Evan’s guide to all things NFL: Week 9 NFL power rankings

Analysis of weekly NFL action continues as playoff picture begins to take form

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Evan’s guide to all things NFL: Week 9 NFL power rankings

The Tennessee Titans face the Oakland Raiders in the season opener on Sept. 10, 2017.

The Tennessee Titans face the Oakland Raiders in the season opener on Sept. 10, 2017.

Photo: Oscar Higareda

The Tennessee Titans face the Oakland Raiders in the season opener on Sept. 10, 2017.

Photo: Oscar Higareda

Photo: Oscar Higareda

The Tennessee Titans face the Oakland Raiders in the season opener on Sept. 10, 2017.

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Biggest Jump: Lions, Jets up 6 spots

Biggest Fall: Seahawks, Bengals down 7 spots

 

1. Eagles (8-1, no change from last week)

The Eagles are far and away the highest scoring team in the league, with 283 points on their résumé. They have, of course, played nine games, while many teams have only played eight, but the point total is still impressive. Carson Wentz continues to play at an elite level and more of this incredible play will almost certainly guarantee him the MVP trophy. Jay Ajayi proved to be an immediate difference maker when he scored his first touchdown of the season as an Eagle. Philly’s offense was already arguably the best in the NFL before acquiring Ajayi, so the boost he’s bound to continue to give only increases their Super Bowl hopes.

 

2. Rams (6-2, up 3 spots)

Which team is just behind the Eagles in terms of total scoring? The Los Angeles Rams, who have only played eight games. Jared Goff tossed four touchdown passes in what has to be considered his best game ever as a pro, and Todd Gurley added to his touchdown total. Let’s take a moment to take stock of what the Rams have accomplish this season: any of my readers who follow The Lodge won’t know this, but I ranked the Rams 29th in my preseason poll. I predicted that their lack of offensive weapons would cause problems, and I doubted if Jared Goff would ever even start another NFL game. Sean McVay has turned this struggling team into an NFC contender, and he’s the youngest coach in NFL history.

 

3. Saints (6-2, up 4 spots)

I’ll admit that the Patriots’ and Steelers bye weeks are the reason they’ve dropped, because it’s difficult to keep a team from moving up in the ranks when they’ve won six in a row, as the Saints have. The Saints lost to the Patriots in Week 2, but consider these teams side-by-side. Both have extremely high-powered offenses and lackluster defenses, but the Saints have been showing real signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ball so far this season, and that’s helped elevate them to six straight wins. Things look very promising for New Orleans, and Drew Brees has a few more years to try a playoff run.

 

4. Patriots (6-2, down 1 spot)

As I said, the Patriots’ and Steelers’ bye week is why they dropped, with the Rams and Saints deserving to be higher after important wins. To elaborate on what I said about the side-by-side comparison of the Patriots and Saints, the Saints have shown solid defensive improvement, but the Patriots haven’t gotten any better and should still be considered a bottom-tier defensive unit. That being said, the Pats have shown no signs of slowing down in terms of winning games on a consistent basis, so I’d expect them to finish with 12 to 14 wins, considering that their only real competition for the rest of the year is the Steelers.

 

5. Steelers (6-2, down 3 spots)

That last remark about the Patriots should tell you that I have great confidence in the Steelers to contend in the AFC, but they dropped to fifth place rather than staying in the top two for a reason. This year could be different, but it seems like every year, the Steelers choke in some form or fashion in the second half of the season. Either Roethlisberger slows down, the defense fails or some key player misses a few games. Ben Roethlisberger has looked weak this season to begin with, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he continues to fail to produce at the level we expected of him in recent years. The Steelers should plan to rely on Le’Veon Bell as their main source of offense, with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster taking pressure off Roethlisberger as often as possible.

 

6. Vikings (6-2, up 2 spots)

I touched on this last week, but it bears repeating after the Vikings’ bye. Things are looking up for Minnesota. With the Packers thoroughly disabled by the loss of Aaron Rodgers and the Lions playing inexplicably badly, all signs point to the Vikings getting the NFC North playoff bid. With Case Keenum performing up to par in the starts he’s made this season and Teddy Bridgewater’s return imminent, the offensive situation is looking rather positive. The expectation is that Case Keenum will start in Week 10 despite Teddy Bridgewater officially being activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list, but even if that’s the case, Bridgewater could get seven starts in the regular season, and easily more if the Vikings advance to the playoffs.

 

7. Cowboys (5-3, up 5 spots)

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve spent too much time trying to factor the Ezekiel Elliott situation into my perceptions of the Cowboys’ weekly performances. At this point, I’m only going to base my ranking of this team on their in-game performance and not try to predict how good or bad they’ll be without Elliott if and when he is officially suspended. Zeke had a good day against the Chiefs, scoring a touchdown and almost reaching 100 rushing yards. The entire team performed well, and outdid a Chiefs team that, early on, looked to be unstoppable. The Cowboys have won three in a row, but face several difficult matchups in coming weeks.

 

8. Jaguars (5-3, up 2 spots)

Finally, the Jaguars have broken their woeful pattern of failing to win consecutive games. Wins versus the Bengals have come at a premium for six NFL teams, so it’s not the most important win of the Jaguars’ season, but it’s important to team morale to know that this team can make a run. And even better for their confidence, they won easily despite not having star rookie RB Leonard Fournette, who was deactivated before the game for several violations of team policy. This proves that the Jaguars can find a way to win without having a superstar to truck through the other team’s defense every time.

 

9. Chiefs (6-3, down 3 spots)

These are the Chiefs we in the football world are used to. Sure, there’s plenty of talent in Kansas City, and that will likely be enough to propel them to the playoffs in the AFC West, a division that has turned out exceptionally weak despite being hyped up as one of the strongest going into the season. Rookie standout Kareem Hunt has now been held out of the end zone for six straight games after his exceptionally hot start to the year and isn’t getting nearly enough touches to keep the offense performing as well as it did at the beginning of the season.

 

10. Panthers (6-3, up 3 spots)

The Panthers have gotten two quality division wins in the past two weeks, the most recent one being a close win over the Falcons. The scoreboard showed a difference of three points, with Carolina winning 20-17, but there was plenty of nuance in the game that wouldn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Falcons’ late touchdown should have come earlier on a long touchdown to Julio Jones, but he inexplicably dropped a pass in the end zone, and the Panthers took over after the Falcons didn’t convert on fourth down. The Panthers’ run game had problems, with fading veteran RB Jonathan Stewart fumbling twice in the first quarter. The offense mostly turned to Christian McCaffrey to carry the football after that, and he was impressive, scoring his first rushing touchdown of the season.

 

11. Seahawks (5-3, down 7 spots)

As was the case with the Panthers-Falcons game, the scoreboard of the Seahawks’ 17-14 loss to the Redskins didn’t tell the story of the contest. The Redskins retained a 10-2 lead for a good part of the game. The Seahawks continued to falter on offense, with the team’s only points coming from a safety on the defensive side of the ball. Russell Wilson came alive in the fourth quarter, throwing two touchdown passes to give Seattle the lead, but after the Seahawks’ late surge, the Redskins drove quickly down the field and scored a late touchdown to secure the win. The takeaway is that nothing has changed within this Seattle offense. Whenever they trail another team, Russell Wilson performs well, but his good performances never come at the right time.

 

12. Titans (5-3, up 3 spots)

The Titans have proven to be one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL so far this season, so their three straight wins were rather surprising. Considering that those wins have come against the Colts, Browns and Ravens, those victories aren’t overwhelmingly impressive. The Titans have a remarkably easy upcoming schedule, save for a matchup with the Steelers in Week 11, which they should use to capitalize on their recent winning streak against mediocre teams. They may hit a wall at the end of the season, however, when they face the mighty Rams and Jaguars in their last two games of the regular season. That Week 17 matchup with Jacksonville could decide which AFC South team advances to the playoffs.

 

13. Redskins (4-4, up 5 spots)

It’s been a difficult year for the Redskins. The NFC East was unpredictably flipped in terms of who was best and who was worst within the division, but the Redskins have remained the only constant, falling back to third place as they usually do. In a division also occupied by the Eagles and Cowboys, it’s difficult to imagine the Redskins will be in playoff contention by the end of the year, even if the Cowboys’ productivity takes a hit with the potential departure of Ezekiel Elliott. The Redskins will face a tough task when they take on the Vikings in Week 10.

 

14. Bills (5-3, down 5 spots)

The Bills came down to Earth on Thursday night when they surrendered far too many points to the Jets and were never able to catch up. These are the Buffalo Bills we know and love, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to lose games they shouldn’t lose and amount to nothing this season. Clearly, there’s no way any other team besides the Patriots will win the AFC East this season, so the Bills need to keep in mind that a rebuild is in order at some point soon. Even if they finish this season with a respectable record, the front office has to understand that this team can’t get to the next level without a rebuild.

 

15. Lions (4-4, up 6 spots)

Matthew Stafford played beautifully on Monday night in Detroit’s subjugation of the Packers. Obviously, the Packers are relatively easy to beat when they are forced to play without Aaron Rodgers, but the Lions looked especially good, with Matthew Stafford clicking with his receivers and playing smart football for all four quarters. It’s essentially a two-team race to win the NFC North – the Lions are the only team in the division who could contest the Vikings for the playoff berth, and the Lions and Vikings likely don’t have to worry about Aaron Rodgers returning at the end of the season, as the Packers will likely have been eliminated from playoff contention by that point.

 

16. Falcons (4-4, down 2 spots)

The outcome may have been different for Atlanta if Julio Jones hadn’t dropped the pass that would have brought the Falcons within three points of the Panthers. Regardless, the fourth loss sustained by the Falcons is bad news. It places them at third in the division, but lucky for them, this was only the first divisional game. The Falcons will have plenty of chances to right the ship, but it appears their post-Super Bowl hangover is in full swing. The loss of Kyle Shanahan is having an obvious effect on the efficiency of the offense, but clearly he’s not accomplishing much in San Francisco, so who knows?

 

17. Ravens (4-5, down 6 spots)

After an emphatic 40-point win over the Dolphins in Week 8, the Ravens looked sluggish and inefficient against the Titans. The Baltimore offense reinforced what I’ve been saying about it all year – it needs significant work before this team has any shot of making a deep playoff run. I don’t want to be the one who says every NFL franchise should tank; there’s pride in winning when you can, but the Ravens simply won’t go anywhere with this roster, and they’re not exactly setting themselves up to add a top-tier draft prospect.

 

18. Raiders (4-5, up 5 spots)

The Raiders are close to rebounding, but then again, I’ve been saying that all year after their bad start. The close win over the Dolphins on Sunday night shows that this team has to eek out wins rather than dominating teams the way they did most of the season in 2016. Oakland has a bye this coming week, but things won’t get any easier when they take on the Patriots in Week 11. That being said, facing the defending champions (in Mexico City) will be a great opportunity for the Raiders to prove themselves if they have it in them.

 

19. Jets (4-5, up 6 spots)

Even though the Jets don’t have a winning record, they have totally shattered the expectations most people had for them going into the season. One more win this season would match their win total from last year, which is encouraging for the future. While you’ve noticed me encouraging several teams to consider tanking this season, I’m a believer in these Jets going all in on winning as many games this season as they can manage. Clearly, there’s a good starting point for the team’s future, but the Jets still need a franchise QB. In a draft class that has been far overhyped in terms of depth at the QB position, strong players with intangibles like Baker Mayfield and Riley Ferguson will likely be available later in the first round when the Jets have a middle-of-the-round pick.

 

20. Chargers (3-5, no change)

For all the times I’ve found something intelligent to say about a team coming off its bye, I simply don’t have much to say about the Los Angeles Chargers this week, with no game off of which I can base my justification for placing them 20th. This is the same position in the rankings they occupied last week, and based on other teams’ performances in Week 9, it seems appropriate to keep the Bolts where they were last weekend.

 

21. Cardinals (4-4, up 5 spots)

Drew Stanton managed a good game, which was the expectation against a terrible 49ers team, so this season may not be “over” for the Cards. Especially with Adrian Peterson leading the offense in the absence of Carson Palmer and David Johnson, the Arizona offense is performing relatively well despite the setbacks it has suffered. With the Rams and Seahawks squarely in command of the NFC West, it would be nearly impossible for the Cardinals to even think about the playoffs, so this looks like another six to nine win season, maximum.

 

22. Packers (4-4, down 6 spots)

The Packers helped Aaron Rodgers’ MVP campaign even after he was put on injured reserve – this team is absolutely dreadful without their veteran QB. The receivers have plenty of talent, but there’s no one to elevate them without Rodgers on the field. And even though a team’s run and pass games are mostly separate, the backfield committee that has emerged in Green Bay can’t seem to get much going without Rodgers. Brett Hundley was always a nice option to have in coach Mike McCarthy’s mind, but seeing him in action has been severely disappointing, and his future as a Packer, backup or otherwise, would likely be in jeopardy if he doesn’t improve.

 

23. Texans (3-5, down 6 spots)

It’s official: the Texans’ season is over. No QB, especially Tom Savage, can bring back this team to the level at which it played with Deshaun Watson on the field. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller are both exceptionally talented, but much like the Packers’ talented receiving corps without Rodgers, Hopkins and Fuller suffer without Deshaun Watson. Lamar Miller is a fine RB to have in addition to a top-tier pass game, but he can’t carry the team with Tom Savage under center. Consider the AFC South a two-way race between the Titans and Jaguars.

 

24. Dolphins (4-4, down 2 spots)

It’s no surprise the Dolphins didn’t win on Sunday night, but give them credit for hanging in the game and making it close. I stand by my prediction that this is ultimately a throwaway season, especially after trading Jay Ajayi. The rest of the season features several games that will be very difficult for the Dolphins to win, such as two matchups with the Patriots, along with road games in Charlotte and Kansas City. There are a few games that could come as easy wins for the Dolphins, such as the two home games they’ll play against the Buccaneers and Broncos in Weeks 12 and 14, respectively.

 

25. Bears (3-5, down 1 spot)

Get this: for the first time in nine years, the Bears will be statistical favorites over the Packers when they host them at Soldier Field this Sunday. You can credit that more to the Packers’ struggles than the Bears’ successes, but it’s still rather bizarre to think about. Mitch Trubisky didn’t have a game in Week 9 that might have changed my mind about his talent as a professional football player, so I can’t rightly ridicule him without a good reason. The Packers’ defense isn’t known for being particularly great, so Trubisky has a great opportunity to prove himself against them.

 

26. Bengals (3-5, down 7 spots)

The Bengals were predictably mediocre against the Jaguars. What we’ve seen from them thus far this season gives us a pretty standard means of projecting their performance: either they’ll be flailing in every facet of the game as they were on Sunday, or they’ll be able to overcome their inherent disadvantages that stem from their lack of depth at key positions in order to win. The Ravens have emerged as the favorite to place second in the AFC North, but with the Steelers not seeming out of sync at all and the Browns as terrible as ever, the pecking order of the division is likely set in stone.

 

27. Colts (3-6, up 3 spots)

There’s more news on the Andrew Luck story coming out of Indianapolis this week. Sources close to the Colts organization say that Andrew Luck has a minor feud with the team’s owner, Jim Irsay, stemming from a disagreement over the cause of Luck’s regression and failure to recover from his injury. The Colts are now in a position to reconsider their current QB situation and possibly take a long look at the incoming QB draft class. That being said, Jacoby Brissett is on track to become a franchise QB with a little polishing, so the Colts might be wise to use Andrew Luck as trade bait and commit to Brissett.

 

28. Broncos (3-5, up 1 spot)

That’s right, the Broncos somehow moved up one spot despite their horrendous loss to the Eagles. It was extremely difficult to decide which of the Broncos, Buccaneers and Giants was the “least bad,” but I gave the edge to the Broncos. The Week 9 Broncos were dreadful, and the Week 10 Broncos will be as well, but it is likely that Paxton Lynch will be ready to roll by Week 11, which is why I give the Broncos the edge over the Bucs and Giants for the time being. In other words, the Bucs and Giants have no hope of getting any better this season, but at least Paxton Lynch gives the Broncos something to look forward to.

 

29. Buccaneers (2-6, down 2 spots)

The Bucs are approaching rock bottom. Coming into this year, there were expectations that this team might win the division and possibly make a deep playoff run. Now they’re shutting down Jameis Winston for a shoulder injury, losing Mike Evans to a one-game suspension and inexplicably sabotaging their own run game, giving Doug Martin far too few carries. The Bucs’ defense has been subpar as well, giving up almost 200 points over the course of their eight games. This season looks like a lost cause for Tampa.

 

30. Giants (1-7, down 2 spots)

Much like the Buccaneers, the Giants came into this season with high expectations, and there was speculation about a possible Super Bowl run. Clearly, those predictions were ludicrous. Granted, injuries have contributed to the Giants’ tragic fall, but their own ineptitude has hurt them as well. Failing to resign Rashad Jennings has left them with problems in the backfield – while Wayne Gallman has a promising future and Orleans Darkwa is worth having on an NFL roster, neither of them is starter-quality.

 

31. 49ers (0-9, no change)

The 49ers need to do everything in their power to get Jimmy Garoppolo ready to play this season if they want to win games, but if they’ve committed to tanking, which is a fine option, they should definitely keep storing him on the bench. At this point, an 0-16 season wouldn’t be out of the question for the 49ers, but it’s likely that they control their own destiny. If they want to win, maybe they’ll find a way, but if they want to tank, the winless season could easily happen.

 

32. Browns (0-8, no change)

I have to admit that at this point, I’m a little tired of writing the same thing over and over about the Cleveland Browns. They’re not getting any better, and there’s no way they’ll get any better this season. I can’t say for sure, but I believe the Browns have already been eliminated from playoff contention. In the last 23 months, the Browns have won two games. It’s been a difficult two years, nay, era, for the franchise, and knowing the way their front office thinks, they may shoot themselves in the foot once again on draft day in 2018.

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