Every week during the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will present our conference power rankings. The AFC will be on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.
This week in the AFC, the Patriots defense remains dominating, but can it stop Lamar Jackson on Sunday?
1). New England Patriots
The 8-0 Patriots continue to torture opponents with defense. Consider Sunday’s win over the Browns during which they forced turnovers on three consecutive plays in the first quarter to help open a 17-0 lead. The defense has allowed an average of 5.4 points. No team since the merger had allowed less than 6.0 in their first eight games.
2). Baltimore Ravens
Coming off their bye week after a big win in Seattle, the Ravens, with the league’s top rushing attack, get their chance to solve the Patriots. They are already in control of a terrible division, fattening up on the Steelers, Bengals and Browns. Now Lamar Jackson, who has thrown for 1,650 yards while leading the team in rushing (576), will see if speed, elusiveness and an accurate arm will conspire to negate New England.
3). Kansas City Chiefs
Pat Mahomes wanted to play against the Packers on Sunday night. He begged Andy Reid to let him try. Brave guy. But the Chiefs smartly refused and went ahead with Matt Moore at quarterback. Don’t blame Moore for the Chiefs loss. He threw for 267 yards, but was betrayed by drops from Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. Their defense was the problem. Their defense is always the problem.
4). Indianapolis Colts
Andy Vinatieri is the NFL’s all-time scoring leader and was banging them through the uprights when many of his teammates were in grammar school. He’s had a tough year and he missed another field goal and extra point in Sunday’s win over the Broncos. But his teammate’s knew he’d make the 51-yarder with 22 seconds to play to win the game. There are at least a dozen teams that wish Vinatieri was kicking for them. He’s one of the reasons we expect the Colts to excel in the postseason.
5). Houston Texans
It’s still debatable whether the Texans will be able to win their division. This team is too up and down. But now we know they’ll need to do it without J.J. Watt, their exemplary defensive lineman. He’s out for the season with a pectoral injury. It’s the third time in four seasons he’s ended up on IR. By the way, did you see Deshaun Watson get kicked in the face on Sunday and still throw a touchdown pass? It was one of the best plays of the season.
6). Buffalo Bills
Their disappointing and lopsided loss to the Eagles pretty much ends the pennant race in the AFC East, unless you believe the Patriots will lose at least three of their last eight games. The Bills gained only 253 yards and allowed 218 yards rushing after needing to rally the week before to beat the Dolphins. Maybe the Redskins will help them get better this week.
7). Tennessee Titans
Ryan Tannehill’s second start at quarterback wasn’t quite as inspirational as his first. The Titans offense gained only 246 yards against a questionable Tampa Bay defense. But Tennessee’s defense converted two turnovers into touchdowns and the Titans eventually benefitted from a bad call on a fake field goal to win.
8). Jacksonville Jaguars
Shame on the Jags for heckling Jets quarterback Sam Darnold by yelling ‘Boo’ for saying he saw ghosts against Patriots. Meanwhile, their own quarterback, Gardner Minshew, continues to play well. He has 1,975 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Now we’re hearing they might be reluctant to give the job back to Nick Foles when he’s finally ready.
9). Oakland Raiders
The Raiders nightmarish five-game road trip is finally over. They haven’t played a game in Oakland since Sept. 15, but their 2-3 record away from home still has them alive in the AFC West. Their defense betrayed them in the fourth quarter last week after building a 21-13 lead against Houston in the third. But Jon Gruden has this team fighting. Knock on wood if you’re with us.
10). Los Angeles Chargers
Did you know that the Chargers are the first team in the Super Bowl era to have gained less than 40 yards rushing in four straight games? Their front office certainly does because they fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on Monday. They would have lost a fourth straight had the Bears not beaten them with a last-second field goal. This team just wears out their fans.
11). Pittsburgh Steelers
Congratulations if you made it hrough Monday night’s game against the Dolphins. You have to admit, they both are miserable this season. The Dolphins actually led 14-3 until Mason Rudolph connected with Diontae Johnson for a 45-yard, catch-and-run TD on a third-and-20 at the end of the first half. That turned the game around. The Steelers got great performances from corner Minkah Fitzpatrick (two interceptions) and halfback James Conner (145 yards). Let’s see them beat a real team.
12). Cleveland Browns
There are many ways to measure a team’s mediocrity and the Browns can be sized up by the lack of discipline that’s led to 70 penalties for 591 yards this season. The committed 13 for 85 yards in New England, as if the Patriots needed the help. Can the 2-5 Browns be saved? The remaining teams on their schedule have a combined record of 9-40-1.
13). Denver Broncos
You know your team is in turmoil when your barely competent quarterback starts complaining about the lack of offensive creativity. Joe Flacco had a lot to say after last week’s 15-13 loss to the Colts. Why? He has no touchdown passes in the last three games and the Broncos have gained less than 300 yards in each of them. Well, it’s not his problem this week. He’s not playing against the Browns because of a neck injury.
14). New York Jets
It’s hard to point to just one thing that’s contributed to the Jets demise. Maybe it’s an offensive line that got Darnold sacked or hit nine times in a span of 13 pass plays on Sunday. Maybe its an offensive coordinator that got the ball to Le’Veon Bell only 12 times. Maybe it’s injuries like the one that’s shelved top free agent signings like C.J. Mosley. One thing is for sure: They better win in Miami on Sunday in the Adam Gase Bowl.
15). Miami Dolphins
We’ve already explained the way the Dolphins blew Monday’s game in Pittsburgh. Who knows, maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick will quarterback the Bears next season. Nevertheless, it was very winnable and yet they lost. On the bright side, they traded leading rusher Kenyan Drake to the Cardinals on Monday because he is headed to free agency. And now they have 20 picks in the 2020 Draft, three in first round and two in the second. So every loss is essentially a win.
16). Cincinnati Bengals
The Bungles are 0-8 for the first time since 2008 and are last or near last in just about every important league category. They have the worst run defense and yet the Rams pierced them for 372 yards passing, 220 to Cooper Kupp. They have the worst running game, so Andy Dalton always is in passing mode and that usually means trouble. Maybe that’s why they are benching him in favor of rookie Ryan Finley. They are pathetic.