2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 9?

NFL StaffContributor INovember 2, 2021

2021 B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Entering Week 9?

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    Bleacher Report

    It was bound to happen sooner or later: a week of seismic shakeup across the NFL. The kind of slate of upsets, letdowns and big performances that gives power rankings like these the snow globe treatment.

    And Week 8 shook things up big-time.

    In Arizona, a shorthanded Green Bay Packers team dealt the league's last undefeated team their first setback of the season. A similarly shorthanded Dallas team came from behind in Minnesota. The Pittsburgh Steelers sent the struggling Browns into last place in the AFC North with a win in Cleveland. The one-win New York Jets stunned the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium.

    And that's without even mentioning the pair of playoff contenders who won in Week 8 but may have lost the entire season thanks to catastrophic injuries.

    It was a week that ran the NFL's pecking order through a blender. But just as they do every week here at Bleacher Report, NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered to sift through the wreckage and rank the league's teams from worst to first.

    There's a new No. 32 in Week 9, and a new (old) No. 1.

32. Detroit Lions (0-8)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Last Week: 31

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. Philadelphia 44-6

    Last week, the Detroit Lions gave the Rams all they could handle in Los Angeles.

    This week, Detroit went into full "Lie-Downs" mode.

    Offensively, Detroit couldn't get anything going against an Eagles defense that was shredded by the Raiders in Las Vegas last week. The Lions posted just 228 total yards of offense against Philadelphia, averaged a pitiful 3.9 yards per play and didn't score until the game was already all kinds of out of hand.

    Defensively, the Lions were gashed on the ground by an Eagles team down its top tailback that had struggled mightily to run the ball this season. Philly piled up a whopping 236 yards of rushing offense in Week 8, averaged 5.6 yards a carry and had three players amass at least 57 rushing yards.

    It was a hideous all-around effort from a Lions team that had at least shown some fight in recent defeats. The Lions will have two weeks to ruminate on how terrible they looked before a road trip to face the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 10 and 11.

    "The Lions have now been blown out in their last two home games, which is really brutal considering how much fight they had in them to start the season, especially at home," Gagnon wrote. "Ultimately, even though Dan Campbell has seemingly been a positive force in Detroit, the Lions lack too much talent to compete this season. What's scary is I'm having trouble finding a potential W on their remaining schedule."

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Last Week: 30

    Week 8 Result: Lost at Seattle 31-7

    In a season that has been pretty much all lows for the Jacksonville Jaguars, in Week 8, the team punched through rock-bottom and found a whole new nadir.

    Getting beat on the road is one thing. Getting flattened by a shorthanded Seattle Seahawks team led by Geno "Joe Montana He Ain't" Smith is another altogether.

    After the game, Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer admitted to reporters that he was at a loss as to why his team put forth such a pathetic effort coming off the bye.

    "I didn't see this coming," Meyer said. "We had a good week of practice, guys are freshened up from a bye week and we go down 14-0 and we're not built to just be a throw team. We've got to have the run game, and the penalties were nonsense."

    However, one of our analysts believes he has an idea.

    "Sunday's blowout was a microcosm of just how out of his depth Meyer is as a head coach in the NFL," Davenport said. "The game plan was awful. The execution of that plan was worse. And the in-game adjustments consisted of Meyer standing on the sideline looking completely lost. Seattle's return on an onside kick attempt for a score at game's end was the 2021 Jaguars in a nutshell: a disaster."

30. Houston Texans (1-7)

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    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Last Week: 32

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Rams 38-22

    Depending on how you look at it, there were some positives for the Houston Texans in Week 8. The team peeled off 22 unanswered points against one of the best teams in the NFL. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 106.3.

    But there's just one small problem. That all happened after the Texans spotted the Rams 38 points in Houston's seventh straight defeat.

    Texans head coach David Culley tried to put a positive spin on the fight his team showed at the end while speaking to reporters after the game.

    "I'm disappointed and frustrated, but I'm not discouraged with this football team simply because of what I saw at the end there ... they're not going to quit," Culley said.

    Now the Texans have a decision to make. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who led the team to a win in Week 1, practiced last week and could be ready to return to action in Week 9. Culley needs to decide whether the veteran stopgap should go back into the lineup, or if Mills has shown enough to get the rest of the season to prove he should be considered a potential long-term option under center.

29. Miami Dolphins (1-7)

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    Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

    Last Week: 28

    Week 8 Result: Lost at Buffalo 26-11

    As rumors continue to swirl regarding Deshaun Watson and the Miami Dolphins, earlier this week, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores made it clear while talking to reporters that Tua Tagovailoa is his quarterback.

    "I think I've said this multiple times, 'Tua is our quarterback,'" Flores said. "I don't get into rumors, I don't get into speculation—Tua is our quarterback. ... I'm focused on our team; I'm focused on our quarterback, and that's Tua."

    After Sunday's loss to Buffalo, Flores may want to reconsider that position.

    Granted, it wasn't solely Tagovailoa's fault that the Dolphins lost their seventh straight game. Or even mostly his fault. But Tagovailoa also didn't do a lot to help the team either, passing for just 205 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 58.2.

    With the trade deadline upon us, speculation about Tagovailoa's future should quiet in the short term. But if the Dolphins keep losing games, grumblings that he's not Miami's long-term answer under center are only going to grow louder.

28. Washington Football Team (2-6)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Last Week: 27

    Week 8 Result: Lost at Denver 17-10

    It wasn't supposed to be like this in Washington in 2021.

    After winning the NFC East last season, Washington was going to take the next step this year. New quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and one of the league's best defenses on paper were going to help the team not only get back to the playoffs but also make some noise once there.

    Instead, Fitzpatrick got hurt, backup Taylor Heinicke has been mostly awful, and the Washington defense ranks 27th in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed. After dropping a fourth straight game to fall to 2-6 on Sunday, head coach Ron Rivera said that some major changes could be coming after the team's bye week.

    "The big thing we have to figure out, going forward, is where are we? That's the nice thing about this bye week," Rivera said postgame. "We'll get the chance to re-evaluate and take a look at a lot of things, kind of come out next week about where we're headed. I'm going to evaluate all [22] positions you have."

    Given how the season has gone to date, that may just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

27. New York Jets (2-5)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Last Week: 29

    Week 8 Result: Won 34-31 vs. Cincinnati

    There is absolutely zero doubt what the most surprising result of Week 8 was.

    Fresh off of getting 54 points dropped on them by the New England Patriots, not many expected a one-win New York team to put up much of a fight against the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals.

    Apparently, the Jets didn't get that memo.

    Starting in place of the injured Zach Wilson, Jets quarterback Mike White had the game of his life against the Bengals, with just eight incompletions on 45 attempts, 405 passing yards and three scores. Rookie running back Michael Carter had himself a day as well, racking up 172 total yards and a touchdown on 24 touches. For the game, a Jets team that entered Week 8 dead last in the AFC in total offense at just 272.3 yards per game piled up a jaw-dropping 511 yards of offense.

    "Their two wins have come over teams who are a combined 11-3 in the rest of their games, which is pretty damn special," Gagnon said. "The win over Cincinnati is an indication that the win over the Titans wasn't a complete fluke. This still isn't a great team, but I'm beginning to believe strongly in Robert Saleh."

26. Atlanta Falcons (3-4)

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Last Week: 23

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. Carolina 19-13

    The Atlanta Falcons have problems. Plural.

    Before the game, it was announced that the Falcons would be without star wide receiver Calvin Ridley for the second time in their past three games so that he could attend to a personal matter. Then it was announced that Ridley would be out indefinitely.

    "These past few weeks have been very challenging and as much as I'd like to be on the field competing with my teammates, I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing," Ridley said in a statement on Twitter. "This will help me be the best version of myself now and in the future."

    There are of course more important things than football. But the Falcons were already struggling to move the ball consistently, and without Ridley, the offense all but imploded, gaining just 213 total yards. Atlanta wide receivers combined to catch six passes for 70 yards against the Panthers, and most of that was journeyman Tajae Sharpe.

    Add in three games over the next three weeks (including next week's trip to New Orleans) against teams that are .500 or better, and it's not hard to imagine the 2021 season getting away from the Falcons over the next month.

    "The Falcons experienced two major losses Sunday," Sobleski said. "First, they suffered defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers and sit in last place in the NFC South with a 3-4 record. Secondly, star wide receiver Calvin Ridley announced he's stepping away this season. While everyone wishes him nothing but the best, his absence leaves a void in the lineup. No other wide receiver on the roster has managed more than 15 receptions so far. The Falcons simply don't have all of the pieces necessary to consistently compete."

25. Chicago Bears (3-5)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Last Week: 24

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. San Francisco 33-22

    The bad news for the Chicago Bears is that the team lost its third straight game on Sunday, giving up the lead to the San Francisco 49ers in the second half.

    The good news is that while the Bears lost the game, the team finally saw some positive signs from rookie quarterback Justin Fields.

    Playing without head coach Matt Nagy (who is on the COVID-19 list), Fields had his best game as a pro. The former Ohio State star completed 19 of 27 passes for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also added 103 yards and a wild score on 10 carries.

    Acting head coach Chris Tabor praised his rookie quarterback while addressing reporters after the game.

    "No. 1 improved today," Tabor said. "I thought you saw he made plays with his legs. He led our team. I thought he threw the ball well. He gave us a chance, and obviously, he's a special player."

    "More than a few Bears fans have fantasized about what a Nagy-less Bears team might look like," Davenport said. "And Fields having his best game of the season with the embattled head coach sidelined wasn't a great look. But Chicago didn't look impressive either, especially in the second half. This a team with problems that go beyond just the coaching."

24. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Last Week: 26

    Week 8 Result: Won at Detroit 44-6

    Given the final score of Sunday's victory over the winless Lions, one might think the Philadelphia Eagles fixed many of the issues that have plagued the team, if only for one week.

    However, this blowout said a lot more about how bad the Lions are than anything good about the Eagles.

    This isn't to say that there weren't positives. The Eagles' struggling ground game got going, with Boston Scott and Jordan Howard combining for 117 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries. The Eagles defense completely stymied the Lions, allowing just 228 total yards and sacking Detroit quarterback Jared Goff five times.

    But the Eagles managed just 350 yards of offense, with quarterback Jalen Hurts completing just nine of 14 passes for 103 yards before giving way to backup Gardner Minshew in the fourth quarter.

    Hurts getting pulled likely had more to do with the score than his pedestrian stats, but with some already anticipating a change under center in the City of Brotherly Love, Hurts can't afford many more duds this season.

23. Minnesota Vikings (3-4)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Last Week: 22

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. Dallas 20-16 

    This was the one. This was the game the Minnesota Vikings had to have. Beat a Dallas Cowboys team that was short quarterback Dak Prescott, and the Vikings would be 4-3 and in the thick of the NFC wild-card picture. Lose, and it's off to the also-ran pile again.

    Giving up 325 passing yards to a 27-year-old backup making his first career start is bad enough. But Cooper Rush just outplayed Kirk Cousins, and it wasn't especially close. Minnesota's veteran quarterback completed just 23 of 35 passes for 184 yards and a single first-quarter touchdown pass.

    After the Cowboys came back to score the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left, a visibly frustrated Adam Thielen bemoaned Minnesota's inability to close games out.

    "Every game we just hang around, hang around, hang around, let the team hang around, instead of just putting our foot on the gas and going," Thielen told reporters.

    It was the fourth time this season the Vikings lost a one-score game. And with a brutal stretch of schedule underway that features trips to Baltimore and Los Angeles to face the Chargers and a visit from the Packers, it was a defeat that may well signify the beginning of the end for the 2021 Vikings…

    And quite possibly head coach Mike Zimmer as well.

22. San Francisco 49ers (3-4)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Last Week: 20

    Week 8 Result: Won at Chicago 33-22

    It may seem odd to call any game in the first half of a season "must-win." But the reality is that for the San Francisco 49ers to have any real hope of staying relevant in the NFC West, they had to down the Bears in Chicago.

    Thanks to 137 rushing yards and a touchdown from running back Elijah Mitchell and almost 30 yards a catch on six receptions from wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the Niners earned an 11-point victory and crawled back within a game of .500.

    It was a homecoming of sorts for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played collegiately at Eastern Illinois. Garoppolo didn't throw a touchdown pass, but after topping 300 passing yards with a passer rating of 100.6, Jimmy G was praised by head coach Kyle Shanahan in his postgame presser.

    "Coming back home, in front of his fans, his back was against the wall, just like everybody else in the building," Shanahan said. "For him to step up and play the way he did today was huge."

    The win snapped a four-game losing streak and gave San Francisco its first positive momentum in a month. Keeping it going won't be easy, though; San Francisco's next two games are against the Cardinals and Rams, who have combined to go 14-2 so far this year.

21. New York Giants (2-6)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    Week 8 Result: Lost at Kansas City 20-17

    The New York Giants gave the Kansas City Chiefs all they could handle Monday night.

    But good teams find a way to gut out the close games, and the Giants are not a good team.

    This was a game where the Giants forced a pair of turnovers but could have had several more. The Giants had a lead with less than 10 minutes left, but the G-Men couldn't hold it. It was a game where the Giants arguably played well enough to win.

    But they didn't.

    There isn't an easy answer to fix what ails the Giants, and there are some mitigating factors with their struggles—the skill positions on offense continue to be blasted by injuries.

    But the NFL is a results business, and for the fifth straight season, the Giants are eight games in with two wins or fewer.

    It's not a matter of if house-cleaning is coming in New York (again).

    It's just a matter of when.

20. Denver Broncos (4-4)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    Week 8 Result: Won vs. Washington 17-10

    The Denver Broncos came into Week 8 just looking to stop the bleeding. After riding an easy early slate to a 3-0 record, the Broncos had dropped four straight to fall into last place in the AFC West.

    Denver accomplished that goal, even if it wasn't especially attractive.

    On an afternoon when the Broncos struggled to get the ground game going, Denver rode an efficient showing from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and stout defensive play to a seven-point win that got the team back to .500 for the season. Denver sacked Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke five times, and safety Justin Simmons notched a pair of interceptions, including one with 49 seconds left should have sealed the game.

    That it didn't (the Broncos gave the ball right back on a Melvin Gordon fumble) was a reminder that while these Broncos may be 4-4, they aren't especially good. And with a trip to face the one-loss Dallas Cowboys next up on the schedule, getting back above .500 in Week 9 isn't all that likely.

    The Broncos appear to realize that...or at least to have one eye on the future. Per ESPN, on Monday the Broncos shipped Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of Day 2 picks in the 2022 draft.

19. Carolina Panthers (4-4)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Last Week: 19

    Week 8 Result: Won at Atlanta 19-13

    Notching a six-point win over an offensively challenged Atlanta Falcons team does not fix all that ails the Carolina Panthers. But after dropping four games in a row after a 3-0 start, the Panthers will take a win any way they can get it.

    It wasn't a pretty performance; Sam Darnold threw for just 129 yards with a passer rating south of 69.6. But the Panthers held the Falcons to just 213 yards of offense and racked up 203 rushing yards on a whopping 47 attempts.

    Not only did the win get the Panthers back on track and back to .500 for the season, but there is also reason for optimism that the team's struggling offense will be getting a major boost ahead of next week's home date with the New England Patriots. Per ESPN's David Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey is expected to come off injured reserve this week, putting him on track to play for the first time since Week 3.

    If Carolina is going to get back into the playoff picture in the NFC, the team needs its best offensive player on the field.

18. Seattle Seahawks (3-5)

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Last Week: 21

    Week 8 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville 31-7

    Not much has gone right for the Seattle Seahawks of late. With starting quarterback Russell Wilson on the shelf with a broken finger, the Seahawks had lost two straight games with Geno Smith starting under center to fall to 2-5 on the season.

    The Seahawks needed a break. For something to go right.

    Enter the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars, the opponent who fixes all that ails you.

    Now, pounding an overmatched Jaguars team that lost starting running back James Robinson during the game isn't a magic remedy for Seattle's woes this season. The defense's effort was likely more about Jacksonville being terrible than anything, and the Seahawks averaged 2.8 yards a carry in the game.

    But not only did the Seahawks get a desperately needed win, but per John Boyle of the team's website, head coach Pete Carroll also indicated on Friday that Wilson's rehab is ahead of schedule.

    "He's feeling really good," Carroll said. "His finger looks great, all the stitches out and that kind of stuff. He looks great. So, he's making all of the strides that he should be making way ahead of schedule, so we'll see what that means."

    Getting Wilson back after the bye is a jolt Seattle's lagging playoff chances badly need.

17. Indianapolis Colts (3-5)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Last Week: 17

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. Tennessee 34-31 (OT) 

    If the Indianapolis Colts wind up missing the postseason in 2021, the may look to Week 8 as when things really went sideways.

    This was a game where the Colts raced out to a 14-0 lead and had a 24-21 lead late in the third quarter. But after four straight games with multiple touchdown passes and no interceptions, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz threw an interception in the fourth quarter and another interception in overtime that eventually cost Indy the game.

    Wentz admitted to reporters after the game that the fourth-quarter pick-six was just a terrible decision on his part.

    "Terrible play, terrible play," Wentz said. "I was about to go down and was thinking just throw it, don't force it. That one I'm so mad at myself for, I'm beating myself up."

    The problem was that in a loss that now puts Indy three back of the Titans with two head-to-head losses, Wentz just couldn't afford to make those kinds of mistakes. And doing so put the Colts' backs up against the proverbial wall.

    "With the midseason point looming in the new 17-game schedule, the Colts have a long way to go to be a legitimate playoff contender," Sobleski wrote. "They're 3-5 and three games behind the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. Currently, 10 squads have more wins in the conference. To make matters worse, Wentz hasn't been the solution behind center, and the Colts are well on their way to surrendering a top-10 pick to the Philadelphia Eagles if he continues to play."

16. Cleveland Browns (4-4)

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    Week 8 Result: Lost 15-10 vs. Pittsburgh 

    Two times in the last three years, the Cleveland Browns have been the offseason hype darlings of the NFL.

    Both times, the team hasn't come close to living up to that hype.

    It's not quite time to completely freak out in Cleveland. But after falling at home to the rival Steelers in Week 8, the Browns are 4-4 and all alone in the AFC North basement.

    There's not just one thing that can pointed to as the reason the Browns have disappointed. On Sunday, the team's vaunted run game couldn't get going, managing just 96 yards on 23 carries. Cleveland receivers dropped multiple catchable passes, and Jarvis Landry lost a fumble with the team driving in the fourth quarter. The defense performed relatively well but allowed just enough plays in crucial spots to come up short in the end.

    "Well, it's come to this already in Cleveland," Davenport said. "If the Browns don't win in Cincinnati this week, making it back to the playoffs for the second straight season isn't going to happen. And frankly, given the injuries that continue to plague the team and the sorry state of Cleveland's passing game, the Browns' chances of making the postseason aren't great even if they can get past the Bengals."

15. New England Patriots (4-4)

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    Week 8 Result: Won at Los Angeles Chargers 27-24 

    The New England Patriots dropped a 50-burger on the New York Jets in Week 7. But given that New England's three victories had come against those lowly Jets twice and the Houston Texans, it was hard to take the Pats seriously as a potential player in the AFC. The Patriots needed a signature win to hang their collective hats on.

    They got that win Sunday in Los Angeles.

    New England didn't exactly roll against the Chargers. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones completed just 18 of 35 passes, and the Pats averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on the ground. But New England stayed after it in the run game and made just enough plays defensively to squeak past the Bolts and get back to .500 for the first time since Week 2.

    The Patriots will need that positive momentum as they head into a stretch of schedule that will define the team's 2021 season. New England's bye doesn't come until Week 14, and standing between the Patriots and a week off is a five-game stretch that includes four contests against teams that are .500 or better, including the first of two meetings with the division-leading Bills.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    Week 8 Result: Won 15-10 at Cleveland

    After the Steelers started the season 1-3, Pittsburgh was all but written off in some circles. The team's days as a major player in the AFC were over.

    Now, it's still fair to wonder if these Steelers are really capable of making a deep postseason run; the team hasn't exactly piled up the style points of late. But what the Steelers have been piling up is wins. After edging out the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday, Pittsburgh has won three straight to get over .500 for the first time since Week 1.

    These Steelers have become something of a throwback to Pittsburgh teams of old, relying on defense and the run game. The former allowed just 306 yards and 10 points in Week 8. The latter averaged a modest 3.6 yards per carry against a stout Browns defense, but they put up 115 rushing yards total and made plays when necessary.

    With home games the next two weeks against the struggling Bears and winless Lions, there's a good chance  the Steelers will be 6-3 and right on the heels of the division-leading Ravens when they start a wicked three-game stretch that includes tilts with the Chargers, Bengals and Ravens.

    "Pittsburgh really does just find a way to be in the mix," Gagnon wrote. "They're back above .500 despite a horrendous start to the season on offense. With Najee Harris' emergence, that unit has rebounded and should only improve. And we already know the defense is elite. They might sneak into the playoffs again."

13. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Last Week: 14

    Week 8 Result: Won vs. New York Giants 20-17

    The good news is that the Kansas City Chiefs gutted out a three-point win to get back to .500 on Monday night.

    That's about the extent of the good news.

    Let's just put it out there—the 2021 Chiefs do not look good. Offensively, teams have confused Kansas City by taking away the deep game with two deep safeties. That has led Patrick Mahomes to push his luck, and it has come back to bite him time and again. Mahomes threw another interception against the Giants and could have had several more.

    Defensively, the Chiefs are not good, and when the team does make a stand, there seems to always be a penalty at the most inopportune time.

    This is not the team that has dominated the AFC West the past several years. Or the team that was one Tom Brady drive in overtime away from three straight AFC titles.

    The Chiefs are a sloppy team that had to eke out a three-point win at home over a bad Giants team.

    And with Kansas City's next three games against first-place squads, they may not be even a .500 team for long.

12. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Last Week: 11

    Week 8 Result: Bye week

    The Las Vegas Raiders are arguably the NFL's biggest surprise success story.

    After blasting the Eagles in Vegas last week, the Raiders headed into their off week in a position exactly no one expected them to be in: first place in the AFC West. Not even the departure of head coach Jon Gruden amid a firestorm of controversy could slow these Raiders down. In fact, the team hasn't lost since Gruden left.

    Veteran quarterback Derek Carr has played a critical role in the Raiders' success this season, and he told reporters he's doing his best to fill any leadership void that was left by Gruden's departure.

    "When Coach Gruden would walk a room, all eyes are on him," Carr said. "When we lost that, someone has to fill that void. It's not only me, but obviously as the quarterback and leader and I've been here a while, I was like, I've got to take that part of what I do to another level. ... Now I'm just trying to do everything I can to encourage, uplift and motivate the guys to keep going in every situation."

    The Raiders are going to need Carr's leadership after the bye. After a winnable game in New York against the Giants, the Raiders embark on a brutal five-game stretch that includes two matchups with the rival Chiefs, a home date with the orange-hot Cincinnati Bengals and a trip to Dallas to face the Cowboys.

11. New Orleans Saints (5-2)

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    Last Week: 12

    Week 8 Result: Won vs. Tampa Bay 36-27

    The New Orleans Saints earned maybe the biggest win of Week 8 with their nine-point victory over Tom Brady and the visiting Buccaneers. The victory gave the Saints a crucial head-to-head win over the division-leading Bucs. 

    However, that win came at a steep cost.

    As ESPN's Mike Triplett reported, Saints quarterback Jameis Winston suffered a significant knee injury in the win, one that had even his old teammates in Tampa Bay hopeful that things weren't as bad as they looked.

    "He's a great guy," Buccaneers linebacker Devin White said. "You hate to see that happen. I hope it's not serious, man. I'm just praying for him. But it's a long season. [I] hope he can come back and fight with his team."

    As Sobleski wrote, those hopes were dashed Monday. And while New Orleans earned a big bump in these rankings this week, holding on to it isn't going to be easy.

    "New Orleans deserves a big bump after an impressive win Sunday against the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers," he said. "Unfortunately, Winston suffered a torn ACL and PCL in his left knee, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Sean Payton's squad deserves credit for a 5-2 start. At the same time, the team won't be the same with Taysom Hill or anyone else behind center." 

10. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Last Week: 7

    Week 8 Result: Lost 34-31 at New York Jets

    Just when we started to really buy into Cincinnati as a legitimate contender in the AFC, the Bungles showed up at MetLife Stadium.

    It's hard to understand what exactly led the same Bengals team that blasted the Ravens in Baltimore last week to lose to a one-win Jets team that surrendered 54 points last week against the Patriots. Perhaps the team was looking ahead to next week's AFC North showdown against Cleveland.

    Whatever the reason, it was an embarrassing effort for the Cincinnati defense. Facing a Jets offense that ranked last in the AFC in yards per game and last in the NFL in points per game entering Week 8, the Bengals were gashed for a jaw-dropping 511 total yards and 34 points. The Bengals also couldn't get anything going on the ground, gaining just 41 yards on 16 carries.

    "Sunday's face plant doesn't completely erase all the good things the Bengals have done this season," Davenport said. "But it does give one substantial pause as to whether they are really ready to compete with the AFC's best teams or if last week's dominant win over the Ravens was a fluke. Next week's contest with the Browns is all the more important now."

    "Just when everyone was ready to believe in the Bengals, Cincinnati laid an egg against the New York Jets, who had one win going into Sunday's meeting," Sobleski continued. "Mike White (who?) threw for 405 yards and the Bengals allowed 511 total yards. There's still plenty to be excited about after a 5-3 start, but everyone should pump the brakes a bit before including Cincinnati among the AFC's better squads."

9. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Last Week: 8

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. New England 27-24 

    After getting blasted in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Chargers had an off week to think about what went wrong against the Ravens and fix it ahead of Sunday's home tilt with the New England Patriots.

    Apparently, the Bolts did too much thinking and not enough fixing. Because after a mistake-filled effort against the Pats, the Chargers have lost two straight and dropped out of first place in the AFC West.

    There were some bright spots for the Chargers, including improved defensive play against the run. While speaking to reporters after the game, head coach Brandon Staley singled out the defense as a positive that the team can build on moving forward.

    "I felt like our run defense actually took an incredible step forward today," Staley said. "A huge step forward, I thought we tackled extremely well, I thought we were really physical. I thought getting Justin Jones back was important. I felt like the way we played on defense today gave us a real chance to win."

    Still, after back-to-beat defeats, the pressure on the Chargers is mounting to get back on track next week in Philadelphia, especially with three out of four games against teams with .500 or better records coming afterward.

8. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Last Week: 10

    Week 8 Result: Bye week

    In a perfect world, NFL teams hit the bye in the middle of the season, fresh off a major win.

    The Baltimore Ravens are one(ish) for two. The timing of their Week 8 bye isn't awful, but when we last saw the Ravens, they were getting spanked at home by the Cincinnati Bengals.

    It was an ugly loss, to be sure. But veteran defensive end Calais Campbell told reporters earlier this week that the team can't dwell on it.

    "We can't let this beat us twice," Campbell said. "It's one game. It hurts. It's going to burn. [It was a] division game at home, but at the end of the day, [we have] a whole lot of football left to play. It's as simple as that. In the second half of the season, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure."

    The schedule at least affords the Ravens a bit of a break coming out of the bye. Baltimore won't face another team that entered Week 8 with a winning record until hosting the rival Browns in Week 12. But that game is followed by two more in-division: at Pittsburgh and then another tilt in Cleveland.

7. Tennessee Titans (6-2)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Last Week: 9

    Week 8 Result: Won at Indianapolis 34-31 (OT) 

    The 2021 season isn't even halfway over, and it's already just about all over but the crying in the AFC South.

    After storming back to down the rival Colts in overtime in Indianapolis, the Titans have opened up a massive lead in the division: three games up on Indy in the loss column with wins in both head-to-head matchups.

    It wasn't the prettiest of victories. Tennessee spotted the Colts a 14-0 lead and had just 18 first downs in the game. But on a day where rushing leader Derrick Henry was held to just 2.4 yards per carry, star wide receiver A.J. Brown came through with a massive 10/155/1 stat line, and the Titans defense forced three turnovers, including an interception in overtime that set up the game-winning kick.

    However, while Tennessee won the battle Sunday, as Sobleski relayed, they may have lost the war.

    "Tennessee must find a new identity quickly after Henry suffered what could be a season-ending foot injury Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Henry was well on his way to shattering the single-season carries record before misfortune struck. Now, the emphasis must shift to quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown as the passing game becomes the focal point."

    The Titans appear headed to the playoffs. But without Henry, that postseason trip may be a quick one.

6. Dallas Cowboys (6-1)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    Week 8 Result: Won at Minnesota 20-16

    The Dallas Cowboys hit a bump in the road coming out of the bye week. Because of the calf strain he suffered late in their overtime win in New England, the Cowboys were without the services of star quarterback Dak Prescott against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.

    No problemo.

    Yes, Cooper Rush deserves quite a bit of credit for the four-point win that strengthened Dallas' stranglehold in the NFC East. The longtime backup threw for 325 yards and two scores, including the game-winner to Amari Cooper with under a minute left.

    But the real story Sunday was the Dallas defense. Spearheaded by a monster effort from rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, the Cowboys limited a potent Minnesota offense to just 278 total yards and a single touchdown. Kirk Cousins threw for just 184 yards, and star wideout Justin Jefferson was a complete non-factor.

    "Dallas is loaded offensively," Davenport said, "But that's not why the Cowboys are a legit Super Bowl contender. This year Dallas also has a good defense that can complement all those offensive weapons. Parsons was a fantastic pick by Jerry Jones in the 2021 draft, and the hiring of Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator is paying massive dividends. These Cowboys are the real deal, folks."

5. Arizona Cardinals (7-1)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    Week 8 Result: Lost vs. Green Bay 24-21

    And then there were none.

    The 1972 Miami Dolphins can pop the champagne (again) after the Arizona Cardinals lost a heartbreaker to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. There are no more unbeaten teams in the NFL this season.

    The loss will best be remembered for a bizarre miscommunication between quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver A.J. Green that resulted in a game-sealing interception. But a compelling argument can be made that the Cardinals didn't lose because of that play.

    The Cardinals lost because they were outgained by a Packers team that was short its top three wide receivers and defensive coordinator. The Cardinals lost because Green Bay possessed the ball for over a full quarter more than Arizona. The Cardinals lost because they couldn't stop a Green Bay ground game Arizona knew the Packers would be forced to lean on. And the Cardinals lost because of three turnovers, including two that set the Packers up deep in Arizona territory.

    The Cardinals lost because they didn't play all that well.

    And in doing so, the Cardinals lost the top spot in these power rankings.

    "The Cards had little to gain and a lot to lose against a depleted Packers team traveling on short rest Thursday, and they failed the test," Gagnon said. "Was that the first of many cracks? We'll see, but I don't feel as good about Kyler Murray as I do about Matthew Stafford, Josh Allen, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers."

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 3

    Week 8 Result: Lost at New Orleans 36-27 

    As it turns out, Tom Brady is mortal after all.

    Playing a Saints team that was down starting quarterback Jameis Winston on Sunday, Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were uncharacteristically mistake-prone. Brady threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, and the Saints turned those turnovers into 16 points—including a pick-six at the end of the game that had Brady kicking himself afterward while speaking to reporters.

    "I just threw it to the wrong guy," Brady said. "I had Mike [Evans] open. It cost us the game."

    Even with the loss, the Buccaneers remain the team to beat in the NFC South after New Orleans lost Winston to a season-ending ACL tear. But one of our analysts sees cause for concern with the defending champs.

    "The Buccaneers continue to struggle against the pass, largely because of a secondary being held together with duct tape and the power of positive thinking," Davenport said. "If Tampa can't stop the Saints' anemic passing attack in big spots, then heaven help them against teams like the Rams and Packers."

3. Green Bay Packers (7-1)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Last Week: 5

    Week 8 Result: Won at Arizona 24-21

    The Green Bay Packers traveled to Arizona in Week 8 amid a storm of turmoil. Due to a COVID-19 outbreak, defensive coordinator Joe Barry and wide receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard all missed the matchup with the undefeated Redbirds.

    The Pack left the desert with the top spot in the NFC after stunning the Cardinals at home.

    It was a matchup keyed by the ground game, with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combining for 137 yards. The defense played a major part as well; the Packers held Arizona well below their season averages in both yardage and points, and cornerback Rasul Douglas sealed the deal with an end-zone interception with only seconds left on the clock.

    "I'm not prepared to seed these Packers over a Rams team that is both healthier and more balanced right now," Davenport said. "But beating the Cardinals the way they did given the circumstances is damned impressive. If Green Bay can run the ball and play defense at that level consistently, this is absolutely a team capable of making it all the way to the Super Bowl."

    Still, Thursday's big win came at a cost. The Packers endured another loss on offense when tight end Robert Tonyan suffered a torn ACL against Arizona.

2. Buffalo Bills (5-2)

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    Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    Last Week: 4

    Week 8 Result: Won vs. Miami 26-11

    The last time the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins met, the Bills destroyed the Dolphins 35-0 in Miami.

    Things didn't come as easily for Buffalo this time around—the Bills led by just six points midway through the fourth quarter. But thanks to a late takeaway and nine unanswered points to end the game, the Bills notched a 15-point win that kept the team solidly in first place in the AFC East.

    After the win, head coach Sean McDermott told reporters he was pleased with the resolve his team showed in a game where the scoring didn't come quite as easily as it usually does.

    "Really, that's the biggest takeaway from this game is you're not always going to come out and score, score, score," McDermott said. "So this game, like most games in the NFL, it comes down to the fourth quarter, and I thought that was good for us as a team. Now we've got to build on it."

    "Buffalo didn't play their best game of the season in Week 8," Davenport said. "But on a day when the offense had some struggles, the defense stepped up and carried the Bills to another win. That balance (and a Bills defense that doesn't get the credit it should) is what makes Buffalo the team to beat in the AFC in 2021."

1. Los Angeles Rams (7-1)

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Last Week: 2

    Week 8 Result: Won at Houston 38-22

    After outlasting the Lions in Los Angeles last week, the Rams continued their tour of the league's tomato cans in Week 8 with a trip to Houston. But where Detroit stayed close most of the game a week ago, Sunday's meeting with the Texans wasn't nearly as close as the final score.

    Offensively, the Rams got 305 passing yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Matthew Stafford, 93 total yards and two scores from running back Darrell Henderson Jr. and another big game (seven catches for 115 yards and a score) from wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

    Defensively, the Rams surrendered just 323 total yards, and most of those came in the final quarter with the game completely out of hand. Los Angeles sacked Texans quarterback Davis Mills five times and allowed just four third-down conversions in 12 attempts.

    It was a complete effort. An all-around thrashing. And given everything else that happened in Week 8, two of our analysts moved the Rams back into the top spot in these power rankings.

    "Yes, the Arizona Cardinals have already shown that the Rams can be beaten with a 17-point win in Week 4," Davenport said. "Since then, the Rams have peeled off four straight wins by an average of more than two touchdowns per game. Top to bottom, the Rams are the most complete team in the league right now, and they have earned the No. 1 spot here."

    "Six of the Rams' seven wins have come by multiple scores," Gagnon added. "They're making it look real easy. Sure, the schedule's been pretty soft, but they beat the Bucs by double digits, and they have the top-end talent to land that No. 1 seed in the NFC. I expect them to make a statement against the surging Titans in Week 9."

    As if the Rams weren't already having a good enough week, the rich got that much richer with the Von Miller trade, giving an already formidable pass-rush more juice off the edge opposite Leonard Floyd.