Another week, another big shake-up among the NFL’s top-tier teams. The Chiefs settle back into the no. 1 spot thanks to another sterling performance from Patrick Mahomes, who threw four touchdowns in a 33-31 win against the Panthers. The Steelers, meanwhile, remain unbeaten but drop one spot after an unimpressive come-from-behind 24-19 win over the Garrett Gilbert–led Cowboys, while the Ravens hold strong at the no. 3 spot after dispatching the Colts 24-10 in Indianapolis. Elsewhere, the Bills dominated the Seahawks in a 44-34 win, leapfrogging into the no. 4 spot, and the Saints’ unbelievable 38-3 smackdown of the Buccaneers pushed New Orleans up to the no. 5 spot. Add in the Packers’ 34-17 win over the 49ers on Thursday Night Football, and Green Bay rounds out the group of six teams that make up the NFL’s elite echelon. With Week 9 in the books, here are my updated NFL power rankings.
The Top Shelf
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
4. Buffalo Bills (7-2)
5. New Orleans Saints (6-2)
6. Green Bay Packers (6-2)
Patrick Mahomes is still quietly doing Patrick Mahomes things.
It’s hard to believe it’d ever be possible for a superstar like Mahomes to fly under the radar, but it definitely feels like that’s been the case in the first half of the season. Through the first nine weeks, it’s been easy to get caught up in the incredible quarterbacking feats from the likes of Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers or the unbelievable playmaking talent of up-and-comers like Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert. But while I’d never try to take away from the accomplishments of this year’s quarterback field, Mahomes reminded us all on Sunday that he’s still the best passer on the planet.
Mahomes led the defending Super Bowl champs to victory with another absurd passing performance, completing 30 of 45 passes for 372 yards, four touchdowns, and no picks in the 33-31 win over a plucky Panthers squad. The 25-year-old signal-caller calmly distributed the football to all three levels of the field, mixing high-velocity lasers into the tight coverage with high, arching rainbows that settled perfectly into his receivers’ hands. Mahomes and Co. even toyed around with a new-look play that the team called “Ferrari Right,” which mixes an exceedingly rare presnap quarterback motion look (because sure, why not?) with bootleg action and plenty of misdirection. Naturally, it worked like a charm: Mahomes rolled back from left to right and threw across his body to a wide-open Demarcus Robinson in the back of the end zone.
The relative ease with which experimental plays like “Ferrari Right” always seem to work for the Chiefs is a testament to Mahomes’s extraordinary competence in executing just about anything he and Andy Reid can think up. Mahomes brings a combination of unmatched arm talent, body control, field vision, and decision-making to the position―and those traits have, predictably, put him on pace to contend for his second MVP award in three years.
Following up on his 416-yard, five-touchdown outing from last week, Mahomes joined Tom Brady on Sunday as one of two quarterbacks in league history to throw for 350-plus yards, four-plus touchdowns, and zero picks in back-to-back games. (Brady’s two-week explosion came during his 2007 MVP campaign.) He moved past Hall of Famer Dan Marino into the no. 1 spot for fastest quarterback to reach 100 career touchdowns, hitting that milestone in his 40th career game (Marino did it in 44 games). Oh, and he also became the first quarterback in NFL history to tally 25 passing touchdowns and one (or fewer) interceptions through the first nine games of a season. With seven games to go, Mahomes has already nearly matched his touchdown pass total from last year (when he finished with 26), and is on pace to throw 45 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
More importantly, though, Mahomes has the Chiefs well positioned to defend their Super Bowl title. With an improved defense and strong special teams unit supporting one of the league’s most explosive, high-scoring offenses, it should come as little surprise that Kansas City is lapping the rest of the field with a plus-103 point differential.
Josh Allen got his get-right game against the Seahawks.
It’s been a roller coaster of a season, statistically, for Bills quarterback Josh Allen, whose white-hot start in the first four weeks was followed by a rapid descent back to Earth in the team’s subsequent four matchups. The split between those two stretches is stark:
But with a fully healthy John Brown back in action on Sunday, Allen took defibrillator paddles to his MVP campaign, slicing up the hapless Seahawks defense for 415 yards and three touchdowns while adding a rushing touchdown. The Bills dialed up an astoundingly heavy pass-first strategy with their third-year quarterback that helped Buffalo jump out to a massive and ultimately insurmountable 24-10 halftime lead.
The Bills notched 28 pass attempts in the first two quarters while running the ball just three times, the pass-happiest approach any team has taken in the first half of any game since at least 2008. Even with the luxury of coasting for most of the second half, Allen dropped back to pass in this game 46 times (he took seven sacks and scrambled three times) while the team’s running backs combined for just 12 carries. I’d like to think that at some point last night, Andy Reid scanned NFL box scores and felt a twinge of jealousy when he arrived at the Bills-Seahawks game.
In any case, as a big fan of logical coaching decisions, I loved Buffalo’s strategy to attack their opponent’s biggest and most obvious weakness. The Seahawks have an extremely bad pass defense (like, historically bad), so offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wasted little time in exploiting that vulnerability again and again, and again, and again. It felt like every time Allen dropped back to pass, he found a wide-open receiver deep down the field. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound signal-caller connected with eight different pass catchers on the day and seven of them notched at least one catch of 20-plus yards, a new franchise record and the first time any team has managed that feat since 2015.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, were the picture of illogical coaching, at least on defense: Pete Carroll and Co. came into this matchup looking to attack Buffalo’s offense in what seemed to be the exact incorrect way, dialing up a blitz-heavy, man-coverage approach (playing Cover 0 or Cover 1 on 45 percent of their defensive snaps), which Allen predictably picked apart―as he’s done for most of the year. Carroll even came out after the game and seemed shocked that Buffalo abandoned the run so early on, noting that Seattle had a good plan to stop Buffalo’s middling-to-poor rushing offense. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, though, Buffalo Let Josh Cook in this one, and Carroll’s crew never really had a chance to unveil their run-stuffing plan.
Seattle is still in the hunt in the wide-open NFC after the demoralizing loss, of course, but will need to figure out a way to stop the bleeding on defense if it has any real hopes for Super Bowl contention. The Bills, meanwhile, seemed to get their offensive mojo back in the blowout win. The four takeaways the defense managed to create could signal a turning point for a previously underachieving group.
7. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
8. Tennessee Titans (6-2)
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)
10. Miami Dolphins (5-3)
11. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
12. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)
13. Arizona Cardinals (5-3)
The puzzle pieces are coming together for the Dolphins.
In last week’s big 28-17 win over the Rams, the Dolphins defensive and special teams units did most of the heavy lifting, with both groups scoring first-half touchdowns to help Miami jump out to a huge first-half lead. With the game well in hand by the final two frames, the team didn’t need rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to do a whole lot in his first start as a pro; he finished just 12-of-22 for 93 yards, a touchdown, and a lost fumble. On Sunday, it briefly appeared that the Dolphins’ matchup with the Cardinals might follow a similar script: Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah forced a fumble on Arizona’s first possession and Shaq Lawson recovered it, running it in for the game’s first score. But that’s where the similarities between Tua’s first two starts ended. Murray quickly rebounded from his inauspicious start, leading Arizona on a touchdown drive on the team’s next possession to set the stage for what would end up being a back-and-forth battle between two exciting young quarterbacks.
It was Murray who ended up with the more impressive numbers in the matchup, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 106 yards and another score on the ground, but crucially, Tagovailoa held his own and Miami ended up with the 34-31 win. The rookie completed 20 of 28 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks while adding 35 yards on the ground. He eased concerns about a debut performance in which he looked jittery and out of his depth at times. Against Arizona, Tagovailoa played with poise and confidence, throwing in rhythm while demonstrating a more aggressive mindset both as a passer and when running. It served as a good reminder that prior to suffering a serious hip injury midway through last season, the former Crimson Tide star had put together one of the best passing careers of any college quarterback ever.
Tagovailoa has a long way to go before anyone can officially announce that he’s “arrived,” but it was an encouraging performance from a player who has the potential to change the direction of the Dolphins franchise. The Dolphins’ decision to switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa could pay immediate dividends. With a strong defense, an elite special teams unit, and what looks to be one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL led by Brian Flores, Tua’s supporting cast in Miami is more solid than anyone imagined coming into this season. If he continues to make strides each week, as he did from his starting debut last week to his performance against the Cardinals, Miami has the makeup to emerge as one of the most balanced teams in the NFL in the season’s second half.
The Muddled Middle
14. Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)
15. Cleveland Browns (5-3)
16. San Francisco 49ers (4-5)
17. Chicago Bears (5-4)
18. Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
19. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1)
20. Carolina Panthers (3-6)
21. Atlanta Falcons (3-6)
22. Detroit Lions (3-5)
23. New England Patriots (3-5)
Dalvin Cook puts the Vikings on his back, again.
The Vikings seemed to be throwing up the white flag for the season a few weeks back when they traded pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, one of their key offseason acquisitions, to the Ravens. Of course, you could’ve hardly blamed Minnesota for that decision, considering the team sat at 1-5 going into its bye with the then-5-1 and division-leading Packers on the slate for Week 8.
But something unexpected has happened in the past two weeks: Running back Dalvin Cook has returned from a hamstring injury with a fiery vengeance, leading the Vikings out of the depths of despair and to the fringe of the postseason discussion. Cook exploded for 163 yards and three touchdowns on 30 rushes in the team’s shocking 28-22 win against the Packers last week, adding 63 yards and a score through the air. He reprised his role as basically the team’s entire offense on Sunday, rushing for 206 yards and two touchdowns while adding 46 yards on the ground in Minnesota’s 34-20 win against the Lions.
En route to almost single-handedly winning his team two games and racking up beaucoup points for fantasy managers, Cook joined a select club of just three running backs who have totaled 225-plus scrimmage yards and two-plus rushing touchdowns in back-to-back games since 1950 (the others being Deuce McAllister and Hall of Famer Jim Brown). And it’s not like Cook is just benefiting from big holes and wide run lanes provided by his offensive line, either: Per PFF, Cook has totaled 278 rushing yards after contact in the past two weeks, 85 more yards than any other running back has totaled, either before or after contact, in that stretch.
The Vikings can’t expect to get 225-plus scrimmage yards from their Pro Bowl running back every week. But along with pass catchers Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson, it’s clear that quarterback Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak have a damn-talented trio of playmakers to build their offense around as the Vikings look to claw their way back into contention. The schedule lines up nicely for Minnesota, too, as the Vikings draw the spiraling Bears, the Cowboys, the Panthers, and the Jaguars in the next four weeks. Things will get tougher for the Vikings down the stretch, with matchups against the Buccaneers and Saints in December, but it wouldn’t be too wild if we’re talking about Minnesota as a dark horse playoff team a month from now.
There’s Always Next Year
24. Denver Broncos (3-5)
25. Los Angeles Chargers (2-6)
26. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1)
27. Houston Texans (2-6)
28. New York Giants (2-7)
29. Washington Football Team (2-6)
30. Dallas Cowboys (2-7)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
32. New York Jets (0-9)
The Jaguars and Jets are both inching toward interesting decisions.
There isn’t a whole lot for the Jags and Jets to play for the rest of this season, apart from jockeying for position to secure the top overall pick of the 2021 draft. And really, as things stand right now, the top two spots―currently assumed to be placeholders for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields―come loaded with the potential to change the outlook for both teams … and, perhaps, even reshape the complexion of the league.
It may be a bit early to start thinking about the draft, but if Jacksonville and New York continue on their respective courses, both clubs will be faced with fascinating decisions on what to do with the top two picks. For the Jets, all signs would point toward taking the quarterback and moving on from Sam Darnold, but it may not be so simple for a front office that has holes to fill all over the roster. Assuming you can get a king’s ransom for the chance to select a prospect like Lawrence, New York could, in theory, stick with Darnold and add a multitude of foundation-building picks in a trade.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, would face a similar quandary, particularly if rookie quarterback Jake Luton continues to build on what was a promising first start against the Texans on Sunday (26-of-38 for 304 yards, one touchdown, and one interception). Will Jacksonville stick with Luton, or go back to Gardner Minshew II, who has flashed franchise-quarterback-caliber traits in short stretches, and then add blue-chip players around their incumbent starter? Or will they start fresh with Lawrence or Fields? Those questions won’t be answered for some time, and we don’t even know for sure that both quarterbacks will declare for the draft. But through nine weeks, Jacksonville and New York look like the favorites in the race for the top pick.