Taking a look at the top 10 teams on this list, how different were they than what we expected going into the year? Sure, the Broncos let us down. The Vikings surprised us. The Dolphins emerged faster than we could have imagined. But largely, we are looking at these kind of immovable (for now) stalwarts who are defined by elite quarterback play (the 49erswho may have the deepest offensive roster in the NFL, aside).
It puts into perspective just how gross, stupid or plain unreasonable a team will get in order for a shot at putting themselves in this orbit. That’s why Cleveland did what it did. That’s why the Broncos, who fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett on Monday in the ultimate scapegoat maneuver, did what he did to get Russell Wilson. That’s why the Colts seem to be doing what they’re doing (purposely veering the vehicle off a steep cliff) right now.
Will it seem worth it a few years from now?
Anyway, onto the rankings. We’ve got two weeks remaining, three head coaching jobs open and five playoff spots left to grab. It’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Last week: win at Chicago, 35-13
Next week: at Cincinnati
Josh Allen’s scrambles removed, the Bills still rushed for more than 200 yards against Chicago on Sunday. They have not lost a game since Nov. 13 (and it was in overtime). They have scored 30-plus in each of the previous two weeks and we are now sitting them back atop their rightful throne as the most powerful team in the NFL.
Last week: loss at Dallas, 40-34
Next week: vs. New Orleans
I don’t see how you call that loss, with a backup quarterback possessing a completely different skill set than the MVP-level starter, an indictment of the Eagles. This team can still gash a good defense in crunch time. The Eagles ran out of gas, but I can’t imagine that loss didn’t spike their confidence.
Last week: win vs. Seattle, 24–10
Next week: vs. Denver
When your LeBron James-esque quarterback one-hand push-ups a touchdown, you have to be demoralizing teams on a different level. The Chiefs are succeeding at an unprecedented level despite the fact that almost everyone knows they’re going to pass. Look at this chart. Would you just look at it?
Last week: win at New England, 22-18
Next week: vs. Buffalo
The Bengals had a tough time moving the football on the ground, but when the Patriots took away Ja’Marr Chase (yes I’m calling ‘only’ 79 yards on 11 targets a takeaway), Tee Higgins shined. This is the 2021-22 recipe, improved.
Last week: win vs. Philadelphia, 40–34
Next week: at Tennessee
To put up 40 points on a night when the quarterback was sacked six times, the primary running back averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per carry and the defense didn’t get a single sack is impressive. Sure, the Eagles’ fumbling woes resurfaced, but Dallas has been in some difficult, season-defining situations down the stretch and has performed admirably.
Last week: win vs. Washington, 37–20
Next week: at Las Vegas
Defending the 49ers right now is like trying to catch raindrops. The sheer volume of absolutely gutting playmakers is staggering. Right now, it’s been George Kittle at center stage. Next week? Who knows.
Last week: win at Indianapolis, 20-3
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Chargers clinched their first playoff appearance since 2018 on Monday night. It should deflect some lingering questions about the direction of the franchise for now, especially when their situational running game works as well as it did against the punchless Colts.
Last week: win vs. New York Giants, 27–24
Next week: at Green Bay
The Vikings are collecting one miraculous win after another. Last week, we wondered if the Colts game would produce some level of fatigue. This week, they edged the Giants on a 61-yard field goal. Their constants have remained constant in 2022, and this week we’ll get a glimpse of them operating in a true playoff atmosphere.
Last week: loss vs. Green Bay, 26–20
Next week: at New England
The Dolphins need to do the right thing when it comes to Tua Tagovailoa’s safety at this point. I’m ready and willing to give Teddy Bridgewater a long second look in this system.
Last week: win vs. Atlanta, 17–9
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh
The Ravens have won games with point totals of 10, 17, 13 and 16 since Nov. 20. You can call that lucky, or you can call it a well-built football team that does the little things well. If Lamar Jackson comes back somewhere near full speed, watch out.
11. New York Giants (8-6-1)
Last week: loss at Minnesota, 27-24
Next week: vs. Indianapolis
A win over the Colts next week locks in the Giants’ first playoff appearance since the boat picture saga with Odell Beckham and Co. Yes, the Giants lost to the Vikings, but they stayed competitive, they were beaten on a 61-yard field goal and scored some points in a game where Daniel Jones had to throw the ball 42 times.
Last week: win at New York Jets, 19-3
Next week: at Houston
Making the trip to New York, bludgeoning the Jets and then getting an extended rest will be huge for a Jaguars team that’s throttling towards an end-of-season winner-take-all matchup against the Titans for the AFC South crown.
Last week: loss vs. Houston, 19–14
Next week: vs. Dallas
Without Ryan Tannehill, and without a complete reimagination of what they can do offensively, the Titans are likely on the outside looking in. Dallas and its mobile front seven may be the worst possible team the Titans could see this weekend.
Last week: win at Arizona, 19-16
Next week: vs. Carolina
One checkdown at a time, the Buccaneers whittled their way back into a sleepy Sunday night victory over the Cowboys. I’m sure glad Tom Brady is having fun because not many of the rest of us are.
Last week: win at Miami, 26-20
Next week: vs. Minnesota
The twists and turns of the NFL season are so strange. And suddenly, the Packers are performing at their best with two divisional opponents remaining on the schedule. Their return game with Kaisean Nixon is an ancillary weapon no one is prepared to deal with right now, and Christian Watson seems as dialed in on the quick game as a seasoned Rodgers veteran.
Last week: loss at Kansas City, 24-10
Next week: vs. New York Jets
The Seahawks are out of contention but have nothing to be ashamed of. This was a building block season for a franchise that is stocked with draft capital and, finally, blessedly, free of drama. Kenneth Walker III went for 100-plus and Seattle kept Patrick Mahomes under 25 points.
Last week: loss at Carolina, 37-23
Next week: vs. Chicago
A loss to the Panthers was gut-punching for so many reasons. The worst of which? A team that Dan Campbell tried to make unflappable in moments like this down the stretch was absolutely knifed by the running game in a spot that seriously derailed their attempt to make the playoffs.
18. New York Jets (7–8)
Last week: loss vs. Jacksonville, 19–3
Next week: at Seattle
I feel bad for Zach Wilson and I feel bad for the Jets. People who are blindly throwing stones at either side have clearly never spent time struggling to adapt to a situation, or struggling to help someone else adapt to a situation. It just didn’t work out here. It may not work out in the NFL. Those are the chances you take.
Last week: loss at San Francisco, 37-20
Next week: vs. Cleveland
It doesn’t quite matter who is in at quarterback. I think we saw the Commanders peak this season, which was nice. They are a well-planned offense with talented players, but nowhere near potent enough to contend with the upper crust of this conference.
Last week: win vs. Las Vegas, 13–10
Next week: at Baltimore
This upcoming Steelers-Ravens game is not going to be circled on the calendar as it may have been in years past, but a loss by Baltimore effectively buries its chances of winning the division. I would imagine Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are well aware of this.
Last week: win vs. Detroit, 37–23
Next week: at Tampa Bay
It’s been something to see the Panthers rebrand themselves as punishers over the last few weeks. Out of their previous three games, they’ve had rushing performances of 223 and 320 yards.
Last week: loss vs. Cincinnati, 22–18
Next week: vs. Miami
I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but please, hurry up and bring Bill O’Brien back to the Patriots.
Last week: loss at Pittsburgh, 13-10
Next week: vs. San Francisco
I think we’ll learn a lot about the 2023 Raiders when we see them against two white-hot teams in contention for deep playoff runs, the 49ers and the Chiefs. We will reassess power at the appropriate time.
24. Los Angeles Rams (5–10)
Last week: win vs. Denver, 51–14
Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers
I don’t know how you can’t give a round of applause to both Baker Mayfield and Sean McVay, who, along with this surprisingly deep and situationally talented receiving corps, absolutely demolished one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL this past weekend .
Last week: win at Cleveland, 17-10
Next week: at Philadelphia
The Saints won a 1950s style game against the Cleveland Browns to keep their razor-thin playoff hopes alive. Alvin Kamara’s 3.8 yards per carry looks extremely impressive on a second watch when each line of scrimmage resembles a loaded rugby scrum.
26. Cleveland Browns (6–9)
Last week: loss vs. New Orleans, 17–10
Next week: at Washington
Deshaun Watson got a chance to perform in the chilly temperatures that will define the Browns’ hopeful postseason runs during his tenure. He went 15-of-31 for 135 yards and an interception.
Last week: loss at Baltimore, 17-9
Next week: vs. Arizona
Desmond Ridder was efficient in spurts but didn’t have the kind of corresponding running game he needed for a victory. The Falcons are worth keeping an eye on next year, but for now have lost sight of the division.
Last week: loss vs. Buffalo, 35–13
Next week: at Detroit
Justin Fields had just three completions of 10 yards or more in Chicago’s loss to the Bills. You can bet that deep game gets dialed in this offseason, and he emerges in 2023 a more complete weapon.
Last week: loss vs. Tampa Bay, 19–16
Next week: at Atlanta
I have to say that Sunday night’s matchup was one of the Cardinals’ more spirited performances towards the end of this season. Despite what seems like a borderline organizational crisis, Kliff Kingsbury and his offensive staff got Trace McSorley on the verge of beating Tom Brady in his first career start.
Last week: loss vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 20–3
Next week: at New York Giants
I think the Colts are dangerously circling a territory where people are going to start associating the circumstances by which Jeff Saturday was hired and their ever-improving draft position as they inch towards a potential franchise QB. In the Saturday era, they have been outscored 90-9 in the fourth quarter.
Last week: win at Tennessee, 19-14
Next week: vs. Jacksonville
The Texans managed to clip a Ryan Tannehill-less Titans team to get their second win of the season. While their record may ultimately be turned into an indictment of Lovie Smith, make no mistake: this is not a team meant to be winning games right now. Kudos to the Texans for doing so on Saturday, anyway.
Last week: loss at Los Angeles Rams, 51-14
Next week: at Kansas City
The Broncos are all in on Russell Wilson. Or perhaps all in on a new coach who will convince them that they cannot be all in on Russell Wilson. Good luck!