NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 8?
Division rivalry games in the NFL are special. When I was playing, these games always had an important feel, regardless of records or the standings. One reason is that division games are personal, especially the second ones of the season. You remember the last time you played a divisional opponent, and you want to take it to that guy who got the better of you the last time.
The other reason these games are intense is that division rivals are well-prepared for one another. Not only do you play a rival twice a year, but you also play multiple common foes. This means you see division rivals plenty of times while preparing for other opponents. Division rivals have a great idea of what teams actually are by the time they face off.
Week 7 brought us a number of division rivalry games, starting with Thursday night's contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. With nearly half the league playing divisional games in Week 7, knowledge was a major factor.
We're now getting our own idea of who this year's best teams are. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, have found an identity as a run-first team. The New England Patriots have figured out how to win with a bend-but-don't-break defense. The teams at the top have found their formulas for consistent winning. Those closer to the bottom are still searching.
Here's how I view the league's 32 teams heading into Week 8. Last week's rankings can be found here.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last Week's Ranking: 32
It sucks that the Cleveland Browns are so inept on offense, because their evolving defense is getting to be impressive. Led by Myles Garrett, the front seen is dangerous. The secondary is merely average, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dials up some confusing packages on third downs to help it.
This is why the Tennessee Titans were only 5-of-17 on third downs. The offense is the issue in Cleveland, and it makes things harder on the defense.
We saw the same things from DeShone Kizer. He makes too many questionable decisions, and he misses far too many slam-dunk throws for my money. He was benched again, this time for Cody Kessler. Kessler came in and did some positive things, but he also threw a pick and struggled to move the ball.
The Browns have quarterback issues. Big surprise, right? What is a surprise is that stalwart tackle Joe Thomas—who had previously never missed a snap—appears to have suffered a serious triceps injury. That's only going to make things harder on the Browns offensively moving forward.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week's Ranking: 31
It's been a year of self-inflicted wounds for the San Francisco 49ers. This trend continued against the Dallas Cowboys, starting with a muffed punt near the end zone by Trent Taylor early in the first quarter.
C.J. Beathard and the rest of the offense did some positive things, and the rookie quarterback continues to take steps. However, the offensive line let the 49ers down. Beathard took a pair of sack-fumbles, one of which came in the red zone just before the half.
This was the worst performance by the 49ers defense too. Arik Armstead was out and that hurt, and the run defense was atrocious. The pass defense wasn't much better. Once the Cowboys got things rolling, San Francisco never had a chance to turn it around.
Again, Beathard played fine, but I didn't see anything that says he's the quarterback of the future, either. San Francisco is playing for next season and beyond.
30. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week's Ranking: 27
There's no other way to put it: The Indianapolis Colts' pass defense is one of the worst in football, if not the worst. They allowed a long opening drive against the Jacksonville Jaguars, another one after that, and Indianapolis never got back on track.
The problem is the Colts defense cannot get off the field. It wears down and it gives up big plays in the second half of games. Unfortunately, the offense isn't capable enough behind Jacoby Brissett right now to win shootouts the way Indianapolis would need to do with this defense.
Could the Andrew Luck-led Colts have won a high-scoring game against the Jaguars? Even that would seem unlikely given the talent on Jacksonville's defense.
Indianapolis deserves a lot of credit for continuing to fight hard knowing that Luck isn't going to ride in and save the day anytime soon. Unfortunately, this isn't a talented team overall, and there's no getting around that fact.
29. New York Giants
Last Week's Ranking: 30
The New York Giants offense stinks. It's ineptitude gets masked a bit because New York came out and beat the Denver Broncos last week. Well, we saw just how bad it can be against the Seattle Seahawks.
We're going to continue to see that this offense is nothing without Odell Beckham Jr. The defense is legit, but it isn't playing at the level it did last year.
I'm not sure why it played so much man defense against a Seahawks team that wins with 50-50 jump balls and big plays downfield. Maybe that was by design because the Giants know their only chance of winning is if defenders can make plays on the ball.
The defense isn't playing well enough to win games right now, though, and the fact it produced just one sack against 39 pass attempts is alarming. New York has one of the best defensive lines in football. It needs to start playing like it.
28. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week's Ranking: 24
The Arizona Cardinals are all over the place, and I don't know what else to say about them. I thought they'd have more success running the ball against a questionable Los Angeles Rams defense, but it wasn't to be.
Carson Palmer made more bad decisions; so did Drew Stanton. There were 10 penalties. Phil Dawson missed a field goal. There's nothing consistent with this Cardinals team—and now Palmer is out for at least two months with a broken arm.
There's no getting around the fact this isn't a good football team. Yes, Arizona is 3-4, but the Cardinals have beaten the Colts, the 49ers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And when the Cardinals lose, they lose big. With Palmer now out, it's impossible to see this team staying relevant.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week's Ranking: 25
This was a heart-breaker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa battled back from down 11 in the third quarter, Jameis Winston got hot, and the Bucs offense made a number of big plays in the second half. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers couldn't finish off the game against the Buffalo Bills.
The Buccaneers have to figure out how to get their running game on track, because they cannot just trust Winston to carry them week in and week out. He's capable of moving the ball, but he still makes that dumb decision once or twice a game.
Defensively, the Buccaneers are below-average. There's no other way to put it. When Tampa needed to get a stop against the Bills up by seven, they couldn't. The Bills offense—which isn't great—marched down the field in just a handful of plays and tied things up. Adam Humphries fumbled on the next drive, and Buffalo got the game-winning field goal.
The season is still salvageable for the Buccaneers. However, Tampa has to find more balance on offense and tighten things up on defense if it wants to reach the postseason. Otherwise, the Buccaneers are going to have to get out big on teams early and hope to keep the lead.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week's Ranking: 23
The Baltimore Ravens defense plays at a higher level with Brandon Williams in the lineup. For a while, it allowed the Ravens to hang with the Minnesota Vikings. However, even a healthier Baltimore defense can only hold down the fort against a team like Minnesota for so long with little offensive assistance.
Joe Flacco has been a disaster for the Ravens in 2017. He's thrown five touchdowns and eight interceptions, while Baltimore is ranked last in passing at 157.4 yards per game. He hasn't been helped by an uncreative running game and an injury-hampered receiving corps.
The Ravens have struggled to sustain drives, and points have been hard to come by. This has led to extended playing time and increased pressure for the Baltimore defense.
We've known since day one the 2017 Ravens would need their defense to dominate in order to reach the playoffs. With guys like Williams, Brent Urban and Tavon Young out, that hasn't happened. I've never seen a Ravens defense run on like this one has been—allowing a league-high 145.3 yards per game.
With the offense struggling the way it is, the playoffs aren't going to happen, either.
25. Chicago Bears
Last Week's Ranking: 29
This Chicago Bears team is starting to remind me of the Bears team I played in 2005—one that ended up as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. They couldn't score on offense, but their defense was good enough to keep Chicago in games until it could find a big turnover or big play.
This team isn't on the 2005 Bears' level, but it has a similar identity. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the offense did virtually nothing against the Carolina Panthers—just 153 yards—but two defensive scores were enough for a win.
Eddie Jackson had a career day with the two long defensive touchdowns. That was the game. If you give this Bears team and this front seven a 14-point lead, it's going to be tough to beat. Vic Fangio will play conservative coverage in the secondary and let the pass rush dictate the game. Trubisky wasn't impressive, but he did enough by not turning the ball over.
Is this a formula for success week in and week out? Of course not. However, it does show the Bears have a base for the future.
24. Green Bay Packers
Last Week's Ranking: 17
The Green Bay Packers put forth a valiant effort against the New Orleans Saints, considering Brett Hundley was making his first start at quarterback.
It was encouraging to see the offense get the run game going, but the Packers are going to have to continue to do that if they want to win any games. Running the ball with Hundley more to add some creativity to the offense might not be a bad idea.
As I've mentioned in the past, the Green Bay pass offense isn't great. It isn't a complex system that will create openings down the field. There isn't a guy opposing defenses are worried about doubling. It's always been about Aaron Rodgers making chicken salad out of chicken crap.
Hundley has some physical skills, but he's raw and lacks experience. The Packers defense is solid, but it isn't good enough to overcome the stale offense we're going to see over the next few weeks until Hundley gets comfortable and gets the passing attack going.
Rodgers might not be out for the season, but if the Packers cannot figure out a new formula for winning without him, that isn't going to matter. Hopefully, the team's Week 8 bye will give the Packers a chance to start figuring things out.
23. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week's Ranking: 20
This is the team the Cincinnati Bengals are. They're a strong defensive team with a plain offense and a few offensive studs mixed in.
This wasn't enough against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has a talented defense; however, the Steelers also have a dynamic offensive scheme with some stars to operate it. Cincinnati wasn't capable of matching points with that offense.
Going forward, the Bengals aren't a great team, but they're going to be a pain in the butt. The defense is exceptional at all three levels. Unfortunately, Andy Dalton and Co. don't have the firepower to win shootouts.
Cincinnati needs to try grinding out low-scoring defensive battles. That's the team's best way of winning games and the Bengals' only formula for beating some of the better teams in football. If linebacker Vontaze Burfict gets a suspension for kicking a Steelers player, even that formula could be difficult to pull off.
22. Oakland Raiders
Last Week's Ranking: 28
The Oakland Raiders have spent a lot of money building what is supposed to be one of the best offenses in the NFL. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, that offense finally showed up.
Perhaps more importantly, the offensive line showed up. It's been the key to success during the Derek Carr era but has struggled in 2017. Against the Chiefs, the line opened holes in the run game and didn't allow a sack.
It was also great to see wideout Amari Cooper explode in a game where the Raiders had their backs against the wall. Like the line, Cooper has disappointed this season. He was a one-man wrecking crew against the Chiefs.
Defensively, Oakland got some punch from pass-rusher Khalil Mack and Denico Autry—and Autry is a guy who I believe can help boost the pass rush moving forward. The Raiders gave up a lot of yards, but they also pressured quarterback Alex Smith and prevented the Chiefs from building on their lead late.
Defense is still a major question mark for the Raiders, but Thursday night's performance showed the offense just might be able to carry the squad the way it did lat year.
21. New York Jets
Last Week's Ranking: 19
I'm not sure there's a team in football better at blowing leads than the New York Jets. They blew a 14-point lead against the New England Patriots two weeks ago and blew a 14-point lead against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
In a day where quarterback Josh McCown played so well, his interception near the end of regulation in a tied game was inexcusable. Hell, the decision by coach Todd Bowles to even allow McCown to attempt the pass there was stupid. You have to know your players, and McCown is one of the league leaders in boneheaded turnovers over the last few seasons.
The discouraging thing is the Jets defense played pretty well—the two turnovers were huge—but it seemed to let up once Jay Cutler left the game. The Jets also appeared to take their foot off the gas offensively once up 28-14.
It's almost as if the Jets felt they had the game in the bag once Matt Moore came onto the field and threw a quick interception. Obviously, though, the Jets figured out how to botch things.
20. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week's Ranking: 26
The defense—which I've criticized plenty of times this season—was the star of the day for the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. It forced a fumble on Denver Broncos tight end A.J. Derby to set up a short drive and, more importantly, it kept the Broncos off the scoreboard.
The special teams also deserves credit, as Travis Benjamin scored for the Chargers on a punt return to start the game.
Pass-rushers like Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram did what they were supposed to do against an injured Broncos offensive line. Against a stellar Denver defense, the Broncos offense did what it needed to do by sustaining drives and protecting the ball.
This isn't a great Chargers team, but there are enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to keep L.A. in games. If quarterback Philip Rivers can work some fourth-quarter magic, the Chargers will win more than they'll lose moving forward.
19. Tennessee Titans
Last Week's Ranking: 22
What we've been concerned about with the Titans was on full display in Cleveland. When Tennessee struggles to run the ball, the passing game isn't always consistent enough to take over. The Titans still won in overtime, but it was a struggle.
I believed we'd see a better game out of Marcus Mariota—especially after watching him put the game on his shoulders against the Colts. The Browns have a better defense than Indianapolis does, but they were banged up in the secondary.
Regardless, Mariota needs to play better. He had trouble moving the ball with any consistency, and he missed a wide-open Delanie Walker in the end zone at one point. Walker, by the way, suffered a sprained ankle in the contest. That's not going to help Mariota moving forward.
Tennessee has work to do if it wants to be a playoff team. The Titans are solid on defense and offense, but they struggle to beat teams when they cannot dominate in the running game.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week's Ranking: 16
The Seattle Seahawks, in typical fashion, earned an ugly win. Seattle put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands and let him take over. That's what the Seahawks need to do because they don't have a creative offense or a consistent running game.
Let Wilson earn his contract. Let him run around, make plays and make the phenomenal throws he can make.
Of course, Seattle's defense is terrific. If Thomas Rawls didn't fumble and have it returned to the Seattle 5-yard line, the Giants probably wouldn't have scored.
The Seahawks need to address their offensive line issues and figure out how to dial up a more effective offense. Because of this, I believe they're one of the worst 4-2 teams in the NFL, and they're getting jumped here by the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars—teams that seem to have found some answers. However, I'm not going to count this group out since they're going to come out fighting every week.
17. Miami Dolphins
Last Week's Ranking: 21
The Miami Dolphins are starting to show they can win games in a variety of ways. That's something they deserve credit for.
One thing that jumped out in the win over the Jets was rushing attempts. Jay Ajayi couldn't get anything going early, but Miami still stuck with him. That was important because it kept the Jets defense honest—and the Dolphins don't have the best pass-protecting line in the game.
Jay Cutler made a number of big throws, and Matt Moore came in and did the same. Hopefully, Miami can keep this up and keep some balance on the offense.
There are still questions about Miami's secondary, but the front seven is solid. More importantly, Miami seems to have found its momentum after some early struggles. This was the way the Dolphins season went last year, and it resulted in a playoff appearance.
It's too early to crown the Dolphins as a playoff team, but they're in the thick of the AFC East race.
16. Detroit Lions
Last Week's Ranking: 14
While the Detroit Lions are a more complete team than they were last year, there is still too much pressure on Matthew Stafford. Hopefully, the Lions spent the bye week figuring out how to spark the run game and how to solidify the defense.
Pass defense has been a bit of a concern for the Lions all season. Now that Haloti Ngata is out for the year, run defense has to be a concern too. Detroit's defense will face a big challenge in the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week's Ranking: 18
It was an odd week, so the up-and-down Jacksonville Jaguars of course played well.
In all seriousness, the Jaguars and Blake Bortles deserve a lot of credit for winning without Leonard Fournette. The Colts' weakness is pass defense, and Bortles was able to exploit it with his best performance of the season—I would argue the best of his career.
All I can say is way to go, Bortles. There's been no one more critical of Bortles' play than me. I have tremendous respect for him and how he handles himself, though. I'm rooting for him, and I'd love to see him shove my criticism up my butt. Sunday was a good start.
When the Jaguars get an early lead, they're tough to beat because that defense is ferocious. Calais Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, and he isn't the only defender capable of taking over a game.
The Jaguars bought a week with the bye upcoming for Fournette to get healthy. If Bortles can continue to play like he did against the Colts, watch out.
14. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week's Ranking: 9
The Atlanta Falcons didn't play their best game in Week 7. Not only did the New England Patriots beat them consistently on both sides of the ball, but the Falcons beat themselves.
Coach Dan Quinn's decision to go for it on fourth down late in the first half near midfield was dumb. Tom Brady and the Patriots marched down the field and scored to take a 17-0 halftime lead. That put the nail in the coffin.
I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but this is what I've been cautioning against all year.
The Falcons have the talent on offense to take over games. Because of the loss of coordinator Kyle Shanahan, however, the offense isn't nearly as explosive. The run game isn't as consistent, and it's been tough to find big plays in the pass game.
The Atlanta defense is still a terrific unit, but it had a rough night being on the field so much against a great offense and a great quarterback.
13. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week's Ranking: 15
This was the most complete game of the year for the Dallas Cowboys, and things started on offense. Like the Raiders, Dallas is built around strong offensive play. When it gets it, some of the defensive deficiencies can be masked. This was the case against the 49ers.
With so much money being spent on the offense and offensive line, the Cowboys need this kind of performance going forward. This was the best the line and running back Ezekiel Elliott have looked all year.
The defense, which is not great, is showing more ability to rush the passer since David Irving returned. He and DeMarcus Lawrence continue to show up and provide some force for a defense that otherwise lacks playmakers. This is a defense that is going to give up points and yards but will make some plays up front as well.
The way the Cowboys played in Week 7 was encouraging. No one has blown out the 49ers to this degree all year, and this game was over by the second quarter.
12. Denver Broncos
Last Week's Ranking: 7
The Denver Broncos need to figure out who they are—and that's a team that can lean on its defense. Whether it's boneheaded mistakes from quarterback Trevor Siemian or costly turnovers, the Broncos keep shooting themselves in the foot. They're doing so because they keep the focal point away from the defense.
The defense was again great against the Chargers. However, A.J. Derby's fumble and the punt-return touchdown that was allowed were huge. Siemian hasn't been playing well and threw another interception.
Denver could be a Super Bowl-caliber team. All the Broncos need to do is trust the defense and stay conservative on offense. Yet the offense keeps making things competitive with its miscues. I keep waiting for the Broncos to fix this, but maybe it's not going to happen.
Perhaps this is going to be the same kind of Denver team we saw in 2016. That would be a shame because this is one of the great NFL defense we've seen.
11. Houston Texans
Last Week's Ranking: 12
Watch out for the Houston Texans. Even with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus out, the defense is still effective—but, man, it's the offense that has my attention.
Since Deshaun Watson has taken over at quarterback, the Texans have had one of the most explosive offenses in the game. That offense will be put to the test against the Seahawks in Week 8.
Sitting at 3-3, the Texans will come out of the bye week looking to gain ground on the 4-3 Jaguars. While Jacksonville has produced more wins, Houston is the more complete team and the one less dependent on any one phase of the game.
10. Buffalo Bills
Last Week's Ranking: 13
The Buffalo Bills continue to find ways to win. They dominated the Buccaneers early, ran the ball well, and Tyrod Taylor made some big plays off play action and the bootleg.
Perhaps more importantly, Buffalo seems to have found some receiving help. Former quarterback Logan Thomas—now a tight end—had a big touchdown grab. the Bills need him to contribute with Charles Clay out. Wideout Deonte Thompson had a breakout game with four catches and 107 yards.
If these receivers can help add an explosive element to the offense, Buffalo could be dangerous. This is already a balanced team, and the defense isn't going to beat itself. The one concern is that Buffalo lacks the kind of cornerbacks who can consistently play man defense. Against elite receivers, this has and will continue to be an issue.
Buffalo is still a team to watch in the AFC.
9. Washington Redskins
Last Week's Ranking: 6
The Washington Redskins are a good football team. Their three losses have come twice to the Philadelphia Eagles and once to the Chiefs. The biggest concern moving forward is that Washington is banged-up.
The Washington offense is dangerous, but the Redskins need to get more out of their wide receivers in the passing game. They should also run the ball with more consistency. Still, they ran respectably against a terrific defensive front on Monday night.
The Washington defense got things off to a good start against the Eagles. A great quarterback in Carson Wentz just got hot, and that's always hard to stop. This is a good defense, though. Zach Brown and Ryan Kerrigan are studs. Washington just needs Josh Norman back so it can do more creative things in coverage. He can lock down a top receiver, which allows coordinator Greg Manusky to play around with other guys.
The team might only be 3-3, but they are for real.
8. Carolina Panthers
Last Week's Ranking: 3
The Carolina Panthers weren't outplayed by the Bears, but they made the mistakes, plain and simple. Carolina should have been able to win an ugly defensive struggle against Chicago. When the Panthers messed up and gave Chicago two defensive touchdowns, it pushed the game in a direction Carolina didn't want it to go.
The Panthers needed to run the ball and be conservative against a capable Bears defense. Eventually, they would have worn down the Bears and made the plays needed to win. The Chicago offense wasn't going to beat them.
Hell, Mitchell Trubisky only completed four passes.
I still think the Panthers are one of the better teams in the NFC, and I'm not jumping ship by any stretch. They just need to get the run game going and avoid game-killing mistakes.
7. New Orleans Saints
Last Week's Ranking: 11
Watch out for the New Orleans Saints. They're for real, and there's no more denying it.
The first thing we have to talk about is the defense. I know it went against a young quarterback making his first NFL start, but the defense was put in some tough positions early thanks to Drew Brees interceptions. Still, it delivered and helped stifle the Packers offense on the road. This is a defense that has gotten better each and every week and is making the Saints into a title contender.
The one thing New Orleans needs to watch out for is penalties. Coach Sean Payton likes to let his players play up to the edge—and I love that about him—but there are too many self-inflicted wounds by way of defensive penalties.
Offensively, the Saints are tough to defend. With the offensive line healthy and the two-headed attack of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram rushing the ball, New Orleans doesn't have to rely totally on Brees to sling the ball around. Brees can, though, and Ted Ginn Jr. made his mark as a downfield threat against the Packers.
The passing offense is still coming together in New Orleans. When it does, the Saints will be one of the teams to beat in the NFC.
6. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week's Ranking: 10
You have to be impressed with the way the Rams' run defense stepped up against Arizona, especially a week after Adrian Peterson went off for his new team.
This was the best performance from the Rams defense all year. Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald created havoc up front. The secondary got turnovers. Getting Lamarcus Joyner back was big because he's one of the better ballhawks on the back end of L.A.'s defense.
The evolution of the offense continues to impress too. Was Jared Goff perfect? No, he did have an avoidable interception and he missed a few throws. For the most part, though, he's playing good ball. Sean McVay's play design is getting people open downfield for Goff, and the run game is rolling behind Todd Gurley.
It's time to officially call the Rams one of the better teams in the league. I'm not completely sold on Goff and his ability to beat elite defenses yet, and he's going to make or break the season with his play. However, L.A. is solid enough on both sides of the ball to win the majority of its games in 2017.
5. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week's Ranking: 8
The Minnesota Vikings for real; I don't care who is at quarterback. Really, Case Keenum should be the guy moving forward. He's earned that. He has Minnesota playing with a little mojo on the offensive side of the ball. Has he made a few dumb mistakes? Sure, but he's a capable passer and a decent athlete.
The rejuvenated offense is complementing a defense that is special. Everson Griffen is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, and the talent around him isn't too far behind.
Minnesota can win almost with defense alone. However, this year's version of the team doesn't have to.
When the Vikings can run the ball the way they did with Latavius Murray against the Ravens—and I'm not sure Murray is even 100 percent yet—they're tough to beat. It's time we start considering the Vikings one of the best teams in football.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week's Ranking: 1
The biggest concern for the Kansas City Chiefs this season came to the forefront Thursday night.
The defense gives up too many long plays, plain and simple. The Raiders found too many easy completions, and it's almost inexcusable that the Chiefs weren't able to pressure Derek Carr. Kansas City is too talented up front to finish a game in which the opposing quarterback attempted 52 passes with zero sacks.
The other question for the Chiefs moving forward involves the offense. Can the Chiefs find other ways to win when the offense isn't getting chunk yardage with big runs, speed sweeps and trick plays? Can the Chiefs win games with pure drop-back passing?
This is a legitimate question. Alex Smith seemed to fall back into conservative mode against Oakland, and it hurt the team. Now, Smith had a solid game; however, there were a few opportunities to strike down the field that he missed.
The Chiefs need to find some consistency on offense, they need to start eliminating big plays on defense, and they need to do a better job of disrupting things with their defensive front. Otherwise, Kansas City could be staring down an end to the season similar to last year's.
3. New England Patriots
Last Week's Ranking: 4
This is the New England Patriots team we've been waiting to see. The defense is getting better and better, and it was great against the Atlanta Falcons. There were no blown assignments, the unit was strong on third down, and much of Atlanta's production came after the game was no longer competitive.
This was a defensive struggle early, but as usual, Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels got a feel for how they were being defended and adjusted. Eventually, they had their way with the Atlanta defense.
It was a productive day for New England's ground game too. If the Patriots can continue running well, watch out because Brady is on fire. These last two years have been his best since 2007.
The Patriots might have endured some early-season struggles, but they're turning it around. They're without question one of the best teams in football. Shocker.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week's Ranking: 5
The Pittsburgh Steelers have their mojo flowing. Perhaps the five-interception performance against Jacksonville was what Pittsburgh needed to kick things into gear.
The game against Cincinnati was close early. However, the Steelers took over midway through the second quarter and never looked back. Le'Veon Bell was special, and he imposed his will on the defense. Ben Roethlisberger chipped in with 14 completions, 224 yards and two TDs.
This is who the Steelers need to be moving forward. They need to ride a run-first offense that trusts the talent on the defensive side of the ball. Roethlisberger can make a few big throws a game to keep the defense honest and in clutch situations. However, the Steelers have no reason to go pass-happy and turn things into a shootout.
Pittsburgh's defense might be the best in football, and the team should be content to shorten games and let its superior talent come out on top. This is a great formula for the playoffs against teams like the Chiefs and Patriots.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week's Ranking: 2
This Eagles offense is merely average. When you have one of the best players in the NFL as your quarterback, however, you get a top-notch unit.
Wentz is unreal, and after Monday night, he's an MVP frontrunner. His running and downfield throwing are as good as it gets, and he's a big, strong presence in the pocket.
The Eagles defense was tremendous against Washington and not even at full strength. Having the best defensive player in the NFL, Fletcher Cox, certainly helps. The defensive line is arguably the best in the NFL as well. The secondary isn't the best, but with a strong front seven and Jim Schwartz dialing up plays, the Philly defense gets it done.
Philadelphia has announced itself to the world as one of the league's top teams. One thing to watch going forward, though, is the loss of offensive tackle Jason Peters. If he's indeed done for the year, it will be huge.