There is no trophy handed out to the NFL’s best division. In fact, if players are being honest about it, they’d probably prefer to be in the worst division—it’s a lot easier to stockpile wins when your closest rivals are in the dumps.
If we’re stacking up the divisions against each other right now, though, the only two with realistic arguments for the top spot are the AFC West and NFC East. The former features three two-loss teams (Oakland, Denver and Kansas City), plus what is easily the league’s most dangerous sub-.500 club (San Diego); the latter has a combined nine losses, everyone’s above the break-even mark and Dallas is a healthy 5–1.
It’s close. This week’s Power Rankings give a pretty clear edge to the AFC West.
In what probably is a Power Rankings first (and definitely is, at minimum, a Power Rankings rarity), all of the West’s teams sit in the top 10 this week. You do not need much of an imagination to see the division sweeping the AFC’s wild-card spots and sending the maximum three teams on to the playoffs.
Which spots do the AFC West’s teams hold? Read on to see:
32. San Francisco 49ers
When Chip Kelly stormed into the NFL and everyone speculated about how he might challenge the status quo, I don’t believe this is what they had in mind: In the midst of an ongoing league-wide explosion of passing offense, the 49ers are threatening to become just the fifth team in NFL history (and first since 1978) to allow 3,000 yards rushing in a season.
31. Cleveland Browns
Rookie Cody Kessler is questionable for Week 8 because of a concussion. His replacement (and fellow rookie), Kevin Hogan, is questionable for Week 9 because of the gypsy curse on all Cleveland quarterbacks.
30. Chicago Bears
The Bears host Minnesota on Halloween night, on the day between Games 5 and 6 of the World Series. There may not be a football game Chicago fans will have cared about less in the history of their longstanding NFL franchise.
29. Baltimore Ravens
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles’s mechanics are a hot topic right now, because he appears to be malfunctioning like one of the glitching humanoids on Westworld. Or, perhaps more accurately, like Eddie, the Futurama robot whose head would explode when he got too excited. Either way, it’s bad and Bortles is a mess.
27. Los Angeles Rams
“WHO TOLD YOU ABOUT JARED?!”
26. New York Jets
An ACL injury ended Geno Smith’s starting shot in a hurry, so it’s back to Ryan Fitzpatrick for the time being. This is like when a teacher you hated called in sick, but then the substitute turned out to be a jerk, too, so you were miserable either way. • Jets QB situation gets murkier after Geno Smith gets hurt
25. Carolina Panthers
Under the current playoff format, just one team has started 1–5 and gone on to make the playoffs. Of course, that breakthrough happened last season when the Chiefs ripped off 10 straight and then won in the wild-card round to boot. So, the Panthers have at least a little precedent to pull from as they dream of turning this season around. Now, about winning 10 in a row with a disastrous secondary...
24. Tennessee Titans
Here’s the thing: The AFC South is probably going to come down to the final week or two, because no team in that division is good enough to pull away. The Titans close the year by playing at Jacksonville and hosting Houston. Their goal is to make sure they’re still part of the muck by that point, but an 0–2 start within a bad division sure doesn’t help.
23. Indianapolis Colts
Or, the AFC Saints, as they shall henceforth be known. The Colts have one more win in the bag than their NFC dopplegangers, but they’re following a similar formula: The offense has to cover for the defense, or the game is going to get away. Andrew Luck’s gang did the job Sunday, but he might have to win the MVP for Indianapolis to take the division.
22. New Orleans Saints
The number that sums up the Saints’ state of being is 24.3. That’s how many first downs per game New Orleans is averaging this season, the league’s most prolific rate. It’s also how many first downs per game New Orleans is allowing this season, the league’s worst rate.
21. Houston Texans
Not to make excuses for the Texans or Brock Osweiler, but drawing New England, Minnesota and Denver as your first three road games is a real scheduling slap to the face. Granted, it would have been nice to see Osweiler play like he’d actually seen the outside world in any of those games, but still.
20. New York Giants
Are the Giants a playoff contender? Are they even good? Still kind of hard to tell on both counts. Regardless, they’re 4–3 and the only team yet to solve the Cowboys this season. They will come out of their bye to play three at home, followed by a trip to Cleveland. Even a sustained averageness might be enough to get them to at least 7–4.• Annie Apple shares her personal story of domestic violence
19. Miami Dolphins
Jay Ajayi received 25 or more carries eight times during his Boise State career. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all of those games and topped 150 on six occasions. And as of Sunday, he now has two 25-carry NFL games under his belt—a 204-yarder vs. Pittsburgh and a 214-yarder vs. Buffalo. Keep feeding him.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Don’t look now, but Tampa Bay is just a half-game back in the NFC South as it heads into a three-game homestand. Included in that stretch of games is a Thursday-nighter with Atlanta, a team the Buccaneers already beat back in Week 1.
17. Cincinnati Bengals
There was Jeremy Hill’s 18.7 yards-per-rushing attempt average, and the Bengals’ 579 yards of offense that made for one of the franchise’s most productive games ever. There also was the A.J. Green cheat-code Hail Mary, where he leaped between four defenders (and one teammate) to tip a pass to himself. Oh, to play the Browns every week.
16. Washington Redskins
Unfortunately for Washington, the only thing more impressive than Kirk Cousins’s work on a go-ahead drive late Sunday (4 of 4 for 43 yards plus a 19-yard rushing TD) was what Stafford then turned around and did to the Redskins’ defense.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Among the reasons Arizona needed Chandler Catanzaro to hit his game-winning 24-yard FG attempt Monday (the chief reason being that an NFL kicker should be able to make a kick from that distance while blindfolded and running backwards) is that the Cardinals already have played five home games. That’s the most of any team to date. And with the tie, they’re just 2–2–1 on their turf.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
Waiting for Atlanta’s Dan Quinn in the “Why do you do the things you do?” coaching bracket this week is Mike Tomlin. A 54-yard field goal attempt, in a notoriously difficult stadium for kickers, when your team’s down 11 late? Landry Jones played better against the Patriots than Tomlin’s decision made it seem.
13. Atlanta Falcons
A third-and-1 QB sneak in overtime? OK, sure. You have an outstanding center in Alex Mack, so give it a shot. But a fourth-and-1 wide handoff one play after your O-line got blown up? Unless Matt Ryan’s arm was falling off or Julio Jones had gone home by mistake at the end of regulation, that’s a complete head-scratcher of a play call.
12. Detroit Lions
Opposing quarterbacks are completing 74.2% of their passes against the Lions this season, which would be the highest success rate ever allowed in NFL history, per Pro Football Reference. That Detroit is 4–3 and in the thick of the playoff race anyway says more about Matthew Stafford’s MVP candidacy than any of his own stats would.
11. Green Bay Packers
Football fans approach Aaron Rodgers’s skill set with the same fervor the general public hunts pumpkin spice lattes or shamrock shakes: “Is it back yet? It is?! It’s back!” Let’s see if Rodgers can string a couple games together before going too far. His showing against Chicago, aided by extended use of versatile RB/WR Ty Montgomery, was a start.
10. San Diego Chargers
9. Buffalo Bills
Miami entered Week 7 saddled with one of the NFL’s worst run defenses. Buffalo managed 67 yards on 22 carries (while allowing 256 yards), as a hobbled LeSean McCoy offered little help. Suddenly, all the good feelings built up during the Bills’ recent four-game win streak are set to vanish in a heartbeat unless they can knock off the Patriots again.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Carson Wentz has looked very human the past three games, at least compared to Weeks 1–3 when he was football’s Paul Bunyan—a friendly, oversized lumberjack who emerged from folklore to lead the Eagles. The good news for Philadelphia, though: Its defense played out of is mind Sunday, producing four turnovers and six sacks.• Defense, not Carson Wentz, is the key to Eagles’ success
7. Oakland Raiders
The last time the Raiders won five straight road games within a single season was 1986, when they were the L.A. Raiders. (The ’99 and 2000 teams won five in a row spanning two years.) Oakland can match that run in 2016 by knocking off Tampa Bay on Sunday.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Two seasons ago, the Chiefs picked off just six passes all year. Last season, they ranked No. 2 in the league with 22 interceptions, and in 2016 they currently sit atop the chart with 10 INTs. Marcus Peters’s impact in his year and a half with the team is unmistakable.
5. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks had been 0–12 all-time when scoring six points in a game, so Sunday’s tie is a baby step in the right direction there. I mean, overall, the Seattle-Arizona conclusion set the league back 40 years, but in terms of that one, very specific, very meaningless piece of Seahawks history, it’s an improvement.
4. Denver Broncos
The Monday Night Football cameras kept cutting to John Elway during Denver’s win over Houston, and I’m a little disappointed that he did not take at least one opportunity to wipe his mouth with a fake $18 million bill. Trevor Siemian may not be an All-Pro, but he’s been good enough to make sure Brock Osweiler and his big contract are an afterthought.
3. Minnesota Vikings
2. Dallas Cowboys
The first-place Cowboys have 10 games left on their schedule as they return from a bye. Five of those games will be nationally televised, starting with Sunday night’s showdown against Philadelphia. No matter where you stand on the Cowboys, their return to prominence is a boost the NFL (and its ratings) could use right now.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots’ defense is thriving on its bend-but-don’t-break mentality. (Different from Bill Belichick’s break-at-all-costs approach to the NFL’s sideline tablets.) New England has allowed an average of 23 yards per point scored by the opposition this year, highest in the league—meaning that teams are moving the ball on the AFC East leaders but not finding the end zone.