Don’t look now but the NFC South could be on the line Sunday night when two 40-something quarterbacks tangle in Tampa.
New Orleans’ Drew Brees (41) and the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady (43) provide us with one of those rare opportunities to watch two certain Hall of Famers square off in an NFL game, but it’s even better when the stakes are high.
The Saints and Bucs are the class of their division, and even though New Orleans beat Tampa in the season opener, the sexy pick is Tampa in this Sunday night rematch. The winner comes out of this game in best position to win the division and the playoff home game that comes with it. If New Orleans pulls off the season sweep, the Saints would hold a tiebreaker that could mean something come playoff time.
It’s the most intriguing matchup of top 10 teams in this week’s Manopause.com NFL Power Rankings.
- Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) – What looked like a ho-hum demolition of the New York Jets was actually another 400-yard plus passing performance by Patrick Mahomes. He’s the best in the business and when you have a chance to watch him play, do it. A matchup against the game but overmatched Carolina Panthers will be a better test, but the Chiefs come in with momentum and two rested running backs. They hardly needed them against the Jets.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) – Another week, another dramatic performance by Ben Roethlisberger. This is a tough-minded team that reflects the personality of coach Mike Tomlin and when the Steelers needed a touchdown in the fourth quarter to win the game against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, you just knew Big Ben would deliver. Not saying the Steelers won’t get tripped up, but it’s hard to see a loss coming with the next three against the Cowboys, Bengals and Jaguars.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) – Adding receiver Antonio Brown to the mix takes the Bucs offense to the next level. Hard to double cover Mike Evans with AB on the field. Brady and his boys are likely giddy over the prospect of facing the Saints secondary. The Bucs defense may be the NFC’s best. Adding a future Hall of Famer to the receiving corps – Brown is reportedly in excellent physical condition – makes Tampa the team to beat in the NFC.
- Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – Only two losses, but they came at the hands of Kansas City and Pittsburgh, two teams the Ravens might encounter in their quest for the Super Bowl. Baltimore is kind of limping along. Either this team has not hit its stride or this is its stride – inconsistent defense and an offense that is good enough against weaker teams, but not scaring the elites.
- Seattle Seahawks (6-1) – The defense is not great and the division is brutal, but as long as Russell Wilson is taking the snaps, Seattle is a force. The Wilson for MVP campaign is rolling: He already has passed 2,000 yards passing this season and has 26 touchdowns in the first seven games, one shy of the record held by, you guessed it, Tom Brady. Great matchup this week: Seattle at Buffalo.
- Buffalo Bills (6-2) – Could it be the end of an era? The Bills won a home game against the Patriots last week, generally a once-per-decade event. But you get the feeling New England has finally been supplanted at the top, and by that I mean they won’t win the AFC East this year and will probably come right back and win it next year. Until then, we enjoy the Bills’ renaissance. How do they match up against the best? We get a look with the Seahawks in town.
- New Orleans Saints (5-2) – Will Drew Brees ever get his receivers back? And can he throw the ball downfield if he does? The Saints keeps winning with their depleted offense, this time winning in overtime in Chicago, but limited firepower won’t hold up forever. The major question about this team is what is its upside? Is the defense that porous or just playing poorly? The experts say Brady has got more left than Brees, and that Tampa will take control of the NFC South on Sunday night. You know what that means: watch out for another inspired effort from Brees.
- Tennessee Titans (5-2) – Was it just two weeks ago an undefeated Titans team was set to battle undefeated Pittsburgh? No shame in losing that one, but Tennessee followed it up with a messy performance against the surprising Bengals. The Titans need their ball-control offense to work because the defense is soft. Every team has been hitting Bengals rookie QB Joe Burrow, but the Titans could hardly get near him. Not a good sign to see Tennessee trading a late-round draft pick to the Chargers this week for cornerback Desmond King. Luckily, the four-cylinder Bears offense visits Nashville this week.
- Green Bay Packers (6-2) – Got things right with a convincing Thursday night win over San Francisco, or shall we say what is left of the beat-up 49ers. Every time I watch this team I think the same thing: Aaron Rodgers gives them a chance to beat anyone, and the Packers defense means no lead is safe. This is the best team in the NFC North, but that’s as far as it goes.
- Arizona Cardinals (5-2) – A new team in this week’s top 10. You’ve got give credit to the Cardinals. In a few years this team has gone from a laughingstock 3-13 with a suspect high draft choice quarterback (Josh Rosen) to a real contender despite playing in the NFL’s toughest division. The high draft choice Arizona smartly couldn’t resist to replace Rosen — Kyler Murray — leads an exciting offense. And Murray didn’t blink in leading his team past Seattle two weeks ago. There are a lot of ‘barometer’ games for Arizona and they get another this week against the surging Dolphins.
- Indianapolis Colts (5-2) – Never underestimate the value of a veteran, winning quarterback. Philip Rivers has been just what the Colts needed. Indy’s stout defense got Darius Leonard back last week and he showed up in a domination of Detroit, which came into the game on a two-game win streak, probably one of the longest in franchise history. The Colts and Titans are tied atop the AFC South and they play twice in the next four weeks. And that’s just one thing that makes the NFL great. Would it shock you if the Colts take it?
- Las Vegas Raiders (4-3) – I like this team. They play tough and they don’t let up. They took the fight to Cleveland and came away with the win playing in high winds and rain, which always has a greater impact on the team with the better passing game. That would not be Cleveland, whose starting receivers are injured and have been replaced by backups who don’t seem to be good at catching. The Raiders, meanwhile, are building around a solid nucleus of QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs and rookie WR Henry Ruggs III. A wildcard slot is certainly within reach for the Raiders.
- Los Angeles Rams (5-3) – One of the weirder losses of the season. The Rams defense absolutely dominated Miami – LA outgained the Dolphins 471-145 – but that doesn’t matter as much as turnovers and special teams blunders. It’s the kind of loss that could haunt LA in the ultra-competitive NFC West and they’ll get a week off to think about it before a showdown with first-place Seattle.
- Miami Dolphins (4-3) – If I told you Tua Tagovaila threw for a whopping 97 yards in his debut as an NFL starter, you’d probably say he’s 0-1. But big plays by the Dolphins – a Rams fumble returned for a TD and a long punt return propelled Miami. I’d probably rank this team higher if Ryan Fitzpatrick was still starting simply because he is solid and a known quantity. Yes, Tua is 1-0 and he showed flashes of his considerable talent, but Dolphins fans should expect an uneven ride this season. We’ll see two similar quarterbacks when the Dolphins and Cardinals collide this Sunday. For now, Kyler Murray is better.
- Chicago Bears (5-3) – Even against the questionable Saints defense, Nick Foles and the Chicago offense could do just enough to stay in the game. Yes, Foles led the Bears back and forced overtime, but so many possessions looked like trench warfare. And when it matter in OT, Foles couldn’t get it done. This does not mean Mitchell Trubisky is the better choice at quarterback. It could mean both are on different rosters next season.
- Cleveland Browns (5-3) – In the history of the Browns franchise, a winning record at the halfway mark is usually cause for celebration, limited to 10 or fewer people of course. But you get the feeling this team has underachieved and should be at least one game better. They are an injured bunch – the Browns really miss running back Nick Chubb – and they can use this bye week to get ready for what should be three straight wins: Texans, Eagles and Jaguars. Get all three and Cleveland is right in the mix for a playoff slot, no small feat in the loaded AFC.
- Denver Broncos (3-4) – I guess this is life with an emerging player such as Drew Lock, who has been somewhat enticing even as he’s dealt with injuries in his fledgling NFL career. Denver could do nothing for three quarters against the Chargers, and then Lock looked like he knew John Elway was watching in the final 15 minutes — an Elway-esque performance with three touchdowns and 155 yards passing in the quarter. Lock improved to 2-1 since returning from injury. It is not talent but consistency he seeks. He doesn’t want to end up like his opposing QB this week, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, toiling away for a lost franchise.
- Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1) – When you live in Washington DC, as I do, you get a lot of NFC East matchups. It’s awful. That game between the Eagles and Cowboys had to be one of the worst NFL games ever played. I’m certain all footage has been destroyed. Philly should be running away with this division but Carson Wentz seems to do a great job of keeping opponents in the game. The Eagles are on their bye. Start getting excited about that Eagles-Giants mashup coming next week.
- San Francisco 49ers (4-4) – No team has moved up and down the rankings like the Niners and it all has to do with who is playing quarterback and who is catching passes. Jimmy Garoppolo has nursed an injured ankle most of the season and is out again. George Kittle will miss several weeks with a foot injury. At full health San Francisco could make the NFC Championship Game, but they can’t get there if they lose so many games they don’t make the postseason, and that is a real possibility.
- Los Angeles Chargers (2-5) – I know, I know. Every week I rave about Justin Herbert and tell you to keep an eye on this team because they have been losing a lot of close games. What I didn’t realize is they seem to lose every close game and they are fond of the spectacular collapse – against Tampa Bay, New Orleans and even mediocre Denver. The Chargers can’t seem to put it all together and it seems to be a season-long trait. An upset over either the Raiders or Dolphins in the next two weeks would give hope.
- New England Patriots (2-5) – Can’t keep waiting for the Patriots to get it in gear. The streak of 11 straight division titles is over for the Patriots, but not for former QB Tom Brady, who may win one in Tampa. Ouch! Fourth straight loss for the Patriots came to the Buffalo Bills, and it felt like a changing of the guard in the AFC East. The Patriots look as average as the Detroit Lions, who truth be told actually aspire to average.
- Atlanta Falcons (2-6) – On paper probably the most talented of the bad teams. The Falcons have stepped up the pressure defense under interim coach Raheem Morris and it definitely worked in derailing the Carolina Panthers. Atlanta remains a team with plenty of talent on offense. They could cause problems for playoff contenders the second half of the season.
- Carolina Panthers (3-5) – The team that looked initially like it didn’t miss Christian McCaffrey really needs its star running back. QB Teddy Bridgewater can do a lot for a number of games, but he can’t carry a team all season. When he went 5-0 last year filling in for an injured Drew Brees in New Orleans, the only thing you knew for sure is that would never happen again. Yes, the Panthers won three in a row after McCaffrey was injured, and now they’ve lost three in a row. This week: The Chiefs.
- Minnesota Vikings (2-5) – It says a lot that this team was able to beat Green Bay in a quarterback battle of Kirk Cousins versus Aaron Rodgers. And it happened mainly because the Vikings didn’t count on their quarterback. Dalvin Cook might be the most underrated running back in the NFL. He shredded Green Bay for 226 yards offense, 163 of it rushing. Cousins was mediocre, as he often is, and Minnesota knows its winning recipe is Cook and a ferocious defense. The Vikes can win some games, but Cousins limits their ceiling.
- Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) – Forget these bad teams jockeying for position to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. If you take the draft two years ago, last year’s draft and next year’s draft, Joe Burrow is the best quarterback in any of them. He can make all the throws, he can read defenses, he senses pressure, he keeps plays alive – he simply plays beyond his years. Burrow showed it in delivering his biggest win yet last week against the Tennessee Titans. The Bengals have some nice receivers in Tee Higgens and Auden Tate. If the team brass can provide protection for Burrow with an improved offensive line, Cinci could be a playoff contender next season.
- Detroit Lions (3-4) – It was all there for the Lions, like it has been so many times. They shook off a slow start and won two in a row, evening their record at 3-3 with a winnable game against the Colts up next. So what did we get? A complete meltdown in the third quarter and another loss at home, where the Lions are 0-3. It could be the only city in the NFL where the fans are asking not to come back.
- Washington Football Team (2-5) – I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if any team besides the Eagles can win the NFC East, it may be the WFT, to which you might say, WTF? I’m serious. The defense is a strength and Kyle Allen seems to steady the ship a little more each week at quarterback. Unknown but talented Antonio Gibson would start at running back for a lot of NFL teams. Washington trails Philly by only one game in the loss column. I’m just sayin’, there’s a chance.
- Houston Texans (1-6) – The only thing worse than losing a lot of games is losing a lot of games and not even getting a high draft pick. The Texans traded their first-round pick in the 2021 draft to Miami as part of a trade in 2019. So every time the Texans lose, they potentially improve the Dolphins’ position in the draft. Right now, that is the No. 4 overall pick. That hurts.
- New York Giants (1-7) – I don’t know what the Giants saw in Daniel Jones that made them end the Eli Manning era, but I can tell you it was not that Jones knows how to avoid bad plays. If this guy ever learns to throw the ball away and try again next play, he might get somewhere. Until then he’s a turnover waiting to happen. Yes, he did drive his team 70 yards for a touchdown that almost pulled out a victory, but the truth is Tampa was having an off night and if Jones had just avoided a few critical errors, the Giants could’ve won that game.
- Dallas Cowboys (2-6) – This has to be the lowest ranking possible for a team some believed in the preseason could make the Super Bowl. Yeah that probably wasn’t happening without Dak Prescott, but this team was already playing horrible football by the time he was hurt. They seem to reach a new low each week. The defense is atrocious. They couldn’t win with Prescott. They couldn’t win with Andy Dalton. And they’re not going to win with the new guy, Ben DiNucci.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) – “Where do I rank the Jaguars? Where do I rank the Jaguars?” These are the burning questions I ask myself. And so I thought, “Well, no team is as bad as the Jets, but the Jags probably are slightly worse than the Cowboys.” You know it’s bad when the loss of QB Gardner Minshew to injury really will hurt this team.
- New York Jets (0-8) – There are unconfirmed reports that some of the cardboard cutouts of fans walked out of the last home game.
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