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AFC power rankings: No offense, but the Patriots are doing fine without Brady’s finest

New England Patriots

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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

We begin in the AFC by wondering if how the Patriots will be viewed nationally after going 16-0. Hey, it might just happen.

1). New England Patriots

You wonder how more dominant this team will be when Tom Brady finally gets the offense untracked. Until then, they’re happy to settle for scoring in myriad other ways, like they did against the New York Giants. And let’s settle down about this Gronk reunion tour. The Pats are fine enough without him. Ben Watson will do.

2). Houston Texans

The Texans are rolling after one of their biggest wins in recent years over the Chiefs. Deshaun Watson, who finally was given the time to operate by his offensive line, threw for 280 yards, one touchdown and ran for two others. And what do you think the Chiefs are thinking now about trading Carlos Hyde to Houston?

3). Buffalo Bills

It’s Miami week, which leads us to his ‘oh boy’: The Bills are 16 ½-point favorites. It’s the first time since 1992 they’ve been favored by more than 16 points in any game. That’s a lot to live up to. This is an important stretch for them. They have four home games over the next six weeks as they pursue just their second playoff spot in the last two decades.

4). Kansas City Chiefs

Well, that’s two straight losses to the AFC South teams – the Colts and the Texans. Things are beginning to feel a little shaky. As potentially powerful as their offense is, its Kansas City’s run defense that brings pause. After allowing 180 to the Colts, the Texans racked up 192. The Chiefs are allowing an average of 24 points and 406 yards. Yikes.

5). Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson was operating as his optimal best last week against the Bengals. He passed for 236 yards and ran for 152. He’s the first player since Colin Kaepernick (wink, wink) to gain at least 150 on the ground and throw for more than 200 in a game. My goodness, he had 111 yards rushing in the first half.

6). Indianapolis Colts

The good news for the Colts is that linebacker Darius Leonard has been cleared from concussion protocol and is ready to return after missing the last three games. Do you think he was missed? He led the NFL in tackles as a rookie last season. They play at Houston this week, likely bolstered by the memories of rolling over the Chiefs two weeks ago.

Devlin Hodges

(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

7). Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are down to their third quarterback now, but it didn’t seem to hurt them on Sunday night against the ill-prepared Chargers. In case you didn’t know, Devlin Hodges’ nickname is Duck because he’s a master duck caller. He didn’t look like Terry Bradshaw in his first start (15 of 20, 132 yards), but he played well enough to get a game ball.

8). Oakland Raiders

The great road trip continues on Sunday in Green Bay after having the week off following their win in London over the Bears. There’s no doubt the biggest surprise so far has been the play of tight end Darren Waller. The “Hard Knocks” star leads league tight ends with 37 catches, including 13 against the Vikings in Week 3.

9). Denver Broncos

Consider how vastly improved Denver’s defense is. A few weeks ago, it gave up 269 yards rushing against the Jaguars. But they’ve held their last two opponents, the Chargers and Titans, to a combined 74 yards. They picked up their first shutout since 2017 on Sunday against Tennessee with seven sacks and three forced fumbles. Let’s see how that projects against the desperate Chiefs on Thursday night.

10). Cleveland Browns

We know it appears as if we’re always picking on Baker Mayfield. But heck, he deserves it. He leads the NFL with 11 interceptions, which frankly doesn’t make him any better than any of the other 30 QBs the Browns have used over the last two decades. He threw three more on Sunday against the Seahawks. The Browns are a mess.

11). Los Angeles Chargers

It might be time for Anthony Lynn to start worrying about his job. It took the Chargers a long time to wake up against the Steelers and by the time they did it was much too late. They’ve been held scoreless in the first half in their last two home games. Maybe it was because of all the Steelers fans who showed up in Los Angeles.

12). Jacksonville Jaguars

Gardner Minshew has been one of the best stories of the early NFL season. He has a core of devoted mustachioed fans. But he threw for only 163 yards against the Saints, who effectively took both of his top receivers – DJ Chark and Dede Westbrook – out of the game. By the way, has anyone seen Jalen Ramsey? Out of sight, out of mind.

Marcus Mariota

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

13). Tennessee Titans

It’s worth noting this is the final year of Marcus Mariota’s rookie contract. Sunday’s benching in favor of Ryan Tannehill may be instructive: Tennessee might be looking for a new QB next season. Of course, it’s not fair to put the blame entirely on Mariota. His offensive line sucks and that has contributed to his uneven play. But its clear that his time may be running out.

14). New York Jets

It’s amazing what one healthy QB can do for the morale of a team. Sam Darnold was simply sensational against the Cowboys last week, throwing for 338 yards, including a gorgeous 92-yard scoring bomb to Robby Anderson. The faith the team has in Darnold seems justified. Only Joe Namath had more TD passes in his first 15 games with the Jets than Darnold has.

15). Cincinnati Bengals

Bungles once again! They are off to an 0-6 start for the first time since 2008. It’s hard to say what’s worse, their offense or defense. Cincinnati hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first three quarters in three weeks. And their defense turned Lamar Jackson into a superhero. Their best play Sunday was Brandon Wilson’s 92-yard kickoff return for touchdown to start the game.

16). Miami Dolphins

We’d like to congratulate the Dolphins for finally scoring in the second half. They had been outscored 81-0 until they finally broke the ice against the winless Redskins. We also tip out hat to the confidence which led to their opting for a what would have been a game-winning, two-point conversion at the end of their 17-16 loss. What do you have to lose at this point? Miami has an 89 percent shot at securing the No. 1 pick.