NFL power rankings, Week 9: Bills tumble, Saints soar
After Sunday’s action, the Buffalo Bills plummet while the New Orleans Saints rise up the rankings.
Last week: L, 31-28, vs. NYJ
Last rank: 32nd
Next Week: The Browns are back at home for the second consecutive Sunday. This time they welcome rookies Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the revitalized Dallas Cowboys. Cleveland’s defense has had its issues stopping the run for any number of years and this will be the supreme test.
Playoff hopes: Try basically non-existent no matter how positive a picture you paint. But at least these Browns keep on fighting despite their inexperienced roster and revolving door at quarterback. That’s a credit to Hue Jackson, who’s doing his best in his second stint as an NFL head coach. But this team can still play spoiler.
San Francisco 49ers
Last week: BYE
Last rank: 31st
Next week: San Francisco hosts the Saints next week for an afternoon game sure to be a blowout. New Orleans scores a lot of points with Drew Brees and Brandin Cooks, and will take full advantage of being on the field more than half of the game. The former Boilermaker will look to cook Chip’s duck in his own house.
Playoff hopes: San Francisco fans are just waiting to see which quarterback Kelly can draft and scheme with. Deshaun Watson seems like the prototypical fit for Kelly’s spread offense, but has seemed to regress at Clemson this year. Kelly wants accurate, smart quarterbacks who get the ball out of their hand fast and efficiently. Can Watson give him that? Time will tell.
Last week: Mon. night, vs. MIN
Last rank: 30th
Next week: Chicago goes on their bye week looking to find a way to make the most of their horrendous season. Coming off the bye week they will travel to Tampa Bay, who will be coming off a long week thanks to Thursday Night Football. Not a good situation for ‘Da Bears.
Playoff hopes: More like second-overall pick hopes. The Bears look to be in a heated battle with the 49ers to see who gets the second-best quarterback in next years class. They’ll have their options of a signal caller, or they could get a stud like Jabrill Peppers or Myles Garrett on defense.
Last week: L, 36-22, at TEN
Last rank: 28th
Next Week: Bradley’s club has a tall task ahead of them as they head to Arrowhead Stadium to face Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs. With the way that the Titans were able to exploit the Jacksonville defense on the ground, it could be another rough outing if the team doesn’t get its act together.
Playoff hopes: The AFC South is extremely bunched up and even at 2-5, the Jaguars aren’t out of the division or postseason conversation. And remember they close the season at Houston, vs. Tennessee and at Indianapolis. If they can keep their head above water, they may have something to say about this race yet.
Los Angeles Rams
Last week: BYE
Last rank: 26th
Next week: Los Angeles comes off their bye week with a hot Panthers team rolling into town. Carolina had a dominant win the Cardinals, and showed their defense can disrupt the quarterback. Case Keenum has been sacked 16 times, a promising stat for the Panthers pass rush. If Ryan Kalil and Shaq Thompson are healthy, the Rams could have issues on both sides of the ball.
Playoff hopes: Los Angeles sits in third place in the NFC West after the Cardinals tie gives Arizona a stronger winning percentage. You can not rule the Rams out of the playoffs just yet, but with questions across the roster, the chances are not great. It would be nice to see the playoffs return to Los Angeles for the first time since 1989.
Last week: BYE
Last rank: 25th
Next Week: The team returns to the field and host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Black and Gold will also be well rested entering this tilt but will they have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? Last season, the Ravens finished with a disappointing 5-11 record. But two of those wins came at the expense of Mike Tomlin’s club.
Playoff hopes: The Ravens play four of their next five games at home and have an opportunity to get themselves back above .500 again. Three of those five contests are against each of their AFC North rivals and they already own a road victory over the Browns this season. Despite the recent slump, they’re very much in the playoff picture and can tie the Steelers for first place with a win next week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last week: L, 30-24, vs. OAK
Last rank: 22nd
Next week: A short week for the Buccaneers is on the way with the Falcons flying in. Atlanta has won three games on the road this year, while the Buccaneers have lost all three opportunities at home. Look for Vernon Hargreaves against either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu, who had a major game for Atlanta.
Playoff hopes: A motley of tough games are on the way for Tampa Bay, including the Seahawks, Cowboys, Chiefs, Saints (x2) and Panthers. Jameis Winston has shown flashes of improvement, but he does not have the necessary help around him right now. Playoffs are still a tough thing to envision for the Buccaneers.
Last week: W, 30-20, vs. AZ
Last rank: 29th
Next week: The Panthers travel out to Los Angeles to face the Rams. After Carolina’s defense held David Johnson to 24-yards on the ground, Todd Gurley should be worried. The Panthers look to be back, and it comes at the wrong time for a Rams team being pressured to play Jared Goff.
Playoff hopes: Carolina has dug themselves in a deep hole, and it would take a miracle for them to make the playoffs. In 2013, they won their last four games to make the playoffs at 7-8-1, but needed help from the Saints and Falcons. That season Atlanta and New Orleans combined to lose nine of their last 16 combined games. It’s a stretch, but not entirely impossible.
Last week: L, 30-14, vs. KC
Last rank: 20th
Next Week: It could be an offensive explosion by both teams as the Colts travel north to Lambeau Field to battle the always-dangerous Green Bay Packers. You’ll recall the first clash between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, a stirring 30-27 come-from-behind win for at Indianapolis four years ago.
Playoff hopes: They don’t look very good at the moment. The Colts are a half-game out of last place in the AFC South and now two full games behind the first-place Texans. The defense remains a liability and Andrew Luck has taken a beating to date this season. There’s eight games to go but this team has to start to show some progress quickly.
New York Jets
Last week: W, 31-28, at CLE
Last rank: 24th
Next Week: New York is back on the road for a second straight Sunday as they travel to South Florida to meet the suddenly-revived Miami Dolphins. The Jets have owned the series as of late, winning three straight and four of the last five encounters. It will be interesting to see if Todd Bowles’ defensive unit can slow down Jay Ajayi.
Playoff hopes: It’s really to eliminate just about anyone in terms of the postseason (with the exception of the Browns) and the Jets are as capable as any team of getting hot. After their visit to Miami in Week 9, Bowles’ club play three consecutive home games. And it’s also worth noting that five of the team’s last eight games are versus AFC East rivals.
Last week: W, 36-22, vs. JAX
Last rank: 27th
Next Week: The Titans hit the road for the first time since Week 5 when they head to San Diego to face the Chargers. They will also have a mini-reunion with former head coach Ken Whisenhunt, once again the offensive coordinator of the Bolts. He lasted just 23 games as Tennessee’s sideline leader from 2014-15 and managed a dismal 3-20 record.
Playoff hopes: Neither the Houston Texans nor Indianapolis Colts have pulled away in the AFC South this season. And the way Mularkey’s team is playing these days, they have a legitimate chance to win a division title for the first time since 2008. The Titans have emerged as one of the more physical teams in the NFL and that ground attack is capable of demoralizing any team in this league.
Last week: L, 41-25, vs. NE
Last rank: 17th
Next Week: It certainly doesn’t get any easier. The Bills travel cross country to the Pacific Northwest to clash with the Seattle Seahawks. The perennial contenders have already disposed of a pair of AFC East teams this season in the Dolphins and Jets and their defense will provide a stiff challenge for Buffalo’s rejuvenated offense.
Playoff hopes: At 4-4, Ryan’s team is certainly in the hunt. Although the team has dropped two straight, there’s a lot to be positive about here. On the other hand, the Bills are just 1-4 within their own conference and 1-3 vs. their AFC East rivals. Buffalo’s lack of consistency may eventually prove to be their undoing.
Last week: L, 30-20, at CAR
Last rank: 11th
Next week: Arizona finally gets a bye week to reset and get healthy. Having John Brown fully recovered from sore hamstrings caused by his recently-discovered sickle-cell trait would be a big gain for the offense. They need to focus on protecting an aging Palmer and taking advantage of their 14 takeaways.
Playoff hopes: Arizona is still in the hunt for the NFC West thanks to the Seahawks loss in New Orleans Sunday. Seattle faces Buffalo and New England next, and the Cardinals will want them to lose at-least one of those games. The two won’t face each other until Christmas Eve, their second-to-last regular season game of the season.
Last week: BYE
Last rank: 21st
Next Week: It’s back to business for the surging ‘Fins, who will cap off four consecutive home games with a visit from the struggling New York Jets. Miami has had its problems in this series as of late, losing each of the last three meetings in three different locations (South Florida, London and MetLife Stadium).
Playoff hopes: Gase’s team has dug itself quite a hole within the division this season but there’s still a lot of football to be played. Conference wins over the Browns, Steelers and Bills certainly help Miami’s cause, as does the fact that the team is playing better football at the moment. But there’s lots of work to be done.
Last week: T, 27-27, at CIN
Last rank: 18th
Next week: The Redskins go on their bye week, and will return home to prepare for the Minnesota Vikings. Washington got to see Sam Bradford twice last year in Philadelphia, and has enough tape to find out how to pressure him. Keep a close eye on the Redskins in this game.
Playoff hopes: Washington should not get worried just yet, but their tie in London puts them in a harder position to win the NFC East for a second-consecutive year. After a long week off from football, the Redskins can focus on Kansas City, whom they play on the road after their break.
Last week: T, 27-27, vs. WSH
Last rank: 17th
Next Week: Following their trip to London, the Bengals have some time off. They return to the field in Week 10 when they travel to MetLife Stadium for the second time this season, this time to battle the New York Giants. Cincinnati’s final eight games have them alternating road and home contests the remainder of the year.
Playoff hopes: At 3-4-1, Lewis’ talented squad is within striking distance in the AFC North but the fact remains that the defending divisional champions are struggling, most notably on the defensive side of the ball. There’s a rematch with the Steelers down the road as well as two games remaining with the Baltimore Ravens, so there’s no need for panic.
New Orleans Saints
Last week: W, 25-20, vs. SEA
Last rank: 23rd
Next week: New Orleans travels to San Francisco, where the offense will be licking their chops against a horrendous 49ers defense. Drew Brees will be on the field for 40 minutes, giving the Saints a great opportunity to win consecutive games and stay in the playoff picture with the Falcons.
Playoff hopes: The Saints are still hanging in after a big win at home against the Seahawks. While the defense can not stay afloat, the offense is throwing a life-vest to keep the season alive. Can a 37-year-old quarterback carry his team through the season and contend for possibly one final playoff run?
San Diego Chargers
Last week: L, 27-19, at DEN
Last rank: 16th
Next Week: It should be an intriguing Week 9 in San Diego as second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota and the improving Tennessee Titans comes to town. Chargers’ offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was the team’s head coach for 23 game from 2014-15 and forged a dismal 3-20 record before being replaced by Mike Mularkey.
Playoff hopes: Despite being the only team in the AFC West with a losing record, there’s still postseason hope for Mike McCoy’s squad. But they need to play much more consistent defense as the other side of the ball has shown well despite plenty of injuries to the pass-catching corps. But time is running out slowly but surely for the Bolts.
Last week: L, 20-13, at HOU
Last rank: 13th
Next week: The Lions get a divisional game against the Vikings, who will be coming off a short week thanks to Monday Night Football. The two teams will play their season series within four weeks, with their next game coming on Thanksgiving in Detroit.
Playoff hopes: Thanks to the Packers loss, the Lions are still technically in the playoff race inside the NFC North. Their two games coming up against the Vikings will be critical, as they currently sit two games back of the division lead. Hope is still alive for the Lions at the midway point of the season, and the time is now to take advantage of the schedule.
Last week: L, 29-23 (OT), at DAL
Last rank: 12th
Next week: Philadelphia takes a short drive up the road to the Meadowlands, where the Eagles have won three-straight seasons. The defensive backs will have their hands full with Beckham Jr., Shepard, and Cruz, but they should get help from the linebackers. With no true running threat on the Giants, the Eagles can drop a man back into coverage.
Playoff hopes: All four teams in the NFC East are in contention, and the Eagles are right in the thick of things. With three of their last four games against division opponents at home, the Eagles are in great position to make a late run at a playoff spot with rookie Carson Wentz.
Last week: W, 20-13, vs. DET
Last rank: 16th
Next Week: It is vacation time for O’Brien’s team as the Texans are off. They return and begin the tricky part of their schedule with four road games in five weeks. It starts with a trip to division-rival Jacksonville and the following Monday night, they clash with the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City.
Playoff hopes: Since they currently are the only team in the AFC South with a winning record, you would have to think that the Texans’ playoff chances are pretty good. But this failure to come away with a victory away from home is something this club has to shake in a hurry if they’re going to be taken seriously as a contender.
New York Giants
Last week: BYE
Last rank: 14th
Next Week: Philadelphia is coming off a tough loss on the road, but have a short drive up the road to East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants will hope to have rookies Eli Apple and Darian Thompson out in the secondary, ready to face an Eagles offense that looked much improved on Sunday night.
Playoff Hopes: All four teams in the NFC East are still in the hunt for a division crown, and possibly a Wild Card game. The Giants have three straight home games coming off the bye to play catch up, but four of their final six are on the road.
Green Bay Packers
Last week: L, 33-32, at ATL
Last rank: 7th
Next week: The Packers will face a Colts team that has split their past three games, alternating between a loss and a win. Next week would be a win for the Colts should the pattern continue. This will be the first time since Andrew Luck’s rookie season the two teams have met. Luck had the advantage over Rodgers last time, leading Indianapolis to a 30-27 win on a last-minute touchdown to Reggie Wayne.
Playoff hopes: Green Bay’s playoff hopes are still alive, but they need Minnesota to take another step back. Teams learned how to beat the Vikings last week when they lost to the Eagles, and that’s making Sam Bradford uncomfortable. With injuries to the offensive tackles, Green Bay needs to bring pressure and add to their 17 sacks.
Last week: BYE
Last rank: 9th
Next Week: The Steelers and Baltimore Ravens renew their always-intense rivalry. Last season, Joe Flacco and company went into Pittsburgh and prevailed in overtime. Late in the year, John Harbaugh started Ryan Mallett and the journeyman quarterback and the team surprised the playoff-bound Steelers. These clubs play their share of down-to-the-wire affairs.
Playoff hopes: The Steelers are still atop the AFC North with a 4-3 record, with both the Ravens (3-4) and Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1) breathing down their necks. It’s those losses to the Dolphins and Patriots that could come back to haunt them if they are unable to win a division title. Even minus quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, they look like the AFC North’s best team – at least at the moment.
Last week: W, 30-24 (OT), at TB
Last rank: 10th
Next Week: Del Rio and company welcome the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos next week. It’s a golden opportunity for the Silver and Black, who last season snapped an eight-game losing streak in the series courtesy of a 15-12 win at Denver. But the Raiders have lost five straight at home to their rivals from the Mile High City.
Playoff hopes: There has been no winning season and no postseason appearance since 2002. It’s hard to believe that the former won’t happen this year. But as we have seen, clubs with 10 or more wins have missed the playoffs each of the last four years. That seems like a worst-case scenario for these Raiders. More realistically, this very confident club appears to be in the race for the long haul.
Last week: L, 25-20, at NO
Last rank: 3rd
Next week: The Seahawks will host the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football in a game they should be heavily favorited. Between the Seattle crowd and the Bills injuries on offense, the Seahawks should go into Sunday night against the Patriots with another win in their pocket.
Playoff hopes: The tie against Arizona really made the NFC West even more strange. All four teams have gone without a win in over two weeks, and three teams are still technically in the chase. Because Arizona has failed to live up to expectations this year, Seattle should be primed to make another exciting playoff run.
Last week: W, 33-32, vs. GB
Last rank: 8th
Next week: The Falcons travel to Tampa Bay for Thursday Night Football in a major divisional showdown. Despite their dominance this year, Atlanta has still not pulled away with the NFC South. Thursday will be their opportunity to create separation on a short week. It’s hard to see the Buccaneers shutting down Julio Jones after seeing what happened with Amari Cooper this week.
Playoff hopes: The Falcons are still in great position to win the NFC South, sitting two games ahead of Tampa Bay and New Orleans. They have a short week with Thursday Night Football coming in Tampa Bay, followed by a trip to Philadelphia. Winning one of those two games will be crucial for Atlanta moving forward, and could help them gain home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs
Last week: W, 30-14, at IND
Last rank: 6th
Next Week: The Chiefs welcome the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars to Arrowhead Stadium. Of course, all eyes will be on Alex Smith and running back Spencer Ware (both suffering concussions) this week to see whether they will be able to play next Sunday. Obviously, Andy Reid is more than comfortable with Nick Foles and Charcandrick West filling in. Gus Bradley’s club will have their hands full.
Playoff hopes: The Broncos and Raiders sit with identical 76-2 record and Reid’s team is only behind in the win column because they’ve played one less game. Last season, the Chiefs ran the table after a 1-5 start. These days, Kansas City is riding a three-game winning streak and is getting better on a weekly basis.
Last week: W, 27-19, vs. SD
Last rank: 5th
Next Week: Once again, the Broncos will clash with a divisional foe as they head to Oakland to battle the Raiders in a primetime Sunday tilt. Barring a tie (and we’ve had a few the last two weeks), the winner will be alone in first place in the AFC West by the end of next week. It’s worth noting that Denver has won its last five road games in this intense rivalry.
Playoff hopes: There’s no reason to believe that the Broncos won’t be in the postseason chase all year. Their defense is one of the best in the business and their offensive unit has been effective enough. A victory at Oakland would be a big feather in the team’s cap but there’s a lot of season remaining.
Last week: W, 29-23 (OT), vs. PHI
Last rank: 4th
Next week: The Cowboys travel to Cleveland to face a Browns team that nearly pulled off their first win of the season. Dallas should not go into this game with a big head, or else they could fall into some trouble. We’ll also have to see who is still in Cleveland after the trade deadline on Tuesday.
Playoff hopes: Dallas sits atop the NFC East, but they are far from comfy in this tight division. Philadelphia, New York, and Washington are all still within striking distance of the Cowboys, and are a serious threat to Dallas late in the season. Late games in the division will decide it all.
Last week: Mon. night, at CHI
Last rank: 2nd
Next week: After a short week, the Vikings host the Detroit Lions for a critical divisional match-up. Minnesota will need to find an answer for Marvin Jones, who is among the league-leaders in receiving yards. With little threat in the running game, Minnesota can focus on closing off Jones and Golden Tate.
Playoff hopes: Minnesota is still in the driver seat in the NFC after taking their first loss of the season. Having only played six games heading into Monday night, they have a slight advantage in the standings. All of that will change as the season goes on. They still have two games against the Lions, as well as one game against the Packers and Bears after Monday.
New England Patriots
Last week: W, 41-25, at BUF
Last rank: 1st
Next Week: Owners of the best record in the NFL, the team is off in Week 9. No doubt that head coach Bill Belichick has some fine tuning to do over the next few weeks. There are some areas to address in terms of injuries but all told, this looks like a pretty efficient football team at the moment.
Playoff hopes: Eight weeks into the season and the defending AFC East champions are on course to win a record eighth straight division title. They own a three-game lead over their closest pursuer (Buffalo) and have been playing exceptional for most of 2016. It’s safe to say the Pats have earned their brief vacation.