Welcome to the Power Rankings, and happy Thanksgiving Week.
If the Power Rankings were a class and I were a teacher, this would have just been a written summary of the movie Sandlot, which I felt was always a teacher’s answer to the pre-Holiday malaise (sub-observation: I probably watched Sandlot in a classroom a combined 400 times between 5th grade and 12th grade, and I just recently discovered that the movie was rated PG; have the standards for PG risen significantly? Is there a rating between PG and PG-13? Could Pixar have Woody and Bo Peep say s— four times during a movie, depict chewing tobacco, coming-of-age sexuality and some mild chauvinism and still maintain a PG rating now? I’m not personally bothered—I love Sandlot—but when I look back on it, it’s fairly wild how unquestioned that movie’s status was as a pacifier for a classroom full of children no one planned to educate that day) (sub-sub observation: teachers are the best and deserve movie days).
Alas, there are no bye weeks for those of us writing about the NFL (except for maybe Christmas, which is the one holiday or calendar space that I feel like the NFL hasn’t completely co-opted, even though that time is coming). The Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers continue to bring it, and so must we.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (9–1)
Last week: win at Kansas City, 21–17
Next week: vs. Buffalo
What an incredible win for the Eagles, which were dominated for most of this game and playing on the road in less than ideal conditions. While it’s never going to be an exorcism of a Super Bowl loss, it is a total barrier cleared en route to another Super Bowl berth. There is nothing for the Eagles to fear at this point, as they are, with little doubt, the best and most complete team in football.
2. San Francisco 49ers (7–3)
Last week: win vs. Tampa Bay, 27–14
Next week: at Seattle
Sometimes, I just watch 49ers plays in slow motion. I feel like Cameron staring at “A Sunday Afternoon on the island of La Grande Jett.” Christian McCaffrey’s touchdown catch was so simple, but so exquisite. The way that McCaffrey stepped out to his left before darting right drew Devin White away from the eventual destination, making him have to deal with three 49ers receivers crashing from the opposite direction. It was a play destined to succeed from the moment White revealed he was responsible for McCaffrey.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7–3)
Last week: loss vs. Philadelphia, 21–17
Next week: at Las Vegas
It’s hard to punish the Chiefs too much given how well the team played, specifically on defense, for most of this game. If the lone complaint is that a speed-oriented receiver who drops a lot of balls dropped a ball in a big spot, so be it. If I’m Andy Reid or Patrick Mahomes, that is the fact I lean on. The trade deadline is over, there’s not much else they can do. And, despite all of that, Kansas City wins that game eight out of every 10 times.
4. Detroit Lions (8–2)
Last week: win vs. Chicago, 31–26
Next week: vs. Green Bay
An inspiring comeback for the Lions, who continue to remain themselves during moments of adversity, while also riding the tailwind of a distinct coaching edge. At the end of Sunday’s game against the Bears, when needing a game-winning touchdown, Detroit didn’t have to do, really, anything different. Jared Goff was the most comfortable we’ve seen him all afternoon despite throwing three picks.
5. Cleveland Browns (7–3)
Last week: win vs. Pittsburgh, 13–10
Next week: at Denver
Dorian Thompson-Robinson played slightly better against the Steelers than Deshaun Watson did earlier in the season, and held on long enough to give Cleveland a victory that should almost assuredly lock them into a postseason spot barring some type of defensive collapse. As always, I am overjoyed with my pick of Myles Garrett as defensive player of the year. This rush defense was excellent, and if you take away the 74-yard Jaylen Warren run (O.K., and maybe a few of Warren’s other really nifty ones), it was a nearly flawless performance.
6. Dallas Cowboys (7–3)
Last week: win at Carolina, 33–10
Next week: vs. Washington
A clinical offensive performance for the Cowboys, who, aside from facing the Cardinals, are excellent at disposing of poor competition. If Dallas is able to get ahead in a game of actual import, they are going to be difficult to contend with, especially if the rush is taken away. I did see some puzzling moments of vulnerability on that front again versus Carolina on Sunday.
7. Baltimore Ravens (8–3)
Last week: win vs. Cincinnati, 34–20
Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers
The Ravens come off a bye week following a disappointing loss to the Browns, but still own one of the better Super Bowl-caliber rosters in the NFL. Their upcoming schedule, starting with a (potentially) sneakily frustrating game against the Los Angeles Chargers, doesn’t let up through the entirety of December. The Dolphins, 49ers, Jaguars and Steelers are looming.
8. Miami Dolphins (7–3)
Last week: win vs. Las Vegas, 20–13
Next week: at New York Jets
The Dolphins made use of all its clear-out plays, wiping out the middle of Las Vegas’s defense to give its playmakers room to run. As always, the difference was a handful of exceptional Tyreek Hill plays. Las Vegas was able to tackle him situationally in spots, but as long as Hill is healthy, this offense is going to win.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (7–3)
Last week: win vs. Tennessee, 34–14
Next week: at Houston
The front seven of this defense is so aggressive, and as I watched them blast Will Levis on a third-and-2 early in the game, and follow that up on another drive by nabbing a botched snap, I wondered just how quickly they could overcome any issues in a big playoff game with one fortuitous bounce. Put another way: I think, in the best possible way, this defense’s athleticism and instincts can override a better offense if a few breaks go its way.
10. Buffalo Bills (6–5)
Last week: win vs. New York Jets, 32–6
Next week: at Philadelphia
This was a timely one for Buffalo, which needed a kind of metaphorical cleansing after a frustrating loss to Denver and the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. The New York Times’s playoff simulator now gives the team a one in four chance of reaching the playoffs, though I could easily make the case for the team losing five of its next six games. I predicted the Bills would miss the playoffs at the beginning of the season (but also that the Patriots would make the playoffs) because it seemed obvious that this team was talented but in need of a kind of all-encompassing shake up. Sean McDermott tried that with a new offensive coordinator. We’ll see how it continues to go.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6–4)
Last week: loss at Cleveland, 13–10
Next week: at Cincinnati
The flip side to the Steelers’ desired game plan, which is to hang around long enough to force opponents into crippling, tired, late-game mistakes, is that it also impacts the offense. Cleveland was able to hang around and simply pick off the Steelers in a field position game after learning to tackle Warren at the end of the fourth quarter.
12. Houston Texans (6–4)
Last week: win vs. Arizona, 21–16
Next week: vs. Jacksonville
I do think that the timing and the cost of interceptions matters, at least to people sitting on this side of the fence. C.J. Stroud said after beating the Cardinals this week that there was “no shame in my game” and compared himself to Steph Curry shooting through a bad night. While Stroud can do no wrong at the moment, I do think we’d consider the fourth quarter picks differently had they led to a loss. But instead, we have the benefit of learning without hampering progress. I’d be interested in a more all-encompassing look at rookie quarterbacks and how certain picks occurred and whether that led to smoother development.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (4–6)
Last week: loss at Green Bay, 23–20
Next week: vs. Baltimore
Crazy high, right? I know. I just can’t give up on this team, and I feel some kind of weird, mystic, end-of-season run is still in the works. If Brandon Staley can somehow pull of a stunner over the Ravens next weekend, the schedule opens up generously, with the Bills serving as the lone potential foil (unless you consider the Broncos markedly more dangerous). I still think the Chargers can run the table, and perhaps some of these three-point games start to tip in the other direction.
14. Seattle Seahawks (6–4)
Last week: loss at Los Angeles Rams, 17–16
Next week: vs. San Francisco
Geno Smith didn’t miss significant time, but the time he missed was significant. I like the fact that Seattle kept Drew Lock, whom I know the front office liked a great deal, and it gave them the option to come out firing with a backup. However, Lock’s pick brought the Rams back into it, and cost Seattle a totally avoidable season sweep at the hands of a third-place team in the division (less so than the missed field goal, I get it).
15. Minnesota Vikings (6–5)
Last week: loss at Denver, 21–20
Next week: vs. Chicago
The Vikings’ five-game winning streak has come to an end, though the team has the Bears, Raiders and Joe Burrow-less Bengals coming up next. I don’t think anyone is catching Detroit, which has a similarly cushy stretch coming up, but I would not be surprised in the least if Minnesota takes steps to set a postseason berth in concrete (and, hopefully with it, an extension for the coach, Kevin O’Connell). Justin Jefferson coming back at some point will diversify this plucky offense.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (5–5)
Last week: loss at Baltimore, 34–20
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh
Jake Browning, meet the ornery Steelers. I watched a little bit of Browning in the preseason, and I maintain that there is some good there. If memory and notes serve me correct, he is a fine player when the timing of a play works out. And, he’s not hanging on to the ball and putting himself in a bad spot. I don’t think Cincinnati weathers this storm and makes the playoffs, but I don’t think they fall apart, either.
17. Green Bay Packers (4–6)
Last week: win vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 23–20
Next week: at Detroit
Two big-boy games for Jordan Love in three weeks have contributed to a distinct vibe shift in Green Bay. While Matt LaFleur has certainly faced adversity in his coaching past (albeit with a lower-case “a”), this has been an opportunity to take the team through something more significant, and to show it a mirror on the other side to exhibit growth.
18. Denver Broncos (5–5)
Last week: win vs. Minnesota, 21–20
Next week: vs. Cleveland
This demands noting: I have been hyper-critical of this Broncos team, both coach and quarterback. However, the sight of Russell Wilson and his receivers, post-game winning touchdown, has shown the first real glimmer of hope that I’ve had relating to a scenario where Wilson is QB1 next year. Maybe I’m late to the party with respect to the Broncos fans who have been enjoying this win streak more intimately. But I am seeing the Sean Payton effect.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (5–6)
Last week: loss at Miami, 20–13
Next week: vs. Kansas City
Kudos to the Raiders for rolling with it. Aidan O’Connell got to take some deep shots (seven to be exact) and feel what it was like to sling his way out of trouble with 41 total attempts. If nothing else, the Raiders will be able to rule him out as a potential 2023 bridge starter by season’s end … or factor him heavily into a training camp battle.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4–6)
Last week: loss at San Francisco, 27–14
Next week: at Indianapolis
I wonder, especially with all of the quarterback turmoil happening around the Buccaneers, if this isn’t still the best team in the division. While it’s a small window of time, Baker Mayfield was chucking dimes on Tampa Bay’s first scoring drive just before the half at a time when the game was still in question. It’s not nearly enough to make a difference against a near-perfect football team. But it’s something.
21. Atlanta Falcons (4–6)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. New Orleans
I think we will learn the most we will ever learn about Arthur Smith as a head coach coming out of the bye week against New Orleans. Derek Carr remains in concussion protocol. Smith has made another switch at quarterback, and he has had adequate self-scouting time to try and better parse out how to keep his offense at pace with a solid defense. The result will ultimately define his tenure in Atlanta.
22. New Orleans Saints (5–5)
Last week: BYE
Next week: at Atlanta
Similarly, I think we will learn a lot about the Dennis Allen era after the Falcons game. This is a de facto playoff game, as are most from here on out in a division so tight. Regardless of whether Carr plays, the Saints’ defense is Allen’s calling card, and the Falcons have underperformed offensively all season, and are waffling back to Desmond Ridder.
23. Indianapolis Colts (5–5)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay
The Colts are … not even close to being out of the playoffs. God love the No. 7 seed. Post-bye, the remaining opponents? Buccaneers, Titans, Bengals (no Burrow), Steelers, Falcons, Raiders, Texans. Right now, we have DeMeco Ryans pegged as a likely coach of the year candidate. But what about Shane Steichen?
24. Los Angeles Rams (4–6)
Last week: win vs. Seattle, 17–16
Next week: at Arizona
Apropos of nothing, did you see the look on Puka Nacua’s face when he took the jet sweep handoff for a first down on the game-winning scoring drive? Who on earth is signing up to cover that guy on a down-by-down basis? He appears to be staring through one’s soul. Anyway, good for the Rams. We all need a missed field goal to bounce our way every now and then.
25. New York Jets (4–6)
Last week: loss at Buffalo, 32–6
Next week: vs. Miami
Don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened, right? I don’t know that Tim Boyle is going to change the fortunes of the New York Jets, or keep them relevant long enough for Aaron Rodgers to make a late-season return, but I do think that this season was a kind of victory in humanity for the Jets. Zach Wilson was given a very long rope. He was not irresponsibly thrust in and out of the lineup. He was supported unconditionally. I do think he will be successful somewhere else, at another time. But now, it’s about laying the groundwork for some confidence heading into 2024.
26. Tennessee Titans (3–7)
Last week: loss at Jacksonville, 34–14
Next week: vs. Carolina
The offense had some bright spots in the first half, and the Titans were sniffing points, but Jacksonville’s pressure package was really good on Sunday. While I have yet to get a gander at the All-22, it felt from the broadcast angle like Levis didn’t have a lot of great options to discard the football. Of course, he can’t be taking sacks that back the Titans out of field goal range.
27. Washington Commanders (4–7)
Last week: loss vs. New York Giants, 31–19
Next week: at Dallas
The game-sealing pick-six by Sam Howell was one of those plays he’ll never make again … but just so happened to do so in a moment where the Commanders’ season was (a little bit) on the line. I don’t think we ever really harbored an idea that this team would be a contender, but Howell is certainly a quarterback who will continue to grow and factor into the 2024 quarterback conversation the farther away the Commanders get from a possible top-five pick.
28. Arizona Cardinals (2–9)
Last week: loss at Houston, 21–16Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams
I have been covering the NFL for a long time, and the machinations behind a play where Kyler Murray and Rondale Moore find one another on a deep shot that spans more than half the football field is still incredible to me. Anyone else? Like, here’s a 5'10" guy (at best) hurling a leather ball that weighs about a pound 60 yards in the air to a 5'7" guy. In between them are like 20 other people who are bigger than they are. I understand the notion of timing and having indicator spots and target locations on the field, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still incredible.
29. New York Giants (3–8)
Last week: win at Washington, 31–19
Next week: vs. New England
How about one Tommy DeVito, the first player in Giants history to throw five touchdown passes over his first two starts? I think the same Giants fans who were disgusted by DeVito’s presence should probably rethink themselves after a good win over a decent Commanders team. Namely when it comes to all the Brian Daboll badmouthing. He got the kid ready to play.
30. New England Patriots (2–8)
Last week: BYE
Next week: at New York Giants
The Patriots emerge from the bye week at 2–8, taking on the suddenly sparky New York Giants. Let’s get a few things straight: it feels like the end is near for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. There is no way Robert Kraft would fire Bill Belichick in the middle of a season. I feel like we could see some of New England’s best ball of the season post-bye, and that there is a chance they do not finish in last place in the AFC East. All of this can be true at once.
31. Chicago Bears (3–8)
Last week: loss at Detroit, 31–26Next week: at Minnesota
As I wrote on Sunday—and it gives me no pleasure to do so—Matt Eberflus is just not the right fit for this team. It would be different if Eberflus was putting the Bears into good spots, but he seems to be almost actively removing them from good spots by virtue of his crunch-time decision making. This was a shame, as I thought we had some good moments from Justin Fields against a good Lions defense.
32. Carolina Panthers (1–9)
Last week: loss vs. Dallas, 33–10
Next week: at Tennessee
For some reason, I picked the Panthers to cover in this one with a 10.5 point cushion. I am now 2–7 against the spread this year, which means that, at some point, I’m going to have to nail one of these things. Anyway, this is all very disappointing. The Panthers are awful, which I truly believe is 90% of this. But Bryce Young is also missing guys. He’s holding the ball a bit. Defensively, it was evident early in this game that Prescott was going to be able to manipulate the defense to suit his comfort level. Nothing is easy in the NFL, but Carolina makes it look that way sometimes. The touchdown drive surrendered at the end of the half, which included two late-hit penalties, was nothing short of embarrassing.