By Angelo Inglisa.
After 11 weeks of seemingly random results, I think the NFL is finally starting to find it’s rhythm. The top five teams from last week will all be staying put, either thanks to wins (Dallas, New England, Oakland, Seattle) or a much-needed bye (looking at you, Denver). Heck, even the bottom 6 didn’t change! The Chiefs, the world’s most boring 7-3 team, finally dropped a game, fittingly to the erratic Buccaneers. The NFL’s middle tier is starting to take shape, with potential sleeper teams, like the Dolphins, continuing their hot streak and others, such as the Bengals and Cardinals, show that their early season struggles weren’t just a phase. The playoff race is heating up, with nine teams fighting for four spots in the AFC (South, North, and both Wild Cards), while the NFC spots (ironically, the same divisions as the AFC and the Wild Cards) have seven vying for position. Added to these last 5 weeks of rankings will be my conference championship predictions, along with my Super Bowl pick. Now, let’s get some rankings.
AFC Championship: Oakland @ New England
NFC Championship: Seattle @ Dallas
Super Bowl LI: New England OVER Dallas
Biggest Riser: Miami Dolphins (21->17), Indianapolis Colts (24->20)
Biggest Faller: Cincinnati Bengals (22->26)
1.) Dallas Cowboys (+/-0)
Dallas fans were prepped for a letdown, seeing as that the Ravens defense is one of the best at stopping the run and is a top five unit overall. After a rough first half, Dak Prescott blew up against the questionable Ravens secondary, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
2.) New England Patriots (+/-0)
The Patriots got a nice win following the loss to Seattle, and have two more coming up against the New York Jets and the Los Angeles Rams. Julian Edelman stepped up with seemingly every receiver out for New England, and Dion Lewis made an appearance.
3.) Oakland Raiders (+/-0)
Despite the distraction of playing in Mexico City, the Raiders showed guts against the Texans, pulling out a win despite the running game averaging 1.5 yards a carry on 20 attempts. The defense, even though the defense made Brock Osweiler look decent, Karl Joseph, Bruce Irvin, and Malcolm Smith had 10 tackles each.
4.) Seattle Seahawks (+/-0)
Well, Russell Wilson is healthy, and it looks like the offensive line is starting to gel. Both Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise had productive days, led by a 72 yard run by Prosise for a touchdown in which he juked the soul out of a Eagles linebacker.
5.) Denver Broncos (+/-0)
Denver’s offense has looked horribly disjointed over the past several weeks without C.J. Anderson, so having a bye to retool the offense was a welcome luxury. Devontae Booker and the offensive line must step up to keep pace with the blazing Raiders.
6.) New York Giants (+1)
A soft schedule gets softer for the Giants, who can go 8-3 next week with a win over the Browns. Eli Manning still hasn’t found his rhythm, but Landon Collins (80 combined tackles, 5 INTs in past 4 games) is looking like one of the best defensive backs in the league.
7.) Washington Redskins (+3)
Is there a quarterback more fun to watch than Kirk Cousins? He’s an old-fashioned gunslinger who gives you 75% of the happy reactions of Cam Newton with 25% of the negative ones. His improvement over the past year is nothing short of remarkable, and that offense seems too deep to fail.
8.) Kansas City Chiefs (-2)
The Chiefs lack of a playmaker finally cost them, with no Marcus Peters to make a play, Kansas City faltered on both sides of the ball. Spencer Ware only got 19 touches, and considering he’s the most dynamic player, that had to be the deciding factor.
9.) Atlanta Falcons (+/-0)
Atlanta has to feel some pressure, with the Bucs only a game behind with the Panthers and Saints lurking. Getting Tevin Coleman healthy to spell Devonta Freeman will go a long way down the stretch run.
10.) Philadelphia Eagles (-2)
The Eagles made the Seahawks sweat to the very end, but with Sproles and Ryan Mathews dinged up, there was no one to help out rookie Carson Wentz. Too many passes are getting dropped, but at least it looks like Zach Ertz has found his footing a safety valve.
11.) Pittsburgh Steelers (+1)
This past weekend we learned that 1 Le’Veon Bell is greater than 11 Browns.
12.) Detroit Lions (+3)
This team can go 12-4 or 6-10 and neither would surprise me.
13.) Minnesota Vikings (-2)
The defense and special teams play better offense than the offense does.
14.) Baltimore Ravens (+/-0)
Respectable loss, despicable offense.
15.) Houston Texans (-2)
At least Brock Osweiler only looked like a waste of $9 million instead of $18 million.
16.) Carolina Panthers (+1)
A nice win, but four of their next six games are on the road, where they’re 1-3.
17.) Miami Dolphins (+4)
Jay Ajayi’s rise has coincided with Ryan Tannehill’s mastering of Trent Dilfer-ing.
18.) New Orleans Saints (-2)
Tim Hightower is the personification of this team: Better than they should be, frustrating to watch.
19.) Buffalo Bills (+1)
The Bills are the NFL’s version of College Football’s Navy.
20.) Indianapolis Colts (+4)
There’s a thing to be said that Adam Vinatieri missing a field goal was the most interesting thing from the Titans game.
21.) Green Bay Packers (-3)
Aaron Rodgers is the team’s leading rusher with Lacy out. Take that as you will.
22.) Arizona Cardinals (-3)
David Johnson is good. Carson Palmer is not good.
23.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3)
How is this team 5-5? Mike Evans. He’s a top 5 WR in receptions, targets, yards, and touchdowns.
24.) San Diego Chargers (-1)
Can we put DeAndre Hopkins on this team? Nuk, Melvin Gordon, and Philip Rivers? Yes please.
25.) Tennessee Titans (+/-0)
Just because they are the most-complete team in the AFC South doesn’t mean they’re the most consistent.
26.) Cincinnati Bengals (-4)
With Gio Bernard and A.J. Green likely done for the year, so are the Bengals playoff hopes.
27.) Los Angeles Rams (+/-0)
I don’t think anyone benefitted from Jared Goff starting, including Todd Gurley.
28.) Chicago Bears (+/-0)
The Bears a falling like flies, with Jay Cutler, Jerrell Freeman and Leonard Floyd possibly missing time.
29.) New York Jets (+/-0)
I don’t know what Todd Bowles sees in Ryan Fitzpatrick other than a terrible quarterback.
30.) Jacksonville Jaguars (+/-0)
Speaking of terrible quarterbacks, Blake Bortles has thrown two interceptions that have been kicked by his receivers.
31.) San Francisco 49ers (+/-0)
At least Colin Kaepernick has found his rhythm, even if the rest of the team hasn’t.
32.) Cleveland Browns (+/-0)
I wonder if the NFL puts a bounty on Browns quarterbacks...