We learned a lot about the NFL's supposed contenders and pretenders in what turned out to be a separation Sunday across the league.
Whether it was the Philadelphia Eagles bullying the Miami Dolphins in prime time, Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs returning to form as the defense stymied Justin Herbert's Chargers, or Lamar Jackson growing before the eyes of the nation leading an ambush over the Lions, this was a week of shakeups and hard truths for coaching staffs and fanbases, alike.
After a dramatic Week 7, here's where things stand in our latest NFL power rankings:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (6-1)
Previous: No. 3
Don't look now, but Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the Chiefs suddenly look as dominant as they have at any point over the past decade.
The Chiefs made easy work of Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, with the defense pitching a second-half shutout. While it was Kelce who showed out on National Tight End's Day, catching 12 of 13 targets for 179 yards with a touchdown as Taylor Swift celebrated the holiday alongside Brittany Mahomes, Patrick Mahomes connected with 10 different Chiefs pass-catchers. That kind of target versatility, with that quarterback, is going to make Kansas City as difficult to beat as they ever have been. Especially if Steve Spagnuolo's defense swarms to the quarterback, as they did around Herbert, sacking him five times and intercepting him twice.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (6-1)
Previous: No. 4
Facing their biggest test of the season, the Eagles flexed their muscles in front of a raucous South Philly crowd, shutting down one of the league's most innovative and prolific offenses, rounding into championship form in the process.
Philadelphia's defense stonewalled the Dolphins' explosive running game, holding running back Raheem Mostert. and Co. to just 45 yards on the ground as the front-seven sacked Tua Tagovailoa four times, and came down with a game-altering interception that the Eagles' offense cashed into a touchdown. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts was nearly flawless from the pocket, passing for 279 yards with two touchdowns to one interception while adding 21 rushing yards and another score. This was the Eagles' Super Bowl formula in 2022 and in a win that generates plenty of credibility, Philadelphia seems primed to make another run.
3. San Francisco 49ers (5-2)
Previous: No. 1
The toll of mounting injuries to key players revealed just how vital Deebo Samuel and particularly Trent Williams are to the 49ers' success.
Monday night, Christian McCaffrey — after losing a fumble on the first possession, practically put the 49ers on his back while finishing with 96 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. But, Kirk Cousins lit up San Francisco's secondary, and the Vikings imposed their will along both lines of scrimmage. When healthy, there might not be a more complete or more physical roster in the league, but Monday night showed how precarious things can get when key players aren't available.
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Previous: No. 7
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens sent a couple of clear messages Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Lions.
Jackson quelled some persistent criticism of his ability to win from the pocket, not just by completing 21-of-27 passing attempts for 357 yards and three touchdowns, but by using his legs to create opportunities for deep passes downfield, on the run. Against a vaunted and disruptive Lions front-seven, Jackson looked like a mature and versatile passer as the Ravens exploded out to a 35-0 lead through the first three quarters. A punishing defense, that held Detroit to 4.7 yards per play, combined with an offense that's built around the run-game but can beat you over the top through the air, is the kind of operation that can both travel and make a lengthy playoff run.
5. Miami Dolphins (5-2)
Previous: No. 1
Sunday night's showdown in Philadelphia was billed as a possible Super Bowl preview, and if that's the case, the Dolphins are going to need to figure out how match their game-altering speed with some physicality.
While Miami was without several key contributors on both sides of the football, the Eagles simply bullied the Dolphins from start to finish, including brazenly calling and converting a 4th down "tush-push" from their own 26-yard line. The Dolphins have now fallen on the road to the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles in hostile environments. Mike McDaniel's team not only needs to get healthy, but needs to find a way to start picking up wins against legitimate contenders, or else they're going to need to hit the road in the playoffs where they haven't shown an ability yet to match the moment.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2)
Previous: No. 8
The Jaguars are starting to fire on all cylinders, again.
Even though Trevor Lawrence was clearly not fully healthy, he still passed for 204 yards and rushed for 59 more as Jacksonville's offense put on a bit of a clinic in New Orleans against the Saints last Thursday night. Defensively, the Jaguars held Derek Carr to under six yards per attempt and intercepted him once. Some major tests remain, against the 49ers, Ravens, Browns, Steelers, and Bengals, but the Jaguars are playing a brand of football right now that gives them the chance to beat just about anyone.
7. Dallas Cowboys (4-2)
Previous: No. 9
We're about to find out just how seriously to take the Dallas Cowboys.
Coming out of the bye week, Dallas hosts the Los Angeles Rams before heading to Philadelphia for a showdown against the Eagles that will dictate just how close the NFC East race will be over the second half of the season. But, with matchups looming against the Giants, Panthers, Commanders, and Seahawks, there's a very real possibility — given the grueling stretch ahead for Philadelphia — that when the Cowboys come up for air on Dec. 1 they'll be leading the division. That is, if Dak Prescott and the offense hold up their end.
8. Detroit Lions (5-2)
Previous: No. 5
That wasn't just a wake up call, but an identity crisis-inducing beat down at the hands of Baltimore.
A previously physically imposing defense got gashed for 503 yards, with Lamar Jackson accounting for 393 of them and four touchdowns. As a result, the Lions were never able to get into any sort of offensive rhythm that we had become accustomed to through the first half of the season. If nothing else, Sunday's blowout loss underscores how important it is for this team to jump out to a lead, because Jared Goff showed he can't put the offense on his back and throw the Lions out of it.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
Previous: No. 12
Suddenly, the Steelers are building some momentum.
Not only did running back Najee Harris rattle off a couple of violent runs, which should build some confidence up front along the offensive line, but Kenny Pickett hit completed passes to six different receivers headlined by George Pickens' 107-yard breakout. The AFC North might be the most competitive division in football, but the Steelers definitely have the easiest road home, with Pittsburgh's remaining opponents boasting a meager .479 winning percentage. There's an opportunity here for Mike Tomlin to make a return trip to the postseason.
10. Cleveland Browns (4-2)
Previous: No. 10
When you have Myles Garrett, do you really need an offense? The Browns found out, that at least against Gardner Minshew's Colts, the answer is 'not really.'
Garrett blocked a field goal, sacked Minshew twice, forced a fumble that Cleveland recovered for a touchdown, and in short, was a one-man wrecking crew. Cleveland needed a standout performance from Garrett — and some help from the officials late, to survive a 39-38 thriller, because Deshaun Watson was knocked out of the game with a head injury. There's going to come a point where the Browns regret the Watson contract as much as the general public regrets Cleveland trading for him in the first place.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (3-3)
Previous: No. 11
The Bengals rode the momentum of winning three of four into the bye week, as Joe Burrow got healthier and the offense rediscovered some explosiveness in the vertical passing game. But, for Cincinnati, the true test comes after the bye week with games against the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars that will go a long way towards revealing whether this is a legitimate Super Bowl contender or a team that will struggle to make the playoffs at all.
12. Buffalo Bills (4-3)
Previous: No. 6
The Bills are starting to look like a franchise, and a team, that's feeling the ill-effects of multiple long postseason runs without a Super Bowl berth. Sunday, New England jumped out to a 13-3 lead early, and swarmed around Josh Allen all afternoon while holding the Bills' quarterback to 265 yards with two touchdowns while intercepting him once and recovering a fumble. Injuries are mounting on defense, offensively Buffalo looks disjointed, and Allen appears to be pressing. Those are three pretty big strikes against this team turning things around and making a Super Bowl run, especially after losing to the Jaguars, beating the Giants' on a Tyrod Taylor interception in the end zone as time expired and falling to the lowly Patriots.
13. Seattle Seahawks (4-2)
Previous: No. 15
Devon Witherspoon continues to separate himself from the pack in the Defensive Rookie of The Year race, and prove himself capable of anchoring a resurgent Seahawks secondary. Witherspoon was rarely targeted by the Cardinals, but he logged four total tackles, broke up a pass, and dropped the hammer on a couple of bone-jarring hits that make receivers think twice about going over the middle of the field. Rookie receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jake Bobo propelled the offense. Seattle looks capable of playing a starring role in the NFC Wild Card race, and maybe more.
14. Minnesota Vikings (3-4)
Previous: No. 25
Kirk Cousins rose to the moment, but the Minnesota Vikings completely ambushed the 49ers in all phases. Cousins celebrated rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison's coming out party, as the duo connected on seven passes for 124 yards with a pair of scores. However, the story of Monday night was the Vikings imposing their will at scrimmage both on a vaunted 49ers' defensive front and a banged up offensive line in front of Brock Purdy. Monday night was the type of win that might give Minnesota pause about selling at the deadline, and optimism about what a future might look like on offense in a scheme built around the duo of Justin Jefferson and Addison.
15. New York Jets (3-3)
Previous: No. 13
The Jets have had to completely transform from a team aiming to protect big leads under Aaron Rodgers to surviving with substandard quarterback play from Zach Wilson and dominant play from the defense. Coming out of the bye on the heels of one of the biggest upsets of the season, over the Eagles, we're about to find out just how much New York's defense can withstand. Following a MetLife showdown against the Giants, the Jets get the Chargers, Raiders, Bills, Dolphins, and Falcons in coming weeks. This stretch might dictate whether the Jets, and possibly Rodgers, are viable playoff contenders.
16. Houston Texans (3-3)
Previous: No. 18
The Texans appear to have a franchise quarterback, Houston has a win over the division-leading Jaguars tucked away for safe keeping, and coming out of the bye week DeMeco Ryans' team has the third-easiest remaining schedule in the national league. Houston is significantly ahead of schedule, and the second half of their season is going to provide meaningful experience in pressure situations for the talented young core.
17. Atlanta Falcons (4-3)
Previous: No. 23
The Falcons are finding ways to win in spite of Desmond Ridder, and without Bijan Robinson, but this might easily be the best team from top-to-bottom in the NFC South. Sunday, the Falcons' defense kept the Buccaneers' cannons largely silent, holding Tampa Bay to just two trips into the red-zone and holding Baker Mayfield's offense to field goals both times. As this defense builds confidence, don't be surprised if Atlanta picks up some steam, especially if Ridder makes any strides towards consistency whatsoever.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3)
Previous: No. 16
That thud you heard from central Florida on Sunday afternoon was Baker Mayfield careening down to earth. Atlanta held Mayfield to 275 passing yards with one touchdown to one interception and the Buccaneers' offense to 6-of-12 on third down. The inability to sustain drives bit Tampa late in the game as the defense wore down and allowed the Falcons to pretty effortlessly march down the field to kick a game-winning field goal as the clock hit zeroes. It may take a Herculean defensive effort to keep Tampa in the playoff hunt.
19. Los Angeles Rams (3-4)
Previous: No. 17
Puka Nacua continues to exceed expectations, and is a bright spot for the Rams' offense, but Los Angeles' second half of Sunday's loss to the Steelers must be a cautionary tale; interception, touchdown, missed field goal, punt, punt, loss. Meanwhile, the Rams' defense allowing touchdowns on three of Pittsburgh's four possessions after halftime that mattered is no way to win a football game. As the 49ers and Seahawks keep stacking wins, the Rams keep creating questions.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4)
Previous: No. 14
This might just be who the Chargers are. A talented quarterback, but a porous defense that lacks teeth, and a head coach who can't seem to guide a versatile offense across the finish line in tight or important games. Justin Herbert's career is withering away as the Chargers navigate a perpetual identity crisis. It may be a matter of "when" rather than "if" Los Angeles moves on from Brandon Staley.
21. New York Giants (2-5)
Previous: No. 27
Suddenly, with Daniel Jones on the shelf, the Giants' offense looks competent with Tyrod Taylor behind center. Finally, tight end Darren Waller got involved, catching his first touchdown pass of the season, and despite losing a fourth-quarter fumble, Saquon Barkley was explosive as ever breaking out for 188 yards from scrimmage with a receiving touchdown. The litmus test for New York will be if the offense will remain effective once Daniel Jones returns from a neck injury.
22. Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
Previous: No. 21
The Colts losing Anthony Richardson for the season was a heartbreaking disappointment for Indianapolis, and altered the trajectory of this season, but Shane Steichen deserves a lot of credit for keeping his team together and playing hard. By game's end, Indianapolis' defense was gassed on Sunday against the Browns. But, the offense hit on some big strikes to Michael Pittman and Joshua Downs that are encouraging that some of the young talent around Richardson might still take strides in their development in his absence, which is encouraging for 2024 and beyond.
23. Las Vegas Raiders (3-4)
Previous: No. 20
Vegas losing a backup quarterback bowl is one thing, allowing the Bears to run roughshod over the defense with a backup running back just makes matters worse. There had been some thought that the Raiders could be buyers ahead of the deadline, particularly in the pass-rush market, but losing games like Sunday's make that feel like a pointless expedition.
24. Washington Commanders (3-4)
Previous: No. 19
The Giants' defense ambushed Sam Howell and the Commanders' offense, as Washington's offense looked completely disjointed for much of Sunday's game in East Rutherford. With both Montez Sweat and Chase Young entering free agency at season's end, it's easy to wonder if owner Joshua Harris and Co. weren't convinced to sell at the trade deadline coming off a brutal divisional defeat.
25. Green Bay Packers (2-4)
Previous: No. 22
If the season ended today, the Packers would be picking No. 7 overall in the NFL Draft. Currently in the midst of a three-game slide, Jordan Love isn't giving Green Bay much reason not to be taking a look at the top incoming quarterbacks. Love has passed for 608 yards with three touchdowns to six interceptions over the past three weeks, more troubling, the young quarterback's decision-making seems to be regressing.
26. New Orleans Saints (3-4)
Previous: No. 24
Derek Carr just doesn't move the needle. Worse yet, the veteran quarterback seems to undermine what the Saints do well on offense, particularly in the running game with Alvin Kamara. Even though New Orleans made a late charge, that came up short, against the Jaguars, the Saints' defense was a sieve last Thursday night allowing 31 points and 303 yards of offense. Could the clock be ticking on Dennis Allen?
27. New England Patriots (2-5)
Previous: No. 30
Bill Belichick finally picked up win No. 300, in a legendary career, amid easily his most difficult season as a head coach. But, the Patriots' defense dictating to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills via an interception and fumble recovery combined with Mac Jones orchestrating his second career fourth-quarter game-winning drives could be elements for New England to build a little momentum.
28. Chicago Bears (2-5)
Previous: No. 29
Tyson Bagent manufactured a win over the Las Vegas Raiders by largely playing within the Bears' system, and letting D.J. Moore do some of the heavy-lifting in the passing game, especially after the catch. But, D'Onta Foreman's emergence in Khalil Herbert's absence, an 89-rushing yard and three total touchdown showing wasn't just the most encouraging aspect of the victory but perhaps a blueprint for what this offense should look like the rest of the way.
29. Tennessee Titans (2-4)
Previous: No. 26
Who will be the Titans' quarterback out of the bye week? As the Jaguars and Texans separate themselves from the pack in the AFC South, might the time be now for Will Levis to get some run? Could the Titans deal Ryan Tannehill at the trade deadline? These might be the most intriguing storylines for the Titans the rest of this season.
30. Denver Broncos (2-5)
Previous: No. 31
Patrick Surtain might not have been awarded a controversial interception, but the Broncos' passing defense seemed to befuddle Jordan Love, who passed for just 180 yards. Meanwhile, the Broncos' offensive line finally got into a little bit of road-grading mode, paving the way for a 145-yard outburst on the ground. There's still a long way to go for the Broncos, but there were elements Sean Payton and Co. can build on from Sunday's win over the Packers.
31. Arizona Cardinals (1-6)
Previous: No. 28
Another Sunday of head coach Jonathan Gannon's team playing tough, competitive football, but coming up short. This time in Seattle against the Seahawks. Kyler Murray's return could be looming, which could serve as an audition for his long-term future in the desert as much as a possible catalyst for the Cardinals closing out some of these games.
32. Carolina Panthers (0-6)
Previous: No. 32
The Panthers have less than a week to add a No. 1 wide receiver to pair with Bryce Young, which would go a long way towards helping shepherd the rookie quarterback's development. It will be fascinating what kind of offensive adjustments head coach Frank Reich and staff were able to make during the bye week to try to make the No. 1 overall pick more comfortable and effective in the offense.
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