cleveland Browns

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    Current record: 0-8

    Last week: 31 (same)

    Josh McCown gives the Browns a much, much better offense.

    But he also handed Cleveland’s first win away. His back-to-back fourth-quarter picks turned a competitive game into something Browns-like. For the first time in weeks, I can’t excuse Hue Jackson’s club.

    I can excuse Terrelle Pryor, though. He put up 101 yards on Darrelle Revis (which isn’t rare anymore, but still) in the first half alone. That he didn’t receive 10 more targets in the second half is a coaching failure.

    Looking forward: Cleveland will host Ezekiel Elliott back in the state of Ohio. The search for its first win should roll on.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    Current record: 2-5

    Last week: 28 (-2)

    Wide receiver?

    Kicker, maybe?

    Any position would suit Blake Bortles better than quarterback. My dad, who called the Jaguars-Titans game last Thursday night, said Bortles looked terrible…in pregame warm-ups. That’s why I once called him the worst No. 3 pick of all time, folks.

    It’s not all on Bortles, though. The entire Jaguars defense checked out mentally. I saw linebackers and defensive backs half-ass more easy tackles in this game than I’ve seen all season. The effort on this catch-and-run was pathetic. 

    That falls on Gus Bradley—and ultimately the ax will too.

    Looking forward: One day, this team will look better than its 2-5 record suggests. That day will not be this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

29. Los Angeles Rams

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    Current record: 3-4

    Last week: 25 (-4)

    The team formerly known as St. Louis didn't play in Week 8. They had a bye.

    Looking forward: Upon further review, the end of Los Angeles’ last game in London was flat-out terrible. So I dropped the Rams a few more spots in my latest power rankings—with a chance to move back up against Carolina after Week 9. L.A. is more like the team I ranked No. 29 this preseason, though.

28. New York Jets

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    Current record: 3-5

    Last week: 28 (+1)

    They’re teetering on the edge of a season-ending cliff.

    But the New York Jets haven’t fallen off it yet. Their 2016 campaign is still alive after a second-half comeback in Cleveland. Go figure.

    All that quarterback drama was pretty damn unnecessary. This Jets offense is at its best when Matt Forte and Bilal Powell gash defenses up the middle, not when Ryan Fitzpatrick throws 45-plus times. It’s like the team is finally figuring that out.

    Looking ahead: Gang Green has tons of holes—in pass defense, particularly. But Todd Bowles has his team playing the brand of football he wants it to play. Can that keep up against a resurgent Dolphins squad?

27. Chicago Bears

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    Current record: 2-6

    Last week: 30 (+3)

    It took the Bears three offensive plays to set the tone for their breakout Monday night performance.

    Rookie running back Jordan Howard high-stepped out of one Vikings tackle and ducked under two more. He wasn’t caught until 69 yards after the fact. Then he popped right up to toss the football back to the referee.

    My takeaway? This Bears team wasn’t backing down from Minnesota’s physical front. In fact, they welcomed the challenge with a backup center and two reserve guards.

    That's not all. Jay Cutler played mistake-free football in his first start back. Alshon Jeffery played like his old dominant self. And Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee both added new layers to Chicago's up-and-coming pass rush. What a complete performance.

    Looking forward: Bounce-back team or one-week wonder? We'll find out when the Bears return from their bye in Week 10.

26. Carolina Panthers

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    Current record: 2-5

    Last week: 26 (same)

    Carolina would need to go on a phenomenal run just to get back in the playoff hunt.

    If it happens—and it’s a big "if"—we’ll all look back on Week 8 as the turning point for the reigning NFC champions. All the traits that made this team so scary all popped up.

    Cam Newton (43 yards on seven carries) kept the Cardinals defense guessing with the ball in his hands. Jonathan Stewart joined him; Carolina’s offense is so much more dynamic when No. 28 can break a few big runs. And more importantly, that once-feared Panthers defense tallied eight sacks and dragged Carson Palmer around all day.

    Let’s press pause on any Carolina comeback talk for now, but what I saw in Week 8 sure looked promising.

    Looking forward: If Newton doesn't feel safe now, wait until Aaron Donald is breathing down his neck.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

    Current record: 3-4

    Last week: 24 (-1)

    Stop me if you’ve seen this before.

    The Buccaneers played a West Coast team at Raymond James Stadium. The defense couldn’t stop big downfield throws. Jameis Winston couldn’t come through in the game’s final moments. And the team landed in the loss column.

    Swap out the Rams for the Raiders, and it’s a sequel to the same losing script Tampa Bay wrote in Week 3. It’s deja vu all over again for Dirk Koetter’s team.

    Case in point: Winston and the offense went three-and-out on their last three possessions. That won’t cut it.

    Looking forward: Thursday Night Football could decide the NFC South's fate. Beating the Falcons again would be huge.

24. Indianapolis Colts

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    Current record: 3-5

    Last week: 21 (-3)

    When T.Y. Hilton went to the locker room, Indianapolis’ chances went with him.

    The Colts offense wasn’t the same without a fully functional WR1. And we all know that side of the ball has to work on all cylinders for this team to have a shot at the win column.

    This defense can’t protect a 14-point offensive day. Not when the injury bug came back to bite Vontae Davis (concussion). And especially not when the opponent boasts a tight end as talented as Travis Kelce. Like usual, Indianapolis had no answers for a star tight end—Alex Smith or no Alex Smith.

    Looking forward: Which team weighs more: The one Andrew Luck carries or the one Aaron Rodgers does?

23. Baltimore Ravens

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    Current record: 3-4

    Last week: 22 (-1)

    No week 8 action for John Harbaugh's team. They were off in Week 8.

    Looking forward: Some teams don’t want a week off to interrupt their play. The Ravens aren’t one of those teams. They need to put every minute of their bye to use to A) install a new offense and B) stop the bleeding from a four-game losing streak. The good news? Baltimore takes on Pittsburgh in Week 9, and those two foes always bring out the best in each other.

22. New Orleans Saints

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Current record: 3-4

    Last week: 27 (+5)

    What was that?

    No…it couldn’t be!

    It was!

    The Saints showcased some—wait for it—defense in Week 8. Give Dennis Allen credit for coordinating the perfect plan to limit Russell Wilson and all of Seattle’s big plays.

    Sean Payton and Drew Brees deserve some kudos too. I expected them to use a nickel-and-dime offense geared at minimizing the Seahawks’ defensive edge. That’s exactly what they did.

    Looking forward: New Orleans started its season 0-3. Now, it's 3-4. Something is brewing in the Big Easy. And it should keep brewing against Colin Kaepernick and the lowly Niners.

21. Miami Dolphins

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    Current record: 3-4

    Last week: 20 (-1)

    The Phighting 'Phins stayed in the same rankings neighborhood after a Week 8 bye.

    Looking forward: I’m interested to see how this offense reacts to its break against the Jets. Does the offensive line regress to pre-Week 6 form? Or can young players such as Ja’Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil continue progressing? The answer—plus the continued hard running of Jay Ajayi—will determine the magnitude of Miami’s midseason turnaround. 

20. Arizona Cardinals

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    Current record: 3-4-1

    Last week: 13 (-7)

    Palmer needs to dig himself a trench a few yards behind center.

    He’s under direct fire after every Cardinals snap. Carolina’s eight-sack game only further exposed what Seattle did during Week 7’s overtime tie: Arizona’s interior blocking group is one of the worst in football.

    Palmer isn’t the only one paying the price for blown blocking assignments. The Cardinals fell in an early 24-0 hole—just deep enough to eliminate David Johnson from the battle strategy.

    In no universe will these Cardinals run Johnson 10 times, gain 24 yards and win a football game. It’s as simple as that.

    Looking forward: Bruce Arians has a chance to lick his wounds. His team is off in Week 9.

19. Detroit Lions

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    Current record: 4-4

    Last week: 15 (-4)

    Matthew Stafford hasn’t met a fourth-quarter deficit he didn’t want to tackle.

    But even this is too much for the Lions quarterback. Detroit needs to add another dimension to its offense; No. 9 can’t consistently win games on his own.

    The Lions’ offensive output in Week 8 should serve as a lesson. Houston sat two safeties back and dared the Lions to run the football, and they couldn’t do so.

    Until they can, Stafford and Co. will remain a good but not playoff-caliber team.

    Looking forward: The Vikings' ship is taking on water. Can Detroit sink them in Week 9?

18. San Diego Chargers

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    Current record: 3-5

    Last week: 18 (same)

    Rivers wasn’t the first quarterback stymied by Denver’s pass rush. And he won’t be the last.

    There’s plenty to like from these Chargers. Aside from a few un-Rivers-like interceptions, the veteran quarterback kept his team in its Week 8 contest. Melvin Gordon churned out a 100-plus-yard day against a strong Broncos front. San Diego’s defense plugged up the run and featured Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram flying around like heat-seeking missiles.

    Still, a loss to a rival stings. Especially one that could’ve announced San Diego’s intentions as a true contender.

    Looking forward: Bet old Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt will have some offensive tricks for his former employer this weekend.

17. New York Giants

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    Current record: 4-3

    Last week: 17 (same)

    Big Blue had a post-London break. It was on a bye in Week 8.

    Looking forward: The NFL's most predictable offense takes on the pissed-off Eagles. New York better feature more than two formations this time; Jim Schwartz's defense isn't a group you can show your hand to and succeed against.

16. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Current record: 3-4-1

    Last week: 14 (-2)

    Andy Dalton took a trip to London to take a bigger trip back in time.

    The Bengals quarterback I saw early Sunday morning wasn’t the same one who guided his team to a high AFC playoff seed last year. He was the one who failed to win over talent evaluators the three seasons prior.

    That Dalton—the inconsistent one who couldn’t take his game to new heights—tried to hand the Redskins a win. His interception to start the fourth quarter was childish. A fumbled quarterback sneak was elementary.

    Cincinnati used to win in spite of its quarterback play. But if that Dalton rears his head again, it’ll send the Bengals even further down the standings.

    Looking forward: Marvin Lewis' club gets a little time off to regroup. It's on a bye in Week 9.

15. Tennessee Titans

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    Current record: 4-4

    Last week: 23 (+8)

    Forget the fact that this Titans team played the worst starting quarterback in football.

    What it accomplished against Jacksonville was nothing short of impressive. It makes me think the Titans have a real shot at winning the AFC South.

    Consider these two numbers: 354 and 60. The first number is the Titans’ total yardage at halftime of Thursday Night Football. The second? The same stat for the Jaguars.

    That tells me Mike Mularkey’s team is buying in. Its offense is manhandling defenders, and its defense is confusing passers. Isn’t that the formula for postseason ball?

    Looking forward: Rivers vs. Mariota. Bosa vs. Lewan. Finesse vs. power. A Week 9 showdown between the Titans and Chargers has heavy playoff implications. Plus, it's a cool matchup.

14. Buffalo Bills

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    Current record: 4-4

    Last week: 12 (-2)

    The LeSean McCoy-less Bills don’t pose much of a threat.

    Just ask Bill Belichick. He didn’t have to scheme much for running backs Mike Gillislee and Reggie Bush. Instead, he let those two run and focused on limiting Tyrod Taylor.

    Buffalo’s quarterback wasn’t allowed to escape the pocket often. New England turned him into a pocket passer and turned the game into a throwing match against Tom Brady. You already know who wins that battle.

    The good news? Shaq Lawson and Marcell Dareus are both back for the Bills. That’ll spook some teams, but only when McCoy gives them a lead to work with first.

    Looking forward: Rest up, Buffalo. You'll need your strength for a cross-country trip to Seattle.

13. Washington Redskins

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    Current record: 4-3-1

    Last week: 16 (+3)

    Can you name the two running backs who took Washington's handoffs in London?

    Probably not unless they play for your fantasy football team. It’s a testament to general manager Scot McCloughan, who assembled a kick-ass line capable of springing Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson. That’s easier said than done against a Bengals front that hangs its hat on gritty play.

    Speaking of which…Washington’s defense needs more of it. Ryan Kerrigan is the only pass-rusher worth game-planning for in D.C. Opportunistic defense will only take this team so far in the stacked NFC.

    Looking forward: Kirk Cousins and Co. are back stateside. They'll have a bye week, though.

12. Houston Texans

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    Current record: 5-3

    Last week: 19 (+7)

    Houston was poised to open up a three-score lead versus Detroit on Sunday.

    You can guess what happened next. Brock Osweiler threw an ugly end-of-half interception. A few plays later, the Lions kicked a field goal. Set your watch by Osweiler mistakes, because they happen weekly.

    His recent mess-ups didn’t matter, though. Houston’s defense put on a clinic in defending while ahead: two safeties deep, no big plays over the top. Then, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel unleashed Jadeveon Clowney to destroy all of Detroit’s blocking schemes.

    Looking forward: The first-place Texans get a mini-vacation. They'll return from a bye in Week 10.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Current record: 4-3

    Last week: 11 (same)

    No Week 8 action for the Steel City Steelers. They stayed home on a bye week.

    Looking forward: Ben Roethlisberger could be back when the Steelers take the field in Week 9. So many other key players should be too. The talent-needy Steelers will take whatever they can get for an upcoming battle against their sworn enemy. We’ll see if Big Ben can recapture his throwing form in time to tear the Ravens up.

10. Green Bay Packers

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    Current record: 4-3

    Last week: 7 (-3)

    Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown to some guy named Geronimo Allison. Ever hear of him?

    Of course not. Rodgers has done magical things with no-name weapons for eight weeks. The mere fact he kept his team competitive this week is MVP-worthy. He was Green Bay’s leading passer…and rusher.

    He can’t carry the burden alone. Someone—anyone—needs to help. It might need to be the defense, which held Matt Ryan to 288 yards without its top cornerbacks. It might need to be a running back. But it’s probably not Geronimo.

    Looking forward: Green Bay won't lose if its defense does to Andrew Luck what it did to Aaron Rodgers. 

9. Seattle Seahawks

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    Current record: 4-2-1

    Last week: 6 (-3)

    Seattle’s roster features a two-time Super Bowl quarterback and tons of firepower.

    But the Seahawks are not a title contender this year. Not when they play the Saints and only manage 13 offensive points. That New Orleans defense surrenders almost 400 yards per game.

    The main problem? Wilson’s health. His knee, ankle and pectoral are all holding him back from his normal level of play. There were times in Week 8 where I thought I’d see Trevone Boykin behind center.

    Coach Pete Carroll needed to turn to his trick playbook just to get an offensive spark. That’s never a good sign for a team that’s so talented.

    Looking forward: Points will be at a premium when the banged-up Seahawks meet the banged-up Bills. First team to double digits wins.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Current record: 4-3

    Last week: 8 (same)

    Any defense that holds Ezekiel Elliott under 100 yards should expect to win.

    The Eagles defense did. Fletcher Cox and his merry band of big defensive linemen where everywhere Sunday night. And yet, despite big plays from that group and from the right arm of Carson Wentz, they still blew a late 23-13 lead.

    Philadelphia’s offensive scheme can be blamed for the collapse. It was effective when it took the fight to Dallas’ defense in no-huddle situations. But coach Doug Pederson calls too many screens and swing passes for it to threaten the entire field. Wentz needs to be free to throw deep.

    Looking forward: Philly couldn't rack up many sacks against Dallas' big front. That shouldn't be an issue against the Giants.

7. Minnesota Vikings

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    Current record: 5-2

    Last week: 2 (-5)

    One bad line ain’t enough, Jack.

    The Vikings went and made it a double. We now need to start questioning if Mike Zimmer’s team is tough enough in either trench to make the playoff run that once felt inevitable.

    Injuries and bad pass protection created offensive issues the past two weeks. But this is the first time we’ve seen their talented defensive line get pushed around. That shouldn’t happen with all that talent, nor should the Vikings get gashed in the run game.

    Factor out Jordan Howard’s big runs, though, and he still ran for four yards per carry. Who would’ve guessed?

    Looking forward: Minnesota must sort out its blocking issues. Otherwise, even the injury-riddled Lions front will break through on Sam Bradford.

6. Oakland Raiders

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    Current record: 6-2

    Last week: 10 (+4)

    Do they win pretty?

    Do they put teams away?

    No and hell no. But the Raiders spent two weeks in Florida and left with two wins. Who cares how visually pleasing those wins were?

    Oakland’s biggest opponent doesn’t stand on the opposite sideline. It resides in a mirror. Coach Jack Del Rio’s team committed a ridiculous 23 penalties in Week 8. Three of them—a personal foul sandwiched by two pass interference calls—ensured the Buccaneers would force overtime.

    Oakland persevered through that, so many other fouls and two rare Sebastian Janikowski misses.

    Looking forward: There’s no quit in this Raiders team, and the AFC West should be afraid. I'm looking at you, Denver.

5. Atlanta Falcons

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    Current record: 5-3

    Last week: 9 (+4)

    People are waiting for the Atlanta Falcons to collapse like last season.

    They’ll continue to wait. The 2015 team would’ve crumbled under the pressure of a 32-26 deficit. This year’s squad welcomes it.

    It’s high time we give Matt Ryan some MVP consideration. Green Bay took away his favorite receiver in Week 8, and it didn’t matter. With Julio Jones in double coverage, Ryan posted a three-touchdown game and completed 80 percent of this throws.

    It’s also time we give some respect to the Falcons pass rush. This is the second consecutive week that guys such as Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn played great. They did just enough to corral Rodgers and force a few mistakes.

    Looking forward: An early-week tilt with Tampa Bay can do wonders for the Falcons' NFC South odds.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Current record: 5-2

    Last week: 5 (+1)

    Want to know how technically sound Andy Reid’s offense is?

    Alex Smith exited the game. Then he came back. Then he left it again. And Kansas City’s dropback passing game was virtually unaffected.

    Of course, Reid has the luxury of turning to an experienced backup in Nick Foles. He also can turn to Charcandrick West when starter Spencer Ware succumbs to injury. We saw the full depth of Reid’s offense, and few teams can match it.

    Kansas City’s defense is just as impressive. Rookie Chris Jones and outside linebacker Dee Ford repeatedly pressured Andrew Luck on Sunday. You’ll hear about those two on my All-22 roster later this week.

    Looking forward: Don't expect the mistake-prone Jaguars to slow Kansas City's roll.

3. Denver Broncos

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    Current record: 6-2

    Last week: 4 (+1)

    I was a little kid when I watched a defense with as much scoring potential as this Broncos one.

    That team? The 1985 Bears. I don’t make this comparison lightly; Denver’s defense doesn’t just prevent points, it scores them.

    Coach Gary Kubiak welcomes any points that side of the ball can scrape together. His offense goes through too many dry spells—spans of quarters and halves and multiple drives—where the offense cannot produce. As good as the defense plays, the offense can’t put opponents away.

    It might not need to against a team such as San Diego. But come playoff time, it’ll be a real issue.

    Looking forward: First place is on the line when the Broncos and Raiders resume their rivalry. I can't wait.

2. Dallas Cowboys

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    Current record: 6-1

    Last week: 3 (+1)

    Dak Prescott had his worst outing by far as a pro quarterback.

    He still pulled out an overtime win, though. That speaks volumes about the talent and character of this team and should provide a sunny forecast if/when Tony Romo returns.

    Dallas’ run game is as detailed as the 2015 Panthers’ was. Elliott takes the majority of the work, but Prescott designed runs and Lucky Whitehead sweeps have to be accounted for. Oh, and there’s always the threat Prescott fakes a run play and finds Dez Bryant.

    This Cowboys defense is impressive too. It’ll force a big turnover and rarely blow coverage. Those are two traits of a team that can make postseason noise.

    Looking forward: Dallas built a great wall (of blockers). And the Browns are going to pay for it.

1. New England Patriots

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    Current record: 7-1

    Last week: 1 (same)

    Rob Gronkowski? Wide-open. 

    Julian Edelman? Wide-open.

    Chris Hogan? Wide-open.

    The Patriots don’t draw their passing playbook in the dirt. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gets his receivers deep by tirelessly working at formation and personnel groupings. Opponents know a 60-minute chess match is in store whenever the Patriots come to town.

    Middle linebackers play defensive end. Safeties play nickel corner. It’s all designed to give Bill Belichick’s team the slightest edge on any given play. Buffalo couldn’t keep up.

    Looking forward: The post-Jamie Collins era begins...in Week 10. New England is on a bye.