NFL Power Rankings Week 9 | Tier 2: Playoff contenders
This tier is reserved for the teams that probably won’t win their division but have a great chance to compete in the playoffs. While I don’t anticipate any of these squads playing in the Super Bowl, they all have a puncher’s chance.
12) New Orleans Saints
The Saints had themselves one heck of a game against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was Brady’s early turnovers that put the Buccaneers into a hole. After he brought them back to take a 1-point lead, Tampa’s defense allowed New Orleans to pick up a late field goal to take the lead once again.
Then, with over a minute left and a timeout, Brady made yet another mistake on second-and-10. P.J. Williams drove on a pass and took it the opposite way for a pick-six, sealing the victory for New Orleans. This is a darned good football team that only has a question at quarterback. That question will continue after this week due to an injury to Jameis Winston.
11) Tennessee Titans
The Titans are terrifying, both to opponents and to their fans, front office, and themselves. They are their own best friend and their mortal enemy. They decided they wanted to try to lose this game early and often, getting down in a 14-point hole in a flash.
Ryan Tannehill isn’t playing like the same Tannehill we’d seen in the previous two seasons. This is yet another example of how much a play-caller can affect the effectiveness of their quarterback. Tennessee should sleepwalk to the AFC South title, and they’re built well to compete in bad weather games come January. But they need to clean a lot up before they can call themselves AFC Championship contenders.
10) Cincinnati Bengals
It’s understandable that after a massive win against a division rival, there would be a letdown in the next game, especially against a team without their starting QB. The thing is, the good teams find ways to win ugly games against bad teams.
Now, the Mike Hilton personal foul was a pathetic display of officiating. It’s impossible to tackle in the NFL. The Bengals just had a bad game. That happens. Heck, even Ja’Marr Chase struggled for the first time in 2021. I’m not too concerned about them. They really hit on their defensive free agents, and as long as Joe Burrow can keep himself from being killed, this team should remain competitive in the AFC North and the AFC at large.
9) Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders are a good, if inconsistent, football team. I mean, they lost to the Chicago Bears for Pete’s sake! Weeks 10-12 will be the tests for the Raiders. They’ll play the Chiefs, Bengals (who are good!), and the Cowboys in that three-week span.
Thus far, they’ve beaten four bad teams and the Ravens in Week 1 in an absolute thriller. One thing we certainly didn’t expect was Las Vegas’ defense outperforming their offense. In fact, they rank 11th in the league in EPA/play, and they’re eighth in defensive success rate.
Maxx Crosby is breaking out as one of the premier pass rushers in the league, and they’re getting massive contributions in the secondary from Nate Hobbs and Casey Hayward Jr.
Regardless, the Raiders’ offense is the scary part of their team. Darren Waller and Foster Moreau form a great tight end tandem, and the combination of Henry Ruggs, Hunter Renfrow, and fourth-quarter Bryan Edwards is an outstanding group of weapons.
8) Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers aren’t a failing team — they just lined up against a team that was tailor-made to beat them. Unfortunately, it was the Chargers that effectively beat themselves. Justin Herbert threw 2 interceptions, but one came off the hands of a receiver, and the other came from Jared Cook picking daisies when Herbert threw him the ball.
This was a weird game. The Chargers ran it better than they threw it, and the Patriots beat them without exploiting their biggest flaw — the run defense. If Los Angeles doesn’t suffer the two untimely turnovers, they probably win this game. But that’s not the way things went, and they’re forced to fall in the NFL Power Rankings because of it.
NFL Power Rankings Week 9 | Tier 1: Super Bowl hopefuls
The list of Super Bowl hopefuls could grow as the year progresses, but the top-tier teams might be starting to separate themselves a bit. Each of these seven teams can feasibly hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February.
7) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have won a bunch of big-time games so far in 2021, but they’ve played inconsistent football this year. Thus, they dropped to ninth in the NFL Power Rankings. Lamar Jackson should be the MVP frontrunner right now, and the defense has survived despite the loss of major contributors. Offensively, as long as Jackson is around, they’ll be able to move the ball.
However, they’ve played down to the competition of the Lions and Colts, and their win against the Chiefs doesn’t look as good as we believed it did at the time. And then, in a “football is weird” turn, they beat the Chargers by a million just to lose to the Bengals by a million the next week. Obviously, the Bengals aren’t 52 points better than the Chargers. That just shows the inconsistent nature of the Ravens.
6) Buffalo Bills
This Bills offense still doesn’t feel like it’s running at peak efficiency. They moved the ball against the Dolphins, but Miami did a good job of limiting the big plays, aside from a massive 34-yard scamper by Josh Allen. My biggest worry about this Bills team is their ability to run the ball if teams contain Allen.
Yet, my worries might be blown out of proportion because Devin Singletary has found success on the ground for Buffalo this season, and they ranked eighth in rush EPA/play heading into Week 8. I’m still convinced this is the best team in the AFC and one of the top teams in the NFL. However, their two losses against Pittsburgh and Tennessee provide enough questions to keep them at the sixth spot in the NFL Power Rankings.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady had himself a bad day, and with his bad day came a loss. The Buccaneers actually averaged over 7.5 net yards per play on offense. It was really the turnovers that made a difference. They played well offensively against arguably the most consistently good defense over the past few years.
Defensively, they struggled for the first time in a competitive game against the run, making this a bit of a trend after their run defense was beaten against the Bears just one week ago. They head into the bye week before facing four teams they should beat. The Bills game in Week 14 could be a Super Bowl preview. That’s the one that we circle on the calendar. Regardless, they have to handle business before that.
4) Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals are an unbelievably talented offensive roster. Kyler Murray is one of — if not the — most awe-inspiring quarterbacks in the NFL with his JoeWo-level footwork and slingshot arm.
But he is not a finished product yet, and with that comes games as he had against the Packers. I wrote that the only thing that could truly stop Murray was himself.
However, losing J.J. Watt is a far greater loss than I think many realize. Even though he only had 1 sack, his ability to affect the quarterback was among the best in the league at the time of his injury.
The secondary isn’t talented enough to survive long dogfights on the back end, and now they lost a consistent quarterback pressure player. Things are about to become more difficult for them defensively, and the offense must step up to overcome that deficit.
3) Green Bay Packers
I’m not entirely sure how it’s happening, but this Packers team is gutting out wins despite being understaffed on a weekly basis. They feel like one of the more injured teams in the NFL, yet they continue to stack wins since their Week 1 disaster against the Saints.
Aaron Rodgers appears to be a completely different person than he once was. He’s open, honest, and entertaining with the media. His weekly spots with Pat McAfee are golden, and he’s even trashing Bears fans after trotting in for a touchdown.
They’re one of the teams that make NFL Power Rankings difficult. If we expunge their Week 1 performance, they’re ranked 11th in defensive EPA/play. That’s quite good! But they’re also 26th in success rate overall.
So, they’re either one of the best bend-don’t-break defenses in the league, or they’re being propped up by turnovers. They currently have forced 14, which is tied for third-most with the Cowboys. We know they’re 30th in red-zone defense, so I think we can conclude that turnovers are a big part of their defensive success. Is it sustainable?
2) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys had no business beating the Vikings without their franchise quarterback on a potential MVP pace. Yet they did, and they did it by looking like the more dominant squad the entire time.
As someone who predicted the Vikings would win a high-scoring game with Dak Prescott healthy, I was in amazement as their defense continually stopped the Vikings on third down. Now, the Cowboys are 6-1 and get Prescott back healthy for the back half of the season.
1) Los Angeles Rams
In news that should surprise absolutely nobody, the Rams took care of business against the floundering Texans just one week after allowing the Lions to stick around all game.
Matthew Stafford didn’t have his most consistent game of the season, but it didn’t matter because Cooper Kupp is having himself an unbelievably productive season. His post-catch ability has been on full display in 2021 and continued against the Texans’ struggling defense.
Defensively, the Rams never let Davis Mills breathe. It’s to the point with this Texans offense that we can feel nothing but empathy for Mills.
The Rams will get a test next week against the Titans, depending on which Tennessee team shows up. Until then, they’re at the top of the NFL Power Rankings.