When the NFL season crosses the midpoint of the season, everyone has something to worry about.
There are teams worried about making the playoffs, there are teams worried they won’t be there long if they do. There are teams trying to hold on after getting off to promising starts and there are teams worried over whether they dug too deep a hole the first two months of the season.
There are fans who have given up and are already worried about the 2021 draft and there are players worried they won’t be back next season.
The NFL has a way of turning worries into dust or reality. This is the best stretch of the season, when it really gets interesting and we’re starting to see it in this week’s Manopause.com NFL Power Rankings:
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) – When you’re the defending Super Bowl champs and favored to repeat, the one thing you can’t do is lose your division. The only way that becomes likely is if the Chiefs are swept by the division rival Las Vegas Raiders, who stunned the Chiefs once this year and would love to do it again Sunday. Patrick Mahomes will be ready, but just as interesting is the coaching matchup between KC’s Andy Reid and the Raiders’ Jon Gruden.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) – It looked like the undefeated Steelers had the week off, but that was the Cincinnati Bengals out there on the field, even though it looked like the Steelers were holding a scrimmage. The Steelers have another week off, and by that I mean this week they play the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unless Ben Roethlisberger’s knees go out, Pittsburgh should move to 10-0.
- New Orleans Saints (7-2) – A precarious No. 3 with Drew Brees out, possibly until the playoffs, with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. So this seems an opportune time to remind all that backup Jameis Winston, despite his inconsistency during a 5-year-run in Tampa, led the NFL in passing yards last season. He also became the first NFL quarterback to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and also 30 interceptions. Winston has lost weight and been studying all year under Brees and Sean Payton – the main reason he accepted a one-year deal in New Orleans. This is Winston’s chance and he knows it, though he likely will split time with Taysom Hill. Helping the QBs is the Saints defense, which seems to have hit its stride.
- Green Bay Packers (7-2) – The Packers make you want to believe every time you see Aaron Rodgers take the field, and he has a special talent to work with in receiver Davante Adams. The attention on Adams has created opportunities for other receivers to shine and Marquez Valdes-Scantling stepped up last week with 149 yards on only four receptions in a 24-20 win over Jacksonville. The offense is fine, but the defense is a worry – especially when you are one of the few teams that the Jaguars could score against.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) – Shook off the blowout loss to New Orleans by routing the reeling Carolina Panthers to stay right on the Saints’ heels. Just a half-season in, the Bucs are clearly Tom Brady’s team and he has raised this team’s aspirations. This week they’ll play a team in similar position in the Los Angeles Rams, who are tied for first in the ultra-competitive NFC West, so look for a real battle on Monday night in Tampa.
- Buffalo Bills (7-3) – It had to be pretty grim in the Bills’ locker room moments after the ‘Hail Murray’ – Kyler Murray’s spectacular pass to DeAndre Hopkins to lift Arizona to a heart-stopping victory. Oh, the fickle NFL. Just when it looked like the Bills would supplant the Patriots in the AFC East, Buffalo is now tied in the loss column with the surging Miami Dolphins. Make no mistake, this is a quality Bills club, but it’s very likely this division will come down to a single game and Buffalo has to hope it is not haunted by Murray to Hopkins.
- Baltimore Ravens (6-3) – My how the mighty are fading. There’s no shame in losing to the Patriots, unless it’s part of a trend that indicates larger issues, which it is. The Lamar Jackson who was unstoppable last season is now part of a predictable, sputtering offense. The Ravens were seen as the team that could topple the Steelers, maybe even the Chiefs. Now Baltimore is grouped with a bunch of 6-3 teams fighting for a playoff spot, which won’t be easy to land in the AFC.
- Arizona Cardinals (6-3) – Was there a better acquisition in the NFL than the Cardinals landing receiver Hopkins from the Houston Texans? It gave Kyler Murray a bonafide gamebreaker at receiver and it probably got Bill O’Brien fired in Houston. We all thought Arizona would be improved, but who had them in a three-way tie for the division lead as we head down the stretch? It never gets easy and this week Arizona gets Seattle coming off a loss. The outcome will tell us whether we are potentially seeing a changing of the guard in the NFC West.
- Las Vegas Raiders (6-3) – The Raiders have been quietly getting the job done, lurking just behind the Chiefs, who they defeated earlier this season. Still, Vegas remains two games behind and likely needs another win over KC this weekend to have a shot at the division crown. They’ve got the ingredients on both sides of the ball, but you can be sure KC does not intend to be swept.
- Los Angeles Rams (6-3) – The mercurial Rams remain in good position and they have their defense to thank for it. LA was all over Russell Wilson last week in knocking off the Seahawks by 7 and they’ll need a similar effort against Tom Brady in Tampa. The Rams don’t seem great in any area – maybe pass rush – but they’re pretty good across the board. They look like a playoff team, but not one headed to the Super Bowl.
- Miami Dolphins (6-3) – I’ve seen enough of Tua Tagovaila to affirm my preseason pick of the Dolphins to win the AFC East. The Fins have won five in a row – 3-0 since Tua took over as starter. It hasn’t always been pretty and the rookie QB makes mistakes, but he is a difference maker. And it looks like Miami has finally found a coach in Brian Flores.
- Indianapolis Colts (6-3) – You can’t call them a sleeper when they’re tied for first place, but the Colts are trending and could be a playoff surprise. Philip Rivers has been mostly solid and the Indy defense is the best in the AFC South, which really means they’re better than the Titans because the other two teams are Houston and Jacksonville. Measuring stick game against the Packers this weekend. Stop Aaron Rodgers and that’s sayin’ somethin’.
- Tennessee Titans (6-3) – Probably still the most talented team in its division but the Titans better get it together or they could miss the playoffs entirely. The loss to the Colts last week puts Tennessee on the wrong side of a tiebreaker that could come into play because Houston and Jacksonville are out of it. This is one of the perfect dynamics often seen in the NFL: Tennessee at Baltimore – two popular preseason picks and now both badly in need of a win.
- Seattle Seahawks (6-3) – We’re now in that section of the rankings where teams that used to be in the top 10 have faded to second tier, but not so far that they can’t make a comeback. It’s hard to say which way the Seahawks will go. Yes, they’ve got six wins, but the defense is one of the league’s worst and anytime the Seattle offense struggles, they’re in trouble. When Russell Wilson throws picks, as he did twice last week, they lose.
- Cleveland Browns (6-3) – It’s pretty clear that Baker Mayfield is an above-average quarterback but not the guy who will carry this team. That would be the defense, led by Myles Garrett, and a running game that relies very much on Nick Chubb. Getting Chubb back in the lineup was a big boost for this team, which at 6-3 is in the hunt but also has to deal with Pittsburgh and Baltimore down the stretch. All the more reason to get the wins they can the next few weeks against the Eagles and Jags.
- Minnesota Vikings (4-5) – An abysmal 1-5 start seemed to put the Vikings out of it, but three wins in a row and the league’s best pure runner in Dalvin Cook have Minnesota within two games of division-leader Green Bay. Kirk Cousins is a decent starter when he avoids turnovers, which he’s been doing during the win streak. The Vikings have it all in front of them and already own a road win against the Packers. And this week they get the Cowboys and whoever is playing quarterback for Dallas.
- Atlanta Falcons (3-6) – Team owner Arthur Blank must be kicking himself. If only he had fired coach Dan Quinn sooner. The Falcons have won 3 of 4 under Raheem Morris and look a lot more like the team they were expected to be. Matt Ryan remains a guy who can beat you on any given Sunday. Atlanta gets New Orleans, Las Vegas and New Orleans again the next three weeks. Win two of three and there’s a chance Morris gets the permanent gig, but I’m only saying there’s a chance.
- New England Patriots (4-5) – As they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.” The Pats picked up a huge win over Baltimore, aided by the Ravens being depleted for various reasons, but it’s not like New England hasn’t done some COVID-19 suffering of its own. I don’t know if this team can make the playoffs. The defense seems good enough but a lot depends on Cam Newton. If he steps it up, look for New England to hang around the playoff race. Although now they’re just beyond the outskirts of town because I think it is going to take at least 10 wins to grab an AFC berth.
- Los Angeles Chargers (2-7) – The education of Justin Herbert continues. He has been brilliant at times, but we can’t ignore that against two good defenses – New Orleans and Miami – he had his worst two games. I am confident in saying this is the best 2-7 team in the league, and they easily could be 5-4. They’re not because they find ways to blow leads, but this week they meet the best in the business at collapsing: the New York Jets. The Chargers need this one.
- Detroit Lions (4-5) – It’s quirky, but there are only 3 teams in the entire league currently at 4-5. One of them is in the playoff hunt (Minnesota), one is sort of in the hunt (New England) and the pretender is Detroit. The Lions are 0-3 in the NFC North and have one quality win, an inexplicable victory over Arizona. This team is not going anywhere but probably winning just enough for coach Matt Patricia to hold onto his job for another year. Maybe.
- New York Giants (3-7) – After all of these weeks of me telling you the Philadelphia Eagle are the least horrible team in a horrible division, I give you the Giants, who are in hot pursuit of Philly in a division someone has to win. It has taken new coach Joe Judge some time to get things going, but this team is improving by the week. QB Daniel Jones has not had a turnover for the past two games and the run game has picked up, even without Saquon Barkley. There is a chance 7-9 is good enough to win the NFC East and the Giants could get there with a 4-2 finish.
- San Francisco 49ers (4-6) – The most hard-luck team in the NFL this year gave a good effort against New Orleans, but they’re not good enough to overcome interceptions by Nick Mullens, who is quite good at throwing them. By the time Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle injury) returns to the lineup, it likely will be over for the Niners. It probably already is with three teams at 6-3 ahead of them in their own division.
- Carolina Panthers (3-7) – If Carolina played in the NFC East the Panthers would have at least two more wins and would be leading the division. Ah, life in the same division as Drew Brees and Tom Brady. The Panthers are scrappy and can hang around with both teams, but it takes everything going right for them to win. Losing QB Teddy Bridgewater is not part of that equation.
- Chicago Bears (5-5) – After a 5-1 start it is highly unlikely the Bears will finish with a winning record, which could spell trouble for coach Matt Nagy. This team either has a problem evaluating quarterbacks or coaching them because an NFL team that gets 149 yards of total offense – Chicago’s number in last week’s loss to the Vikings – can’t beat anyone. Chicago still has to play Green Bay twice. Yikes.
- Denver Broncos (3-6) – Broncos QB Drew Lock is still young, but he seems to be the Jameis Winston of this season. When Lock is on he can lead Denver to victory, but he’s also a turnover waiting to happen. He’s got 10 interceptions in seven starts this year – four of them last week against the Raiders. It’s not going to help Broncos fans if he is outplayed by an even younger quarterback this week when Tua and the Dolphins come to town.
- Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1) – The Eagles came into last week’s game in first place with a 3-4-1 record. They played a Giants team that had only won two games, did not convert a single third down in the game, did not get a touchdown from their quarterback, lost by 10 points – and remained in first place! Combined record of the NFC East: 10-26-1. It’s like the minor league section of the NFL.
- Cincinnati Bengals (2-6-1) – Last week’s beat-down at the hands of the Steelers showed us how far this team remains from hanging with the big boys. Joe Burrow looked like a rookie against Pittsburgh’s D, which is the real deal. The Bengals are able to operate among the middling franchises of the league, but the gap remains large between them at perennial powers Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
- Washington Football Team (2-7) – This spot in the rankings was essentially earmarked for the loser of the Detroit-Washington game. Fittingly, it took a 59-yard field goal by the Lions’ Matt Prater at the buzzer to decide it. One bright spot: Alex Smith tightened his hold on the starting QB job for the WFT with a career performance in passing yards (390). Another team that will look back on silly mistakes that cost them games, even though they are technically still alive in the NFC East, which is an incredible statement.
- Houston Texans (2-7) – To their credit they have not given up and you get the feeling Deshaun Watson is going to lead the Texans to a win or two over teams with better records. Could happen this week against New England, which fancies itself in the playoff race.
- Dallas Cowboys (2-7) – The most disappointing team in the league can’t blame it all on the loss of Dak Prescott, because the Cowboys were awful even before he went down. In a division it would not take much to win, Dallas is tied for last place, yet only 1.5 games out of the division lead. If Andy Dalton comes back strong, could it happen?
- Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8) – The Trevor Lawrence/Justin Fields quarterback derby continues. Jacksonville will get one of them and the Jets will get the other – unless a blockbuster trade intervenes. Remember when Jacksonville was 1-0? Eight straight losses means there are no moral victories, not even when you stay within four points of the Packers.
- New York Jets (0-9) – The Jets have gotten a little healthier on offense at receiver, just as their starting quarterback injured his shoulder. Joe Flacco is a veteran who can get the job done and I would not rule out a win this week against the Chargers. One of those planets have aligned type things.
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