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AFC power rankings: Patriots defense continues to carry most of the load

Bill Belichick

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Every week during the NFL season, will present our conference power rankings. The AFC will be on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.

We begin in the AFC by asking how anyone can beat the New England Patriots if their defense refuses to allow any touchdowns.

1). New England Patriots

Did you know that J.C. Jackson became the first player since 1989 to have two interceptions and a blocked punt in the same game? It just goes to show you Brady isn’t the only one who can do special things. While we wait for the offense to get untracked, rest easy. The 2000 Bears were the last defense with at least 15 sacks and 10 interceptions in the first four games of the season.

2). Kansas City Chiefs

What can you say about Pat Mahomes? He played well in Detroit, throwing for 315 yards. But he didn’t have a touchdown pass for the first time in 15 games. No problem. He rushed for 15 yards to get a critical first down and the Chiefs winning drive. The biggest play on Sunday was Bashaud Breeland’s 100-yard fumble recovery return.

3). Buffalo Bills

The Bills showed us it’s going to be a while longer before they can beat the Patriots. The defense was great, holding Brady to 224 yards of offense. But even before he had to leave the game, Josh Allen had been intercepted three times. And you can’t let that happen against the Pats. Buffalo’s 10 turnovers lead the league.

4). Los Angeles Chargers

Everyone is happy Melvin Gordon is back with the team. But that doesn’t mean he’s automatically stepping back into his starting role. Austin Ekeler has been magnificent in place of Gordon. He had another 122 yards from scrimmage and two TDs in Miami. The biggest problem for the team right now are its mounting injuries.

5). Cleveland Browns

The Browns would like to thank Rex Ryan for lighting the spark under Baker Mayfield’s butt. Cleveland’s offense was simply super in Baltimore, gaining 530 yards and scoring 40 points. Nick Chubb’s (165 yards, three TDs) 88-yard score was a thing of beauty. And Jarvis Landry’s eight catches for 167 yards didn’t hurt, either. Cleveland now leads the AFC North.

6). Houston Texans

This ranking is likely too high for the Texans considering all the trouble they seem to be having. The big dilemma is their offensive line. Deshaun Watson was sacked another six times and hit 10 times last weekend. Watson has now absorbed 18 sacks in four games. So if some of his passes look a little errant, you now know why.

7). Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens had the NFL’s No. 1 defense last season, but that’s not the case anymore. They’ve allowed over 500 yards in two straight games for the first time in team history. It’s been hard to watch. And you’d have to admit Lamar Jackson hasn’t looked the same since sprinting from the starting gate in the first two weeks.

Marcus Mariota

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

8). Tennessee Titans

One week up. Next week down. One week up. Next week down. This has to be the most unpredictable team in the NFL. Before Sunday’s game in Atlanta, Marcus Mariota was getting buried by the pass rush and seemed to be one INT from getting benched for Ryan Tannehill. Then he throws three TD passes and everyone’s in love with him again.

9). Indianapolis Colts

Losing to the Raiders at home is not a good thing. But we are willing to give the Colts a break because they were without both Darius Leonard and T.Y. Hilton. Those are two big losses. Still, the Raiders gained 188 yards on the ground and 363 yards. Worse yet, QB Jacoby Brissett looked a little overmatched for the first time.

10). Jacksonville Jaguars

We still have no idea what they plan to do with Jalen Ramsey. But we suspect the one player they can’t afford to lose right now is Gardner Minshew. He’s been a revelation since stepping in for the injured Nick Foles in Week 1. The team seems to be rallying around him. But the best things about last week were Josh Lambo’s four field goals and Leonard Fournette’s 225 yards rushing.

11). Oakland Raiders

The Raiders are going to be away from home for so long they had to stop their mail. But last week in Indianapolis, they worked their way back to 2-2 with a nice performance spearheaded by an offense that scored TDs on three of their first four drives. Hey, how about tight end Darren Waller? His 33 receptions are the most for a tight end in his team’s first four games since Antonio Gates did it. Nice company.

12). Pittsburgh Steelers

Big deal, the Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday. But you know what? They are only one game behind both Cleveland and Baltimore in the AFC North. Mason Rudolph looked Big Benish by completing 22 of 28 passes. James Conner had 125 totals yards. The defense collected eight sacks. All good.

13). Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals (0-4) were totally outclassed by a Steelers team that was really struggling. We guess their start mostly vindicates Marvin Lewis, who has taken a preponderance of the blame for the organization’s sad state. Things are not going to get any better until they figure out a way to keep Andy Dalton upright.

Le'Veon Bell

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

14). New York Jets

The Jets are coming off their bye week and the best thing you can say about them at this point is they are one week closer to getting Sam Darnold back at QB. After they lost to go 0-3, Le’Veon Bell hit social media to slap back all the haters he believed have already given up on the team. Let’s see what the mood is after an afternoon against the Eagles.

15). Denver Broncos

If there’s one thing worse than losing a second game at home on a last-second field goal, its finding out that your world-class defender, Bradley Chubb, is out for the season after suffering an ACL injury against the Jaguars. At 0-4 we are allowed to say John Elway was a better QB than he is a team-builder.

16). Miami Dolphins

Awful. Just awful. They’ve been outscored 163-26 in there first four games. It gets worse. They’ve been outscored 81-0 in the second half. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether Josh Rosen or Ryan Fitzpatrick is the QB. Dan Marino couldn’t help this bunch.