NFL Power Rankings Week 8 | Tier 2: Playoff contenders
Each team in this tier could make a run in the playoffs. They either have the offensive firepower to outscore teams or the all-around talent to make a difference come January.
12) Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders don’t seem to be caught up in the sudden departure of former head coach Jon Gruden, do they? This is the second straight week they’ve rolled offensively to comfortable wins.
Derek Carr was unbelievable against an Eagles secondary that had performed as a middle-of-the-pack passing defense before Week 7. In fact, Darius Slay appeared to have had a career resurgence, Steven Nelson had performed admirably, and they had competent safety play.
Carr didn’t care. At one point, he was 15-of-16, and his only missed pass was an interception. His great season continues. And don’t look now, but this Raiders defense has been good after I and many others mocked its composition before the season.
Las Vegas’ defense alone swung my allegiance in the pass rush vs. coverage debate. The answer is pass rush, guys. Pass rush is the key.
11) Tennessee Titans
I’m not sure that Sunday was any sort of indicator of how good the Tennessee Titans are. I was pleasantly surprised with their defensive performance, where they allowed just 4.9 yards per play. Harold Landry is having the best season of his young career, and Jeffery Simmons continues to be a force on the interior. Even Bud Dupree showed up to earn his generous paycheck this week.
The passing attack was impressive today. Ryan Tannehill and Co. turned the ball over once but averaged 9.2 net yards per pass, which is impressive. Yet, the best part was watching a healthy A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on the field together. It doesn’t mean much going forward, though, because it was against the Chiefs’ defense.
10) Cleveland Browns
With a Thursday Night Football victory over the Broncos, the Cleveland Browns got to relax at home and hopefully allow their quarterback to assess the situation with his shoulder. They’ll need a healthy-ish Baker Mayfield to reach their potential.
Unfortunately, between his health and on-field decision-making, I’m not sure he can 1) remain healthy or 2) play at a consistently high enough level to have the Browns compete for a championship in 2021. Luckily, next year should remain a high-potential season. This team has an abundance of young talent on the defensive side of the ball, two great RBs, and one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Hopefully, Mayfield can manage the pain and pocket enough to drive the team bus to a playoff run — because this is one of the best rosters in the NFL.
NFL Power Rankings Week 8 | Tier 1: Super Bowl hopefuls
Each team in this tier could potentially see themselves hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, at least at this stage of the 2021 NFL season.
9) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are undoubtedly a good football team, but the Bengals absolutely dog-walked them on Sunday. These games happen sometimes. Baltimore kept it close for a long time, but an 82-yard touchdown by Ja’Marr Chase proved to be the back-breaker.
Sometimes teams just get punched in the mouth. It happened to the Packers in Week 1 against the Saints. However, you don’t expect the Ravens to get obliterated at home — ever.
Maybe they just played out of their depth for a while and the injuries are finally beginning to catch up. Maybe they just had a bad week. There’s a lot of season left to find out.
8) Cincinnati Bengals
That’s it, I’m calling it! The Cincinnati Bengals are a good football team. I don’t understand it, but I’m no longer going to deny it. The Ravens were due for a game that wasn’t decided by one score, but I didn’t expect the absolute drubbing that the Bengals put on them.
Chase is special. There’s no other way to put it. He had 8 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. But the Bengals are in a particularly good spot where they have three legitimate receiving weapons to account for — they can beat you in multiple ways. Their offensive line is performing well in the run game and is surviving as a pass-blocking unit.
Cincinnati’s defense has been impressive. Even before the Baltimore game, they ranked in the top 10. Their free-agent additions on defense have paid off, and they now not only lead the AFC North but the entire AFC.
Yes, that sound you hear is all of our collective minds being blown. Zac Taylor went from a scorching hot seat to a Coach of the Year candidate. The Bengals make a massive jump in the NFL Power Rankings for Week 8!
7) Los Angeles Chargers
I’m so glad the Los Angeles Chargers are legitimate contenders this early into Justin Herbert’s tenure as the franchise quarterback. The powder blue has always been an offseason darling, but it very rarely translated into success outside of that.
If you’re starting a franchise today, there are only a select few quarterbacks you’d even consider above Herbert. They’ll be one of the best teams in the NFL if they can make some slight improvements in the offseason.
The Chargers don’t have a particularly difficult schedule leading up to the Bengals in Week 13. There’s a very good chance they slowly rise in the NFL Power Rankings after returning from their bye.
6) Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills could be higher on this list based on their potential when they play well — but they’ve now thrown up two stinkers. They allowed the Steelers to beat them in Week 1 and then allowed the Titans to run all over them in Week 6. They’re the best team in the league when they show up, but inconsistency pushes the team down to seventh in the NFL Power Rankings.
The Bills are sixth in offensive EPA/play and first in defensive EPA/play. They have the best safety tandem in the league, two top-32 cornerbacks, two stud linebackers, and a solid rotation of pass rushers.
Offensively, we know they run four deep at receiver, and when Dawson Knox is healthy, they have a productive tight end. Buffalo has also been surprisingly impressive running the ball so far in 2021, which isn’t something we necessarily expected going into the season.
5) Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are a great football team, but even at home on a short week, they looked bad. The Thursday Night Football curse of simply not being physically recovered from the last Sunday game bit Arizona tonight.
The entire game was sloppy, right down to the management of their final drive. Without most of their offensive weapons, the Packers were able to do enough to win late. In fact, the game should have never been in question if Green Bay takes care of business from the 1-yard line.
The Cardinals will look to recover next week when they face the San Francisco 49ers.
4) Green Bay Packers
No Davante Adams, no Marquez Valdes-Scantling, no Allen Lazard, no problem. This team really had no business winning on Thursday night, yet they did exactly that, all the while being shorthanded. Despite injury issues at multiple spots, this Packers team continues to will its way to victory.
This is a scary team because they’re not even close to full strength, and they don’t appear to be playing over their heads. Nevertheless, they’re still winning every week they take the field. Green Bay looks like their long-haired leader, Aaron Rodgers — relaxed.
3) Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys avoid any significant movement during their bye week. Dak Prescott is playing like an MVP candidate, their offense has unlimited potential scoring the football, and they’re about to get even healthier. The only thing that could thwart their efforts is a prolonged injury to Prescott’s calf.
The defense is about to get some reinforcements, and they’ll also get La’el Collins back at right tackle, which will only help their abilities both in the rushing and passing attack. Speaking of that passing attack, the one thing that’s been somewhat missing is a consistent downfield threat. But with Michael Gallup soon returning, so too will the passing attack.
2) Los Angeles Rams
It was ugly against the Lions, but this game meant a lot to many people. The Los Angeles Rams come in second in the NFL Power Rankings simply because the Buccaneers appear to be the more complete team. The Rams are outstanding on offense, and their defense has shown improvement over the past few weeks.
But the Buccaneers look like they’ll roll for the rest of the year, and the Rams have a far tougher road ahead. At the end of the day, Tampa Bay has almost no flaws. Matthew Stafford continues to play the best football of his career, and Cooper Kupp should be an OPOY candidate right now.
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It was a ho-hum day for the defending Super Bowl champions. Tom Brady threw the record-extending 600th touchdown pass of his career and added a few more on top of that. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line is too good. Their weapons are too good. And to top it all off, they have Brady, the 44-year-old G.O.A.T. with a 24-year-old arm.
They still need to get a bit healthier in the secondary, but if they can, they possess the deepest team in the NFL. When you couple that with their ridiculously lenient schedule, it would be shocking if the Buccaneers didn’t contend for the top seed in the NFC as the season winds down.