By Pete Baxter
At just over halfway through the season (and ¾ of the way through week 9), what a wild one it has been. This may be an unusual time to throw out a power ranking, but when inspiration strikes, you just have to chase that dragon.
What a friggin year. The ongoing threat of Covid 19 has been a constant threat despite the empty stadiums and fake crowd noise being pumped in. Quarterback tibias have been snapping like twigs. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck have talked s**t on hot mics. Old men are dominating like it’s a federal election. Derrick Henry and DK Metcalf are demolishing defenders and legitimately making me believe that the next stage of human evolution has arrived. The 49ers went from Superbowl appearance to injury ravaged dumpster fire (I chose the above photo in memoriam).
With all that in mind, and with a slight buzz on, let’s take a look at some of the favorites to take home the Lombardi trophy as of this moment. I’m a man of science, so some of this is backed up by stats, but a lot of it just my own biased eye test results, so be warned.
We will count down from 10 (ish)…
Honorable Mention/10.5: Indianapolis Colts: Leading the league in interceptions and in the top 5 defensive units in points, yards, and rushing yards, the Colts’ defense is for real (number three in efficiency, overall). Phillip Rivers is clearly in decline, as he has been since before he left LA, but he is a crafty vet who may have just enough in the tank to lead this team on a run. I could easily see the Colts with a couple of upset wins in the playoffs. I had to flip a coin before the Colts and the Raiders, so I decided to include both.
10. Las Vegas Raiders: With today’s win over the Chargers, the Raiders improved to 5 and 3. Derek Carr is having a career season, completing over 70% of his passes and doing a great job controlling the ball. The defense is pretty porous, near the bottom in overall efficiency, but in the top 10 against the pass in terms of passing TDs and yards, which in today’s NFL means a lot. They have a crafty leader of men in Jon Gruden who can make adjustments, and they are another team that I could easily see going on a run and upsetting some teams heading into the post season.
9. Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry is an absolute monster and a future Hall of Famer. Ryan Tannehill is a good enough game manager and athlete to keep the ball moving in between Henry’s rumblings. The defense isn’t what it was last season, but it is still good enough to make stops. I love Mike Vrabel as a coach. Not a sexy team by any means but they are capable of beating anyone on the right night.
8. Seattle Seahawks: Yes, Russel Wilson is incredible, and deserves strong MVP consideration. He has a couple of phenomenal weapons in DK Metcalf, who seems to get better every week, Tyler Lockett and, when healthy, Chris Carson. However, his protection is subpar, as shown by the 16 TIMES HE WAS KNOCKED DOWN (along with 5 sacks) against the Bills. The defense is so porous it might as well not take the field at times. While I will never count out Wilson, who can be truly magical when he improvises, I can’t put this team higher on the list with the way the defense has played, and the beating Wilson has taken some weeks.
7. Baltimore Ravens: Defense and running the ball have been the recipe for championship football since the early days of the game, and Baltimore is really good at both of those (with arguably the best defensive unit in football, at minimum top 5). However, in today’s game, it is almost impossible to rely on those two factors alone without having some type of aerial threat. Lamar Jackson has regressed somewhat this year (through the air anyway with one of the worst ranked aerial attacks in the league, but he is still an athletic marvel who can outrun anyone on any defense), and his weapons leave much to be desired. Not unlike Wilson, I will never count Jackson out with his ability to make something out of nothing, but if the Ravens don’t develop some semblance of a passing game it may be generous to even keep them at 7.
6. New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara is incredible. Drew Brees isn’t quite what he once was, and isn’t even the best quarterback in the 40+ division, but with 13 touchdowns to just 3 picks heading into his week 9 match up with senior citizen rival Tom Brady, he has been more than good enough to keep the Saints a threat. This mediocre to good offensive unit (which will get a huge boost with the return of Michael Thomas) gets a huge boost from a defense that is top 5 is yards against, passing yards against, rushing yards, and rushing TD’s (number eight in efficiency, overall). If Drew Brees can continue to be a smart, savvy game manager, and save some magic for the playoffs, Sean Payton and company could have one last crack at a second Lombardi trophy this year.
5. Buffalo Bills: The Bills are legit. After the first quarter of today’s game against the Seahawks, I tweeted that Allen was on pace for 600 yards, 52 completions, and I failed to mention 8 passing touchdowns for the game. While he didn’t quite achieve those totals, he did set a franchise record with 400+ yards, 4 passing touchdowns and 1 TD on the ground. While you can’t count on this every week, and the Seahawks defense is pathetic, Josh Allen has gotten better across the board this year, most important in his accuracy, increasing his completion percentage from the mid 50’s to over 67%. If he can avoid the occasional bull-in-a-china-shop recklessness he has tended to resort to, and the occasional self-sabotage it leads to, Allen is the next superstar quarterback, an MVP candidate, and could finally get the Bills to the promised land.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers hung on to stay undefeated this year, winning a shoot out against the great Garrett Gilbert of the Cowboys (seriously). The Steelers can beat anyone. Big Ben is still a top 10 QB, and the combo of Roethlisberger and Tomlin is a threat to win their third Superbowl every season, seemingly regardless of what injuries, drama, and other obstacles are thrown their way. Roethlisberger had another injury scare tonight, though he did return. If Big Ben stays healthy, they could easily contend for the Lombardi trophy this year. If not, there is no chance. They do have a top 5 defense (number 2 in efficiency) and a great runner in James Conner. However, I have rarely been less excited by an undefeated team, who seems to play down to their competition week after week.
3. Green Bay Packers: Nota whole lot has changed for the Packers. Their defense is mediocre to just plain bad (29th in efficiency heading into week 9). The front office is still great at pissing off start QB’s. However, Aaron Rogers is still Aaron Rogers, probably the most physically talented QB to huck a pigskin. He has a future Hall of Fame receiver to play catch with in Davante Adams, and a dangerous running back in Aaron Jones. The clock is ticking for Aaron Rogers to upgrade his resume as he climbs through his late 30’s. With a great young head coach in Matt Lafleur, Rogers seems more motivated than ever. I believe this could be his year to chase ring number two. However, he is going to have to do most of the heavy lifting himself, and he will need to prove he can win a shoot out against the young guns like Mahomes.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Funny to look back and remember that there were pundits debating whose team would have more success this year, Belichick’s Patriots or Brady’s Bucs. That question has been answered early this season, as Tom Brady not only has a lot left in the tank, he very well may be the league’s MVP this year. He has the best weapons in the league with Mike Evans, Fournette, Gronk and company. They have one of the best defensive units in the league, number one in efficiency heading into week 9. Tom Brady has never had such a stacked supporting cast, and there is no reason to doubt that the six-time Superbowl winner can do it again, despite the new digs.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Pat Mahomes is the most dominant player in football and seems to still be getting better. Andy Reid is a brilliant coach who seems to have the perfect connection to his young QB. They have probably the second-best set of weapons after Tampa Bay. They have a slightly above average defense (around 13 in most rankings), which is good enough to support an offense that can drop 40 on anyone. The Chiefs are the champs until proven otherwise.
Honorable Mention/11, for rooting interest: Cleveland Browns: The Browns should make the playoffs this year, most likely as a wildcard. They are 5 and 3 going into their week 9 bye, despite continued inconsistency from Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is a capable starter, with some solid weapons (even after losing OBJ). If Nick Chubb gets healthy, and they can get their ground and pound offense rolling, they can take some pressure off of Baker’s shoulders and make some noise. Their defense is mediocre at best, currently 19th in efficiency, but they can rush the passer with Myles Garrett and company. They aren’t going to win the Superbowl, I can say that with some confidence, but I could see them backing their way into the playoffs and stealing a win. That would feel like some form of a championship for the Dog Pound, and while I am not a Browns fan myself, for the sake of their long suffering fans I will be rooting for Kevin Stefanski and his crew to put on a good show.
Nothing too shocking, right? I know a lot of people will think I have the Packers too high, the Steelers too low, and the Raiders shouldn’t be in the top 10 at all. And even mentioning the Browns was probably purely fueled by emotion, but it’s my blog, damn it. I calls it like I sees it.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! As always, thanks for reading!