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, we’re trying to figure out how anyone but Lamar Jackson could be the player of the year in the NFL.
1). Baltimore Ravens
Is there anything else to say about Lamar Jackson? Well, yes there is. On Sunday against the Bengals, he completed 15 of 17 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 65 yards with one touchdown. In the history of the league, only Joe Montana and Aaron Rodgers had ever had a game with at least 15 completions, one rushing touchdown, three passing touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating (158.3). MVP, MVP, MVP!
2). New England Patriots
By the time the Patriots show up in Philadelphia this weekend, they will have had two weeks to sit and stew about their loss to the Ravens. That is not good news for the Eagles. And just in case they don’t have enough weapons, owner Robert Kraft is still holding out hope that The Gronk will come out of retirement for the playoffs.
3). Houston Texans
The defensive secondary is banged up and J.J. Watt is out for the season, but the Texans are more than a good defensive team. They have one of the league’s best pass-catch pairs in Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins and they are going to need them with Baltimore, Tennessee, and New England coming up.
4). Kansas City Chiefs
Don’t blame Patrick Mahomes for Sunday’s loss to the Titans. He came returned with Mahomesian flair, completing 36 of 50 for 446 yards and three touchdowns. But the defense can’t stop the run and Derrick Henry made it pay. By the way, that’s four losses in the last six games for Kansas City.
5). Pittsburgh Steelers
This might be the AFC’s most improved team since the first four weeks of the season. And one of the big reasons is cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was acquired from the Dolphins. Since he came to Pittsburgh he’s had four interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and a forced fumble. His interception of Jared Goff ended Sunday’s game against the Rams with 20 seconds to play. Did anyone say Rod Woodson?
6). Buffalo Bills
The Bills are just hanging onto this high ranking at this point. Sunday’s loss in Cleveland was not a very flattering look. They allowed the Browns to take off on a 10-play, 82-yard drive in the last few minutes that produced the game-winning touchdown. Forget Stephen Hauschka’s missed 53-yarder at the end. The Bills lost this one on defense and their offense isn’t good enough to compensate.
7). Oakland Raiders
Thanks to the slumping Chiefs, the Raiders are back in the race for the AFC West. Kudos to Jon Gruden. It seems he’s infused this team with the proper about of bravado to succeed – despite its youth. Their defensive line is getting strong play from rookies Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby and halfback Josh Jacobs might be the AFC’s rookie of the year.
8). Indianapolis Colts
They lost to the Dolphins last week, which was bad enough. But now it appears that Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri has finally reached the end of his road. He missed his sixth extra point on Sunday, and frankly, a team that lives on the edge, like the Colts, can no longer afford that. And Brian Hoyer is no Jacoby Brissett, let along Andrew Luck. But you already knew that.
9). Tennessee Titans
We don’t know how comfortable the Titans are with the idea of handing the quarterback keys permanently to a retread, like Ryan Tannehill. But the guy has juiced up this team. His 23-yard touchdown pass to Adam Humphries with 17 seconds left to beat the Chiefs – thanks to Joshua Kalu’s block of a last-second, 52-yard field goal attempt. Just goes to show you how poorly Marcus Mariota was playing.
10). Los Angeles Chargers
Maybe it’s a good thing the Chargers are leaving the country this week to play the Chiefs in Mexico. Maybe no one will notice down there how much Philip Rivers had digressed. He’s having a miserable year, highlighted (lowlighted?) by his poor play against the Raiders before their bye. He had 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions and it seems to us he’s killing his team.
11). Jacksonville Jaguars
Way back in Week 1, the Jaguars started a quarterback named Nick Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP who was given a $88 million contract with $50.1 million guaranteed. Remember? It’s been so long since he broke his collarbone in the first half of the first game. But he’s back, sending the mustachioed Gardner Minshew back to the bench with his league-leading 11 fumbles. We will see home much this helps.
12). Cleveland Browns
The Browns ended their four-game losing streak against the Bills, despite twice failing to score from the Buffalo 1. Baker Mayfield hit Rashard Higgins with the game-winner. If that hadn’t happened, this is what the game would be remembered for: The Browns ran six plays from the Buffalo 2 without scoring in the first quarter. It’s been 26 seasons since that last happened in the NFL.
13). Denver Broncos
Again, thanks to the Chiefs fall, not even Denver’s 3-6 seems bad enough to count them out. But the reality is, this offense has only scored 149 points and now Brandon Allen is its quarterback. There’s only so much Philip Lindsay and a very stingy defense can do to make up for that. They get the Vikings this week coming off their bye.
14). Miami Dolphins
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. The Dolphins are not fish-fried. They are playing hard and now have won two straight; Sunday’s win in Indianapolis certainly more notable than beating the Jets. They’ve led at the half in four straight games. That says something. Speaking of direct messaging, that Ryan Fitzpatrick – and not Josh Rosen – still quarterbacks this team tells you all you need to know about what the Dolphins need to do next.
15). New York Jets
Really, does beating the New York Giants really excite anybody? We can tell you Sam Darnold is pretty pumped. He said Sunday he thinks the Jets can still make the playoffs. Who knows? Let’s Adam Gaze into the future – they still have Washington, Oakland, Cincinnati and Miami on their schedule. Maybe Jamal Adams can strip another ball away from some other quarterback and run for a touchdown to lead the Jets to glory.
16). Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s hope the Bengals front office was in Tuscaloosa on Saturday watching LSU’s Joe Burrow throw for 393 yards against Alabama. At 0-9, it looks like the Bungles are going to get their chance to draft him in April. They better do something because Ryan Finley is not the guy to fix what’s broken – and there are parts strewn all over the place.