NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 9?
A lot of people might think that because I'm a former NFL quarterback, I'm all about the offense. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, there's nothing I love more than a game that involves hard-hitting, technically sound defense.
I've been around some tremendous defenders in my time, ever since I was a kid. My dad played with one of the most physically gifted, game-wrecking defensive players of all time in Lawrence Taylor.
What's amazing is that now every single NFL team seems to have a player as special as Taylor somewhere on its defense. As was the case during Taylor's time, though, the most successful teams are capable of winning with defense.
Just take a look at some of the top teams in the NFL this season. While the Philadelphia Eagles are scoring points because of quarterback Carson Wentz, they're closing out games with a dominant defensive front. The Pittsburgh Steelers just won a critical Sunday night game thanks to some superb red-zone defense. The New England Patriots look like a far superior team than the one we saw at the beginning of the season. Why? Their defense is improving.
As we head into the second half of the season, defensive play is going to make or break the teams at the top, and it's going to separate the real contenders from the rest of the pack. With this in mind, here's how I view the NFL heading into Week 9.
You can check out last week's rankings here.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last Week's Ranking: 32
Give the Cleveland Browns a little credit for again hanging with a great team. Cleveland isn't in the same class as the Minnesota Vikings, but the Browns put up a fight and even took a lead into halftime.
The Browns defense is something to admire, especially the front seven. It keeps Cleveland in games and is going to make things tough on opponents moving forward. Ultimately, though, this team is too offensively challenged.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer still makes too many mistakes and misses too many slam-dunk throws for my liking. The Browns aren't talented enough to overcome multiple turnovers. Even though the defense is good, it isn't the type that will win games on its own.
Cleveland needs more out of its offense if the Browns are going to get some wins. The Browns are stuck in a tough spot because coach Hue Jackson is so worried about Kizer's psyche, he's been too conservative. Instead of going for the win, Jackson has been trying to manage the quarterback position.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week's Ranking: 31
Ouch. That's all I can say about the San Francisco 49ers right now. This is a team that played almost everyone close for the early portion of the season but has been blown out the past two weeks. That's concerning because it could mean the team is starting to fall apart.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard's rookiness showed against the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw a slant behind the receiver, had it tipped and picked. He then threw an out route behind the receiver that was picked and returned for a score.
San Francisco's defense held up well against the Eagles, but the offense was truly overpowered. The offense has held the team back on multiple occasions this season. If the 49ers cannot find some consistency on that side of the ball—and some better play from the quarterback position—wins are going to be hard to find.
30. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week's Ranking: 30
I fully expected the Indianapolis Colts to bounce back from last week's embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Colts hung in against the Cincinnati Bengals. Ultimately, though, Indianapolis doesn't have enough firepower on either side of the ball to outlast talented teams like Cincinnati.
When the Colts appeared to have the game in the bag, a tipped pass turned into a pick-six and gave Cincinnati the game.
Jacoby Brissett made some terrific plays, as he has done all year. However, he also had some critical miscues. That, too, has been a regular occurrence.
Indianapolis' biggest weakness, though, is its pass defense. The Colts give up too many long plays, and that's going to be the team's Achilles' heel all year long. Without Andrew Luck—and there's no guarantee he comes back this season—the Colts cannot afford to get into shootouts.
The Colts aren't dominant in any aspect of the game, and they have to play mistake-free football in order to have a chance.
29. New York Giants
Last Week's Ranking: 29
The New York Giants are a disappointment. There's no sugar-coating it. Offensively and defensively, the team has been lacking.
The Giants defense hasn't been the dominant unit we saw in 2016. That defense was capable of winning games on its own. This one hasn't been. Offensively, New York doesn't have enough creativity to keep opposing defenses off-balance.
Obviously, losing guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall has left the Giants with few playmakers on offense. Those injuries and the simple scheme are a season-killing combination—especially with the defense underwhelming.
28. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week's Ranking: 28
It's hard to know what to think of the Arizona Cardinals. They're all over the place on a week-to-week basis. One thing I can tell you is that the Cardinals aren't one of the better teams in the NFL.
Is Arizona going to fall apart with Drew Stanton under center instead of Carson Palmer? No. What we're going to see, though, is more of what we've been seeing—an inconsistent offense.
There are some playmakers on offense and defense, so that makes Arizona dangerous. However, this isn't a playoff team. There are too many holes on the roster, and the Cardinals don't play disciplined football. The Cardinals are what they are. They're a 3-4 team, and at the end of the year, they'll probably be hovering right around .500.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week's Ranking: 27
This Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense isn't as explosive as we expected it to be coming into the season. That's the first thing that stands out. In addition, Jameis Winston and his penchant for turnovers is an issue on a week-to-week basis.
Against the Carolina Panthers, Winston's fumble and his first interception were both huge turning points in the game. The Buccaneers aren't as productive as they maybe should be with so many weapons, and they're compounding the problem with turnovers.
Defensively, Tampa was solid against Carolina. I didn't expect the Buccaneers to slow down the Panthers the way they did, but having Kwon Alexander back in the lineup has provided a jolt on that side of the ball. The defense was put in some tough situations because of the offensive turnovers, and the Buccaneers couldn't recover. Overall, though, the defense isn't good enough to win games on its own.
When you're an average football team and you consistently turn it over, you're going to lose more than you win.
26. Oakland Raiders
Last Week's Ranking: 22
After the first drive of the game happened, I thought that perhaps the Oakland Raiders offense was back. However, that was pretty much it for the next three quarters. It totally disappeared for a long stretch, which has been a distressing trend this season.
Right now, the Raiders aren't playing well enough to overcome mistakes. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington both lost fumbles, and that was too much. The Raiders defense isn't talented enough to stop teams when they do get short fields.
There's too much talent for this offense to be playing the way it has been this season. Maybe we give Derek Carr a bit of a pass and shouldn't, because his inconsistency has been part of the problem. Defensively, the talent isn't there.
This isn't the same Raiders team we saw last year, not by a long shot. Perhaps moving on from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave—who oversaw the sixth-ranked offense in the NFL last season—was a mistake.
25. New York Jets
Last Week's Ranking: 21
The New York Jets played a good game against the Atlanta Falcons. I still admire what the Jets do on the defensive side of the ball, especially on the defensive front. It's not dominant, though, and it's going to have a tough time taking over against teams like Atlanta.
The Jets were fortunate that Matt Ryan and Alex Mack fumbled two quarterback-center exchanges. It made the defense look a little better than it was on the stat sheet.
Jets quarterback Josh McCown played well for the most part in some rough conditions. He seems to be finding some real chemistry with receiver Robby Anderson as his go-to playmaker. McCown has actually played very well this season, and the Jets have chances in games because of him.
Special teams, though, has been an issue for New York. On Sunday, for example, a dropped punt led to a Falcons field goal and a five-point lead. That was huge with the game winding down.
The Jets aren't a playoff team, but they're going to be a pain in the ass all year because of the defense.
24. Green Bay Packers
Last Week's Ranking: 24
The bye week came at the perfect time for the Green Bay Packers. With Aaron Rodgers out, the Packers need the time to devise a new offense around Brett Hundley at quarterback. They're going to have to come up with a new formula on offense and as a team in general.
I don't think Green Bay is going to be able to survive the loss of Rodgers, though. The Packers don't have the talent to overcome losing the greatest signal-caller of all time. They don't even have the overall talent to play a balanced game the way they tried to do with Hundley under center in Week 7.
This is a team that has relied on Rodgers, and it cannot possibly expect Hunley to do the things Rodgers does.
23. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week's Ranking: 26
The Baltimore Ravens deserve a lot of credit for continuing to battle. The team has some key injuries, and the offense is limited. Yet, the Ravens were able to take it to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.
Thursday night was a typical win for this team. The defense played extremely well, forcing turnovers and helping provide the offense with some favorable situations. The offense as a whole is still concerning because Baltimore doesn't run or throw the ball with any sort of consistency.
Losing quarterback Joe Flacco to a concussion isn't going to help matters.
Baltimore's defense is going to keep the team in games because it can shut down average and below-average offenses like Miami's. It's not good enough to completely carry the team week in and week out, though.
The Ravens are a middle-of-the-pack team.
22. Chicago Bears
Last Week's Ranking: 25
The Chicago Bears are a team on the rise. They nearly knocked off one of the best teams in football in Week 8, and the Bears' performance against the New Orleans Saints was telling. No lead is safe with this Bears defense on the field, because that defense will cause turnovers and can put Chicago back in games.
The Bears stripped Mark Ingram when the Saints were trying to put the game away. But some rookie mistakes from Mitchell Trubisky ended up costing the team.
I do like a lot of what Trubisky is doing, though. He's athletic, he's keeping his cool in the pocket, and he can make all the throws. There just isn't a lot of talent around Trubisky to help boost the passing game.
Chicago got unlucky with tight end Zach Miller's overturned touchdown too. Miller caught the ball, rolled over and then dropped the ball because he was hurt. That might have cost the Bears a chance to win and to get to 4-4.
Yes, I'm moving Chicago up after a loss, but that's because I like where this team is going. The Bears may not be going to the playoffs, but man, they're going to be tough to beat.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week's Ranking: 23
It was a bit surprising to see the Colts move the ball on Cincinnati the way they did on Sunday. The Bengals have a very talented defense that usually does a better job of getting off the field. In the end, though, it was the defense that bailed Cincinnati out with Carlos Dunlap's pick-six.
The struggles we've seen from the Cincinnati offense this season are concerning. There are too many weapons and too much talent for the Bengals to only be producing 276 yards against a defense like Indianapolis'.
The Bengals don't do enough on offense. It's not about the players, it's about a scheme that is too simple. When looking purely at talent, Cincinnati should be one of the better teams in the AFC. If the Bengals don't figure out how to add some new wrinkles to the offense, though, it's going to be a struggle from week to week.
20. Miami Dolphins
Last Week's Ranking: 17
Thursday's blowout loss to the Ravens should end all conversation about who should be Miami's quarterback once Jay Cutler is healthy.
Of course, you can't put all of the blame on Matt Moore. The Dolphins were physically dominated all game long in all phases. That was a bit surprising. I doubt anyone expected a pretty game, but the Dolphins offense and defense were both atrocious.
Miami isn't going away, though. It's going to stay relevant all season, and it still might sneak into the postseason. Let's not forget the Dolphins are only 4-3, and no team in the AFC has fewer than two losses right now.
There just isn't anything elite about the team. A lot of wins and losses are going to be settled by the week-to-week matchups, and that isn't the mark of a title contender.
19. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week's Ranking: 20
The Los Angeles Chargers easily could have won in New England, but simple mistakes doomed them. You cannot go to Foxborough and run backward for a safety or have the ball slip out of your quarterback's hands for a fumble and expect to win.
The Chargers have no one to blame but themselves. Yes, they got unlucky with a poor OPI call, but the officials didn't decide the game. New England was not on, the Chargers defense played well enough to win, but L.A. blew it. That's disheartening for a team that had won three in a row and could have gotten back into the playoff picture with a big road win.
Still, I like a lot of what I've seen from the Chargers this season. The defense is getting better against the run. The pass defense is going to be solid against most quarterbacks not named Tom Brady because of a phenomenal pass rush.
We know, of course, that Philip Rivers and Co. are capable of moving the ball on offense. Los Angeles is not going to let its season die easily.
18. Washington Redskins
Last Week's Ranking: 9
The Washington Redskins fought hard against the Dallas Cowboys, and they deserve a lot of credit for that given the startling amount of injuries the team has sustained. Really, you can blame the loss on two special teams plays—a blocked kick that was returned into the red zone and a fumbled kick return.
If not for those two special teams gaffes, Washington may have won.
Considering all the injuries on the roster—all over the offensive line, Josh Norman, now Jordan Reed—it was surprising the Redskins hung in against Dallas as long as they did.
The other concerning thing is that Washington is built around Kirk Cousins and the passing attack, but it isn't getting production from the outside. Receivers Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor have consistently disappointed. The Redskins need all of their skill guys playing better moving forward.
This is still a good football team, but surviving so many injuries is going to prove difficult with a tough schedule on the horizon. As a result, the Redskins have taken a tumble in the rankings.
17. Tennessee Titans
Last Week's Ranking: 19
The Tennessee Titans spent the bye week sitting at 4-3. While I believe they're a good team, I don't think they're a great one. There isn't anything this team does that is special, with the possible exception of running the ball—and even that is only when the ground game is clicking.
The question remains whether the Titans can get enough out of Marcus Mariota and the pass game when the ground attack is working as it should be. Tennessee hasn't been as dominant running the ball as last year, and that has caused some struggles.
Defensively, the Titans are merely average. They're not horrible against the run or the pass, but they're not great. The Titans could be a playoff team, but they could also easily finish right around .500.
16. Denver Broncos
Last Week's Ranking: 12
At some point, you are what you are as an NFL team. The Denver Broncos are the team that somehow finds a way to turn the ball over every week. The Denver defense is special, but the offense and special teams manage to screw things up over and over.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian should be worried. His job will officially be evaluated this week. Denver has the defensive talent and enough offensive weapons to make a deep playoff run, but Siemian seems to be holding the team back.
If the Broncos don't figure out how to fix their problems quickly, their season is going to slip away.
15. Detroit Lions
Last Week's Ranking: 16
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is amazing. He's one of the greatest throwers of the football in NFL history, and some of the passes he makes are jaw-dropping. He led the offense up and down the field against the Steelers but couldn't get the ball into the end zone.
Getting stopped on 4th-and-short near the goal line twice will cost you big against a team like Pittsburgh.
Detroit's defense swarmed to the ball against Pittsburgh, and it did a great job of limiting Le'Veon Bell on the ground. However, the Lions' pass defense—which has been a concern all year—allowed some big plays in the passing game.
Detroit is a good football team. Unfortunately, the Lions are not balanced enough on offense. There's too much pressure on Stafford, and the defense overall is merely average. There are not enough playmakers on this roster, but the Lions should remain alive in the wild-card race.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week's Ranking: 15
The Jacksonville Jaguars have more raw defensive talent than any other team in football, and they just added Marcell Dareus.
The question moving forward is whether the offense can be consistent enough to beat the top teams in the NFL. Can we trust Blake Bortles consistently enough to win games when the Jaguars cannot run the ball? Bortles delivered against the Colts in Week 7, but this hasn't always been the case.
Leonard Fournette getting healthy coming out of the bye week is going to be huge for Jacksonville. They need him to be the focal point and the workhorse of the offense.
13. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week's Ranking: 14
Self-inflicted wounds by the Falcons made their game with the Jets a little closer than it probably should have been. It also didn't help that the weather was bad. Because of the speed of Atlanta and the way the Falcons want to fly around on both sides of the ball, the weather was really an aid for New York.
We've all been critical of the Falcons offense this season, because it hasn't been as good as last year's incarnation. This is still one of the 10 best offenses in the NFL, though. The Atlanta defense has tremendous speed and is one of the better units in the league because of it.
Atlanta has the talent on both sides of the ball to win most of the games they should. The Falcons haven't been playing their best games in recent weeks, but they're going to be in the playoff conversation all season.
12. Houston Texans
Last Week's Ranking: 11
Deshaun Watson is a superstar. That's all there is to say about it. He's in the conversation as one of the league's best playmakers already. Unfortunately, he is still a rookie and will make novice mistakes. His two costly interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks were examples of that—no, I'm not counting his third pick at the end of the game, as he had no choice but to heave the ball downfield.
Houston's offense has found something special with Watson. The Texans are now dangerous on that side of the ball and are capable of scoring points and putting up yards with anyone.
Unfortunately, the defense isn't as good as it has been in years past because of the injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
I do question Houston's game plan against the Seahawks. It was repeatedly burned on play-action passes by a team that couldn't run. Had the Texans backed off and defended Russell Wilson and the pass game, the outcome may have been very different.
Houston let the Seahawks off the hook by being overaggressive on defense, but this is a team that can rebound and stay in play in the AFC South.
11. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week's Ranking: 18
The Seahawks can never get enough credit for their will to fight, compete and overcome adversity. This is a new Seattle team, and the Seahawks are battling to win with a new formula.
This is no longer the smashmouth Seahawks team we saw in previous years. This is becoming a team where the offensive game plan is to let Wilson drop back and make magic on every play. That's the team's best path to offensive success, and that's what we saw against the Texans.
Like Watson, Wilson is one of the best playmakers in the NFL. Seattle has weapons on the outside, and when Wilson is able to play pitch-and-catch with them, the Seahawks are dangerous.
The defense is still good, but it isn't as dominant as we had become accustomed to over the last four or five years. This is a good team, though it isn't elite. Yet, the Seahawks seem to find ways to get better as seasons progress, so maybe they'll be elite by the time the season comes to an end.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week's Ranking: 13
When analyzing the NFL, we often look past the third phase of the game, special teams. The blocked kick and forced fumble against Washington were both huge.
Also huge was the fact the Cowboys played the game perfectly. In some miserable weather conditions, they leaned on running back Ezekiel Elliott and limited the weather's impact on the passing game. Sure, Dak Prescott made some plays through the air, but this was about Dallas imposing its physical will on the opponent.
The Dallas defense is still a concern, and limiting the time the secondary is exposed would behoove the Cowboys. The defensive front, though, has been a strength since the return of David Irving. He and Maliek Collins are a force in the middle. Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford can rush from the end spots. It's a really good front four, and it's capable of creating a lot of disruption.
Even with a good defensive line, the Cowboys need their offense to carry the team. The good news is we're finally starting to see the offense we saw last season.
9. Carolina Panthers
Last Week's Ranking: 8
Despite some recent stumbles, the Panthers are still one of the better teams in the NFL. They lost in consecutive weeks in tough, physical games. They got back on track with a win over the AFC South rival Buccaneers in Week 8.
The biggest issue with Carolina right now is that the running game is underwhelming. The Panthers are better when they can overpower you on the ground, so finding a spark in the run game should be a priority. Quarterback Cam Newton still makes some questionable decisions and looks for the deep throw too often. If he can cut that out, the Panthers will be better off.
The Panthers defense is special. The front four is amazing, and having Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis behind it makes life miserable for opposing offenses. The secondary isn't elite, but it is well-coached and plays within the scheme well.
I fully expect the Panthers to be in the NFC playoffs.
8. Buffalo Bills
Last Week's Ranking: 10
The Buffalo Bills don't beat themselves and they make opponents work for everything when on defense. What head coach Sean McDermott is doing with that unit is incredible. Aside from A.J. Green, the Bills have contained the other team's best skill-position player.
The Bills shut down the Raiders all game and forced four turnovers. One of those turnovers came on special teams, and that shows a three-phase win.
It's still amazing to see what running back LeSean McCoy is able to do on the field. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also deserves more credit than he gets. He is playing the way McDermott wants from his signal-caller. He makes some plays with his legs, takes care of the ball and makes the occasional deep completion.
The Bills aren't one of the elite teams in the NFL, but they're certainly a playoff-caliber one.
7. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week's Ranking: 6
The Los Angeles Rams have playmakers on both sides of the football. They also have two of the best coaches in head coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. This might be the best coaching combo in the NFL.
The Rams offense is almost unstoppable. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff is playing well and capable of making a few big plays each game. He isn't in Carson Wentz's class, but he does give L.A. a chance to win every week.
Because of the coaching of McVay and the weapons around Goff, the Rams are hard to stop. It's no longer a question of whether L.A. is for real. The Rams are the real deal, and we're going to see that all year long.
6. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week's Ranking: 5
This is not the same old Vikings team. Minnesota has a legit offense this year, regardless of who is in at quarterback. The Vikings weren't at their best offensively in Week 8, but that Cleveland defense is really good.
Give the Vikings credit for surviving the Browns. It was a trap game, in London, and Minnesota survived. The Vikings stumbled early, but the defense allowed just three second-half points to get back on top. Everyone expected the Vikings to beat Cleveland—hell, the Vikings probably expected to—but expectations and reality aren't the same thing.
The Vikings are on track to make the postseason and to be a threat there. Minnesota's defense is special, and the offense is good enough to take the team deep into the playoffs or even win a Super Bowl.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week's Ranking: 4
This wasn't a pretty win for the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, it was similar to some of the games we saw last year, where the defense and special teams found ways to carry the struggling offense.
Kansas City has playmakers all over its roster. The defense was better against the Broncos than it has been the past couple of weeks. The Chiefs have to keep improving on defense if they hope to beat a team like the Steelers or the Patriots in the postseason.
The offense can be good, but nights like Monday against playoff-caliber defenses are concerning. The offense stalled often. The Broncos offense simply stalled more.
Still, Kansas City remains one of the best teams in the league.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week's Ranking: 2
I still worry about the Steelers using this zone defense against top-tier teams and elite quarterbacks. Stafford carved them up on Sunday night, but that zone defense is the reason it is difficult to get touchdowns instead of field goals against them. The Steelers are disciplined in coverage and strong up front.
Pittsburgh survived the game because of two excellent goal-line stands. I just don't know they can survive against the Bradys, the Breeses and the Wentzs of the world.
Pittsburgh's passing game is coming along, and JuJu Smith-Schuster is becoming a legitimate star. What makes the Steelers offense truly dangerous, though, is that it stays patient and leans on the run even when the ground game isn't working early.
The Steelers know who they are as a team. They play sound, disciplined defense, they run the ball, and they get a few deep shots out of Ben Roethlisberger each game. That's enough to beat most teams.
3. New Orleans Saints
Last Week's Ranking: 7
Drew Brees and the Saints offense played the perfect game against a stout Chicago defense. Brees didn't take too many risks, and he picked apart the Bears secondary when the opportunities were there. The run game also did its job for the most part, aside from two Mark Ingram fumbles.
The beauty of this year's offense is that there is balance. The Saints can lean on Brees and the passing game. They can also turn around and beat you with the power run game.
We know about the Saints offense, though. It's been carrying the team for years. What's different this year is that the Saints defense is good. It's not great, it's not one of the five best, but it's no longer a liability. It's solid at all three levels.
Because the defense keeps improving, the Saints have become one of the best teams in the NFC. New Orleans can be dangerous come playoff time too because Brees is always going to give this team a shot to win. The improved defense can keep Brees within striking distance against most teams.
2. New England Patriots
Last Week's Ranking: 3
The Patriots defense is getting better and better every week. Other than Melvin Gordon's big run, it played well. With Brady and Co. on the other side, New England is beginning to look dangerous.
The Patriots should focus on the run game a little bit more because it would help the defense rest and take pressure off Brady's shoulders. Still, this offense is special. Brady makes some incredible plays in the pocket, as he did sliding away from Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa on Sunday. New England also finds some creative ways to get people open downfield.
The Patriots may have started the season shaky, but they're again one of the top teams in the NFL. Expect them to be there at the end of the year too.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week's Ranking: 1
Philadelphia, plain and simple, is the best team in football.
This wasn't the Eagles' best game. Wentz seemed a bit off. Yet, the Eagles ultimately got the job done against a team they were supposed to beat. The defense made some big plays to help take over the game. When the 49ers got a touchdown to bring the game within two scores, the offense did what it's done often this season and answered.
The Eagles are hot right now, and they know what their winning formula is. They have a balanced offense, can get a few long plays from Wentz and can lean on a dominant front seven. Even when Philadelphia isn't playing at its best, it is hard to beat.