NFL Power Rankings: Chiefs Take Top Spot, Saints Will Be Just Fine Without Brees – Sports Illustrated

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I’ll never forget those Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood, when extended family from all over would gather at our home to enjoy delicious food, good company and lob personal insults while ranking the NFL’s 28 teams.

Grandma calling dad a mouth-breathing turd for believing Dave Brown would keep the Giants in the wild-card race… cousin Ira stabbing Uncle Merl in the shoulder with a fork for claiming the Bengals—not the Oilers—were the worst team in the AFC… the profanity… the physical violence. The moments that will stay with me until that hypnotist I’ve been seeing is able to successfully cram them deep into the recesses of my subconscious mind.

Times have changed. Now, there are 32 NFL teams. And I have my own children to insult and belittle over their football takes. As you prepare for this year’s feast, let my family’s Thanksgiving tradition become yours. So shut your face as I give you the objectively correct and 100% accurate NFL power rankings, you stupid melvins…

taysom-hill-saints-week-12-power-rankings-mmqb

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9–1)

Last week: Win at Las Vegas 35–31
This week: at Tampa Bay

The defense has allowed 30-plus points in back-to-back games, which would be a problem for a non-Mahomes team. K.C. has won 18 of 19 (including postseason). They’re going to win the Super Bowl again and when they do, try to look surprised.

2. New Orleans Saints (8–2)

Last week: Win vs. Atlanta 24–9
This week: at Denver

While your synapses were being overwhelmed by thoughts of Taysom Hill, you missed the fact that the Saints pass rush is out there eating quarterbacks’ souls the last three weeks. One reason Hill—rather than the reckless Jameis Winston—will work is that the Saints aren’t going to give up many points from here on in. And any time they’re playing with the lead, using play-action off that expansive, multi-dimensional rushing attack is still in the cards and Hill’s life as a passer gets much easier.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10–0)

Last week: Win at Jacksonville 27–3
This week: vs. Baltimore (Thursday)

The downfield passing game is starting to click a little more, but you wonder if it might be a return to smash-mouth, gap-scheme running on Thursday night when they face a Ravens defense that (1) might be missing key players, and (2) is coming off an overtime loss to Tennessee in which they were steamrolled over the final 30 minutes.

4. Los Angeles Rams (7–3)

Last week: Win at Tampa Bay 27–24
This week: vs. San Francisco

Kids these days might not like stifling defense and methodical, sustained offense—actually, older people don’t like those things either—but that formula has the Rams sitting at 7–3 after back-to-back wins against likely NFC playoff teams (Seattle and Tampa Bay). So you can keep wringing your hands about the prospect of Jared Goff having to score points quickly if they fall behind, or you can live life and accept that Brandon Staley’s defense probably isn’t going to allow enough points for them to fall behind.

5. Buffalo Bills (7–3)

Last week: Bye
This week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Josh Allen’s rise to stardom has masked a struggling defense, but the fact that they lost their No. 2 and 3 corners 24 hours before the trip to Arizona and still came within a Hail Mary of winning counts as encouraging. And with the Dolphins losing in Denver and struggling to figure out their quarterback situation, the likely worst-case scenario for the Bills is an AFC East championship game against Miami during Week 17 in Orchard Park.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7–4)

Last week: Loss vs. Los Angeles Rams 27–24
This week: vs. Kansas City

You’d have to go all the way back to two weeks ago to find a Tom Brady performance as ugly as Monday night’s. Of course, that Rams defense has made a lot of quarterbacks look bad this year (not Josh Allen, but mortal quarterbacks), and the Bucs defense has held up its end of the bargain over the last seven quarters. As we saw in Carolina nine days ago—when Tampa Bay scored on all 10 of their possessions—this offense is capable of piling up the points, but it’s tough to know when it’s going to show up.

7. Baltimore Ravens (6–4)

Last week: Loss vs. Tennessee 30–24 OT
This week: at Pittsburgh (Thursday)

It was an uncharacteristic collapse by the defense against Tennessee, but also a characteristic underperformance (as far as 2020 goes) in the red zone by the offense (four trips, three of them goal-to-go, but only 17 points). It feels like the sky is falling in Baltimore—and that feeling will be exacerbated if they lose on Thanksgiving night in Pittsburgh. But the defense is elite when it’s at full strength. And while the offense won’t reach last year’s levels, it has answers and it really isn’t that far away from clicking (especially if the red-zone performance normalizes). But, best of all for the Ravens, even if they fall to 6–5 they still have a relatively easy path to 11–5 (home against Cowboys, Jaguars and Giants, road against Joe Burrow-less Bengals and a Browns team that they’ve blown out in two straight).

8. Indianapolis Colts (7–3)

Last week: Win vs. Green Bay 34–31 OT
This week: vs. Tennessee

They aren’t built to play from behind but they did it anyway to beat the Packers, utilizing a shutdown defense as opposed to an explosive offense to close the gap. You can officially throw out the “but who’d they play” arguments now that they’ve beaten the 7–3 Titans and 7–3 Packers in back-to-back weeks.

9. Green Bay Packers (7–3)

Last week: Loss at Indianapolis 34–31 OT
This week: vs. Chicago

With the exception of that Thursday night blowout win in Santa Clara, it’s been a shaky month of November for the Packers—losses to the Vikings and Colts and an uncomfortably close victory over the Jaguars. Sunday was the first four-turnover game Aaron Rodgers has been a part of since 2017 (a December loss in Carolina that was his first game back from a broken collarbone that season). The good news is that the turnovers likely won’t persist. The bad news is that the defense is too leaky too often.

10. Seattle Seahawks (7–3)

Last week: Win vs. Arizona 28–21
This week: at Philadelphia (Monday)

If Thursday night was any indication, it appears the Seahawks have decided Russ isn’t allowed to turn on the oven unless an adult is home to supervise him. A turn back to a conservative offense—the result of an avalanche of turnovers—is disappointing, but the emergence of Carlos Dunlap, the return of Chris Carson, the acceptance that Jamal Adams is essentially a pass-rushing linebacker, and a soft schedule down the stretch means the Seahawks still have the inside track on the Rams in the NFC West.

11. Las Vegas Raiders (6–4)

Last week: Loss vs. Kansas City 35–31
This week: at Atlanta

They threw a heck of a punch on Sunday night, and moral victories do count in the Power Rankings (plus, they remain the only team to beat the Chiefs in the past calendar year). Derek Carr is a new man this season, working late into the down in a way we haven’t seen him do in past years. The problem is the defense seems to be hanging on for dear life some weeks—especially with that utter lack of a pass rush.

12. Miami Dolphins (6–4)

Last week: Loss at Denver 20–13
This week: at New York Jets

Their five-game winning streak was snapped on Sunday, but this is still a very good team. Denver is always a difficult place to play and the Broncos are a particularly tough matchup for Miami—they want to run the ball (the weakness of Miami’s defense), they weren’t going to put Drew Lock in position to get picked on by Brian Flores’s zero blitzes, and the blurry looks Vic Fangio presents can be a nightmare for a young quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa. They were right to bring Ryan Fitzpatrick on in relief—Tua was not going to dig himself out and Fitzpatrick’s over-aggressiveness was the only way they were going to put points on the board—just like they’ll be right to turn back to Tua this week. Things will look sunnier after matchups with the Jets and Joe Burrow-less Bengals the next two weeks.

13. Tennessee Titans (7–3)

Last week: Win at Baltimore 30–24 OT
This week: at Indianapolis

It hasn’t been beautiful, but the Titans are sitting at seven wins and certainly, on the defensive side of the ball they haven’t been at their best yet. If Derrick Henry is about to heat up the way he did down the stretch a year ago, it might not matter.

14. Arizona Cardinals (6–4)

Last week: Loss at Seattle 28–21
This week: at New England

Every NFL team walks a tightrope, but had the Cardinals not gotten a Hail Mary to beat an already-shorthanded Bills team two weeks ago, or benefitted from Russell Wilson forgetting how to play football a few weeks back, they’d be sitting at 4–6 and we’d be wondering if they’d be cleaning house this offseason. (And that’s before touching on their obscenely good fortune in the red zone this season.) Considering the current standings, and considering the investments they’ve made on the offensive side of the ball, the postseason is a must for this team.

15. Cleveland Browns (7–3)

Last week: Win vs. Philadelphia 22–17
This week: at Jacksonville

It’s been ugly weather and ugly football in Cleveland during their three-game November home stand, but the Browns have come through with back-to-back wins and are now one victory away from guaranteeing they’ll avoid a losing record for the first time since 2007. They’re sitting on a -23 point differential and the quarterback play is nerve-wracking to say the least, but they still have two trips to East Rutherford and one to Jacksonville left on the schedule.

16. Minnesota Vikings (4–6)

Last week: Loss vs. Dallas 31–28
This week: vs. Carolina

The Vikings had virtually no margin for error if they were going to make the playoffs, and the home loss to Dallas likely does them in. Mike Zimmer’s defense has overachieved this year considering the turnover at cornerback and loss of Danielle Hunter, but they gave up too many plays in the fourth quarter of that Cowboys loss.

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17. Los Angeles Chargers (3–7)

Last week: Win vs. New York Jets 34–28
This week: at Buffalo

Nine of their 10 games have been decided by eight points or less—and they only won two of them. It seems like that’s the story of the Chargers most years, though Justin Herbert is the kind of silver lining they haven’t had in a while.

18. New York Giants (3–7)

Last week: Bye
This week: at Cincinnati

They’re 0–5 outside the NFC East, but they start their push for the playoffs with a winnable game at Cincinnati. The defense has held five straight opponents to 25 points or less, and while Daniel Jones isn’t extending plays like he has in the past, he also didn’t turn the ball over in back-to-back wins before the bye week.

19. San Francisco 49ers (4–6)

Last week: Bye
This week: at Los Angeles Rams

It was incredible this team got to 4–3 considering the injury issues, but after three consecutive double-digit losses the dream is dead.

20. New England Patriots (4–6)

Last week: Loss at Houston 27–20
This week: vs. Arizona

For the second straight year they were outclassed in Houston; even with no Laremy Tunsil in the lineup for the Texans, New England didn’t get anywhere near Deshaun Watson. Envisioning Cam Newton complemented by the Patriots’ 2019 defense is a good thought exercise—rebuilding the defensive front seven and adding more weapons at receiver are probably more pressing short-term needs than quarterback in Foxboro.

21. Atlanta Falcons (3–7)

Last week: Loss at New Orleans 24–9
This week: vs. Las Vegas

Forget about the Taysom Hill stuff, the most discouraging part of the Falcons’ loss to the Saints was their complete inability to pass protect.

22. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1)

Last week: Loss at Cleveland 22–17
This week: vs. Seattle (Monday)

The offense severely underachieved during the first half of the season, but somehow it came back significantly worse after the bye week. The play designs are a mess most of the time and neither routes nor protections are executed well. And when they are, Carson Wentz manages to do the wrong thing—the pick-six he threw in Cleveland was one of the worst pieces of quarterbacking you’ll see this season. They have Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans and Arizona coming up as they try to protect a half-game lead in the NFC East.

23. Chicago Bears (5–5)

Last week: Bye
This week: at Green Bay

There are no answers coming on offense—the quarterbacks don’t know where they’re throwing it, the offensive line can’t block, the running backs can’t run. For the Bears to scrape their way back into the playoff picture, it will have to be through takeaways and special teams. The fact that, two Mondays ago, they got two takeaways and a kickoff return touchdown and still lost at home to the Vikings is not encouraging.

24. Carolina Panthers (4–7)

Last week: Win vs. Detroit 20–0
This week: at Minnesota

No one has gotten more out of less this season than the Panthers’ coaching staff. To beat an opponent with playoff aspirations—handily—with no Christian McCaffrey and a quarterback who was playing in the XFL nine months ago is a testament to how good Matt Rhule’s staff has been.

25. Detroit Lions (4–6)

Last week: Loss at Carolina 20–0
This week: vs. Houston (Thursday)

With all due respect to the Panthers and P.J. Walker: For the Lions, working under a playoff mandate, to have their fate sealed by an opponent on a six-game losing streak and starting an XFL quarterback is a level of humiliation that I pray you never experience.

26. Denver Broncos (4–6)

Last week: Win vs. Miami 20–13
This week: vs. New Orleans

Should they be higher after beating a borderline top-10 team? Maybe, but the Broncos do match up particularly well with Miami. It was, however, nice to see them win on their terms, with the running game carrying the offense, a mistake-free Drew Lock making plays when he had to, and Vic Fangio’s blurry coverages overwhelming an opponent’s young QB.

27. Dallas Cowboys (3–7)

Last week: Win at Minnesota 31–28
This week: vs. Washington (Thursday)

The defense is rounding into form under Mike Nolan, with back-to-back solid outings. And the performance the Cowboys got on Sunday in Minnesota is what they had in mind when they signed Andy Dalton—they hung around long enough to take advantage of mistakes and were able to muster a late drive to close it out. After all this, they’re a half-game out of first in the NFC East with three division games left.

28. Houston Texans (3–7)

Last week: Win vs. New England 27–20
This week: at Detroit (Thursday)

Sunday was their first win of the season over a team whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Schmacksonville Craguars.” It was also a reminder that Deshaun Watson is, more often than not, the best player on the field in every Texans game.

29. Washington Football Team (3–7)

Last week: Win vs. Cincinnati 20–9
This week: at Dallas (Thursday)

They didn’t show much interest in scoring points against the Bengals on Sunday, which is fitting now that they’re in the running for the division title that no one wants to win.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1–9)

Last week: Loss vs. Pittsburgh 27–3
This week: vs. Cleveland

Keenan Cole’s special teams exploits (a 91-yard punt return TD in Lambeau two weeks ago, a noble onside kick attempt on Sunday) have been worth the price of admission, but there’s not a whole lot else to get excited about as this team plays out the string.

31. Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1)

Last week: Loss at Washington 20–9
This week: vs. New York Giants

If we’re being honest, a Ryan Finley–led Bengals team is objectively worse than the Jets, but it just felt gratuitous to put the Bengals at 32. The good news is they’re likely going to have a top-three pick, which means a great chance to land Oregon OT Penei Sewell, both the best non-QB prospect in the 2021 draft class and exactly the kind of game-changing O-line help this franchise needs. Better days are ahead in Cin City, even if those days are, well, still pretty far away.

32. New York Jets (0–10)

Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Rams 34–28
This week: vs. Miami

They’ve now been within reach of a win in back-to-back weeks, putting their Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes lead very much in jeopardy. But it is a reminder that, should they land the No. 1 pick, there’s no reason Lawrence shouldn’t be perfectly happy joining a franchise with a foundational piece at left tackle, an intriguing (possible stud) young receiver in Denzel Mims, and a ton of draft capital and cap space to spend this offseason.

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