It's the back-stretch time of year ...
Every team is entering that sled of games that will determine who will be competing in January, and who will be following Charles Barkley's lead in going fishing (the Patriots and Panthers got early wake-up calls this past week). The next month and a half will significantly affect the futures of numerous front offices and coaching staffs, as well. And then there are those players who will be playing their last football games, perhaps a few who'll end up in Canton one day.
2) Folks in Dallas are beginning to realize the passing-game woes were not only not Dez's fault -- they were nowhere near Dez's fault.
Now, on to your thoughts ...
Thanks for checking in from across the Atlantic, William. I hear all people there are rabid Colts fans.
As for the rest of the not-so-jumbled mess, see below. This time of season reflects less wild movement -- i.e., no more teams dropping eight spots. The football hierarchy is taking shape. We think. Your thoughts are always welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for "The Power Rankings Show." Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts in a tweet to @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.
Is there still any doubt about New Orleans in the No. 1 slot? Immediately following an emotional win against a top-flight contender, the Saints went on the road and calmly blasted Cincinnati, 51-14. If there was any doubt early, it was quashed when Drew Brees and friends exploded for 28 unanswered points ... in the second quarter alone. The running backs put up three of those scores. In fact, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were a handful all day -- until they weren't needed anymore (like at all in the fourth quarter). Ingram posed 162 scrimmage yards and a touch, while Kamara added 102 more and two scores of his own. Good grief. How do you stop these guys? Can you imagine if they had Dez?
Sunday's win against the Cardinals is the kind of performance you wanted to see from Kansas City. If you're thinking, *No, I wanted Patrick Mahomes to launch five touchdown passes,* well, let me convince you otherwise. We've seen this offense go all-out track team *plenty* this season. What was needed in K.C.? More plays from the defense. That's precisely what happened when Justin Houston came up with the clutch pick off a Josh Rosen screen pass. Discussing how he diagnosed the screen on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Houston said, "I just felt it." So often, when people watch games on TV, they think players see the same visuals they do. Actually, defending the screen pass *is* often based on feel: how quickly the offensive linemen peel off, the way a QB sets up, etc. Houston snuffed it out -- and boy, was that a big play. The franchise linebacker set up Kansas City's offense in Cards territory in a one-score game. Spencer Ware paid off the turnover with points a few plays later, and the Chiefs were cruising to 9-1. </content:power-ranking>
An exciting win came with the proverbial rain cloud, as Cooper Kupp was lost for the season. The sophomore wideout made more strides this season, and had just returned from a knee problem a few weeks ago. His loss will be felt. Sunday felt *too close for comfort* against the rival Seahawks ( again), but ultimately, two timely defensive plays made the difference: Ndamukong Suh's and Aaron Donald's split sack on third-and-5 near the Rams' goal line, forcing a Seattle field goal; and Dante Fowler Jr.'s strip-sack/recovery to set up Brandin Cooks' score late in the fourth quarter. Of course, other than those two stanzas, Wade Phillips' defense got ripped again.
**Trivia:** Which comedic actor from the sitcom "Too Close For Comfort" also had a part in "Caddyshack"? Mmmhh, mmmh ... </content:power-ranking>
The Chargers are tough to gauge at this point, as they keep beating weaker squads. On the other hand, their only two losses came against the Chiefs and Rams. They've also won six straight sans a top-10 defensive player. With Joey Bosa, the Bolts can beat anyone. Without him, they are a contending team that needs the offense to put up its fair share of points. Defensively, Anthony Lynn's group has played viably most of the season, while enduring a few hiccups here and there (SEE: vs. the Chiefs, Rams and even the 49ers). The Chargers reside over New England in these rankings for now, because they have yet to be rattled like the Pats were this past weekend. Time will tell.
As bad a midseason loss as we've see from the Patriots in a long time. This is typically the time of the season when New England imposes its will on foes. On Sunday, the offense couldn't pull out of neutral, managing just 284 total yards (way below the Pats' standard). The running game was especially putrid (40 yards on 19 carries), while the third-down conversion rate was a not-sterling 20 percent. Interesting nugget from NFL Research: Tom Brady went 1-for-6 against the blitz Sunday, taking three sacks. Over the last five games vs. the blitz, the Hall of Famer-to-be has completed 44.8 percent of his passes with a 56.4 passer rating. Sure, injuries up front have something to do with that. Look for New England to get healthier -- and better prepare to handle all these blitz packages -- during the bye week. Fantasy owners must have felt like this *was* the Patriots' bye week. </content:power-ranking>
There is no doubt that Ben Roethlisberger has absorbed as many critical comments as he has knockdowns over the last few years. Whether it's because of poor performances versus lesser opponents on the road, or because he hasn't won the Super Bowl in 10 years, or it's personality-driven, Big Ben is not held in the same regard as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. Yet, his performance this season, especially on Thursday night, only solidifies his Hall of Fame probability. Roethlisberger went 22-of-25 for 328 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. In prime-time games since 2014, he has now chucked 51 touchdowns against 11 interceptions with a 110.3 passer rating. Meanwhile, the Steelers have gone 17-4 in prime time during that same time frame, while averaging 30.3 points per game. Make no mistake: These guys are contenders again.
Drop for the Panthers, albeit not a precipitous descent. Carolina was totally blown out in Pittsburgh. Was that an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come? Thinking the former, given how well these Panthers have played for most of the season. Prior to the debacle at Heinz Field on Thursday night, they had endured two losses, both one-score defeats on the road in Atlanta and Washington, in which they fell on their final drive. Maybe it's not time to panic yet.
The Vikings were off last week, providing a couple of stars with a chance to catch their breath and ease back into the swing of things. Minnesota has been without the services of Dalvin Cook and Everson Griffen for the bulk of the season. Both will be significant factors in determining whether the Vikings can survive a robust NFC playoff field. Cook only received 10 carries against the Lions in Week 9. Expect that load to fatten up real quick.
Nobody wants to give the Bears any respect, citing their schedule. But for two straight weeks, Chicago has essentially dominated the game, even if the win over the Lions on Sunday wasn't as raucous as the shellacking of the Bills in Week 9. Mitch Trubisky was more bus driver than passenger this week, enjoying the fruits of wiiiiiiiiiiide open receivers and sending them the football. The defense continues its impressive 2018 campaign, allowing two touchdowns late when the day was pretty much decided. The only point of contention here is the same query this space has posed multiple times: What's wrong with Jordan Howard? Methinks the Bears will need him in December. The offensive line could do its part, too, while we're complaining. Next up: Vikings. Yeesh, that's a huge game. I mean, if you're into such things.
The Texans came roaring into their bye week with six straight wins. Question now is, can they keep up the momentum? While it is never ideal to interrupt such a lengthy success run, they are 10 weeks into the season -- I'm sure plenty of players enjoyed the time off/away. Moreover, Houston did not play particularly well, especially on offense, against the Broncos last time out. That unit went sub-300 yards for the third time in the last four games, which is problematic. Even when the Texans do gain real estate, when it comes to the red zone, they stall like a '79 White Pacer with wood-grain siding. They are 27th in the league in red-zone offense, in fact. Bill O'Brien must figure this issue out if the Texans are to be anything but one-and-done in the postseason again.
The Packers took over in the second half Sunday at Lambeau, putting together a complete game on offense and defense. Finally. The pundits will suggest that those were the Dolphins from the South they were playing, not exactly Leif Erikson and Viking invaders from the North. Maybe, but the Fins came to play, more reflective of their early-season effort than their recent catalogue. Aaron Rodgers was efficient, even if he didn't light it up like Lynn Dickey circa '83, while the run game produced chunk plays behind the regretful Aaron Jones, he of the pertinent fumble in New England. Overall, the Pack averaged a healthy 6.9 yards per play while limiting the Dolphins to only 4.5. Hey, it's a start.
The Ravens were off this past weekend. Appropriate, in their case, as it provided John Harbaugh's group (and perhaps the coach himself) with a chance to lick wounds. Baltimore has dropped three in a row and four of the last five against an admittedly tough schedule. The next two weeks might hold the key to the Ravens' fortunes: versus the Bengals and Raiders, at home. Each is winnable, particularly with both teams' struggles on defense (the Bengals rank 31st in points allowed and the Raiders rank 30th). With road games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers looming, it's now or never.
Guessing you've heard the saying "It's better to be lucky than good" by this stage of your football-watching career. An offshoot of that decades-old axiom is the lesser-known "It's better to watch your opponent implode in the red zone than to be fully healthy or particularly good." Don't misunderstand: The Redskins' defense forced major errors from the Bucs, like Preston Smith tearing around the edge late in the fourth quarter to strip-sack Ryan Fitzpatrick (although Smith was so busy pulling a John Travolta he appeared to have no idea the ball had been ripped loose) or Greg Stroman's brilliant interception, when he anticipated O.J. Howard's in-cut, then burst in front of the tight end to pick off Fitzmagic's fourth-quarter delivery. Washington got outgained almost two-to-one, yet quintupled the Bucs' point total. Odd, but win-ffective.
"That's what happens when you go cheap. You get your ass kicked." Dion Lewis didn't mince words. But his defense did make mincemeat of the Patriots' attack, disguising coverages and blitzes and doing anything it could to, as Mike Vrabel would suggest after the game, not let Tom Brady go to his first read. The Titans sacked the premier quarterback in NFL history three times while keeping Brady and his receivers out of the end zone. The win was also relevant for all the fellas in Tennessee who once collected checks from Bob Kraft: Vrabel, GM Jon Robinson, CBs Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler and DC Dean Pees. The latter's game plan was an absolute masterpiece, perhaps the best-written item in Nashville since Waylon, Willie and the boys were cutting albums.
The Seahawks gave the Rams all they could handle and came up short again. Reminiscent of the days when Seattle was dominant, and Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams would give Pete Carroll's group all they could handle, right? On Sunday, the running game went nuts, be it via the legs of Rashaad Penny, Russell Wilson or Mike Davis -- the Seahawks revved up the ground attack 34 times for 273 yards. Wilson had attempted only 13 passes by the midway point of the fourth quarter. The QB got another opportunity at the end, with 1:35 left and no timeouts, much like in the previous week against the other guys from L.A. It wasn't to be, but Seattle remains one tough out. Put another way: The 'Hawks will be playoff spoilers for somebody.
Mentioned in the Game Picks column that this matchup felt like a trap game for the Falcons. Most coaches don't seem to subscribe to the "trap game" theory, or (probably) the conspiracy theory that Neil Armstrong's moon landing was actually shot on a soundstage. Your friendly writer is here to tell you that at least one of those theories is based on truth. Atlanta simply couldn't stop Baker Mayfield or Nick Chubb in Cleveland, acting as an equal-opportunity benefactor when it came to giving away free yards. Mayfield went 17 of 20. Chubb gained over 170 on 20 ... carries. Dear Deion Jones, please come back. Soon.
What a show Ezekiel Elliott put on Sunday night. Going beyond the fact he averaged more than 7 yards per carry and went all Edwin Moses on the Eagles, there was no debating who was the premier player on the field. If you brought the bass player from the band at Jabba's Palace to the game, even they could easily spot the most significant piece at the Linc. The Cowboys' star tailback made the whole offense go while providing the Dallas defense all the rest it needed early to be capable of making a few plays late. Look no further than the effort by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch on that third-down stop on Philly's second-to-last drive, fighting through a block to tackle Corey Clement for a loss to force fourth-and-long.
**Side note:** Vander Esch is the Defensive Rookie of the Year. </content:power-ranking>
While I did pick the Jaguars to win in Indy, it's hard not to root for the Colts right now. After so many tough-luck losses early in the season, including the late Jack Doyle fumble against the Bengals, the red-zone failures in Philly and the fourth-down debacle against the Texans, Indy was due. The Colts have now won three in a row. Other than maybe the Saints, their offensive line is playing at a higher level than any unit in pro football.
**Stat of the Day I:** Indy's front five hasn't allowed a sack in five straight games.
**Stat of the Day II:** Andrew Luck has attempted almost 200 throws during that time. </content:power-ranking>
The season is not over in Philadelphia, although the Eagles really needed a win on Sunday night. The defense just couldn't force a stop in the second half, failing to corral Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott at every turn. The Eagles made up for it by not covering. It's a wonder how Philly's defense ranked so well in scoring defense entering the game, because it sure hasn't played like that brand of unit in several games. There was "Fitzmagic the Gathering" in Tampa in Week 2, the fourth-down disasters at Tennessee in Week 4, the myriad stumbles at home against the Vikings the following week and the three fourth-quarter touchdown marches by the Panthers in Week 7. Finally, there was letting the offensively stunted Cowboys move the ball at will in the second half the other night. Maybe if Carson Wentz doesn't throw that fourth-down pass behind Zach Ertz, all that wouldn't have mattered. But he did, and it does.
The Broncos were off Sunday, giving them additional time to prepare for what could be more rough sledding for a team that has lost six of its last seven. Vance Joseph's outfit hasn't played nearly as poorly as its record suggests (Denver ranks 11th in offense and 21st in defense). None of that matters, with their next four games being at the Chargers, at home against the Steelers, at the Bengals and at the 49ers. Denver has struggled on the road for the bulk of two years, going 2-10 in away venues since 2017. If ever it was truly (Von) Miller time -- besides, you know, when you're fishing on a river with Styrofoam koozies -- this is it.
The record might read 5-4, but does this football team look anything like the outfit that handled the Ravens on "Thursday Night Football" back in Week 2 and started the season 4-1? No. The defense came into Sunday's game against the Saints ranked 32nd out of 32 teams. And then fared worse than that would suggest. Cincy was allowing 29.6 points per game heading into Week 10 -- and the Saints almost doubled that, despite the Bengals having their home crowd behind them. Holy cow. Cincinnati couldn't buy a third-down conversion. At least New Orleans was giving garbage-time 80-yard drives away for free.
Healthy jump for the Browns, who might have produced their highest-quality showing of the season in a 28-16 win over the Falcons. The offense showed flashes of what this group can do over the next few seasons, displaying the kind of balance the franchise enjoyed when Brian Sipe was throwing touchdowns to Reggie Rucker, Mike Pruitt was bruising past 100 yards and Calvin Hill was catching passes on third down. There was Baker Mayfield on Sunday, going 17-of-20 for 216 yards (10.8 yards per attempt), three touchdowns and no picks. Nick Chubb darn near chugged his way to 9 yards per carry, haulin' ass for 176 yards. And Duke Johnson contributed with another touchdown catch. Am I being too much of a Positive Perry here?
The Dolphins sit at 5-5, coming off what appeared to be a shellacking in Green Bay. Miami had an opportunity to pull within one score with 34 ticks left in the third quarter, facing third-and-7 at the Packers' 26. Green Bay DC Mike Pettine called for an all-out blitz, collapsing the pocket with eight rushers. Brock Osweiler failed to adjust, held the ball, then tried to escape outside against a safety. No bueno. Osweiler was sacked by Packers safety Raven Greene for a 12-yard loss. Rich Gannon pointed out on the CBS broadcast that Miami needed a sight adjustment (from the receivers). To that end, neither wideout on the side from which Greene blitzed ran a hot route. Little things.
Sensing a Martha Firestone Ford press conference coming sometime soon. The Lions are stinking up the joint and their season is falling apart ... quickly. If it feels like they lack a spark, you should know that the person who brought that spark is now suiting up for the Eagles. As for Detroit's other notable midseason transaction ... The acquisition of "Snacks" Harrison has brought immediate dividends: The Lions allowed only 54 rushing yards against the Bears on Sunday, a third of which came from Mitch Trubisky scrambles. Unfortunately, Snacks doesn't typically eat the quarterback (6.5 sacks in seven seasons), and Trubisky tore apart Matt Patricia's secondary. The offense made up for it by sputtering at 4.2 yards per play. Bleh.
Listened to Doug Marrone after the Jags' 29-26 loss to the Colts on Sunday. Marrone sounded less like a man defeated and more like a coach who wants to keep his locker room engaged. At 3-6, it would be easy for the Jaguars to mail it in for the rest of the season. Yet, the Texans are far from unbeatable in the AFC South, while Jacksonville still carries the most talented roster in the division. The more concerning aspect of Jags' record is the 0-3 division standing. What's really odd about these Jaguars is that, while the elements that figure into their equation for success (ground game + solid defense = grind-it-out wins) were ready and healthy in Indy, the passing offense was actually what kept them in stride with the Colts. Blake Bortles threw a strike to Rashad Greene to extend a potential go-ahead drive, only to watch Greene put the ball on the carpet. Ruled down by contact, the replay booth overturned the call and Jacksonville flew home with a loss. Next up: Steelers.
An aspect of pro football that rarely gets mentioned, yet is a large part of practice (often walkthroughs): red-zone rehearsals. If the Bucs had managed this single area of their overall game plan well on Sunday, they would've won. Tampa Bay took five trips in that area against Washington and came out with all of three points. That actually takes some serious reverse skill. The rundown: interception, missed field goal, field goal, missed field goal, fumble. Ugh.
You have to hand it to Eli Manning, who ignored the (immense) noise and delivered down the stretch in Santa Clara. The numbers didn't bridge a return to greatness, but the Giants needed every one of his scoring tosses to outlast those dodgy 49ers. Saquon Barkley delivered on that final foray into Niners territory, as well, manufacturing his eighth 100-yard scrimmage game of this season. Big Blue is clearly in the midst of a disappointing campaign, yet there is more than enough time to point the season's narrative anywhere but south. Next up: Buccaneers.
Right when you think the Bills are headed straight to 2-14, they start Matt Barkley and throttle the Jets at their park. The stand-in QB sure as heck didn't act like one, averaging more than 9 yards per attempt while passing for two touchdowns and no picks. LeSean McCoy chipped in with 113 yards on the ground. But this win really belongs to Sean McDermott's defensive guys, who ambushed the New York offense and allowed just 199 yards (3.6 yards per down). Back to Barkley: You might recall that he lasted until Round 4 in the 2013 NFL Draft. That was the same year the Bills took EJ Manuel 16th overall. What's interesting about that chain of events is that many draftniks speculated that Barkley might go in the first round. However, the scouts questioned his velocity and his ability to strong-arm the ball through Buffalo's November wind/cold. OK.
Say what you want about the Cardinals, but they gave the Chiefs a ballgame Sunday at Arrowhead. Despite the loss, a few bright spots emerged for Arizona. David Johnson scampered his way to 183 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns. About time, huh? Chandler Jones sacked the elusive Patrick Mahomes twice to push his season total to 8.5. Larry Fitzgerald also deserves special merits, as he moved into second place, behind the great Jerry Rice, in all-time receiving yards (15,952). What a career.
Nick Mullens might have to pay for bottle service now. The one-week success story came back down to Earth on Monday night. (Although I must admit I thought he would somehow deliver a bullet in the end zone in the waning seconds. He did, but just overshot it by a few feet.) Mullens' night: 27 for 39, 250 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. The first pick was definitely on him. Can't throw that late, across the field, outside the numbers. The real downside to this loss to the Giants was a wasted, solid performance from Kyle Shanahan's *defense*, which allowed a mere 277 yards and under 26 minutes time of possession. </content:power-ranking>
Will take any submissions for the Jets blurb here: _________. This might have been the worst loss of Todd Bowles' tenure. It was at least up there with that Saturday night embarrassment at the hands, er, fins of the Dolphins a couple of years ago. Josh McCown was ineffective. The run game was a non-factor. The defense? Flimsy. (451 yards allowed ... seriously, man? Against that offense?) With the Browns winning on Sunday, the Jets are in line for a top-five pick. Again. Joy.
If the Raiders are going to win another game, they could start by shielding their quarterback from getting hit repeatedly. Derek Carr got sacked another four times against the Chargers on Sunday, putting him on pace for 50 this season. In addition to dealing with all that pressure, Carr failed to create many chunk plays in the passing game or find the end zone. That makes 23 straight Oakland drives without a touchdown.
**Historical note:** With their record at 1-8, the Raiders are in danger of equaling the 1962 squad, which went a scintillating 1-13. That team played at Frank Youell Field, which was referred to as "The Erector Set" (with a capacity of 22,000 -- ridiculously small, even by 1960s standards). The coach then was Marty Feldman, not to be confused with Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman (a really rippin' guitarist at that). Feldman started the season at 0-5 before being replaced by Bill Conkright. The following season, the Raiders hired a little-known Chargers assistant named Al Davis as head coach. They went 10-4. Davis' quarterback? Tom Flores. Yep, the same Tom Flores who went on to coach the Davis-owned Raiders to a pair of Super Bowl titles. </content:power-ranking>