Tom Brady is back, and the Patriots are back at No. 1. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
It took seven weeks, but New England fans can rejoice that the Patriots finally have reclaimed their rightful spot atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Vikings were victimized by the bye week here. They did nothing to lose their spot, but the Patriots offense looks too good right now. The Cowboys jump into the top five for the first time since I’ve started writing these. Ezekiel Elliot should have enough yards by Week 10 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Another team making a big leap is the Bills, who have won four straight games and might actually believe in themselves. Rex Ryan was supposed to be fired by now, but LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor have saved his career.
The Panthers take the biggest drop of the week, falling seven slots to 28th. It’s amazing that this is basically the same team (minus Josh Norman) that won 15 games a year ago. The other team that’s floundering in mediocrity is the Packers. Aaron Rodgers looks like a shell of his former self. Mike McCarthy is one loss away from firing himself and handing off the play-calling duties to someone else. The most shocking upset of the week happened in Miami as the Dolphins trounced the Steelers. Weird things happen in Miami. The heat took many of the Steelers by surprise, and even worse, their Hall of Fame-bound quarterback will miss at least one week with a knee injury.
1. (2 last week) Patriots (5-1) — Tom Brady has 782 yards passing and six TDs with no picks in his first two games since his suspension. Those numbers are impressive but expected from the future HOF QB. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett give Brady so many options in the middle of the field, while Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola continue to find pockets in the secondary on third down. The offense was expected to produce at a hight level, but it’s the fact that defense is allowing just a hair over 15 points per game that gives the Patriots the top spot.
2. (1) Vikings (5-0) — The only undefeated team in the league probably would have liked to continue playing games but the Vikings were saddled with a bye in Week 6. As good as the defense has looked, the five teams Minnesota beat (Titans, Packers, Panthers, Giants and Texans) all have been struggling offensively. The Vikings head to Philly to play an Eagles team that’s coming off back-to-back losses, so the streak could come to an end soon.
3. (8) Cowboys (5-1) — For as much as attention as Dak Prescott has garnered, it’s really RB Ezekiel Elliott who’s been carrying the load for the Cowboys. Through six games Elliott is averaging 117 rushing yards per game, which is on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record. With the Cowboys at 5-1, it’s preposterous to think there’s any type of QB controversy. This is Dak’s team now.
4. (12) Seahawks (4-1) — After a Week 2 loss to the Rams in which the Seahawks scored only three points, there likely was a bit of panic in Seattle. The Seahawks have since figured it out and are back on top of the NFC West. They have a tough stretch ahead of them, though, as their next five games are at Arizona, at New Orleans, vs. Buffalo, at New England and home vs. the Eagles.
5. (3) Falcons (4-2) — A tough loss to the Seahawks killed Atlanta’s four-game winning streak, but Seattle is a tough place to play. The Falcons have one of the best offenses in the league and still are 1 1/2 games up in the NFC South. The players and coaches seemed pretty pissed off about the lack of a DPI call late in Sunday’s game, but they’ll get their chance to avenge that loss in the playoffs.
6. (10) Bills (4-2) — LeSean McCoy rushed for 140 yards and scored three times. Credit to new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who has McCoy averaging a whopping 7.1 yards per carry. The Bills hadn’t won four straight since 2008. If they can the beat the Dolphins in Miami, they’ll play the Pats at home in Week 8 for first place in the AFC East.
7. (4) Steelers (4-2) — It was 80 degrees in Miami, and LB Lawrence Timmons was seen puking on the field after a Miami touchdown. Steelers fans are sick to learn that in the perplexing loss to Dolphins they also lost QB Ben Roethlisberger with a torn meniscus in his knee. The Steelers go into Week 7 facing the Patriots with Landry Jones under center.
8. (5) Broncos (4-2) — Thursday night’s loss to the Chargers wasn’t really all that shocking considering coach Gary Kubiak was absent with some scary health conditions. Trevor Siemian started the season on a hot streak, but the offense still is struggling to score in the first quarter, with just six points on the year. Denver proved last year that defense wins championships, but everything has a limit.
9. (6) Eagles (3-2) — The darlings of the NFL during the first three weeks have come crashing back to Earth with back-to-back losses. The defense had been carrying the team up until this point, but on Sunday Philadelphia allowed 493 yards to the Redskins, including 231 on the ground.
10. (15) Redskins (4-2) — After starting the season with back-to-back losses, the Redskins have won four in a row. Washington is running the ball well, and for the most part Kirk Cousins is doing just enough to keep the team in the game. Working against the Redskins is the fact that they’ve lost to two good teams and beaten four pretty bad ones. The next six games are all really hard, and they’ll be lucky to go 3-3 over that period.
11. (7) Packers (3-2) — The Packers have no running backs behind Eddie Lacy, and Aaron Rodgers isn’t good enough to throw the ball 50 times a game anymore. Rodgers’ completion percentage is among the worst in the league. There are murmurs around the league that something may be wrong with him physically, or maybe personally.
12. (9) Raiders (4-2) — The Raiders had a chance to take control of the AFC West, but a 26-10 loss the Chiefs keeps things muddled in a talented division. The Oakland defense is last in the NFL, allowing a staggering 444 yards per game.
13. (17) Cardinals (3-3) — After a 1-3 start, the Cardinals have won two in a row and have started to figure things out offensively behind RB David Johnson. The real test comes this Sunday in primetime as the Seahawks head to Arizona in a game that should set the stage for the NFC West. If the Cardinals want to play meaningful games in December, they need to win this one.
14. (16) Texans (4-2) — A big comeback win over the Colts will keep Houston in first place in the abysmal AFC South. Fortunately for the Texans, the division is so bad that they likely can coast to a division title at 9-7 or even 8-8 before getting waxed in the first round of the playoffs.
15. (14) Rams (3-3) — Although the defense has looked good, you still need to be decent on the offensive side of the ball to win games. Case Keenum hasn’t been a complete dumpster fire this year, but the team is ranked 31st in yards per game. The offensive line could be the bigger problem. On Sunday, Todd Gurley ran for 58 yards, which is the most he’s run for in any game this season. Last year he had five rushes of 40 yards or more. This year through six games his longest rush is just 16 yards.
16. (20) Chiefs (3-2) — As usual, the Kansas City ground game is keeping the teamm afloat as Alex Smith continues to be the prototypical game manager. Spencer Ware has been impressive holding the fort the injured Jamaal Charles. Charles returned to action on Sunday but only in a limited role. Kansas City has been alternating wins and losses since Week 1 but could group a few wins together and challenge the Broncos and Raiders for the AFC West title.
17. (18) Lions (3-3) — All six games this season have been decided by seven points or less. At 3-3, the Lions have been on both sides of some late-game heroics. Since the Vikings are the only team pulling away in the NFC North, Detroit has two winnable games (Washington and Houston) before it plays Minnesota in what could be a battle for first place.
18. (13) Ravens (3-3) — The Ravens limped into Sunday’s game against the Giants with a staggering number of injuries. Their inability to stop Odell Beckham Jr. increased their losing streak to three games. Baltimore has a tough road ahead, with two more games against the Steelers, two more games against the Bengals, and games against the Cowboys, Patriots and Eagles. A playoff appearance would shocking.
19. (11) Bengals (2-4) — Sunday marked Cincinnati’s seventh straight loss to the Patriots. At 2-4, the Bengals are on pace to miss the playoffs and should start preparing for life after Marvin Lewis. He’s had a great regular-season run, but after five straight wild card losses, he’s got no room for mistakes. Cincinnati has so much talent, but Lewis can’t seem to reign in players like Vontaze Burfict who continually lose their cool and cost their team games.
20. (19) Giants (2-4) — OBJ’s eight catches for 222 yards helped the Giants get their 700th win as a franchise and snap a three-game losing streak. However, Beckham’s stupid antics will be the death of this team. Ripping off his helmet and running down the sideline is classic wide receiver “me-first” diva attitude, and that tears apart locker rooms. Even the biggest fans of the G-Men have to realize that the kicking net jokes are childish. But even worse than that, it’s so unfunny that it’s awkward to watch.
21. (31) Chargers (2-4) — After weeks of humiliating and heart-wrenching losses, the Chargers finally held on in the fourth quarter for a quality win. At 2-4, they’re only two games back in the division and hold the tiebreaker over the Broncos. Philip Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career, but he needs some help from the defense — and coaches.
22. (23) Titans (3-3) — For the first time since the end of the 2013 season, the Titans have won back-to-back games. At 3-3, they’ve already matched their win total from the entire 2015 season. Unfortunately for their status here in the rankings, you can only climb one spot when you beat the winless Browns.
23. (22) Colts (2-4) — The Colts’ fourth-quarter collapse marked the first time a team lost a 14-point lead with three minutes left in a game since 2011. Andrew Luck’s career is crumbling under the leadership of Ryan Grigson. The Colts need to improve the line on both sides of the ball and protect Luck before they acquire any more skill position players.
24. (26) Saints (2-3) — After throwing for 465 yards on Sunday, Drew Brees is the all-time leader in 400-yard passing games with 15. The Saints need to get back to winning at home. New Orleans is 5-11 in its last 16 games at the Superdome, a place where they used to dominate earlier in the decade.
25. (25) Jaguars (2-3) — Blake Bortles showed some poise as he led his team to a win over Chicago after facing a 13-point deficit. He couldn’t get through the game without throwing an interception, so that’s still a little troubling.
26. (30) Dolphins (2-4) — Miami entered Sunday’s game against the Steelers as seven-point underdogs and left with the biggest win of the Adam Gase era. Only a team as wildly inconsistent as the Dolphins would have two wins against teams as polarizing as the Browns and the Steelers. RB Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and could keep Arian Foster out of the starting role as Foster continues to recover from a groin injury.
27. (28) Buccaneers (2-3) — The Bucs hit the early bye week with a 2-3 record and a win over the Panthers. The offense still is struggling under Jameis Winston, who has been decent in his first few years in the league but underwhelming as a No. 1 overall draft pick. He has nine TDs through five games but has thrown eight INTs. He should improve that ratio down the stretch this season, and by 2017 the Bucs should expect to be in the playoff hunt.
28. (21) Panthers (1-5) — What happened to the Panthers? The Super Bowl hangover is in full effect with the 2015 NFC champs, who have lost four straight. The team needs to look at the 2015 Chiefs, who started their season at 1-5 but turned things around to win 10 straight and earn a wild card spot.
29. (27) 49ers (1-5) — That opening night win seems like a loooooong time ago. Chip Kelly might be a worse head coach than Jim Tomsula, who was 2-4 at this point last season. Colin Kaepernick looked rusty in his first start of the season, but he wasn’t the problem in San Francisco’s 45-16 loss to the Bills. Kaepernick will get another chance this week against the Bucs.
30. (29) Jets (1-5) — Ryan Fitzpatrick’s penchant for turning the ball over is the reason the Jets are 32nd in the league with just 15.8 points per game. Geno Smith is clearly a worse option or Todd Bowles would have gone to him by now. Matt Forte likely is shocked to find out that life was better with Jay Cutler.
31. (24) Bears (1-5) — Losing to the Jaguars at home is about as bad as it gets. At 1-5, the Bears are off to their worst start since 2004. Brian Hoyer is putting up a lot of yards but very few points, which means that Jay Cutler likely will assume his role as the starting QB once he’s healthy.
32. (32) Browns (0-6) — A loss to the Titans hurts because it was viewed as the most winnable game of the year. Now the Browns look at a Week 8 matchup with Jets and and a Week 15 matchup with the Chargers as the only two games they have a reasonable chance of winning. Brian Billick’s prediction that Cleveland would go 0-16 is looking better and better by the week.