NFL Power Rankings, Week 7: Steelers, Titans crack top three
It’s cliché to say the NFL is a week-to-week league, but just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true.
A quick, bullet-point list of conventional wisdom upended by the events of Week 6:
The Browns are for real.
Aaron Rodgers is unstoppable.
Derrick Henry is having an off year.
The Bears are obvious pretenders.
The Patriots will be fine with Cam.
Philip Rivers is washed.
The Jets are hopeless.
OK, that last one still holds … but you get the point. Change happens in an instant, and the league will alter itself again by the time next week’s NFL Power Rankings roll around. It’s kind of beautiful, isn’t it?
On to the rankings …
Previous rank: No. 3The Ravens’ offense has been … fine this year. Baltimore continues to put up points and win games, but this is not the same attack that ripped up the NFL last season. In Sunday’s 30-28 win over the Eagles (a strange game Baltimore almost let slip away through lack of attention), the Ravens logged just one drive of more than 50 yards and went three-and-out on five possessions, something that’s never happened in the Lamar Jackson era. There’s no reason to panic when a team is averaging nearly 30 points per game, but it’s something that you notice when you watch the Ravens this year. They’re … fine. Just not unstoppable.5. Seattle Seahawks, Previous rank: No. 6The Seahawks hit their Week 6 bye basking in the glow of the Let Russ Cook era of Seattle football. According to ESPN charting, the ‘Hawks dropped back to pass on 67.3 percent of plays in their first five games — all wins. Only five teams in the league dropped back with that regularity entering Week 6, and it’s up from the 54.9 percent dropback rate in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s first two seasons running the offense. Seattle ranked 31st in dropbacks over 2018 and ’19. Yes, it’s mind-boggling that the Seahawks could have been that run-heavy with a Hall of Fame player of Russell Wilson’s level at quarterback, but let’s all just be thankful Mr. Unlimited is finally allowed to run his own kitchen.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Previous rank: No. 12
The final three quarters against the Packers were pure perfection. Starting with Jamel Dean’s pick-six of Aaron Rodgers to open the Tampa Bay scoring early in the second quarter and ending with the Packers waving the white flag and planting Rodgers on the bench midway through the fourth, it was about as satisfying as a regular-season win gets. Tom Brady threw two touchdowns (one to Gronk!), and Ronald Jones solidified his position in the backfield with 121 scrimmage yards and two scores. The defense was even more impressive in its first game without Vita Vea, rattling Rodgers with constant havoc. Rodgers was pressured 12 times, the most disruption he’s faced in a game this season. When the Bucs are right, they’re as good as anybody.
Baldy’s Breakdowns: Brady, Bucs offense gaining chemistry
7. Green Bay Packers, Previous rank: No. 1
The Packers were ambushed on Sunday. Two minutes into the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers had the ball and a 10-point lead; it looked very much like business as usual for the NFL’s best team through five weeks. Then came a pick-six, which triggered an avalanche of Bucs points in what became a grim 38-10 loss. Rodgers completed just 16 of 35 passes for 160 yards (with two interceptions) before being mercifully lifted from the game midway through the fourth quarter. He was sacked four times and hit repeatedly by a Tampa Bay pass rush that had no issues with Green Bay’s vaunted offensive line. It’s hard to believe this was the same Packers team that carved up every opponent in its path in four straight victories to start the season. Is this a speed bump or the start of a slump?
8. Buffalo Bills, Previous rank: No. 7
“There’s no panic, but there is a sense of urgency.” Josh Allen said the right things after Monday night’s 26-17 loss to the Chiefs in Orchard Park, but there’s cause for concern after a pair of losses to elite AFC teams in the past seven days. Playing in rainy conditions, Allen never looked comfortable in another outing that recalled memories of his bumpy rookie year. Meanwhile, the defense is now officially A Problem. Andy Reid surprised all by unleashing a relentless run-based attack that bowled over the Buffalo defense for 245 yards on a whopping 46 attempts. With one last shot at redemption in the final minutes, the Bills’ defense was unable to get off the field, leading to a clinching Chiefs field goal. Just a disappointing night all the way around.
9. Los Angeles Rams, Previous rank: No. 8
Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp have enviable chemistry on the field. That’s what made the near misses between the quarterback and wide receiver so jarring in Sunday night’s 24-16 loss to the 49ers. Two plays on successive drives in the third quarter stood out: With 9:30 to play in the quarter, Goff was a split-second late on a deep throw to an open Kupp, who got turned around and couldn’t make the catch. Then, with 2:39 to play in the third and the Rams inside the San Francisco 10-yard line, Goff rolled to his right and fired a perfect dart that Kupp failed to corral at the pylon. The first missed connection led to a punt, the second set up an interception. Frustrating stuff for two guys who usually make the most of their opportunities together.
10. New Orleans Saints, Previous rank: No. 10
The Saints steadied the ship with back-to-back wins going into their Week 6 bye, but this remains a team with issues on both sides of the ball. Getting Michael Thomas back in the mix would be a big lift on offense, though the situation has been somewhat complicated. Thomas missed three weeks with an ankle injury, then missed his fourth consecutive game due to disciplinary reasons in Week 5. Thomas threw a punch at a teammate, then reportedly behaved in a disrespectful manner toward coaches after the incident. When Thomas is on, he is an historically productive receiver. Is that the version of Thomas the Saints get upon his return? His presence has been badly missed.
11. Chicago Bears, Previous rank: No. 16
Do you respect the Bears yet? They provided more food for thought on Sunday, shutting down the Panthers with a 23-16 win in Charlotte. Carolina had been playing as well as any team in the NFC over the course of its three-game winning streak, but the Bears’ defense muzzled Matt Rhule’s offense with a now-familiar recipe for success: get to the quarterback and force turnovers. Add in improved QB play for Chicago with Nick Foles, and the Bears are finding ways to win close games week after week. But back to the question at hand: Do you respect the Bears yet? With games against the Rams, Saints and Titans on tap (12-4 combined record), further clarity should be on the way.
12. New England Patriots, Previous rank: No. 11
The Patriots were unable to practice much at all over the past two weeks as they dealt with COVID-19 issues, and it looked that way for the offense in an 18-12 loss to the Broncos. New England managed just 288 total yards and turned it over three times, including a pair of Cam Newton interceptions in the QB’s return from his own coronavirus-related absence. The defense deserves credit for holding the Broncos to six field goals, and two late Drew Lock interceptions pumped life back into the team. It wasn’t enough, however, and the Pats are under .500 through five games for the first time in 18 years. Nobody said life without Tom Brady would be easy.
13. Las Vegas Raiders, Previous rank: No. 13
“Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the bye weeks, I never really have been,” Jon Gruden told the media with a smile last week. You might feel that way, too, if your team was sent into hibernation fresh off a convincing win over the defending Super Bowl champs. Beating up on Patrick Mahomes recalibrated expectations, and it will be interesting to see which version of the Raiders show up for Sunday night’s prime-time showdown with the Bucs. You know Derek Carr has had this game circled for months: On the day he moved to Las Vegas, Carr discovered Tom Brady on the front of the local newspaper, a discovery he said added a “little fuel to the fire.” Outplaying Brady in front of Al, Cris and the world would be a huge moment for a QB on a seemingly eternal Dangerfield-like hunt for respect.
14. Arizona Cardinals, Previous rank: No. 15
The Cardinals had a ball on Monday night in Dallas, dominating action in all phases en route to a 38-10 win over the reeling Cowboys. Kyler Murray celebrated his North Texas homecoming with three scores, including a rainbow deep ball strike to Christian Kirk for an 80-yard touchdown that effectively settled matters in the second quarter. Vance Joseph’s defense also stepped up, making life miserable for an overmatched Andy Dalton. Safety Budda Baker was outstanding, finishing with a sack, interception, forced fumble and two QB hits. A huge measuring-stick game looms Sunday against the undefeated Seahawks. The Cardinals shouldn’t enter that showdown with a lack of confidence.
Mike Tomlin couldn’t resist twisting the knife on Myles Garrett and Co. after a 38-7 beatdown of the Browns. “That was varsity ball today,” the Steelers coach explained. The obvious implication being that Cleveland remains jayvee in this one-sided rivalry. Not exactly the outcome Browns fans were expecting in a year that’s supposed to be different. Meanwhile, it’s time to start worrying about Baker Mayfield. The third-year quarterback looked uncomfortable playing with bruised ribs and took his team out of the game with turnovers, including an early Minkah Fitzpatrick pick-six. With running back Nick Chubb sidelined, the Browns won’t be able to consistently hide their quarterback in the game plan. Baker needs to start making plays, or difficult conversations will commence at team headquarters.
16. Indianapolis Colts, Previous rank: No. 18
Now that’s the Philip Rivers the Colts paid for. The veteran passer delivered a vintage performance against the Bengals, throwing for 371 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-27 comeback win. Sure, he also had a vintage Philip Rivers interception that kept Cincinnati’s hopes alive in the fourth quarter, but on balance, it was an excellent performance that backed up Frank Reich’s vote of confidence last week and sends the Colts into their bye on a high note at 4-2. Rivers was unconscious as the Colts slashed away at a 21-0 deficit in the second quarter, finishing 14-for-21 with 235 yards and two TDs in the period. It was the most yards he’s accumulated in any quarter in his career.
17. San Francisco 49ers, Previous rank: No. 21
Just a huge win on Sunday night for the 49ers, whose season was teetering on the brink after last week’s blowout home loss to the Dolphins. Jimmy Garoppolo looked healthier and much more like himself against the Rams, throwing three touchdown passes in an efficient performance. The offensive line didn’t allow a sack and managed the near impossible by neutralizing Aaron Donald , who finished with just two tackles and one quarterback hit. With the game on the line in the final minutes, Kyle Shanahan called for a toss to a healthy and dangerous Deebo Samuel, who powered his way for the game-sealing first down. The schedule ahead remains foreboding, but the Niners might be up to the challenge.
18. Los Angeles Chargers, Previous rank: No. 17
A schedule shakeup prompted by COVID-19 worked out in the Chargers’ favor, with their bye moving up to Week 6. The Bolts have been a walking MASH unit this season, so a week to rest and recover could pay huge dividends for a 1-4 team that still has big upside with sizzling rookie Justin Herbert under center. No one needed the break more than Joey Bosa, the star pass rusher who was limited to just 28 defensive snaps against the Saints in Week 5 due to knee, ankle and triceps injuries. A refreshed Bosa makes every level of the Chargers’ defense better. The lowly Jaguars come to L.A. on Sunday.
19. Carolina Panthers, Previous rank: No. 14
The three-game winning streak is kaput because the Panthers’ offense had a bad day at the office. Teddy Bridgewater struggled against a consistent Bears pass rush, and Carolina’s red-zone issues were magnified in a 23-16 loss. Bridgewater was constantly on the run and sacked four times, a far cry from the past two weeks, when the QB wasn’t sacked once. D.J. Moore had three drops, Mike Davis fumbled deep in Carolina territory and Bridgewater threw the game-deciding pick in the final minutes. The Panthers have proven they can win — and even thrive — without Christian McCaffrey, but his absence is more apparent when the level of competition jumps up a notch.
20. Miami Dolphins, Previous rank: No. 20
The Dolphins are an easy team to root for right now. Late in a 24-0 drubbing of the winless Jets, Miami’s second consecutive blowout victory, Tua Tagovailoa entered the game to loud cheers from the smattering of Dolphins fans permitted inside Hard Rock Stadium. Leading the cheering section? None other than Ryan Fitzpatrick, the gregarious veteran QB who will one day be moved out of the starting lineup to make room for the first-round pick. It’s all positive vibes for Brian Flores’ team, which has moved ahead of the Patriots and right behind the Bills in the AFC East. Miami’s defense stood out against New York, holding Adam Gase’s absurd offense to just 263 yards without a point. Up next after the Week 7 bye: a measuring stick game at home against the 4-2 Rams.
UPDATE: The Dolphins are naming rookie Tua Tagovailoa their starting quarterback, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Ryan Fitzpatrick will serve as the backup when the team returns from its Week 7 bye.
21. Denver Broncos, Previous rank: No. 27
That’s two wins in a row — 17 days apart — for the Broncos, who delivered a (mostly) crisp effort after a long layoff connected to positive coronavirus tests for the Patriots. Winning in Foxborough isn’t the same achievement it used to be, but Denver deserves credit for throttling Cam Newton and staving off a potential collapse after Drew Lock threw a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter. Lock failed to get the Broncos into the end zone in his return to the lineup, but he moved the offense and set the table for Brandon McManus, who drilled six field goals. McManus is a weapon — the best kicker in the league not named Justin Tucker.
22. Detroit Lions, Previous rank: No. 25
The Lions finally put together a complete effort on Sunday and were rewarded with a rarity for Detroit: the blowout victory. On defense, it was the revival of the pass rush, which consistently got after Gardner Minshew and forced the mustachioed Jaguars passer into hurried throws and mistakes. On offense, we saw a breakout performance from D’Andre Swift, the rookie running back who went off for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Swift became the first Lions rookie with 100 rushing yards and two scores in a game since Barry Sanders in 1989. The performance should lead to a more prominent role for Swift, who has been splitting work with Adrian Peterson, a future Hall of Famer who has — to borrow a Parcells-ism — reached the “progress-stopper” stage of his career.
23. Philadelphia Eagles, Previous rank: No. 23
The Eagles needed the ol’ TD/2-pt conversion/defensive stop/TD/2-pt conversion to pull off an incredible comeback against the Ravens. They succeeded in the first four steps, but Matt Judon and L.J. Fort stuffed Carson Wentz for no gain on the 2-point attempt to tie the game, dooming Philadelphia to 1-4-1. And just as DeSean Jackson is ready to rejoin the lineup, the Eagles lose another key member of the offense in tight end Zach Ertz, who will miss multiple weeks after sustaining a high ankle sprain on Sunday. Ertz had not been playing at his usual high level this season, but it’s yet another setback for Wentz, who loses a trusted security blanket. Sometimes it just isn’t your season — it certainly feels that way for this Eagles team.
24. Houston Texans, Previous rank: No. 24
A painful near-miss for the Texans, who had a chance to get themselves back into the AFC South race but couldn’t close in an overtime loss to the Titans. The defense gave up 601 yards, 264 of those coming from Derrick Henry alone. Interim coach Romeo Crennel caught heat for his decision to go for a 2-point conversion up seven in the final minutes, but Crennel saw the bigger picture. His defense wasn’t going to get a stop on that final drive; going up two scores was the only way to ensure a win. At least Deshaun Watson is looking like a superstar again as he develops chemistry with his new supporting cast. Brandin Cooks stood out, finishing with nine catches and a score on nine targets. Find a way to beat the Packers at home this week, or start planning for 2021.
25. Atlanta Falcons, Previous rank: No. 29
Change the coach, change your fortunes. The Falcons began the Raheem Morris “Youngry Mach II” era with a 40-23 blowout of the Vikings, Atlanta’s first win of the season in six tries. Matt Ryan, the subject of trade speculation all week as the Falcons edge toward a complete rebuild, reminded the league he still has elite ability with a 371-yard, four-TD performance. Two of those scoring throws went to Julio Jones, another longtime franchise superstar who showed he still has plenty left in the tank. Falcons fans should savor the Ryan-Jones connection — it’s hard to say how much longer it will be around.
26. Dallas Cowboys, Previous rank: No. 22
Hoo boy. The Cowboys got blown out by the Cardinals at home in prime time on Monday night — and even worse, Andy Dalton looked completely incapable of keeping the Dallas offense afloat with Dak Prescott out for the year. Dalton was jittery in the pocket, missed open receivers and threw two interceptions in a dreary performance. He didn’t get any help from Ezekiel Elliott, whose two first-half fumbles led to 14 Cardinals points. Elliott has put the ball on the carpet five times in six games — just one more problem for a badly depleted Cowboys team that looks closer to a top-10 draft pick than a return to the playoffs.
27. Minnesota Vikings, Previous rank: No. 19
We wondered if the Vikings would get off the mat after that stomach-punch loss to the Seahawks on Sunday night of Week 5. Nope. They barely showed up in Week 6 and limped out of their own building after a 40-23 whipping by the previously winless Falcons. Following the loss, a game in which Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions for the second time in six weeks, the quarterback acknowledged he’s playing at a level that could get him benched. It makes you wonder if general manager Rick Spielman is experiencing buyer’s remorse on that two-year extension handed to Cousins back in March. On a bye now, a trip to Lambeau Field in Week 8 looms as a potential knockout punch.
28. Cincinnati Bengals, Previous rank: No. 26
Here’s a disturbing stat: Under Zac Taylor, the Bengals are now 1-11-1 in one-score games. Cincinnati built a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter against the Colts, but that cushion quickly disappeared once Philip Rivers got hot. The Colts QB threw for 235 yards and two scores in the second quarter alone, looking nothing like the scuffling veteran he’s been most of this season. On the positive side for the Bengals, Joe Burrow was much better than a week ago against the Ravens. He even found a connection with A.J. Green (8/96/0), who delivered his best performance of 2020 coming off a week of criticism for his effort level in last week’s loss.
29. New York Giants, Previous rank: No. 31
The Giants finally have a win, because they found ways to make plays in money time. Late in the fourth quarter, Kyler Fackrell sacked Washington quarterback Kyle Allen, and rookie Tae Crowder (Mr. Irrelevant 2020!) scooped up the loose ball and returned it 43 yards for a score to give the Giants the lead. When Ron Rivera got frisky and went for a game-winning 2-point conversion instead of a PAT in the final minute, the New York defense bowed up and forced Allen into a game-sealing incompletion. It’s not a particularly helpful win for Giants fans in “Tank For Trevor” mode, but forget that. This is a team with a new head coach in Joe Judge and a still-green QB in Daniel Jones. Patience, salty grasshoppers of the Meadowlands.
30. Washington Football Team, Previous rank: No. 30
“The only way to learn to win is to play to win.” That’s how Ron Rivera explained his decision to go for a 2-point conversion instead of the extra point to tie the game at 20 against the Giants on Sunday. Kyle Allen’s subsequent pass fell incomplete, and Washington lost its fifth straight game. Riverboat Ron sinks in the swamps of Jersey. Allen isn’t a long-term solution, and logic dictates it makes more sense to get more of a look at former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins before making another seismic QB decision in the offseason. Of course, the fact that Haskins was benched so quickly probably tells us all we need to know about where he stands in the organization going forward. It feels like the riverboat is sitting in neutral at the marina.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars, Previous rank: No. 28
Minshewmania is a mirage. Gardner Minshew has a winning personality and stellar facial hair, but his abilities on the field put a cap on what the Jaguars are able to do. That’s how it’s looked during Jacksonville’s five-game losing streak, which continued with a 34-16 setback against the Lions on Sunday. Minshew’s numbers are respectable, but much of his production has come in garbage time. Five of his eight TD passes during the losing streak have occurred with the Jags trailing by at least 10 points. Minshew is far from the only one to blame for Jacksonville’s struggles — the defense has struggled mightily — but the quarterback position can’t be ignored if the Jags find themselves at or near the top of the draft board next spring.
32. New York Jets, Previous rank: No. 32
Another week, another embarrassing three hours for the Jets and their long-suffering fan base. This time it was a 24-0 loss to the Dolphins, New York’s first blanking by their rivals to the south since the 1982 AFC Championship Game. As the losses mount, it gets increasingly more difficult to understand why management isn’t making a move at head coach. Adam Gase is now 30-40 in his career (7-15 with the Jets), with 31 of the 40 losses coming by double digits. The Jets’ margin of defeat this season is 18.3 points, and the offense has produced six touchdowns in six games. Online conspiracy theorists believe the Jets are keeping Gase on to ensure the team gets the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft. It’s not the craziest thing we’ve heard.