There are five weeks left in the NFL season and with the last four teams wrapping up bye weeks, this is as close to the three-quarter mark as we’ll get to. Therefore, it was time for me to go through all the numbers, watch some more film and rank all 32 teams against each other heading into the final stretch.
I think there’s a fairly clear top-five, which you could order a few different ways and a couple of teams with the potential to join that group. And similarly, there’s a group at the bottom, which consists of about the same amount of teams, that have practically – and one even technically – eliminated themselves from playoff contention – and their play also reflects that. The middle group is really what’s hard to figure out, because some of those teams look like contenders one week and then let us down the very next.
Still, this is the list I came up with in the end, not just purely ranking the teams based on record, but also taking recent form into account and where they should come in, as I evaluate them at this very moment. Let’s dive into it:
1. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
Coming off a late bye, if there’s one NFL team that might have their best lineup out there as we come to a close for the regular season, the Packers would qualify for it. They did lose Elgton Jenkins for the rest of the season, which is big, because he gave them that flexibility, to where he could actually play all five positions on the O-line effectively, but they should get All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari back this week, along with Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones. And then on defense, their two best players from a year ago in Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander also have a chance to return on Sunday Night, while some of their young guys have really stepped up in those guys’ absence. I love when teams can win in different ways and when they’re not 100 percent – which Green Bay has done both. They can play ball-control, with the best time and turnover rate per drive and they’re a top-ten defense pretty much across the board in terms of numbers. Which the only time Aaron Rodgers has had a unit of that status complementing him since winning the Super Bowl over a decade ago, it took that group to completely F it up on a few key plays, to keep him from going back to the big game last year.
2. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
Numbers one and two are really interchangeable to me, because the Cardinals own the best record in the NFL and might be in as a good a position right now as any team in the league, considering they were able to rest their two most key offensive players in Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, only to bring them back this past weekend and controlling the game against the Bears all the way, with those two hooking up for the first touchdown of the day. This is the only team that is in the top-four in points scored and allowed, as well as turnovers committed and forced. I mean all you really need to know is that they went 2-1 without Kyler, along with several other players, and even with those three games missed, he might be the MVP of the league. As you go through all the metrics, the only thing they somewhat have an issue with is stopping the run, where they give up the second-most yards per attempt (4.7), but have the league’s best EPA against the pass and while I unfortunately couldn’t find a definitive number on it, I don’t think another team has been trailing for a lower portion of games than them. The only reason I have the Packers ahead of them is that I believe Matt LaFleur to be a sharper offensive play-caller and while it took A.J. Green run-blocking in the end-zone, when every single person in the stadium knew they would throw it, they did lose that game to Rodgers & company.
3. New England Patriots
Who does that? Throwing the ball three times in an NFL game in 2021? I mean with one attempt in the first half, they set a new low-mark for the last 43(!) years. And of course the extreme wind was the determining factor, but Josh Allen did drop back over 30 times. Yet, Mac Jones has easily been the most effective rookie passer over the course of the season. And while that Monday Night gameplan certainly isn’t sustainable, it just shows you how transformable they are. The identity of the offense is clear, with nine straight games of over 100 yards rushing and an average of 155 a week over their seven-game win streak. Defensively, they’ve given up more than 13 points just once over that stretch and taken the ball away 19 times, showing the ability to change up their fronts on a snap-to-snap basis and being as well-coordinated in the secondary as any team in the league. Now, you can argue they’ve faced four top-half of the league quarterbacks and offenses all season long and when Dallas came to town two months ago, they couldn’t get off the field, but what Bill Belichick and company have done is extremely impressive. Nobody wants to see them right now and they actually get this week off.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)
Doesn’t this feel almost exactly like last year again? The Bucs lose a few games, but then get a win in a game, where they didn’t seem to be the better team that day (Minnesota last year, Indy two weeks ago), they pull away from the Falcons after being in a back-and-forth game and just as they get everybody back in December they get on a roll and carry that momentum into the playoffs. At this point, we have no idea about the status of Antonio Brown and Mike Edwards, thanks to their fake vaccination cards and the effects that may have internally, but they’ve gotten lucky with Vita Vea’s injury turning out to be much more minor than it originally looked like and once Carlton Davis returns, they have their starting 22 back once again. Right now, the Bucs are easily the number offense based on DVOA and several of the standard metrics – including surrendering pressure on three percent less than the next-closest team (10.6%) – and that’s without AB’s services as the deep threat element for a large stretch. And the defense, while certainly not looking dominant, is starting to really heat up, with Shaq Barrett creating havoc off the edge and the way that whole unit goes after the ball.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)
This Chiefs team is weird. The defense was absolute tire-fire early in the season, when they were on pace to shatter records for yards per play allowed and others. Now they actually have held their last four opponents to just 39 points combined, taken the ball away ten times and won five straight of course. The offense on the other hand has turned the ball over at the second-highest rate (23) and has gone from bombs away every snap to throwing it underneath and actually running some 22 personnel, as opposing defenses have played so many two-high safety shells against them, which they have grown at sustaining drives, due to throwing it to Tyreek Hill underneath and forcing defenses to tackle that dynamo, and converting a league-best 50.7% of third downs. They have now won five straight and are on top of the AFC West with an 8-4 record, but it doesn’t feel like the Kansas City team we’ve been mesmerized about over the past three seasons. However, they’re now looking like an above-average defense all of a sudden and still have Patrick Mahomes – even if he has to stop side-arming standard five-yard throws – who can create things off script and deliver throws down the field, that bail his team out in a major way.
6. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
I feel like I should put these guys lower, because of how struggled until this past weekend, losing three of their last four, before that get-right game against Jacksonville, when they absolutely blew their doors off. This is still kind of a troubled team, because of how banged up Matt Stafford is, how much pressure Sean McVay puts on his quarterback, by not being to manufacture any big runs and turning this into a heavy drop-back offense, a lack of physicality up front on both sides of the ball showing up at times and the simplicity in some of the things they do on defense from a coverage-perspective, with a lot more soft zone looks. They are still number one with 6.2 yards per play offensively and I think Stafford is wrongly blamed for a few of his picks, but all but two of their 51 explosive plays coming through the air is not sustainable. And they allow the third-fewest yards per play on defense as well (5.0), but there’s only five other teams that stay on the field for longer on a per-drive basis. The whole super team mantra and the studs-and-duds build haven’t served them that well, but they have all the talent to get it together.
7. Buffalo Bills (7-5)
Losing 14-10 to the Patriots at home really hurt Buffalo’s playoff prospects, since they could have re-taken the AFC East lead and set up another monster game at New England two-and-a-half weeks from now. Instead, they’re down basically two-and-a-half games and pretty much have to win that rematch, if they want to have a chance a home playoff game. I know it’s 2021 and NFL teams rarely win by the way they control the ground game, but when your quarterback is nearly your leading rusher (with 422 yards) and you got steam-rolled by the two elite rushing teams you’ve faced (the Colts and now Patriots), for a combined 486 yards, that’s an issue. Outside of that beat-down at the hands of Indy, I would say Josh Allen has played pretty well, but he’s had quite a few moments of being careless with the ball this year and when they can’t play from ahead, the defense has definitely shown cracks, even if they’re still number on in several statistics like yards per play, points and others. They still have the best point-differential league-wide however (+11.7), even if they’ve feasted on the poor to some degree, and while the Tre’Davious White injury looms large, they have all the pieces to contend for the AFC. They just have to put it all together.
8. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
Similar to the Rams, here’s another team that had been struggling tom find their ways recently, equally losing three of their last four, before being in control all game against the Saints on Thursday Night. My issue with Dallas is their inconsistencies throughout the team. The offense is number one total yards and third in points scored, running and throwing the ball equally effective (top-five in both categories yards per attempt), but for a group that has put up over 40 on three different occasions, to also see four games of 20 or less is kind of confusing. Defensively, they’ve actually been more stable I would say, because other than the season-opener at Tampa, I felt like the only time it’s really felt like they were on the ropes since then was on Thanksgiving against the Raiders. The three stats that really matter for them – they’re the second-best third-down unit (31.8%), number three in pressure percentage (28.5%) and tied for fifth with 23 total takeaways. We’ve seen Dak be off in a couple of games and at this point I feel like every snap they have Zeke out there over Tony Pollard is a wasted one, but they have the balance to move the ball on anybody and the defense can create stops.
9. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
Other than the Patriots, you can argue the hottest team in the AFC right now is this Colts squad, and what I really appreciate about them is that they seem to know who they are. They’ve only rushed for less than 100 yards twice this season and never below 83, while having gone for 238+ in three of the last five games. Yet, when they faced Tampa Bay’s stingy run defense, they came out and meticulously worked their way down the field with the short passing game, taking control of that contest until Shaq Barrett’s strip-sack completely flipped the momentum. Right now, Frank Reich is in a groove as a play-caller, Jonathan Taylor is playing like the best back in all of football and Carson Wentz plays a largely mistake-free brand of ball. Defensively, they’re average across most statistics and actually near the bottom in pressure percentage and red-zone efficiency, but they have the fifth-fewest plays run against them per drive and they are starting to pull away from the rest of the pack with 29 takeaways (four more than the next-closest team). They are currently out of the playoffs and there’s a crowded field for those Wild Card spots, but I don’t think anybody wants to play these guys right now.
10. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
The Ravens were the AFC’s number one seed coming into the weekend, yet now I can barely find a spot for them in the top ten. The question really is – how much is too much? Looking at who they were supposed to have out there heading into the season, they are now without their top three running backs, All-Pro left tackle, a starting defensive end, inside linebacker, safety and Pro Bowl cornerback duo. For them to be tied for the second-best record in the AFC is pretty wild, considering their winning margin of less than two points per game on average. However, this is also shows that they are a little flawed, with the top three running backs combining for just 54 rushing yards more than Lamar Jackson and the offense not having scored 20+ points for a month, while giving up an NFL-most 43 sacks, which their QB isn’t free from blame for. And defensively they’ve surrendered more explosive plays through the air (54) and are in the bottom-three in yards per play and takeaways. So when you are a squad like that, which lives on the edge on the blade, you can’t lose a game against the Steelers, where you gain five more first downs and possess the ball 13 minutes longer than your opponents.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)
I already said the Chiefs are a weird team this year, but I think we at least have to call the Chargers a head-scratcher as well. You look at their offensive numbers – only the Rams, Cowboys and Bucs averaged more than their 6.0 yards per play and they’re just outside the top-five in third-down percentage (44.4%) thanks to Justin Herbert’s growth as a game-manager, to go along with his stupendous physical talents, but they have weeks where I’m just so underwhelmed by Joe Lombardi’s offense and how he doesn’t allow his single-caller to fire lasers in the intermediate areas. Defensively, only the Jaguars have missed more tackles than them (88) and connected to that is that only Washington allows opponents to convert third downs at a higher rate (49%), but I was very encouraged to see them hold Joe Mixon to 54 yards on 19 carries this past Sunday. Some of their ultra-light boxes and impossible run-fits by design have really hurt them at times, but if they can self-scout enough and have to safeties trigger downhill, I like what they present. And we’ve seen moments, where it looked like the might “charger” up the game, but they’re finding ways to finish ultimately.
12. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
Do we know if the Titans are actually that good? I mean they are sat here as the number two seed AFC as we speak, but they’ve now dropped back-to-back games against the Texans and Patriots by multiple possessions and scored just 13 points in both of them. That offense without the trio of Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones is deeply troubled in my opinion. On the year, Tennessee has turned the ball over at the third-highest rate in the league (21) and they’re tied with the Texans for dead-last with just 26 explosive plays through the air. They did rip off some big runs at New England and actually would have been in that game if not for a couple of huge fumbles in the second half, but unless they can get that ground game going now coming off their bye week, I’m worried. Defensively, they’re in the bottom-ten in explosive passes allowed (44) and they’re tied for the most first downs surrendered via penalty (30), but that side of the ball has taken over some games for them, with a deep rotation up front and a very opportunistic defense, led by the instinctive Kevin Byard. They face a very friendly close to their schedule, but will need their stars on offense back if they want to make any noise in the postseason.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
While I thought it would be a tight contest, I really believed that with the way they had been running the ball and how they could shut down the Chargers underneath passing game, the Bengals would win their third straight following the bye week and establish themselves as contenders in the AFC. I wouldn’t say they can’t be anymore now and the Steelers actually did their division-rivals a favor, by knocking off the actual AFC North leaders in the Ravens, but when you go through Cincy’s schedule, their dominant showing over Baltimore doesn’t look as impressive anymore now and that remains their only win over a team that would currently be in the playoffs. Joe Burrow I believe is right on the fringe of being a top-ten quarterback, the O-line is at least better than they had been and they have seriously dangerous group of skill-position players. Defensively, they make a lot of impact in the opposing backfield, as they’re third in tackles for loss (64) and eight in total pressures (120), and they’re very good at playing off in the secondary and then driving on routes. Their big concern now is the status of middle linebacker Logan Wilson, who left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.
14. San Francisco 49ers (6-6)
Rarely have I seen dominate both their games against division-rivals, especially the first halves, yet lose both matchups, as the Niners did with the Seahawks. They allowed the up-man to go 73 yards to the end-zone untouched when faking the first punt of the game and fumbled the second-half opening kickoff, while Jimmy G gifted the home team several other possessions. He had been playing fairly well during San Francisco’s three-game win streak, but he had two absolutely disgraceful picks this Sunday, with the latter setting up the game-winning touchdown ultimately. This is a really good offense – they are tied for fourth in yards per play (6.0), now average a league-high 7.6 yards per dropback, hitting chunk plays with their trio of YAC threats (once Deebo returns) and Garoppolo has been pressured at the third-lowest rate in the NFL (18.5%). They’re the most effective red-zone offense (75.8% TDs), even though they couldn’t do so on their most crucial one so far arguably, and they’re now number three in DVOA on that side of the ball. Trey Lance has unfortunately looked like a rookie for the most part, but Jimmy doesn’t deliver anything outside the structure of the offense, so if he now turns the ball over, I don’t really see the upside. Defensively, they’re now just one off the lead-league in tackles for loss (67) and Nick Bosa is a one-man wrecking crew on passing downs, but have a real hole on the boundary and opponents know it.
15. Washington Football Team (6-6)
Don’t look now, but the Football Team is now riding a four-game winning streak, as underdogs in all of them, even though it was pretty much a pick’em at Seattle. It’s not like their offense truly scares you with anything, other than obviously the guy who has that description in his nickname – Terry McLaurin – but they’re tough to get off the field, thanks to a physical run game led by Antonio Gibson that puts them ahead of the chains and then Taylor Heinicke finding ways to convert when necessary, which is why they are second in plays and time per drive offensively. Unfortunately, what holds them back is that only the Giants cash in for touchdowns less than Washington once they get into the red-zone, where it’s exactly a 50-50 proposition. And similarly on defense, they have now improved to allowing “only” half their attempts against them on third downs to convert, where they’ve actually been better at creating pressure since Chase Young has been lost for the year and rookie Jamin Davis is starting to get more playing time now, looking to sure up the middle of their defense. They just find ways to win and are now only two wins behind the Cowboys, who they host on Sunday.
16 Miami Dolphins (6-7)
I know I called the Colts the second-hottest team in the AFC right now, but it’s actually Miami who’s tied for the second-longest winning streak in the league (at five straight). The offense is still pretty limited I would say, as they’re tied for the second-fewest yards per play (4.8) and average a league-low 3.3 yards per rush (along with the Texans), as well as being tied for the fewest explosive runs (two). However, with Tua Tagovailoa under center, they’ve been much better at sustaining drives and heavily feeding their dynamic rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle. Yet, it’s been the turnaround by this defense, which has really sparked this second-half of the season run. With everybody healthy on the back-end, they feel comfortable with showing a lot of pressure and trusting their guys in zero-coverage, where they aggressively jump on routes and largely play with their eyes in the back-field. And later on, they start bailing out of those looks and still manage to create free rushers, because quarterbacks have no idea what’s coming at them. The one issue they have on that side of the ball, now that avoid getting burnt on deep balls, has been missed tackles, where only the Jaguars have “outdone” them (88).
17. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6)
We can’t let that big overtime win at Dallas on Thanksgiving take away from the fact the Raiders have lost the other four games over their last five, and in those losses, they have scored between 13 and 16 points in all of them. That’s kind of crazy, considering Derek Carr leads the league by a pretty wide margin, with 60 passes of 20+ yards. Their issue is that they are a bottom-five rushing team in total yards and per attempt, as well as struggling in key situations, where they’re bottom-three on third downs (33.8%) and in the red-zone (50%). That does not mix well with their defense allowing a league-high 77.4% of red-zone possession to end in touchdowns. So ultimately, they have a point-differential of minus 3.2, which ranks 23rd league-wide. They do a good job of limiting big plays and as we look into special teams, A.J. Cole leads all punters with 51.1 net yards per boot – so they can win with field position, but being one-dimensional on offense and struggling in scoring situations on both sides of the ball is really hurting this team recently. Until Sunday they had won every game they were in basically. It had to swing the other way at some point.
18. Cleveland Browns (6-6)
It’s put-up or shut-up time for the Browns now. Sitting there at .500, they can still split the season series with all their AFC North rivals and win the division, but with how packed the field for Wild Card contenders is, they’re at danger of missing out on the playoffs altogether. Offensively, they remain one of the elite rushing teams, being tied for a league-best 5.1 yards per run and third total yards on the ground. However, Baker Mayfield has been really banged up and way off on his throws, as he’s barely completing half of his passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns and picks each over their last three contests. I mean that one big win over the Bengals was the only time they’ve scored 17 points (or more) since that crazy shootout with the Chargers all the way back in week five. Their defense is top-five in yards per play and have one of the most ferocious front-four’s in the league. They’re just one penalty away from surrendering a league-high first downs for free and they run a lot of simple two-high shells on the backend, but that side of the ball is certainly good enough for them to win. They just need quarterback play.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
Losing 13-7 to the Giants at MetLife, in large due to probably Jalen Hurts has played as a pro, certainly took some steam off this recent charge for Philly, but the only other game they’ve lost over the last one-and-a-half months came on a walk-off field goal by the Chargers. The biggest reason for their turnaround has been the transition from their RPO-heavy approach, where they forced Hurts to pull the ball out of the belly of his running backs and throw it accurately, to either going with a straight hand-off or having him read the end-man and running himself on simple zone-reads and stuff like that. Therefore, they went from a team with the lowest percentage of running back carries to the one, that has gained the most first downs (128) and explosive plays (15) on the ground, while only the Colts and Browns average more than their 5.0 yards per run. And because they’re always on or ahead of schedule and what Hurts can do on scrambles, only three teams convert a higher rate of their third downs (50.7%). Defensively, due to how conservative they are with deep coverages and blitzing at the second-lowest rate in the league (15.5%), patient quarterbacks can pick them apart with 100 paper-cuts, but they’ve only allowed 100 yards on the ground once over this 4-2 stretch and they’ve forced at least one turnover in each of their wins.
20. Denver Broncos (6-6)
Have you ever felt like a team saw the Chiefs leave a door for them so many times at Arrowhead, yet they were so far from taking advantage of those opportunity because you simply didn’t trust them to actually get it done? That’s kind of where we are with the Broncos right now. Teddy Bridgewater has now actively dodged at tackle and then put up one of the worst attempts I’ve seen in a while, to surrender a couple of pick-sixes, but he’s just not played well since their 3-0 start. When everything is great and they get to play from ahead, to where they can control things with the run game – which by the way, we finally saw Javonte Williams be unleashed as their featured option and it was awesome – they can pull off some impressive wins, but if the game is put in Teddy’s hands, he just starts to crumble. Protection has been an issue for them I would say, but there are all the weapons to make it work. Defensively, there’s plenty to like, allowing the third-lowest points-per-game mark in the NFL (18.2), they’ve forced multiple turnovers in five games and a big key to their success has been being the best in the league at avoiding missed tackles pretty much all season long, now with just 50, even if they may be the fourth-worst third down unit (43.9%).
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)
Oh boy, I already know how I’ll have to hear about Big Ben stepping out of his grave and the Steelers getting ready to become a factor once January hits, but I just don’t see why this offense would finally wake up now. They’re bottom-five with 5.0 yards per play and tied for third-worst with only 3.7 yards per rush. If you just hand it to Najee Harris 25 times right up the gut without getting any push and Big Ben solely depends on if Diontae Johnson can create separation – who opponents will only bracket more – you’re not running a real offense. And this past Sunday against Baltimore, they only had nine points and seven first downs heading into fourth quarter, when the Ravens were down a couple of corners. The defense has shown some issues at times this year, getting steamrolled by the Bengals run game, allowing a league-high 14 runs of 20+ yards and not being able to get off the field against Justin Herbert. Still, when they are healthy, they can take over stretches of play – now again the NFL’s sack-leader T.J. Watt in particular. They currently are number one with 37 sacks and 68 tackles for loss, even though they’re tied for fourth-fewest takeaways (11) on the year.
22. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
I don’t think there’s another team, which is so far off what casual fans would judge them, since they do have a superstar running back – even though he misses a few games every year – and a star receiving duo, along with a quarterback who became the first one to receive a fully-guaranteed contract and a defense, that is coached by what is still perceived one of the great gurus on that side of the ball. And the numbers actually look really good as well, where they’ve turned the ball over a league-low nine times and are tied for third with 49 explosive passes, while the defense is just one sack away from the lead-league (36) and they have one of the best turnover differentials at +6. However, Kirk Cousins is one of the greatest stat-compilers, who unfortunately throws the ball short of the sticks at a higher rate than everybody other than his counterpart this past Sunday in Jared Goff and he has two or three games every year, where he absolutely kills his team. And the defense is just overrated. The pressure numbers haven’t quite adjusted to the loss of Danielle Hunter and if you ever needed any proof of how their veteran corners provide free access in front of them, all you have to do is watch Detroit’s game-winning touchdown on Sunday. The best thing they have going for themselves, is that they’ve only had rookie Kene Nwangwu for half their games, yet he easily leads the league with 39.9 yards per kick return and has more touchdowns through that stream than any other team.
23. Carolina Panthers (5-7)
Just imagine how much different we would feel about the Panthers had they pulled out that win against Washington, when they had the chance to go on a game-winning touchdown drive at the end. With nobody emerging as the clear number six seed (even though I believe the 49ers are still positioned to win that race), a trip to the postseason could be right there for the taking at 6-6. However, with some of the head-to-head tiebreakers they’ve already lost this season to their competitors for those berths, they’ll probably have to go 4-1 the rest of the day, which includes a trip up to Buffalo and their season series against the Bucs. From what we see on the field – their offense simply hasn’t been able to produce if Christian McCaffrey hasn’t been available and they are tied for the second-fewest yards per play (4.8) as a unit. Cam Newton had his moment of return, but he better have picked up that offense over their bye week, to have a chance here. And while those numbers are heavily influenced by facing some very poor offenses and their early-season dominance, the Panthers defense is certainly still very good, ranking second in yards per play (4.9) and pressure percentage (28.7%), as well as top five on third-downs (35.1%). Their points surrendered at times recently are more so a reflection of the offense setting up their opponents off turnovers.
24. Seattle Seahawks (4-8)
I already discussed my disbelief about how Seattle beat the 49ers at home by a touchdown, because of how dreadful they had looked – particularly on offense – since Russell Wilson messed up his finger and even when he came back. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron hasn’t brought any creativity to the offense, with a lot of static receivers or unimpactful motions and it took an outcry by their fans for them to force-feed D.K. Metcalf, who outside of that one jump-ball he hauled in along the sideline on Sunday, has averaged 7.8 yards per catch over his last five games. They have actually improved now to only being the second-worst third-down offense in the league (32.6%), but they still run 0.2 plays less per drive than number 31 in the Texans. Defensively, San Francisco gifting them three turnovers just now has moved them up a little bit, where they were tied for the third-fewest before, and they are actually tied for number three in yards per rush, but I would say they’re a fairly average unit overall, which has benefitted from facing bottom-ten quarterbacks in six of their last seven games arguably. In theory, they could rattle off five wins here and maybe sneak into the postseason, but what I’ve seen from them throughout, I’d be pretty shocked.
25 Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
It’s kind of crazy to think Atlanta is just one-and-a-half games behind the number six and seven seeds right now, considering with a point differential of negative 9.7, they rank ahead of only the Jets, Jaguars and Texans. We’ve seen a couple of stand-out performances from Matt Ryan this year, but he’s been below-average I would say the rest of the way, and this offense is really just Cordarrelle making something happen with the different ways he is utilized and rookie Kyle Pitts getting to show off his talent the few times Arthur Smith puts him in position to do so. Their big issue simply has been the lack of explosive plays, where they’re tied for a league-low two runs of 20+ yards and bottom-five with 30 passes of that distance. The defense has actually taken the ball away in eight consecutive games now and second-year man A.J. Terrell has turned himself into a top-ten corner – which is why we saw Chris Godwin set a Bucs franchise-record with 15 catches, after I predicted he would see a heavy target share – but only the Jets have surrendered more than their 27.7 points per game and that has a lot to do with their inability to pressure the quarterback, as they’ve recorded four sacks less than any other team in the league (15) and also produce pressure at the lowest rate (16.3%).
26. New York Giants (4-8)
Really all you need to know how bad this Giants offense has been is the fact I benched Saquon Barkley on my fantasy team this past weekend, simply because I don’t trust a group, that has a talent like that averaging 3.8 yards per carry and can’t get into the paint. This offense is tied with the Texans for an NFL-low 18 total touchdowns, in large part due to converting an even worse 41.9% of their red-zone possessions into six points – no other team is below 50. I thought we saw some growth from Daniel Jones early on, but he has turned the ball over eight times over their last six games again. They did hold Carolina to three points, Kansas City to 20, Las Vegas to 16 and then Philly to 7, but in-between those, they got carved up by Tom Brady, in large part due to their lack of post-snap coverage rotations and not forcing the old man to move off the spot at all, as they are tied for the second-lowest pressure-percentage league-wide (17.4%). The biggest thing they have going for themselves is despite Danny Dimes turning back into a turnover machine, they are still top-ten in differential (+4) for that category, and the defense has largely improved throughout the year, with some young guys stepping up.
27. New Orleans Saints (5-7)
I hate to say it, because I’m a big Sean Payton fan and thought his group starting the year off with a 5-2 record was remarkable, considering the retirement of Drew Brees and the lack of offensive weaponry outside of Alvin Kamara – who hasn’t been available for over a month now by the way – but the fact is, they are riding an NFL-worst five-game losing streak right now. You say how well-coached they are once they get into scoring situations, as only the 49ers convert a higher percentage than these guys in the red-zone (71.1%) on offense and only the Ravens hold opponents to a lower rate defensively (47.2%). However, the issue for them is what happens between the 20’s. A couple of big Taysom Hill scrambles – really the only positive thing he did last Thursday – pushed them up a little bit, but they’re still right at the bottom-five in explosive plays offensively, and they’ve turned the ball over ten times over the course of that losing stretch. The defense is still elite at stopping the run, giving up a league-low 3.6 yards per carry, but teams have been able to take advantage of all their man-coverage recently, with good route spacing and attacking leverages, while getting exhausted from opponents being put in good position from offensive turnovers.
28. Chicago Bears (4-8)
So, how is everybody enjoying the Andy Dalton experience? Since he took over for rookie Justin Fields, Chicago has scored 13 and 14 points over their next two games, before they were actually in catch-up mode this past Sunday against the Cardinals and he tossed four picks. For some reason the defense usually seems to step up, but this is really is just a season to find out about their quarterback of the future and what they need to put around him – and the two things that stand out most are an offensive coordinator, who understands how to stress defenses with more complete play-calling, and help at those tackle spots, as they’ve surrendered the second-most sacks (40) on the season. The defense has pieces to build around and I like Sean Desai’s background, who could well survive a big blow-up of the front-office, since he’s been on staff for nine years and three different head coaches now. They’re fairly average across the board on that side of the ball and need reinforcements from a personnel perspective and a little more versatility schematically, although with opponents starting at their own 32-yard line on average (third-worst) certainly doesn’t help. I just hope we get Justin Fields versus Aaron Rodgers, which could have been a close matchup, if not for a couple of really bad breaks.
29. New York Jets (3-9)
Really when I look at the numbers and the lows they have had as a team, you argue the Jets could be at the very bottom of the list, but they’ve somehow won three games, which include two playoff teams in the Titans and Bengals, along with the team I actually do have at number 32. Still, Gang Green has turned the ball over an NFL-high 25 times and only the Jaguars have taken it away fewer than their nine times, giving them the worst differential in the league (-16). Zach Wilson has had a couple of moments of, where he’s impressed with some big-time throws, even though bad turnovers are routinely sprinkled in, while having found long-term solutions with rookies Michael Carter Jr. and Elijah Moore. The bigger issue has been their defense, which has been in a league of their own with how bad they’ve been statistically, basically giving up a field goal more perm game than the next-closest team and also being at the bottom of the list with 6.1 yards surrendered per play. They can’t stop the run or pass to any capacity for the most part, which will be the top priority for Robert Salah to fix – assuming they give him another year – along with securing the O-line, since Zach is pressured at a league-high rate (30.2%).
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Safe to say the Urban Meyer “the program builder” won’t be able to turn this franchise around as quickly as he did at his college stops – assuming ownership is fine with letting him continue to represent the organization. I expected this defense to struggle, due to all the new pieces they tried to throw out there, as they rank dead-last with just six takeaways (three less than the next-closest team), as well as missed tackles (90), and are in the high twenties largely across the board. The real concern for me is this offense they have tried to build around first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. I said myself that he was coming from a very simplistic, college-y offense and that there could be some early struggles, but with some of the special downfield throws he’s made and James Robinson averaging a tick below five yards per carry, there is no reason that only their division-rivals in the Texans should score less than their 15 points per game, who they actually lost to by multiple scores in the season-opener and then in one of their wins (against Buffalo), they actually didn’t even crack double-digit points. He doesn’t seem to be getting developed accordingly and they give their opponents too many extra possessions, as they’re just one better than the Jets -16 in turnover plus/minus.
31. Detroit Lions (1-10-1)
Let me tell you – I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy for a team winning, which I have no rooting interest in any way, as I was on Sunday, when I saw the sideline go nuts in Detroit. They had three games coming Sunday, in which they lost on a walk-off field goal, and another one, where they had the chance a kick one in overtime against the Steelers. Overall, they’ve only lost three games by more than ten points and have been underdogs of a touchdown or more almost every week, following their opener. So to go through all that grind on a weekly basis and never be able to actually come into work on Monday off a win has to be exhausting, and this was well-deserved. And considering how well they’ve played in many other contests, they don’t deserve to be at the very bottom of the list. With that being said, they’re still not a very good team. I think there set up to become one of the top rushing offenses next season, when they have the whole O-line and D’Andre Swift all fully healthy, but what’s making them hard to watch is Jared Goff ranking dead-last among starters in average intended air yards in yards to the sticks, which is where the offense also ranks in third-down efficiency as a whole (31.5%). Defensively, they can stop the run fairly well, but the back-seven is just awful in coverage, allowing a league-high 7.5 yards per dropback, which for reference is half a yard more than the number one passing offense in DVOA – the Bucs – average.
32. Houston Texans (2-10)
I mean this is not surprising, considering the Texans had the lowest projected win total coming into the season and hasn’t had their starting quarterback for about half the season, but we saw them win my multiple scores against the Jaguars in week one and then be competitive in quite a few games, before pulling off the upset over the AFC South-leading Titans in a let-down spot for that group. However, in the six other games they’ve had against winning teams currently, they’ve been outscored 197-63. And they just became the first team that’s already eliminated, following a 31-0 beatdown at the hands of the Colts, thanks to the AFC having a more competitive field of Wild Card contenders. Similar to what I mentioned with the Jets defensively, Houston is kind of in a league of their own with how pathetic they’ve been on offense, averaging 0.4 yards less per play and 1.3 points per game than the number 31 in those categories, to go with a league-low 30 plays of 20+ yards on the year, while having combined for less than 450 total yards over these last three games, since their bye week. The defense has been much more competitive, where they actually surrender points on a lower percentage of drives against them (41.2%, which is tied for 23rd) and actually rank seventh in the league with 21 turnovers forced. Still, now we have them even being out of it mathematically, motivation might be at an all-time low.