We’ve done this exercise before this season. A few times, in fact. And yet, through eight weeks, the one constant has been that the Rams are the best team in football. But as Sean McVay’s squad continues its quest for 16-0, the rest of the teams around the league have separated themselves, either by turning into legit playoff contenders or turning their focuses to next season. Here’s how all 32 NFL teams stack up at the midpoint of the 2018 season:
32. Oakland Raiders (1-7)
The Raiders may not be the least talented team in the NFL, and they might even win a couple more games before the season ends, but damn are they the most depressing. Let’s quickly recap the team’s first half of a season in the Jon Gruden era. So far, he’s:
- Signed a bunch of aging veterans to substantial free-agent deals under the guise of competing right away
- Traded away Khalil Mack, the team’s best player, for some draft picks
- Repeatedly thrown his quarterback under the bus after claiming he came to Oakland to work with said quarterback
- Traded away Amari Cooper, the team’s best remaining young asset, for a draft pick
As bad as we imagined Gruden’s tenure in Oakland could be, it’s been worse.
31. Arizona Cardinals (2-6)
It’s all about the future in Arizona, and that future looks to be a mixed bag. Josh Rosen has shown plenty of flashes in his handful of starts, and he seems ready to take over as the Cardinals’ quarterback of the future. The problem is that he’s tied to a first-year head coach who had to fire his handpicked offensive coordinator before Halloween. Rosen has the chance to be a franchise centerpiece for years to come. I’m just not sure that Steve Wilks and his staff are the right group to cultivate the young QB.
30. Buffalo Bills (2-6)
The Bills defense is very much for real. Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes have both been terrors on the edge for Sean McDermott’s team, and Tre’Davious White has picked up where he left off after a standout rookie season. But considering what Buffalo has going on offense, that this team has two wins going into the second half of the season is nothing short of a miracle.
They’re going to make documentaries about the 2018 Bills’ quarterback situation. With Derek Anderson sidelined because of a concussion, Nathan Peterman will be back at it this Sunday against the Bears. Read that sentence again. How the hell did we get here?
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-7)
The Niners’ season was lost the moment Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL, but the first half of the year has been even worse than anyone could have imagined. Beyond Garoppolo, injuries to Jerick McKinnon (season-ending), Marquise Goodwin, and Dante Pettis have torpedoed the offense. And the Niners haven’t seen much development out of their young defenders, either. San Francisco’s goal without Garoppolo was to see progress from its recently drafted cornerstones, and that just hasn’t happened.
28. New York Giants (1-7)
Even putting the Giants this high was a struggle. Their escape from the bottom four is entirely due to Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. being on the roster. This team needs a clean start at quarterback, and they need it now.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
The Jameis Winston era appears to be nearing its end in Tampa Bay, but at least the Bucs offense will be fun to watch the rest of the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. The pairing of Fitzpatrick and coordinator Todd Monken, combined with one of the best pass-catching groups in the league, gives Tampa Bay plenty of entertainment value, but that’s about it. The Bucs defense is still the worst in football, and a total franchise teardown at the end of the season feels all but inevitable.
26. Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)
Speaking of total teardowns and pure entertainment value! After head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired earlier this week, Gregg Williams is now the interim head coach of the Browns. That’s a real thing. I’ll speak for all Browns fans when I say I just want to fast-forward to the moment when this team hires Lincoln Riley and we can get excited about watching Baker Mayfield again.
25. New York Jets (3-5)
The Jets are in a similar holding pattern with their rookie quarterback; the problem is that every capable receiver Sam Darnold was supposed to have at his disposal this year is hurt. Todd Bowles’s team has plenty of young, promising defenders that seem to be on the rise (Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, and Darron Lee), but it seems like we’re about one more year and a true no. 1 receiving option away from having some really fun moments with Darnold.
24. Detroit Lions (3-4)
The Lions made two trades in the past week that may seem counterintuitive, but in reality are in pursuit of the same goal. Detroit is still in the wild-card race in the NFC, but dealing Golden Tate for a third-round pick shows that the Lions are aware they’re a middling team that needs to stock up for the future. And the trade for nose tackle Damon Harrison makes the Lions better in both the short and long term. It’s been a tough season for Detroit, filled with posture belittling and inconsistent play, but at least the Lions have a handle on who they are.
23. Atlanta Falcons (3-4)
The injuries that Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen suffered have sabotaged any chance the Falcons had to compete in 2018. Atlanta’s aim now turns to 2019 and beyond. There’s a chance that the Falcons will score a top-seven pick in next year’s draft, land a top-tier defensive talent, and stock up for a playoff chase next season. But it’s also possible that Matt Ryan’s incredible offense will win the Falcons seven games and ruin their chance at bottoming out.
22. Tennessee Titans (3-4)
The “Jameis Winston is on the way out” stories have come in droves during the past week, but it’s probably time to start wondering when the same conversation will start about Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s play-action-heavy scheme was supposed to help unlock Mariota’s potential and turn the Titans offense—and its promising collection of pass catchers—into the best version of itself. Instead, Tennessee ranks 28th in offensive DVOA, with fewer passes of 20-plus yards than any team in the league. The Titans will have real questions to answer this offseason about their plan at quarterback.
21. Miami Dolphins (4-4)
Miami’s feel-good early-season run seems like it happened a decade ago. The Dolphins defense has been run over by the Bears, Lions, and Texans in recent weeks. Albert Wilson, their best game-breaking offensive talent, is on injured reserve with a hip injury. It’s shaping up to be yet another year that the Dolphins finish in the middle of the pack despite spending money like a Super Bowl contender.
20. Denver Broncos (3-5)
The Broncos are staring down one of the more fascinating offseasons of any team in the NFL. Head coach Vance Joseph and his staff are likely on the way out. John Elway may be seeking a new quarterback. And the team will be searching for a new outside receiving option after trading Demaryius Thomas to the Texans earlier this week. The Broncos are mired in the NFL’s middle class, and it’s time they made a few drastic moves to shock themselves out of it.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5)
The Jags hovering in the back half of the league should be treated as a full-blown disaster considering the expectations Jacksonville had walking into the season. Jacksonville’s defense is still loaded with talent even after trading Dante Fowler Jr. to the Rams, but Blake Bortles and the offense have played poorly enough to sabotage any chance the Jags had this season. Injuries have hampered the Jacksonville offense, but even healthy, there was a good chance coming into the season that the Jaguars’ quarterback situation would doom their fortunes. Enough of the defensive foundation will be around next year for the Jags to make another run if they find the right QB, but losing 2018 was costly for a team that made it to the AFC championship game last season.
18. Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
Under Jason Garrett’s watch, the Dallas offense — especially its passing game — seems destined to disappoint in 2018. But there’s still an outside chance that the trade for Amari Cooper will give the Cowboys the no. 1 option they crave. That’s rooted more in hope than reality, though. And optimism about this Cowboys season should be focused on the defense. There are no obvious weaknesses in this unit. They have solid play up front and plenty of depth, a top-tier corner in Byron Jones, and multiple quality linebackers. The Cowboys likely can’t compete with the upper echelon of teams in the NFC, but this season has gone better than it could have.
17. Washington Redskins (5-2)
That this Redskins team is 5-2 defies any understanding of how the NFL works in 2018. Behind its anemic passing game, Washington isn’t even mustering 21 points per game. The team is relying on monster days from 33-year-old Adrian Peterson to make the offense go. The strength of its underrated defense is stopping the run. Yet somehow, the Redskins sit atop the NFC East with an inside track to make the playoffs. The trade earlier this week for former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gives Washington two elite safeties (D.J. Swearinger being the other), but even if the pass defense takes another step forward, this team lacks the firepower to stick with the other playoff-caliber teams in the NFC.
16. Indianapolis Colts (3-5)
Don’t look now, but the Colts are starting to get pretty feisty. It seems as though head coach Frank Reich’s quick-passing game has finally solved the Colts’ pass-protection woes. Andrew Luck has been given plenty of space to operate in the pocket, and that part of the offense has started to thrive. The Colts may be a year or two away from really competing in the AFC, but this season has been a step in the right direction.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
Cincinnati’s offense has been better than expected for much of the year, thanks to a rejuvenated Andy Dalton and a potential career year from A.J. Green, but it doesn’t look like that’ll be enough to overcome the team’s porous defense. The Bengals nearly blew a late lead to the Ryan Fitzpatrick–led Bucs last week, and defensive end Carl Lawson’s season-ending ACL injury derailed the best part of Cincinnati’s defense: its pass rush. Marvin Lewis’s team should give the rest of the AFC trouble down the stretch, but the Bengals will likely fall short of taking the division.
14. Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
The Seahawks offense has looked shockingly efficient as of late. Seattle has started to lean on Chris Carson as its primary back, and it’s been using a play-action-heavy passing game to complement him. With a quarterback that is as effective in play-action as Russell Wilson is, that formula can add up to a ton of points. It’s hard to play much better than Wilson did last week against the Lions, and if the Seahawks can keep up that sort of offensive output, their defense has played well enough to make them an intriguing team in the NFC playoff race.
13. Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)
A 4-3-1 start can’t be what the Vikings brass envisioned when they signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal this offseason. Cousins was supposed to be the final piece of their Super Bowl puzzle, but instead the team has experienced shortcomings all over the field. Injuries and suspect play along the offensive line have put Cousins under constant pressure, and the running game has been down and out all season with Dalvin Cook nursing a hamstring injury. Defensively, Minnesota’s linebackers have had problems in coverage, and in Everson Griffen’s absence (he missed five weeks as he received treatment for mental health issues) the pass rush slowed. Most of this roster is still composed of the stars that made Minnesota the no. 2 seed in the NFC last season, and the team’s passing game has been excellent … when Cousins has had time to get the ball to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But at this point, this just doesn’t seem to be the Vikings’ year.
12. Baltimore Ravens (4-4)
At times this season, it’s seemed as though these Ravens might be different than the teams Baltimore has fielded the past couple of years. Their defense is still arguably the best unit in football, with no defined weaknesses and stellar contributors all over the field. And with the addition of John Brown and Michael Crabtree, it looked like the offense might be able to take a step forward. But now, sitting at 4-4 after being shellacked by the Panthers last week, it’s starting to seem like the Ravens will fall just shy of joining the league’s elite.
11. Green Bay Packers (3-3-1)
The Packers’ decision to trade safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington for a fourth-round pick is a curious one, considering the team is still right in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. Green Bay’s depth at safety isn’t such that it can give away a player like Clinton-Dix without taking a significant hit. It’s possible that the Packers front office feels the same way about this team that many others do: That even with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, they’re still a step down from the real contenders in the NFC. Dealing Clinton-Dix was a way to secure another asset for the future. That being said, the Packers are a week removed from nearly knocking off the undefeated Rams on the road (thanks in large part to the return of rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander). This is an unremarkable Packers team by the franchise’s impossible standards, but the prospect of Rodgers and Co. sneaking into the playoffs should still terrify every team in the NFC.
10. Houston Texans (5-3)
It’s hard to believe the Texans have made this much of a jump in recent weeks (I had them at no. 16 through the season’s quarter mark), but this team just has too many excellent players to be kept down. Deshaun Watson is still running for his life on most plays and isn’t too far removed from being too injured to even get on a plane — and he still tossed five touchdown passes last week. Houston will miss Will Fuller (torn ACL) on the outside for the remainder of the season, but recently acquired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas should provide enough of a threat to divert some attention away from DeAndre Hopkins. The talent on defense is top-heavy, but with the way that J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are playing, it hasn’t mattered.
9. Chicago Bears (4-3)
As a Bears fan, I’m sure I will immediately regret this ranking. Chicago’s defense hit a skid against the Dolphins and Patriots in weeks 6 and 7, but it rebounded in a big way against the Jets on Sunday. Beating a team that has a rookie quarterback and most of whose receiving corps is injured may not seem impressive, but the Bears looked dominant even without Khalil Mack (who sat out with an ankle injury). Chicago’s defense is still a formidable group, and if Mack can return healthy, the Bears could easily find the form they had over the first month of the season.
And the offense has been competent enough that, combined with the team’s defensive prowess, the Bears could finish 10-6 and contend for a wild-card berth. Mitchell Trubisky has been maddening at times, but head coach Matt Nagy’s play-calling and the Bears’ electric group of pass catchers have this group scoring 27.7 points per game. A defense and an offense that rank near the top 10 in DVOA is typically the recipe for a run to the postseason, and the Bears currently have both.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
Ranking the Eagles this high is more about lingering respect than their play over the first half of the season, but I’m still not ready to write the champs off. Carson Wentz has been exceptional in his past few outings, and the Eagles’ passing game should only get better with the addition of Golden Tate. A pass-catching group of Tate, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert has the potential to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Unfortunately, the Eagles defense has also been a nightmare at times this season. Philadelphia failed to find any cornerback help at the trade deadline, so the team will field the same uninspiring group on the back end for the second half of the season. This defense may never come around, but I’m still willing to bet on this loaded roster beating out the other teams in the NFC East.
7. Carolina Panthers (5-2)
The Ringer’s own Danny Kelly did an excellent job on Thursday of breaking down why the Panthers have found so much success on offense this season. A lot of people (myself included) balked when the team hired 66-year-old Norv Turner as its offensive coordinator before the season, but Turner has put together one of the more creative schemes in the league. Even with injuries on the offensive line, the Panthers have been able to create huge holes in the running game, and Turner has devised innovative ways to get playmakers like Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore the ball in open space. Their offense has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1)
Pittsburgh’s defense is finally showing signs of life after a disastrous start to the season. The Steelers pass rush has been effective at slowing down opposing quarterbacks, though when the likes of Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt aren’t creating pressure up front, that unit is still likely to struggle against quality passers.
The Steelers offense is similarly reliant on its play up front — for the opposite reason. It’s the lack of pressure on the quarterback that has made Ben Roethlisberger’s group so potent. Pittsburgh allowed just one quarterback hit against Cleveland in Week 8, and as a result, the team’s ridiculous trio of skill-position players was able to take over. The Steelers may not be stomping through the AFC like they have in years past, but they’re currently atop their division and have an offense that’s only picking up steam. They’re going to look dangerous by the time the playoffs get here.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (5-2)
Philip Rivers is a goddamn hero. The 36-year-old quarterback is having one of the best seasons of his career for an offense that’s putting up nearly 28 points per game. The Chargers’ combination of passing efficiency and the work Melvin Gordon has done on the ground (5.1 yards per carry) has turned this unit into the most dangerous offense in the league outside of the Rams and Chiefs.
And after a slow start, the defense is finally starting to come around. Cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Desmond King have begun to find their 2017 form, and the return of defensive lineman Corey Liuget has given coordinator Gus Bradley’s group a significant boost. Rookie safety Derwin James has been a revelation, making an impact all over the field, and it seems like only a matter of time before Joey Bosa is back in the lineup. Overall, this defense had too much talent to stay down for long.
4. New England Patriots (6-2)
Hyperfocused week-to-week game plans have always been the Pats’ approach, but this season, they’ve really had to crank up the weird. Without many options at receiver for the first quarter of the season, running back James White became the team’s no. 1 passing target. And even after the team added Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman to the lineup in weeks 4 and 5, respectively, White has continued to be a huge part of the Patriots passing game. Now, with running back Sony Michel sidelined, New England has turned to fullback James Develin as its lone back in some sets. It’s the weirdest Patriots offense in recent memory. And oh yeah, they’re currently ranked seventh in the league in offensive DVOA and fourth in points per game. Bill Belichick is like five seasons away from using an offense made up of 11 fullbacks and putting up 30 points a game—with 46-year-old Tom Brady still at the controls.
The Patriots’ lack of athleticism on defense is still troubling, but it seems like this same kind of hemming and hawing over New England’s defense happens around this time every year. Until proved otherwise, the Patriots are still firmly entrenched as Super Bowl contenders.
3. New Orleans Saints (6-1)
New Orleans continues to rattle off impressive wins against quality competition. The Saints’ victory over the Ravens two weeks ago was the type of game this team has often lost during the Drew Brees–Sean Payton era — an ugly road tilt against a stodgy defense where Brees and the offense failed to carry the team. There are still legitimate questions about whether the secondary (even with the recently acquired Eli Apple) will be good enough to stymie opposing passing games down the stretch, but the Saints’ win over the Vikings on Sunday provided a reasonable blueprint for the rest of the season. If this group can stumble into a takeaway or two each game, the offense has enough firepower to snuff out the opposition.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)
The gap between the Chiefs and the no. 1 spot in these rankings has shrunk over the past month. Kansas City’s defense still has plenty of problems, but the unit has been significantly better as of late. Dee Ford has been a dominant presence on the edge, and his constant disruption has masked some of the team’s back-end deficiencies.
The Chiefs defense is really the only thing that could limit the team’s ceiling, because at this point, Andy Reid’s offense is the most explosive group in football. Patrick Mahomes II leads the MVP race with 26 touchdown passes, and each week, it feels like a different, wildly athletic pass catcher is hauling in a pair of scores. This team is the rightful favorite in the AFC.
1. Los Angeles Rams (8-0)
The undefeated Rams aren’t flawless. Their cornerbacks struggled against Aaron Rodgers last Sunday, and concerns about the secondary’s ability to stop the pass persist. But this is still the strongest team in the league. Coach Sean McVay has designed the most fascinating offense in the NFL; Todd Gurley is on pace for more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns; and with Jared Goff ripping through defenses using play-action passes, the team’s trio of receivers is just too much to handle. There may be holes in the defense, but Aaron Donald does a lot to make up for those ills. With 10 sacks through eight games, he’s the most dominant defender in football, and his ability to change an entire game with one or two plays elevates that entire unit. The Rams’ trade for pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. is one last-ditch effort to help their pass defense, and just the latest reminder that this team is all the way in.