NFL Power Rankings, Week 10: New Orleans Saints take throne
It’s a different type of NFL campaign.
No more parity party. No wild-card team streaking its way to a Super Bowl — not this season. Nope, this year has charmed us with a group of teams that can be considered the league’s elite. That includes the Saints, Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Chargers and Panthers. Maybe the Steelers. Yet, it’s those front four that might become the final four in late January.
The rankings below try to separate those top-shelf Scotches, although you could make an argument for any of the top four being perched at No. 1. Here are my quick-and-dirty thoughts:
1) New Orleans Saints: Have won seven straight, won on the road, are incredibly balanced.
2) New England Patriots: Already beat the Chiefs, top QB in the game, still the best-coached.
3) Kansas City Chiefs: Prolific offense hasn’t been stopped yet. Defense still too questionable.
4) Los Angeles Rams: Most talented top to bottom, but probably should have lost two in a row.
Sean McVay’s defense has struggled of late, making the Son of Bum feel more bummed out than anything. Meanwhile, some readers will be bummed out, some happy, with how the top shakes out:
I hope when @HarrisonNFL is doing his power rankings he takes in account kc only lost by 3 when they played against the goat.
@HarrisonNFL the Chargers are 6-2. 33% of those wins came on defensive goal-line stands against wildcard caliber teams… without the Chargers best defensive player. Nuts.
Then there’s this …
So maybe it wasnât Dezâ fault?
For full thoughts on the elites — and everyone else — see below. The teams right outside of the playoff bubble moved plenty, as well, despite such a heavy bye week. The NFC East is still a mess. Your musings on that division, or any other, are welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
Previous rank: No. 4
Beat the top-ranked team, take the top spot — that’s how it works for the Saints this week. While the Chiefs have been more consistent over the course of this season, your favorite Power Rankings have been consistently conservative with New Orleans despite the Saints’ unquestionable surge — they didn’t even move up a single spot on this board after a Week 8 road win over another surging outfit in Minnesota. So, yes, this leap was due. On Sunday, New Orleans went old school, back to the 2014 days when Drew Brees seemingly had to put up 45 points for this team to even contemplate winning. That long ball to Michael Thomas late in the fourth quarter was the definition of clutch — a true Hall of Fame play. Oh, we forgot to note Saints’ defense. Well, that unit did force two big stops late. That was enough.
Previous rank: No. 2
Before you pick at this ranking, realize that the Patriots won — by multiple scores, no less — without Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and Shaq Mason. Tom Brady picked at the Pack’s defense most of the night, being quite familiar with the scheme’s czar, Mike Pettine. Then Brady hit the Joshpot with that odd-looking intermediate throw to Mr. Gordon — a ball that Julian Edelman initially elevated for … before bringing his hands down in a move that made him look like a red, white and blue PEZ dispenser. Michel’s absence meant more was required of James White, who was obviously gassed after that trick-play beaut of a screen. What a well-planned, well-timed, well-better-than-anything-the-Packers-showed play call from New England. Edelman delivered calmly and coolly. Again.
Previous rank: No. 3
The Chiefs moved to 8-1 in Cleveland on Sunday, with Patrick Mahomes showing those poor Browns fans the kind of quarterback play they’ve been missing all these years. The victory was necessary for Kansas City to keep its 1.5-game AFC West lead over the Chargers, who came through in Seattle with their own triumph. Next, the Chiefs will face their conceptual opposites, taking on the 2-6 Cardinals — who have executed twice as many punts this season as Kansas City — at Arrowhead this weekend. After that comes the matchup everyone is circling on their NFL United Way pocket schedule: vs. the Rams, in Mexico City, on "Monday Night Football." Whew.
Previous rank: No. 1
The last of the undefeated fell. Was it bound to happen? Sure. Was the loss concerning? Yes. The Rams’ defense has now given up 27-plus points in four of their last six games, including 45 on Sunday. And don’t forget that they were also bailed out by the eccentric ways of Ty Montgomery last week. The absence of injured cornerback Aqib Talib affects Wade Phillips’ group more than any L.A. fan might want to admit (while they are busy acquiring their pumpkin-spice lattes at one of the 18,157 Starbucks in the Los Angeles area, not counting suburbs). You knew it was going bad Sunday when Troy Aikman mentioned on the Fox broadcast that holding the Saints to a field goal midway through the fourth quarter was a win for the defense. Perhaps so — but then Jared Goff and the offense went three-and-out on the next series, setting up the Michael Thomas home-run ball. Oh, well. #8-1butthey’lllive
Previous rank: No. 5
Got hazed by a Seahawks fan I met at the airport for being lazy. He said I was pulling generic stats when, in my blurb for Chargers- Seahawks in the Week 9 Game Picks, I noted how many chunk runs the Chargers have manufactured this season. Well, I am not one to take glee at another’s misfortune, so I won’t say anything. Anyway, important win for the Bolts in a tough place to play. (OK, so now I will mention that the Chargers’ runners produced gains of 28, 16, 34, 20, 21 and 14 yards. That’s a helluva lot of 10-plus-yard runs for a single game. Oh, let’s get back to the column …) Close call there at the end, as it appeared Jahleel Addae tweaked that last Russell Wilson offering jusssssssssssst a smidge … but it was enough for big W.
Previous rank: No. 6
For a team whose reputation is still tied more strongly to its defense than its offense, Carolina sure does enjoy scoring points — almost 80 in the last two weeks. Against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Panthers generated more than 400 yards of offense while making the end zone their own discoteca, scoring six touchdowns, including on an all-important long drive to move the score to 42-28 in the fourth quarter. After Carolina built a daunting 35-7 lead, Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick got hot, hooking up with Adam Humphries often en route to 21 unanswered points. That’s when the Panthers marched down the field, eating enough time while squeezing Tampa into pressing on offense.
Side note: Run-CMC has become a legit star, recording 22 touches, 157 yards and two more touchdowns Sunday.
Previous rank: No. 7
Don’t look now, but Pittsburgh is 5-2-1 and streaking. Credit goes to Ben Roethlisberger, who is much-maligned for his road work (which, it should be mentioned, is not nearly as pitiful as has been reported). Roethlisberger made two highly accurate throws on what was truly the deciding drive in the win over Baltimore, when the Steelers were trying to grind out as much time as possible on their final possession. Twice, Big Ben delivered catchable balls in front of Antonio Brown to convert third downs, eating away precious minutes and thwarting Joe Flacco’s ability to answer. When the Ravens finally did retrieve the pigskin, Cam Heyward drove his man right in Flacco’s face, with Stephon Tuitt arcing around for the close-the-door sack. Vintage Steelers. Next up: Panthers.
Previous rank: No. 8
Welcome back, Mr. Dalvin Cook. The Vikes’ defense put on a stellar show — and Cook stole it, just by virtue of being out there on the field. Fans in Minnesota have waited weeks (and the lion’s share of last season) to watch Cook rumble, which he did against these particular Lions. While he might not have had a workhorse day at the office, Cook made enough of his opportunities, picking up 89 yards rushing on only 10 carries and catching four passes for 20 more yards. Back to Mike Zimmer’s defense: 209 yards allowed, with Detroit converting on just four of 15 third downs.
Side note: Adam Thielen’s streak of games with 100-plus receiving yards came to a close Sunday. The good thing: The Vikes didn’t need him to do much. And he still caught a touchdown pass, by the way.
Previous rank: No. 10
Of all the teams ranked in the top 10 of last week’s column, the Bears were the least trustworthy — hence, they were in the 10-spot. While beating the Bills wouldn’t typically launch a team upward, do consider the manner in which Chicago toppled Buffalo in Buffalo. The defense accounted for multiple touchdowns, making this a non-affair in which offense was optional — for both teams. Most notable were the linebackers. Roquan Smith tallied 12 tackles, as did Danny Trevathan. Leonard Floyd managed three, as well as a pick-six. Notice which OLB/edge rusher is missing? Yeah, Da Bears dominated without that guy.
Previous rank: No. 12
Another week, another win for the Texans. This time you can’t cite the schedule, either, as Denver has been a difficult road challenge for even the premier teams (like the Chiefs and Rams). Houston did receive the gift of bad coaching by the opposition (again), as Broncos boss Vance Joseph settled for an ill-fated 51-yard field-goal try at the end instead of opting to push his kicker closer. Call the move Jason Garrettypical. And don’t forget Frank Reich handing the Texans the football on the Colts’ side of the 50 in September. What do playoff teams do with those kinds of openings? Take advantage. The Texans had the honor and privilege of watching Brandon McManus’ boot sail wide right. Well, not his actual boot. The kick. But Uggs for every Texan for winning six straight. Next: bye week.
Previous rank: No. 11
It’s an arduous task to win games in the NFL while possessing the ball for just 23 minutes and making good on just one of four red-zone chances. Especially without causing takeaways, which the Ravens couldn’t do against the Steelers on Sunday. Somewhat surprisingly, Baltimore’s defense — which is tied for second in the NFL in sacks even after the loss to Pittsburgh — couldn’t get to Ben Roethlisberger, securing only one sack all game. That came on the Steelers’ last drive, when Roethlisberger decided to eat it rather than force a throw or stop the clock with an incompletion. The Ravens earned the close loss. John Harbaugh being questioned about his job security? Seems like an overreaction to losing to the Saints, Panthers and Steelers, all top-seven teams, in the past three weeks.
Previous rank: No. 20
The award for Effort Win of Week 9 goes to the gritty Falcons, who refuse to make excuses despite being able to construct their own mini- Pro Bowl team out of the players on their injury reports and injured reserve. Atlanta is getting a little healthier — including in the standings — because of a defense that has bent (plenty) without busting in the past couple of weeks. In Washington, Matt Ryan had his best road showing since that blowout win over the Jeff Fisher Rams two years ago.
Of all the individual plays on Sunday, I thought a single pass to Mohamed Sanu, insignificant in terms of outcome, signified the heart of Dan Quinn’s football team. Up 17 and trying to run out the clock with six minutes and change left, Ryan hit Sanu over the middle in tight coverage on third-and-7. Sanu tried to drag two defenders for the first down, only to have center Alex Mack (the center!) come running in to push the pile. All heart. Atlanta clearly hasn’t given up on making the postseason as easily as all the analysts have given up on them.
Previous rank: No. 14
The Eagles sure as heck improved themselves during their Week 9 bye. Love the Golden Tate trade for this team. While Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor (who has been mostly effective in the slot) add certain elements to the offense, neither bring the kind of running-back-in-a-wideout’s-body impact that Tate does. The former Lions receiver will be far more dangerous, or at least productive, on those bubble screens Jeffery occasionally gets. Tate is more explosive off his first step. Other notes: Tate averaged 93 receptions per year from 2014 to ’17, and he was on pace for 101 with Detroit this season. While he has a higher drop rate than Agholor this year, in the past, he’s been as reliable as they come. From 2011 to 2013, when Tate was with the Seahawks, he boasted the lowest drop rate in the entire league (a scant 3.4 percent).
Previous rank: No. 9
For all of their success thus far this season, the Redskins have offered up their fair share of stinkers, no? There was Week 2’s listless performance versus the Colts, the shellacking they took from Drew Brees and the Saints a few Mondays ago, and then Sunday in front of the home folk. Don’t think too many people saw the Falcons walking into FedEx and delivering a thumping. Adrian Peterson wasn’t even enough of a factor to be a non-factor. And Alex Smith didn’t pick up the slack, although he was OK. The secondary? No thanks. This wasn’t a trap game — it was an early reveal. Larger concern? The offensive line.
Previous rank: No. 13
Sunday night’s loss turned on that Aaron Jones fumble in the fourth quarter, with the Packers unable to recover. Unable to recover — kind of like Mike McCarthy’s play calling after a timeout. Which is precisely what Twitter cheeseheads complained about, among other matters, such as … Bashaud Breeland’s debut, Aaron Rodgers’ less-than-Rodgers-esque play, everything McCarthy, the offense’s fascination with using every last morsel of the play clock, McCarthy, Randall Cobb’s acceleration and — of course — all things McCarthy. That about covers it, right?
Previous rank: No. 16
Did a bit of side reading on Pro Football Focus this past week, where I learned that rookie safety Jessie Bates made their midseason All-Pro team. Significant, given the slight panic that came when Cincy suddenly let George Iloka walk before the season. Perhaps the Bengals knew something everybody else didn’t. Most folks wouldn’t consider Bates a household name. Cincy took him at the back end of the second round this past April, and they have already received fantastic ROI: three interceptions, a touchdown (last week, off Jameis Winston) and, perhaps most impressively, 60 tackles. That’s in eight games.
Previous rank: No. 15
Ever get the feeling Russell Wilson could win league MVP every year? Where would the Seahawks be without him? Seattle dropped a game to the Chargers on Sunday, and Wilson was far from perfect. Yet there he was, pesky as ever, placing the football between two lunging defenders — while on the run, mind you — and straight into David Moore’s grill. Drop. Ballgame. (In Moore’s defense, the pass was slightly tipped, making it an 8.0 on the difficult-catch scale.) Wilson took off on Sunday more than he has all season, using his legs to advance drives and keep the Seahawks in the game. In the end, Seattle’s run defense — the perceived strength of this group — owns much of the blame for faltering against a verifiable contender. Those 160 rushing yards on a mere 22 attempts were the backbone of multiple scoring marches by the Chargers.
Previous rank: No. 22
Wow. That Monday night triumph over the Cowboys was this franchise’s most important regular-season win in a long time. Shoot, maybe even more significant than the playoff victory in Kansas City. There was nothing fluky about the Titans’ win. Tennessee straight took it to Dallas — gang tackling, holding coverage and pushing the football down the field on offense. On that note, OC Matt LaFleur deserves much credit for making the appropriate calls time and again, taking advantage of what had been the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Marcus Mariota delivered, as well, especially on that skinny post that he laced between Sean Lee and two Cowboys safeties. Dion Lewis performed. Put another way: This was a total team win. Next up: Patriots. Double wow.
Previous rank: No. 17
The road blues are such pretty uniforms. The Cowboys never fail to play ugly in them. There is no overrating what a putrid loss that was on Monday night. On a night when the Dallas defense wasn’t playing to the high standard it has set in 2018, a competent offense could’ve mitigated the difference. (The Cowboys’ D did force two turnovers, and while allowing 28 points is never a wonderful thing, it’s not like they gave up 58, 48 or even 38.) Many Dallas fans point to the play caller. Maybe, but how effective can OC Scott Linehan be if he never has an ace in his hand? Dak Prescott has not progressed, he’s regressed — and two and a half years into his NFL career, he’s yet to develop much pocket presence. There is a massive gulf between athletic ability and pocket mobility. Think of Drew Brees, Tom Brady or even Philip Rivers. They don’t stand in place. They move in and around the pocket, with their focus always down the field.
Previous rank: No. 19
Does anyone out there know why Vance Joseph — or any other head coach — plays for field-goal tries of 50-plus yards on grass? With a timeout in their pocket? There was no reason that, with over 10 seconds left, Case Keenum couldn’t have spiked the football on that final drive before trying to get his kicker a wee bit closer. Run a shallow cross over the middle. Or, if you’re concerned about a pick-play OPI pushing you out of field-goal range, try a quick sideline throw for 5 yards. The Texans’ defensive backs were giving Denver that much ground on cushion alone, as we saw on earlier Keenum completions on the drive. Yes, Brandon McManus pushed it, and that’s on him — but find any kicker, or smart coach, who thinks 50-yard boots on grass are gimmes with the game on the line. Get your kicker closer. THE END.
Previous rank: No. 21
Here’s another team that probably would’ve preferred to keep playing rather than take a bye. After faltering in close game after close game early on (SEE: against the Bengals, Eagles and Texans), the Colts put together consecutive comfortable wins in Weeks 7 and 8 before their prescribed Week 9 break. If they are to have any chance of pushing the envelope in the AFC South after such a rough start, they must take advantage of an impending three-game home stretch against the Jags, Titans and Dolphins. Each is a winnable matchup, given the way those teams are playing right now — they are a combined 3-9 over their last four games. Meanwhile, the Texans play two of their last three contests on the road. Not saying Indy will catch up. But I am saying the Colts sure can close the gap quickly.
Previous rank: No. 23
Gut-check win for the Dolphins, who really needed a W after a pair of fugly losses to the Lions and Texans in successive weeks. Miami didn’t utilize its RBs quite as much as I envisioned in the Game Picks piece last week, although Frank Gore did end up with 20 carries. The offense stunk to high tide, overall. Leonard Williams and Co. stonewalled several of Gore’s runs. But then, there was the Dolphins’ defense to call — then raise — when Adam Gase’s team needed it the most.
Side note No. 1: Thought it odd that, facing a third-and-9 just on the other side of the two-minute warning, and with New York owning no timeouts, Miami opted to pass. Run the ball, burn 40 seconds and punt. Don’t give Sam Darnold any cushion in which to feel comfortable.
Side note No. 2: Dem boys on the ’72 team will be tossing a few back together this week. Love it.
Previous rank: No. 18
While moving on from Golden Tate might not signify tanking, one could regard the loss in Minnesota as unfavorable circumstantial evidence. The Lions were flat-out, well, flat at the Great Bird-Killer on Sunday. The offense was purely offensive, totaling 209 yards and all of nine points against a Vikings unit that hasn’t played anywhere near the level it did last year. Kudos to Matt Patricia and staff for trying to run the football more. Of course, now we know why they’d previously been avoiding that tactic like a kale burger: They couldn’t run a lick against Minnesota. On the whole, the Jim Bob Cooter "attack" was in retreat mode for most of the afternoon, averaging a not-so-sterling 3 yards per play … not per rush, per play.
Side note: Yuck.
Previous rank: No. 24
Jacksonville is coming off a London travel-based bye, which is often scheduled so that organizations aren’t behind the eight ball for enduring such an inconvenient trip midseason. To make the most of the back half of the season, the Jags will need Leonard Fournette to hit the ground running (he’s set to return Sunday) and Blake Bortles to perform as he did against the Eagles. Translated: Bortles should take what the defense gives him rather than pressing, and he should use his formidable mobility. Dropped passes have also hindered this team, helping to leave the defense on the field for far too long. The average time consumed on the Jags’ offensive possessions is 2 minutes, 32 seconds. That’s 24th in the NFL. They are 30th in points per drive. The defense still boasts robust talent, but that unit needs an assist every once in a while. Let’s hope Fournette can be John Stockton this weekend.
Previous rank: No. 25
The Bucs lost the game Sunday, and they deserved to — this space will not dispute those facts. That said, there is no way you can watch Tampa’s offense and feel that Jameis Winston provides his team a better chance to win than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick plays a fearless brand of football that, sure, sometimes leads to interceptions — but it also puts points on the board and keeps defenses on their heels. Fitzmagic struggled mightily in Chicago back in Week 4. OK … so have other QBs, especially against that defense. (Did you happen to catch the Bears-Bills score?) I prognosticated that Fitzpatrick would produce at least four touchdowns as a bold prediction on "The Power Rankings Show" last Tuesday (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: check it out on NFL Network at 6 p.m. ET every Tuesday), partially because he was sure to hear the noise from the peanut gallery. You know, the heplaysjustwellenoughtogetyourhopesup stuff. Well, down four scores Sunday, Fitzpatrick started firing passes against a decent defense and loud crowd, hundreds of miles away from the pirate ship. And he did indeed log four TD passes. Keep starting him.
Previous rank: No. 26
A week of turmoil morphed into a Sunday full of discombobulation for the new-look/old-look Browns. Even Bruce Arians, who has been more of a tame pussycat with a Kangol in the broadcast booth than the fiery guy with a Kangol hat he used to be on the sideline, mentioned the variety of mistakes Cleveland made against a premier team. The Chiefs are not the kind of group against whom you can turn the ball over, commit dumb penalties or dink and dunk. That said, all was not bad in this matchup — far from it. Nick Chubb offered a nice complement to Baker Mayfield, showing he can be a workhorse with 22 carries. Duke Johnson is an underrated sidekick to Chubb, posting nine catches for 78 yards and two scores. OK, enough with the New Age positive energy … the secondary got torched. Next up: Falcons.
Previous rank: No. 27
Hard to win division games on the road when your quarterback throws four picks, the last of which was a flutterball right between a dude in aqua’s numbers on the Jets’ final possession against the Dolphins. Sam Darnold engineered a nice drive right before halftime, leading to a Jason Myers kick that pulled the Jets within three. However, the next four Jets drives would define the day: punt, punt, missed FG try, pick-six. Jarvis Jenkins (two sacks) and the rest of Todd Bowles’ defense held up their end of the bargain, holding the Dolphins to a mere 168 yards. Turnover diff: The ultimate determinant of NFL games.
Previous rank: No. 28
As mentioned before in the Power Rankings, it stinks when a team earns an emotional win, then immediately goes into a bye week. Especially for these Cardinals, who have taken a lot of lumps in their first season under head coach Steve Wilks. The week off should definitely have helped new OC Byron Leftwich take more of a deep dive with rookie Josh Rosen, as well as pore over what has gone swimmingly … and what hasn’t (HINT: most everything) through eight games. Next up: at Chiefs. Great googly moogly.
Previous rank: No. 31
No 49ers QB has ever enjoyed a debut in his first career start like Nick Mullens did last week. Not Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Brodie, Jeff Garcia or even the great — and all-too-often forgotten — Y.A. Tittle. Mullens earned rave reviews for his nearly flawless three-touchdown performance, although it was difficult for any of us to decipher if he was that good, or the Raiders that s$&@@y. The question now is whether C.J. Beathard, whose wrist injury opened the door for Mullens to play, will see the field again. Nice to see Kyle Shanahan not make the same quarterback-centric excuses thinly veiled as explanations like other head coaches. Read into that what you will.
Previous rank: No. 29
What to write about the Giants … got any suggestions? Lawrence Taylor himself recently weighed in on his former team, wondering aloud why Eli Manning won’t get after his teammates when obvious mistakes are made. Then L.T. answered his own query, acknowledging that the in-your-face quarterback he thinks the franchise needs does not fit the description of the current starter. Manning has never been that dude. Not everyone is Phil Simms. Or even Phil Rivers, for that matter. Maybe Manning should holler at the OC, as in, why not run Saquon Barkley more? The rookie phenom received 13 carries last time out. Given that the Redskins led by a touchdown or less for most of the afternoon, the lack of work wasn’t based on game flow. If Big Blue felt compelled to draft a running back that high, place running the football higher on the priority list.
Previous rank: No. 30
If you watched the Bills on Sunday, you must be pondering how this group has won two games this season. If you’re scoring at home … well, Buffalo couldn’t. In fact, the Bills probably wouldn’t have scored their lone garbage-time touchdown if not for receiving a gift DPI call on Prince Amukamara when Kelvin Benjamin clearly stumbled on his own feet in the end zone. Even the refs felt for Nate Peterman at that point. Speaking of, it took him 49 attempts to limp to 189 yards. On that many throws, a quarterback should, at a bare minimum, reach 300 yards passing. Three interceptions were not helpful. Neither was Terrelle Pryor. Thank goodness for the Raiders.
Previous rank: No. 32
The Raiders can’t possibly be that bad, can they? Yes, they can. Their Thursday night ordeal might have been one of the worst prime-time performances in the modern history of the NFL, given the circumstances. When is the last time you saw a team lose 34-3 to an opponent whose quarterback had never thrown an NFL pass? (Throw out Week 1 games, because those starting quarterbacks received all the reps in training camp.) Nick Mullens was the 49ers’ third-string quarterback this summer. Oakland’s defense allowed the Mullens-fueled offense to rack up 405 total yards. We’d give the Raiders a mulligan here if they hadn’t been awful all season. Make that a Mullens-gan. (OK, that was bad. Sorry.) And then Oakland released its most experienced remaining pass rusher. QB Derek Carr says he’s in it for the long haul, but that long haul might not lead to any wins for a long time. #Raiders
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.
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