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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Conor Orr

NFL Power Rankings: Shake-up at the Top As Undefeated Eagles Soar

For those who celebrate, happy post-Halloween. Hopefully, like me, you got to dress up as a Disney character against your will and eat peanut butter cups for dinner. The idea of putting on a facade, or a mask, is an interesting one at this time of year, where we’re left to wonder which of the teams who have good records are actually good and which of them will make the playoffs, chests puffed, only to get chopped down to size when the real contenders get involved. Sort of like me in a Kristoff outfit (from Frozen).

Specifically, you wonder whether some of the teams who have really good records are just on the very outer reaches of their best-case scenario and some of the teams who have horrible records are just buried beneath the wonkiness of this season.

The analytic sports experts Ben Baldwin and Mike Beuoy release each Monday a list of market-derived team tiers. Basically, it’s a chart that shows how favored a team would be on a neutral field against a league-average opponent. Obviously, the Bills are way out ahead at +10.6 points, while the Texans are a league-worst -8.1.

The list pegs the Seahawks, Giants and Jets (all teams with solid winning records) as below average. They also see the Vikings as just okay, and the Patriots as better than we currently imagine. The Raiders are, essentially, the definition of a league-average opponent right now. The list is one way of looking at the league and making sense of what we’ve seen so far, keeping us from leaning too hard into an irresponsible overreaction.

In this world, there are plenty of costumed teams, and also a few that just decided not to dress up for the first half of the season, leaving us to think they are not as good as they actually are. The Power Rankings are supposed to be a good way of charting as much over the course of a season.

Let’s see what we come up with:

1. Buffalo Bills (6–1)

Last week: win vs. Green Bay, 27–17
Next week: at New York Jets

Could Buffalo essentially go wire to wire this year as the best team in football, right up until the Super Bowl? The loss to Miami may have been the best possible outcome for them early in the season, giving them a small taste of defeat before the regular season became about their undefeated record. Hopefully it also forced the Bills to see whatever tiny holes they may still have on their roster, motivating them to act at the trade deadline. 

2. Philadelphia Eagles (7–0)

Last week: win vs. Pittsburgh, 35–13
Next week: at Houston

What’s amazing about the Eagles is with how incredible they’ve been, the rare moments where they are even momentarily outmatched stand out: like right before halftime last week against Pittsburgh when Jalen Hurts was sacked on back-to-back plays. Hurts is almost never in a position where he doesn’t confidently have multiple options to throw the ball. Their offense is truly a crash course in successful game-planning. 

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3. Kansas City Chiefs (5–2)

Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. Tennessee

The Chiefs lose a spot due to the bye week, but something tells me they’re still pretty good. Will Kadarius Toney factor in as more than just a return specialist and gadget player? 

4. San Francisco 49ers (4–4)

Last week: win at Los Angeles Rams, 31–14
Next week: BYE

What we saw on Sunday against the 49ers was just the beginning. I care less about the fact that Christian McCaffrey threw a touchdown pass than I care about watching the Rams react defensively. The play itself was somewhat telegraphed (and obviously backward to allow the second throw), but the entire defense over-pursued, fearing McCaffrey’s ability to torch the defense after the initial catch. 

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5. Minnesota Vikings (6–1)

Last week: win vs. Arizona, 34–26
Next week: at Washington

Patrick Peterson’s Call of Duty celebration has taken the Vikings from power rankings nuisance to one of our official teams of 2022. You have to respect the attitude, along with the suddenly dangerous, scrambling Kirk Cousins. Cousins made some gritty plays from the pocket, such as the one completion to Adam Thielen that set up (an eventually blocked) field-goal attempt.

Cousins threw for two touchdowns and 232 yards against the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports

6. Dallas Cowboys (6–2)

Last week: win vs. Chicago, 49–29
Next week: BYE

Deep, ruthless and efficient. The Cowboys saw a team do absolutely everything it could to stop Micah Parsons (including running directly at Parsons to get more blockers on him and allowing DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence to scream off the opposite edge unblocked), and they still won comfortably. They have the perfect mix of star players and critical, athletic role players who can bust a touchdown at any given moment.

7. Baltimore Ravens (5–3)

Last week: win at Tampa Bay, 27–22
Next week: at New Orleans 

If football were arena lacrosse, the Ravens wouldn’t have lost a game in years. While they are a middle-of-the-pack red-zone-efficiency team right now (56%), they will undoubtedly hit an upswing at the right time. Watch the way they were able to put good Tampa Bay linebackers in conflict Thursday night. 

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3–5)

Last week: loss vs. Baltimore, 27–22
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams

If forced to pick between the Packers and Buccaneers, I would say the Bucs’ problems are a little more solvable. That said, relative inaction at the deadline (so far) leaves them with their current weapon set, which has resulted in a lot of Julio Jones jet sweeps (shivers). Tampa Bay currently has the lowest EPA per rush in the NFL, but perhaps more opportunities for Rachaad White will diversify its up-the-gut running game. 

9. Miami Dolphins (5–3)

Last week: win at Detroit, 31–27
Next week: at Chicago

This team is impossible to beat in a shootout, and Tua Tagovailoa is still playing the best football of his career. I have been impressed at his ability to find Tyreek Hill—who is not considered by some coaches to be an elite route runner—on more precision throws that aren’t speed-dominant. 

10. Green Bay Packers (3–5)

Last week: loss at Buffalo, 27–17
Next week: at Detroit

Cris Collinsworth lauded the Packers’ last touchdown, to Samori Toure, as evidence of a receiver willing to play ball in Aaron Rodgers’ improvisational passing game. However, if Toure’s the only one successfully making sight adjustments on the same page as the quarterback, there are some major problems (that even an injection of talent at the deadline won’t solve). 

Toure is in his first season with the Packers after leading Nebraska’s football team in 2021 with 46 receptions for 898 yards and five touchdowns. 

Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports

11. Tennessee Titans (5–2)

Last week: win at Houston, 17–10
Next week: at Kansas City 

The fact that the Titans are 5–2, after starting 0–2, with a negative EPA per rush and a neutral EPA per pass is wild. Yes, Mike Vrabel is a great coach, but Jeffery Simmons is also quietly mounting one of the best seasons for a defensive tackle in the NFL. 

12. Cincinnati Bengals (4—4)

Last week: loss at Cleveland, 32–13
Next week: vs. Carolina

The Bengals dropped a costly one to the Browns on Monday Night Football. Without Ja’Marr Chase in the lineup, Joe Burrow went 25-for-35 for 232 yards and two touchdowns, he was sacked five times. It isn’t the end of the world, with the softer Panthers coming up before the bye week, but Chidobe Awuzie also sustained a significant injury, which makes life tougher for a defense predicated on muddying passing lanes. 

13. Los Angeles Rams (3–4)

Last week: loss vs. San Francisco, 31–14
Next week: at Tampa Bay

The Rams look so painfully limited and obviously searching for answers. The early work by Ronnie Rivers gave us some budget Austin Ekeler vibes, but we might be holding our breath for the debut of Kyren Williams, the team’s fifth-round pick who was a great rusher and 40-plus target receiver out of the backfield for Notre Dame. While Los Angeles’ pursuit of Christian McCaffrey would ultimately indicate its confidence level in the rookie, Williams could take us all by surprise. 

14. New York Giants (6–2)

Last week: loss at Seattle, 27–13
Next week: BYE

The Giants are a muffed punt away from nearly grinding their way to another win. While the loss was certainly frustrating for the fan base, this was every single week for the last five years. The Seahawks got some timely shoestring tackles to stall New York’s drives and finally knived its secondary with a tough-to-stop double move that resulted in the momentum-changing score in the fourth quarter. This is a long way of saying the Giants do not possess the ability to get blown out. 

15. New York Jets (5–3)

Last week: loss vs. New England, 22–17
Next week: vs. Buffalo

The narrative right now is that the Jets have a Zach Wilson problem, though I think they may have been aware of this for some time. If anything, it’s a good time to reflect on how well-schemed this team was—up to a point where Wilson had to make individual plays to beat a division rival. 

16. Los Angeles Chargers (4–3)

Last week: BYE
Next week: at Atlanta

Coming off their bye, the Chargers have four road games in five weeks, including some really difficult tilts against some of the best teams on their schedule. This will undoubtedly be the crossroads that decides their season and, perhaps, the direction the franchise will go in. 

17. New England Patriots (4–4)

Last week: win at New York Jets, 22–17
Next week: vs. Indianapolis

At 4–4, the Patriots have a 33% chance of reaching the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight. If Mac Jones settles into a bit of a groove, and New England’s offense moves from a net negative efficiency level to just league average, I wonder whether Bill Belichick & Co. could manufacture enough victories to lean into the playoffs again. 

Jones got the start once again for the Patriots on Sunday after having battled with backup QB Bailey Zappe for playing time post-injury.

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

18. Seattle Seahawks (5–3)

Last week: win vs. New York Giants, 27–12
Next week: at Arizona

Beyond the numbers, Geno Smith just looks really polished in the pocket. His little hint of mobility also raises a great deal of concerns for defenses who are already having a difficult time dealing with Kenneth Walker III, as we saw in the closing moments of the Giants game Sunday. 

19. Denver Broncos (3–5)

Last week: win at Jacksonville, 21–17
Next week: BYE

This was a win the Broncos had to have. Russell Wilson seems to be seeing the field a little bit better, though the opening-drive interception was egregious and he locked on to his wide receiver the entire time. If he’s relearning the position as a less mobile passer, the Broncos are in for a bumpy ride. 

20. Atlanta Falcons (4–4)

Last week: win vs. Carolina, 37–34
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers

The FIRST PLACE Atlanta Falcons are weird and wonderful and, yes, quite fortunate. Arthur Smith is a practical mind, and is, as he’s said, not concerned about the success of your fantasy football team. But one has to wonder if he is going to stick with the ground and pound, with both of his running backs seeing some of the highest percentages of eight-man boxes in the NFL. 

21. Chicago Bears (3–5)

Last week: loss at Dallas, 49–29
Next week: vs. Miami

While the Bears-Cowboys game ended up being a bit of a blowout, I was impressed by the progress of Justin Fields, who, for the second time in the month of October, ended up posting a quarterback rating at or near 120. 

22. Las Vegas Raiders (2–5)

Last week: loss at New Orleans, 24–0
Next week: at Jacksonville

Las Vegas is one of the biggest mysteries in football: The Raiders are very talented, yet they were absolutely clubbed by the Saints this past week. Josh McDaniels personally took the blame Sunday, which is at least a positive step for accountability, but it’s safe to say this Raiders team is on a vastly different path now than they were a year ago. 

23. Arizona Cardinals (3–5)

Last week: loss at Minnesota, 34–26
Next week: vs. Seattle

The Cardinals’ dropback EPA is about the same as the Titans’ and the Patriots’. Their running game, despite the light boxes, is about the same as the Jaguars’ and the Lions’. All this is to ask, what are we doing here? If this team isn’t doling out laser light shows on a regular basis, what can we say about them in terms of future prospects?

24. Jacksonville Jaguars (2–6)

Last week: loss vs. Denver, 21–17
Next week: vs. Las Vegas

While Travis Etienne may scare you a little bit in pass protection (in a plucky, little-engine-that-could kind of way), he also showed that he could take over a game in which the defense was daring the Jaguars to run the football. Meanwhile, Trevor Lawrence was one incredible interception away from endearing himself to fans across the pond and putting himself in the running to be the next king. (That’s how it works, right?)

25. Cleveland Browns (3—5)

Last week: win vs. Cincinnati, 32–13
Next week: BYE

Any time the Browns can hold the ball for almost 40 minutes, they're going to win a game. We got a cool Nick Chubb hurdle out of the deal, and Cleveland gets a respite before diving into a stretch that includes Miami, Buffalo and Tampa Bay after the bye week. 

26. Washington Commanders (4–4)

Last week: win at Indianapolis, 17–16
Next week: vs. Minnesota

Taylor Heinicke is trusted by this Commanders offensive staff. He threw more than 30 times and for nine yards per attempt. At this point, a backup-plus kind of player can keep the Commanders in games, especially when they are facing a similarly limited backup quarterback like Sam Ehlinger.

Heinicke has stepped in for the Commanders after Carson Wentz fractured a finger on his throwing hand.

Robert Scheer/IndyStar/USA TODAY NETWORK

27. Detroit Lions (1–6)

Last week: loss vs. Miami, 31–27
Next week: vs. Green Bay

It’s so sad to see the Lions keep losing football games, especially when they are in most of them. Another porous defensive performance prompted the firing of defensive passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant shortly after the game. Will anything change in the secondary, or is it already too late? 

28. New Orleans Saints (3–5)

Last week: win vs. Las Vegas, 24–0
Next week: vs. Baltimore

It was a big week for teams to realize that good checkdown backs are absolutely devastating against the most popular defenses right now. Alvin Kamara racked up almost 100 yards on nine targets in a stabilizing win over the Raiders. 

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (2–6)

Last week: loss at Philadelphia, 35–13
Next week: BYE

The Steelers are 2–6 heading into their bye week, and they have no cupcakes remaining on the schedule. The rest of this season will be solely about the development of Kenny Pickett and whether or not they trade one of their incredibly talented wide receivers for more draft capital. 

30. Indianapolis Colts (3–4–1)

Last week: loss vs. Washington, 17–16
Next week: at New England

Next week’s game against the evenly-matched Patriots will be telling in terms of what the Colts will do: keep fighting or start allowing the wheels to come off. They still have one of the better defenses in the NFL, but their offense, across all facets, is not holding up its end of the bargain.

31. Carolina Panthers (2–6)

Last week: loss at Atlanta, 37–34
Next week: at Cincinnati

The Panthers are coming off their best two rushing games of the season following the trade of Christian McCaffrey. While this doesn’t mean McCaffrey was bad, it does mean that there are some good coaches who haven’t thrown in the towel just yet.

32. Houston Texans (1-5-1)

Last week: loss vs Tennessee, 17–10
Next week: vs. Philadelphia

Home sweet home in last place for the Texans, who, in a few weeks, will be America’s team when they take on the Browns. Until then, friends. 

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