I've learned in my time on this beat never to get too confident in your rankings.
The same 1-through-32 rundown that had you feeling like a floating genius on Sunday morning can leave you feeling pitiful and feeble-minded by the time you put your head on the pillow on Sunday night.
To put it another way: The ebbs and flows of an NFL season have a way of keeping you humble. Hey, if Tom Brady can be humbled, can't we all?
On to this week's rankings, which are functionally perfect and completely unimpeachable.
Previous rank: No. 1
Patrick Mahomes is locked in, and it makes the Chiefs something close to unbeatable. A ball-control Panthers offense allowed Kansas City only 22 minutes of possession on Sunday, but that was still enough time for Mahomes to throw for 372 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-31 win. Mahomes needed just 40 games to reach 101 touchdown passes, passing Dan Marino as the fastest ever to triple-digit scores. "You're seeing the best of him right now,'' Andy Reid said after the game. Reid dialed up a pass-heavy attack against Carolina, and Mahomes relied on his two stars to carry the day -- Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce finished with a combined 272 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The defending champs hit their bye as the best team in football.
Previous rank: No. 2
Everyone gets a pass for One Ugly Win. The Steelers cashed in their ticket on Sunday. Pittsburgh trailed by as many as 13 points to a Cowboys team starting its fourth-string quarterback before finally waking up from a Jerrah World slumber. Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes on two injured knees, and -- for the second straight week -- Minkah Fitzpatrick broke up a pass in the end zone on the final play of the game to preserve a Steelers victory. Fitzpatrick added a fumble recovery and a monster end-zone interception in the fourth quarter. Crisis averted, the Steelers are 8-0 for the first time in franchise history and get the Bengals and Jaguars in the next two weeks. Nervous yet, Mercury Morris?
Previous rank: No. 6
The Saints dominated the Bucs on Sunday night in Tampa, outplaying their division rival in every conceivable way over the course of a 38-3 win. It was the worst beating Tom Brady has ever taken in his 21 seasons in the league, and it gave the Saints the tiebreaker over the Bucs in any head-to-head scenario. Drew Brees looked confident and comfortable playing with his full complement of playmakers for the first time all year, while Taysom Hill accounted for 123 yards of offense as a passer, receiver and rusher in what was, by far, his best game of 2020. It felt like Sean Payton finally figured out how to deploy his jack of all trades, and it made New Orleans almost impossible to stop.
Previous rank: No. 5
"I will just say the devil was busy this week for us, and we just overcame it." That's how Lamar Jackson summed up a hellish eight-day stretch for the Ravens, one that included a bitter defeat to the Steelers, the loss of star left tackle Ronnie Stanley to injury, Marlon Humphrey's positive coronavirus test and the ensuing march of six Ravens to the COVID-19 list under the "close contact" designation. That's a lot of obstacles, but Baltimore still delivered a 24-10 win over the Colts in Indianapolis. The Ravens had just 55 total yards of offense in the first half, but Jackson and Co. got hot after the intermission, while the Ravens defense gave Philip Rivers and the Colts attack no path to success. A win to build off.
Previous rank: No. 7
Given the apocalyptic state of the 49ers' roster, it wouldn't be quite fair to call Thursday's 34-17 win a full-on Revenge Game for the Packers. But surely there was satisfaction gained after the savagery San Francisco perpetrated upon Green Bay in January's NFC title match. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams went nuts (again), as Rodgers connected with his star wideout 10 times for 173 yards and a score on 12 targets. Two days before the win, general manager Brian Gutekunst passed on the opportunity to acquire Texans playmaker Will Fuller, a move that would have added another dimension to Green Bay's receiver corps. Then again, if Allen Lazard can pick up where he left off before his core injury, the Packers should be locked and loaded on offense for the stretch run.
Previous rank: No. 8
Josh Allen busted out of his slump in a big way on Sunday, outplaying MVP front-runner Russell Wilson in a 44-34 win over the Seahawks in Orchard Park. Allen stood tall in the face of a blitz-obsessed Seattle scheme, completing 31 of 38 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. He threw for 154 yards in the first quarter alone (a career high) and added a rushing score in the fourth quarter that effectively sealed the game. The Bills' defense brought a blitz-heavy game plan of its own, forcing Wilson into four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) that turned into 16 Bills points. The Bills have now won three straight with a chance to improve to 3-0 against the NFC West on Sunday in Arizona.
Previous rank: No. 3
You could give the Bucs a pass for their sloppy performance in a win over the Giants in Week 8, but Sunday night's 38-3 shellacking at the hands of the Saints is the type of loss that makes you wonder where Tampa Bay truly belongs in the conversation about the league's top contenders. Tom Brady threw three interceptions in the worst beating of his career, and Todd Bowles' usually stellar defense looked confused and inept as Drew Brees and Taysom Hill made play after play. The Bucs are now 1-2 in prime time this season, averaging less than 16 points per game in those "island" showcases. "It was shocking," Bruce Arians said after the loss. "... They kicked our ass in every phase." The Bucs have some soul-searching to do.
Previous rank: No. 4
Russell Wilson has to be perfect to cover for the sins of the Seahawks' defense. When he isn't, Seattle loses. Wilson threw two interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles on Sunday, and the defense was carved up by Josh Allen in a 44-34 loss to the Bills at Orchard Park. Seattle repeatedly sent extra rushers at Allen, and despite landing seven sacks (a season high for both the Seahawks and Allen), Buffalo piled up chunk plays when the pressure didn't get home. Quinton Dunbar was picked on all afternoon before mercifully being benched in favor of Linden Stephens in the fourth quarter. After an encouraging performance against the Niners, it's back to the drawing board for Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton.
Previous rank: No. 11
The Titans needed a commanding performance from their defense, and that's exactly what they got in Sunday's 24-17 win over the Bears. Newly acquired cornerback Desmond King made an instant contribution with the game-breaking fumble return for a score, and the defense did a much better job getting off the field. The Titans held the Bears to 2-for-15 on third downs (13.3%); this came after a hideous two-week stretch in which the Steelers and Bengals converted 23-of-33 third downs (69.7%) in a pair of Titans losses. The question becomes whether the defense has finally started to figure it out ... or if this was more a case of Tennessee getting the better of an anemic Bears offense. A Thursday night showdown against the Colts will give us more insight.
Previous rank: No. 13
Isaiah Johnson was the unlikely hero on Sunday in Los Angeles. Twice in the final five seconds of game time, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert targeted the receiver Johnson was covering in the end zone, and twice, Johnson did enough to prevent a catch in a dramatic 31-26 win. Sure, Johnson needed a little help from the replay ref on Donald Parham Jr. 's apparent game-winner, but the call was right, and the cornerback had done his job. Beating the Chargers was the first test in a stretch of three consecutive games against division rivals -- the Broncos and Chiefs come to Allegiant Stadium over the next two weeks.
Previous rank: No. 10
Kyler Murray is the best player on the Cardinals. Why not keep the ball in his hands with the game on the line, Kliff Kingsbury? On fourth-and-inches with 5:20 to play in a tie contest, Kingsbury asked running back Chase Edmonds to convert the first down. No dice. On fourth-and-1 in the final two minutes, Kingsbury pulled Murray and the offense off the field in favor of a 49-yard field-goal attempt. Zane Gonzalez shorted the kick (c'mon, man!), and the Dolphins escaped the desert with a 34-31 win. Murray accounted for four touchdowns on the day and set a career high with 106 rushing yards. When you need to make your best play, ask your best player to make it.
Previous rank: No. 16
The Dolphins had plenty of reasons to turn the offense over to Tua Tagovailoa. The one with the most immediate impact was the potential that Tua could make the Dolphins better -- not in 2021, but right now. Tua got his feet wet in Week 8 against the Rams, but he played like a future star in Sunday's 34-31 win over the Cardinals. The No. 5 overall pick kept pace in a shootout with second-year star Kyler Murray, finishing his second pro start with 248 passing yards, 35 rushing yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. We also loved Brian Flores doing what Kliff Kingsbury wouldn't -- putting the ball in his young quarterback's hands with a chance to close out the enemy. Tagovailoa rewarded his coach's faith with a successful QB sneak on third-and-1 in the final minute.
Previous rank: No. 12
"We're good. We're not great." That's how Robert Woods described the Rams, who hit their bye in Week 9 at 5-3 after an ugly loss to the Dolphins. Woods' analysis is succinct and accurate. We've seen nothing this season to tell us the Rams are special; conversely, we have plenty of evidence to suggest they're a cut above the have-nots of football (see: the NFC East, which Los Angeles swept over the first six weeks). We'll learn much more in the second half, when the schedule tightens up considerably. The Rams host the Seahawks on Sunday, then travel to Tampa Bay in Week 11. Being "good" won't be good enough against the class of the conference.
Previous rank: No. 9
Philip Rivers and Colts fans have the right to be annoyed by the controversial Marcus Peters interception that changed the course of Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium. Al Riveron said the call was "clear and obvious," but it was surely less so to most people outside Maryland. Still, not all the sins of a frustrating loss can be put on one play. The Colts' defense, so stout in the first half, was bested by Lamar Jackson in the second half, and the Indy offense managed just three points in the final three quarters. A disappointing loss for sure, but the Colts will find themselves back in first place in the AFC South with a win over the Titans on Thursday.
Previous rank: No. 14
Not so long ago, the Browns were the Factory of Sadness. The organization has made unquestioned strides since the lost 2010s, but it seems to have moved from the factory and into a carnival fun house, one with mirrors that bend and distort it from Sunday to Sunday. To wit: Cleveland has either scored 30-plus points or seven or fewer points in every game this season. Unsurprisingly, the Browns are 5-0 when they score big and 0-3 when the offense dries up. The good news for their fans: The post-bye schedule sets up well, with matchups against three sub-.500 teams (Texans, Eagles, Jaguars) on tap in the next three weeks. If this team can conquer its inconsistency, the Browns should be in good position for a playoff spot come December. They should be, anyway.
Previous rank: No. 20
Adrian Peterson is the last running back to win Most Valuable Player honors, earning the coveted award following his 2,000-yard season in 2012. Eight years later, another Vikings superstar has announced his presence in the MVP race. Dalvin Cook rushed for 206 yards and two scores in Sunday's 34-20 win over the Lions and has now put together back-to-back games with more than 200 yards from scrimmage. Cook is up to four games this season with at least two scores, and his relentless playmaking ability has allowed Kirk Cousins to settle in after a dreadful start to his season. Cousins threw three touchdown passes on Sunday and didn't have a turnover for the second consecutive week. With a forgiving schedule ahead, the Vikings might just work themselves back into the playoff picture after a 1-5 start.
Previous rank: No. 15
The Bears lack juice. There are many different factors that make it so, but the bottom line is indisputable. We saw it again in Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Titans, Chicago's third consecutive defeat after the mirage of a 5-1 start. The culprit in Nashville was, once again, the offense. The Bears had only three combined points on their first five drives that reached Titans territory, and they did nearly all their scoring in the safe space of garbage time. Mitch Trubisky's shoulder injury means Nick Foles will continue to start while Matt Nagy ponders whether to give up play-calling. This all seems to be headed in a certain direction.
Previous rank: No. 19
It keeps happening. It won't stop. The Chargers always find a way. On Sunday, L.A. was celebrating a game-winning touchdown catch by Donald Parham Jr. ... until officials overturned the call after a review in a 31-26 loss to the Raiders. In true Chargers form, it took the sixth or seventh replay to finally show clear evidence that the ball had slipped out of Parham's hands as he went to the ground. Egads. There are two ways to look at this as a fan: You're either head-over-heels in love with the possibility of the Justin Herbert era, or you're locked in a present where Sundays are continually ruined by heartbreak. Where you fall on that spectrum probably says a lot about your outlook on life in general.
Previous rank: No. 23
We don't know what the future holds for Matt Ryan in Atlanta, so Falcons fans should enjoy the greatest quarterback in franchise history while they can. Ryan was locked in on Sunday against the Broncos, throwing for 284 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-27 win. Ryan connected on five passes of 20-plus yards downfield and has completed at least 70 percent of his throws in each of the past four games. Atlanta has won three of four under interim coach Raheem Morris and would be in the thick of the NFC playoff race if not for a couple of unholy second-half meltdowns early in the season. Then again, Dan Quinn would still be head coach if not for those meltdowns, thus negating the hypothetical Raheem Bump. I'm not sure what was accomplished here.
Previous rank: No. 17
Sometimes, it's just not your year. The 49ers came tantalizingly close to beating the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, and now they're staring down a 2020 season where they could be playing out the string by Thanksgiving. Rotten injury luck has been at the core of San Francisco's problems, and you saw how overmatched this compromised roster was during Thursday night's 34-17 loss to the Packers. Ten months earlier, it was Kyle Shanahan's team laying a whipping on Matt LaFleur's squad on a national stage in the NFC Championship Game. Such is the cruel nature of sports, where coming close one year guarantees not a damn thing in the season that follows.
Previous rank: No. 22
The Patriots avoided a season-crushing setback by the narrowest of margins on Monday night, wiping away a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit before beating the Jets on a 51-yard field goal by Nick Folk as time expired. It was a win that showed character while also reminding the football world this is who the Patriots are now: a middling team that can be beat by anyone ... even the Jets. The biggest positive was Cam Newton, who scored twice on the ground and powered New England's fourth-quarter comeback with a series of big throws. It was the quarterback's most encouraging performance in weeks, and a sign of life the Pats desperately needed.
Previous rank: No. 21
Last week, Doug Pederson fielded questions as to whether he considered putting Carson Wentz on the bench during Philly's ugly win over the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The coach said he had "a lot of trust and faith" in his QB1, which you believe -- but you also have to wonder if that trust and faith has been shaken in a way Pederson would have never imagined in August. Wentz has been making punishing mistakes since Week 1, and his turnovers against a terrible Dallas defense made you think maybe Ben DiNucci was somehow playing for both teams. The numbers are grim: Wentz reached the Eagles' Week 9 bye leading the league in turnovers (16), interceptions (12) and sacks (32). He hasn't been accurate or explosive. In most years, his play would've ruined Philly's season. Instead, they're in first place in the NFC East. 2020, man.
Previous rank: No. 18
So much for building off that epic last-second win over the Chargers. The Broncos flew to Atlanta and proceeded to sleepwalk through most of the first three quarters of a 34-27 loss. Sure, Drew Lock made it look close with another three-touchdown surge in the game's final 15 minutes, but this was a flat effort from a team already on the verge of falling out of the playoff race. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam suffered a season-ending ACL tear and became the 17th Denver player to be placed on injured reserve this season. You can't put all of the Broncos' 3-5 record on rotten injury luck, but it shouldn't be ignored, either.
Previous rank: No. 24
The Panthers did just about everything right against the Chiefs, dominating in time of possession and putting up more than 30 points on the road. Typically, that combination equates to an easy win ... but things are different when Patrick Mahomes is involved. Mahomes torched the Panthers secondary for 372 yards and four scores, spoiling Christian McCaffrey's return from a six-game absence in a hard-fought 33-31 loss. McCaffrey went over 100 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns, but his stay in the lineup might be short-lived: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that CMC, who was out previously with an ankle injury, could miss more time with a shoulder issue. That's unwelcome news for a Matt Rhule team that will try to break a four-game losing streak on Sunday against an angry Bucs team.
Previous rank: No. 25
Joe Burrow is on an historic pace through the first half of his rookie campaign. When Cincinnati hit its Week 9 bye, the No. 1 overall pick boasted 221 completions -- the most by a player through eight career games since the NFL merger. His company here is instructive in understanding Burrow's potential; that completion total puts him ahead of Andrew Luck (190), Kyler Murray (186) and Patrick Mahomes (185), three other transcendent talents whose coaching staffs felt confident running the playbook entirely through them from the jump. Zac Taylor trusted Burrow, even in an offseason plagued by COVID-19 obstacles. The QB rewarded his coach's leap of faith by making the Bengals relevant again.
Previous rank: No. 26
The Texans decided to hold on to Will Fuller at the trade deadline. After a 27-25 win in which Fuller flashed his elite playmaking skills on a 77-yard touchdown, Deshaun Watson expressed relief that his No. 1 wideout was still a teammate. "It would have been hell if they would have did that, for sure," Watson said. The pair has undeniable chemistry, and Fuller -- currently in the final year of his rookie deal -- has managed to stay healthy while producing touchdowns in six straight games, breaking the franchise record previously held by DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans made a huge mistake when they let Hopkins out of the building -- they should think long and hard about allowing Fuller to follow suit.
Previous rank: No. 27
The Lions are simply not making progress under Matt Patricia. Detroit's defense surrendered 275 yards on the ground -- including 206 to Dalvin Cook on just 22 carries -- and Kirk Cousins used play-action to torch the Lions' secondary for three touchdown passes without a turnover in a 34-20 Vikings win. Cook iced the game in the fourth quarter with a 70-yard scoring run -- and if it seemed far too easy for the star rusher, that's probably because Detroit only had 10 players on the field on the play. The Lions don't have an NFC North win since 2018 and have followed a two-game winning streak with a pair of disappointing losses. Stuck in neutral in the Motor City.
Previous rank: No. 29
Facing a great hardship at home, Logan Ryan delivered for the Giants on the road in a 23-20 win over Washington. Ryan finished the victory with six tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and two passes defended. The interception came in the final two minutes, clinching a New York win that nearly slipped away despite the Giants building a 20-3 halftime lead. Daniel Jones improved to 4-0 against Washington in his career -- he's 1-16 against all other teams. Speaking of ugly records, the Giants are 2-7, but they'll be just one win out of first place in the NFC East if they can find a way to beat the Eagles on Sunday. True story.
Previous rank: No. 28
Yep, it was another game in Washington Football Team history where the starting quarterback suffered a nasty lower leg injury. This time it was Kyle Allen, who is headed for surgery after enduring a dislocated and fractured ankle in a 23-20 loss to the Giants. Alex Smith -- the previous Washington signal-caller to experience a horrific leg injury -- replaced Allen and threw his first touchdown pass since 2018. Unfortunately, he also threw three interceptions, including the game-sealer late in the fourth quarter. With Allen headed to IR, Smith is expected to lead the way, which begs the question: Just how deep in the dog house is 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins? We talkin' miles, here?
Previous rank: No. 30
Down 'round these parts of The Power Rankings, losses can still count as progress. The Cowboys blew a 13-point lead in a 24-19 loss to the Steelers, but Dallas delivered a commendable effort against the league's lone undefeated team. Garrett Gilbert was, well, competitive in a way Ben DiNucci was not, throwing a touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb and moving Dallas within shouting distance of the end zone before his final pass was broken up by Minkah Fitzpatrick as time expired. With a bye this week, the presumed plan is for Andy Dalton to exit his concussion protocol/COVID-19 vortex of hell and start Week 11 against the Vikings. Perhaps the Red Rifle can turn moral victories into an actual triumph.
Previous rank: No. 31
Jacksonville's 2021 quarterback and head coach are likely not currently in the building. As a result, the Jags exist in a state of suspended animation, tricky terrain for a team with a half season left to play. Jake Luton made his first start in place of an injured Gardner Minshew on Sunday against the Texans, and Doug Marrone announced Monday that Luton will start again when Jacksonville meets the Packers this weekend. Marrone previously said Minshew wouldn't automatically regain his starting role when his injured thumb healed, which puts Luton on the inside track in what's ultimately a battle of who gets to be the Jags' future backup quarterback. Good luck, gentlemen.
Previous rank: No. 32
For the first time this season, the Jets were legitimately competitive. But victorious? They're not there yet. Adam Gase's team coughed up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost on a 51-yard field goal by ex-Jet Nick Folk as time expired in a painful 30-27 loss to the Patriots. New York is 0-9 for the first time in franchise history and one step closer to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft -- and 0-16 infamy. The general consensus seems to be that the Jets won by losing on Monday night, a surface-level takeaway that ignores how much the players and coaches and behind-the-scenes personnel put into their jobs. "It hurts," Gase said after the game. "I thought guys battled, gave everything they had."