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NFL Power 12 rankings - Week 10: Clarity at the top

Plus a discussion on the Texans & Bears legitimacy

Seth Dunlap
November 07, 2018 - 8:01 pm
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While the NFL playoff picture has solidified a bit the past few weeks, there was still a bit of uncertainty at the top of each conference heading into last weekend.

In the NFC the Los Angeles Rams were undefeated, but they had barely escaped potential losses multiple times over the past month. The New Orleans Saints (7-1) finally put a tally in the Rams’ (8-1) loss column, and in doing so became the consensus “best team in the league” according to most of those talking heads across the country. 

Over in the AFC it’s becoming clear that the preseason favorites are indeed emerging as expected conference heavyweights.   The New England Patriots (7-2) dominated the Green Bay Packers for their fifth straight win.  The Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) did what no AFC team in the past decade has been able to do – win in Seattle.  The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1) are a somehow under-the-radar leader in the AFC North, and winners of four straight games.   Those three teams were expected to be the leading contenders for conference supremacy this season.  The Jaguars were supposed to be crashing that party too, but they’ve faded and the Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) have instead have risen to hold the conference’s best record.

In a league that thrives on the unexpected, there seems to be an excess of clarity right now, with two glaring exceptions.

The Houston Texans and Chicago Bears have become lightning rods of diverging opinions for analysts and commentators, as there’s very little consensus on just how good, or not good, those two teams are.

Houston is floating to the top of a murky AFC South, something they’ve done often done in the Bill O’Brien era.   Perhaps it’s disingenuous to describe the Texans six game winning streak that way, but a look into their schedule provides some needed perspective.   Five of their wins have come against teams with a combined 14-28 record, the least-daunting schedule in the NFL over that stretch.  Their other win came at home on a short week against a team missing their starting quarterback.

Now, wins in the NFL aren’t doled out like non-conference cupcakes in the SEC, but that was hardly murderer’s row.   Houston’s remaining schedule includes just one team over .500, so they’re clear favorites in the division, but this should be standard O’Brien-Texans fare – they’ll win the division and then likely be underdogs at home against whatever Wild-Card team visits in January.

The Bears (5-3) are a little tougher nut to crack.  They’ve also benefitted from a soft-schedule, with four of their wins coming against teams under.500, and the fifth coming at home against the 4-4 Seahawks.   They’ve also been beaten by the two teams with winning records on their schedule, a 31-28 overtime loss in Miami followed by a 38-31 home loss to the Patriots.  Yet, the Bears have consistently been routing the inferior opponents on their schedule, often a sign of a team that’s quickly ascending to legitimate contender status.   They’ve beaten the Bucs, Jets, and Bills by a combined 113-29 score, a ridiculous figure that’s usually something we associate with that team in Foxboro. 

The Bears schedule does get much tougher on the back half, with two games against the Vikings and home dates with the Rams and Packers.   Unlike the Texans, we’ll know just how legitimate this Bears team is by the time the playoffs roll around.  Don’t sleep on the new Monsters of the Midway up north.

On to the rankings for Week 10.  Again, these are predictions for the 12 teams that will make the playoffs..  This isn’t a traditional “power rankings” list of the 12 best teams in football.  Check out the unlimited barrage of those regular power rankings elsewhere for that.  These projections have been remarkably stable lately, with only one new team to the rankings in the past two weeks.

 

NFL Power 12 - Week 10

1.  New Orleans Saints (7-1) LW-#2:  There have been multiple opportunities for statement wins on the Saints schedule, and they’re yet to have a let-down in one of those spots.  Their first-half evisceration of the Rams last week showed the impressive ceiling for this team.  Nobody in this league can beat the Saints if they’re playing at their best.  Last week:  W 45-35 vs. LAR, This week: @ CIN

2.  Los Angeles Rams (8-1) LW-#1:  The Rams were exposed (again) defensively against the Saints.   This is becoming an unsettling trend for this team, who’ve now given up 30+ points in three of their past six games.   Perhaps getting Aqib Talib back will help, but those expecting the aging cornerback to fix their multitude of issues on that side of the football are likely being a bit too optimistic.  The Rams will coast to the NFC West title and a first round bye, but now may have to make a return trip to New Orleans in January.  Last week: L 45-35 @ NO, This week: vs. SEA

3.  New England Patriots (7-2) LW-#3:  It’s a fun NFL past-time to criticize the Patriots schedule, usually pointing to the dumpster-fire the AFC East usually is, but this season they’ve had some real challenges on their docket.   New England has dispatched the Chiefs, Bears, and Packers in the past month to prove they’re once again a real title contender. Last week: W 31-17 vs. GB, This week: @ TEN

4.  Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) LW-#4:  Patrick Mahomes now leads the league in passing yards and touchdowns, and it looks like the young gun-slinger will be in a highly intriguing (and hotly debated) MVP race with Drew Brees the next two months.   If the Chiefs keep winning, he has a real shot to win the award, and it doesn’t look like the reversion-to-expectations is coming for Kansas City. Last week:  W 37-21 @ CLE, This week: vs. ARI

5.  Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) LW-6:  The Chargers have won five straight and their two losses on the year are to the Rams and Chiefs, teams with a combined 16-2 record.  An impressive win in Seattle sets the Bolts up for a real shot to get to 9-2 before a brutal December stretch where they play in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, along with home contests against the Bengals and Ravens.  Last week: W 25-17 @ SEA,  This week: @ OAK

6.  Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1) LW-7:  There are now legitimate headlines asking if the Steelers are, in fact, better off without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who is back in Pittsburgh but has yet to report to the team this season.  Meanwhile, the Steelers just keep winning and now are back in control of the AFC North, a spot where most people thought they’d be entering the season. Last Week: W 23-16 @ BAL, This week: vs. CAR (TNF)

7.  Carolina Panthers (6-2) LW-#8:  Last week I wrote that Ron Rivera could win every future NFL Coach of the Year award and I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.  Well, he might just win that award this season if the Panthers keep winning at this unexpected clip.  This week is perhaps their toughest spot on their schedule -- a short-week Thursday night game in Pittsburgh against the surging Steelers.  Last week:  W 42-28 vs. TB, This week: @ PIT (TNF)

8.  Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) LW-#9:  Great time for the bye, as it can act as a reset-point for the scuffling defending champs.  The back half of their schedule is loaded with divisional games and road tests against the Rams and Saints.  Philadelphia has buried themselves a bit with those four early losses, but they should be favorites in six of their remaining eight games which would get them to 10 wins and likely put them in the playoffs.  Remember, if they beat Washington in their two looming matchups they’ll probably win the NFC East regardless of whether they get to double-digit victories or not. Last week:  BYE, This week: vs. DAL

9. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) LW-#11:  Very nice bounce-back win for the Vikings, who put Detroit fans into collective freak-out mode over Matt Patricia’s reign over the Lions.  The Vikings now begin an absolutely brutal stretch of consecutive games against the Bears, Packers, and Patriots, and then they finish with a trip to Seattle.  They’ll need to beat the Bears to keep their head above water in this fantastically intriguing NFC Wild Card race.  Lose, and the Vikings will have this spot swiped away by Chicago.   Last week:  W 24-9 vs. DET, This week: @ CHI (SNF)

10.  Houston Texans (5-3) LW-#11:  Is Houston the 10th best team in football?  Probably not, but the NFL playoff system isn’t determined by polls or selection committees – thank goodness for that!  There are teams not on this list that are objectively better (Bears, Packers, Ravens) but the best teams don’t always make the post-season tournament, and we should be fine with that.  The Texans deserve to be 10th ranked team on this list. Last week:  W 19-17 @ DEN, This week: BYE

11.  Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) LW-12:  A bye week for the Bengals certainly helped in preparing for their home test against the red-hot Saints.  Even if Cincinnati loses this week, they’re in pretty good position in the battle for the Wild-Card spots in the AFC.  They already have wins over the Colts and Dolphins, which gives them the tiebreaker advantage in any heads-up or three way tie between the teams at season’s end.  They also have a win and a two game lead against the now-freefalling Ravens.   The Bengals look like a solid bet to make the playoffs for the eighth time under head coach Marvin Lewis.  Last week:  BYE, This week: vs. NO

12.  Washington (5-3) LW-5:  A special note on Washington, who suffered another implosion against a good NFC South offense. Washington has been sent reeling, and are now just a game up on the Eagles in the NFC East.  They also have a negative point differential for the season due in large-part to those blowout losses to the Falcons and Saints.  Washington remains very slight favorites over the Bears, Packers, Falcons, and Seahawks to grab at least a Wild-Card spot into the playoffs, but their margin for error is evaporating quickly.  It’s unclear if they’d be favorites over any of those teams on a neutral field, but their 5-2 start, coupled with a favorable remaining schedule, keeps them in these rankings – barely.   Last week: L 38-14 @ NYG, This week: vs. ATL

 

Dropping out: 

  • NONE

Previous Week's Rankings here

 

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