NFL power rankings: Ravens and Chargers on the rise heading into Sunday’s showdown
Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders, regardless of win-loss record.
Here are the rankings after Week 5:
Super Bowl favorites
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1; No. 1 last week)
2. Buffalo Bills (4-1; No. 3)
The Bucs just keep rolling. They piled up 558 total yards, converted eight of 11 third-down opportunities and committed zero turnovers in a 45-17 win over the Dolphins on Sunday. Tom Brady threw another five touchdown passes, pushing his league-leading total to 15 in five games. Pro Football Focus, ESPN’s Football Power Index, FiveThirtyEight and Football Outsiders all list Buffalo at the top of their power rankings, but the defending champions haven’t slipped enough to concede the top spot in these rankings just yet.
Those Bills are making a strong push, however. Josh Allen looks like a Most Valuable Player candidate again, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 59 yards and a score to power a 38-20 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night. Even more encouraging is the play of the Bills’ young defenders, with rookies Greg Rousseau (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception) and Boogie Basham (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks) providing some juice off the edge. Coach Sean McDermott proved he can beat Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes on the road. That’s a big step for a team looking to get over the hump in the AFC.
The top contenders
3. Arizona Cardinals (5-0; No. 4)
4. Baltimore Ravens (4-1; No. 5)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (4-1; No. 7)
6. Dallas Cowboys (4-1; No. 10)
7. Los Angeles Rams (4-1; No. 8)
8. Green Bay Packers (4-1; No. 9)
Kyler Murray has been the MVP front-runner, but the Cardinals’ 17-10 win over the 49ers showed it’s not just Murray that’s leading this undefeated start. The Arizona defense ranks fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, thanks in large part to a career year from Chandler Jones, the addition of J.J. Watt and better-than-expected play from the secondary and young linebackers Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons. If the Cardinals’ defense can continue to play at a high level, an NFC championship game appearance isn’t out of the question.
The same can be said for the Cowboys, who have also gotten MVP-level play from their quarterback. Dak Prescott looks better than ever after his gruesome ankle injury last year, dicing up the Giants for 302 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s 44-20 win, but it’s the play of the defense that should have Cowboys fans excited. No longer will Dallas need to rely on perfection from Prescott just to stay competitive. With Trevon Diggs turning into a lockdown corner and rookie Micah Parsons making an impact as an edge rusher and off-ball linebacker, this Dallas defense is no longer a liability, but one of the best units in the league. That makes the Cowboys more dangerous than they’ve ever been with Prescott under center.
Speaking of high-level quarterback play, you can’t ignore what the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert are doing this season. Jackson has improved as a drop-back passer while remaining one of the league’s most electrifying athletes, while Herbert has taken a stunning leap from promising rookie to legitimate MVP candidate. They meet for the first time this Sunday in Baltimore, with the winner emerging as the clear challenger to the Bills for the top seed in the AFC. There’s a good chance they’ll see each other again in January.
The flawed contenders
9. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3; No. 2)
10. Cleveland Browns (3-2; No. 6)
Week 1 seems like a lifetime ago for these teams. The Chiefs delivered a signature second-half comeback to beat the Browns, 33-29, then lost back-to-back games to the Ravens and Chiefs and slid to the bottom of the AFC West after Sunday night’s loss to Buffalo. Cleveland has taken care of business against the Texans, Bears and Vikings, but a 47-42 loss to the Chargers on Sunday showed that the Browns are still a notch below the AFC’s top contenders.
For Kansas City, a woeful defense ranked last in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA has given one of the league’s most efficient offenses no chance to win. In fact, Kansas City has the league’s best offense and the league’s worst defense in expected points added per play, a measure of efficiency that accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo hasn’t had any answers for a dormant pass rush or a leaky secondary, and it’s threatening to not only sink the Chiefs’ Super Bowl chances, but maybe keep them out of the playoffs altogether.
Cleveland’s issues have been harder to identify. The offense remains efficient thanks to a punishing running game, but Baker Mayfield ranks 25th in Total QBR, which measures the effectiveness of a quarterback’s play while adjusting for the strength of opposing defenses. That’s below Washington’s Taylor Heinicke and one spot ahead of Texans rookie Davis Mills. Mayfield can still deliver effective performances like Sunday’s, but the Browns defense can’t give up 7.2 yards per play like it did against the Chargers and expect to win.
The confusing wild cards
11. New Orleans Saints (3-2; No. 15)
12. Tennessee Titans (3-2, No. 19)
13. Chicago Bears (3-2; No. 24)
14. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2; No. 17)
15. San Francisco 49ers (2-3; No. 13)
16. Carolina Panthers (3-2; No. 14)
It’s hard to understand just how much of a threat the Saints can be in the NFC. They dominated the Packers in Week 1, but since then have looked uneven in losses to the Giants and Panthers. When Jameis Winston is playing well, they can compete with anybody. But when he’s forcing throws and the ground game isn’t delivering, they look average. Thankfully the defense has stepped up, ranking third in DVOA through five weeks.
Quarterback questions abound for the Bears, 49ers and Panthers, too. Justin Fields has lifted Chicago back over .500, but has yet to deliver the type of standout performance many have expected to see from the No. 11 overall pick. 49ers rookie Trey Lance is still getting his feet wet in coach Kyle Shanahan’s system, and it might take the rest of the season for the No. 3 overall pick to feel comfortable. Sam Darnold looked like a new and improved quarterback during Carolina’s 3-0 start, but he’s thrown five interceptions in the past two games, both losses. Those teams have largely been carried by their defenses, which means any above-average play they can get from their quarterbacks might be the difference in the fight for a playoff spot.
In the AFC, the Titans and Bengals also remain hard to figure out. Tennessee has shown flashes of the efficient offensive juggernaut it’s been since quarterback Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter in 2019, but the defense hasn’t shown any signs of improvement after a dreadful 2020 performance. Cincinnati has improved tremendously on offense and defense, but it’s an uphill climb to playoff contention in the rugged AFC North. Were it not for a couple of missed kicks in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Packers, the Bengals might be sharing the division lead with Baltimore. Instead, they have more work to do just to keep their heads above water.
The even-more-confusing wild cards
17. Minnesota Vikings (2-3; No. 20)
18. Denver Broncos (3-2; No. 16)
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3; No. 23)
20. Seattle Seahawks (2-3; No. 11)
21. Las Vegas Raiders (3-2; No. 12)
The celebration-turned-shoving-match between Kirk Cousins and coach Mike Zimmer at the end of the Vikings’ last-second win over the Lions says it all. Minnesota is seemingly teetering on the edge of irrelevance and wild-card contention with each passing week. The same can be said for the Steelers, who followed up three straight losses and questions about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s future with a 27-19 victory over the seemingly solid Broncos. Now Denver is facing its own questions about how good it can be with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, and whether its defense can carry a middling offense to the postseason.
The Seahawks and Raiders are in limbo, but for entirely different reasons. Seattle lost quarterback Russell Wilson to a finger injury in Thursday night’s loss to the Rams, which means journeyman Geno Smith is the starter for the foreseeable future. Las Vegas, meanwhile, is dealing with the fallout of coach Jon Gruden’s resignation after a report detailed frequent misogynistic and homophobic language he used in emails before he was hired in 2018. Those revelations threaten to derail the season for both teams, who were looking to break through after promising starts.
Ready to sink or swim
22. Indianapolis Colts (1-4; No. 22)
23. New England Patriots (2-3; No. 18)
24. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3; No. 25)
25. Washington Football Team (2-3; No. 21)
26. Atlanta Falcons (2-3; No. 28)
It’s pretty clear the Colts are the best 1-4 team in the league after nearly beating the Ravens on Monday night, but that’s of little consolation to a team that went all-in on quarterback Carson Wentz to remain a playoff contender in the AFC. But they’re not out of it yet, thanks to sharing a division with the Texans, Jaguars and Titans, who are a combined 4-11. If Wentz can stay healthy and Indy can string together some wins against what Football Outsiders ranks as the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the league, there’s hope for a midseason turnaround.
The Patriots are hoping for a similar change of fortunes. Rookie Mac Jones has been among the best of this year’s quarterback class, but it hasn’t been enough to compete with the Bills. Thankfully, the AFC East rival Dolphins and Jets have combined for just two wins in five weeks, giving New England a path to stack some wins heading into the final playoff push.
It’s going to be hard for Philadelphia and Washington to catch Dallas in the NFC East, but a surprise Eagles win over the Panthers on Sunday breathes new life into their season. If they can compete with the Bucs on Thursday night, there’s reason for optimism going forward with quarterback Jalen Hurts and new coach Nick Sirianni. Washington, meanwhile, needs to see dramatic improvement from its disappointing defense (28th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA) if it’s going to have any chance of competing for a playoff berth.
27. New York Giants (1-4; No. 26)
28. Miami Dolphins (1-4; No. 27)
29. Houston Texans (1-4; No. 31)
30. Detroit Lions (0-5; No. 29)
31. New York Jets (1-4; No. 30)
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5; No. 32)
A week after seemingly turning their season around with an overtime win over the Saints, the Giants lost star running back Saquon Barkley to an ankle injury and quarterback Daniel Jones to a concussion in a loss to the Cowboys. If those two are out for an extended period of time, there are going to be uncomfortable questions for New York to answer this offseason about Jones, coach Joe Judge and general manager Dave Gettleman.
But those questions can’t possibly be as uncomfortable as the ones currently facing Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, who’s come under fire for not traveling with his team and being caught in a viral video with a woman at a bar in Ohio. It seems like just a matter of time before Meyer either decides he’s had enough, or Jacksonville decides to part ways with its splashy offseason hire.