We’ve reached that point in the NFL season when everything you thought starts to change and then sometimes changes back again.
Sure, it is hard to ignore the undefeated. We’ve got the return of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 5-0 with a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger; the find-a-way-to-win Tennessee Titans, also 5-0 a year after playing in the AFC Championship Game; and the 5-0 Seattle Seahawks, who have Russell Wilson winging the ball all over the place and have scored only six fewer points than the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs.
Seems like one of them should take the top spot in the Manopause.com NFL Power Rankings, right? Wrong.
All three are tough outs, but none are ready to supplant the Chiefs in the top spot. My reasoning is simple. The Chiefs have a well-balanced team and in Patrick Mahomes, a quarterback who can make plays others just can’t make.
Some great games this week and among those unbeaten teams, something’s gotta give: The Steelers and Titans meet, while the Seahawks visit 4-2 division rival Arizona. Could have two undefeated teams left next week, could be down to one.
- Kansas City Chiefs (5-1) – The mark of a great team is how it responds to a loss. The Chiefs put their dismal performance against the Raiders behind them in steamrolling a playoff-quality Buffalo Bills team. And just to keep the league honest, it wasn’t Mahomes leading the way, it was the running back he personally asked the team to draft – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a bowling ball with feet out of LSU. If an NFL team rushes for 100 yards, it’s a solid day. Hit 150 yards rushing, that’s a great day. Then there’s domination: Kansas City hit Buffalo for 245 rushing yards.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0) – Maybe the Steelers didn’t like all that talk about how the Browns are for real. Maybe it’s time the league noticed Roethlisberger is on fire and was unlikely to be outplayed by Baker Mayfield, who is looking more and more like another Gardner Minshew or Kirk Cousins. The Steelers are not as flashy as the others, just getting the job done. That’s Pittsburgh. And this week, they play a team a lot like them in ….
- Tennessee Titans (5-0) – No reason to worry after the Titans needed a fierce comeback and overtime to knock out the Texans. Any given Sunday, you know. Somehow, someway, Tennessee finds a way. Just remember the Titans piled up 600 yards of offense and Derrick Henry ran like a locomotive. This team has the perfect quarterback for its personality in Ryan Tannehill. Sunday’s showdown against the Steelers is one of the best matchups we’ll see all year.
- Seattle Seahawks (5-0) – Green Bay is officially replaced as the current favorite to win the NFC, though I never thought the Packers were better than the Seahawks. Russell Wilson is looking like an MVP and the Seahawks air attack is a new dimension. One thing we know about Pete Carroll: He’ll adapt to his personnel and right now the Hawks are doing that as well as any team in the league. Tough division game this week against the Cardinals, but I’d be hard-pressed to take Arizona’s Kyler Murray over Wilson.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) – Maybe we should have seen it coming. After the embarrassing end to the loss in Chicago, the Bucs would step up the intensity against Green Bay. They did just that, blowing past a 10-0 deficit to score the final 38 points in the game. Tom Brady was in command and Aaron Rodgers could only watch. Of the many things Brady has brought to Tampa, two stand out: The Bucs play hard for 60 minutes and Brady has given them some swagger. Not a fun team to play.
- Baltimore Ravens (5-1) – The Ravens are cruising along despite not being everyone’s Super Bowl pick, but that’s only because they’d most likely need to beat the Chiefs at some point to get there. Still, there does not seem to be the same spark about these Ravens. Either opponents are figuring out the Lamar Jackson-led offense or perhaps Baltimore has yet to hit its stride, but when you look at the current AFC landscape they don’t look better than Kansas City or Pittsburgh.
- Green Bay Packers (4-1) – OK, so maybe not the best team in the NFC after all. Granted, Rodgers played one of his worst games against Tampa Bay, but it’s the Packers defense that isn’t Super Bowl material. Brady gashed them again and again and there’s no reason to think other, even better offenses won’t do the same. What we saw last week is what happens to Green Bay if the Packers can’t move the ball and have to leave their defense on the field.
- Buffalo Bills (4-2) – I’m not from Buffalo, but I know a lot of people from Buffalo and I have felt their pain over the years. If there is a team I’d love to see win a Super Bowl for its fans, its Buffalo. And the 2020 rendition of the Bills is pretty good. And they may still win the AFC East. I think it will be Miami, but the Dolphins just benched their starting quarterback in favor of a talented rookie. That’s no sure thing. The Bills need to tend to their own business, starting with the defense.
- Las Vegas Raiders (3-2) – The Raiders come off a bye week to face Brady and the Buccaneers in a prime time Sunday night battle. While Brady easily outgunned Rodgers last week, the feeling here is Derek Carr is a player on the rise. He and the Raiders will show up for this game because after wins over the Saints and Chiefs, if Las Vegas beats Tampa then Jon Gruden’s team officially becomes a contender to be reckoned with. Watch out for rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III. The speedster they call HR3 is starting to show what he can do.
- New Orleans Saints (3-2) – Yes they got things headed in the right direction with a pair of wins heading into their bye week, but the Saints will get a good idea of where they stand after Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is solid – and these two franchises typically have tough battles – and it will be the first time fans have been allowed in the Superdome this season. There’ll only be 3,000, but the return of fans and superstar receiver Michael Thomas should help the Saints stay right on the heels of Tampa Bay in the NFC South.
- Los Angeles Rams (4-2) – Hard to read the Rams sometimes. They can look unbeatable and then seemingly can’t make a play in losing to a suspect 49ers team last week. Division setbacks are costly and this was one the Rams probably should have won, but a misfiring offense couldn’t finish drives in the second half. The Rams play in the toughest division in the NFL – the only one in which no team currently has a losing record – and the loss makes this week’s Monday night game against 5-1 Chicago seem a little bigger. Remember, both clubs will be chasing NFC playoff slots down the stretch, so the winner will hold a key tiebreaker.
- Chicago Bears (5-1) – They don’t score a lot but they don’t give up a lot of points. Nick Foles has at least brought solid play to the quarterback position. Khalil Mack is a one-man destroyer on a defense that has to play well for the Bears to win. A very old school team in the offense-friendly NFL. The question is whether Chicago can hang as the season moves along if they’re only putting up 21 points per game. I don’t think so, but in the utterly average NFC North, above average makes the Bears no worse than the second-best team.
- Arizona Cardinals (4-2) – Kyler Murray was the latest quarterback to have a field day against the Cowboys defense. The 38-10 thrashing of Dallas almost looks like a tune up for the main course – Arizona hosts undefeated Seattle this week. Murray isn’t in Russell Wilson’s league yet, but he may be on his way. A Seattle win on the road is what everyone expects, but a win by the Cardinals would send a signal that the brutal NFC West is up for grabs.
- Cleveland Browns (4-2) – While the critics are all over the spotty play of quarterback Baker Mayfield, let’s remember that he is playing hurt and star running back Nick Chubb isn’t able to play at all. Make no mistake, the Browns are best as a power running team to set up Mayfield and the passing game. This team misses Chubb badly, for without him Cleveland seems unable to play ball control. Luckily, just when things look a little shaky, the NFL puts the Bengals up next on the schedule. Myles Garrett and company must be licking their chops to get at rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who has been running for his life all season.
- Indianapolis Colts (4-2) – Never good when you need a big comeback to beat the Bengals, but it’s better than losing to them. Colts quarterback Philip Rivers had the best single quarter of his career in this game – 235 yards passing and two touchdowns in the second quarter. The Indy defense is one of the best in the NFL and when Rivers plays like the talented veteran that he is, the Colts are tough. They get a bye this week before heading to Detroit, so it’s kind of like having two bye weeks.
- Miami Dolphins (3-3) – So the Tua era begins with at least a little controversy. One cannot fault the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick in getting the Dolphins off to a 3-3 start, with blowout wins the past two weeks. Still, the Dolphins announced that after their bye this week, rookie Tua Tagovailoa will take over the starting job. The coaches must be seeing something in practice to change quarterbacks when the team has won two in a row, and we’ll see what that is when the Dolphins host the Rams and their tough defense next week. Kind of a big roll of the dice for a team definitely in the hunt in the Tom Brady-less AFC East.
- New England Patriots (2-3) – Off to their worst five-game start in almost two decades, I still get the feeling the Patriots are not far from putting it together. Two weeks of COVID-19 disruptions showed in a lethargic performance against the Denver Broncos, and it’s clear that this team needs Cam Newton to play well if the Patriots are to return to the playoffs. Still, there are no elite teams in this division and if you took measure of Buffalo, New England and Miami, they’ve all got a shot. First of all, they all get to play the Jets twice.
- Carolina Panthers (3-3) – Even at .500 they’re probably ahead of schedule with a new coaching staff, new offense and new starting quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater squares off this week against his old team, the New Orleans Saints, in a stadium where Teddy has had success. He’s going to want to show off, and he can hurt the Saints with his accuracy, but in a real gut-check matchup, New Orleans with Michael Thomas returning will be tough.
- San Francisco 49ers (3-3) – Just when you think they’re dead the 49ers jump up and knock off the Rams. So here we have a last-place team that is still .500 and has one of the better scoring differentials in the league. That’s the sign of a team suffering through some hard luck and tough injuries, but the 49ers are far from out of it. Returning from the East Coast this weekend with a win over the Patriots would turn some heads.
- Philadelphia (1-4-1) – The Eagles look like this year’s hard-luck team. They almost pulled off a major comeback to beat the Ravens, but that has happened three other times this season. Just as Carson Wentz has improved his play, he loses another receiver, this time tight end Zach Ertz. Still, Philly is running second in the NFC East and remain my pick to win it.
- Denver Broncos (2-4) – What did I tell ya? QB Drew Lock means a lot to this team. He came back, they beat the Patriots. Yes, it was the COVID-19 plagued Patriots who no longer have a Hall of Fame quarterback, but it was the Patriots. And Denver really needed it. What the Broncos get next they don’t need: Kansas City.
- Detroit (2-3) – The Lions beat up on Jacksonville to get their second win. This week they get an Atlanta team that finally won a game. The Lions have a legit running back in D’Andre Swift to help out Matthew Stafford. But they’d better look out. The Falcons on paper have more talent.
- Dallas Cowboys (2-4) – Ladies and gentlemen, your first-place Dallas Cowboys! What can you say? The Cowboys in the past three weeks have allowed 38, 34 and 49 points, and they won one of those games. And they’re still in first place. That’s because the current combined record of the NFC East teams is 5-18-1. Someone has to win the division and it probably won’t be the Cowboys.
- LA Chargers (1-4) – Got a bye just when they needed as the injuries have piled up. That’s another week for rookie hotshot Justin Herbert to get ready for the Jaguars, who seem to provide a confidence boost to whichever team they play. The Bolts are at least a year away, but that’s better than many expected. And they have identified who will be their quarterback.
- Houston Texans (1-5) – It’s a shame to see a player the caliber of DeShaun Watson endure a season like this. Houston can move the ball, but a team that gives up almost 250 yards rushing to Derrick Henry has problems. It’s down to a one-game season. The Texans need a big win over the Packers this week to have any chance. Taking a sixth loss in seven games would mean it’s time to look at the roster.
- Minnesota Vikings (1-5) – Here’s how it works in the NFL. The Chiefs don’t need everything to go right to win because they have Patrick Mahomes, who can make plays other quarterbacks can’t. The Vikings can’t afford as many mistakes because they have Kirk Cousins who, as a starter, looks like he should be a backup.
- New York Giants (1-5) – Picked up their first win with that thriller over the Washington Allegations and this week it’s another division rival – the Eagles, whose record is only a half-game better in the standings, but a lot better in talent. It almost sounds funny to say Philly can ‘take control’ in the pathetic NFC East.
- Cincinnati Bengals (1-4-1) – It’s too bad Joe Burrow didn’t have any more college eligibility. LSU could really use him this year and if he was still a Tiger, he wouldn’t be a Bengal. Not the same, you know.
- Atlanta Falcons (1-5) – See it all the time: Fire the coach, win a game. Matt Ryan remains an upper-tier quarterback and it’s not a stretch to see the Falcons win two in a row because Detroit can lose to anyone.
- Washington (Alleged) Football Team (1-5) – They’ve tried three quarterbacks and they have the third-worst scoring differential in the league at minus-54. The Allegations had a rare chance at victory last week if they could just convert a two-point play. Of course they couldn’t. And that was against the Giants.
- Jacksonville (1-5) – The Jags are living in the world of pretend. Pretending they have a good nucleus, pretending Gardner Minshew is a legit NFL starting quarterback. But there’s no pretending they’ll make the playoffs. When you’re five games out of first after six games played, that’s harsh reality.
- New York Jets (0-6) – Anyone who thinks the Jets will be saved if they lose enough games to get the first overall draft pick and grab Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence should remember that this franchise ruins quarterbacks all the time. They’re currently doing it with Sam Darnold, once a phenom himself.
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