Rob Gronkowski (left) and Tom Brady have the Patriots riding high. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
The Patriots keep the top spot, and a quick look at their schedule shows they’ll likely remain here for the rest of the season. Dallas took the week off but still moved up to No. 2 because the Vikings were on the losing end of a sloppy game in Philly. Denver creeps back into the top five because the defense is so good and the Broncos play so well at home.
The game of the week was the Seahawks-Cardinals 6-6 tie on Sunday night. If you had the fortune of staying awake through the whole game, you got to experience TWO spectacular shanks with the game on the line. The look on Pete Carroll’s face was worth the 75-minute wait and reminded Patriots fans of another Seahawks collapse in the waning moments of a big game. In the five years since the NFL modified it’s overtime rules, this is the fourth time we’ve seen a tie game.
The most interesting division in the AFC is the West, with the Raiders and Broncos tied at 5-2. They have yet to play each other, so there’s a lot of time for things to shuffle around. Kansas City and San Diego are within striking distance, so the winner of the division likely won’t be decided until Week 17. In the NFC, the storylines are coming out of the East with a pair of rookie QBs leading the way. Dak Prescott can rely on an incredible running game in Dallas, and Carson Wentz can lean on a great defense in Philadelphia.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (6-1) — Third down defense is about the only issue this team has. Despite some struggles on the defensive side of the ball, New England still ranks fourth in the league in allowing only 15.3 points per game. LeGarrette Blount is having the best year of his career. Rob Gronkowski finally is healthy and now is reeling in 100 yards per game. Most importantly, Tom Brady has eight TDs and no picks.
2. (3) Cowboys (5-1) — The Cowboys lead the league in rushing with 161 yards per game behind the efforts of Ezekiel Elliot. The rookie RB is on target to bring home a slew of postseason awards, including Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and quite possibly MVP. Dez Bryant is set to return from a knee injury this week. Like Minnesota, Dallas hit the bye on a five-game winning streak and returns with a game against the Eagles. The Cowboys hope they’ll have a better results than the Vikings did.
3. (2) Vikings (5-1) — Sam Bradford was exposed in a loss to the Eagles. The Vikings defense is good, but it will have to maintain greatness week in and week out to mask the utter mediocrity that comes with Bradford under center. Mike Zimmer called out the O-line after Bradford was sacked six times and hit 12 times.
4. (8) Broncos (5-2) — For the rest of the season, Trevor Siemian will be compared to Peyton Manning. But luckily for him, he only has to play as well or better than Manning played in his final year, because the defense is exactly the same. Aqib Talib is in the back pocket of whoever he covers, and Von Miller is the best fourth-quarter pass rusher in the league.
5. (4) Seahawks (4-1-1) — The defense is as good as it’s ever been, but the offense can’t seem to figure things out with any consistency. Even if the Seahawks won that game Sunday night vs. Arizona, they still would have only scored nine points in 75 minutes of football. Russell Wilson’s ankle injury has essentially stopped his ability to scramble with any effectiveness, and teams know it.
6. (9) Eagles (4-2) — On Sunday the Eagles were the slightly lesser of two evils. Carson Wentz turned the ball over four times but was bailed out by his defense. Philly is allowing just 14.7 points per game, which is good for fourth in the league. The win over the Vikings ended a two-game skid, but now the Eagles head to Dallas to the play the Cowboys, who are coming off a bye.
7. (5) Falcons (4-3) — Atlanta still leads the league in scoring, but last weekend’s loss was embarrassing. Kyle Shanahan was gun shy and decided to run on fourth-and-1 in OT. At least the Falcons still have a winning record. To snap their two-game losing streak, they’ll have to take down a desperate Packers team that also likes to throw the ball around.
8. (12) Raiders (5-2) — If the playoffs began today, the Raiders would have a bye, yet they have the worst defense in the league. They’re allowing an astonishing 430 yards per game through seven weeks. Four of their five wins were against absolute cupcakes. They still have two games against Denver, which likely will decide their playoff situation.
9. (6) Bills (4-3) — Buffalo really needed to win that game in Miami last weekend. The AFC East would have been on the line against the Patriots with the game being played up in Orchard Park. The Bills Mafia (and maybe even the players) would have believed that this was the year to take down the Patriots and reclaim the AFC East. Now Rex Ryan is a seven-point underdog is his own house, and it’s very possible that the Bills lose by 30.
10. (11) Packers (4-2) — Clearly Aaron Rodgers is in decline, and if he was a few years younger he might have been good enough to mask the lack of a running game. A win over the Bears at home is nice and all, but the Packers got worked by the Vikings and Cowboys earlier in the year. They head to Atlanta this week, so we’ll see if Rodgers can keep up in a shootout.
11. (7) Steelers (4-3) — As long as Ben Roethlisberger can return to his old self, it doesn’t matter if he’s out for two weeks or even six weeks. Landry Jones is good enough to win half of these games. If Roethlisberger recovers, then Pittsburgh is just as dangerous as it ever was.
12. (16) Chiefs (4-2) — Jamaal Charles can take his time getting healthy if Spencer Ware is going to continue to score touchdowns. Dating back to last season, the Chiefs have won 15 of their last 18. Now they play four very winnable games before facing off against Denver for the first time this season.
13. (10) Redskins (4-3) — A devastating fourth-quarter loss to the Lions snapped a four-game win streak. Kirk Cousins is playing well and the offense is racking up a lot of yards, but it’s not translating to points. Washington NEEDS to win this week at home vs. the Bengals, before running through a gauntlet of Minnesota, Green Bay, Dallas, Arizona and Philadelphia.
14. (13) Cardinals (3-3-1) — It’s going to take a few weeks to shake off the nightmare of a missed chip shot and subsequent tie on national television. David Johnson is the type of back who could carry Arizona and keep this team in the hunt all year. It also wouldn’t be shocking if Carson Palmer and the wide receiving corps turned it on at any point.
15. (17) Lions (4-3) — For some reason, the loss of Calvin Johnson has brought out the best in Matthew Stafford. Since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator, Stafford has 35 TDs and just eight picks. Stafford’s fourth-quarter heroics are nothing new (he has 18 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or OT since 2012) and if he can make the playoffs, he’ll be battling for an MVP.
16. (21) Chargers (3-4) — Philip Rivers is the reason this team is even afloat. The Chargers could be getting hot at exactly the right time, as they now have back-to-back wins over Denver and Atlanta. They turn right around and play the Broncos again, but this time at Mile High, and Rivers will have to keep producing without his top three targets.
17. (14) Texans (4-3) — You can criticize the Texans for alternating wins and losses over the last six weeks, but the three losses were at New England, at Minnesota and at Denver. Houston is lucky to play in the AFC South, so it has another nine weeks to tinker with Brock Osweiler and get ready to host a wild card game.
18. (15) Rams (3-4) — There’s something about London that makes bad teams play worse. Case Keenum’s four-interception performance will put pressure on Jeff Fisher to consider playing Jared Goff. The Rams have a pretty easy road ahead, with the Panthers, Jets, Dolphins and Saints up next, so expect Fisher to alternate wins and losses over the four weeks.
19. (20) Giants (4-3) — After a week when the headlines out of New York were dominated by a scumbag kicker, the Giants played some football across the pond and took care of the lowly Rams. The Giants are struggling to run the ball, averaging just 70 yards per game on the ground, which ranks last in the league.
20. (19) Bengals (3-4) — The Bengals have four losses, all of them to first-place teams. The road gets a little easier, and they have the weapons to turn it around and earn a playoff spot.
21. (23) Colts (3-4) — The Colts have only won three games this year, and all of them involved fourth-quarter comebacks. Andrew Luck is out there making chicken salad despite being surrounded by a terrible roster. The ageless Adam Vinatieri STILL is the most reliable kicker in the league. Vinatieri’s streak of 43 straight FGs is the all-time record.
22. (22) Titans (3-4) — The Titans go as Marcus Mariota goes, and Mariota was off the mark all day in Sunday’s loss to the Colts. The division is muddled with bad teams, but Tennessee isn’t really good enough to steal a win or two in games against superior opponents.
23. (24) Saints (2-4) — Per usual, Drew Brees is on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards. Unfortunately for the Saints, this doesn’t really help them get into the playoffs. Mike D’Antoni would be proud of this team, which ranks second in points per game but dead last in points allowed.
24. (26) Dolphins (3-4) — Jay Ajayi’s back-to-back 200-yard games will help people forgot that Arian Foster just decided to quit in the middle of the season. The rest of the schedule has only one game (Patriots) that the Dolphins can’t win. A soft schedule will keep them hovering around .500 for the rest of the year, which means they’ll technically be in the playoff picture.
25. (27) Buccaneers (3-3) — The Bucs don’t look too bad right now, heading home after winning back-to-back road games. Now they play three at home against a couple of good but not great teams. If they beat the Falcons in a couple of weeks, there’s a good chance they’ll be in first place at the halfway point.
26. (18) Ravens (3-4) — Despite a four-game losing streak, the Ravens are only a game out of first in the crowded AFC North. The RB situation has been pretty weak all year, but Baltimore bottomed out in Sunday’s loss to Jets, rushing for a total of six yards.
27. (25) Jaguars (2-4) — Same old story for the Jaguars, as Blake Bortles added to his INT total. Bortles threw two more, which gives him nine on the year. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum have thrown more. Gus Bradley might not be around much longer.
28. (28) Panthers (1-5) — It looks like Cam Newton hasn’t recovered from getting smacked around in Week 1. Josh Norman isn’t the reason this team collapsed, but he’s got to be feeling fortunate that Washington has a better record right now.
29. (30) Jets (2-5) — Geno Smith is having a bad time as QB of the NYJ. He’s terrible. He got punched in the face. He saw Ryan Fitzpatrick get paid $12 million to throw almost two picks a game. And when Todd Bowles had no choice but to start him, he tore his ACL and then watched Fitzpatrick lead the team to victory.
30. (31) Bears (1-6) — Brian Hoyer broke his arm just in time for Jay Cutler to return. With the Bears at 1-6, it’s likely hard for John Fox to motivate this team to play each week. The book is out on Cutler, and the first 10 chapters detail just how much he sucks. Unfortunately for the team, Cutler is signed through 2020 and has an $18 million cap hit (on average) each year until his contract ends.
31. (29) 49ers (1-6) — It doesn’t matter who the QB is when the defense is this brutal. The Niners rank 31st in points allowed and 30th in yards. Chip Kelly might have to accept the fact that he should either be a college head coach or an NFL coordinator.
32. (32) Browns (0-6) — If they haven’t started already, Browns fans can turn their attention to college football and start finding the college QB they hope will save their franchise. It would bring good karma if the team traded Joe Thomas to a contender.