Some weeks are more chaotic than others in the NFL. The same goes for the Power Rankings.
After a weekend of games that — for the most part — ended with expected outcomes, we have a top 10 that features only slight movement and a top three that remains static. As the author of this column, I can admit to you that this brings me an odd measure of peace. But it also feels like the calm before the storm.
Expect Week 12 to change everything in the NFL. Unless it doesn’t. But if it does … remember, you heard it here first.
Onto the show …
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 11 Power Rankings.
Call it a
gut-check win for a banged-up
49ers team that refused to fold against the fast-improving
Cardinals. The Niners faced a 16-0 deficit midway through the second quarter and a three-point deficit in the final minutes of the game. In both cases, the NFC West leaders answered. This game could have been remembered for
a fourth-quarter Jimmy Garoppolo interception that put the
Cardinals in great position for the upset, but instead, coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense forced a quick three-and-out, and Garoppolo redeemed himself with a scoring march capped by
a blitz-beating touchdown pass to Jeff Wilson Jr. to take the lead for good. Garoppolo wasn’t perfect, but he tied a career high with four TDs and again looked like a quarterback who won’t blink in the big moment. That trait should be especially useful come January. Next week’s
Sunday night showdown with the Packers has Game of the Year potential.
Ravens in their top gear can be a breathtaking watch. Although if you’re a team with the misfortune of having Baltimore on your schedule these last few weeks, the watch is closer to a horror movie in which you’re the doomed teenager trapped inside the shuttered amusement park. Just ask the
Texans, a perfectly good — and intermittently
very good — team that had absolutely no chance
Lamar Jackson did his
“I’m obviously the MVP, guys” thing, while Baltimore’s defense — an Achilles’ heel earlier this season — battered
Deshaun Watson into submission. The
Ravens finished with seven sacks and came within
one Carlos Hyde garbage-time burst of a shutout. The
Ravens continue to chase the Pats for
the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but it’s Baltimore with the title of Team You Don’t Want To Play. Again, just ask the
Texans … whenever they come out of their catatonic shock.
Credit the defense for powering the
Steve Belichick’s unit held a listless
Eagles attack to 255 yards, giving cover to a New England offense that struggled to string together quality drives. On a windy late afternoon in Philadelphia,
Tom Brady was held to 4.6 yards per attempt. The Pats’ running game was unable to pick up the slack, managing just 74 yards on 22 carries. The
Patriots‘ best throw of the game? That would be
the 15-yard touchdown strike from Julian Edelman to Phillip Dorsett on a trick play to put New England ahead for good in the third quarter. The Pats continue to win because all non-Lamar Jackson-based competition has no answers for New England’s blitz-heavy attack and star-laden secondary. Will that continue as the level of competition rises? The Pats get the
Chiefs over the next three weeks.
With Seattle having just spent Week 11 on a bye, let’s take a closer look at
Russell Wilson‘s MVP prospects. The
Seahawks quarterback has been a monster this season, entering Week 12 as the NFL’s leader in passing touchdowns (23) and passer rating (114.9). Throw in three rushing scores, and he’s responsible for a league-best 26 TDs this season, one more than
Lamar Jackson. Wilson is on pace to establish career highs in passing yards per game (273.7), completion percentage (68.5) and passer rating. Factor in Seattle’s continued standing as an NFC superpower — a position reinforced by
Week 10’s Monday night win over the previously undefeated Niners — and the fact that Wilson does his damage without a superstar accompaniment (
Tyler Lockett is his No. 1 receiver), and “DangeRuss” has made his best case ever for the game’s most coveted individual award.
As you could tell from his 23 touches and 122 scrimmage yards in
Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers,
Alvin Kamara is back to being a focal point. That’s important for the
Saints, who have several stars on offense but need their dynamic running back at full strength to reach their full potential. Kamara had more touches by the midway point of the second quarter than he had during the entirety of
Week 10’s loss to Atlanta, and while his production doesn’t jump off the page, he was moving like he did before a high ankle sprain brought his season to a halt last month. Kamara was just one bright spot in a nice get-right game for the
Saints, who washed out the bad taste of that
Falcons loss by making life miserable for
Jameis Winston. While Winston piled up interceptions,
Drew Brees moved the offense with his usual efficiency in a routine win. Yes, life is back to normal in New Orleans.
What a difference a year makes for the
Packers, who exit their Week 11 bye atop the NFC North at 8-2. This time last year, in the last, dying gasps of the Mike McCarthy era, Green Bay was in a fog at 4-5-1. A healthy
Aaron Rodgers has been a big part of the rebound. New coach Matt LaFleur’s arrival has surely played a part. But don’t overlook the rise of running back
Aaron Jones as a force. Last season, Jones struggled to get on the field at times and was dogged by reports of subpar conditioning. A year later, Jones is a weekly contributor who’s shed the belly,
as Rodgers called it. Jones’ 14 touchdowns from scrimmage are tied with
Christian McCaffrey for the most in football. He’s producing like a star.
Kirk Cousins is having a nice little stretch for himself. He showed doubters he could go on the road and beat a quality opponent in prime time in the
Week 10 win over the
Cowboys. And on Sunday, the quarterback proved he can led a team back from the abyss — in this case, a 20-0 halftime deficit
against the Broncos. Cousins was immaculate in the second half, piling up 261 passing yards and three TDs over four consecutive touchdown drives. The quarterback didn’t do it himself, but he proved he can step to the front of the pack and lead this Minnesota team when it doesn’t have the luxury of leaning on
Dalvin Cook and the running game. One final takeaway: The
so hard to beat in their building; if they can take the NFC North and host a game or two in January … look out.
Remember way back in September, when
Dak Prescott was the trendy MVP pick? That talk died off quickly as
Lamar Jackson and
Russell Wilson raced up the board, but Sunday was a nice reminder of what a complete
star Dak has become under center. The
Cowboys quarterback was in complete control against the
Lions, throwing for 444 yards and three touchdowns in
a 35-27 win. He did his damage with the help of awesome work from the Dallas offensive line, but without the typical contributions from
Amari Cooper and
Ezekiel Elliott (though the latter did have
a pretty touchdown reception). Instead, it was
Michael Gallup (an emerging playmaker) and
Randall Cobb who did the bulk of the damage, just another reminder of how deep and dangerous this Dallas attack really is. Factor in
another Eagles loss, and the
Cowboys are the favorite to repeat as NFC East champions. Save your Jason Garrett melodrama for another week.
Yep, it was your classic Bury The Ball Game in Baltimore, where the
Texans were humbled and embarrassed and liquified into paste by the
a 41-7 rout. This was supposed to be a shootout featuring two of the great young quarterbacks in the game, but while
Lamar Jackson continued his season-long tear,
Deshaun Watson found himself constantly under siege and with little opportunity to spin his own signature brand of magic. The offensive line, so improved in the season’s first 10 games, allowed seven sacks in a poor performance. The defense, which
dominated the Jags prior to the bye, looked like a vulnerable unit that could regress to average without
J.J. Watt, lost for the year in Week 8, wreaking havoc in the trenches. The
Texans are surely shocked by how poorly things went on Sunday, but there’s no time to sulk. The AFC South could be on the line against the
Thursday Night Football.
Rams got a win they needed Sunday night.
Aaron Donald finished with two sacks, and the Los Angeles defense held the
Bears to under 300 yards of offense in
a 17-7 victory at the Coliseum. The most promising moment for the offense came midway through the fourth quarter, after a 51-yard touchdown pass from
Jared Goff to Jeff Reynolds was wiped away by an illegal-formation penalty on
Andrew Whitworth. Instead of going into a shell, the
Rams marched 56 yards over the next six plays for the game-clinching score. There was also optimism to be found in the running game, where
Todd Gurley matched a season high with 97 yards and a score on 25 carries. The offense is far from the juggernaut it was this time a year ago, but the
Rams will take positives where they can find them. At 6-4, Los Angeles remains very much in
the NFC hunt.
Another win and another big performance from the Baby
Maxx Crosby, a fourth-round pick who played a key role in
Week 10’s win over the
Chargers, had four sacks in Sunday’s
17-10 win over the
Bengals. Crosby, who we got to know initially as a good-natured kid fighting through a meddlesome hand injury this summer on
Hard Knocks, becomes just the second NFL rookie since 1988 to have four sacks in a game. One play after Crosby took down
Ryan Finley for the final time, second-round cornerback
Trayvon Mullen effectively ended the game
with an interception, the first of his career. This feels like an appropriate space to mention that first-round running back
Josh Jacobs went over 100 yards rushing for the fourth time this season. Mike Mayock’s debut draft class could become the stuff of legend in
Raiders lore. At 6-4,
a path to the playoffs is in sight.
That was a game the
Bills needed. Go on the road, against an AFC East foe, and rip them up. Buffalo rolled up season highs in total yards (424) and points in
a 37-20 win over the
Josh Allen led the
Bills to points in six of their first eight possessions, quickly taking the drama out of the proceedings — a welcome change of pace for a team that has too often been asking the defense to close out tight games late in the fourth quarter. It’s a good look for
Bills head coach Sean McDermott, who
let it be known in the week leading up to the game that he was seeking more from the
Bills‘ offense, which entered Week 11 ranked 23rd in the league. The question now becomes whether or not the
Bills can sustain this offensive boom. Their playoff hopes might ride on it.
Colts have been addicted to playing games that are decided on the final possession this season. They ditched the drama on Sunday with
a blowout win over the
Jaguars that pumps plenty of optimism back into Indy.
Jacoby Brissett returned from a knee injury but mostly took a back seat to a rushing attack and defense that combined to throttle Jacksonville.
Jonathan Williams and
Marlon Mack (who exited in the third quarter with
a hand injury) each went over 100 yards, part of a 264-yard ground day that was the
Colts‘ best single-game output since 2004. The defense held
Nick Foles and the
Jaguars to just 308 total yards with two sacks and an interception. Even the struggling
Adam Vinatieri was at his best, finishing 5-of-5 on kicks — four extra points and a field goal. The upcoming
Thursday Night Football matchup against the
Texans has huge ramifications in the AFC South.
It’s a night that will live in infamy for
Steelers fans … and that was
lost his damn mind. The
Steelers went to Cleveland as one of the hottest teams in the AFC, and they left with a sobering reminder of how limited their offense appears to be.
Mason Rudolph looked completely lost, making a host of panic throws in
a four-interception night that puts
Devlin Hodges squarely on the radar as an option for Mike Tomlin. In Rudolph’s defense, the second-year pro was forced to play most of the game without
James Conner (shoulder),
JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and
Diontae Johnson (concussion), Pittsburgh’s top three playmakers. Exiting the lineup this week will be center
Maurkice Pouncey, who was hit with a three-game suspension (which he is
appealing) for his role in the fourth-quarter brawl that will serve as the only lasting memory of this game. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing for the
Panthers might want to think twice if they
really plan on moving on from
Cam Newton in the offseason.
Kyle Allen struggled mightily on Sunday against the
Falcons, throwing four interceptions and taking five sacks in
an ugly 29-3 loss in Charlotte. Head coach Ron Rivera noted after the game that Allen “moved us down to the red zone three times” and said the quarterback tried to do too much at times. With increased reps, it’s fair to wonder if Allen is simply a limited passer. The defeat drops Carolina to 5-5 and all the way down to
ninth place in the NFC standings. The
Panthers are undoubtedly in danger, but
the schedule gives them a chance to find their way back into the mix, with three games against NFC South opponents. They need a winning streak, starting
Sunday in New Orleans.
Derrick Henry going to start getting recognized as one of the best running backs in the NFL? The 25-year-old
Titans star flies under the radar in Nashville, but his production has been undeniable over the past calendar year. Since last December, Henry leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,417) and rushing scores (15). Though quarterback uncertainty has served as the dominant plot line surrounding the
Titans for yet another season, Henry continues to produce in reliable and sometimes spectacular fashion.
His 68-yard touchdown gallop in
Week 10’s huge win over the Chiefs was a reminder of what a unique talent he is: a 6-foot-4, 247-pound rhino who can run like a gazelle.
This is a contract year for Henry, and the
Titans would do themselves an incredible disservice to let the big man do his damage elsewhere in 2020.
Philip Rivers has enjoyed many amazing games in his Hall of Fame-worthy career. Monday night was not one of them. The veteran quarterback threw four interceptions, including
the game-deciding end zone pick in the final minute of
a 24-17 loss to Chiefs that all but extinguishes the Bolts’ playoff hopes a week before
Thanksgiving. At 4-7 with all seven losses by seven points or fewer, Los Angeles’ only realistic path to postseason football involves winning out and getting plenty of help. In other words, prospects are bleak. Much will be made of Rivers’ meltdown; his seven interceptions in the past two weeks and 14 overall this season, a total that trails only
Jameis Winston for the NFL “lead.” Is the 37-year-old finally showing his age? Are we watching the final games of Rivers’
Chargers career? Uncertain times for the Bolts.
So much for
Nick Foles‘ return creating a spark.
Foles threw a touchdown pass to D.J. Chark on the
Jaguars‘ first drive of the game, but the offense dried up after that in
a 33-13 loss to the
Colts. Foles wasn’t great, but put this loss on Jacksonville’s run defense. The
Colts had their best rushing day in 15 years, going off for 264 yards on 7.3 yards per carry with three touchdowns. This meltdown comes six weeks after
the Panthers piled up 285 ground yards against Doug Marrone’s team. In
Leonard Fournette, the Jags have a player who can counter on the ground, but the league’s sixth-leading rusher entering Sunday received just five carries in the first half. When The
Colts began to pull away, Jacksonville had to abandon its running attack — the key to the offense — almost entirely. The Jags could be playing for their season
this Sunday in Nashville.
We’ve heard the term “crushing loss” used to describe difficult setbacks, but the
Browns managed to pull off the ultra-rare “crushing win” on
Thursday Night Football
against the Steelers. Such was the fallout of
Myles Garrett‘s career-altering decision to bash Pittsburgh quarterback
Mason Rudolph on the head with Rudolph’s own helmet in the game’s final seconds, a ridiculous act that prompted immediate action from the league in the form of
an indefinite suspension for the defensive end. Garrett’s foolishness effectively wiped away what should have been a great night for the
Browns, who bullied Rudolph in a far more acceptable manner for the first 59 minutes of a 21-7 win. At 4-6, Cleveland is back in
the wild-card hunt, but you wonder if the actions of Garrett — who, it should be noted, might be the
Browns‘ best player — will drag this team off the cliff. What a fiasco.
Who are these guys? Over the first two months of the season, the
Falcons had arguably the worst defense in football. But since Week 10, Atlanta has allowed just four field goals and zero touchdowns in back-to-back wins
against the Saints
and Panthers. The D sacked
Kyle Allen five times and forced him into four interceptions, while
Matt Ryan led the offense with his usual proficiency, throwing for 311 yards and a score. Even the special teams chipped in:
Kenjon Barner put the
Panthers on the ropes early with
a 78-yard punt return for a score. The stunning turnaround has created the possibility that Dan Quinn could survive this season with his job. Whether you believe that to be ultimately a good thing for the
Falcons is a discussion for another time.
Mitchell Trubisky exited
Sunday night’s loss to the
a hip injury, but you can forgive the general public for wondering if
Bears coach Matt Nagy was looking for a way out. Trubisky has been a massive disappointment in his third season, and with the
Bears all but eliminated from
the NFC playoff picture, the big story in Chicago will center on when the team begins the seemingly inevitable separation process from the No. 2 overall pick of the 2017
Chase Daniel is no upgrade, so it makes sense that Trubisky would be allowed to finish off the season as the starter. But is there anything he can do that would cause the
Bears to stick with him in 2020? One would imagine Trubisky would need a hell of a finish in the final six weeks for that to happen. What have we seen since Week 1 to suggest a rebirth is in the offing?
On the same day
a report surfaced detailing discord behind the scenes, the
Broncos went to Minneapolis and blew a 20-point halftime lead in a
27-23 loss to the
Vikings. Ouch. The offense mustered just three points in the second half and couldn’t crack the end zone on three pass attempts from close range in the final seconds, but this loss has to be hung on Vic Fangio’s defense. In Denver’s excellent first half, the
Vikings were limited to just a single completion of more than 10 yards, but then
Kirk Cousins picked the
Broncos apart with four consecutive touchdown drives in the game’s final 30 minutes. Denver was especially bedeviled by the play-action pass, used to expert effect on Cousins’ final two touchdown passes. This is where we remind you that Mr. Play-Action, Gary Kubiak, is now on Mike Zimmer’s staff in Minnesota. The
Broncos knew it was coming … and they were powerless to stop it.
Same old story for the
Lions, who can score points (with or without Matthew Stafford) but have a defense that’s a total liability. The unit was unable to get any pressure on
Dak Prescott, who roasted the
Lions for 444 yards and three touchdowns in
Dallas’ 35-27 win over Detroit. The
Lions‘ issues are manifold: They can’t rush the quarterback, they can’t cover in the secondary and they don’t force turnovers. They’re on pace for their worst defensive season, from a total yardage allowed standpoint, worse even than the winless 2008 team. It’s a shame, too, because
Jeff Driskel showed us once again that he has some ability. The backup quarterback — starting in place of the injured Stafford for the second straight week — made plays with his arm and legs, and he even had Detroit on Dallas’ side of the field in the final minutes with a chance to tie. The kid gives them a shot … the defense doesn’t.
Cardinals were aggressive. We’ll give them that.
Leading San Francisco 26-23 with 37 seconds to play, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called for an all-out blitz to win the game. Unfortunately for Arizona,
Jimmy Garoppolo recognized the pressure and spotted running back
Jeff Wilson Jr., who shook free from
Chandler Jones, caught Garoppolo’s pass and
coasted to the end zone for the game-deciding score. A tough way to lose, no doubt, compounded by the fact the Cards had a 16-0 advantage in the second quarter over the NFC West leaders. This would have been a massive building-block victory for Kliff Kingsbury. Instead, it’s another narrow defeat. “I’m used to winning,” a dejected
said after the game. “I’ve always won, and to be in situations when you go up 16 or are in position to win and you should win, it’s disappointing.” Better days will come, young buck.
That’s back-to-back wins for the
Jets, who showed there’s a significant gap between them and the worst teams in football, a group that very much includes the
Sam Darnold threw for 293 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in his second consecutive strong start, and
Jamal Adams continued his post-trade-deadline tear with three sacks. The timing of
Sunday’s rout is especially welcome for
Jets owner Christopher Johnson, who drew criticism from the fan base this week after he announced Adam Gase
will return as head coach for a second season in 2020. Gase will be measured less on wins and losses this season and more on whether he can put Darnold on the path to becoming a true franchise quarterback. We didn’t see much growth from the second-year signal-caller in the season’s first half, but the last two weeks have been promising. If Darnold closes out 2019 strong, the franchise outlook will feel much different come January.
We’re coming up on a disturbing century milestone for
Jameis Winston. With four interceptions in
Sunday’s loss to the
Saints, Winston now has
98 turnovers in fewer than five seasons. Winston is up to 18 picks this year, which puts him in a tie with Jay Cutler (2009) for second-most by any player through 10 team games in the last 25 seasons, according to ESPN. The grand takeaway is obvious enough: Ball security has been a miserable sore spot for Winston, and it will probably bring his run in Tampa Bay to a premature close. Bruce Arians is 67 years old. Is he going to dedicate the 2020 season, a season that could be his last on the sidelines, to taking another crack at “fixing” Winston? We have our doubts, and the glut of veteran QBs about to hit the market means the Bucs will have several options.
After back-to-back wins that made them a bizarre feel-good story in the NFL, the
Dolphins came back to Earth with a thud in an ugly performance
against the Bills at home. The defense was particularly poor on Sunday, allowing
Josh Allen to throw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, run for 56 yards and another score, and finish with a career-best 117.7 quarterback rating. The
Bills‘ attack hadn’t even managed 300 yards of total offense in two of its previous three games. Elsewhere, the
Dolphins‘ running game continues to be stuck in the mud.
Kalen Ballage finished with 9 yards on nine carries and hasn’t done much to endear himself since
Kenyan Drake was traded and
Mark Walton was hit with a suspension (and then
released on Tuesday). Everyone in Miami is on a tryout, and Ballage’s isn’t going very well right now.
Saquon Barkley isn’t right. Look no further than the
Giants‘ most recent game, in which the dynamic running back was held to 1 pitiful yard on 13 carries and struggled mightily in pass protection in
a humbling loss to the
Jets. The difference between pre-injury Barkley and post-injury Barkley has been stark: Barkley averaged 6.4 yards per carry in the season’s first three games prior to suffering a high ankle sprain, and he’s averaged 2.6 yards per carry since returning to the lineup in Week 7. The bye week was filled with columns and talking-head segments questioning whether Barkley should be shut down for the rest of the season, with the
Giants out of contention in the NFC. Both Barkley and
Giants coach Pat Shurmur dismissed that possibility, but we’ll see if player and/or team undergoes a change of heart if the struggles continue into the season’s punishing final weeks.
Let’s start with the positive. The
Redskins scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter
against the Jets, ending a streak of 16 quarters without reaching the end zone. That’s good! Unfortunately, Washington was trailing 34-3 before those touchdowns, your classic lipstick-on-a-pig scenario. That’s bad! It was another day of growing pains for rookie quarterback
Dwayne Haskins, who often looked confused by what veteran
Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was throwing his way. Haskins was sacked six times, three of them by
Jets super safety
Jamal Adams, and he didn’t have much help from a ground game that averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. Bill Callahan has been extremely committed to the run since taking over as interim head coach, but the
Redskins‘ attack is struggling to find a balance that keeps the opponent off-kilter. Haskins gets another crack at his first career win
this week against the
Bengals will need a win to escape the bottom of the Power Rankings. After Sunday’s
17-10 loss to the
Raiders, Cincinnati has just six chances left to avoid becoming the third team in NFL history to go 0-16. The setback in Oakland is especially frustrating because the defense — ranked dead last in the NFL entering Week 11 — delivered its best performance of the year. The 17 points were the fewest scored by a
Bengals opponent this season, but it was still too high a number for an offense that has not improved a lick since
Ryan Finley replaced
Andy Dalton two weeks ago. The continued absence of
A.J. Green (it already feels like we’ve seen the last of Green in a
Bengals uniform, as he’s in the last year of his current contract) is a major detriment, but the whole unit needs an overhaul in the offseason. The
Bengals‘ to-do list will be mighty come Jan. 1.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.