1. New England Patriots (8-0) Def. Washington 27-10. Previously: 1.
The bad news is Dion Lewis is out for the season. The good news is the Patriots have no shortage of weapons appearing week in and week out, as LeGarrette Blount and Brandon LaFell both put up 100 yard days in Week 9. Lewis himself was an NFL unknown until this season. As long as number 12 is back there, the Patriots will be somewhere up here.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-0) Def. Cleveland 31-10. Previously: 3
The best start to a Bengals season ever keeps on rolling. A year ago Andy Dalton finished a 24-3 loss in Cleveland with a 2.0 quarterback rating. Thursday night he threw three touchdowns, no interceptions, and had a rating of 139.8, a season high.
3. Carolina Panthers (8-0) Def. Green Bay 37-29. Previously: 4
Carolina’s victory at home over Green Bay was a big step towards ensuring any possible rematch would also be played at home. After Sunday’s win the undefeated Panthers sit two games clear of any other NFC team in the race for home field advantage.
4. Denver Broncos (7-1) Lost to Indianapolis 27-24. Previously: 2
It would have been nice to do it in Indianapolis, but Peyton Manning will have to wait at least another week to break Brett Favre’s career win and career passing yards records. The Broncos’ first loss shouldn’t be too worrying, although the run game (seven carries for one yard, Ronnie Hillman?) fell back into its early season woes.
5. Arizona Cardinals (6-2) Bye. Previously: 6
The Cardinals got to pick up a half game in their division without even playing, as the Rams lost to Minnesota. Now a victory next week will let them gain a full one on Seattle and stay within striking distance of the Panthers in the race for the best record in the NFC.
RELATED LINK: Did the Eagles save their season in overtime Sunday?
6. Minnesota Vikings (6-2) Def. St. Louis 21-18 (OT.) Previously: 7
The Vikings are 3-0 in the division and, suddenly, after two Green Bay losses, tied for first place. Teddy Bridgewater passed the first test in concussion protocols, his availability will be huge for Minnesota as they try to extend their stay at the top. Similarly huge, loom two games against the Packers down the road that will very likely decide the division.
7. Green Bay Packers (6-2) Lost to Carolina 37-29. Previously: 5
Outside of a furious fourth quarter comeback, this week marked two straight unimpressive games for the Packers. They still can’t run the ball, and they just let a horde of Carolina receivers make big plays. Facing the Lions next week should help right the ship, before the first of those two big games against Minnesota.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) Def. Oakland 38-35. Previously: 11
Ben Roethlisberger was injured Sunday and will miss 1-2 weeks. But the Steelers put themselves in a good position to survive this Roethlisberger draught as they did their last one, going 2-2. The victory over the Raiders, another team vying for the AFC wildcard, puts them in the playoffs at the moment ahead of a huge cluster of AFC teams.
9. Oakland Raiders (4-4) Lost to Pittsburgh 38-35. Previously: 9
They lost, but the Raiders are answering the big questions each week. They’re going toe-to-toe with their competition in the mid-pack of the AFC, beating the Jets last week and taking the Steelers to the wire Sunday. Derek Carr is continuing his performance and led a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter with just over a minute left.
10. St. Louis Rams (4-4) Lost to Minnesota 21-18 (OT.) Previously: 8
The Rams have signed Wes Welker, and that may be an admission that they need some offense besides Todd Gurley and a cloud of dust, as the rookie was held below 100 yards rushing in a start for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, the passing offense picked up 168 yards on 33 attempts. The Rams are dead last in the NFL in passing completions, attempts, and yards.
11. New York Jets (5-3) Def. Jacksonville 28-23. Previously: 10
Ryan Fitzpatrick appears able to effectively helm the ship while dealing with his hand injury, so that’s a plus. Chris Ivory turned in another dismal day on the ground (26 yards on 23 carries) but Jacksonville is allowing only 3.2 yards per carry this season.
12. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) Bye. Previously: 12
This secondary, allowing the second fewest passing yards per game will face the offense putting up the fourth most when Arizona comes to town this Sunday night. At stake: a chance for Seattle to climb within one game of the division lead with a win.
13. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) Def. Denver 27-24. Previously: 16
Zero turnovers, a win against an undefeated opponent, making sure your former Hall-of-Fame-pending quarterback didn’t set the career record for victories against you, and did we mention zero turnovers? It was a good weekend in Indianapolis. As luck would have it, rather than attempt to build on this performance, the Colts get next week off.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) Def. Dallas 33-27 (OT.) Previously: 14
Zero turnovers made an unlikely appearance on the Eagles’ scoresheet as well. Both they and the Colts were averaging over two per game. The Eagles dragged their division record back to 2-2 after an 0-2 start, and avoided a season sweep by the Cowboys. They’ll face another team struggling to meet high expectations next week when they face the Dolphins.
15. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) Lost to San Francisco 17-16. Previously: 13
They went 1-3 in their last four games with losses to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco. This bye couldn’t come at a better time for Atlanta. Finishing the season with two December games against the Panthers means the division isn’t out of reach yet, but they need to recapture the offense that saw them start 5-0.
16. Buffalo Bills (4-4) Def. Miami 33-17. Previously: 19
Make that 74-31 over the Dolphins on the season then, as Buffalo placed the brakes firmly on the Dan Campbell Dolphins. With Tyrod Taylor healthy, they can focus on two big upcoming division games: at New York this Thursday, and then a trip to Foxboro Monday Night.
17. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) Bye. Previously: 17
The Colts showed the world Denver can bleed. Kansas City will try to follow up with a trip to Denver after their bye. With no AFC wildcard contender above 5-4, the Chiefs dismal start to the season doesn’t appear to have ruled off playoff contention, but the wins need to start piling up, and this one is a big challenge.
18. New Orleans Saints (4-5) Lost to Tennessee 34-28 (OT.) Previously: 15
So that’s, pardon some quick math… 721 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air against the Saints over the last two games… by Eli Manning and Marcus Mariota. Sure, Drew Brees himself might have 892 yards and 10 touchdowns over that span, but as this week showed, this isn’t a recipe for continued success.
19. New York Giants (5-4) Def. Tampa Bay 32-18. Previously: 21
One week removed from allowing seven touchdown passes against the Saints, the Giants defense came up big and allowed zero from Jameis Winston. Several important stops, some after Giants turnovers led to short fields, left the Buccaneers with five field goal attempts, a 25 percent red zone success rate, and a loss.
20. Chicago Bears (3-5) Def. San Diego 22-19. Previously: 23
Jay Cutler threw two touchdowns in victory this week, establishing a new franchise record for career passing touchdowns in Chicago at 139. Rookie Jeremy Langford took up right where Matt Forte left off, with 140 total yards.
21. Miami Dolphins (3-5) Lost to Buffalo 33-17. Previously: 18
The Dolphins fell to 0-4 in the division after this loss, where their defense, freshly without Cameron Wake, let Buffalo do pretty much whatever they wanted while rolling up 420 total yards of offense. Ryan Tannehill couldn’t find the endzone for the second straight week after throwing six touchdowns in Dan Campbell’s first two games as head coach.
22. Washington (3-5) Lost to New England 27-10. Previously: 20
Washington fans are likely used to wild swings in quarterback play by now, and if they aren’t they should be soon. After New England, Kirk Cousins can test his arm next week against the Saints’ defense before a game against a Panthers team leading the NFL in interceptions, and then a trip back home to face the Giants’ secondary. It won’t be boring.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) Lost to New York Giants 32-18. Previously: 22
The Buccaneers’ NFC East tour continues with the Cowboys this week and Philadelphia next. If patterns hold they’ll win one and lose one: only once this season, in Week 3 and 4 losses to Houston and Carolina, have the Buccaneers had consecutive similar results.
24. Houston Texans (3-5) Bye. Previously: 26
Oh division lead, we hardly knew ye. With the Colts on bye next week, the Texans have a chance to move back into a tie with a win in Cincinnati. Moving on then.
25. San Francisco 49ers (3-6) Def. Atlanta 17-16. Previously: 28
Bring on the Blaine Gabbert and Shaun Draughn era! The 49ers are on bye this week, so Gabbert will stay undefeated as their starter for at least one more week.
26. Baltimore Ravens (2-6) Bye. Previously: 29
If Baltimore wants to prove they don’t belong among this bottom tier, they’ll have their opportunity after this bye, with their next four games coming against Jacksonville, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Miami.
27. Dallas Cowboys (2-6) Lost to Philadelphia 33-27 (OT.) Previously: 24
There’s nothing to pinpoint about the Cowboys. Darren McFadden has three straight games with over 100 total yards. The quarterback play is better than you’d expect. They just keep losing. Karma?
28. Cleveland Browns (2-7) Lost to Cincinnati 31-10. Previously: 25
Surprising wins and close losses have given way to full on blowouts in Cleveland. This loss against the Bengals was the first of four straight division games that may secure the Browns’ place in the basement.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) Lost to New York Jets 28-23. Previously: 27
As mentioned earlier, the Jaguars are combining their eye-popping passing numbers with the NFL’s best rush defense, and a game against the Jets vaunted secondary and (supposedly) powerful run game didn’t slow either down. Of course, it didn’t provide a win either.
30. Tennessee Titans (2-6) Def. New Orleans 34-28 (OT.) Previously: 32
The Titans are setting up to follow the Dolphins example in providing a surprising win after a coaching change, and then being not nearly as improved as we think they might be. (When they play the Panthers next week.)
31. San Diego Chargers (2-7) Lost to Chicago 22-19. Previously: 30
The Chargers finally reach their bye this week, on the heels of five straight losses, the second longest active streak in the league behind the Cowboys.
32. Detroit Lions (1-7) Bye. Previously: 31
The best thing about bye weeks is it’s impossible to lose, something the Lions might miss when their schedule reopens with Green Bay, Oakland, the Eagles, Green Bay again, and I could just keep listing teams they face that are better than the Lions. The last one comes in Week 17.