2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 8?
Seven weeks in, the 2021 NFL season is truly taking shape—in ways we both did and did not expect.
We figured that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills would be good, and they are, although the latter got to spend Week 7 resting and ruminating over the perils of slipping on 4th-and-inches. We figured that the New York Jets and Houston Texans would be bad, and they definitely are. The latter is almost comically so with Davis Mills under center.
But there has also been plenty we didn't expect. Those surprises can best be summed up in one sentence.
After seven weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals are higher in these power rankings than the Baltimore Ravens. And the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Seattle Seahawks. And the Kansas City Chiefs.
After a wild Week 7 in which those Bengals posted the most impressive win in the league, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Brent Sobleski, Brad Gagnon and Gary Davenport have once again gathered to rank the NFL's teams from Nos. 32 to 1.
The king of this particular mountain remains the same. But there's a new team leading this list off.
Fans of said team aren't laughing.
32. Houston Texans (1-6)
Last Week: 31
Week 7 Result: Lost at Arizona 31-5
For a time, it appeared as though the Texans might give the undefeated Cardinals a challenge Sunday.
That time did not last long. Houston recorded the game's first five points and then did not score again.
It marked the fourth time in the last five games that the Texans lost by 15 or more points and the third time in the last four games that the team scored fewer than six points. In other words, Houston is not a good team, but head coach David Culley told reporters after the game that you won't see any quit from his players.
"We are going to stay together," Culley said. "There is a process we are going through. We don't like where we are right now."
That "process" has involved six straight defeats. After managing just 160 total yards against the Redbirds, only two teams are averaging fewer yards per game in 2021. The Jets are the only squad averaging fewer points per contest. And with the 6-1 Los Angeles Rams coming to town in Week 8, things aren't likely to improve soon.
It won't help that there's likely to be nonstop Deshaun Watson trade speculation between now and the Nov. 2 trade deadline.
31. Detroit Lions (0-7)
Last Week: 32
Week 7 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Rams 28-19
You can't say Detroit didn't leave it on the field Sunday.
The winless Lions threw everything they had at Los Angeles—and we do mean everything. After scoring first, they stunned the Rams with an onside kick. Detroit went the fake-punt route twice. But thanks to a lack of ability to make stops and one exceedingly ill-timed interception in the red zone by Jared Goff, Week 7 ended in a loss.
To be fair, the team isn't as bad as its record suggests. Four of the losses have been by single digits, and Detroit has given the Ravens and Rams all they could handle. This squad probably isn't going to join its 2008 brethren in the annals of winless-dom.
But unless the Lions can knock off a flawed Philadelphia Eagles team next week at home, it's possible that fans will come to Ford Field on Thanksgiving still waiting to see Detroit notch its inaugural victory of 2021.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5)
Last Week: 30
Week 7 Result: Bye Week
The Jacksonville Jaguars entered their off week feeling a sensation they hadn't experienced in over a year: the exhilaration from winning a game.
After defeating the Miami Dolphins for their first victory since Week 1 of 2020, Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence told reporters that while getting that monkey off their back was good, stringing together more wins would be even better.
"It's been tough, we hate losing," Lawrence said. "So to get a win, especially in that fashion, it feels good. We're getting better every week, and I love the momentum we have right now. It's exciting for sure."
Unfortunately, that won't be easy. Starting with a Week 8 trip to Seattle, Jacksonville plays three straight games against teams that made the playoffs last year. And this team is sporting the No. 27 scoring offense and No. 26 scoring defense in the NFL.
29. New York Jets (1-5)
Last Week: 29
Week 7 Result: Lost at New England 54-13
There is no bottom for the Jets. Just when you think that things can't get any worse for the beleaguered franchise, they do.
Gang Green came out of their bye week and got annihilated by the AFC East rival Patriots, allowing their most points since 1979. But injury was added to insult when rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was forced from the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.
Wilson told reporters that he injured his PCL, but the extent of the damage won't be known until further testing Monday.
"At first, it wasn't necessarily like a painful thing," he said. "I felt a pop. I felt a twist. So you kind of know when it's different than just getting some sort of bruise or getting landed on. I knew something had happened."
Regardless of whether it's Flacco or Mike White starting in Week 8, an already dismal 2021 season is likely about to become that much more depressing for the Jets.
28. Miami Dolphins (1-6)
Last Week: 25
Week 7 Result: Lost vs. Atlanta 30-28
The Dolphins headed into the 2021 season with some momentum after narrowly missing the playoffs and winning 10 games a year ago.
Now, after losing on the final play for the second straight week and dropping their sixth consecutive game, any tattered shreds of that momentum are gone.
Miami has been heavily linked to Deshaun Watson in recent weeks. But mortgaging the team's future to obtain Watson isn't going to fix what ails Miami. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa had a pair of picks against Atlanta, but he also threw four touchdowns and brought the Dolphins back to take the lead late.
It wasn't Tagovailoa's fault that the Miami defense allowed 397 yards of offense and couldn't hold the lead late.
"Frankly, if I were Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, I wouldn't want general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores making personnel decisions that could impact the franchise for years to come," Davenport said. "Because at the rate things are going, neither of them is going to be in Miami in 2022."
27. Washington Football Team (2-5)
Last Week: 27
Week 7 Result: Lost at Green Bay 24-10
After losing yet again in Week 7 (the team's third straight defeat and fourth in five weeks), Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen wasn't in an excuse-making mood.
"We're such a better football team than what our record says," Allen told reporters. "But at the end of the day, you can only go by what we've done. We're what, 2-5? That's just who we are. Losing teams find ways to lose games, and winning teams find ways to win games."
Allen is spot-on about that last part. On Sunday, Washington amassed 430 yards of total offense—126 more than the Packers. But facing one of the worst red-zone defenses in the league, the team made four trips inside of the Green Bay 20-yard line and came away with a touchdown exactly zero times.
The WFT offense continues to come up short in pressure situations. A defense that was supposed to be a strength ranks dead last in points allowed per game (30).
Put it all together, and you have arguably the NFC's most disappointing team in 2021. And there's little reason to think a turnaround is coming anytime soon.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (2-5)
Last Week: 24
Week 7 Result: Lost at Las Vegas 33-22
The Eagles are officially in free-fall.
After falling to the Raiders in Las Vegas on Sunday, they have dropped five of six since blowing out the Falcons in Week 1. This game wasn't as close as the final score suggests.
"I haven't been doing a good enough job, clearly," quarterback Jalen Hurts told reporters after the defeat. "We've been losing games. We believe in ourselves, we believe in our coaches, we believe in everything we have going on here in Philadelphia. It's a matter of executing. It's something we've yet to do on a consistent basis."
Yes, the offense has struggled, especially early in games. But part of that has been uninspired play-calling, and the Philly defense was torched by the Raiders for 442 total yards.
At 2-5, the Eagles are in a three-way tangle of terrible with Washington and the New York Giants in the NFC East. And at the rate things are going, some are speculating Nick Sirianni's first year as head coach may be his last.
25. New York Giants (2-5)
Last Week: 28
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Carolina 25-3
The Giants are not a good football team, nor will their postseason drought be ending in 2021. But it still had to feel good to blast the Carolina Panthers in a dominant effort on both sides of the ball.
Big Blue quarterback Daniel Jones didn't post gaudy stats with 203 passing yards and a score. But he also didn't turn the ball over, and he made plays when he needed to, including a 16-yard catch on a trick play. The defense turned in easily its best effort of the season, holding the Panthers to just 173 yards of total offense.
Jones told reporters after the game that he's hopeful the victory will serve as a springboard.
"Yeah, I think that's an important win for us," Jones said. "You know, we've had some tough games and some close games, but you know, we believe in who we are as a team, and what we're doing as a team and where we're going."
Building on the win won't be easy. Next week, the Giants will face a desperate Chiefs team in Kansas City, followed by a home date with the AFC West-leading Raiders.
"When healthy, the Giants have the ability to be a better-than-average team," Gagnon said. "It was encouraging to see them destroy the Panthers despite a slew of critical injuries and even more encouraging to see Jones bounce back from a turnover-fest in Week 6. The Giants could do some damage in the second half of the season."
24. Chicago Bears (3-4)
Last Week: 21
Week 7 Result: Lost at Tampa Bay 38-3
Justin Fields needs a hug.
The Chicago Bears rookie quarterback had a game to forget and then some Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with 184 passing yards, three interceptions and two lost fumbles in the blowout loss.
Despite posting possibly the ugliest performance from a quarterback this year, Fields told reporters after the game that there won't be any head-hanging:
"Times like this, times when you get beat, blown out, you've got two choices. You can either say, that's it, I'm going to stop working, I'm going to stop playing, or you can go the other route and say I'm going to keep working. I know me, myself, no matter how many picks I throw, no matter how many Ls we take, I'm going to keep going. That's just the fact."
We knew there were going to be growing pains with Fields, who has also been sacked an NFL-high 22 times. But Sobleski fears for the 22-year-old's future if this continues.
"Somebody find Fields some help," he said. "This year's 11th overall draft pick needs the reps because he's clearly the team's most talented quarterback option, but the Bears offensive line is a disaster, and the receivers aren't helping the situation.
"Aside from the emergence of fellow rookie Khalil Herbert, the Bears offense has been stuck in neutral, and the coaching staff hasn't helped with its approach to calling games. Chicago better hope something changes before a promising young signal-caller is ruined."
23. Atlanta Falcons (3-3)
Last Week: 26
Week 7 Result: Won at Miami 30-28
When the Falcons used the fourth overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft on Florida's Kyle Pitts, it was the earliest a tight end had ever been drafted in the modern era.
Over the past couple of weeks, Pitts has demonstrated why the Falcons made such a hefty investment in him.
He was a force in Atlanta's win over the Dolphins in Week 7, catching seven passes for 163 yards. It's not often that you see a tight end average over 23 yards per reception in a game.
The Falcons have quietly built a little momentum, winning two straight after a 1-3 start to get back to .500. And with the reeling Panthers next up, it's possible that a week from now the Falcons could have a winning record for the first time since finishing the 2017 season 10-6.
But before you start making postseason plans, it's worth pointing out that Atlanta's three wins are against teams that have combined for four victories this season.
22. Minnesota Vikings (3-3)
Last Week: 22
Week 7 Result: Bye Week
You'd be hard-pressed to find many pundits who would call the 2021 Minnesota Vikings a good football team. But after peeling off consecutive wins before the bye week, the Vikings are 3-3 and at least on the fringes of the NFC playoff hunt.
We're about to find out if these Vikings are any kind of a legitimate playoff contender. After the bye, they host the 5-1 Dallas Cowboys. Then comes a trip to Baltimore to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, a road game in Los Angeles against the Chargers and a home tilt with the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers.
It's a brutal stretch, but running back Dalvin Cook told reporters after last week's win that folks are looking at that gauntlet the wrong way.
"They've got to play us too," Cook said. "That's the thing when you look at it. Everybody is going to say, 'What about the other teams?' Well, what about the Vikings? ... We're a good team, too."
We'll know soon enough if Cook's assessment is at all accurate.
21. Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
Last Week: 20
Week 7 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 13-10
The Seattle Seahawks are done. Stick a fork in the 2021 season.
It's not just a matter of another sluggish loss at home, where the Seahawks are now 0-3. Or that at 2-5, Seattle sits four games back of second place in the NFC West. Or the fact that Seattle is looking at least one more game this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars before the bye (and the potential return of Russell Wilson from a broken finger).
It's that with Geno Smith under center, Seattle may not be able to beat the Jaguars—at home.
The Seahawks can't get going offensively. Seattle generated just 219 total yards of offense against the New Orleans Saints on Monday, with 84 of those yards on one pass to DK Metcalf. While the defense has been doing everything it can to keep the team in games, they aren't good enough to carry the team.
The bigger question may be what's next for the Seahawks, assuming they miss the playoffs after an uneasy 2021 offseason between the team and its star quarterback.
And it's one Seattle fans didn't expect to be asking before Halloween.
20. San Francisco 49ers (2-4)
Last Week: 19
Week 7 Result: Lost vs. Indianapolis 30-18
The San Francisco 49ers are in serious trouble.
They entered the 2021 campaign with aspirations of shaking off last year's injury-marred mess of a season and getting back to the playoffs. But after falling at home to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, the Niners have dropped four straight and have fallen way off the pace in the NFC West.
Winning the division is already a pipe dream. Getting to the playoffs isn't going to be easy.
However, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo told reporters that San Francisco isn't about to panic.
"The NFL is a crazy thing," Garoppolo said after the loss. "One week, you're on top. One week, you're at the bottom of it. Every team has its ups and downs. We're at the lower point right now. But we can fight back."
Sobleski doesn't advise hitting the panic button. But he does think if the team wants to turn the season around, Garoppolo has to sit.
"The 49ers had to a deal with an atmospheric river Sunday night—yeah, that's a new one—but the conditions only magnified the team's issues at the quarterback position," he said. "Garoppolo is too limited and can't be the type of playmaker San Francisco needs to elevate its offense. Head coach Kyle Shanahan didn't really commit to his veteran quarterback after the loss either. Once Trey Lance (knee) is healthy, he's the right choice to take the offensive reins."
19. Carolina Panthers (3-4)
Last Week: 17
Week 7 Result: Lost at Giants 25-3
Last Thursday, Carolina head coach Matt Rhule told reporters that he was 100 percent committed to Sam Darnold as the team's quarterback despite the Panthers dropping three straight games after a 3-0 start.
"I believe Sam is going to be a great quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, and I haven't done any work on anyone else,'' Rhule told reporters. "He's my focus, and I expect him to play his best football moving forward. I'm not looking anywhere else.''
A few days later, Rhule benched Darnold in favor of P.J. Walker in a game in which the Panthers had the fewest total yards and points of Rhule's tenure as head coach.
Granted, Darnold is hardly the only one to blame for Carolina's recent woes. But after throwing one interception over the first three games of the season, Darnold has seven over the last four. He was also flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone.
It's looking more and more like Darnold is more stopgap starter than solution for the Panthers' passing predicament.
"That's three consecutive losses to teams with losing records for the Panthers, and it looks like the Darnold era might already be coming to an end in Carolina," Gagnon wrote. "This team was a phony contender at 3-0, and not even the return of Christian McCaffrey is likely to change that. I wouldn't be surprised if they were to lose their next three or four games to pretty much bring an end to their 2021 season."
18. Denver Broncos (3-4)
Last Week: 18
Week 7 Result: Lost at Cleveland 17-14
With each passing week, it is becoming harder and harder to believe the Denver Broncos were ever 3-0.
After falling in ugly fashion to the Cleveland Browns' "B" team on Thursday, the Broncos have now dropped four straight. Injured quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (quad) struggled mightily to throw the ball, and the Broncos managed just 223 yards of offense.
However, the main people being pointed to as the main cause of Denver's swoon weren't on the field: head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Despite a clearly limited quarterback in a game that was close throughout, Shurmur ran the ball all of 14 times. The play calls were equal parts boring and predictable. And some, including Jon Heath of Broncos Wire, had seen enough prior to Thursday's matchup:
"With Shurmur running the offense last season, Denver averaged 20.2 points per game, the fifth-lowest average in the NFL. This year, the Broncos have averaged 21.0 points per game, less than a one-point improvement. Denver's players certainly deserve some of the blame, but when the play calling is questionable and the offensive scheme is underwhelming on a near-weekly basis, it falls on the coaching staff."
It's a hard position to dispute. And even harder to dispute if you watched the game.
17. Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
Last Week: 23
Week 7 Result: Won at San Francisco 30-18
The Indianapolis Colts have a pulse.
They started the 2021 season 0-3, but Sunday's soggy victory over the 49ers was the team's third win in four games. The Colts can get back to .500 at home against the Tennessee Titans next week and into the mix in the AFC South.
Sunday's game wasn't an especially pretty victory—playing in a driving rainstorm, neither team managed 300 yards of offense. But thanks to four takeaways and a few timely plays from veteran quarterback Carson Wentz, the Colts are one step closer to turning around another terrible start to the season.
"The Colts are a good defensive team with a punishing young running back in Jonathan Taylor," Davenport said. "And the return of all-everything offensive lineman Quenton Nelson on Sunday was a huge boost up front. With Wentz getting healthier and playing well, the Colts have what it takes to give the Titans a run for their money in the division."
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)
Last Week: 16
Week 7 Result: Bye Week
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't generally a hard team to figure out. For many years, most assumed heading into a new season that the Steelers would at the least be playoff contenders.
It's much more difficult in 2021. But entering the bye, Pittsburgh had scratched out a pair of victories to get back to .500.
The team has some things going for it. Running back Najee Harris has been as advertised as a rookie. The defense remains solid if not quite as stout as in years past. The unit is 12th in both yards and points allowed.
But there are problems as well. The offensive line is better than some expected, but it still isn't good. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a shell of his former self and can't challenge defenses down the field with any consistency.
Like so many of the teams taking Week 7 off, Pittsburgh is facing a season-defining stretch. Four of the team's next six games are against teams with winning records. Three are within the division, and two of those are on the road, including next week's trip to Cleveland.
15. New England Patriots (3-4)
Last Week: 16
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Jets 54-13
Last week, the Patriots took the one-loss Cowboys to overtime before eventually coming up short.
On Sunday, they took out their frustration on the hapless Jets.
New England's offense racked up a staggering 551 yards and peeled off chunk play after chunk play on the ground and through the air. The defense allowed fewer than 300 yards while adding two sacks and three takeaways.
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones lauded the effort, but he also cautioned that the team needs to start stringing good performances together.
"We've got to do that every time. It can't be a one-time thing," Jones told reporters.
"Dropping a fifty-burger on any NFL team is impressive," Davenport said, "even if that team is the lowly Jets. But two of New England's three wins are against Gang Green, and the third was against the one-win Texans. It's going to be hard to take this team seriously until it can beat someone who isn't terrible."
14. Kansas City Chiefs (3-4)
Last Week: 8
Week 7 Result: Lost at Tennessee 27-3
OK, it's time to seriously start worrying about the Kansas City Chiefs.
Until Sunday's blowout loss at Tennessee, the team had never failed to score a touchdown with Patrick Mahomes as its starting quarterback.
The 2021 Chiefs are abjectly awful defensively. They can't cover opposing receivers (26th in passing defense) and are tied for last in the NFL in sacks (eight).
But the offense's struggles are really bizarre. After three more turnovers Sunday, the Chiefs lead the league in giveaways.
At 3-4, the team is sitting behind both the Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West. And the question now isn't whether the Chiefs will once again win the division and make a deep playoff run. The question has become whether they will make the postseason at all.
"If almost any other team was playing the way Kansas City is, they'd be ranked a lot lower," Gagnon said. "I'm giving Mahomes, coach Andy Reid and Co. the benefit of the doubt, but it's fair to wonder if something is seriously wrong with the suddenly extremely mistake-prone Chiefs. They've dug a hell of a hole and don't deserve to be considered a top-10 team right now."
13. Cleveland Browns (4-3)
Last Week: 13
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Denver 17-14
The good news for the Browns is that thanks to 168 total yards and a score from running back D'Ernest Johnson, they were able to gut out a win over the Broncos to get to 4-3 on the season.
That's about the extent of the good news.
Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, but it has gotten ridiculous in Cleveland.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both out with calf injuries. Case Keenum started at quarterback because Baker Mayfield's left shoulder has a fractured humerus bone and a torn labrum. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was in and out of the game with a bad shoulder of his own. In Jarvis Landry's first game back from a stint on injured reserve, he injured his knee—again. Top cornerback Denzel Ward exited with a bad hamstring. Edge-rusher Myles Garrett spontaneously combusted.
OK, that last one didn't happened. But all of the injuries are just too much for one of our analysts.
"A few years ago, the Browns would have completely collapsed under the weight of these injuries," Davenport said. "The guts this team showed Thursday is admirable. But these Browns aren't going to win the AFC North. At this point, making the playoffs at all would be a feat."
"I'm not giving up on the Browns," Gagnon countered. "That wasn't a pretty showing Thursday, but it was mainly because of all their injuries. Beating a decent Broncos team on short rest under those circumstances was important. It might have even been a turning point for a team that, when healthy, has the talent to win the Super Bowl."
12. New Orleans Saints (4-2)
Last Week: 12
Week 7 Result: Won at Seattle 13-10
These are not the New Orleans Saints of old.
The 2021 New Orleans Saints do not pile up the style points on offense. Or the yards. The Saints entered Monday night's soggy affair in Seattle averaging the fourth-fewest yards per game in the league. Of the Saints 304 total yards in a three-point victory, running back Alvin Kamara accounted for 179.
The 2021 Saints play punishing defense. Entering Monday night, the Saints were surrendering the second-fewest yards per game on the ground and the fourth-fewest points per game. Outside of one long pass to DK Metcalf, Seattle's offense did next to nothing.
The 2021 Saints are also 4-2 and just one back in the loss column of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who visit the Superdome next week. That's followed by another home tilt against the Atlanta Falcons and a trip to face the surging Tennessee Titans.
How that stretch goes will go a long way toward determining whether the Saints are just one of many teams hunting for one of three wild card spots or maybe an actual threat to the Buccaneers in the division.
11. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2)
Last Week: 15
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Philadelphia 33-22
The Raiders rolled into Week 7's matchup with the Eagles short their top option in the passing game after tight end Darren Waller was a late scratch.
It didn't matter. After its first possession ended in a red-zone interception, Las Vegas scored on five straight drives to earn an emphatic win and move to 5-2 on the season.
It was the second win as many weeks following the departure of head coach Jon Gruden, who resigned after emails surfaced in which he used racist, anti-gay and misogynistic language. Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia credited quarterback Derek Carr for helping to hold the team together.
"We can all see the relationship that him and [offensive coordinator] Greg Olson have running this offense, it's just really coming to fruition," Bisaccia told reporters. "Off the field, Derek is the voice of the Raiders right now. The players always want to listen to him. ... He's a tremendous leader both on and off the field."
However, Sobleski believes Bisaccia deserves his share of the credit as well.
"Gruden's departure may have led the Raiders to a much brighter future on the field," he said. "The team is now 2-0 since Gruden left. More importantly, the locker room has seemingly rallied around Bisaccia. In a postgame interview Sunday, quarterback Derek Carr said, "[Bisaccia] has the pulse, he has the heartbeat and he's our leader. ... We would love for him to still be our head coach for the future."
The Raiders are entering their bye week at 5-2, in first place in the AFC West and as one of the bigger surprises in the AFC this year.
10. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Last Week: 5
Week 7 Result: Lost vs. Cincinnati 41-17
Fresh off throttling the Los Angeles Chargers, the surging Baltimore Ravens rode a five-game winning streak into Sunday's meeting with Cincinnati. Beat the Bengals, and the Ravens would be two up in the loss column on every other team in the AFC North.
That didn't happen. It was Baltimore's turn to get throttled, losing by the largest margin ever to the Bengals while falling into a first-place tie.
It was an ugly day all around. Offensively, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson completed less than half of his passes and was sacked five times. Defensively, Baltimore was gashed for a staggering 520 yards and 41 points.
"If I'm the Ravens," Davenport said, "I'm using the bye week to get the Colts on the phone and swing a deal for Marlon Mack. The only player on Baltimore's roster who can run the ball worth a darn is Lamar Jackson. And if Baltimore can't remedy that situation, it'll be the team's undoing."
9. Tennessee Titans (5-2)
Last Week: 11
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Kansas City 27-3
Despite a 4-2 record and being in first place in the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans weren't getting a lot of run entering Week 7 as a threat in the AFC.
After backing up last week's win over Buffalo with a beatdown of the two-time defending conference champions, that's apt to change.
For once, running back Derrick Henry didn't carry the team to victory. King Henry threw a touchdown but was limited to 86 yards on 29 carries. The hero(es) against the Kansas City Chiefs was Tennessee's embattled defense—a defense that ranks outside the top 20 in yards allowed.
You wouldn't know that from watching them against the Chiefs. Playing against one of the league's most explosive offenses, the Titans allowed three points and 334 yards while amassing three takeaways and four sacks.
"When the Titans play this well defensively and avoid turning it over, they can beat just about anybody," Davenport said. "Tennessee is easily the best team in the division, but for those who still doubt the Titans' validity as a contender in 2021, another 'prove-it' game looms in two weeks in Los Angeles against the one-loss Rams."
"In the last three weeks, they've outscored the Jaguars, Bills and Chiefs 98-53," Gagnon added. "And it wasn't as though they relied solely on Derrick Henry against Kansas City. Ryan Tannehill could be coming around after a tough start to the season, and Mike Vrabel is one of the best coaches in football. The Titans have a shot."
8. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)
Last Week: 9
Week 7 Result: Bye Week
The Los Angeles Chargers spent their bye week trying to accomplish an unenviable task—washing off the stink of the 34-6 beatdown the team received from the Ravens in Week 6.
After the loss, head coach Brandon Staley told reporters he's glad for the rest after a start to the season that included five games against teams that entered Week 7 .500 or better:
"I think that for me, this six-game stretch has been a really tough stretch. Our guys have earned a break. I know we didn't get to the bye feeling like we played our best ball, and it's tough no matter how you lose. Whether it's close or how it was yesterday, it's always going to be tough. What our team has done is they've always responded, no matter how the game's unfolded. Whether it's win, lose, what type of win, what type of loss, I felt like our approach has remained consistent. That's what you're hoping for as a coach, that the approach is consistent no matter what."
Things lighten up over the middle of the season. The Chargers don't play another team with a winning record until Week 13. But opponents like the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers aren't pushovers either, and there's little margin for error in a competitive AFC West.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
Last Week: 10
Week 7 Result: Won at Baltimore 41-17
In a Week 7 slate short on big-time contests, the marquee matchup was a battle for first place in the AFC North in Baltimore. The Ravens could open up a two-game lead in the division, while the Cincinnati Bengals had a chance to make a statement that they are contenders in the AFC.
Consider that statement made.
The Bengals didn't just beat the Ravens to move into first place in the division. Cincinnati blasted Baltimore by 24 points—its biggest margin of victory against the Ravens and the first time Cincy beat its divisional rivals since 2018.
Quarterback Joe Burrow was phenomenal, throwing for 416 yards and three scores. One of those touchdowns went to Ja'Marr Chase, who piled up 201 yards and set a rookie receiving record with 754 yards through seven games. The Bengals defense did its part, keeping Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in check while sacking him five times.
It was Cincinnati's most impressive victory in years. And if there was any question, it has been answered…
The 2021 Bengals are for real.
"Don't look now, but the Bengals are legit, and they're powered by the connection between Burrow and Chase," Sobleski said. "However, Cincinnati needed to pass a real test after its first four wins came against mediocre-to-poor opponents. The Ravens were the team to beat in the AFC North, and the Bengals manhandled them at their home stadium. The concerns found within the Bengals roster, specifically a shaky offensive line, haven't become the stumbling block expected, and Burrow is again playing like a No. 1 overall pick."
6. Dallas Cowboys (5-1)
Last Week: 6
Week 7 Result: Bye Week
The Dallas Cowboys were playing as well as any team in the NFC entering their bye week. Plenty of folks have gotten credit for that success, whether it's quarterback Dak Prescott or rookie edge-rusher Micah Parsons.
But in the opinion of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, one person who doesn't get enough credit for the 5-1 start is head coach Mike McCarthy.
"We're so well aligned as far as our approach and our system and the routine that we take each and every week that we're in a really, really good place," Moore told reporters.
Dallas has emerged as the runaway favorite in the NFC East, head and shoulders above the rest of the division. Dallas entered Week 7 pacing the league in both yards per game and points per game, and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has done a masterful job of remaking a Cowboys defense that was awful last year.
With three straight games coming up against teams with .500 records or worse, the Cowboys could be 8-1 when they travel to Kansas City on Nov. 21.
And the NFC East could already be all but won...if it isn't already.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-1)
Last Week: 7
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Washington 24-10
We're going to drop a knowledge bomb on you.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is pretty good at football.
On a day when the Packers managed 57 rushing yards on 15 carries, Rodgers carried the offense and propelled Green Bay to a sixth consecutive victory. Rodgers threw for 274 yards and three scores with a passer rating north of 125, and he spread the wealth—wide receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan all eclipsed 60 receiving yards with a score.
The Packers also got an opportunistic effort from the defense, which notched two turnovers and four sacks while repeatedly turning away Washington in the red zone.
It was a solid all-around effort for one of the NFC's hottest teams. But it will take an even better outing to keep the winning streak rolling. Green Bay's next opponent is the undefeated Arizona Cardinals on a short week.
4. Buffalo Bills (4-2)
Last Week: 4
Week 7 Result: Bye Week
The Buffalo Bills spent most of the off week answering a single question.
"What was up with the decision to go for it on 4th-and-inches last week against the Tennessee Titans rather than kick the field goal and play for overtime?"
After Josh Allen's slip and the failed fourth-down conversion cost the Bills the game, head coach Sean McDermott was unapologetic.
"Josh is usually spot-on with those [QB sneaks]. You've seen him have a lot of success with those in that situation," McDermott told reporters. "We hadn't stopped them on defense for a number of drives there in the second half, really. Again, felt like we could go and win the game right there. Obviously, didn't get it done."
That play likely works eight times in 10, and it doesn't take away from the fact that Buffalo is arguably the best, most balanced team in the AFC East. Even with the loss, the Bills have a sizable lead in the division.
But the decision could factor into home-field advantage and a first-round playoff bye down the road.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1)
Last Week: 3
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Chicago 38-3
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions and one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL. But thanks in large part to injuries, the team's 22nd-ranked pass defense has struggled.
Nothing like taking on a rookie quarterback to help a team get right.
To say the Buccaneers teed off on Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears is an understatement. That the Bears managed 311 yards of offense doesn't tell as accurate a tale as Chicago's five turnovers. Meanwhile, Tom Brady tossed four more touchdown passes, becoming the first player in NFL history to throw 600 in his career.
"The Buccaneers are rolling offensively," Davenport said, "and didn't miss a beat Sunday despite the absence of wide receiver Antonio Brown. But in the games where the defense plays at the level it did Sunday, Tampa looks like the best team in the NFL. If they can get healthy on that side of the ball, the fighting Tom Bradys can absolutely get back to another Super Bowl. In fact, they may well remain the favorites in the NFC."
2. Los Angeles Rams (6-1)
Last Week: 2
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Detroit 28-19
Sunday's matchup between the Lions and Rams had no shortage of subplots, whether it was Jared Goff facing the franchise that traded him or Matthew Stafford squaring off against the team he led for a decade.
Stafford had the last laugh, throwing for 334 yards and three scores without an interception in a nine-point Los Angeles victory. He told reporters afterward he was glad to get this game against his old team out of the way.
"Am I happy it's over with? Yeah," said Stafford. "Got a lot of great friends, got a lot of people that I care about that are on that team or from that city, and just glad to have this one over with. Can put the storylines away and just go out and play football the rest of the year, and just enjoy it."
The win was closer than expected but needed to keep the pressure on the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. Next week's trip to Houston should be an easy win, but then the schedule tightens up. The 5-2 Titans and 6-1 Packers are both on the slate over the next few weeks.
1. Arizona Cardinals (7-0)
Last Week: 1
Week 7 Result: Won vs. Houston 31-5
That the Arizona Cardinals trounced the one-win Texans to move to 7-0 for the first time since 1974 in Week 7 wasn't surprising. That it took Arizona a while to get going was a little. But after spotting the Texans five points, the Cardinals peeled off 31 unanswered to remain the NFL's last unbeaten team ahead of next week's big showdown with the Packers.
On offense, the Cardinals surpassed 30 points for the sixth time in seven games, racking up 172 yards on the ground while converting half of their 12 third-down attempts. Defensively, an Arizona team that entered Week 7 leading the league in second-half points allowed pitched a shutout after halftime and gave up 160 yards total.
Arizona experienced a bit of a scare as quarterback Kyler Murray spent some time in the blue medical tent after taking a sack that resulted in a safety. But so long as Murray is healthy and taking advantage of a loaded offense complemented nicely by a stingy and opportunistic defense, the Cardinals can beat anyone—soundly.
It won't be easy for Green Bay to knock them from the top spot in these power rankings.
"The Cardinals remain the league's only undefeated team and deserve the top spot because they're a complete squad," Sobleski wrote. "Kyler Murray is a leading MVP candidate, of course. The offense is loaded with weapons. But credit should be thrown toward the squad's defense, which ranks fourth overall. The Cardinals have forced 14 turnovers this season, including a league-leading 11 forced fumbles. They're also tied for fifth with 19 sacks. Chandler Jones hasn't even played the last two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols."