Buckle up, folks! It’s time for the second half of my NFL Power Rankings … plus my Week 8 game picks! In case you needed a reminder of my newly adjusted tiers, here they are with every team in its proper place.
Rotten Egg Fart Stinky (Team 32)
Not Good by Any Calculation (Teams 31-26)
Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins
Below Average (Teams 25-21)
Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears
Fringe Playoff Teams (Teams 20-13)
New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills
14: Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)
The Chiefs sat at number 19 last week in my power rankings and got their own write-up, but leap frogged the New York Giants (couldn’t go on the road and get a win in Dallas), the Houston Texans (gave up 24 points in three minutes against a very average Pittsburgh Steelers team), the Cleveland Browns (drowned in their own feces in Jacksonville), the Chicago Bears (we aren’t talking about the Bears today), and the Carolina Panthers (laid a dud against the Green Bay Packers) while also holding off the Buffalo Bills (Sammy Watkins!), the Pittsburgh Steelers (took care of business at home on Monday Night Football), and the Miami Dolphins (we’re still not talking about the Bears) to earn themselves a second power rankings section. Unprecedented stuff right there!
Just when we were ready to anoint the San Diego Chargers the second best team in the AFC, or maybe even the whole league, the Chiefs went into Qualcomm Stadium and did Chiefs things; rushed for 154 yards, controlled the clock (Kansas City held the ball for 39 of the 60 minutes), and even flustered Philip Rivers to a degree that we haven’t seen yet this year. The Chiefs have still only played one bad game this season—their opening week letdown at home against the Jake Locker-led Tennessee Titans—and they’ve already beaten two Playoff teams (the Chargers and New England Patriots). Maybe we were quick to peg them as the regression team.
13: Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1)
Maybe the Bengals were the regression team? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just tough for their offense to move the ball without A.J. Green on the field. And by tough, I mean totally impossible. The Bengals could only muster eight first downs and 135 yards against the Indianapolis Colts last week (in comparison, the Colts had 27 first downs and 506 yards). That game totally soured me on the Bengals. They don’t have nearly enough talent or toughness to hang with the best teams in the AFC.
Legitimate Contenders (Teams 12-5)
12: San Francisco 49ers (4-3)
11: Seattle Seahawks (3-3)
One of these teams is likely to miss the NFL Playoffs. Let that sink in for a minute. We’re not just talking about two teams that came into the season with high expectations. We’re talking about the defending Super Bowl champ and a team that has been to the last three NFC Championship Games. Both of their schedules ease up over the next month or so, but the early holes they’ve dug for themselves will pop up again later in the season and cost one of the two a playoff spots. Unless …
10: Detroit Lions (5-2)
The Lions once again decide to partake in their annual second half of the season letdown. It’s in play. It’s not like Detroit has been overly impressive. It took an improbable Drew Brees interception late in the 4th quarter to get a home win against the Saints last Sunday and they’ve been sloppy in just about every other game. Once Calvin Johnson gets back on the field—hopefully this is sooner rather than later— things could turn around for the Lions offense, which has been squarely in the middle of the pack all season. It’s just hard to trust that the Detroit Lions could hold off two proven NFC contenders behind them while also keeping pace with a few of the better NFC teams ahead of them.
9: San Diego Chargers (5-2)
8: Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
7: New England Patriots (5-2)
Right now we can probably agree that all three of these teams make it to the Playoffs. New England is the overwhelming favorite in the AFC East and Baltimore gets the slight edge over the Bengals and Steelers just because we know what we’re going to get from Baltimore every week; the same can’t be said of the Bengals and Steelers. San Diego remains the Wild Card favorite, even after a surprising loss to the Chiefs last Sunday. There’s a problem though. We have three worthy teams, all of which could very well end up representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. But one of these three will likely be squeezed out of the Playoffs in the Wild Card Round.
Denver is a force and should breeze their way to a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the Playoffs. The Colts are the heavy favorites in the weakest division in the AFC—plus they look really freaking good; more on this in a second. That leaves the Patriots (AFC East), Baltimore Ravens (AFC North), Chargers (Wild Card) and either the Bengals or Chiefs (depending on how long A.J. Green is on the shelf) as the playoff teams in the AFC. That leaves one or possibly even two of these teams not even involved in the Divisional Playoff Round. Something seems goofy about this, but it’s difficult to put any of these three on the same level as the Broncos or Colts as of right now.
6: Arizona Cardinals (5-1)
5: Philadelphia Eagles (5-1)
Not to be confrontational, but I’m going to call you a liar right to your face if you tell me that you take the Eagles or Cardinals as seriously as you do the next NFC team in the power rankings.
The Favorites (Teams 4-1)
4: Green Bay Packers (5-2)
Forget about the early losses and the closer-than-they-should-have-been games against the Jets and Dolphins; the Packers are a level above 14 of their 16 NFC foes right now because of an offense that has more firepower potential than just about every other team in the league. Aaron Rodgers has had more explosive seasons, but he might be at his most efficient. 18 touchdowns to only one interception is no joke. As a Bears fan it’s not a fun statistical nugget to have to mention, but it can’t be neglected. Aaron Rodgers is right near the peak of his powers and that makes the Packers close to a sure thing in the NFC.
3: Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
Who would’ve thunk that going into Week 8 my Super Bowl prediction would look shaky because of the Seattle Seahawks. The Colts started the season 0-2—losing to worthy challengers Denver and Philadelphia—but have since played like the class of the AFC. Over the last five weeks Indy has outscored their opponents 164-75, and that margin isn’t even deceiving. They’re that good. Their defense has been better than advertised—top five in both opponents yard per game and opponents points per game—and the Andrew Luck-led offense is first in the league in yards per game and second only to the Denver Broncos in points per game. I didn’t expect this kind of contribution from the defense when I went with Indy as my AFC choice for the Super Bowl, so I’m pleasantly surprised. By the way, does Skip Bayless still think Robert Griffin III is better than Andrew Luck? Is that still a thing? I don’t watch First Take anymore. Someone clue me in on if Skip is still a moron.
2: Dallas Cowboys (6-1)
It’s been 18 years since the Dallas Cowboys have been to the Super Bowl and for the first time in a long time you can make the following statement going into Week 8 without it being an overreaction: the Dallas Cowboys have a very good chance of playing in the Super Bowl again. What they’ve been doing is not a fluke. Let’s look at the official contender check list:
Ability to run the ball: CHECK! Dallas runs the ball better than anybody else in the league by a comfortable margin and DeMarco Murray has to be considered an MVP candidate; he had the third most rushing yards ever by a player through seven weeks of a season. And you’re crazy if you think he’s not topping 100 yards again this Monday against the Redskins.
Ability to pass the ball: CHECK! Skewer Tony Romo all you want, but he’s on pace for one of the best statistical and most efficient seasons of his career. A lot of it has to do with DeMarco Murray carrying a heavy offensive burden, thus opening up the offense for Romo, but Dallas has a quarterback capable of leading game-winning drives and making huge plays to save games.
Ability to play defense: CHECK! The defense hasn’t been transcendent, but at least it’s not a unit that is far below league average, like they were last season. All that matter is that they can get stops when necessary, and they proved capable of doing that in Seattle. While we’re there …
Ability to win on the road/Ability to get a statement win: CHECK and CHECK! There hasn’t been a bigger statement win this year than the Cowboys going into Seattle and handling the Seahawks. The final score only favored Dallas by seven points, but that was a deceptive final score. The Cowboys nearly doubled the Seahawks in terms of total yards and time of possession, and gave away ten points on back to back possession because of a muffed punt and a Tony Romo fumble. Again, Dallas dominated a previously dominant home team.
Using of the Rogaine: CHECK!
1: Denver Broncos (5-1)
I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some chicken parm. Let’s get to the picks and head to an Italian restaurant, shall we?
Home teams in CAPS
DENVER BRONCOS over San Diego Chargers
Detroit Lions over Atlanta Falcons (Game is in London)
THE WAVE over Any other type of crowd involvement during the Lions/Falcons game
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS over St. Louis Rams
Houston Texans over TENNESSEE TITANS
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS over Minnesota Vikings
Seattle Seahawks over CAROLINA PANTHERS
CINCINNATI BENGALS over Baltimore Ravens
Miami Dolphins over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS over Chicago Bears
NEW YORK JETS over Buffalo Bills
ARIZONA CARDINALS over Philadelphia Eagles
CLEVELAND BROWNS over Oakland Raiders
Indianapolis Colts over PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Green Bay Packers over NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
DALLAS COWBOYS over Washington Redskins
Last Week: 10-5