There is a team ranked in the 20s this week (the Giants) currently holding a wild-card spot in the NFC, and another several spots below them (the Rams) just a game back of playoff positioning. That’s how topsy-turvy the first half of the season has been.
A razor-thin margin exists between a top-10 Power Rankings spot and a tumble into the bottom half, because separating the good teams from the bad remains a chore. Maybe everyone, save for the Patriots and Cowboys, is just average.
But the format here requires a team per spot, 1 through 32. So, here’s how it breaks down near the season’s halfway point.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Greg Olson following their Week 8 loss because, frankly, someone had to go. Their effort in a 36–22 loss to Tennessee was the worst thing on Thursday night TV since NBC tucked Inside Schwartz behind Friends.
31. San Francisco 49ers
The final nine weeks will be a voyage of discovery for the 49ers. No one expected any miracles in Year One under Chip Kelly, but the grace period won’t extend much beyond Year Two. Kelly will be treating the final two months of the season as an extended training camp, in an effort to figure out which players are worth keeping around next season.
30. Cleveland Browns
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29. Chicago Bears
Leave it to Jay Cutler to turn in a Monday night gem mere hours before the NFL trade deadline. Not that any team was thinking about pulling the trigger for him, but he has a way of showcasing his talent just when you’ve given up on him. Chicago’s upcoming off-season decision on Cutler’s future is a more difficult one than it may seem. If he hits the market, he’ll command at least Osweiler money.
28. Baltimore Ravens
Starting with this Sunday’s showdown against Pittsburgh, the Ravens will host all three of their division rivals over a 21-day span (with a trip to Dallas mixed in). By the time the calendar flips again, the course of their season will be set in stone.
27. Los Angeles Rams
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26. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck will turn 28 before the start of next season. That’s not ancient for a QB, by any means—there are 16 current starters age 29 or older, and Tom Brady’s still out here sucking defenders’ souls out of their bodies at 39. However, Luck doesn’t have an unlimited window for success, either. Barring an unexpected turnaround, Year Five is going to go down as a near total waste.
25. New York Jets
Given that the Jets required an “explicit” Todd Bowles pep talk to rally from a double-digit deficit against the Browns, can we go ahead and mic up Bowles for, say, the Patriots game on Nov. 27? If he had to drop a flurry of F-bombs to push his team past Cleveland, he’s going to need to unleash hellfire of the damned to pick up any wins against legitimate contenders.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
23. Arizona Cardinals
The way the Cardinals play in East Coast games, you’d think they had been dropped on the moon. It’s still the same game, guys. You’re still in America. Whatever the issue, Bruce Arians had better figure it out in a hurry—the Cardinals still travel to Atlanta and Miami this season, with a Central Time Zone road trip to Minnesota to boot.
22. New York Giants
The Giants’ rushing stats read like someone forgot to input a couple of games. Shane Vereen leads the team with 147 yards on the season—Chicago’s Jordan Howard (153) topped that total Monday night, by himself. They don’t need a 50-50 run-pass split to be successful, but their run game so far has shown all the explosiveness of Michael Myers walking down the street in Halloween.
21. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers sacked Carson Palmer eight times Sunday and led by as much as 23 before cruising home for a win. Does that say more about what Carolina can do in the second half or how much that defense is in Palmer’s head? Maybe a little bit of both.
20. Miami Dolphins
The combined win percentage of the Dolphins’ remaining opponents is .442. Take out Weeks 16 and 17, though, which include a trip to Buffalo and a home game with New England, and that number drops to .356. None of that will mean much if the Dolphins keep ebbing and flowing the way they have for the past, ohhhh, eight years. But the opportunity is there.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati has not beaten anyone aside from Cleveland since September. If that doesn’t tell you how badly the Bengals needed a W from their London trip, not sure anything will. There just is not any wiggle room left if they want to extend their playoff streak to six seasons.
18. Washington Redskins
17. Detroit Lions
Every time it appears that Jim Caldwell has found a little solid footing, he does something to shake the foundation. This time around, he opted against challenging what appeared to be a Houston fumble Sunday, then called for an onside kick with three minutes and all three timeouts left, down by seven. Detroit is right where it belongs, at 4–4.
16. Tennessee Titans
Matt Cassel completed a 10-yard pass on Tennessee’s final possession Thursday—a play I can only assume is listed in the playbook as “Victory Cigar.” This is a flawed team with a difficult second-half schedule. It also might be the most dangerous playoff representative the AFC South can offer because of the Derrick Henry/DeMarco Murray tandem in the backfield.
15. Buffalo Bills
14. New Orleans Saints
We’ve already steamrolled past the “Matthew Stafford for MVP” exit, and the “Derek Carr for MVP” off-ramp is approaching in a hurry, so may as well throw Drew Brees’s name out there, too. He provided two TDs in Sunday’s upset of Seattle, and he’s also leading the league with 337.9 yards passing per game. With the Saints suddenly relevant in the NFC South race, let’s put a pin in this one.
13. Houston Texans
The fact that the Texans cannot be beaten at home right now bodes extremely well for a team hosting the Super Bowl. The fact that the Texans have yet to win on the road throws up a huge roadblock en route to that goal. The NFL’s first season of 8–0 at home, 0–8 on the road might be enough for an AFC South title, but it’ll mean at least one away playoff game.
12. San Diego Chargers
If it feels like the Power Rankings have been too kind to San Diego, a team that’s all but buried within the AFC West and 3–5 overall, perhaps this is an explanation why: In a season too often dragged down by lifeless play, the Chargers have been thoroughly entertaining each week. Essentially, the same reason monkeys riding dogs never slips far in the Halftime Show Power Rankings.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. Minnesota Vikings
Think of the pocket where Sam Bradford resides as the VIP area of the Vikings’ offense. That would make Jake Long and T.J. Clemmings the velvet ropes meant to keep defenders out. They serve a purpose and might work for awhile, but there’s no bouncer to be seen so if someone really wants to get in he’s going to do so.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
If the Eagles fail to win the division (and especially if they fail to make the playoffs), Carson Wentz’s fourth-quarter pass to Darren Sproles for a six-yard loss Sunday will be one of the plays that haunts them. Anything other than a negative play or turnover there, and the Eagles attempt a field goal for a commanding 10-point lead on Dallas.
8. Green Bay Packers
7. Seattle Seahawks
As of Wednesday’s Power Rankings release, it has been exactly one month since Russell Wilson either ran or threw for a touchdown. The Seahawks are 1-1-1 in that stretch—or, as it’s known in this year’s NFC West, “a decent little run.” Sooner or later, Wilson will have to heat up if Seattle is to make any noise outside its own division.
6. Atlanta Falcons
I admit, a seven-spot jump in the rankings is extreme for the Falcons, considering their defensive game plan, so far as I can tell, consists of Dan Quinn trying to cause incompletions via telepathy. But Atlanta’s also a first-place team with wins over Oakland, Denver and now Green Bay. No matter how those victories happened, they should count for something.
5. Oakland Raiders
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4. Kansas City Chiefs
“Nick Foles to the rescue” probably is not an event Chiefs fans figured they’d witness this season. (It’s also the proposed title of an HGTV show that I would definitely watch.) But Foles stepped in with 223 yards and two TDs Sunday to help Kansas City roll past Indianapolis. If the Chiefs’ 29-point Week 4 loss in Pittsburgh turned you off of them as a contender, it’s time to pay attention again.
3. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have not yet played the Raiders—they’ll do so for the first time Sunday night. They have not yet seen the surging Chiefs. They play five of their final eight on the road, with New England, Oakland and Kansas City making up their remaining home schedule. If Denver’s 6–2 start was at all a smoke-and-mirrors act covering up an inconsistent offense, we’ll find out soon.
2. Dallas Cowboys
It took overtime to get there Sunday, but with their win over Philadelphia the Cowboys now have posted 400-plus yards of offense in five consecutive games. You know how many previous times they’ve had a streak of that length in their storied history? Zero. The 2014 and 1976 teams hit the 400-yard mark in four straight outings, but this year’s Cowboys have reached new heights.
1. New England Patriots
Judging any Bill Belichick trade is like playing chess against a grandmaster. It seems strange that he just sacrificed a rook, but he’s sitting there smirking at you because he’s already thinking 10 moves down the line. That said, the Patriots’ 2016 roster is undoubtedly worse after trading away Jamie Collins. Maybe it becomes addition by subtraction on defense, but even a lethargic Collins has talent not many defenders in the league can offer. That Belichick has a long-term plan and that the prohibitive Super Bowl favorites downgraded a bit are not mutually exclusive ideas. This season has been strange, man.