NFL Power Rankings: Chiefs Back to No. 1; Steelers Top Undefeated Team – Sports Illustrated
It’s Week 7! Where does the time go? Here in the year 2020, I honestly couldn’t tell you.
But it’s a fun time of year for the power rankings (aren’t they all?) as some teams start separating themselves from the pack, others sink to the bottom and others swing wildly from good to bad and back again on a week-to-week basis.
Everyone treats power rankings differently. Am I supposed to just sort the teams by who would win on a neutral field right now? Do I go with who is having the best overall season? Should I factor in a team’s long-term outlook or preseason expectations if that impacts how they might feel about their season? Do I add weight to the most recent games, since that often informs the general mood and vibe of each team? The answer: Probably a little of everything, in moderation.
But one thing I try hard to do is avoid overreacting to each individual game. What makes this time of year fun is that nearly every week we see a major upset, an unexpected blowout or some other outcome that we just couldn’t see coming. One of the strangest things about the NFL is that the relatively small sample size of a 16-game season still gives us plenty of time for variation. Sometimes a very good team has a very bad game. Sometimes vice versa. Oftentimes things go back to normal seven days later.
So let’s all take a deep breath. We have seen six weeks. We have a big enough body of work on most of these teams not to overreact every single time we do this. Off we go…
1. Kansas City Chiefs (5–1)
Last week: Win at Buffalo 26–17 Next week: at Denver
I tried to talk myself into one of the undefeated teams for the No. 1 spot, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. A week ago I would not have had the Chiefs in the top spot, because it’s harder to do that after a loss. But I’ve felt all along that the Chiefs are the best team, and every team is going to slip up at some point like they did against the Raiders. It was good to see a rebound on Monday night with a dominant game against a good Bills team on a rainy night. I would pick the Chiefs to beat any other team on a neutral field right now and I still expect them to repeat as Super Bowl champs, so they’re back to being my No. 1.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5–0)
Last week: Win vs. Browns 38–7 Next week: at Tennessee
There are arguments for and against all three remaining undefeated teams, but I will give the edge to the Steelers by a hair. Their defense is not just the best in the league, but really one of only three or four good ones. Back-to-back road games at Tennessee and Baltimore will give us a much better idea of just how good, and we can always update the power rankings then. For now, I will let Steelers fans bask in their team’s smothering defense, Chase Claypool’s breakout and the No. 2 spot in my rankings.
3. Seattle Seahawks (5–0)
Last week: Bye Next week: at Arizona
The Seahawks are coming off a bye, and it is tempting to give an edge to the teams we saw look good this weekend, but let’s not forget how great Russell Wilson and this offense have been in 2020. You are allowed to have some concerns about the defense and that some of the games have been a little closer than you might want, but it hasn’t caught up to them yet. So far the Seahawks have been able to outscore everyone, and they’ll remain a top-three team until that is proven otherwise.
4. Tennessee Titans (5–0)
Last week: Win vs. Houston 42–36 OT Next week: vs. Pittsburgh
If you just watch the highlights, you could come to the conclusion that the Titans are an absolutely unstoppable force. Ryan Tannehill is playing great, Derrick Henry has stiff-armed three people and trampled four others while you were reading this sentence and Mike Vrabel has internalized his own streak of Belichickian gamesmanship, as we learned from his intentional 12 men on the field penalty that came to light Monday. Of course, they did take advantage of a series of breaks Sunday to get that big win over Houston, including Romeo Crennel’s decision to go for two, a review on A.J. Brown’s game-tying TD giving him the score by an inch and the coin toss to open overtime. So I’m slotting the Titans in fourth here, behind the Chiefs and the other two undefeated teams. But I hope nobody takes this as a slight. The Titans are very good, getting better and will get their shot to move up when they play Pittsburgh next week.
5. Baltimore Ravens (5–1)
Last week: Win at Philadelphia 30–28 Next week: Bye
The Ravens seem to be quietly taking care of business, but have done most of what has been asked of them. Their offense has not quite clicked like last year, but they lead the league in point differential (and total points, though of course not every team has played six games), even after letting the Eagles climb back into things on Sunday. And of all the one-loss teams, their defeat is the easiest to excuse away. Their schedule is about to get more challenging, which should give us some fun games to watch. The Ravens have entered the realm where most fans will only care about what they do in the playoffs, but it’ll still be telling to see how they compete in potential previews against the teams they’ll meet when they get there.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4–2)
Last week: Win vs. Green Bay 38–10 Next week: at Las Vegas
A shout out to MMQB senior editor Gary Gramling, who had the Bucs third in the power rankings last week, even before Tampa Bay dismantled the Packers. Third! Last week! I laughed at him about it over Zoom. Thankfully I haven’t seen him in person in eight months, and he will likely forget about this by the time I see him again in, hopefully, 2021. I still think he’s a little too high on them, though I admire his willingness to make a statement. (Side note: It’s a little funny to think about how many people out there don’t realize The MMQB is rotating power rankings authors this year and will just look at websites that aggregate their favorite team’s rankings across the internet and see that Sports Illustrated has dropped the Bucs from No. 3 to No. 6.) Anyway, of course Tampa Bay looked like a top-five team on Sunday. But I guess you can call me stubborn that I’m not quite ready to leapfrog them over the Chiefs, the Ravens or the undefeated squads.
7. Green Bay Packers (4–1)
Last week: Loss at Tampa Bay 38–10 Next week: at Houston
The Packers are a good football team. Yes, they got waxed for the final three quarters against Tampa Bay, but I don’t want to overreact too much to one game. Look at the 49ers, who got crushed by the Dolphins in Week 5 and then came back to beat a strong Rams team. So of course the Packers slide down the board a bit, behind the undefeated teams and those Buccaneers, but you should never say the sky is falling after just one bad game—often no matter how bad it feels the day after.
8. Buffalo Bills (4–2)
Last week: Loss vs. Kansas City 26–17 Next week: at New York Jets
That’s two straight losses for the Bills now, but I wouldn’t say it’s knocked their season off course. They are the best team in their division, but seem to be a cut below the top-tier teams in the conference. They are dangerous enough to beat anyone on any given day, but come January they’ll likely have to do it on the road.
9. Los Angeles Rams (4–2)
Last week: Loss at San Francisco 24–16 Next week: vs. Chicago (Monday)
The Rams appeared to be cruising until they went into Santa Clara Sunday night, even if an NFC East sweep doesn’t mean much this year. I’m still bullish on them in the NFC playoff race, and I don’t want to overreact to one division loss on the road. (As mentioned in the intro: Trying not to overreact to one game is a common theme in this column!) But it sure seems like the Rams will need to go .500 in their division games, given that everyone else is fighting for those playoff spots too. And they’ve gotten off on the wrong foot there.
10. Arizona Cardinals (4–2)
Last week: Win at Dallas 38–10 Next week: vs. Seattle
We know the Cardinals have firepower, which they showed on Monday night against a depleted Cowboys team. At their best, they are certainly good enough to compete in the NFC’s second-tier. But they are also a young team that could face some growing pains, as we saw in the back-to-back losses to the Lions and Panthers. But I’m definitely buying the future of the Kliff/Kyler Cardinals and excited to see them engage the Seahawks in a shootout next week.
11. New Orleans Saints (3–2)
Last week: Bye Next week: vs. Carolina
The Drew Brees discourse (and it’s close relative, the Taysom Hill discourse) would probably be a dominant story line of this season anyway, but it feels like it’s been even more under the microscope because the Saints played three of their first five games in prime time, plus the Week 1 game against the Bucs was the top game in the late Sunday window. Now they return from a bye week to a cozy spot in the 1:00 ET window. I think many of us expected to see New Orleans dominate the regular season or at the very least sleepwalk their way into the playoffs, but I think watching them have to scratch and claw in what feels like the end of the Brees era is a much more entertaining plot if that’s what they need to do as the season rolls on.
12. Chicago Bears (5–1)
Last week: Win at Carolina 23–16 Next week: at Los Angeles Rams (Monday)
The Bears are 5–1! They are doing it on the strength of their defense, which is a recipe not many teams are following here in 2020. I’m not sure if they can sustain this for the whole season, especially as the schedule tightens up, but they have banked enough wins already to be in the playoff chase for the long haul.
13. Indianapolis Colts (4–2)
Last week: Win vs. Cincinnati 31–27 Next week: Bye
Indy won in a very un-2020-Colts-like fashion Sunday, with the previously vaunted defense giving up a quick 24 points and Philip Rivers leading them back. I haven’t been as high on them as many others have been this year, and was ready to drop them into the bottom half of these rankings after five quarters against the two Ohio teams. But it was encouraging to see they can win a game when Rivers was forced to throw it 44 times. Still, I think this team needs the defense to carry it, and that can be tough in a league where so many teams are capable of scoring so many points so quickly.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (3–2)
Last week: Bye Next week: vs. Tampa Bay
The Raiders probably would’ve liked to get right back on the field, given that we last saw them taking down the mighty Chiefs. But they’ll return in prime time against the Bucs, with a chance to prove they belong among the AFC’s top teams.
15. San Francisco 49ers (3–3)
Last week: Loss vs. Los Angeles Rams 24–16 Next week: at New England
The 49ers’ last couple games have given us a perfect example of why you can’t overreact to each game. You might have thought the season was spiraling two Sundays ago when they received a beatdown from the Dolphins. They came right back with a smart game plan to get the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands quickly and let his receivers do the rest. For a team that is ravaged with injuries and facing as brutal a schedule stretch as any team faces this year, that was a massive win against the division rival Rams.
16. Cleveland Browns (4–2)
Last week: Loss at Pittsburgh 38–7 Next week: at Cincinnati
Cleveland took a huge, huge step backward, getting blown out by the Steelers, but any Browns fan reading this either A) Already knew that; and/or B) Saw Sunday coming a mile away. The Browns are firmly part of the NFL’s vast group of middle teams that’s good enough to beat a good team on any given week but prone to lay an occasional egg. Of course the injuries to some of the team’s key players played a part Sunday, but plenty of other teams are dealing with lengthy injury reports too.
Last week: Loss vs. Denver 18–12 Next week: vs. San Francisco
Several teams have had their seasons derailed by COVID-19, but few have been impacted more than the Patriots, who had their schedule moved around, lost several key players, lost significant practice time and lost their starting QB for some time. Cam Newton returned to the lineup Sunday, but it felt like a long time had passed since the opening weeks of the season when he made even non-Patriots fans seem to soften and find joy in an exciting new chapter in Foxboro. Not many people want to have sympathy for Bill Belichick or Patriots fans this year (and he wasn’t necessarily asking for it), but the coach had a fair point when he spoke about a lack of practice time after the loss to Denver. I expect them to get back on track.
18. Carolina Panthers (3–3)
Last week: Loss vs. Chicago 23–16 Next week: at New Orleans
The Panthers have been one of the feel-good stories of the 2020 season. The three-game winning streak (without Chrisitan McCaffrey) was bound to end at some point, so I won’t get bent out of shape about a loss to the Bears. The Panthers are playing with house money and how could anyone not be happy with what they’ve seen from Matt Rhule’s first season in Carolina?
19. Miami Dolphins (3–3)
Last week: Win vs. New York Jets 24–0 Next week: Bye
We don’t learn too much about the teams that get their weekly chance to pummel the Jets, but it still must be fun for the teams that get the privilege. Still, Miami has now won three of four and it’s been impressive to see Brian Flores have his team ahead of schedule in each of his seasons in South Florida. Tua Tagovailoa finally saw game action on Sunday, and the biggest question of the season remains when the Dolphins will make the switch. Would a run at a playoff spot delay the transition from Ryan Fitzpatrick? With some winnable games on the schedule, we may find out.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (1–4)
Last week: Bye Next week: vs. Jacksonville
New quarterback, same Chargers. The Bolts have pushed some of the league’s best teams to the brink, but found a way to lose several close games in Chargers fashion. It’s hard to judge the early part of the Chargers’ season. Lots of teams with young quarterbacks would be happy with moral victories. And in the long run, the Chargers may benefit from Justin Herbert being pressed into duty earlier than expected. But they are also a team that had designs on a playoff push this year, so the 1–4 record is still a bummer. But they are not a tough out, by any means.
21. Denver Broncos (2–3)
Last week: Win at New England 18–12 Next week: vs. Kansas City
The Broncos’ defense deserves plenty of credit for showing up in Foxboro this weekend, but it’s awfully tough to win without turning field goal drives into touchdowns. Still, Denver somewhat quietly has a decent resume, with close losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh aging well and now a couple wins. Getting Drew Lock back in the lineup is a huge boost, but his stat line (10-for-24 for 189 yards and two interceptions) is not what they wanted to see. This is another team battered by injuries that I just have a hard time seeing in the playoff hunt when the dust settles.
22. Houston Texans (1–5)
Last week: Loss at Tennessee 42–36 OT Next week: vs. Green Bay
Sunday could have been a statement win for the Texans, and I am very much fine with Romeo Crennel’s decision to go for two to win the game. His team employs noted two-point conversion converter Deshaun Watson, and a decent percentage of the people who are ripping him for the decision would be praising him if the move had worked out. It would have been a great win for a team that could have then waved away the bad start as a result of a brutal opening schedule and an unpopular coach. But crawling out of a 1–5 hole is likely too tall a task. Alas.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1)
Last week: Loss vs. Baltimore 30–28 Next week: vs. New York Giants (Thursday)
The Eagles are one of the hardest teams in the league to rank. Carson Wentz does appear to be getting back on track, even though he showed it in losses the last two weeks to the heavily-favored Steelers and Ravens. And of course, getting back on track is not the same as playing as well as his most vocal supporters expected this season. The team suffered even more injuries, now heading into a Thursday night game. Seven wins might be enough to take the division (could six? could five?), but the Eagles have to actually start winning those games now that the schedule gets easier, and they haven’t given fans any reason to think they’ll start playing consistently good football.
24. Detroit Lions (2–3)
Last week: Win at Jacksonville 34–16 Next week: at Atlanta
It was nice to see D’Andre Swift have his first big game as a pro during a get-right win against the Jaguars. The Lions are good enough to escape the league’s bottom tier but I have a hard time believing they’re going to win enough games to keep the Matt Patricia era going into 2021.
25. Dallas Cowboys (2–4)
Last week: Loss vs. Arizona 38–10 Next week: at Washington
If Andy Dalton’s game-winning drive at the end of the Giants’ game raised your expectation for what he can do the rest of the season, Monday night was probably a rude awakening. We also learned a little more—not that we necessarily had to—about how good Dak Prescott really was before his injury. The Cowboys have had injuries at other positions too, which is a big reason their outlook is so dire.
26. Minnesota Vikings (1–5)
Last week: Loss vs. Atlanta 40–23 Next week: Bye
The Vikings have mercifully arrived at their bye week at an ugly 1–5, a mark that includes three games they weren’t really in and two soul-crushing one-point losses. Which type of loss would you rather your team suffer? Well, the answer certainly isn’t, “Both!” They need to figure things out right now and save their season in a stretch against all three NFC North rivals right in a row. But it’s hard to have any confidence that one of the league’s most disappointing teams in 2020 can actually pull that off.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (1-4-1)
Last week: Loss at Indianapolis 31–27 Next week: vs. Cleveland
In many ways, the Bengals are playing with house money this year. The wins and losses don’t really matter, and they can consider it a successful season if Joe Burrow and some of the other young players on the roster develop. But wins are still nice! And that’s a major disappointment to blow a 24–0 lead against the Colts in what should have been a bounce-back game after having the doors blown off against the Ravens. But young teams must learn lessons like this in the journey up from the bottom.
28. Atlanta Falcons (1–5)
Last week: Win at Minnesota 40–23 Next week: vs. Detroit
The Falcons finally won a game, and they certainly needed it. They couldn’t lose ‘em all, and in fact will probably win a few more. I don’t think they’ll finish the season this far down the list, but this is what happens when you start the year 0–5 and fire your head coach and general manager.
29. New York Giants (1–5)
Last week: Win vs. Washington 20–19 Next week: at Philadelphia (Thursday)
The Giants finally got off the schneid against Washington, a win they desperately needed. I wouldn’t say their record is deceptive, but they have been competitive in all but one of their games, all of which were against playoff contenders until this Sunday. This middle part of their schedule is much easier than the opening month, and if they can split with the Eagles and beat Washington again, they could be 3–7 and somehow in the NFC East chase on Thanksgiving.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1–5)
Last week: Loss vs. Detroit 34–16 Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers
The last time I was in charge of the power rankings was after Week 1, with the Jags fresh off their upset win over the Colts (after I suggested that I actually liked the Jacksonville moneyline on the MMQB Gambling Podcast). The Jags had been a near unanimous No. 32 in power rankings across the internet, so when I moved them to 28th, I wrote, “Imagine not rooting for the 2020 Jaguars. Couldn’t be me.” I foolishly thought Jags fans might be happy to see their team moving up after a feel-good opening weekend. Instead, I was ridiculed on Jaguars reddit as “absolute hot trash” for ranking them below a bunch of teams that had lost in Week 1. The Jaguars have not won since. Thirtieth feels about right for now.
31. Washington Football Team (1–5)
Last week: Loss at New York Giants 20–19 Next week: vs. Dallas
Washington’s Week 1 shellacking of the Eagles’ offensive line looks to have given Ron Rivera some false sense that the team was ready to win some games. Since then, the team has been uncompetitive against good teams and then came up just short against a winless Giants team. It seems silly not to use the rest of this season giving Dwayne Haskins a chance. Who cares if you think Kyle Allen can get you to 5–11?
32. New York Jets (0–6)
Last week: Loss at Miami 24–0 Next week: vs. Buffalo
The Jets are a total embarrassment, on the field and off.