Seth Dunlap's NFL Power 12 rankings, Week 8: Searching for playoff clarity

The Vikings are looking like a contender again

Seth Dunlap
October 23, 2018 - 8:05 pm

If there’s such a thing as the dog days of the NFL season, we’re entering it now.  Wear and tear on bodies now becomes a factor, especially for those teams who haven’t had their bye week yet.  The league is also into the part of the season where a whole mess of teams is clogged up near .500, and handicapping the playoff races should be difficult.

Well, the next two weeks will offer everybody much more clarity on how the NFC is going to shake out at the top, at least.  New Orleans (5-1) travels to Minnesota (4-2-1), a place where they lost twice last season, including the playoff stunner.  The Saints then face the Rams (7-0) at home in the Superdome. 

Those three teams look like they’ll be in a three way battle for the top two seeds, with the Rams getting an opportunity to all but wrap up the race for the #1 overall seed into the playoffs, and home field advantage, well before fans even get to pick out their Thanksgiving turkeys. 

The Wild Card races in each conference aren’t as clearly defined.  The Panthers took a step towards the playoffs with a huge road win against the Eagles.  Meanwhile, the Steelers had one heck of a week – and they didn’t even play.

On to the rankings for Week 8.  Again, these are the dozen teams I’m currently predicting to make the playoffs.  This isn’t a list of what I think are the 12 best teams in football.  Check out the unlimited barrage of those regular power rankings elsewhere for that.


NFL Power 12 - Week 8

1.  Los Angeles Rams (7-0) LW-#1:  The Rams continue to beat up on NFL bottom feeders, having now played three of the four one-loss teams in the league.  Additionally, only two of the Rams seven opponents have a winning record – Chargers (5-2) and Vikings (4-2-1) and the Rams faced both at home.  That lighter-than-expected slate has made them prohibitive favorites to get home field advantage in the NFC.  Last week: W 39-10 @ SF, This week: vs. GB

2.  New Orleans Saints (5-1) LW-#2:  Call it an escape act, but in reality the Saints dominated a team many labeled as a Super Bowl contender for 56 minutes on Sunday.   The problem for New Orleans continues to be the last two minutes of the half, where the Saints allowed a touchdown twice, one in each half, to the Ravens.  Championship teams almost always have fortune favor them at points throughout the season, and nobody on Airline Drive is ready to give Justin Tucker a mulligan. Last week:  W 24-23 @ BAL, This week: @ MIN

3.  New England Patriots (5-2) LW-#3:  The Patriots have suddenly reeled off four consecutive wins, and are currently positioned as the #2 seed in the AFC.  Plus, they have the tiebreaker over top seeded Kansas City, which means the Patriots need to only finish in a tie with the Chiefs to steal home field advantage in the playoffs.  Last week: W 38-31 @ CHI, This week: @ BUF

4.  Kansas City Chiefs (6-1) LW-#4:  Everybody keeps expecting the Chiefs’ season to revert towards pre-season expectations.  They’re still getting outgained by nearly 45 yards per game by their opponents.  Yet they just keep winning.  Anybody who has actually watched Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt in this Andy Reid offense has seen how terrifying that’s going to be for any opponent.  It’s hard to not see them playing until at least mid-January.  Last week:  W 45-10 vs. CIN, This week: vs. DEN

5. Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1) LW-#5  Don’t look now, but the Vikings are back on top of the NFC North and they’ve got an offense that can put up big points in any given game.   Kirk Cousins is creeping towards MVP contention with 2,162 yards, 14 touchdowns, and a 70% completion rate.  They’ll face the Saints for the third time in just over a calendar-year with a chance to close the gap on a possible top-two seed and a first round playoff bye.  Last week:  W 37-17 @ NYJ, This week: vs. NO

6.  Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) LW-8:  The debate over the NFL’s best division is being won early by the AFC West.  The Chiefs and Chargers are both in the top-six of our rankings this week, with the Chargers winning their fourth consecutive game after Tennessee failed to convert a two-point conversion that would have likely won it for the Titans.  Philip Rivers is now over 2,000 yards passing for the season, with 17 touchdowns and 117.8 QB rating.  Last week:  W 20-19 vs. TEN (London), This week: BYE

7.  Baltimore Ravens (4-3) LW-7:  While you could say the Ravens were close to beating one of the NFL’s best teams, you could also say they were relatively close to also being blown out at home -- end of half heroics aside.  Critical week for Baltimore as they try to avoid slipping back to .500 when they travel to Carolina on Sunday.  Last week:  L 24-23 vs. NO, This week: @ CAR

8.  Washington (4-2) LW-10:  Improbably, Washington are now favorites to win the NFC East after most experts, including yours truly, thought they would be division bottom feeders.  There’s been a lot of talk around what John Gruden is doing in Oakland, but it’s his brother, Jay Gruden, who deserves the spotlight after a so-far yeoman’s job getting Washington back to playoff-contender status.  The Washington defense has allowed over 20 points only once this season, and are holding opponents to just over 14 points in their wins.  That, coupled with the always-solid play from QB Alex Smith, makes them a really tough out every single week.  Last week: W 20-17 vs. DAL, This week: @ NYG

9.  Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1) LW-9: The Steelers couldn’t have asked for a much better bye week, as they saw both teams in front of them in the AFC North, Baltimore and Cincinnati, lose.  That means the Steelers are improbably back in the driver’s seat in the division.  They’re also rested and ready to face a now-struggling Browns team. Last Week: BYE, This week: vs. CLE

10.  Carolina Panthers (4-2) LW-#UR:  If the Panthers make the playoffs this season, circle last week’s win on the road in Philadelphia as a big reason why.  Quarterback Cam Newton is also playing as efficiently as he has since his MVP season, with a 65.6% completion rate and 11 touchdowns to only four interceptions.  Their schedule lightens up a bit on the back end, but their tough slog continues against the Ravens this week. Last week:  W 21-17 @ PHI, This week: vs. BAL

11.  Houston Texans (4-3) LW-#UR:  The Texans started the season with three straight losses, but have since emerged with four straight win, placing themselves as tenuous favorites in the AFC South.  The Houston defense hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 16 points this month, and they now have very winnable games at home against the Dolphins and in Denver against struggling offenses. Last week:  W 20-7 @ JAX, This week: vs. MIA

12.  Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) LW-#6:  The Eagles have now lost three of their past four games, all of which they’ve had Carson Wentz at quarterback.  Wentz hasn’t played poorly (10 TDs, 1 INT, 70.8% cmp) which speaks to the other issues across this offense.  They haven’t eclipsed 23 points in any of their losses this season.  Is it time to stop expecting the Eagles to return to championship form?  They edge out the Seahawks on this list for the NFC’s final Wild Card spot because I’m one of those suckers that still believes they will.    Last week:  L 21-17 vs. CAR, This week: vs. JAX (London)

Dropping out: 

  • Jacksonville Jaguars – LW #11
  • Seattle Seahawks – LW #12

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