With the season at its virtual midpoint, we have a ferocious Big Four at the top of the Power Rankings.
Could a team invade the space and replace one of the members of the Holy Quadrant? Sure. A lot can happen between now and the end of the regular season. But as things stand right now? There are the first four teams in the Power Rankings … and then there’s everybody else.
Let’s get to it.
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 8 Power Rankings.
Career win No. 300 was another breeze for Bill Belichick and the
Patriots, who are halfway home to regular-season perfection at 8-0. New England’s defense was once again too much for an inferior opponent to handle, as
Stephon Gilmore erased
Odell Beckham Jr., who finished the game with five catches on seven targets for 52 yards, while
Baker Mayfield was harassed series after series. Sitting atop Mayfield’s enemy list was
Jamie Collins, who finished Sunday with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits. That’s the type of superstar production the
Browns hoped for when they gave Collins a ton of money a few years back. Meanwhile, let’s use some numbers to add some perspective to just how dominant New England has been in the first half of 2019: The
Patriots are scoring more points per game (31.3) and allowing fewer points per game (7.6) than any of the six Super Bowl-winning teams in franchise history. Halloween terror.
Absolute dominance on Sunday by the
49ers, who welcomed the red-hot
Panthers to their house … and
promptly crushed their spirits. This is what the great teams do, and week after week, we’re seeing that San Francisco should be viewed through that prism.
Tevin Coleman was the big star on offense, piling up four touchdowns (three on the ground) in the best game of his career. The standout on defense was rookie defensive end
Nick Bosa, who finished with three sacks and
an acrobatic leaping interception that he nearly returned for a score. Bosa has removed all doubt from the Defensive Rookie of the Year race — and now you have to start thinking of Bosa as a very real candidate for Defensive
Player of the Year. Lawrence Taylor (1981) is the only rookie to win DPOY, and Bosa’s impact on the Niners is similar to LT’s on those
Giants. Every team needs a Bosa boy.
The rich get richer. The
Saints had been whupping up on teams with
Teddy Bridgewater behind center.
Drew Brees returned to the lineup on Sunday against the
Cardinals, and New Orleans promptly rolled up more than 500 yards of offense in
a 31-9 win. New Orleans’ only other 500-plus yard game came in Week 1 — not coincidentally the only other game Brees started this season. Brees and
Michael Thomas (11 catches for 112 yards and a TD on 11 targets) picked up where they left off, and running back
Latavius Murray continued to play like an All-Pro while
Alvin Kamara works his way back from an ankle injury. Murray became only the second player in
Saints history with 100-plus rushing yards, 50-plus receiving yards and both a rushing and receiving score in a single game. Throw in one of the best defenses in football, and Sean Payton’s team is a juggernaut.
“They’ve turned that guy into a superstar.” Those were the words of
Around The NFL Podcast colleague Chris Wesseling as we watched
Aaron Jones rumble to the end zone with the
game-winning score on Sunday night
against the Chiefs. There’s so much to like about Green Bay right now, but Jones’ ascent to legit dual-threat monster has opened up a surging
Packers offense that was expected to suffer when receiver
Davante Adams went on the shelf with a toe injury. With Adams out since Week 4,
Aaron Rodgers and first-year coach Matt LaFleur have essentially turned Jones into a productive wide receiver. According to Next Gen Stats, Jones caught four of five targets aligned wide for 127 yards and a touchdown against the
Chiefs. That’s 53 more yards than the next-closest running back lining up out wide in a single game since the Next Gen era began in 2016. Good teams find a way to make the most of their personnel.
It wasn’t the blowout most expected, but the
took care of the Redskins on
Thursday Night Football and have now won four straight after last month’s apparent
near-mutiny in the locker room.
Kirk Cousins failed to complete just three of 26 attempts, but the real star was
Dalvin Cook, who piled up 171 yards of total offense and provided the game’s lone touchdown on another monster day. Cook is the NFL’s leader in scrimmage yards and has become a dual-threat in the backfield on par with
Alvin Kamara and fellow MVP candidate
Christian McCaffrey. According to NFL Media Research, Cook is averaging 11.6 yards after the catch per reception this season, tops in the league. Spinning forward, we’ll learn a lot about the Vikes in the next two weeks, with road matchups
against the Chiefs
and Cowboys on tap. Cousins has struggled historically in high-visibility showdowns against
Super Bowl contenders — can he quiet that ugly narrative?
Seahawks authored a classic Jekyll and Hyde performance against the
Falcons on Sunday, following a dominant first half with an unsightly second half in an eventual
27-20 win. This was not supposed to be a close game, with Atlanta QB
Matt Ryan sidelined by an ankle injury, but a Matt Schaub-led
Falcons offense still managed to pile up more than 500 total yards against the
Russell Wilson threw only five passes in the game’s final two quarters, feeding into the feeling that Pete Carroll was content to coast to a victory rather than attempt to bury the one-win
Falcons. One big loss on Sunday: Center
Justin Britt suffered a torn ACL and
will undergo season-ending surgery. Center is not a position of depth for the
Seahawks, who might be active at the trade deadline in search of a replacement.
Cowboys hit their Week 8 bye with a win and the warm feeling that
Ezekiel Elliott is playing like
Ezekiel Elliott again. The star running back, who looked a step or two slow in the weeks after he ended his contract holdout, now has more than 140 scrimmage yards in consecutive games.
Dak Prescott showed earlier this season that he is capable of carrying the Dallas offense when he’s hot, but having Elliott at the center of the universe is the best and most stable version of this attack. In other ‘Boys news,
last week’s trade for defensive lineman
Michael Bennett could be great for
Robert Quinn and
DeMarcus Lawrence, who have been the focus of constant double-teams. Bennett has a habit of wearing out his welcome (he’s on his fifth team in 11 seasons), but he’s been an impact producer everywhere he’s gone. He should make the
J.J. Watt told the world
he is “gutted” after learning his season has been ended by
a torn pec muscle suffered in
Sunday’s win over the
Raiders. Bill O’Brien can relate. The
Texans‘ head coach and de facto general manager went all in on 2019, making a series of aggressive roster moves with the goal of getting Houston to its first
Super Bowl in February. Even
with Watt, who remained an All-Pro stud before his latest injury, the
Texans were facing an uphill challenge as they battled both inconsistencies in their week-to-week play and the grim understanding that the defending Super Bowl-champion
Patriots have that 16-0 glow. Losing Watt significantly weakens Houston — that much is obvious. Does it remove the
Texans from the conversation of legitimate contenders? Counting out any team led by a player as special as
Deshaun Watson would be foolish, but this was an undeniably crushing blow.
Who would have thought the 2019
Chiefs would suffer three losses at Arrowhead before Halloween? Kansas City
couldn’t find a way to get past the
Packers in prime time, with
Patrick Mahomes stuck on the sideline with that bad knee. The most frustrating part of the loss is that the
Chiefs didn’t lose because of quarterback play. Backup
Matt Moore performed extremely well, completing 24 of 36 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns while leading the
Chiefs back from two deficits, including a 14-0 hole in the first quarter. The regret here is that K.C. didn’t get help from the players it counts on. Running back
LeSean McCoy had
a key fumble, tight end
Travis Kelce dropped a pass in the end zone and receiver
Sammy Watkins let a huge potential gain bounce off his hands. The
Chiefs had to be razor sharp without the MVP in the lineup … especially against peak
Aaron Rodgers. On Sunday night, they weren’t.
Ravens exiting their bye week, let’s use this space to contextualize
Lamar Jackson‘s greatness this season through numbers. Let’s start with the offense Jackson leads: The
Ravens are averaging 30.6 points per game and 434.9 yards per game, both the best marks in franchise history. Jackson’s 576 rushing yards were good for 10th in the NFL entering Monday. You won’t find another quarterback on that list of top runners until
Kyler Murray, ranked 38th in the league. Jackson had more rushing yards on his own than seven other teams in the NFL entering Week 8, and he’s currently on pace for 1,316 rushing yards, which would shatter Michael Vick’s NFL record for a quarterback of 1,039 yards, set in 2006. Throw in the fact that Jackson has more than twice as many touchdown passes (11) as he does interceptions (5), with a passer rating near 100, and yes, the
Ravens have a legit MVP candidate under center.
“The throw was stinking impressive.” That’s how
Colts coach Frank Reich described
35-yard sideline strike to
T.Y. Hilton late in the fourth quarter
against Denver, a completion that came after Brissett dodged a potential game-deciding sack by
Von Miller, rolled to his right and found his favorite receiver. Two plays later, a suspect horse-collar tackle penalty on the
Broncos moved Indy to the fringe of field-goal territory, and
Adam Vinatieri completed a topsy-turvy day with
a 51-yard kick to put the Colts ahead with 22 seconds to play. Vinatieri missed an earlier field-goal attempt and a PAT try that would have tied the game 13 in the third quarter. His inconsistency remains a concern for the
Colts, but this was another Sunday where Indy found a way. All five of Indy’s wins have been by seven points or less, with three of those victories decided by three points or less.
Cooper Kupp? Last year around this time, Kupp was getting his left knee reconstructed on an operating table. Now? He just might be the best of all the
Rams‘ skill players. He certainly was on Sunday, when he piled up over 200 receiving yards and a touchdown in
a win over the Bengals. Right now, he’s my choice for Comeback Player of the Year. The
Rams will need Kupp to continue to produce after the disappointing news that
suffered yet another concussion against the
Bengals. That’s now four concussions for Cooks since
Super Bowl LII and two in the span of 24 days. This could lead to an extended absence for Cooks, which would be a significant loss for a
Rams offense that counts on the speedy wideout to stretch the field.
Sunday’s loss to the Eagles fuel for those who don’t believe Buffalo to be a legitimate contender despite its 5-2 record. A struggling Philly team went to Western New York and bullied the
Bills in their own house.
Josh Allen had
another costly fumble (he’s up to eight on the season, with three lost), while the Buffalo defense — which has played at an elite level for most of the year — got pushed around in the second half, allowing a season-worst 31 points on the day. A disappointing performance, no doubt, but it’s not time to panic. This was a classic Cornered Animal Game for the
Eagles, who played like a dangerous team fighting for its season. The
Bills, meanwhile, have an
extremely inviting schedule over the next month, with home matchups against the
Broncos and road games in Cleveland and Miami. Buffalo remains on the inside track for a playoff return.
That was a potential
season-saving performance in Orchard Park. Rookie running back
Miles Sanders made the play of the game,
a 65-yard burst to the end zone early in the third quarter that put the
Eagles in control. That’s why Philly used a second-round pick on the former Penn State star. The
Eagles ran for 218 yards against a normally stout
Bills defense, the highest rushing total in the Doug Pederson era. Speaking of Pederson, this performance reflects very well on the coach coming off
a week of drama surrounding his team. With chatter everywhere, the
Eagles showed up to Buffalo focused and took out their frustrations on a
Bills team that entered the game with just one loss. Now the biggest question: Can the
Eagles sustain this momentum?
Up next are the Bears, who are about as desperate now as the
Eagles were entering Sunday.
Well, that was rough. The
Panthers entered their matchup against the
49ers riding a four-game winning streak. They left after
being force-fed a 50-burger and slice of humble pie. “This was the ultimate team meltdown,” is how tight end
put it. Yep, it was a classic bury-the-ball game for pretty much every
Panthers player not named
Christian McCaffrey, who somehow still managed 155 total yards and a touchdown. Quarterback
Kyle Allen was overwhelmed by a great Niners defense, throwing three interceptions with a 28.9 passer rating in absorbing his first loss as a starter. Coach Ron Rivera quickly announced Monday that Allen
will start again in place of the injured
Cam Newton this Sunday
against the Titans. You get the feeling that Cam will get cleared to return to action soon. Could Allen be playing for his starting job in Week 9?
Matthew Stafford isn’t getting the national recognition he deserves this season. The
Lions quarterback is enjoying one of the best seasons of an underrated career, and we saw him spinning magic again in
a 31-26 win over the
Giants to snap a three-game losing streak. Stafford completed 25 of 32 passes for 342 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, once again turning
Kenny Golladay (six catches, 123 yards, two touchdowns) into his modern-day version of
Megatron. Stafford is on pace to set career highs in yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating. The
Lions, following the lead of their star quarterback, have now scored 30 points or more three times this season, matching their total over 16 games a year ago. Stafford is doing his best work in the red zone, where he has thrown for 10 touchdowns without an interception. Detroit needs to build a winner around its QB before it’s too late.
Quarterback/Floridian folk hero
Gardner Minshew played perhaps his best game of the season
against the Jets, using his great escapability and deft touch to burn New York repeatedly, often on third down.
Nick Foles, who’s been out since Week 1 after breaking his collarbone, is still a few weeks away from being ready — it’s hard to imagine Doug Marrone putting Minshew back on the bench if the rookie continues to thrive. It was a well-rounded win for the
Jaguars, who sacked
Sam Darnold eight times and continued to thrive with the traded-away
Jalen Ramsey out of the picture. The Jags have forced seven turnovers in the last two games, a return to the opportunistic ways of the Sacksonville defense of 2017. With
J.J. Watt‘s season over in Houston, the AFC South remains wide open.
Things were not looking good for the
Steelers on Monday night. Down 14-0 to the
Mason Rudolph playing like a guy who could use a few more weeks on the sideline. But Rudolph improved as the game progressed, and
James Conner lent a much-needed hand with a big day on the ground (though he exited late with an injury). Even
JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered a 100-yard game with a score, much to the delight of impatient fantasy owners. On the defensive side,
T.J. Watt clinched the win with
a sack/forced fumble/recovery in the fourth quarter, and
Minkah Fitzpatrick had two interceptions against the team he couldn’t wait to get away from. I’m sure that felt nice. The
Steelers have won three of four with
the AFC South-leading Colts up next. Good test for a team that was left for dead at 0-3.
Raiders have been one of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises, but they
missed a golden opportunity Sunday to put themselves on the inside track in the AFC playoff race. Oakland had an eight-point lead over the
Texans midway through the third quarter, and
Derek Carr and the offense were going up and down the field on the Houston defense. But
Deshaun Watson put Houston on top with consecutive touchdown drives covering 77 and 75 yards, then ran out the clock on the final possession with a trio of first downs. Watson did this with his right eye nearly swollen shut following
a cleat to the face on his fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Not how Jon Gruden wanted to end a largely successful marathon road swing. But all is not lost. The
Raiders will finally play their first true home game since Sept. 15, with favorable matchups
over the next three weeks. Just win, baby.
This is fast turning into a Murphy’s Law season for the Bears:
Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. On Sunday, it was the kicker … again.
Eddy Pineiro missed a 41-yard attempt wide left as time expired, giving the
a 17-16 win at Soldier Field.
Matt Nagy offered a fiery response to reporters who questioned his decision to not attempt a move deeper into Bolts territory before the kick, but you wonder if he felt as resolute about his decision when he put head to pillow on Sunday night. The
Bears have now lost three straight, a slump that has buried them in the NFC North and put their playoff hopes in great peril in a loaded NFC.
Mitchell Trubisky committed two killer turnovers in the fourth quarter against the
Chargers, but Nagy announced Monday he will stick with his starter. It’s must-win time for the
Bears and their QB.
Another lost week for the
Browns, who are running out of time to make something of a once-promising season. Sunday’s challenge was always going to be titanic against the undefeated
Patriots, but Cleveland was not nearly sharp enough to win in Foxborough. We heard during the Week 7 bye that Freddie Kitchens’ team had committed itself to cleaning up the sloppy play that had undermined it during a 2-4 start … then Cleveland came out Sunday and committed turnovers on three consecutive plays in the first quarter to fall behind, 17-0. To their credit, the
Browns battled back to make it a one-score game midway through the third quarter, but
a 59-yard gain on a screen pass from Tom Brady to James White set up the New England touchdown that put this one out of reach. Spinning forward, Cleveland finds itself in virtual must-win territory
on Sunday against the
Joe Flacco-less Broncos. Better find a way.
With some better execution (and some worse field-goal kicking by their opponents), the
Broncos could be 5-3 at the season’s midpoint. But the execution hasn’t been there, and the opposing kickers have been true, and so the
Broncos are 2-6 and all but dead in the AFC playoff race.
Sunday’s loss to the Colts was painful, as was
Monday’s news that
Joe Flacco will miss time with an ominous-sounding neck injury.
Flacco called out the
Broncos‘ conservative game plan in his postgame press conference on Sunday, but now it will be on
Brandon Allen, claimed off waivers Sept. 1 from the
Rams, to lead the offense against the
Browns in Week 9. Second-round pick
Drew Lock has recovered from his thumb injury, but
the Broncos have not decided whether he is prepared to see live game action this season. Well, that sounds ominous, too.
The final score doesn’t quite tell the story of the
31-9 loss to the
Saints. Arizona did a nice job hanging around with an NFC powerhouse, until a gutsy call by Kliff Kingsbury brought disastrous consequences. The scene: Trailing 10-6 with less than eight minutes to play in the third quarter, the
Cardinals faced fourth-and-1 from their own 30-yard line. Kingsbury elected to go for it, and
Chase Edmonds was flattened for no gain. The
Saints took over and reached the end zone five plays later.
Game over. Kingsbury knew the
Cardinals had to be bold to beat the
Saints, but the execution simply wasn’t there. Speaking of Edmonds, the running back exited early with
a hamstring injury, and the team
subsuquently acquired running back
Kenyan Drake from the
Dolphins on Monday. Drake is a talented runner — it will be interesting to see where he fits in long-term in a crowded but banged-up backfield.
Though it was
another loss for the G-Men, Sunday’s contest brought some much-welcomed progress on the
Daniel Jones front. The rookie quarterback, who has struggled in recent weeks, put together a monster statistical day against the
Lions — 28 for 41 for 322 yards and four TDs. That’s more touchdowns than he had in New York’s prior three games combined. Meanwhile, the
made a trade with the Jets (yes, the Jets) on Monday, sending third- and fifth-round picks across the building to acquire defensive lineman
Leonard Williams. It’s a fairly hefty price, given Williams’ lack of production and impending 2020 free agency. Perhaps GM Dave Gettleman believes he can unlock the promise inside Williams, who was widely hailed as a steal for the
Jets in 2015 when he went sixth overall. Gettleman has been investing heavily in the
Giants‘ defensive line, a strategy he brought over from his “hog molly” days with the
Bruce Arians has every right to be mad. Referees did it again, apparently prematurely blowing a play dead that wiped out a potential game-changing touchdown. It burned the
Saints against the
Rams in Week 2, and it might have cost the Bucs a game
against the Titans on Sunday. “My biggest thing is, referees aren’t held accountable,”
a still-agitated Arians said Monday. “Coaches get fired. General managers get fired. Players get cut. Referees aren’t accountable. And it’s a shame.” Had the official not blown his whistle, safety
Andrew Adams would have put the Bucs ahead with less than four minutes to play on a fumble return for score. One can understand the frustration of the Bucs and their head coach, but let’s not bury the reality that
Jameis Winston had four more turnovers and continues to put Tampa Bay in difficult positions on a weekly basis. Change is coming.
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another loss for the
Falcons, who managed to turn a blowout into a narrow defeat to the
Seahawks but still seem like a rudderless operation at the season’s midway point. After the game, owner Arthur Blank
said the team would use its Week 9 bye to “evaluate where we are, and whatever decision we have to make, we’ll make.” None of that sounds particularly promising for head coach Dan Quinn, who is very clearly on borrowed time in Atlanta. On the positive side of things, let’s give it up for
Matt Schaub, the 38-year-old backup to
Matt Ryan who started a game for the first time in forever and damn near threw for 500 yards. It’s a reminder that with skill players like
Calvin Ridley and
Austin Hooper, the
Falcons have no right to be this far adrift. Unfortunately, none of those guys can play defense.
Jets continue to tailspin, and their young quarterback is along for the ride. Six days after
a scary-bad performance against the
Sam Darnold tossed three more interceptions — including a back-breaker midway through the fourth quarter — in
a loss at Jacksonville. Darnold’s day actually started brilliantly: He went 7-of-7 for 89 yards and a touchdown to tight end
Ryan Griffin on the
Jets‘ opening possession. But Adam Gase’s offense managed just 120 yards the rest of the way in another unimaginative performance. Darnold continues to struggle with turnovers, but the 22-year-old is being done no favors playing behind an offensive line that’s non-competitive most weeks. Darnold was sacked eight times, and
Le’Veon Bell fared no better in another quiet afternoon. The
Jets are in teardown mode (again), and the process began Monday with
Leonard Williams’ trade to the Giants. GM Joe Douglas has a gargantuan task on his hands.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After the publishing of this piece on Tuesday, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Cincinnati is benching Andy Dalton in favor of rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley.
Around The NFL Podcast, we call
Andy Dalton the prime meridian of NFL quarterbacks. The theory goes like this: If your QB is better than Dalton, your team is armed with a franchise passer. If your quarterback is worse than Dalton — or below The Dalton Line — he is a replaceable commodity. Dalton lives in that gray area between two very different worlds, and his success or failure is based entirely on the supporting cast around him. To wit: With
Sunday’s loss to the
Rams, Dalton became the first quarterback in NFL history to open seasons both 0-8 and 8-0. That undefeated start came with the 2015 version of the
Bengals, a team with an excellent offensive line and skill players all over the field. Dalton has had the opposite of that situation in 2019, with harrowing results. I’m sending my FREE ANDY DALTON T-shirts into production.
A strange game
against the Vikings. The
Redskins remained in striking distance for much of the night, but interim coach Bill Callahan never seemed overly motivated to steal a win away from a superior Minnesota team.
Around The NFL Podcast colleague Gregg Rosenthal
put it well: With the last two
Redskins games clocking in at well under three hours, it’s almost as if Callahan is running out the clock on the season. With Washington at 1-7, one could understand the temptation. Rookie QB
Dwayne Haskins replaced a concussed
Case Keenum to start the third quarter and was permitted to throw the ball just five times, despite Washington facing a deficit during the entire second half. We keep hearing whispers and reports that the
Redskins don’t believe their first-round pick is ready to play — but it’s a little more disconcerting when he’s forced into a game and they still keep him out of the action.
Monday felt like the big night. Victory No. 1. Glory … or whatever passes for glory in this deeply weird season for a once-relevant franchise. The Miami defense was forcing
Mason Rudolph into bad decisions, while
Ryan Fitzpatrick had led the offense to the end zone twice for a 14-0 lead. But, as often happens with bad football teams, the wheels fell off in a hurry. The defense stopped getting stops, Fitzpatrick stopped moving the offense and the
Steelers scored the game’s final 27 points. Jumping out to a double-digit lead counts as progress, but the
Dolphins losing streak is up to 10 dating back to last season. This Sunday is the Gase Bowl:
Jets vs. Dolphins. 1-6 vs. 0-7. Something tells me this will not be the Tony Romo-Jim Nantz game on CBS. It’s arguable whether it should even be televised.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.