I could go on about “Any Given Sunday” and all those clichés, but Week 9 of the NFL season doesn’t have an explanation. Aside from the Baltimore Ravens (who beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime), every team that lost in the early slate of Sunday’s games entered Week 9 with a better record than their opponent — something the NFL Power Rankings for Week 10 isn’t even going to try to make sense of.
Week 9 kicked in the teeth of “experts” everywhere this week, myself included. The NFL is unpredictable. Football is unpredictable. It’s the ultimate team sport for a reason. Humans, by nature, are unreliable creatures. All it takes is a few guys waking up on the wrong side of the bed for a 6-1 team to lose to a 1-6 unit.
NFL Power Rankings Week 10 | Tier 5: Bad rosters, but football is unpredictable, so they’ll win a few
Each of these four offenses is starving either for talent, scheme, or QB play. Some of them are begging for all three. In an offense-driven league, these teams won’t compete on a weekly basis, but because football makes no sense, they’ll steal a few games they shouldn’t.
32) Houston Texans
I thought the Texans’ offense would improve at least a bit with Tyrod Taylor returning, but it did not. In a week with such incredible parity exposed, I take solace in knowing Houston is one of the worst teams in the NFL.
The Texans got 5 turnovers from Miami and still only managed 9 points on offense. That’s probably because they had 4 giveaways themselves. If the Bad News Bears were a football team, they’d look like the Texans. I wish they would have let Brandin Cooks spread his wings and fly at the trade deadline. He deserves better.
31) Detroit Lions
It must feel good not losing for the first time in the 2021 NFL season. Things in Detroit aren’t going well, but that was to be expected. They’re not a talented NFL team. However, they’ve fought in quite a few games and are more than deserving of a win or two this season.
Hopefully, they’re able to bring an influx of talent in at receiver going into next season, either through the draft or free agency. And they still need to find their franchise quarterback. It must hurt to see Matthew Stafford flourishing in Los Angeles, another grim reminder of how ugly things have been in Detroit for a long time.
30) Miami Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa broke a finger in his throwing hand and was unable to go. Jacoby Brissett has starting experience and should be able to survive against a bottom-five defense, but that was hardly the case. He threw 2 INTs and lost 1 fumble. Miami’s offense just hasn’t found any sort of groove this season.
The Dolphins are in a peculiar position. They don’t have their own first-round pick (which will likely be a top-five selection). They absolutely must win some football games this season, or Brian Flores and Co. are in trouble. Miami rebuilt for years, acquiring swaths of additional draft picks, to no avail. They need Tua back, he needs to play well, and they need to figure out how to look respectable for their final eight games.
29) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ offensive ineptitude will keep them very low in the NFL Power Rankings, but this team has battled in a few games now. Beating the Dolphins in London made some sense, but holding the MVP betting favorite in Josh Allen and the Bills to just 9 points doesn’t.
The Jaguars possessed the worst defense in the league in terms of efficiency before the Bills game. They were especially unprepared defending the pass in their first seven games. But that wasn’t the case against Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, and Cole Beasley.
I don’t expect this team to win many more games, but it’s always fun to see a 14.5-point underdog not just cover, but WIN!
NFL Power Rankings Week 10 | Tier 4: Bad teams, but “Any Given Sunday”
This group of teams can ruin your parlay and beat teams they shouldn’t. It doesn’t always make sense, but sometimes we just can’t use logic in football.
28) New York Jets
It seems as long as the quarterback in New York is not Zach Wilson, this offense has no problem making plays and scoring points. However, it appears the Jets’ defense becomes less serious as the weeks pass. I assumed their secondary would struggle aside from Marcus Maye, but some of those young players performed well early in the season.
They are no longer playing good football. In fact, over the past three weeks, no defense has been worse. No team is allowing more points per game this season than the Jets were before Sunday’s kickoffs. They’re a rebuilding team, and this is what happens to rebuilding teams. They’ve still gone out and won two football games. That’s a good sign.
27) Washington Football Team
The Football Team hasn’t had the defensive production they believed they’d get going into this season. Chase Young is a great player, but he hasn’t quite made the strides we expected in 2021. However, it’s the Washington secondary and linebackers that have let them down defensively.
They don’t have much of anything on the offensive side of the ball. Terry McLaurin is outstanding, but he doesn’t have a quarterback that can consistently get the ball to him on time or with accuracy. With Taylor Heinicke performing at such a low level, I wonder if they look to give Kyle Allen a shot after the bye.
26) Chicago Bears
The Bears’ offensive line might rival the worst in the league. That does not bode well against teams constructed like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Justin Fields is a QB best suited for intermediate and downfield passing concepts at this point in his career.
Unfortunately, Chicago’s defense has also struggled as of late. Since Week 6, only the Jets have been worse defensively. With the ineptitude of the offense already well-known, the Bears can’t afford their defense to get any worse.
Chicago should have beaten the Steelers. Pittsburgh didn’t move the ball well, and the penalty differential was hilariously bad. Justin Fields wasn’t perfect, but he made some big-time throws and had a nice run on third-and-1 in the last drive to secure the lead for the Bears. He’s shown a ton of resiliency in the past two weeks.
25) New York Giants
The Giants were outplayed in this game, but it didn’t matter. Daniel Jones threw for 110 yards. They went 0-for-2 in the red zone offensively. But the defense held up strong against a very potent Raiders offense, holding them to just 1 TD and 3 FGs.
But even as the Giants struggled to get to or score inside the red zone, the Raiders also refused to capitalize inside the 20-yard line, going just 1-of-6. New York safety Xavier McKinney also managed to intercept two Derek Carr passes, one of which went for a touchdown.
The Giants’ offensive line is still awful, but if their defense can be opportunistic and they can take care of the football, they can keep games close enough to give them a chance down the stretch.
24) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles continue to be a team that looks like they could finish anywhere between 9-8 and 5-12. Recently, Nick Sirianni and Co. have hooked up with Doc Brown to go back in time. It’s a simpler time for Philadelphia’s offense. It’s one full of runs instead of passes, something akin to 1991.
If they can figure out how to consistently move the chains, they could be a surprisingly decent team by the end of the season. They still have the Football Team (twice), the Giants (twice), and the Jets. They also have games against the Broncos and Saints. The only game that looks like a “definite” loss on paper comes in Week 18 against the Cowboys. The Eagles could be a big mover in the NFL Power Rankings moving forward.
23) Seattle Seahawks
This football team has a massive hill to climb after their bye week. They desperately need Russell Wilson. We don’t yet know when he’ll return, but he does appear to be ahead of schedule.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the defense. Seattle is defending the run well, but their secondary has struggled. They’re getting some contributions from pass rushers, but they’re a bend-don’t-break defense that is only allowing 21.1 ppg, a number we’d expect a healthy Wilson to best on the opposite side.
22) Carolina Panthers
We’re done trying to talk ourselves into Sam Darnold, right? I can’t help but think how fun Justin Fields would be in a Panthers uniform. This team is in a tough spot now. They have a young defensive nucleus and some great offensive weapons. But they’re paying their running back a ton of money, and they’re on the hook for almost $19 million for Darnold next season.
Carolina doesn’t absolutely need to select a QB in the 2022 NFL Draft, but they must rebuild their offensive line at a minimum. Then, Carolina’s front office must pray it can either get good enough play to give Darnold another season or bad enough play to get a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Panthers’ brain trust — head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and general manager Scott Fitterer — are in a tough spot. Owner David Tepper doesn’t strike me as an incredibly patient owner. He wants to spend money and make splashes. That’s tough to do without a franchise QB.
21) San Francisco 49ers
This is not a good football team. There’s an old adage that if you have two of something, you have nothing. That seems the case with the 49ers, who have two quarterbacks, neither of whom is helping them win football games.
But Kyle Shanahan only has one option at this point. The season is over for San Francisco. He must play Trey Lance now and throughout the rest of the season, barring injury. Lance needs reps. His flaws can only be worked out on the field with live bullets coming from the defensive side.
With another bad outing against the Kyler Murray-less Cardinals, Shanahan’s seat should be hot, and his team continues to tumble in the NFL Power Rankings for Week 10.
20) Minnesota Vikings
All I heard was Dennis Green in my head at the end of the Ravens game. Just as the Cowboys did the week before, the Vikings allowed a team to climb back and beat them late. They are who we thought they were.
As I drove home from Baltimore Washington International Airport this morning, I heard the sports talk radio hosts talking about Vikings fans wearing shirts that read, “We almost always almost win.”
It’s the best way to describe this team — because no logic feels right when describing them. The Vikings, for all their relative regular-season success, are cursed.
And now, Mike Zimmer must answer for the sins of his offense, which has no excuse to be so mediocre.
NFL Power Rankings Week 10 | Tier 3: Flawed teams winning games
It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of these teams in the playoffs, but none of them are serious enough contenders to do more than a week of damage were they to get there.
19) Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan’s connection with Kyle Pitts seemed off for the second straight week after the rookie tight end put up ridiculous games in Weeks 5 and 7. However, this was the first time in 2021 that Ryan produced up to the $108 million in total cap charges he’ll account for this season and the next.
The Falcons even tried to “Falcon” this game away, as only they can do. But not this week. This week, the city of Atlanta is a champion! And this week, the Braves’ positive mojo outshined the Falcons’ negative late-game play.
After giving up three straight touchdowns defensively, Ryan and Cordarrelle Patterson connected for a 64-yard play to get the Falcons into field goal position. Therein lies the issue with the Saints’ defense. It’s outstanding, but we’ve seen massive plays against them. This time, it won the Falcons a game against a divisional opponent.
Somehow, this team is 4-4 and would be the final Wild Card team in the NFC. And I’m not one to argue with those results right now — even if three of their wins have come against the Giants, Jets, and Dolphins.
18) Indianapolis Colts
Beating the New York Jets isn’t a massive résumé builder, but there are only 17 games, and every win is precious. Now, the Colts have rattled off three wins in the past four games and are just one game under .500.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are up next on their schedule, but then things get more difficult. Indy faces the Bills, Buccaneers, Cardinals, and Raiders this year, but they are still very much in playoff contention. That became even more true after Tennessee lost their engine, Derrick Henry.
17) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are a flawed football team, but it might not matter. Their next two games come against the Bears and the Lions. They should be 6-3 when they head to Los Angeles and begin a tough three-game stretch.
Pittsburgh’s defensive front is keeping them in games, and they’re making enough plays offensively to win. Their Bills win looks great, and their Browns win was both surprising and impressive.
The way they’re doing it just doesn’t seem sustainable. Ben Roethlisberger has been one of the worst QBs in the NFL this season. But if they keep winning, I’ll put my left foot (the slightly bigger one) firmly in my mouth as I raise them in the NFL Power Rankings.
16) Denver Broncos
Well, I certainly didn’t expect the team that just traded away a legend and was missing a plethora of starters to go out and beat the Dallas Cowboys, who have played some strong football in 2021.
But the Broncos didn’t just beat the Cowboys — they absolutely dismantled them. It was a dismemberment unlike we’ve seen since the last episode of “The Witcher” dropped on Netflix.
Denver’s secondary finally played to their potential. That — and a little good luck with Dak Prescott playing poorly for the first time in a long time — led to what was effectively a shutout.
I don’t think this performance is sustainable, but if they do turn things around after the Von Miller trade …
15) New England Patriots
The Patriots still face the Browns, Titans, Bills (twice), and Colts in the 2021 season, but this 5-4 team somehow feels like an AFC playoff contender. New England doesn’t feature a new-school passing attack. They want to run the ball, control it, pick up first downs, and play defense.
Who am I to judge? It’s working right now. With the No. 11 defense and No. 20 offense (per expected points added per play), it seems peculiar the Patriots have found so much success in the win column. But when you remember who’s coaching them, it makes sense.
After all, this team won seven games in 2020 despite half their defense (hyperbole) opting out and no passing attack to speak of. Never count out a Bill Belichick-coached team.
14) New Orleans Saints
The Saints moved the ball decently throughout the game, but that movement didn’t happen until the second half. The Falcons played the Saints’ game, and they did it better. New Orleans only got one first-quarter possession and only one third-quarter possession.
Offensively, as Trevor Siemian said, it was too little, too late. Although they did it this week, scoring on three straight possessions to take the lead late isn’t sustainable for this roster. They don’t have the firepower at QB or WR to come back from such depths.
I’d like to say they have a tough road ahead of them because three of their next four games come against the Titans, Bills, and Cowboys. But Week 9 has me questioning everything, including the NFL Power Rankings.