For once this season, there weren’t too many surprises after another week of NFL football.
The only truly shocking development was Buffalo’s apparent inability to stop anybody in a New Orleans Saints uniform from running the ball.
The Bills, who were sitting pretty with a 5-2 record not that long ago, were humiliated at home by the Saints, 47-10, with the visitors rolling up 298 yards on the ground and six TDs.
Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual, thought the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a late rally to subdue a determined Indianapolis Colts team, 20-17.
And in an unrelated game, where these rankings are concerned at least, the San Francisco 49ers finally won their first game, 31-21 over the pathetic New York Giants.
We’ve spent some time this summer telling everyone who we thought got better, while making some gutsy prognostications about just what might unfold when things really get going. On the player side, we think some guys will break out, big time and we let the world know which home-growns will be fun to watch.
With week 5 out of the way, we again hit the reset button on our weekly power rankings, rated from no. 1 to no. 16 (based on 12 prospective playoff teams and four on the bubble, every seven days or so). Week to week results are in italics at end of each team’s preamble.
16. Washington Redskins – 2017 Record: 4-5; Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Redskins have been in and out of the rankings this season, thanks to inspired, and less-than-stellar performances. Washington made some moves this past summer to get better on offence, signing 1,000 yard receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. out of Cleveland and giving QB Kirk Cousins a premium target. It was also a good thing that fourth round pick RB Samaje Perine made the roster, as starting RB Rob Kelley is currently injured. On defence, the backfield was shored up by the acquisition of S D.J. Swearinger from Arizona and LB Zach Brown from Buffalo. Rookie DE Jonathan Allen of Alabama made the team and is first string too.
Week 10 Result: By the time the second half was just over two minutes old, the Redskins were too far behind to come all the way back in an eventual 38-30 loss to Minnesota. QB Kirk Cousins did all he could do with 327 yards passing and an aerial TD (against one INT) and ran for two other scores in a disappointing loss. The ‘Skins D was no help, either, allowing four TD passes from Vikes QB Case Keenum.
Up next: A definite must-win game against the NFL’s hottest team, the New Orleans Saints, on the road Sunday no less.
15. Dallas Cowboys – 2017 Record: 5-4; Last Week’s Rank: 14
This ranking will have a lot to do with how the Cowboys fare with or without Ezekiel Elliott, whose six-game suspension had an injunction put on it so he could play every game so far, with mixed results. If he ever becomes a no-go, though, one of either Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris will have to fill a big hole, as Elliott piled up just shy of 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 16 TDs. Elliott is preparing to play, but no one should hold their breath in anticipation of the ruling on Tuesday. Of course, this will put more pressure on sophomore QB Dak Prescott to air out the ball more to Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten. The Cowboys defence was pretty good in 2016 and they added veteran CB Nolan Carroll II from Philadelphia. He had 41 tackles, 10 pass defences and an interception with the Eagles last year. Of all newcomers, rookie DE Taco Charlton (Michigan) could push incumbent starter Tyrone Crawford.
Week 10 Result: Well, that early-season suspension to Ezekiel Elliott finally took hold and did it make a difference in the Cowboys attack against a flagging Atlanta Falcons team. The ‘Boys only ran the ball 21 times, for 107 yards and their only TD and Elliott’s absence meant the passing attack didn’t have a fail safe, with Dak Prescott finishing with just 176 yards passing in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons. All around a loss that will leave a bad taste in the mouths of all Cowboys concerned.
Up next: A huge, huge rumble with NFC East leading Philadelphia at home Sunday night. A loss and the team’s playoff hopes could be further swirling down the toilet (since they play Philly twice, Washington, the Chargers and Seahawks in the closing seven games).
14. Atlanta Falcons – 2017 Record: 5-4; Last Week’s Rank: 15
The early part of their 2017 schedule favors the Falcons and everyone also needs to forget their 0-4 pre-season, and quick. The defending NFC champs beat a Chicago Bears team in flux in week 1, and also play Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets (none of who will be a threat) in their first seven games. The biggest test will be a re-match in New England against the Patriots in Week 7. They don’t play a divisional foe until they visit an improved Carolina team in Week 9 and finish the season with five of their last six against the NFC South. QB Matt Ryan retains all his premier weapons from 2016, including Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Devonta Freeman. Sack leader Vic Beasley heads up a defence that didn’t need to be great in 2016 (what with Ryan’s passing exploits) and features no rookies or off-season acquisitions.
Week 10 Result: Matt Ryan was as good as he needed to be Sunday against Dallas. He completed 22 of 29 passes for two touchdowns, rallying the Falcons from a 7-0 deficit to win 27-7 and switch places with Big D in this week’s rankings. Seventh-year DE Adrian Clayborn had a season’s worth of sacks on Sunday, planting Dallas QB Dak Prescott into the ground a whopping six times. He was responsible for 75 percent of the Falcons’ total of eight sacks.
Up next: A match with playoff implications as the 5-4 Falcons travel to Seattle (6-3) for the Monday nighter.
13. Buffalo Bills – 2017 Record: 5-4; Last Week’s Rank: 11
Could it be that this Bills team can become more, or less, predictable? A week after shocking a very good Broncos team, the Bills put on one on the Super Bowl finalist and previously perfect Atlanta Falcons in Week 4. One star of the Broncos game was newly acquired kicker Stephen Hauschka, who was 4-for-4 in field goals, including two from 50-yards plus. He added to his growing legend by booting another three field goals in three attempts against Atlanta, including a last minute 55-yarder to win it. Other new Bills making an impact early in the season include CB E.J. Gaines (formerly with the Rams), rookie CB Tre’Davious White and safety Jordan Poyer (from Cleveland). The Bills D, collectively, sacked Broncos’ QB Trevor Siemian three times and picked him off twice.
Week 10 Result: To say Sunday’s 47-10 loss to visiting New Orleans was humbling, would be a gross understatement. New Orleans QB Drew Brees didn’t even need to throw the ball (though he did complete 18 of 25 passes for 184 yards) as the Saints piled up 298 yards against a porous Bills defence, en route to six rushing TDs. The Bills offence was offensive, for sure, with just 198 total yards on 45 plays. Tyrod Taylor had his worst ever game, completing just nine of 18 passes for 56 yards and an interception. Fugly, all the way around.
Up next: The 5-4 Bills have to right the playoff ship, and fast, by beating the 3-6 Chargers in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon.
12. Tennessee Titans – 2017 Record: 6-3; Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Titans made few changes to the offence in the off-season, choosing to let third-year QB Marcus Mariota have the freedom to improve on a breakout 2016 campaign. He passed for a career high 3,426 yards and 26 TDs, against just nine interceptions. They are also counting on another big year from RB DeMarco Murray, who ran for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns last year, along with 377 yards receiving and another three scores. Defensively, Tennessee shored up the backfield by acquiring tackle machine safety Johnathan Cyprien (Jacksonville) and veteran New England Patriots CB Logan Ryan.
Week 10 Result: After leading for much of the game, the Titans allowed Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton chuck a 70-yard TD pass to A.J. Green to give the Bengals a 20-17 lead with just over five minutes to go in the game. But, Marcus Mariota and company went to work, driving the ball 73 yards on 12 plays, capped by a seven-yard TD strike to DeMarco Murray. The Titans’ 6-3 record represents their best start since 2008.
Up next: Unfortunately for them, the Titans have just three days rest before heading to Pittsburgh to face the 7-2 Steelers in a big-time match-up.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars – 2017 Record: 6-3; Last Week’s Rank: 12
The enigmatic Jaguars hit the re-set button on a horrible 2016 campaign and welcomed fourth overall pick RB Leonard Fournette of LSU into the fold. He supplants incumbent running backs Chris Ivory (439 yards, 3 TD in 2016) and T.J. Yeldon (465 yards, 1 TD). QB Blake Bortles wasn’t awful last year, but hopes to get back to 2015 form when he threw for 4,428 yards and 35 TDs. The Jags defence underwent an overhaul too. CB A.J. Bouye was brought in from Houston (63 tackles and 16 pass defences in 2016), as was Dallas SS Barry Church (85 tackles, two INTs) to replace the departed Johnathan Cyprien. Up front, veteran DE Calais Campbell was snagged from Arizona to keep up the sack attack (he had 56.5 in nine seasons with the Cardinals).
Week 10 Result: The Jags are in a dogfight with Tennessee for top spot in the AFC South and kept pace with a big come-from-behind overtime win against a scrappy L.A. Chargers squad. K Josh Lambo hit a 34-yard field goal with three seconds left in the fourth quarter, then hit a 30-yarder with just over three minutes remaining in the extra frame to seal the victory. Cornerback A.J. Bouye had a key interception with just over a minute left in the fourth, running the ball back 51 yards to set up Lambo’s game-tying field goal.
Up next: The winless Cleveland Browns play host to the surging Jaguars on Sunday.
10. Detroit Lions – 2017 Record: 5-4; Last Week’s Rank: 10
God forbid that the highest paid player in the NFL, never mind best remunerated QB Matt Stafford should go down to injury this season. The Lions, who made the playoffs in 2016, have put all their eggs in Stafford’s considerable basket, but don’t have a reliable back-up to speak of (rookie Jake Rudock has yet to throw a regular season pass). Otherwise, this is an uber-talented offence that features WRs Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. (over 2,000 yards between them and eight total TDs) and TE Eric Ebron (711 yards, eighth among tight ends). The Lions looked to solidify their investment in Stafford by acquiring OT Rick Wagner and OG T.J. Lang, who should help ease the sack rate (Stafford was knocked down 37 times in 2016). The Lions defence underwent some change, as rookie DT A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama) and LB Jarrad Davis cracked the defensive first team.
Week 10 Result: The winless Cleveland Browns made life heck for the Lions on Sunday, taking an early 10-0 lead, coughing it up and then scoring twice early in the second half to go out fron 24-17. The Lions saved their slender playoff hopes by rallying for three straight touchdowns to win 38-24. Matt Stafford chucked three TD passes, the winner a 29-yard loft to Eric Ebron early in the fourth quarter. The Lions D did its part, sacking Browns QBs DeShone Kizer once and intercepting him once, while also sacking back-up pivot Cody Kessler three times.
Up next: The Lions need to keep pace in the NFC North by beating rival Chicago (3-6) at Soldier Field Sunday — because the division leading Vikings visit the week after.
9. Minnesota Vikings – 2017 Record: 7-2; Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Vikings didn’t make a whole lot of off-season moves other than bringing in high-profile running back Latavius Murray. They have a lot of homegrown talent, utilizing a good number of them to sail past the Saints 29-19 in Week 1 to get things rolling. QB Sam Bradford, who had a reasonably good season in 2016, picked up where he left off, surgically taking down New Orleans. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook also lived up to his billing at Florida State, having a great debut. Minnesota was a so-so 8-8 in 2016 after being 11-5 in 2015 and making the playoffs. The Vikes were 2-4 against division opponents, which is mark they should hope to turn around if they want a return to the post-season.
Week 10 Result: Despite the availability of Teddy Bridgewater, second string QB Case Keenum refused to give up the starting job — for one week at least. Keenum threw for three TDs in a span of just over four and a half minutes to build a commanding 35-17 lead en route to a 38-30 victory over Washington. With 1:49 left in the second quarter and his team down 17-14, Keenum hit Adam Thielen for a seven-yard TD. Then with 22 seconds left in the quarter, he tossed a short one-yarder to David Morgan II. He capped the three-TD string with a seven yard pass to Jarius Wright at the 12:22 mark of the third.
Up next: In what could be a preview of a potential huge playoff game, the Vikings entertain the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
8. Seattle Seahawks – 2017 Record: 6-3; Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Seahawks defence hardly needed the addition of DT Sheldon Richardson, but we’re quite sure the big man will fit right in. Seattle’s D will be the difference between just making the playoffs and doing considerable damage when the team gets there. The beefy Richardson had 18 sacks, 241 tackles and five forced fumbles in four seasons with the New York Jets and is raring to go. Offensively, there are a couple of question marks in starting WR Paul Richardson, who’ll have to replace the decent hands of departed veteran Jermaine Kearse. The running back position is even a bit more sketchy, with Thomas Rawls (349 yards, 3 TD in 2016) and Eddie Lacy (360 yards, 0 TD) sharing the load. The wild card is Pete Carroll, who has a knack for taking all the pieces and making them championship caliber.
Week 10 Result: It was a costly victory against Arizona last Thursday, as the team lost CB Richard Sherman for the season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon. It was a blight on an otherwise all around decent effort from the Seahawks, who got 238 yards passing and two TDs (both to Jimmy Graham) from Russell Wilson. Wilson’s day was all the more admirable, considering he was sacked five times.
Up next: Seattle entertains a 5-4 Atlanta Falcons team resurrected from the dead (they beat Dallas in Week 10) in the Monday nighter.
7. Kansas City Chiefs – 2017 Record: 6-3; Last Week’s Rank: 7
The Chiefs got things rolling in a week 1 visit to New England, shocking the Pats with a huge 42-27 come-from-behind victory. They were a 12-4 team in 2016, so there are things to like. But, after a 2-2 pre-season, there are still a few lingering doubts about this year’s edition. Alex Smith is still a good, but not great, quarterback (3,502 yards passing, 15 TD, 8 INT in 2016) who does the little things well but won’t set the world on fire. The Chiefs starting receivers, Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley, have three years experience between them and need to break out. Running back Kareem Hunt is a rookie, leaving TE Travis Kelce as the only big threat on offence, right now. No questions abound, though, concerning Kansas City’s defence, which is led very capably by SS Eric Berry and OLB Justin Houston.
Week 9 Result: The Chiefs were on a bye week, so they neither move up, nor down in the rankings.
Up next: If ever there should be a “guaranteed win” game for the AFC West leading Chiefs, it must be this week’s tilt in New York against the 1-8 Giants.
6. New Orleans Saints – 2017 Record: 7-2; Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Saints gained some traction two weeks ago to slip into the rankings, thumping the Detroit Lions, but not in the way most thought. Instead of a steady barrage of passes from Drew Brees for touchdowns — he did toss two in the win — the Saints defence created plenty of havoc for Matt Stafford and the Lions offence in a convincing 52-38 win. In the off-season, New Orleans tweaked their roster with a few big and small moves. They brought in RB Adrian Peterson (since moved to Arizona), along with veteran WR Ted Ginn Jr. from Carolina. On the defensive side of the ball, there are newcomers like first string LB Manti Te’o (San Diego), first round pick CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State) and DE Alex Okafor (Arizona).
Week 10 Result: It’s seven straight wins and counting for the Saints, who literally ran roughshod over the hapless Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park on Sunday. RB Mark Ingram rand for 131 yards and three TDs, while rookie RB Alvin Kamara also rushed for 106 yards and another score. Those four TDs were part of a 298-yard, six running TD effort by a Saints team that didn’t really need Drew Brees considerable arm. The Atlanta D also made life super difficult for Bills QB Tyrod Taylor, sacking him twice and intercepting one of his 18 pass attempts.
Up next: The Saints get a visit from 5-4 Washington on Sunday afternoon.
5. Carolina Panthers – 2017 Record: 7-3; Last Week’s Rank: 5
For a team that went to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, the Cats sure stunk the joint out in 2016. They were brutal in the NFC South, going 1-5 against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, with only a mild streak of three wins in four games (week 8-11) to give anyone hope. The offence, headed by a healthy Cam Newton, remains relatively unchanged (not a bad thing) and on the defensive side of the ball, these Cats have claws, with MLB Luke Kuechly again calling the shots and the squad getting a boost with the additions of veterans like SS Mike Adams (Indianapolis), DE Julius Peppers (Green Bay) and CB Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota).
Week 10 Result: Keeping up with red-hot New Orleans is no small task, considering the Saints have won seven straight. But keep up the Panthers did, winning their third in a row, 45-21 over Miami, to boost their record to 7-3. With just 3:10 gone in the third quarter, the game was already over, as Devin Funchess hauled in one of Cam Newton’s four TD passes on the day to give the Cats a 24-7 lead. Both Funchess and rookie RB Christian McCaffrey scored two TDs on the evening.
Up next: A bye week, followed by a road game in New York against the Jets in Week 12.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – 2017 Record: 7-2; Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Steelers sure did benefit from playing in the AFC’s worst division in 2016. And it looks more and more like Pittsburgh will run the table again this year, as none of Baltimore, Cincinnati or deplorable Cleveland improved enough to take a run at them. The Steelers went 5-1 against their foes last year, and a so-so 6-4 against everyone else before making it all the way to the AFC championship. Not content to sit on their laurels, the Steelers announced that rookie OLB T.J. Watt (brother of J.J.) will start ahead of veteran James Harrison. The team also welcome veteran DB Joe Haden to the fold after he was cut by Cleveland. He was pretty good for a crummy Browns team in 2016, registering 48 tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass defences. On offence, RB Le’Veon Bell finally reported and stalwarts Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will again provide passing fireworks.
Week 10 Result: Things could have turned out much worse for the AFC North leading Steelers, who needed to rally from a 17-3 third quarter deficit to beat host Indianapolis 20-17 Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown with a key 32-yard completion, part of a 10-play, 70-yard drive completed with a 33-yard field goal from K Chris Boswell with no time left in the game.
Up next: The Steelers only have three days to recharge and forget about most of that game against the Colts, as the 6-3 Tennessee Titans waltz into town Thursday night.
3. Los Angeles Rams – 2017 Record: 7-2; Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Rams made a fair move up the rankings in Week 4, courtesy of an electric 35-30 win against Dallas. After a lousy 4-12 campaign in 2016, the Rams just one win back of their entire win total from last year. The Rams have gotten a lot of mileage out second year pivot Jared Goff, who has made the most of his first three starts this season. He passed for 292 yards and three TDs against San Fran, which included six completions for 106 yards and two of those scores to Buffalo Bills cast-off Sammy Watkins. He and fellow former Bill Robert Woods (108 yards receiving last Thursday) have been a revelation in La-la land. Their mostly homegrown, and fairly young, defence headed by linebacker Alec Ogletree have done an admirable job so far.
Week 10 Result: The NFL’s best offensive team laid waste to another opponent on Sunday, as the Rams piled up 339 yards passing (three TDs) and 104 yards rushing in a 33-7 stomping of Houston. QB Jared Goff blew open a tight 9-7 game in the third quarter, firing three unanswered TD passes, including a 94-yarder to Robert Woods. Rams defenders sacked Deshaun Watson’s replacement, Tom Savage, three times and intercepted two of his 36 pass attempts on the day.
Up next: A prime-time tilt with the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings on the road Sunday afternoon.
2. New England Patriots – 2017 Record: 7-2; Last Week’s Rank: 2
Let’s face it, until otherwise proven, the Patriots are still the class of the NFL — and actually got better in the off-season — even after getting hosed by Kansas City in Week 1. Starring alongside QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski will be former Saints’ standout receiver Brandin Cooks. He and WR Chris Hogan will get the most targets, followed by Danny Amendola. The Gronk, should he stay healthy, will no doubt reach 1,000 yards again for the fourth time in his career. The only gaping hole is at running back, where a platoon of backs will have to make up for LeGarrette Blount’s punishing running (1,161 yards, 18 TDs). Newcomers on the Patriots already great defence include Stephon Gilmore at corner (48 tackles, five interceptions with Buffalo in 2016), LB Kyle Van Noy (23 tackles in seven games with Detroit), DL Lawrence Guy (28 tackles, one sack with Baltimore) and LB David Harris (95 tackles, 0.5 sacks for the Jets).
Week 10 Result: New England returned to play after a bye week and looked extremely well rested in a 41-16 thrashing of host Denver on Sunday night. The Pats won for the 12th consecutive time on the road, on the strength of three TD passes from Tom Brady’s ageless arm. He finished 25-of-34 for 266 yards. RB Dion Lewis returned a kick-off 103 yards for a TD in the first quarter and ran for another eight-yard score late in the third quarter.
Up next: The Patriots roll into Oakland to try and make it a lucky 13 road wins in a row on Sunday afternoon.
1. Philadelphia Eagles – 2017 Record: 8-1; Last Week’s Rank: 1
Not to put too much stock in the pre-season, but the Eagles lost 16-10 in their final tune-up to the New York Jets, who are just about everyone’s pick to finish dead last. But, QB Carson Wentz didn’t throw a pass and Eagles QBs Dane Evans and Matt McGloin were sacked a total of four times. As well, newly acquired RB LeGarrette Blount took no hand-offs and veteran receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith sat that exhibition out too. If the Eagles hope to improve on their 7-9 finish in 2016, they have to play better in the NFC East, where they were 2-4. The ray of hope came in weeks 16 and 17, when they beat the Giants and Cowboys back-to-back after a dismal five game losing streak. On defence, the Eagles added good depth in veteran CBs Corey Graham (Buffalo) and Patrick Robinson (Indianapolis).
Week 9 Result: The Eagles were on a bye week and since they’ve only lost once, they remain at no. 1.
Up next: The Eagles face the Cowboys — sans Ezekiel Elliott — in Big D on Sunday night.