The only people who shouldn’t have the New England Patriots atop Week 11 NFL power rankings are those who didn’t have the Patriots at No. 1 a week ago. New England was on the Bye in Week 10, and that the Patriots didn’t take the field over the weekend is no reason to drop them in such lists. Quarterback Tom Brady has found his groove after a slow start to the campaign, and he and his teammates had an extra week to celebrate the fact that they are the best team in the AFC halfway through the year.
What is the biggest NFL news following the second weekend of November? The Cleveland Browns – yes, those Cleveland Browns – are alone in first place in the AFC North for the first time in nearly two decades. Brian Hoyer may not be a star quarterback who produces spectacular statistics, but he is playing well enough to lead the Browns to wins. The Cleveland defense has found its form, and the Browns should, barring unforeseeable setbacks, compete for a playoff spot up through the holiday season.
The scariest team may very well be the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay has thus far gone perfect at home, and Aaron Rodgers is posting numbers worthy of Most Valuable Player honors. The Detroit Lions currently sit atop the NFC North standings, but that could change over the next several weeks if the Lions are unable to avoid a late-season collapse. Nobody wants to go to Lambeau Field and take on Rodgers and the Packers right now.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears have become the anti-Packers as of late. Quarterback Jay Cutler is not earning the massive pay raise he received from the club, and both Brady and Rodgers have torched a Chicago defense that has, at times, seemed to phone-in games. There are whispers that the Bears, the New York Jets and the New York Giants will all be looking for new head coaches come January. None of those look like desirable gigs this fall, as each of those teams have glaring holes on their rosters.
32. Oakland Raiders (0-9)
Any reasonable Oakland fan went into Sunday expecting the Denver Broncos to rout the Raiders, and that is exactly what happened. The Raiders simply do not have the horses to run with the best of the best in the NFL, and that was put on display in the 41-17 blowout that could have been even uglier. Oakland is the undisputed worst team in the league, but it is not all bad times for the club. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr is playing well enough to give fans hope that the Raiders have a QB for the future.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8)
Head coach Lovie Smith has to already be eying the end of the season and the 2015 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers desperately need a legitimate starting quarterback, but that is just one of the team’s problems during what is turning into a disastrous campaign. You turned to free agency for a quarterback last offseason and you are paying for it now, Buccaneers. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Draft a QB this time around.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
2014 was always going to be more about establishing players for the future than about winning for the Jaguars. Blake Bortles is one of several rookie quarterbacks struggling in his first year in the league, but you haven’t been watching the Jaguars all that closely if you believe that he is the problem with the Jacksonville offense. The Jaguars need all kinds of help, and it is becoming clearer with every loss that Jacksonville is not one positive offseason away from turning into a contender.
29. Tennessee Titans (2-7)
Just about every NFL week brings with it one game that is completely forgettable for those who are not fans of one of the two teams involved in that contest. Tennessee was part of that game for Week 10 of the 2014 campaign. The Titans were downed by the Baltimore Ravens in a contest that was largely ignored by NFL RedZone and by those of us who watched far more interesting games on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger is currently averaging a touchdown and an interception per game.
28. Chicago Bears (3-6)
Losing to the Green Bay Packers is no reason for a team to feel shame, even when that club is a division rival of the Packers. Chicago didn’t just lose on Sunday Night Football. The Bears embarrassed and humiliated themselves by not bothering to show up in front of a national television audience that was able to go to bed early to start the workweek without fear of missing out on a competitive football game. Chicago is a complete mess at the moment, a team that requires plenty of soul-searching.
27. New York Jets (2-8)
Any Given Sunday, right Jets fans? New York posted the shocker of the weekend by beating the red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. The question now has to be asked: Would the Jets have a couple of more wins had they started Michael Vick at quarterback back in Week 1? Vick has undeniably played better than Geno Smith, and the veteran could, if he remains healthy and performs well, have one more significant NFL payday ahead of him. Perhaps the Jets won’t be shopping for a QB this winter, after all.
26. Washington Redskins (3-6)
An off week isn’t fixing all that is ailing the 2014 Redskins. The song remains the same for Washington in that the team doesn’t know if it has a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III. RG3 may or may not have lost some in the locker room of the Redskins depending on which reports you want to believe. Griffin has to prove that he can remain healthy and on the field. Washington doesn’t have to decide what to do with RG3 just yet, but that time is quickly approaching.
25. New York Giants (3-6)
It’s easy, and even lazy, to blame quarterback Eli Manning for throwing an interception that changed last Sunday’s Giants at Seattle Seahawks game. Manning played zero role in the Giants allowing 350 rushing yards, and he isn’t the reason that New York was blown away in the second half of that game. The Giants are now in an unfamiliar spot in that they likely have a coaching change in their future for the first time in a decade. Tom Coughlin twice hoisted the Lombardi Trophy while with the club, but the time has come for him to walk away.
24. Carolina Panthers (3-6-1)
No, everybody, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is not this bad. Those who have suggested that Newton hasn’t been at 100 percent since he suffered ankle and rib injuries during the summer are, however, looking smarter and smarter with every week. Newton alone is, of course, not the only thing failing the Panthers at the moment. The franchise did not do enough to help out the team’s starting quarterback during the offseason.
23. Atlanta Falcons (3-6)
The Falcons defeated lackluster Tampa Bay. Big whoop, right? That was my reaction until I remembered that the NFC South is downright lousy. There isn’t a single team that possesses a .500 record in the division. Atlanta is but one win out of first place in the NFC South. The Falcons have been a major letdown for the second straight season, and yet they are right in the heart of a three-team playoff race. Atlanta has to embrace a “Why not us?” mentality because, well, why not the Falcons in 2014?
22. St. Louis Rams (3-6)
Word around the NFL is that the Rams like what they have seen in fill-in quarterback Austin Davis. Davis fell apart in the fourth quarter of this past Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, and he is quickly earning the “game-manager” label that is more of a backhanded compliment than it is a positive endorsement of a QB. Sam Bradford may never be the quarterback he was advertised to be after multiple torn ACLs, but the Rams cannot and should not give up on him just yet.
21. Minnesota Vikings (4-5)
Minnesota will need to go on a special run and require help from other sides if the team is to make a playoff run. That doesn’t mean that the rest of 2014 is meaningless for the Vikings. An upcoming game at Chicago appears to be winnable for the Vikes, as the Bears could be in a place where they would struggle to defeat anybody at the moment. Minnesota is a victory away from being at .500 with six games left on the schedule. That’s not a bad spot to be in, especially for a team that wasn’t supposed to do much of note.
20. Houston Texans (4-5)
Houston should be a popular upset pick among NFL fans for Week 11. The Cleveland Browns are flying high and in first place following a blowout victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but these Browns have yet to prove that they can handle winning. Quarterback Brian Hoyer has been below-average when he has faced pressure, and Houston should be able to disrupt Hoyer early and often if the right game plan is implemented. Do not sleep on the Texans leaving Cleveland with a victory.
19. New Orleans Saints (4-5)
There are two plays from the New Orleans loss to the San Francisco 49ers that quarterback Drew Brees, who will be headed to the Hall of Fame not too long after he calls time on his playing days, would like to have back. One involved him throwing into triple-coverage during a drive that should have ended with the Saints scoring at least three points. The other was a costly fumble that gifted the visiting 49ers with a game-winning field goal, a kick converted by the always-reliable Phil Dawson.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1)
One thing was clear early into the Thursday Night Football game featuring the Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, and that was that the Bengals were not at all prepared for a dog fight. Cincinnati failed to match the intensity of the Browns, and the visitors won just about every meaningful battle in the trenches. The defense of the Bengals has been a mess over the past six weeks, and what was the best team in the AFC North not too long ago is now quite possibly the division’s worst side.
17. Buffalo Bills (5-4)
We are set to learn plenty about the Bills after their loss to the Chiefs. Those on the Buffalo roster cannot afford to hang their heads after that setback, as the Bills have to head south for a Thursday Night Football showdown with the Miami Dolphins. Both Miami and Buffalo are in the playoff hunt at 5-4, and a loss on Thursday could be the beginning of the end of one of these teams. A visiting team punched a division foe in the mouth last Thursday night. Buffalo will need to do the same to Miami to return home at 6-4.
16. San Diego Chargers (5-4)
No team in the NFL needed the bye in Week 10 more than the Chargers. San Diego won five straight games after a narrow loss at the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, but the Chargers then dropped three consecutive contests. Two of those defeats came against divisional opponents, and the other was a 37-0 thrashing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. A rested San Diego side now gets to host the lowly Oakland Raiders. The Chargers should return to winning ways this coming weekend, and they’ll be hoping that the game serves as a momentum boost to the season.
15. Miami Dolphins (5-4)
The Dolphins are the league’s latest victims of the Detroit Lions snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, as a last-minute touchdown pass sunk Miami at Detroit. As was noted earlier in these NFL power rankings, the Dolphins must pick themselves up and prepare for a must-win home game against the Buffalo Bills. Both Miami and Buffalo will enter Thursday night knowing that 10-6 may not be enough to qualify for the playoffs this time around. Neither team can afford a loss in what is as much of a November playoff game as you’re going to get.
14. San Francisco 49ers (5-4)
Looking for a statement from the 49ers, one that would make you believe that they can go on a run and perhaps compete for a championship? A win at the New Orleans Saints should do the trick for you. Critics would point out that San Francisco has holes on the roster and questions about the future of the team’s head coach. Do not forget that these Niners have been to the Super Bowl before, and there is something to be said for what that type of experience can mean for a team during the final two months of a season.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
At the risk of sounding cliché: Will the real Pittsburgh Steelers please stand up? After throwing 12 touchdown passes in two games, Ben Roethlisberger had an awful game against a New York Jets pass defense that has been terrible throughout the campaign. When the Steelers have been good this season, they’ve been the best team in the AFC North. They are beatable against any opponent when they’re bad, though, and losing to the Jets could end up costing Pittsburgh a playoff spot.
12. Baltimore Ravens (6-4)
No six-win team is flying under the radar like the Ravens. The Steelers have made headlines with both good and bad play over the past three weeks. Northeast Ohio is the center of the sports world, thanks in part to the Cleveland Browns playing as well as they are. Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals are trending in the wrong direction. Baltimore, meanwhile, is going ignored, something that the Ravens could use as bulletin board material moving forward. Don’t be shocked if the Ravens win the AFC North this year.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)
The Chiefs aren’t pretty. They’re not blowing out good teams, nor are they producing highlight-reel offensive plays on a weekly basis. Kansas City is playing winning football, though, and the Chiefs trail the Denver Broncos by a single game in the division standings. Most would say that the Chiefs are not as good as the Broncos, and that would be a fair assessment. Kansas City can earn a Wild Card berth by continuing to produce wins, a task that won’t be easy this coming Sunday when the Chiefs host the Seattle Seahawks.
10. Cleveland Browns (6-3)
Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that the 2014 Browns have the goods to not only qualify for the playoffs, but to win a postseason game for the first time since the club returned to the NFL in 1999? Do you believe that hometown hero Brian Hoyer is the real deal, a quarterback capable of winning do-or-die games? Do you believe that the defense of the Browns has turned a corner? These are the types of questions Cleveland fans are asking themselves at the moment now that the Browns are in first place.
9. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
It’s nice that the Cowboys beat up on the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, but Dallas fans are in denial if they don’t believe there are true reasons to be worried moving forward. Quarterback Tony Romo was visibly playing through back pain this past weekend, and that problem isn’t going away until Romo can rest. That recovery time comes after the season, and the Cowboys have Brandon Weeden as their other option at quarterback if Romo goes down for the year. The Dallas offensive line will make or break the team’s fate.
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-3)
Seattle could have rushed for 500 yards against the New York Giants had that game had a fifth quarter. Quarterback Russell Wilson outsmarted the New York defense time and time again, and his ability to make plays with his legs opened things up for running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch hit the Giants for four rushing scores in total, and New York defensive players did not want to try to tackle the smash-mouth running back in the final period of play. Don’t look now, but Seattle is playing solid football in November. Watch out.
7. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
There are valid arguments to be made about who is the top quarterback in the NFL this fall. Nobody is playing as well as is Rodgers during his current run. Rodgers torched the Chicago Bears for six touchdown passes in less than a half of football, and he would have put up historic numbers on Sunday night had he pressed the issue. Arizona is the team to beat in the NFC as of November 11th, but these Packers have the talent to emerge as the best side in the conference when the end of January rolls around.
6. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Sunday Night Football gave us a stinker in Week 10. That should not be the case on November 16th. Andrew Luck and the Colts will host the New England Patriots in what could prove to be more than just a playoff preview. Both the Colts and the Patriots are playing with home-field advantage on the line. It is not crazy to suggest that these clubs will meet up again in January. The winner of Sunday’s game could go on to be the home team for that future encounter, were one to occur.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (7-2)
I feel far less crazy about going out on a limb in NFL preseason previews and suggesting that Mark Sanchez was the best quarterback on the roster of the Eagles. Granted, it is still early into the Sanchize era at Philadelphia. The defense of the Carolina Panthers is nothing special these days, and the Chip Kelly offense likely would have lit it up on Monday Night Football had Nick Foles been in the lineup. This offense is Sanchez’s for the time being, and the former New York Jets starting QB has a chance to resurrect his career.
4. Denver Broncos (7-2)
I guess Peyton Manning and the Broncos are going to be fine, after all. Denver, as expected, took it to the out-manned Oakland Raiders on Sunday, and the Broncos continue to sit atop the AFC West standings. Do not, however, assume that the Broncos will head to St. Louis and dominate the Rams. St. Louis has been a tough out in 2014, especially when playing top competition. The Rams present a good match-up for the Broncos on paper, but St. Louis has punched above its weight several times in 2014.
3. Detroit Lions (7-2)
It seems as if the football world is so concentrated on waiting for a Detroit letdown to begin that we are all missing out on the fact that the Lions have won seven of nine contests. It’s somewhat difficult to explain how Detroit has gotten to where the club is in the middle of November, but those anticipating the Lions to eventually fall beneath the Green Bay Packers in the division standings should remember one thing: Superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson is healthy and back on the field, and his legs are fresh. Uh oh.
2. Arizona Cardinals (8-1)
Why are so many people counting the Cardinals out now that quarterback Carson Palmer is lost for the season (torn ACL)? Have they forgotten that Arizona has won with Drew Stanton on the field? Bruce Arians is the best head coach in the game today, and Stanton fits in his coach’s system rather nicely. Arians isn’t utilizing “coach speak” in saying that he thinks the Cardinals can win the Super Bowl with Stanton under center. Arians believes it to be true, and he may be proven to be right come this February.
1. New England Patriots (7-2)
I don’t believe in dropping a team from NFL power rankings just because they didn’t play a game. While the Arizona Cardinals do have the better record, the Patriots have been the better overall side since October 12th. Tom Brady turned back the clock a month ago, and he is playing like a man obsessed with quieting his doubters and winning another Super Bowl. Football fans will be waiting all week for Sunday night to watch that Patriots/Colts showdown.
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