NFL Power Rankings: No Need to Worry for Buccaneers, Chiefs – Sports Illustrated

When esteemed colleague Mitch Goldich told me it was my turn to assemble The MMQB’s “Power Rankings,” I was excited! I’d finally have an opportunity to write about my true passion, inventor/engineer/futurist Nikola Tesla, whose innovations made the modern electricity supply system possible and who was superior to Thomas Edison in every conceivable way.

But then Mitch explained to me that I’d actually just be ranking football teams, which seems much less interesting and also largely pointless since there’s an entire system already in place to determine who the best team is (they keep score of games, track standings, hold elimination playoff competitions based on those standings, etc.).

But apparently there’s an insatiable appetite for these things—and certainly those nerds who put out their Power Rankings before Week 5 was even complete (respect Tuesday Night Football!) didn’t quench that thirst.

So if you came to get all worked up over how I rank the 32 NFL teams, read on. And if you’d like to know more about Nikola Tesla, go to your local library. Or if you don’t like reading, just watch this music video for the chart-middling song “Edison’s Medicine” by the band Tesla. (Yes, there was a hair metal band named after Nikola Tesla, and they wrote a song accurately slamming Thomas Edison, because that’s just what people did in the early 90s.)

tom-brady-buccaneers-power-rankings

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

1. Green Bay Packers

Last week: Bye
Next week: at Tampa Bay

The offense has effectively melded Aaron Rodgers’s talent with Matt LaFleur’s modernized system—something many thought couldn’t be done—which is why they kept piling up points even without Davante Adams. Green Bay’s one vulnerability is the back end of the defense, though it has a strong pass rush and a true No. 1 corner in Jaire Alexander, so it’s not that vulnerable. However, I can’t help but notice that the Packers didn’t play a game in Week 5. Scheduled bye week… or discord between head coach and quarterback? (I kid, but that could be a segment on one of those mid-day “debate” shows, right?)

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Last week: Loss vs. Las Vegas 40-32
Next week: at Buffalo (Monday)

Going back to the start of 2019—and including postseason—the Chiefs had been 14-0 with an average margin of victory of 14.4 points when their offense was fully healthy before Sunday. The Raiders loss moves that record to 14-1 with a +12.9 average point differential. There are, objectively, protection issues that haven’t been there since the front five suffered a series of injuries around this time last season (the dark days of Cameron Erving, blindside protector), but c’mon… it’s the Chiefs. They’ll be fine by November.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week: Loss at Chicago 20-19
Next week: vs. Green Bay

The NFL gods of incompetence conspired against Tampa Bay on Thursday night—lazy schedule-making that sent them on the road for TNF while their opponent was playing back-to-back home games, a rash of injuries for the short week, an overwhelmed officiating crew and the league’s refusal to adopt a sky judge to correct their game-altering mistakes. These things happen. Though the one real concern for the Bucs coming out of TNF is the Vita Vea injury—he was playing at an All-Pro level. Still, once the receiving corps gets healthy this is the most complete team in the NFC. I take no pleasure in writing that.

4. Baltimore Ravens

Last week: Win vs. Cincinnati 27-3
Next week: at Philadelphia

There are questions on offense, a lot of them stemming from the rocky performance from the interior line (which is what happens when your Hall of Fame right guard retires after an All-Pro season). But what this defense did to poor Joe Burrow on Sunday was a bit much, and their Week 1 trouncing of Cleveland will come in handy in the three-way AFC North race (that’s the only game so far between Baltimore-Cleveland-Pittsburgh).

5. Los Angeles Rams

Last week: Win at Washington 30-10
Next week: at San Francisco

With the exception of the slow start in Buffalo, the Rams have done pretty much exactly what they want to do against every opponent they’ve faced this season. And the fact that they clawed back against the Bills—it was fair to question whether or not Jared Goff could—was plenty encouraging. It seems like the coach has things figured out.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers

Last week: Win vs. Philadelphia 38-29
Next week: vs. Cleveland

You’d have to go back to the Kordell Stewart/Slash days to find a Steelers offense that looked as fun and creative as the one they rolled out against the Eagles. Well, maybe not “creative” since they’re just borrowing from the McVay and Shanahan-types, but when you cap your 38-point day with the guy whose scored three touchdowns running entirely uncovered up the seam for a fourth, you’ve sufficiently prevailed in the chess match.

7. Seattle Seahawks

Last week: Win vs. Minnesota 27-26
Next week: Bye

Let’s set aside Russell Wilson and his metaphorical food preparation for a moment. The Seahawks have already had three narrow escapes. Their win probability at numberFire was less than 50% in the final three minutes against the Patriots (as low as 47.7% with 36 seconds left), Cowboys (35.6% with 2:40 left) and Vikings (3.6%!!! with 1:27 left). And that’s despite Seattle’s historically high offensive efficiency in the red zone, which has made up for the fact that they’ve punted more than all but four teams this season (Football Team, Jets, Bears and Bengals—that’s some company). The point is: Seattle’s offense is great, but this level is not sustainable. And, as you already know, the defense is quite bad. Right now defensive coordinator Ken Norton is masking it with a heavy dose of safety blitzes, but once opponents adjust to the fact that their already struggling secondary is playing one fewer man in coverage, there’s nowhere to hide, especially once the takeaways (how does a team with no pass rush have 10 takeaways in five games?!?!) dry up, which is what happened to this unit late last season. Or, maybe the Seahawks will go 14-2 because all those numbers are meaningless, then you can knock on my door and give me one of these:

8. New Orleans Saints

Last week: Win vs. Chargers 30-27
Next week: Bye

Michael Thomas should return after the bye week as long as he stops punching people. While they might not be the record-setting offense of the last few seasons, Drew Brees distributing to Thomas and Alvin Kamara will produce its fair share of points. The concern is a defensive backfield that hasn’t added up to the sum of its parts through five games.

9. Tennessee Titans

Last week: Win vs. Buffalo 42-16
Next week: vs. Houston

On Tuesday night the defense made Josh Allen and the Bills play on their terms (as in no big plays), and the offense had no issues even without two of its top-three receivers. Methodical was the theme of the night. At this rate, the Titans could have a shot at a 9-0 season.

10. Buffalo Bills

Last week: Loss at Tennessee 42-16
Next week: vs. Kansas City (Monday)

Josh Allen is still a touch streaky and it showed up Tuesday night. The second interception was due to some combination of indecision and inaccuracy, and while it shouldn’t have resulted in an interception, the first-quarter throw behind Andre Roberts that resulted in an INT was simply a miss. The absence of John Brown, the deficit after a slow start, and the Titans’ approach took away the big play (a late-in-the-down TD to T.J. Yeldon was the only 20-plus-yard play Allen got all night). All that said, Allen will be fine. The issue in Buffalo is the lack of depth in that secondary. The Bills needs Tre White back in the lineup with Mahomes coming to Orchard Park on Monday.

11. Indianapolis Colts

Last week: Loss at Cleveland 32-23
Next week: vs. Cincinnati

It’s clear that this offensive line is going to have to stay healthy in 2020—with LT Anthony Castonzo out against Cleveland they couldn’t keep Philip Rivers clean and Rivers responded with a meltdown reminiscent of his 2019 campaign. The defense should return to its top-five status once Darius Leonard and Julian Blackmon are back, and they’re built to pile up wins behind that defense and a ball-control offense.

12. New England Patriots

Last week: Bye
Next week: vs. Denver

That we live in a world where either Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham was almost starting for the Patriots instead of Cam Newton is difficult to wrap your head around. We’ll forgive Bill Belichick and his staff since this defense has managed to not miss a beat despite losing Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. With Newton coming back this week, they can play the defense-plus-ball control formula as well as any team in football.

13. Cleveland Browns

Last week: Win vs. Indianapolis 32-23
Next week: at Pittsburgh

The Browns are getting a ton of takeaways behind Myles Garrett’s Defensive Player of the Year performance so far. But Garrett has also faced backup OTs in back-to-back weeks after feasting against the Football Team’s and Bengals’ front fives. Which is to say, this takeaway rate (11 during the four-game winning streak) won’t last forever, and at that point the quarterback has to step up. Considering the conditions this season (much-improved offensive line, drastically better system, star-studded collection of weapons), Baker Mayfield has not been particularly sharp. That’s either bad news (We’re 4-1, but uh-oh, our quarterback isn’t playing great!) or great news (We’re 4-1 and our quarterback isn’t even playing great!). Browns fans probably aren’t picky.

14. Las Vegas Raiders

Last week: Win at Kansas City 40-32
Next week: Bye

Derek Carr put up a signature win in Kansas City and promptly got overshadowed by a million other storylines. The Vegas defense is going to be a week-to-week proposition, but if Henry Ruggs’s presence is finally going to urge Carr to attack downfield on a consistent basis, this offense can carry it to January.

15. Philadelphia Eagles

Last week: Loss at Pittsburgh 38-29
Next week: vs. Baltimore

Whatever was wrong with Carson Wentz the first three games of the season, it’s not wrong anymore. He was fantastic in a losing effort in Pittsburgh—of his two interceptions one was a Hail Mary and the other was due to a blatant defensive penalty, he made a number of mind-blowing throws and worked magic to buy time late in the down, and he was within inches of completing two of the season’s best throws. And that was all with his only proven weapon, Zach Ertz, sleepwalking through the game (apparently Travis Fulgham will carry the receiving corps for a while). Jim Schwartz’s defense has a couple head-scratchers every week (especially that linebacking corps—yeesh), but it feels like it’s on the verge of clicking for the Eagles, and they’re only a half-game behind a Cowboys team that just lost its quarterback.

16. Minnesota Vikings

Last week: Loss at Seattle 27-26
Next week: vs. Atlanta

Sometimes you put together the perfect game plan, execute it well, make all the right situational decisions… and you come up short because your guy slipped and picked the wrong hole on fourth-and-inches, while their guy plucked a rainbow up the sideline despite being well-covered on fourth-and-10. Or because sometimes the football gods just decide they’d like to point and laugh at you. Sorry, Mike Zimmer.

17. Miami Dolphins

Last week: Win at San Francisco 43-17
Next week: vs. New York Jets

I’d been waiting for someone to exploit the injury-ravaged 49ers defense, but what Ryan Fitzpatrick did to them on Sunday just seemed kinda mean. Byron Jones is back in the lineup, which means rookie Noah Igbinoghene (whose play would charitably be described as “mistake-prone”) can develop from the practice field and the sideline, as planned. Fitzpatrick will always be a wild card, but no one should want to play the Dolphins right now.

18. Carolina Panthers

Last week: Win at Atlanta 23-16
Next week: vs. Chicago

Matt Rhule’s coaching staff has put its last three counterparts—Chargers, Cardinals, Falcons—to shame, succeeding in getting Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff fired immediately after Sunday’s game. The pass rush is emerging, Joe Brady and Teddy Bridgewater are making it work offensively even without Christian McCaffrey, and the Panthers are good enough to play with anyone right now.

19. Chicago Bears

Last week: Win at Tampa Bay 20-19
Next week: at Carolina

If you were to take the Bears’ performance through five weeks and simulate it 10 million times, you’d have more instances of the franchise suspending operations due to a Mothra attack on the city of Chicago than the Bears sitting at 4-1. They’re -104 in net yardage and -1 in turnover differential. But here we are! Sitting at 4-1 and going forward with a top-five defense has them squarely in the postseason mix, because the NFL uses win-loss record rather than October power rankings standing to determine its playoff field.

20. Los Angeles Chargers

Last week: Loss at New Orleans 30-27 OT
Next week: Bye

I’m not sure you could get four better performances out of a rookie quarterback, and the Chargers managed to lose all four games. But after pushing Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady to the brink, then going into New Orleans without Melvin Ingram and with a limited Joey Bosa and having the game-winner clank off the upright, the Chargers rank quite high in the moral victory power rankings.

21. San Francisco 49ers

Last week: Loss vs. Miami 43-17
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams

It’s a defensive system that needs a pass rush. Last year they had Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford. This year they don’t. Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t right physically (or mentally) on Sunday, and a Kyle Shanahan offense might never look that bad again. But right now, this is a middling defense and an offense with a ton of question marks. Staying in the playoff hunt will be a challenge.

22. Houston Texans

Last week: Win vs. Jacksonville 30-14
Next week: at Tennessee

Romeo Crennel is now 3-1 career as an interim head coach, so if Cal McNair and Jack Easterby know what they’re doing they’ll just leave the interim tag on him and finish 9-7. Sunday against the Jaguars was the first time Houston’s receivers consistently won this season—though if they couldn’t win going against what was largely Jacksonville’s practice squad defense it would have been time to pack it in for 2020.

23. Detroit Lions

Last week: Bye
Next week: at Jacksonville

I understand that, sometimes under a new head coach, a team has to take a step back before it can take a step forward. After all, Bill Belichick started 5-13 after taking over a Patriots team that hadn’t had a losing record the previous four seasons and had made the playoffs in three of those four seasons. Everyone was calling for his job, the franchise quarterback he’d signed to a record deal had his insides liquified . . . and then the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl in 78 consecutive seasons (approximately). But in the case of Matt Patricia, it’s Year 3, they’ve been dealing talented players at a discount in order to get “his guys” in the building, and the defense—his side of the ball—has gotten progressively worse since he arrived. There’s still time to turn things around—no one saw it coming with those early Belichick Patriots—but the evidence all points to another wasted year of Matthew Stafford’s dwindling prime.

24. Arizona Cardinals

Last week: Win at New York Jets 30-10
Next week: at Dallas (Monday)

As the Cardinals can attest, an afternoon in East Rutherford will cure what ails you. Though losing Chandler Jones is a huge blow, and the offense needs to prove it can attack downfield (doing so against those Jets corners doesn’t really prove much) rather than just relying on quick-strike and Kyler Murray scrambles.

25. Dallas Cowboys

Last week: Win vs. New York Giants 37-34
Next week: vs. Arizona (Monday)

The prospect of Andy Dalton getting dropped into what the Cowboys’ offense looked like this summer was interesting. But Dalton has always struggled in muddy pockets, and losing both starting tackles means he’ll be playing from a lot of muddy pockets (the Giants, mind you, might have the meekest edge rushers in football). They’re in the right division, and once Leighton Vander Esch returns perhaps the defense goes from bottom-five all-time to regular ol’ bottom-five this season. Either way, it’s difficult to project the Andy Dalton Cowboys as anything other than a bottom-third-of-the-league team.

26. Atlanta Falcons

Last week: Loss vs. Carolina 23-16
Next week: at Minnesota

In the end, Arthur Blank wouldn’t allow himself to be tempted by another Dan Quinn 1-7 start, 7-1 finish type of year. The Falcons need a new approach defensively, because the Seattle-style system they ran for years relies on their starters to stay healthy, and they don’t have starters who stay healthy.

27. Denver Broncos

Last week: Bye
Next week: at New England

The silver lining of the COVID-related postponement is that Drew Lock gets another week to get healthy—they’re good enough to steal some games with Lock under center. But man, injuries to Lock, Von Miller, Courtland Sutton and A.J. Bouye is the kind of consequence normally reserved for recipients of the mummy’s curse (season-appropriate reference, Happy Halloween everybody).

28. Cincinnati Bengals

Last week: Loss at Baltimore 27-3
Next week: at Indianapolis

Getting your face kicked in by the Ravens happens to the best of us, but it served as a reminder that despite a two-game loss-less streak, there’s still plenty of work to be done in Cin City.

29. New York Giants

Last week: Loss at Dallas 37-34
Next week: vs. Washington

The head-scratcher was the meltdown against the 49ers. The Giants might be 0-5, but in two of those losses they drove deep into opponent territory with a chance to win or tie in the final minute, and on Sunday they lost on a last-second kick—set up by an exceptional catch—in Dallas. They’re undermanned, but it feels like they’re going to steal a few games in 2020.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week: Loss at Houston 30-14
Next week: vs. Detroit

When the day comes that the human race is extinct, and the aliens descend upon Earth and try to piece together who we were and how we lived, the enduring, unsolved mystery of our civilization’s time will be how the Jaguars beat the Colts in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season.

31. Washington Football Team

Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Rams 30-10
Next week: at New York Giants

Alex Smith is an amazing story. But if what Dwayne Haskins saw during practice last week looked anything like what the rest of us saw on the field from Kyle Allen and Smith against the Rams, I can understand why Haskins was violently ill for days. Washington had 108 yards of offense on Sunday, unfathomable for a professional football team in 2020. Over 29 snaps with Smith at quarterback, the Football Team gained 25 yards. According to my Mike McCarthy–brand analytics machine, that is 0.86 yards per play.

32. New York Jets

Last week: Loss vs. Arizona 30-10
Next week: at Miami

With Joe Flacco at quarterback, the Jets were within one score of the Cardinals in the second half on Sunday, which is kind of like a victory?