Through 5 weeks, we now have no winless teams – congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals! At the top end of the rankings, the Rams and Chiefs both remain unbeaten and at no.1 and no.2 respectively – although I think the gap between the two is closing, with the Saints probably not too far behind.
The biggest risers in our rankings this week are the Cleveland Browns (up 7), Detroit Lions (up 5), New York Jets (up 4), Cincinnati Bengals (up 4) and Houston Texans (up 4).
The biggest fallers in our rankings this week are the Atlanta Falcons (down 8), San Francisco 49ers (down 5), Denver Broncos (down 4) and Green Bay Packers (down 4),
The middle of the pack is getting bigger – 20 teams are either at or within 1 game of being .500. It all means that the season is just warming up and there’s everything to play for.
1. Los Angeles Rams (5-0) (last week’s ranking: 1)
The Rams were pushed very close by the Seattle Seahawks – with only a late-game gutsy 4th down call by coach Sean McVay enabling Los Angeles to run out the clock and preserve a 33-31 win. Jared Goff had an up and down day – 321 yards but 2 interceptions. Goff now leads the league this year in passing yards (1,727). The Rams remain just atop this ranking but the gap between them and the Chefs is closing. The Rams next 2 games – Denver and San Francisco – look like sure wins, before they play the Packers late in October.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) (last week’s ranking: 2)
The Chiefs moved out to a 20-0 halftime lead against the Jaguars and despite 2 interceptions thrown by Patrick Mahomes (his first picks of the season), Kansas City cantered past Jacksonville for a relatively easy victory. Mahomes continues to lead the league in touchdowns passes (14). Despite allowing Blake Bortles 430-yards passing, the Chiefs defense kept their team on top in this game – intercepting Bortles 4 times and sacking him 5 times. This was probably the Chiefs’ best defensive performance of the season. If the defense can continue to be ballhawks (as they showed in this game), coupled with their explosive offense, then the Kansas City Chiefs are headed deep into the playoffs.
3. New Orleans Saints (4-1) (last week’s ranking: 3)
The Saints blew out the Redskins, as Drew Brees became the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards (surpassing Brett Favre and Peyton Manning). Brees had a great night throwing for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brees now leads the league in 2018 in passer rating (122.3). The Saints offense is strong all round – passing, catching, blocking and rushing…particularly with the return of Mark Ingram. The Saints defense also had one of its better days this season, with the pass rush beginning to look strong. The Saints appear to be clearly the next best team in the NFL behind the Rams and Chiefs.
4. Carolina Panthers (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 5)
The Panthers continue to win close games – this week coming from behind to get past the Giants on a 63-yard game winning field goal by Graham Gano as time expired. It was a see-saw game in which Cam Newton threw 2 touchdown passes but also had 2 interceptions. Safety Mike Adams had 2 interceptions of his own to hold the Giants offense in check. The Panthers lost Center Ryan Kalil late in the game and his status going forward was unknown at the time of writing. The Panthers appear not to do too much but win – which is a good trait to have! Carolina has an interesting match-up on the road at the Redskins this coming week.
5. New England Patriots (3-2) (last week’s ranking: 8)
The Patriots moved out to a 24-3 half time lead against the Colts and despite the Colts getting to within 7 points at one point, New England cantered to a relatively straightforward win against an Indianapolis team that played hard. Tom Brady wasn’t at his absolute best (despite 300+ yards and 3 touchdowns, he also had 2 interceptions) but 90% Brady is good enough to beat most teams. The Patriots welcomed Julian Edelman back from suspension and Josh Gordon had his first TD reception as a Patriot. The offense remains the strength of this team, as the Patriots defense appears to be somewhat inconsistent – this week giving up well over 400 yards after a great 172-yard effort last week.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) (last week’s ranking: 4)
We said this last week- “From one week to the next, it’s not clear which Jaguars offense will turn up” ...this week, we could almost ask that question from drive to drive. Blake Bortles threw for 430 yards but also had 4 interceptions. The Jags defense kept the Chiefs offense in relative check but couldn’t overcome those 4 picks by Bortles despite having 2 of their own. In fairness to the Jacksonville offense, they are hurting through injuries on both the offensive line and to star RB Leonard Fournette (who’s return date is uncertain). Add to that, they lost RB Corey Grant this week with an injury that may end his season. Despite the hurting, they remain as lead challengers to the Titans in the AFC South.
7. Tennessee Titans (3-2) (last week’s ranking: 6)
Just as you think that the Titans will move out of the pack following last week’s victory over the Eagles, the Titans came back down to earth with a defeat to the lowly Buffalo Bills. The Titans defense held the Bills to just 3.5 yards per play and well under 100 yards passing and yet still ended up on the wrong side of a 13-12 scoreline. Tennessee’s offense was tepid at best although dropped passes, penalties and interesting playcalling didn’t help. The Titans remain a strong playoff contender in the AFC but won’t get far if the offense doesn’t play better than this.
8. Chicago Bears (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 10)
The Bears had a bye week this week but remain atop in the NFC North. Next Sunday they travel to the New England Patriots. That game will give us a good indication of whether this Chicago Bears team is for real.
9. Minnesota Vikings (2-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 11)
Kirk Cousins 301 passing yards and a 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Linval Joseph were the keys for the Vikings in beating the Eagles 23-21 and to even up their record at 2-2-1. Two missed field goals from recently signed Dan Bailey didn’t help the Vikings cause, but they were good to hold off a late Philadelphia rally. Wideout Adam Thielen leads the league with 47 receptions. Minnesota can now look forward to games against the Cardinals and Jets over the next two weeks.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 7)
For the second straight week, the Eagles racked up yards through the air (311 for Carson Wentz plus 2 touchdowns) but couldn’t muster enough points to get past their opponent. Philadelphia’s 21 points this week (after 23 last week) saw them fall to an impressive Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles were unable to get their running game going and couldn’t stop the efficient passing game of Kirk Cousins. Having said last week “not quite time to panic yet”, there’s no doubt that the Eagles are in a real battle for the NFC East. Zach Ertz leads the NFL in receptions for a TE in 2018 and remains on course for over 1,300 yards receiving – easily the best of his career.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (4-1) (last week’s ranking: 15)
The surprising Cincinnati Bengals moved to 4-1 with a 27-17 victory over the Dolphins, and now sit proudly atop the AFC North. Andy Dalton was effective and efficient rather than spectacular, the returning Joe Mixon had 93 yards rushing and the Bengals defense had 2 interceptions to win a game in which the Bengals trailed by 17 points in the third quarter. Geno Atkins is now tied for the league lead in sacks with 6. I guess that we now have to consider Cincinnati as genuine playoff contenders, however their next two games are against the Steelers and the Chiefs – let’s see where this team is in two weeks.
12. Los Angeles Chargers (3-2) (last week’s ranking: 13)
Phillip Rivers was his usual efficient self as the Chargers easily beat the Raiders 26-10 this week as Los Angeles moved their record to 3-2. Rivers passed for 339 yards and 2 touchdowns and Melvin Ingram had an interception and a sack against the hapless Raiders. The Chargers will have much tougher challenges than this but right now they look like a solid playoff contender in the AFC.
13. Green Bay Packers (2-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 9)
For the Packers, going to Detroit is often a tough assignment but this week’s visit to the Lions became very tough very quickly and almost impossible by halftime. For Aaron Rodgers it really was a game of two halves – struggling badly in the first (fumbling twice), whilst recovering in the second when the offense became one dimensional in comeback mode. Rodgers finished with over 400-yards passing and 3 touchdowns but that doesn’t fully reflect his day. The main positive of a disappointing loss for the Packers was the play of rookie receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (7 catches, 1TD) and Equanimeous St. Brown (3 catches, 89 yards). The Packers racked up the yardage on the Lions but couldn’t overcome 3 turnovers and 4 (yes, 4) missed field goals by Mason Crosby. Green Bay’s defense was again solid, holding Detroit to less than 300 yards. The Packers are now in a huge battle to stay in contention in the NFC North – they play the 49ers next week, before a bye week and then road games against the Rams and Patriots. It looks like next week’s match-up is a must win for the Packers.
14. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) (last week’s ranking: 14)
The Ravens will be disappointed to follow up last week’s fine win against divisional opponent’s Steelers with a loss against another divisional rival – the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens defense was of the “bend but don’t break variety” giving up more than 400 yards but holding the Browns to just 12 points (including overtime). On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens seem to be so inconsistent not just from game to game but also within games that they are extremely difficult to gauge. Despite this week’s loss, Baltimore remains a strong contender in a wide-open AFC North division.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 16)
The Steelers finally got it together on both sides of the football, in the same game, for a complete game and with a strong second half performance blew out the ailing Atlanta Falcons. Ben Roethlisberger was solid, James Conner had a 100-yard rushing day and T.J. Watt had 3 sacks (now 6 for the season – tied for the NFL lead) to help the Steelers even up their record. Antonio Brown is now tied for the league lead with 6 receiving touchdowns. Reports are still saying that holdout Le’Veon Bell is likely to return around the bye week in midseason.
16. Miami Dolphins (3-2) (last week’s ranking: 17)
The Miami offense struggled for the second straight week and despite having a 17 point advantage in the third quarter, the Dolphins fell to their second straight loss (this time to the Bengals). QB Ryan Tannehill is going through a tough time and there doesn’t appear to be anybody to pick up the slack. This is a Dolphins team heading in the wrong direction and it doesn’t get any easier as they face the Bears this coming week.
17. Cleveland Browns (2-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 24)
Baker Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns to an overtime victory in his first home start – it also being Mayfield’s first career win as a starter. This was the Browns first division win for 3 years (the last also being against the Ravens). Mayfield threw for more than 340 yards in a tough battle, which the Browns may have lost thanks to the kicking woes of rookie Greg Joseph. Fortunately for Joseph, he somehow managed to knuckle-ball his field goal attempt in overtime through the uprights for the victory. The Browns appeared to get the rough end of the officiating for the second week in a row but this time that will be overlooked by Cleveland fans thanks to the result. The Browns other first round pick – CB Denzel Ward – continues to make a strong case for the rookie of the year honours with another interception this week. This continues to look like a team that could get to at least 7 wins.
18. Washington Redskins (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 18)
The Redskins were blown out by the emotionally charged Saints to drop to 2-2 for the season. Falling behind early, the Redskins running attack was taken out of the game and the Alex Smith led passing game was not much more than average – Smith was under pressure from the Saints pass rush for much of the night. Adrian Peterson dislocated a shoulder during the game and his status going forwards is unknown at the time of writing. The Redskins look like a middle of the pack team but it’s possible that 9-7 will be a playoff contending record this year and that may be attainable for this Washington team.
19. Detroit Lions (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 25)
If ever a game showed the value of a turnover it was the Lions 31-23 victory over the Packers. The Lions never turned the ball over whilst the Packers had 3 which was enough to pace Detroit to a crucial divisional win. The Lions managed less than 300 yards of offense but never needed to be spectacular after jumping out to a 24-0 halftime lead. The defense gave up lots of yards but most of it when the Packers were in catch-up mode.
20. Atlanta Falcons (1-4) (last week’s ranking: 12)
The Falcons season is rapidly descending into one of disappointment and underachievement. Looking like a strong playoff contender before the season started, their playoff hopes are already hanging on a knife-edge following this week’s blow out defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons have a beat-up defense that did it’s best to keep their team in the game but after a close first half, the Steelers ran away with the game. The Falcons are a team that is now so reliant on its passing game that when the protection breaks down, as it did this week (gave up 6 sacks), it becomes impossible for them to stay in the game, Somehow Atlanta needs to turn this around very quickly or else their season is done. One bright spot is the play of rookie wideout Calvin Ridley who is tied for the league lead with 6 receiving touchdowns.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 19)
Tampa Bay had a bye this past week, giving them extra time to prepare for the difficult journey to the Atlanta Falcons. Jameis Winston is due to start that game at QB for the suddenly sliding Buccaneers.
22. Seattle Seahawks (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 21)
The Seahawks came mightily close to a season defining victory against the Rams this past week. Russell Wilson played well with 3 passing touchdowns and Chris Carson had 116 yards rushing in game that went down to the last minute. This may well be a Seahawks team that is better than anybody expected.
23. Houston Texans (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 27)
The Texans won their second straight game and all of a sudden are back in contention in the AFC South. Deshaun Watson had 375 yards passing, DeAndre Hopkins 151 yards receiving, and J.J. Watt had another sack (and remains tied for the league lead this season - 6 sacks) as the Texans were able to squeeze out a victory against their intra-state rival Cowboys. Hopkins is now the league leader with 594 yards receiving in 2018.
24. Denver Broncos (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 20)
Despite Case Keenum’s 377 passing yards, the Broncos lost by 18 points to a Jets team that had lost 3 straight games. Of course, giving up an unbelievable 323 rushing yards – as the Broncos did against the Jets – means that you won’t win too many games. The defense has struggled all season long and reached a new low this week. This is a team on the slide unless they can do something to shore up this D very, very quickly.
25. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 22)
The Cowboys lost a squeaker in overtime to the Texans, despite a defensive effort that included two goal-line stands and dropped to 2-3 in the competitive NFC East. Following this loss, there are lots of reports that Jason Garrett will be the first head coach to lose his job this season – he is particularly taking a lot of heat for punting the ball away to Houston in the overtime period. The Cowboys offense is struggling and Dak Prescott is also taking a lot of heat for not being able to get his team in the end zone. The Cowboys currently look like a bottom third team.
26. New York Jets (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 30)
Despite throwing for just 198 yards, rookie Sam Darnold threw 3 touchdown passes and led the New York Jets to a comfortable 34-16 victory over the Denver Broncos. But the star of the show for the 2-3 Jets was Isaiah Crowell who had a franchise record 219 yards rushing, as the Jets racked up an incredible 323 total rushing yards. Crowell’s effort included a 77-yard run – the longest run from scrimmage in the NFL this season. The Jets face the Colts this coming week – meaning that they will feel that they have a good chance to get themselves back to .500. They seem to be the epitome of a topsy-turvy 2018 NFL.
27. New York Giants (1-4) (last week’s ranking: 26)
Last week we said “…this looks like a team that will play hard all season long but will lose a number of games in the fourth quarter…” and so it was again, after coming from 14 points down and taking the lead with a little over a minute to play, the Giants suffered a heart-breaking loss on a 63-yard last second field goal. Eli Manning had 326 passing yards (but 2 crucial interceptions) and even Odell Beckham threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Saquon Barkley – but yet again the Giants were unable to get Barkley going in the running game. Beckham also had 131 yards receiving. Any thoughts that the Giants may have of making the playoffs may already be on the line this week when they play the Eagles on Thursday night.
28. San Francisco 49ers (1-4) (last week’s ranking: 23)
The 49ers had 33 first downs to the Cardinals' 10 and still somehow lost. Perhaps the 4 turnovers by QB C.J. Beathard (2 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles) had something to do with it. Perhaps dropped passes, penalties and special teams’ gaffes had something to do with it. Or could it just be that this is a struggling football team that cannot find itself without Jimmy G? They play the Packers this coming week – surely a match-up that knocks the loser out of playoff contention.
29. Indianapolis Colts (1-4) (last week’s ranking: 28)
Following up a 464-yard passing effort last week, Andrew Luck threw for 365 yards this week but was unable to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit as the plucky Colts fell to 1-4. Of course, getting behind by large margins early is making this team one dimensional so we are losing perspective on what they have in the running game. The Colts are really banged up on defense – so much so that they re-signed former Packer CB Lenzy Pipkins just hours before the game and he saw action on nearly every defensive down. The Colts remain firmly in the bottom third of the NFL but likely could play anybody, other than our top 2, pretty tough.
30. Buffalo Bills (2-3) (last week’s ranking: 31)
Buffalo somehow managed their second win of the season, with a shocking 13-12 victory against one of the AFC’s top teams, the Tennessee Titans. Buffalo managed to win despite having only 82 yards passing from rookie Josh Allen. The Bills’ defense played extremely well again, holding the Titans to just over 200 yards. It still doesn’t quite seem possible that Buffalo has beaten both Minnesota and Tennessee this season.
31. Oakland Raiders (1-4) (last week’s ranking: 29)
Jon Gruden’s comeback season just gets tougher. The Raiders are a 1-4 team that should probably be 0-5 (only favourable officiating gave them a week 4 victory over the Browns). The Raiders looked below average in all facets of the game against the Chargers and they “escaped” just losing by 16 points. The Raiders were held to just 41 yards rushing and desperately need to get Marshawn Lynch into their offense to take the heat off under-fire Derek Carr. This is undoubtedly one of the poorest teams in football and where the next win is coming from, who knows?
32. Arizona Cardinals (1-4) (last week’s ranking: 32)
The Arizona Cardinals got their first win of the season, beating the 49ers in San Francisco – mainly off the back of a ball-hawking defensive performance which included 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and 4 sacks. Rookie QB Josh Rosen picked up his first win in the pros despite having just 170 yards passing – 75 of which came on a touchdown pass on the Cardinals’ first play of the game. If you look at the stats for this game you’d be excused for thinking the Cardinals must have lost…nonetheless, Arizona is on the board for the season which will give them a huge boost, having previously lost a couple of close games.
Find Peter on twitter here: @The_IT_Hedgehog