1. San Francisco 49ers (8-1)
Despite their thrilling loss to Seattle on MNF this week, the 49ers’ top-of-the-league 8-1 record and how they have achieved it has meant that I have kept San Fran at the top of the rankings. Despite Jimmy Garoppolo faltering slightly, the 49ers’ defensive line was once again dominant on Monday and caused Russell Wilson heaps of problems, alongside the running game keeping up its frighteningly good pace. They may not have the best individual quarterback, or as good of a running game as Baltimore, or as dominant a defense as New England, but at just past the half-way point of the season, the 49ers remain the best all-round team in the NFL.
2. New England Patriots (8-1)
With a record matching the number one ranked team in this list, in theory, it should be hard to separate the Pats from the ‘Niners. In reality, they are a distance apart in my opinion, and New England were actually very close to being ranked a few spots lower in this list. This is mostly due to the lack of quality opponents they have faced so far, having only played three teams with a winning record – most recently losing to Baltimore. So why have I awarded them the #2 spot? Because they have Tom Brady running the offense, Bill Belichick running a record-setting defense and just because they’re the Patriots.
3. Green Bay Packers (8-2)
As alluded to above, there are very little between teams 2–6 on my list. Green Bay find themselves at number three after they put away the demons from LA with a measured and assured display at snowy Lambeau against the Panthers. Stud running back Aaron Jones once again went crazy at home, running in for three touchdowns on the night. The ‘other’ Aaron looked stable, if not spectacular, at QB, and the defense tightened up after slipping in quality since the fourth week of the season. Other than two slightly unexpected losses – at the Chargers and home to the Eagles – the Packers have looked like comfortable Super Bowl contenders. But they must iron out their inconsistencies if they want to make this a reality.
4. New Orleans Saints (7-2)
You never what’s going to happen in the NFL, and that was certainly true this week when the Saints took a hammering from the lowly Falcons. Yes, the Falcons, their biggest rivals. Despite this, I still have faith in the Saints, who have possibly the best coach, front office and backroom staff in all of football, as well as stars like Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Cam Jordan and many other playmakers. The Saints will recover from this minor speedbump without any problems and will walk into the playoffs.
5. Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
The Ravens followed up their pummelling of New England with a flawless display against Cincinnati where QB Lamar Jackson only furthered his MVP claims. Yes, the quality of opponent has to be taken into consideration but whichever way you look at it, the Ravens seem to be a team on the up. They are well-coached, have star players littered throughout, and appear to be built around Jackson’s skill sets, rather than forcing Jackson into the team’s playing style. If wide receiver Marquise Brown can stay healthy, this is a team with a huge upside.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)
Placing the Chiefs at #6 may seem a little unwarranted considering there are better-ranked teams below them. But the Chiefs hold onto this spot because of my faith in four key people: Andy Reid, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and, of course, Patrick Mahomes. On their day, KC can beat absolutely anyone with this sort of star-studded talent, and the defense is much improved from last season where they were probably a coin-flip away from the Super Bowl. Sunday’s unexpected loss to the Titans will sting them, and I could easily see them going 6-0 in their final six games with an easier schedule and getting a first-round bye in the playoffs.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-2)
Ranking this team was extremely difficult for me, and I could have quite easily placed them at number two, not a million miles behind the fellow NFC West team that they beat on Monday. QB Russell Wilson is certainly playing ‘DangeRussly’ (sorry, couldn’t help myself) and is most people’s front runner for MVP. Off-season acquisition Jadeveon Clowney exploded into life against the ‘Niners and he could be pivotal to their Super Bowl push, as he always seems to play better in the big games at the end of the season. Seattle’s extremely low points differential (+21, lower than teams like the Rams, Cowboys and Bills) is the only thing stopping me from ranking them higher as it highlights just how many games they have won at the buzzer. There will be games to come where Wilson won’t be able to pull the Seahawks out of a rut in the fourth quarter all on his own.
8. Minnesota Vikings (7-3)
Easily one of the most well-rounded teams on this list, the Vikings could feel hard done by to sit this low. Other than an early slump, Kirk Cousins has played very well and has turned up and balled out in some of Minnesota’s big games! The QB has a wealth of talent around him in offense as well as having a strong defense to lean on. I think everyone can see the key to this team’s championship push is Cousins staying fit and on form.
9. Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
Dallas is another tough team to rank. They got off to a booming start; QB Dak Prescott is playing as good as he ever has; they managed to hold onto star RB Zeke Elliot; they have a trio of excellent WRs, including Amari Cooper who has been a bona fide stud; they have some of the league’s best players on defense and have conceded the fourth-fewest points in the league; and yet they are only 5-4. In fairness, they have played some of the league’s very best, but they have also played some of the league’s worst and slipped up (I’m looking at you, Jets). The Cowboys need to find a way to grind out close games – three of the four they have lost have been by four points or fewer.
10. Houston Texans (6-3)
Despite having a better or similar upside than a few of the teams above, I am yet to be convinced by the Texans. I do believe in QB Deshaun Watson and he could quite easily turn me into a believer. But for me, the Texans are just too thin on the ground to be considered better than some of the other teams on this list. JJ Watt going down for the season is a perfect example of this. If Houston is to become a top five team, it will be on Watson’s shoulders.
11. Los Angeles Rams (5-4)
Last year’s runners up have blown very hot and cold this season – and more cold than hot. My frustrations with the Rams have been clear to see in several of my game reviews when we have lost to a team that we comfortably should have beaten with the talent available. In fairness, being in the NFC West, the Rams have lost to good teams too. The O-line shows no sign of improving, which has been the major issue for Goff and co, and with an extremely tough finish to the season, I think the Rams will struggle to qualify for the playoffs in a ridiculously competitive NFC.
12. Carolina Panthers (5-4)
Pre-season, a Cam Newton-less Carolina franchise would probably have been written off. However, this is now Christian McCaffrey’s Panthers team, with the young running back practically dragging them through many of their wins this season. Back-up QB Kyle Allen has looked very steady and assured, and has been comfortably better than most expected him to be. If anything, he has epitomised the team with his own performances – extremely average. The defense hasn’t offered anything groundbreaking but has been fine. I just don’t think the Panthers have enough to be a legitimate threat to any of the teams above them.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)
With one of the better rosters in the league, Philly fans should feel very disappointed at 5-4, and everyone around this franchise knows they need to improve rapidly to sneak a playoff berth. Admittedly, they have been hampered by the niggling injury to DeSean Jackson (expected to be out for the remainder). I genuinely feel he would have made a huge difference to Carson Wentz, who has lacked a talented WR. After facing the Patriots and Seahawks in the next two weeks, Philadelphia has a relatively easy run-in to finish the season, but I can’t see them climbing much higher than this spot in my rankings.
14. Indianapolis Colts (5-4)
Indy coped with Jacoby Brisset at QB for eight games. Despite the talent through the rest of the team, I don’t think Brian Hoyer was a good enough QB for the NFL, and this was demonstrated in their loss to the Dolphins last weekend. The sooner the Colts can get Brissett back, the better, as they are also without WRs Parris Campbell and TY Hilton. They still have the talent and the ability to push for a playoff berth in the AFC.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4)
What a turnaround Mike Tomlin has engineered. After starting 0-3, many had already written off the Steelers who, by the end of Week 1, were without any of their golden trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. In their absence, the defense has stepped up to become one of the fiercest units in the league; pass rusher TJ Watt is a front runner for defensive player of the year; linebacker Devin Bush is developing into a solid player; and newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is turning into the star that Pittsburgh were hoping he could be. The Steelers now have two games against the Browns sandwiched either side of a trip to Cincinnati that will be vital to their revitalised wildcard push. Pittsburgh has always been successful under Tomlin and good teams stay good.
16. Oakland Raiders (5-4)
Perhaps the shock of the season, the Raiders appear to be leaving the Black Hole with a bang. Jon Gruden has Derek Carr and the offense playing as well as they ever have, with rookie RB Josh Jacobs a key feature of the attack. Oakland has one of the more friendly second-half schedules, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Carr and Jacobs rack up more points. However, this excellent unit is being let down by the poor defensive side of the ball, which will need to be fixed if they want to hold on to their top-half rank.
17. Buffalo Bills (6-3)
The Bills are a tough team to rank, despite having a very clear identity: solid defense. Having conceded the third-fewest points in the league (behind only the top-two ranked teams in this list), Head Coach Sean McDermott will be focusing on continuing the development of second-year QB Josh Allen. The athletic passer has played well enough for the Bills to be sitting pretty at 6-3, but they have yet to win against a team above .500, who they seem to struggle to score points against. They are still an outside bet to make the playoffs, but they have yet to play well enough to convince me.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6)
What a frustrating season this has been for Chargers fans. It feels like they come so close every game to scraping a win, but either through their opponents’ brilliance – or, more often, their own demise – all six of their losses have been by fewer than seven points! Talent-wise, this does feel like a team that could be closer to 10 wins than four; Melvin Gordon and Phillip Rivers are both All-Pro calibre attackers; Keenan Allen continues to be one of the most underrated WRs in the NFL; and the pass-rush duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have played incredibly. But in saying all of that, they still don’t seem to have clicked as a full team for a full game yet.
19. Cleveland Browns (3-6)
Another disappointing team, it seems that the pre-season hype may well have been unfounded for Cleveland. However, considering their ridiculously tough first-half schedule, they have shown some good signs: beating the Ravens, taking the Rams and Patriots close, and coming within inches of toppling the Seahawks, all of which has allowed me to rank them higher than many teams with better records. But the Browns will need to drastically improve in their remaining ‘easier’ games to hold onto this ranking.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5)
The Jaguars are the beginning of a run of teams in this list that are just ‘OK’. The reason they top the list of these teams is that the Jaguars have Nick Foles returning to the starting QB position and, not ignoring the impressive showings from his stand-in Gardner Minshew, Foles could be the spark they need to propel themselves away from average-ness. The defense, while still good, is no longer the fearsome unit it once was and the offense is finding that a harsh reality to adjust to.
21. Tennessee Titans (5-5)
Ah, the Tennessee Titans, the perennial 9-7 team. Will they ever move away from that yo-yo pattern of win-lose-win-lose? Well, with Ryan Tannehill taking over at QB, it certainly seems more hopeful than when Marcus Mariota was there, but I still feel they still are what they are: a 5-5 team that will win some, lose some, without much drama along the way.
22. Chicago Bears (4-5)
Chicago appears to have regressed from last year in almost every measure, a frustrating thing for any fan to witness. Like Jacksonville, the defense is not the same impenetrable unit it was last year and the offense is struggling without Tariq Cohen making those game-changing plays. The Bears are also a team with QB struggles, and it is becoming ever-clearer that Trubisky is not the franchise QB that Bears fans had hoped for. With a better signal-caller, Chicago could be far higher on this list.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)
Even incredible WR play (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin is surely the best one-two punch in the league right now) has not been enough to make up for Jameis Winston’s inconsistencies at QB, and the Bucs continue to be the up-and-down rollercoaster that they always have been. On their day, they manage to rumble with some of the league’s best, but also find ways to lose to teams they should be putting away. I can’t see them climbing much higher than this on the rankings unless Winston fundamentally changes.
24. Detroit Lions (3-5-1)
Early in the season, the Lions were playing well and were several people’s picks for surprise team of the season. Mathew Stafford has been having a career season and has been excellent, along with the rest of the offense. On the other hand, Head Coach Matt Patricia’s defense has been terrible, seemingly unable to make any stops or get off the field. If the Detroit defense was even slightly better, they could easily be a top-half team.
25. Denver Broncos (3-6)
In the one game Denver has played without Joe Flacco at QB, they looked far more controlled in offense than they had all season. Coming off their bye week, it will be interesting to see if Brandon Allen can keep up the impressive play he displayed against the Browns and try and improve their rankings. The defense will need to keep up their strong pace in a rough end-of-season schedule.
26. Atlanta Falcons (2-7)
Before this weekend, the Falcons seemed dead and buried. After hammering the high-flying Saints, there is now the faintest glimmer of hope. Well, not to make the playoffs, but to not be terrible at least! In a way, this team is very similar to Detroit: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are still two of the game’s very best, but the defense just needs to consistently play like they did on Sunday. With a reshuffle of coaching staff over the bye week, maybe they will…
27. Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1)
Despite a poor record, I think Cardinals fans will be fairly pleased with their team so far. Kyler Murray looks like a promising player and new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury seems to have some very bright ideas. At its core, this is a team in transition, and if they can keep improving, I will have no doubts about moving them up in the rankings.
28. New York Jets (2-7)
Another team that has been somewhat disappointing this year, the Jets sit in last place in the AFC East after 10 weeks, behind even the purposefully bad Dolphins. However, I still feel the Jets can be better than their record currently shows and could be set for a stronger finish to the season against a run of slightly easier opponents.
29. New York Giants (2-8)
Like the Cardinals, the Giants are a team in the rebuilding phase and so I don’t think they can be too disappointed with the way they have played. Daniel Jones, at the very worst, isn’t a bust; Saquon Barkley has shown signs of brilliance (despite obviously struggling with injury niggles) and Evan Engram has emerged as one of the league’s premier TEs. The defense still has to step up but there is promise there for the team.
30. Miami Dolphins (2-7)
Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have even had to think where to rank Miami: dead last. After two wins in a row, the Dolphins look like a transformed team, particularly in their most recent encounter against the Colts where the defense stood up to be counted. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is still showing signs of Fitzmagic and, if he isn’t careful, could ruin Miami’s “tank for Tua” parade…
31. Washington Redskins (1-8)
It’s never a good sign when a team sacks its Head Coach partway through the season. The day the Redskins finally decided they had had enough of Jay Gruden was effectively the day their season ended. They have very little genuine talent on either side of the ball, and even first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins looks to be struggling hugely. Not a good season for the Redskins.
32. Cincinnati Bengals (0-9)
Unlike the Giants, the Cardinals or even the Jets to an extent, there are no excuses for the Bengals. They haven’t had an outrageously tough schedule. They aren’t ‘rebuilding’. They are just straight-up bad. I said in my paragraph on the Pittsburgh Steelers that “good teams stay good”; clearly the opposite is also true.