Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, injuries and roster depth, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders.
Here are the rankings heading into Week 9:
Super Bowl favorites
1. Buffalo Bills (6-1, No. 1 last week)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (7-0, No. 2)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2, No. 3)
The Bills looked as dominant as ever for stretches of Sunday night’s 27-17 win over the Packers, but there are some concerns about the league’s best team. For as good as quarterback Josh Allen has been, he still makes some head-scratching plays from time to time, including an interception near the goal line in the fourth quarter Sunday. Jordan Poyer also left the game with what he said “felt like a pop” in his elbow, which could put him on injured reserve alongside fellow Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde. The looming return of star cornerback Tre’Davious White will help, but the defense can ill-afford another injury after getting pushed around by the Packers. While Green Bay struggled to finish drives and turned the ball over twice, it averaged 6.7 yards per carry and dominated time of possession. That might come back to bite Buffalo against a better opponent.
The Eagles’ offense remains just as scary as the Bills’, especially when wide receiver A.J. Brown delivers a performance like Sunday’s: six catches, 156 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-13 win over the Steelers. Sometimes it’s just as simple as throwing the ball up to the 6-foot-1, 226-pound star. Since NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking routes in 2018, Brown is the first player to record three touchdown catches on “Go” routes in a single game. After punishing defenses on the ground, Jalen Hurts showed off his arm, finishing 19-for-28 for 285 yards and four touchdowns to become the first Eagles quarterback to win 10 straight regular-season games. All four of his touchdown passes were 25 yards or more; only Hall of Famer Dan Marino has thrown more in a single game since 1980. Right now, it’s a two-man race for MVP between Allen and Hurts.
The flawed contenders
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-3, No. 6)
5. Minnesota Vikings (6-1, No. 5)
6. Dallas Cowboys (6-2, No. 8)
7. Miami Dolphins (5-3, No. 9)
The Ravens showed some mettle Thursday night, beating Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, 27-22, to secure back-to-back wins for the first time this season. They might have rediscovered their winning formula, too, scoring 24 points in the second half on the strength of 206 rushing yards after totaling just three points in the opening two quarters behind a pass-heavy attack. But it came at a cost, as tight end Mark Andrews (shoulder), wide receiver Rashod Bateman (foot) and running back Gus Edwards (hamstring) all suffered injuries that could keep them out for at least a week, and even longer in Bateman’s case. Despite those setbacks, the Ravens have risen to No. 4 in DVOA, Football Outsiders’ measurement of overall efficiency, and could start to pile up wins against one of the league’s weakest remaining schedules. They also added some reinforcements before the trade deadline, acquiring Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, the NFL’s leading tackler, to solidify the middle of a banged-up front seven. With the always-dangerous Lamar Jackson leading the offense and the looming returns of outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, safety Marcus Williams and potentially rookie pass rusher David Ojabo on defense, this could easily be one of the league’s best teams by the time the playoffs roll around. Despite how bleak things looked after an unconscionable run of blown second-half leads to start the season, the Ravens are right where they need to be.
The Vikings’ record is impressive, but the teams they’ve beaten are a combined 20-24. They let the Cardinals hang around before forcing three turnovers and recording two sacks down the stretch to secure a 34-26 win Sunday, their fifth straight. The offense struggled to sustain drives, going three-and-out four times in the second half to give Arizona a chance to come back. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been efficient and running back Dalvin Cook looks like his old self, but the Vikings have been pretty average by most metrics. They rank 16th in DVOA and right around neutral in expected points added per play on offense and defense, which suggests they aren’t getting the most out of a talented roster. They’re in position to win the NFC North thanks to the Packers’ early struggles, but they’re not a serious playoff contender yet.
The wild cards
8. Seattle Seahawks (5-3, No. 14)
9. San Francisco 49ers (4-4, No. 17)
10. Cincinnati Bengals (4-4, No. 7)
11. New York Giants (6-2, No. 4)
12. Tennessee Titans (5-2, No. 13)
13. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3, No. 15)
14. Los Angeles Rams (3-4, No. 11)
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5, No. 12)
Eight weeks into the season, it’s pretty clear who won the Russell Wilson trade. Geno Smith threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including the 33-yard score to Tyler Lockett in the fourth quarter, to lift the Seahawks over the Giants, 27-13, and into first place in the vaunted NFC West. After the game, Lockett said “it’s amazing what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit,” perhaps poking fun at his former quarterback. Seattle certainly looks rejuvenated, with normally conservative coach Pete Carroll even going for it on fourth down more often this season. The Seahawks face an uphill battle to hold off the 49ers and Rams in the division, but there’s a strong young core in place that’s proving pretty formidable.
Speaking of those 49ers, it’s clear Christian McCaffrey changes everything. The star running back acquired from the Panthers truly did it all in a 31-14 win over the Rams, becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era to have at least 30 yards and one touchdown rushing, passing and receiving in a single game. While the value of running backs has been diminished over the years, McCaffrey is the rare game-changer as both a running and receiving threat. Once Deebo Samuel returns from his hamstring injury, this could be one of the best offenses in the league, even with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. Pair that with a stellar defense, and it’s not crazy to think San Francisco could be right back in the NFC Championship game.
16. Washington Commanders (4-4, No. 20)
17. New England Patriots (4-4, No. 22)
18. New York Jets (5-3, No. 10)
19. Atlanta Falcons (4-4, No. 25)
Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin reminded everyone that Indianapolis is his city when he made a remarkable catch over cornerback Stephon Gilmore at the 1-yard line in the final minute to set up Taylor Heinicke’s go-ahead touchdown plunge in a 17-16 win over the Colts. Washington has suddenly won three straight to put itself in the playoff hunt, and there seems to be genuine belief that it can keep winning behind Heinicke, who is 2-0 since replacing injured starter Carson Wentz. The defense has been just as resilient, forcing two red zone turnovers to keep the Colts and backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger off the board. A two-week stretch against the Vikings and Eagles should reveal if the Commanders should be taken seriously.
As remarkable as the finish was between Washington and Indianapolis, it doesn’t beat the excitement of Atlanta’s 37-34 overtime win over Carolina. P.J. Walker’s 62-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore with 12 seconds left seemingly gave the Panthers a stunning win, but Moore removed his helmet after the play and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the extra point attempt back 15 yards. Eddy Pineiro missed the potential game-winning kick, then missed a 32-yard attempt in overtime after Carolina intercepted Marcus Mariota on the Falcons’ opening possession. Younghoe Koo hit a 41-yarder to give Atlanta the win and first place in the NFC South. Perhaps the surest sign yet of Atlanta’s legitimacy as a playoff contender is that they still won despite all the crucial mistakes. For a franchise that is used to coming up short in the most agonizing ways, maybe, just maybe, things will be different under second-year coach Arthur Smith.
Not done yet
20. Green Bay Packers (3-5, No. 18)
21. Cleveland Browns (3-5, No. 26)
22. Denver Broncos (3-5, No. 27)
23. Arizona Cardinals (3-5, No. 16)
24. New Orleans Saints (3-5, No. 30)
25. Chicago Bears (3-5, No. 21)
Is it time for a shake-up in Arizona? The Cardinals’ offense started slow again in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, and it cost them. They’ve now scored just nine points in the first quarter all season, a head-scratching development for a team with a talented quarterback in Kyler Murray and a supposed offensive mastermind in coach Kliff Kingsbury. The return of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from a performance-enhancing drug suspension has helped, but it hasn’t been enough to shake the offense out of its slump. Even when the offense did get going in the second half Sunday, two interceptions, a botched snap and a muffed punt halted any chance of a comeback. It’s hard to see Arizona climbing out from the bottom of the NFC West unless there’s a major change, whether that’s a new coach or a significant trade.
26. Las Vegas Raiders (2-5, No. 19)
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-4-1, No. 24)
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6, No. 23)
29. Carolina Panthers (2-6, No. 29)
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6, No. 28)
31. Detroit Lions (1-6, No. 31)
32. Houston Texans (1-5-1, No. 32)
Is there a more disappointing team this season than the Raiders? The addition of star receiver Davante Adams and coach Josh McDaniels was supposed to help this team compete with the Chiefs and Chargers atop the AFC West, but Adams was held to just one catch for three yards in Sunday’s 24-0 loss to the Saints. Las Vegas didn’t cross midfield until there were two minutes left in the game, and Derek Carr averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt while throwing most of his passes behind or near the line of scrimmage. It was a strange performance from a team that looked ready to turn the corner after a miserable start. There could be a change coming at quarterback next season if Carr doesn’t turn it around.
This content was originally published here.