After three weeks of the NFL season, the title contenders are starting to emerge while other teams are already starting to look toward 2020. Then there’s a glut of teams crammed in the middle. Let’s try to make sense of this crazy league in this week’s power rankings.
Rankings will be based on a number of factors, but the main overarching question when I decide on the order will be “If these teams played on a neutral field, who’d win?” So I won’t be overreacting to upsets and flukey results. One team beating another does not guarantee a higher ranking.
These are tier-based rankings. And instead of writing a few inane sentences on each team, I’ll highlight one team from each tier and give them a little more attention.
With that out of the way, let’s rank some teams…
Tier 1: Fast-forward to the AFC title game already
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Can we actually make this the Super Bowl matchup?
1. Patriots (3-0, Point Differential: +89)
2. Chiefs (3-0, Point Differential: +37)
So maybe this isn’t a one-team race, after all. After three dominant performances, the latest one coming over the third-best team in the league, the Chiefs have earned their way into the top tier. And I wouldn’t argue with anyone saying they deserve to be at the top. But Bill Belichick’s and Tom Brady’s existence prevents me from making such a drastic move.
I still think the Patriots beat the Chiefs on a neutral field, but the AFC Championship Game won’t be played on a neutral field, and I’d give Kansas City the inside track for winning home-field advantage at this point. According to FiveThiryEight’s projections, the Chiefs are the favorites to win the AFC No. 1 seed, mostly due to difference in schedules. The Patriots have five games, including their Week 15 matchup with Kansas City, where the projected point differential is five or lower. The Chiefs have three such matchups, including the game in New England. Trips to Detroit and Chicago are the others.
We know the Chiefs offense is going to put up a lot of points. Patrick Mahomes has fixed some of the (minor) issues he had in 2018 and looks like a better quarterback. And the Chiefs offense is somehow more loaded than it was a season ago. The Ravens defense just couldn’t keep up on Sunday. I’m still wary of Kansas City’s defense, but the pass rush, led by DT Chris Jones, has been solid and the secondary is playing better than it did a season ago.
New England barely escaped Kansas City with a win last January, and that will be a far more difficult task this time around. The Pats have no margin for error.
Tier 2: Fringe Super Bowl contenders
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Not a lot of change here. The Cowboys leapfrog the Rams after another uninspired performance by Jared Goff, who is being outplayed by Dak Prescott. Still not ready to give up on the depleted Eagles after a close loss to a good Lions team.
3. Ravens (2-1, Point Differential: +50)
4. Cowboys (3-0, Point Differential: +53)
5. Rams (3-0, Point Differential: +28)
6. Packers (3-0, Point Differential: +23)
7. Saints (2-1, Point Differential: -10)
8. Eagles (1-2, Point Differential: -2)
If Lamar Jackson plays even a decent game, the Ravens just might have pulled out a win on Sunday agains the Chiefs. But the second-year quarterback was erratic all game and really needed two lucky passes to make his stat line look respectable. Jackson’s statistical performance has been trending down since the opening week massacre of the Dolphins, but the young quarterback has looked good on film, so I’m not too worried about that trend.
Despite Jackson’s rough game, Baltimore still had a chance to win thanks to John Harbaugh’s aggressive decision-making. The Ravens converted three-of-four fourth-down attempts and went for two-point conversation attempts after three touchdowns, failing to convert each time. That led to postgame questions, which Harbaugh swatted down…
That Harbaugh had to explain why he made those decisions is beyond frustrating. The numbers speak for themselves…
If win probabilities are a little too complex for you, think about the decisions to go for two like this: The Ravens ultimately lost by five points. Had they kicked those three extra points, they still lose by two. But if they had converted on those three two-point tries, they win by a point. Obviously the Ravens converting those attempts might change the Chiefs’ strategy, but you get the idea.
The math is on Harbaugh’s side. The Ravens’ offseason investment in their analytical department, which led to the hiring of several data analysts who had been posting their statistical research on Twitter, seems to be paying off. And not just with these special situations.
Baltimore is now home to the nerdiest football team in the NFL.
Tier 3: The rest of the playoff contenders.
This tier is getting awfully crowded, and I only see a few teams here — the 49ers, Chargers and Vikings — capable of ascending to the next group. I might throw the Colts in there, as well, but they have a much lower ceiling, even if their floor is much higher. The 3-0 Bills are, at the very least, a good football team, but they haven’t been tested. We’ll find out how good this Sunday.
9. Colts (2-1, Point Differential: -1)
10. 49ers (3-0, Point Differential: +42)
11. Chargers (1-2, Point Differential: -4)
12. Vikings (2-1, Point Differential: +31)
13. Seahawks (2-1, Point Differential: 13)
14. Bills (3-0, Point Differential: +19)
15. Browns (1-2, Point Differential: -17)
16. Lions (2-0-1, Point Differential: +6)
17. Texans (2-1, Point Differential: +6)
18. Bears (2-1, Point Differential: -+11)
19. Falcons (1-2, Point Differential: -15)
The Lions are a good football team. I can say that with confidence. Does that mean they’ll end up in the playoffs? No, probably not. The NFC is just too deep and the gap in talent between Detroit and the top of its division is still pretty wide.
But the Lions are solid on both sides of the ball. Matt Patricia’s defense showed flashes of potential throughout the 2018 season, and now, if you squint hard enough, you might convince yourself you’re watching a New England defense. Detroit could use more pass rushing, but the run defense is stout, the secondary isn’t making a lot of mistakes and the team is swarming to the football.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions are probably running the ball too much, but new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is letting Matt Stafford be Matt Stafford. The rifle-armed quarterback’s game had been neutered by Jim Bob Cooter, but he’s back to pushing the ball downfield. Stafford’s is averaging 11.1 air yards per attempt after averaging 7 in 2018. As a result, his completion percentage is down but his yards-per-attempt average is up a full yard. And after three weeks, the Lions rank eighth in passing DVOA.
The offense is so much better than it was a year ago, and the defense continues to make strides. Matt Patricia is quietly turning this team around.
Tier 4: Not terrible, but also not doing much this season.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Some of these teams will be interesting to watch down the stretch. Especially the top-three teams. The rest of them? You can pretty much ignore them for the rest of the season.
20. Buccaneers (1-2, Point Differential: -9)
21. Panthers (1-2, Point Differential: +9)
22. Jaguars (1-2, Point Differential: -2)
23. Titans (1-2, Point Differential: +15)
24. Broncos (0-3, Point Differential: -21)
25. Raiders (1-2, Point Differential: -30)
26. Steelers (0-3, Point Differential: -36)
OK, Thursday was enough for me. I’m all-in on Gardner Minshew as the Jaguars’ quarterback of the future. I liked the Washington State product going into the draft — and even predicted he would be an opening-day starter at one point in his career — but I was worried about his lack of arm strength. While I’m still not convinced he has enough arm talent to ever develop into a true star, he has shown that he has just enough to make tough NFL throws like this one…
You can still see his limitations there, as the ball is a bit of a duck and sort of dies in the air right before getting to D.J. Chark, but that’s a tough throw that I didn’t think Minshew was capable of making. I stand corrected.
Minshew’s quick decision-making really stood out to me against the Titans. There are some highly thought of quarterbacks (*cough* Baker Mayfield *cough*) who are struggling to make timing throws like this one…
That Minshew is able to recognize the blitz and how to beat it, all while making this throw on time, is awfully impressive for a rookie. The Jags have a good one. Now, what to do about Nick Foles? The Jags are stuck with his contract for at least another season.
Tier 5: There’s always 2020.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Hey, Daniel Jones looked pretty good! The rest of these teams did not.
27. Cardinals (0-2-1, Point Differential: -6)
28. Giants (1-2, Point Differential: -31)
29. Redskins (0-3, Point Differential: -31)
30. Bengals (0-3, Point Differential: -29)
31. Jets (0-3, Point Differential: -37)
This worked last week with the Giants, so I’m going try it again: It’s time for the Redskins to hand things over to Dwayne Haskins. The season is over and Jay Gruden’s only chance of saving his job (LOL) is by playing the rookie. If Haskins shows some potential in Gruden’s scheme, Daniel Snyder may think twice about pulling the plug on his coach.
On top of that, Case Keenum is a bad quarterback. I get that Haskins is a rookie, but it’s not like you’re getting veteran-decision making from the 31-year-old. This is a throw you wouldn’t expect a rookie to make against a single-high safety coverage…
Keenum’s arm, which was never very strong, appears to be cooked…
It’s time to play the rookie and give fans in Washington a reason to watch.
Tier 6: The 2019 Miami Dolphins vs. History
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Are we watching the worst team in NFL history?
32. Dolphins (0-3, Point Differential: -117)
Through three weeks, the Dolphins have been the worst team this league has ever seen based on point differential. The 1976 Bucs, the league’s first winless team, own the record for worst point differential at -287 for a single season. After the loss to Dallas, Miami’s point-differential sits at -117. The Dolphins are on pace to be out-scored by 624 points.