1. New England Patriots (7-0) Def. Miami 36-7. Previously: 1.
The Patriots put the kibosh on both the rejuvenated Dolphins and any ideas they would be challenged for the AFC East. Now the question becomes whether they can obtain home field advantage and force every playoff opponent to come through Foxboro. To that end, a huge game looms November 29 against similarly undefeated Denver. Speaking of…
2. Denver Broncos (7-0) Def. Green Bay 29-10. Previously: 4
The defense proved they could do it against anyone, even Aaron Rodgers. But the bigger revelation was the Denver offense, which saw the best games of the season from Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson (coming off the bench for the first time,) and Demaryius Thomas. Now that they’ve liberated Vernon Davis from San Francisco, Peyton could have a weapon at tight end again as well.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-0) Def. Pittsburgh 16-10. Previously: 3
It wasn’t pretty, but this was exactly the game Cincinnati loses in the past. Andy Dalton played his worst game of the season, and then led a fourth quarter touchdown drive for the lead, the game, and a three-and-a-half game lead over Pittsburgh, their only competition in the division. These aren’t your paper tigers, folks.
4. Carolina Panthers (7-0) Def. Indianapolis 29-26 (OT.) Previously: 5
The Panthers are still undefeated this season when Cam Newton gets at least ten carries. And when literally anything else happens. Wins against the NFC South minnows were scoffed at, but they’ve now run the gamut of Seattle, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis, and if they finish it up with a win against Green Bay next week, who can’t they beat?
5. Green Bay Packers (6-1) Lost to Denver 29-10. Previously: 2
Both the Green Bay defense and offense were absent in week eight. The defense allowed the Broncos offense, dismal so often this season, to roll right over them for 500 total yards of offense. The offense meanwhile, endured a career low (in games he’s played the whole way through) 77 passing yards from Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb leading the receivers with 27 yards, and Eddie Lacy’s continued disappearance. The back finished with 38 rushing yards; he hasn’t topped that total since week four.
6. Arizona Cardinals (6-2) Def. Cleveland 34-20. Previously: 6
Chris Johnson continues to show no signs of slowing down this season (fumbles Sunday aside) as he carried the rock 30 times, the first time he’s done that since September 2010. Carson Palmer and the rest of the offense got on track again in Cleveland, and they didn’t even need John Brown, so he can use their bye to keep recovering. If they can come out after that with a win against an equally rested Seahawks team, they’ll have a three game lead over Seattle in the division.
7. Minnesota Vikings (5-2) Def. Chicago 23-20. Previously: 8
It’s not always pretty, and the wins aren’t all against the best competition, but the Vikings have the eighth best record in the NFL, and are all alone in the second wild card spot in the NFC. Nobody has stopped Stefon Diggs yet. The second half of the schedule will test the Vikings however, as six games against teams with a winning record, and another with Seattle, loom.
8. St. Louis Rams (4-3) Def. San Francisco 27-6. Previously: 11
The Rams held onto second place in the NFC West with a division win that followed the same formula their past two wins have: pound the rock on the ground and play great defense. The passing game still hasn’t gotten on track, as they sit dead last at 32nd in passing yardage per game. They’re also 32nd in attempts however, so that may be just fine with them.
9. Oakland Raiders (4-3) Def. New York Jets 34-20. Previously: 15
Believe me it wasn’t easy to do, but the Raiders are inside the top ten. They’re eighth in the league in points per game and ninth in total offense and turnover differential, and they’re winning games, which many of the “better” teams are struggling to do. For that reason, they hold the top wildcard spot in the AFC right now. They can stake an even better claim to it with a win against Pittsburgh next week.
10. New York Jets (4-3) Lost to Oakland 34-20. Previously: 7
Well if Oakland’s a top 10 team, are we expecting the Jets to beat a top 10 team with Geno Smith at the helm? That may not be a fair question, as Geno didn’t play terribly in his first action since a teammate broke his jaw this summer. The bigger issue in New York is the run game. The Raiders shut down Chris Ivory, to the tune of 15 carries for 17 yards, and it’s the second week in a row he hasn’t broken 50.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) Lost to Cincinnati 16-10. Previously: 10
The jury is in: Pittsburgh will never play a full game with all its offensive stars. Ben Roethlisberger’s return was marred by three interceptions and a season ending MCL tear for Le’Veon Bell. Without Bell, and with a three-and-a-half game gap between themselves and the Bengals, the focus must turn to the wildcard for Pittsburgh, which means a huge game next week against Oakland.
12. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) Def. Dallas 13-12. Previously: 12
The best news in Seattle is that receiver Ricardo Lockette looks to “only” have sustained a concussion after a tense several moments lying motionless on the field. The other good news is they enter the bye at .500 after starting 0-2. But wins over Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and Dallas won’t impress very many people. If Seattle wants to do that, they’ll have to reenter the division race with a win over Arizona after the bye.
13. Atlanta Falcons (6-2) Lost to Tampa Bay 23-20 (OT.) Previously: 9
Maybe Tampa Bay is a little better than we thought they were, but maybe Atlanta, after four straight unimpressive games, isn’t that much better than we thought they were entering the season. If they want their two games against Carolina in December to matter, they’ll need to keep winning, and a trip to San Francisco offers a pretty good chance to do that next week.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) Bye. Previously: 16
The Eagles had their best week of the season without taking the field, which tells you all you need to know about the Eagles season and the NFC East. The loss by the Giants leaves the Eagles a half game out of the division with a chance this week to give Dallas their sixth straight loss without Tony Romo and take revenge for week two.
15. New Orleans Saints (4-4) Def. New York Giants 52-49. Previously: 17
We’ve recently lauded the Saints commitment to the run game, and nothing may be more telling about that than that in a game where the Giants refused to play literally any pass defense, the Saints still ran the ball 26 times. Make it three wins in a row for New Orleans, and they’re back to .500 ball after an 0-3 start.
16. Indianapolis Colts (3-5) Lost to New Orleans 27-21. Previously: 14
Get down big early, stage a furious comeback, and lose because of turnovers. That’s the MO for the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, and they stick to it, with the worst turnover differential in the NFL at minus-nine. Three more interceptions for Andrew Luck leaves him at 12 on the season, the most in the NFL despite missing two games to injury. And they lead their division. Sigh.
17. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) Def. Detroit 45-10. Previously: 23
Facing the other NFL team with a minus-nine turnover differential, the Chiefs took full advantage. Without Jamaal Charles, they’re suddenly showing signs of life, as Charcandrick West got his second game with 100-plus total yards in as many starts. When Alex Smith is running for almost as many yards as the other team, it’s a good day in Kansas City. Or London. Besides the undefeated Patriots, Broncos, and Bengals, the entire AFC is log-jammed. Don’t sleep on the Chiefs.
18. Miami Dolphins (3-4) Lost to New England 36-7. Previously: 13
A lot of teams lose to the Patriots like that, but then again, a lot of teams roll off a couple big wins under a new coach. Let’s not go too far either way on the Dolphins yet. The loss of Cameron Wake is huge, as he’d racked up seven sacks in the first three games under Dan Campbell before leaving Thursday night’s game with an Achilles tear.
19. Buffalo Bills (3-4) Bye. Previously: 19
The Bills handled the Dolphins 41-14 in week three, really sending the signal that this wasn’t the Miami team we all expected to see this season. Since then, both teams’ seasons have started to go the opposite direction. They meet again this week, both 3-4 and both trying to claim second-best status in the division.
20. Washington (3-4) Bye. Previously: 22
Similarly to Philadelphia, Washington benefited by just staying off the field this weekend. This week, they may have fond memories of the bye as they find themselves traveling to New England. With the two games after that against the Saints and the Panthers, they may have to rely on the continued futility of the rest of the division to stay in the race.
21. New York Giants (4-4) Lost to New Orleans 52-49. Previously: 18
Is there something we don’t know about the NFC East division title? Because no one seems to want that thing. Especially not the Giants, who prevented the offense’s best efforts to win Sunday’s game in the Superdome. One week after throwing for 170 yards and no scores in a win against Dallas, Eli Manning threw for 350 yards and six touchdowns in a loss. What?
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) Def. Atlanta 23-20 (OT.) Previously: 27
It’s week eight, and Tampa now has passed their 2014 win total. Jameis Winston has gone three games without an interception after throwing seven in the first four games. Generally, they might have even more success if they stopped blowing huge leads, but to each their own.
23. Chicago Bears (2-5) Lost to Minnesota 23-20. Previously: 20
Is it legal to say the best thing about the Bears is Jay Cutler? Maybe not, but it’s even more true now that Matt Forte is out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury. Cutler has only four interceptions this season, and he’s given Chicago the lead (or led a drive to tie the game in 24 seconds) in the fourth quarter the last four games in a row. Unfortunately, it’s been two games in a row the defense couldn’t hold it.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2-5) Lost to Seattle 13-12. Previously: 24
Dez Bryant’s return was the big story in Dallas, and it was never going to be easy matched up against Richard Sherman and with Tony Romo still on the sideline. It wasn’t, as Bryant finished with 12 yards. The rest of the NFC East isn’t pulling away, but there’s a very real chance Dallas will make it six losses in a row without Romo next week against Philadelphia, and if his return coincides with games against the Panthers and Packers, there’s a question of how many stretch wins Tony and the boys can realistically pull off.
25. Cleveland Browns (2-6) Lost to Arizona 34-20. Previously: 25
Cleveland hasn’t always looked like Cleveland this season. It includes three losses by a combined 13 points and a franchise record 457 passing yard performance by Josh McCown. But McCown can’t seem to go a week without being knocked out for part of the game, and now Joe Haden has a concussion.
26. Houston Texans (3-5) Def. Tennessee 20-6. Previously: 28
There’s the Houston defense we were promised. After seven sacks Sunday, the Texans are tied for the eighth most in the league, and that sounds like a team that has J.J. Watt on it. Despite the victory, the Texans certainly don’t look like a team that is fine in the ground game without Arian Foster, but, they are in first place in the division. Double sigh.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) Bye. Previously: 29
At this stage, it’s all about building on wins. With four of their next five games against Tennessee, Baltimore, and San Diego, Jacksonville may actually have a chance to do just that. And, I forgot, they sit just a half game out of first place in this division. Maybe they should be thinking playoffs.
28. San Francisco 49ers (2-6) Lost to St. Louis 27-6. Previously: 26
Already beset by injuries to their tailbacks, the 49ers have benched their leading rusher from week eight: Colin Kaepernick. Going to Blaine Gabbert is a bold move. Remember when Alex Smith got injured in 2012, and Kaepernick came off the bench and wound up claiming the job and leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl? This is not reminiscent of that.
29. Baltimore Ravens (2-6) Def. San Diego 29-26. Previously: 31
Just when Baltimore gets on track with a win, they lost Steve Smith for the season. Smith has 300 more receiving yards than any other player on the Ravens roster this season, and that might actually undersell the difference between he and Joe Flacco’s other targets. Unfortunately for the Ravens, they don’t play in the AFC South and were probably already dead in the water anyway.
30. San Diego Chargers (2-6) Lost to Baltimore 29-26. Previously: 21
Philip Rivers leads the NFL in passing yards. San Diego loses games. Move along. Maybe to Los Angeles.
31. Detroit Lions (1-7) Lost to Kansas City 45-10. Previously: 30
Whatever else they have been, Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense were always great at putting up passing yards. But now the quarterback who threw for 5,000 yards once and 4,900 another time, has exactly one 300 yard passing day since Week 14 last season.
32. Tennessee Titans (1-6) Lost to Houston 20-6. Previously: 32
Zach Mettenberger is now 0-8 as a starter, and Titans fans are hoping 1-4 Marcus Mariota can return to action this week. The Titans have rarely looked like the team that thrashed Tampa Bay 42-14 in the opener since then. They've also fired their head coach, Ken Whisenhunt.