NFL Power Rankings, Week 6: Cowboys, including CB Trevon Diggs, are starting to break out


The Athletic 13 October, 2021 - 06:05am

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$10 After 2021 NFL Week 5 - RealGM Analysis 13 October, 2021 - 04:10pm

by Jeff Risdon

$.01--The top of the AFC was decided in two games on Sunday, and the balance of power shifted with the results. The new kings of the AFC hill are in Buffalo and Los Angeles, while Kansas City and Cleveland are looking up from lofty but precarious perches of their own.

The Chargers beat the Browns, 47-42, in a game almost completely devoid of defense on both sides of the ball. Los Angeles came up with one critical stop late in the fourth quarter and it made all the difference in their win, a game that featured 8 touchdowns in the second half. Justin Herbert outgunned Baker Mayfield in the matchup of two of the NFL’s top young QBs.  

The Chargers benefitted from a truly terrible pass interference call, but also some poor play calls down the stretch by the Cleveland offense. Between Herbert and an impressive offensive line, the 4-1 Chargers look to be the class of the West. But there is another… 

Buffalo pounded Kansas City in a game that didn’t end on Sunday. A lengthy storm delay couldn’t cloud how impressive the Bills looked in surging to 4-1 and dropping the Chiefs to 2-3 and last place in the West. Josh Allen was the better quarterback over Patrick Mahomes, and the Bills defense was the far better prepared and sharper unit to their counterparts for the home team. 

The Bills needed to prove themselves in a challenging game, something they havent really had this year. Consider that box checked in the thickest Sharpie available. Buffalo looks as complete as a team can through five weeks, Sean McDermott has done a masterful job of getting the right pieces in the right places to do exactly what he wants. His decision to not pressure Mahomes paid off, crowding throwing lanes and gumming up the big-play works. Allen played smart, seemingly always knowing where his best option was on each play.  

Baltimore is 3-1 and plays Indianapolis on Monday night with the chance to move into the conversation at the top too, but right now it’s pretty clear the two best teams are the Bills and Chargers with fewer teams than expected scurrying for the top of the next tier below them. 

$.02--It’s going to be very strange in Week 6 when the Seattle Seahawks take the field and Russell Wilson won’t be their starting quarterback. But that’s the mountain the Seahawks must climb for the next few weeks.  

Wilson badly injured a finger in Seattle’s loss to the Rams on Thursday night. He hit Aaron Donald’s hand with his follow-through on a pass, resulting in a torn ligament and a fracture. What happened to Wilson is commonly known as “mallet finger” and, in his case, it required surgery. Wilson will be out for at least four weeks and could miss 8-10 if the progress doesn’t follow the best-case outcome. 

Geno Smith is the new starter in Seattle, the first player to start a game for the Seahawks since Tarvaris Jackson in the final game of the 2011 season. Smith did a reasonable impression of Wilson in Thursday’s loss, matching Wilson’s TD and INT total and looking competent in emergency relief. He’s thrown just 101 passes since 2014 as a vagabond backup and has never really engendered much confidence in extended action, however.

That won’t be good enough for Seattle, which continues to flounder with one of the NFL’s worst defenses. They gave up another 476 yards and 24 first downs to the Rams on a night where L.A. quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t have his best either despite a gaudy stat line. Now 2-3, losing Wilson for even a month is almost certainly a death blow for Pete Carroll’s Seahawks.  

$.03--Sunday’s viewing started earlier than normal thanks to the NFL exporting the Jets and Falcons game to London. After the display of “football” between two of the NFL’s worst, they might not want more anytime soon.  

The Jets and Falcons took to Tottenham and showed the English fans what everyone in America already knew: the Jets are not good at football things. The 27-20 final score is somewhat deceptive; Atlanta raced out to a 17-0 lead after the first three possessions for each team, where the Jets failed to pick up a first down. It was the breakout game Atlanta had been waiting for from rookie TE Kyle Pitts, aided in part by the Jets trying to cover him on a TD reception with DE John Franklin-Myers. Much of what New York tried to do didn’t make much sense to the Americans in the audience. Imagine the poor Brits trying to decipher the intricacies of American football from watching overwhelmed rookie Zach Wilson and the Jets.  

Matt Ryan became just the seventh passer to ever complete 5,000 passes by tacking on 33 against New York. Ryan has a Rookie of the Year award, an NFL MVP, and he ranks in the top 10 of nearly every passing category you can list. Yet Ryan never gets mentioned among the top QB historically. Consider that Ryan has 35 more completions on almost 700 fewer attempts than Dan Marino, and the same amount of Super Bowl appearances. But if you tried to tell anyone that Ryan belongs in the same conversation as Marino, you will absolutely get laughed off the stage. Perception matters. 

The NFL announced plans to expand the international series into Germany, perhaps as early as next year. Football in Germany was a huge hit in the old NFL Europe, where five teams were based in the country when that league folded (RIP) in 2007. It’s something the NFL has long sought--a more permanent presence across the Atlantic. The 17-game schedule makes it a natural addition as a neutral-site game for the odd number. 

Fun fact: The Green Bay Packers are the only NFL team to never play in the international series. Look for that to change quickly when the league increases its presence in Germany. 

$.04--This is one of those weeks where the off-field action trumped the on-field product for too many teams. And unfortunately, it’s a familiar scene for Washington…

The Washington Football Team saw their training facility swarming with DEA agents this week as part of an investigation surrounding team trainer Ryan Vermillion. The feds executed search warrants and were present at both team facilities and Vermillion’s home in Loudon County. No exact details about the sordid details of the investigation exist yet, but you can find a lot of really fun speculative rabbit holes if you go looking around. Most involve illegal distribution of prescription drugs, which Vermillion is not legally licensed to give out. 

To this point, the focus is strictly on Vermillion, who came to the WFT along with head coach Ron Rivera from the Carolina Panthers. He’s been suspended by the team. The WFT just happens to be where he works, but it’s still unsettling to hear about the lead trainer of an NFL team being the subject of a massive DEA investigation. It’s the same team that was fined $10 million earlier this year for an unprofessional workplace that fostered bullying and lacked accountability. And that’s only partially related to the scandal involving the WFT’s blatant, illegal and illicit sexual harassment of their own cheerleading staff that included a video of outtake reels of the women in various states of nudity. 

The Football Team does still manage to play football despite the chaos surrounding the organization. Well, kind of anyway. After scoring on their first three drives, Washington managed to turn the ball over 4 times (2 INTs, 2 on downs) and squander the early lead in a 33-22 loss to the Saints. Washington’s defense, which on paper appeared to be one of the NFL’s toughest entering the season, has given up an average of 34 points per game in the last four weeks.  

$.05--Washington is tangentially guilty by association to the uproar over Jon Gruden and an allegedly racist email Gruden sent on the subject of NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. Gruden is in some serious hot water for the decade-old email that dates to his time as an ESPN broadcaster. The email from Gruden was to then-WFT GM Bruce Allen and it predates Gruden’s brother, Jay, working for the WFT as their head coach.  

Raiders owner Mark Davis issued a rather stern statement shortly after the contents of the email surfaced.

That’s Davis not backing away from publicly rebuking his celebrity head coach. Even though this was years before Davis hired Gruden, the statement gives the indication that it might be the reason Gruden gets fired. I don’t expect that to happen, but a suspension seems likely even though the emails came when Gruden was not employed by the NFL. 

Gruden’s Raiders didn’t help their coach with a flat performance in a 20-9 loss to the Bears. The Chicago defense played well, but the Las Vegas offense seemed out of sync and the offensive line overwhelmed by the task. Justin Fields wasn’t great under center for Chicago but made just enough plays to even both teams’ records at 3-2.

$.06--Urban Meyer remains the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, though his grasp on the job is tenuous at best. After his Jags lost their 20th game in a row (only five on Meyer’s watch) in typically uncompetitive fashion, it’s hard to not think Jacksonville owner Shad Khan doesn’t have his hand on the plug ready to yank it from Meyer’s back.  

Meyer publicly embarrassed the organization by cavorting with co-eds after last week’s loss. He didn’t return to Jacksonville with his team but stayed behind instead to be with his family, and that turned into a salacious meme sensation. Any chance Meyer had to win the trust and respect of his players back slipped further away in a lopsided 37-19 loss to a depleted Tenneseee Titans team. It was 31-13 into the fourth quarter as Jacksonville squandered some scoring opportunities. 

At 0-5, Jacksonville is one of two winless teams remaining. The other is Detroit, who fell in heartbreaking fashion on a last-secodn field goal. Instead of galavanting off with women who aren’t his wife, Lions head coach Dan Campbell cried in his postgame press conference because he wanted them to win so badly it physically hurt him to lose. Campbell will be fine in Detroit; the players absolutely love him and respect him. Nobody will ever say that about Meyer in Jacksonville. 

$.07--Saturday was one of the most epically memorable days of college football in a long time. It was a day that showed how easy it is to lose yourself into the college game. 

In the early viewing window, the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma and the SEC shootout between Ole Miss and Arkansas played out concurrently and each are instant classics. 

I returned from my son’s basketball event and flipped on the television to find Texas leading Oklahoma 41-23. The Sooners had benched preseason Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler at QB in favor of freshman Caleb Williams at halftime and it worked. Williams sparked an epic comeback in a thrilling contest. Texas’ offense had two bad series in a row and that was all Williams and WR Marvin Mims needed to author the amazing comeback win. A 25-point fourth-quarter outburst led the Sooners to the 55-48 comeback win in a truly fun game to watch with no rooting interest. 

The same was true of the Arkansas/Mississppi matchup. Several late lead changes and dramatic plays kept everyone glued to the screen--when they weren’t transfixed by the OU/Texas game. Ole Miss held on when Arkansas’ 2-pt. conversion failed after scoring a touchdown on the game’s final play. It was a draining experience even for me, someone with no skin in the game. But wait, there’s more… 

Iowa and Penn State, two top-5 teams, played an intensely close game. The Hawkeyes comeback win, aided in part by Penn State injuries at QB, wasn’t exactly great football, but it was a high-stakes game with max effort oozing out of every player on every snap. Notre Dame stunned Virginia Tech in another close game, followed by Michigan squeaking past Nebraska.  

As the Wolverines were improving to 6-0, the nation’s eyes turned to College Station. Texas A&M managed to stun No. 1 Alabama on a last-second field goal that wasn’t good until it bent inside the left upright just before sailing over the crossbar. And this one had everyone glued to the set. 

I never expected the Aggies to come back after blowing the long-held lead. Their offense had been so anemic and the Crimson Tide was flowing with confidence. But a stirring drive from QB Zach Calzada tied it up, and TAMU quickly snuffed out Alabama’s offense with a too-quick 3-and-out. Seth Small’s FG as time expired set off a social media explosion and an audible cheer in my neighborhood near Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Such a thrilling day in the world of college football! It reminds us that the game can still be a lot of fun. 

--The Bengals and Packers combined to miss five field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime before Green Bay’s Mason Crosby finally made one (his 4th of the day) to lift the Packers to their fourth straight win. They weren’t the only teams with kicking issues…

--For the second time in three weeks, the Detroit Lions lost by a 19-17 score on a career-long FG from the opposing kicker as time expired. In Week 3 it was Justin Tucker setting the NFL record with his 66-yard game-winner. On Sunday, Minnesota’s Greg Joseph nailed a 54-yarder over the same goal he came up short on a 49-yard attempt earlier in the second half. 

--Arizona stayed unbeaten with a tough divisional win over the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals won this one on defense, and that’s a very scary proposition for the rest of the NFC.  

--Both Bengals QB Joe Burrow and Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah were taken to local hospitals after their team’s losses with throat contusions. I’ve never heard of that exact injury before, but hearing about big-name players taking ambulances for evaluation for the unusual malady is concerning.

--Speaking of injuries, the New York Giants might need a few new offensive weapons after Sunday’s blowout loss to Dallas. RB Saquon Barkley (ankle), QB Daniel Jones (concussion), and WRs Kenny Golladay (knee) all left the game. Already on the sidelines: OT Andrew Thomas (foot), WR Sterling Shepard (hamstring) and WR Darius Slayton (hamstring). Some will return for Week 6, but that’s effectively every important player on the offense missing in action. 

--I really enjoyed “The Move” short film on the CBS pregame show, documenting how a fraternity packed up the Baltimore Colts facility in one night to facilitate the team’s move to Indianapolis. Very well-done. As someone who lived on the other end of the move--my family moved to Indianapolis (from Cleveland, ironically enough down the line) three months earlier--it sure struck home. It sure beat the pointless yelling and (deliberately?) unfunny skits that predominate the network pregame yakfests. 

--Sometimes you just have to see a play to believe it. That’s the case with this wild one between South Dakota State and Southern Illinois, two of the best teams in the FCS: 

--Georgia is the deserving new No. 1 team after pasting a ranked Auburn team on Saturday. It needs to be mentioned they’re on top despite rolling with a backup quarterback, Stetson Bennett, under center. Their defense is going to be very difficult to beat.  

--Ohio State has rebounded quite nicely from the early-season loss to Oregon. Since losing to the Ducks, the Buckeyes have won 41-20, 59-7, 52-13 and 66-17. C.J. Stroud at QB gets the attention, but quietly the defense is figuring itself out too. The degree of difficulty amps up with games against top-10 foes Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan still on the slate. If the Buckeyes somehow run the table, that murderer’s row schedule makes them a lock for the playoff. I don’t expect it to happen, but Ryan Day’s team is playing some great football lately. 

--I do not have a Heisman vote but if I did, it would currently go to Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker. In 6 games, Walker has run for almost 1,000 yards and 9 TDs at over 7 yards per carry. He’s doing it behind an offensive line that is average on its best day, too. His 94-yard TD scamper is the kind of moment that can catapult him to the win, too.

--It might be time to take Kentucky seriously. The Wildcats declawed LSU, 42-21, to remain unbeaten. Then again, LSU isn’t what it used to be. We’ll learn a lot about Kentucky next week when they play No. 1 Georgia. Don’t write them off just because “it’s Kentucky”--they’re a proudly physical team that plays with confidence and attitude on both sides of the ball. 

--Wake Forest could wind up running the table in the ACC. The Demon Deacons are 6-0 and have themselves a quarterback in Sam Hartman to go with a balanced ground game. There is only one ranked team left on their schedule and it’s not Clemson, but rather North Carolina State. Trips to Clemson and UNC will not be easy, but Wake Forest has the ability to go 12-0 and make for some very uncomfortable playoff discussions for a team that didn’t even appear in the “others getting votes” in the (completely worthless) preseason polls. 

$.10--My friend Ty Schalter is an incredible writer, and his writing transcends the sports he covers. He penned a great piece this week that really hit home for me. 

Ty is a Detroit Lions fan and writer, my predecessor as the managing editor of Lions Wire at USA TODAY. He understands the soul-sucking toll it takes to cover a team you are also a fan of, and he nailed it in his latest “Gimmie Schalter” newsletter.  

Boy does that strike a chord. It’s not something Ty or I like to complain about publicly. We do a job that is a dream for a lot of folks, and we appreciate the opportunity. It’s a great gig. But it is, in fact, a lot of work. It’s draining. It’s difficult to try and be a fan and also write objectively about a team--especially one as historically unsuccessful as the Detroit Lions. 

I watch an insane amount of football. In the last week I watched 11 full NFL games, two of them twice in all-22 (I also work at Browns Wire) and wrote 84 pieces (not counting last week’s $.10) for publication from Monday thru Sunday. I watched in-depth film on five college prospects as well, plus good portions of several college games from Thursday night through Saturday. Oh yeah, I did 90 minutes in the radio studio at 96.1 The Game in Grand Rapids on Monday, six radio interviews, one TV spot (thanks FOX 17) and five podcasts including the Detroit Lions Podcast that I co-host every Wednesday night. I love it, but it’s my work and I take that seriously. 

It’s very difficult to turn off the football brain. I don’t much enjoy watching football very often--it’s work for me. As Schalter so keenly observed, it’s not something people who don’t do it can comprehend. 

I don’t mind the casual conversations with folks at my daughter’s volleyball matches or at the gym. I get it--I’m the football media guy and you want to chat. I really enjoy a lot of those, honestly. When it gets weird is when people I only know as acquaintances want to dissect the minutiae of the games and I just want to finish my fish taco, or try and catch my breath after running a 5k, and try to be off-duty for a few minutes. So consider this an apology in advance if I’m terse or distant if you want to talk football and I’m not with laptop open. Thanks Ty, for saying what needs to be said but we can’t always say. 

Tags: IQ

Jeff Risdon is RealGM's senior football writer.

Follow @JeffRisdon on Twitter.

NFL Power Rankings, Week 6: Bills dethrone Cardinals; Chiefs fall to 10th 13 October, 2021 - 04:10pm

The Bills announced themselves as the team to beat in the AFC on Sunday night. A near-perfect performance at Arrowhead was enough to vault the Orchard Park heroes to the top of the Power Rankings.

Close behind them are Cowboys and Chargers teams that crash the top five for the first time this season. Meanwhile, the stunning downfall of Jon Gruden has resulted in a free-fall for the Raiders.

Everything can change in an instant in the NFL. This past week is a reminder. Let's get to it.

NOTE: Up/down arrows reflect movement from the Week 5 Power Rankings.

Defeating the Chiefs in October and defeating them in January are two very different beasts, but that doesn't mean Sunday night's 38-20 stomping of the defending conference champs wasn't important. For the Bills, it was affirmation of what they already believed: With superstar quarterback Josh Allen out front, they can beat anyone. They might even embarrass you. That's what happened at Arrowhead Stadium, where Patrick Mahomes struggled to find any rhythm against a Buffalo defense that played like it knew what was coming. Bills defenders might tell you they did, which is a credit to Sean McDermott and his entire coaching staff. Buffalo is a juggernaut.

Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury and the offense get much of the headlines coming out of Arizona, but it was the Cardinals' defense that took the NFC West leaders to 5-0. The Cards held Trey Lance to 10 points in his NFL starting debut and stopped the 49ers on four of their five fourth-down attempts in a 17-10 win. The most dramatic of those stuffs came in the second quarter, when Lance scrambled toward the right pylon before slamming into a wall comprised of brick (Tanner Vallejo) and mortar (Isaiah Simmons). After the game, DeAndre Hopkins called it "championship football." Lance would probably describe it a different way.

The weirdest stat of Week 5: Sunday's 45-17 win over the Dolphins marked the first time Tom Brady threw for more than 400 yards and five touchdowns in a game. This feels impossible, given Brady's unmatched résumé over 22 seasons, but it's true. Not bad production, considering Brady didn't even play the final nine minutes of regulation as Blaine Gabbert closed out an overmatched Miami team. At halftime, newly acquired veteran cornerback Richard Sherman approached teammate Leonard Fournette and shared the eye-opening opinion that he'd never been part of a team with so much talent. The running back's response? "This s***'s different."

The Cowboys swept their three-game homestand against the Eagles, Panthers and Giants by a combined score of 121-69 -- a stretch of dominance that cements America's Team as a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. On Sunday, the Cowboys rolled up 515 yards of total offense on a bruised-and-battered Giants team that -- like the Eagles and Washington -- knows the best-case scenario is scrambling for a wild-card spot come December. If Dallas keeps its health, the NFC East race is already over. The next question: How good can the Cowboys be? As we approach mid-October, they cut the profile of a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Justin Herbert Is A Savage In The Pocket. The second-year prodigy was an unstoppable force against the Browns, throwing for 398 yards with five total scores in a 47-42 win at Hollywood Park. The Bolts' usually reliable defense stumbled through its worst performance of the season, but Herbert was there to pick up the slack with his cadre of playmakers. L.A.'s 26 points in the final period were the most by a team in a fourth quarter in eight years. "To win a game like this that turns into a track meet, you have to have a superstar quarterback," coach Brandon Staley said after the victory. "And that's what he is." You know what else he is? (Please see first sentence.)

The Packers love Mason Crosby. He's been a dependable contributor for years, and he's always weathered the storms of inconsistency that grip all kickers not named Justin Tucker. After Crosby missed his third field goal in less than an hour on Sunday against the Bengals, Matt LaFleur decided to check in on his grizzled veteran. "I could see the look in his eyes," the coach said. "There was zero flinch from him." Given one more shot to salvage his afternoon, Crosby split the uprights to lift the Packers to an overtime conquest over the Bengals, the team's fourth consecutive win. "I went up to him and just told him I loved him," running back Aaron Jones said after the win. "You'll always stay with your teammates no matter what."

Lamar Jackson reminded the world on Monday night that he is one of one. The Ravens' quarterback authored the greatest passing game of his career, carving up the Colts for 442 yards and four touchdowns in a ridiculous comeback win. The Ravens fell behind 22-3 early and were trailing by 16 points in the fourth quarter before ripping off the final 22 points of the game. The comeback included two Mark Andrews touchdowns and, ridiculously, two Mark Andrews two-point conversions. When the Ravens won the overtime coin toss, the game was already over. Jackson marched Baltimore through an exhausted Indy defense for 68 yards on 10 plays, ending with the Hollywood Brown game-winner. It was a brilliant comeback that just might have been Jackson's best performance yet.

Welcome back to the offense, Robert Woods. The veteran wide receiver is one of the Rams' top weapons, but forming a connection with Matthew Stafford was more difficult than expected in the season's first four weeks. That changed against the Seahawks on Thursday night, when Woods turned a whopping 14 targets into 12 catches for 150 yards in a 26-17 win over their division rivals. The Los Angeles passing attack is imposing when Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson and Tyler Higbee are on the field at the same. Add Woods' reliable presence into the mix, and it can be overwhelming.

In wins over the Bears and Vikings, the Browns authored two of the most dominant defensive performances we've seen by any team all season. On Sunday, Cleveland's D entered The Twilight Zone. Kevin Stefanski's team surrendered 493 total yards -- and 26 points in the fourth quarter alone -- in a 47-42 insta-classic loss to the Chargers. Disappointing outcome aside, the Browns' beat-up defense should recover, while a huge bounce-back performance from Baker Mayfield and the offense offered promise of better days. If these Browns can put both sides of their game plan together, they'll be tough to stop.

Following a humbling blowout loss at home on Sunday Night Football, you can imagine the Chiefs wondering aloud -- to borrow a Madden-ism -- where that truck came from. The 18-wheeler in question was Josh Allen, Micah Hyde and the rest of a Buffalo Bills team that put Kansas City on notice: You may be the back-to-back defending conference champion, but you're not the best team in the AFC. The truth is, it's not close right now. The Chiefs have been mistake-prone on offense and overmatched on defense, facts the Bills laid bare. "You kind of have to take it on the chin," Patrick Mahomes said. "We've still got a long season left, but this one you're going to remember."

The Saints might be the NFL's most perplexing team through five weeks, but a surge of reinforcements could bring some more clarity (and consistency) to Sean Payton's squad. Wide receivers Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith, kicker Wil Lutz, left tackle Terron Armstead and center Erik McCoy are all eligible to return to action following the Week 6 bye. Defensive tackle David Onyemata is eligible to return from suspension following Week 7's matchup against the Seahawks. That's a long list of valuable players, and it's a credit to these Saints that they managed to get to their well-timed bye above .500. No team can survive in the NFL without roster depth. The 2021 Saints just proved they have it.

The Big Dog is still The Big Dog. Any attempts to fade The Big Dog will result in the stern reminder that The Big Dog is not to be disrespected under any circumstances. Derrick Henry rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns, another mighty performance in a 37-19 win over the lowly Jaguars. Henry is on pace to set the NFL record for carries and rushing yards this season, and it's hard to imagine an otherwise ordinary Titans team turning away from the one thing that makes it special. This stat, from CBS: Henry just completed the most productive 40-game stretch by a running back in NFL history. His 4,792 yards over the span is just ahead of Jim Brown (4,759). Jim Brown.

Evan McPherson's NFL career is off to a promising start, but he'll have to do some special things to escape being remembered as The Kicker Who Celebrated Too Soon. The rookie's overtime field-goal attempt against the Packers started straight before veering left and making contact with the flapping orange flag blowing atop the left upright. McPherson thought he'd converted his third game-winning kick in five professional contests, but instead it was a miss that set up an eventual 25-22 loss. McPherson later said he thought the officials were "playing a game" with him. That would have been a pretty mean-spirited prank, to be honest.

Christian McCaffrey returned to practice last week -- now the Panthers need their superstar RB back on Sundays. The Carolina offense sputtered again in a frustrating loss to the Eagles that featured three Sam Darnold interceptions and pass-protection issues that we didn't see before No. 22 exited with a hamstring injury in Week 3. Such is the importance of McCaffrey, a driving force in both the running and passing games. He seems especially essential to Darnold, whose turnover-prone ways have returned without his safety valve sliding out of the backfield. "Sam needs to take what's given him," Matt Rhule said. "If we do that, we'll get back on track quickly."

No Dalvin Cook? No problem! That was the general sentiment -- perhaps not behind the scenes at Vikings headquarters -- but around the team as it prepared for the winless Lions on Sunday. Naturally, Minnesota found itself in a street fight against Dan Campbell's scrappy group, which pushed the Vikings to the brink before the kicker saved the day. Greg Joseph hit four of five kicks, including the 54-yarder as time expired in a 19-17 win over Detroit. It was a redemptive moment for Joseph, whose miss from 37 yards out cost the Vikings a win over the Cardinals in Week 2. Still, concerns linger over an offense that looked all but unstoppable in the season's first three weeks. Is it a simple slump, or a sign of bigger issues?

Progress. The Steelers desperately needed to show signs of it on offense in Week 5, and that's exactly what they did. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 253 yards and two scores, and Najee Harris produced like the first-round pick he is in a 27-19 win over the Broncos. It wasn't all good news for the offense, however: JuJu Smith-Schuster's season is over after he suffered a shoulder injury that will require surgery. Pittsburgh has a good group of playmakers at wide receiver, but Smith-Schuster was a treasured safety valve in the slot for a veteran quarterback who loves to get the ball out quickly when the pass rush closes in (and even when it doesn't).

Trey Lance brought some much-appreciated excitement to the offense in his first career start. Points? That was a different story. Lance threw one interception and the Niners were stuffed on four of their five attempts on fourth down, the difference in a 17-10 loss to the undefeated Cardinals. Lance looked very much like a raw rookie at times on Sunday, but he also moved San Francisco into Arizona territory on eight occasions and led the team with 89 rushing yards. It felt like something to build off of, but Kyle Shanahan appears determined to turn back to Jimmy Garoppolo if the veteran is ready to return from a calf injury after the Week 6 bye, and Lance is now dealing with a knee sprain that that will be re-evaluated at the end of the week.

In 2018, the Raiders gave Jon Gruden a 10-year, $100 million contract with the hope he would guide the franchise back to the promised land. Instead, Gruden resigned on Monday after three seasons and five games following reports that emails he wrote over a seven-year span included racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments. Gruden's sudden downfall is one of the biggest bombshells in franchise history. More than just the head coach, Gruden was the face of the franchise and driving architect behind the team's construction. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia has been tasked with keeping the 2021 season from slipping away under extraordinary circumstances. As for who fills the massive power vacuum in Vegas? The Raiders are probably asking themselves the same question.

Inefficiency in the red zone plagued Teddy Bridgewater during his one season with the Panthers. You could make the case that Bridgewater, not Sam Darnold, would still be Matt Rhule's QB in Charlotte had he not made so many backbreaking mistakes near the goal line. Fast-forward to the present day, and Bridgewater has brought this problem to Denver. Facing an eight-point deficit in the final minute on Sunday, the Broncos failed in four cracks from inside the Pittsburgh 10. The final play was the clincher, a poorly thrown ball picked off by the Steelers with 11 seconds to play. In these crucible moments, Teddy simply needs to be better.

The Eagles were in desperate need of a big play late in Sunday's matchup against the Panthers. They got one in each phase of the game during the final five minutes of a 21-18 win. T.J. Edwards' blocked punt, Jalen Hurts' 6-yard touchdown run and a Steven Nelson interception of Sam Darnold turned a five-point deficit into a three-point victory that snapped a three-game losing streak. Next up for the Eagles is a huge measuring-stick game against the reigning champion Bucs on Thursday night. It will take more than a strong finish to beat Tampa Bay.

The Good Ship Carroll is taking on water. The Seahawks fell to 2-3 with a home loss to the division-rival Rams, then learned that Russell Wilson could miss at least a few games after undergoing surgery on the finger he injured in Thursday's game at Lumen Field. The Seahawks are a team searching for an identity: Pete Carroll loves to run the football and ride with his defense, but the rushing attack is average and the defense is in the conversation for the league's worst. Wilson is the one who has always held it together -- take Seattle's superstar quarterback out of the mix and there's nothing left to hold onto.

Generally speaking, a scenario that combines a rookie QB making his fifth start and an offensive line missing four starters is -- well -- not ideal. It's the stuff blowout losses are made of, and perhaps that would have been the Patriots' fate had they not been playing the hapless Texans on Sunday. But perhaps not, considering Mac Jones is showing us on a weekly basis that he's not your typical rookie quarterback. Jones engineered a pair of fourth-quarter scoring marches on Sunday, including his first classified as a game-winning drive, in a 25-22 win. Jones isn't as flashy as the other rookie QBs, but on balance, he's been the most impressive.

The identity of the Justin Fields Bears -- in 2021, anyway -- is beginning to take shape. Run the football (a lot), ask your young QB to protect the football and make a few plays, then let the defense take it home. That was a formula for success against the Raiders in a convincing 20-9 win at Allegiant Stadium. Chicago proved it could move the ball on the ground even without David Montgomery (knee), getting a combined 139 yards on 34 rushes from Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert. Will the Bears’ formula work against the NFL’s elite? Imposing tests lie ahead with the Packers and Bucs up next.

As the Ravens celebrated their stunning overtime win over the Colts, ESPN cut to a replay of Carson Wentz on the sideline reacting to the game-winning touchdown by Marquise "Hollywood" Brown moments earlier. Wentz anxiously rubbed his hand through his hair, clearly stunned by what had just transpired. A 25-9 fourth-quarter lead had turned into a 31-25 defeat. The biggest win of the season had morphed grotesquely into one of the most crushing defeats in recent franchise history. A collapse like this has many fathers: There were multiple breakdowns on special teams, while a gassed defense offered zero resistance against a rampaging Lamar Jackson. It was a game the Colts absolutely could not lose ... and yet, they did. 

The Falcons flew high over London thanks to a vintage performance by Matt Ryan. The veteran signal-caller might not be able to sling the ball like he did five years ago, but he showed against the Jets that he can still pick apart a young and inexperienced defense with surgical precision. It helps to have a stud like Kyle Pitts around. With Calvin Ridley out, the No. 4 overall pick finally enjoyed the breakout game many had been waiting for; Pitts went off, hauling in nine catches for 119 yards and his first career touchdown against a New York defense ill-equipped to handle his rare combination of size and speed. Pitts’ special skill set deserves a Darren Waller-level target share.

Is there a more disappointing defense in football than Washington's this year? Ron Rivera’s D made progress in pass-rushing and takeaways against the Saints, but the inability to stop big plays continued to haunt the Football Team in a 33-22 loss. On Sunday, Washington allowed a 72-yard touchdown to Deonte Harris and a Hail Mary score to Marquez Callaway at the end of the first half. After the game, Washington players said they didn’t see the end zone heave coming, which, hoo boy. Said Rivera: “I’m very frustrated, because we have too many good football players to not be better than what we are right now.”

Week 5 was a disaster for the Giants. Daniel Jones (concussion), Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Kenny Golladay (knee) were all lost to injury as the superior Cowboys coasted to a 44-20 win at Jerrah World. It was a sobering game for Big Blue, which entered Sunday feeling great about a season turnaround after a big comeback win in New Orleans. Now begins a week of health updates: Barkley and Golladay are expected to miss Week 6, while Jones needs to clear the league’s concussion protocol. Rookie Kadarius Toney, who had a breakout game on Sunday (10 catches, 189 yards) before getting ejected for throwing a punch, is also banged up (lower leg), but his ailment doesn't sound too significant. With a brutal schedule ahead, Joe Judge’s team is in serious danger of second-half irrelevance.

The Dolphins will get on the plane to London wondering what they are: A good team in a bad slump or a bad team in a long season. Facing the Bucs' gang of All-Pros and future Hall of Famers presents a tough assignment for anyone, but Sunday's 45-17 loss to the defending champions wasn’t the type of performance to engender hope that a turnaround is near. Miami allowed 558 yards of total offense, including 411 passing yards and five touchdowns to Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback who is still finding ways to torture the Dolphins fan base from the beyond the AFC East grave.

Dan Campbell isn’t one to hide his emotions, so it wasn’t a surprise when the Lions coach got emotional after his team’s latest heartbreaking loss. Detroit is 0-5, with two of its defeats coming on last-second field-goals that bordered on the impossible. This one was made more painful because the Lions had orchestrated a stunning comeback to take a late lead over the Vikings. It still wasn’t enough. "You want it for yourself, as an organization and for all of us,” Campbell said with tears in his eyes. “But you want it for those players. They’re out there busting their ass and … it’s tough.”

Davis Mills shredded the Patriots' defense in the way many expected Tom Brady to a week earlier. The third-round rookie washed away the memory of his four-INT Week 4 performance, setting career highs in passing yards (312) and touchdown passes (3) in a narrow 25-22 loss. Davis’ productive day was especially impressive considering Bill Belichick’s typical mastery over rookie quarterbacks as New England's head coach: The Hooded One moved to 22-6 against first-year QBs, but this one wasn’t a laugher like many of the others. The only Texan player seeing ghosts on this day was Ka'imi Fairbairn, who missed a field goal and two PATs. Ka’nt do that.

The Jets mysteriously lost their momentum somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean before landing in London, delivering a deeply lackluster performance in a 27-20 loss to the Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Robert Saleh hits the bye week with more holes to plug than fingers on his two hands: The defense is coming up empty in the game’s most important moments, while rookie quarterback Zach Wilson is back to square one after another shaky showing. Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur need to find ways to get Wilson more comfortable, especially early in games. One idea: Make a point to get highly drafted young playmakers like Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims involved. It shouldn’t be this hard.

The losses continue to pile up while Urban Meyer continues to give Shad Khan buyer’s remorse on a biblical scale. After another lopsided defeat, this time to the Titans, the Jaguars have lost 20 consecutive games. They haven’t won since last year’s season opener, and they’re the first team to lose 20 in a row since 1977. That team, Tampa Bay, was an expansion franchise. Jacksonville hasn’t been able to lean on that excuse for 26 years. "You can't wrap your head around that," running back James Robinson said of The Streak. "We've got to find a way to win.”

2021 NFL Divisional Power Rankings: AFC North makes case for No. 1 while AFC West tumbles after rough week

CBS Sports 13 October, 2021 - 04:10pm

Five weeks of the NFL season are in the books, painting a clearer picture of which division is the best in football. There are still contenders for the top spot, but Week 5 games showed what divisions should be near the top for the majority of the season. 

The worst division in football may be remaining in last place for a long time, thanks to an out-of-division record that continues to worsen as the season progresses. The real division races are in the middle of the pack, as teams battle for strong representation as the second quarter of the season progresses.

The NFC West had intra-divisional matchups the last two weeks that helped its case to remain in the top spot, but the AFC North continues to climb. Based on Week 5 games, it's hard to envision the AFC West being the No. 1 ranked division two weeks ago -- which showcases the beauty of these rankings. Teams continue to play their way toward how their division will fare in 2021. 

This division solidified its last place standing by going 0-2 in inter-divisional games, which included the Indianapolis Colts blowing a 22-3 lead to the Baltimore Ravens late in the third quarter on "Monday Night Football." The Houston Texans lost a close one to the New England Patriots, but Houston blew a huge lead, too.

The AFC South just isn't any good. The division has a combined record of 5-15 and is just 2-12 in inter-divisional matchups through five weeks. Three teams in the division have one win or fewer. Don't expect the AFC South moving up these rankings anytime soon. 

The AFC East took a massive drop off this week -- and this is with the Buffalo Bills beating the Kansas City Chiefs handily at Arrowhead Stadium. Buffalo is the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, so let's not even put the Bills in this discussion. They are a dominant team in a division that just hasn't lived up to the hype thus far in 2021.

The Miami Dolphins were blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets fell to the Atlanta Falcons, and the Patriots barely survived the Texans. The combined record of those three teams through five weeks is 4-11.

The AFC East is 5-9 in inter-divisional games, but three of those wins belong to the Bills. Outside of Buffalo, this is a poor division. 

I never would have thought the NFC East would be this high after five weeks, but the Dallas Cowboys continue to show why they are one of the best teams in the conference. Dallas had a dominant intra-divisional win over the New York Giants, who lost Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley for the game -- not a great sign for a 1-4 team barely staying afloat with a head coach that's on the hot seat

The Philadelphia Eagles had an impressive comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers on the road, which is why the NFC East was able to stay above the AFC East this week. A bad loss by the Washington Football Team to the New Orleans Saints (at home) makes one wonder if Washington will ever get its problems corrected. The Football Team's next two games are against the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers

Outside of Dallas, the combined record of the NFC East is 5-10. The division is 6-8 inter-divisional games, though, showcasing why the NFC East isn't close to being the worst division in football. 

A major jump for the NFC North is well deserved thanks to the Green Bay Packers' overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (on the road) and the Chicago Bears beating the Las Vegas Raiders (also on the road). With Justin Fields at quarterback and a very good defense, all of a sudden the Bears have the look of a playoff team. (They would be the No. 6 seed right now.)

The Minnesota Vikings survived a massive upset bid by the Detroit Lions thanks to a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph to stay relevant. A loss would have been a bad look for Minnesota.

The NFC North is just 6-8 in inter-divisional games, but this was a good week for the division. Beating over .500 teams on the road isn't easy in the NFL

If the Carolina Panthers were able to hold on against the Philadelphia Eagles, this would have been a banner week for the NFC South. The Saints earned an impressive victory over Washington on the road and the Falcons took care of the Jets in London. Tampa Bay continued to flex as a conference favorite by thrashing Miami. 

The Buccaneers have a good test against the Eagles on a short week and the Panthers host the Vikings. The other two teams in the division are on a bye, so there's a strong chance the NFC South stays at No. 4. The division is an impressive 10-6 in inter-division matchups. 

The AFC West has certainly fallen since earning the top spot two weeks ago. The Denver Broncos were beaten convincingly by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Las Vegas Raiders were taken care of by the Chicago Bears. The Kansas City Chiefs -- still in last place in this division -- did not play well in their loss to the Buffalo Bills. 

This week would have been a disaster for the AFC West if the Los Angeles Chargers didn't survive a shootout win over the Cleveland Browns that involved a furious second-half comeback. This division is still very good, but the Raiders and Broncos falling back down to earth take its ranking down a notch. 

The AFC West is 10-6 in games outside the division, which is still very good. If the Chiefs can get rolling again, this division will compete for the top spot. 

The AFC North flexed its muscle this week despite a 2-2 record. The Cincinnati Bengals were a field goal away from beating the Green Bay Packers, taking one of the best teams in the NFC to overtime, while the Cleveland Browns were the first team to score 40 points and commit no turnovers in a game -- and lose. The Bengals and Browns showed they are good teams despite their losses this week, and will play a factor in this division race. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers had an impressive win over the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens rallied from 19 points down to beat the Indianapolis Colts, a game which Lamar Jackson willed his team to a win. The Ravens lead a very talented division, which will be determined by their intra-divisional matchups coming up. 

The AFC North is 11-7 outside the division, but this division is stacked top to bottom. Its 12-8 combined record -- with just one team with a losing mark at 2-3 -- showcases how good this division is. The AFC North could give the NFC West a run for its money as the season progresses. 

A second consecutive week of intra-divisional games kept the NFC West at the top spot. The Arizona Cardinals remain the league's only unbeaten team and the Los Angeles Rams are right behind them for first place at 4-1. (Arizona holds the tiebreaker by beating Los Angeles in Week 4.)

Let's see how the Seattle Seahawks fare without Russell Wilson and if the San Francisco 49ers can get back on track now that Jimmy Garoppolo may be returning after the bye week. Seattle has a big game against Pittsburgh this week while Arizona will be tested against Cleveland -- both games on the road. The Rams travel east to face the Giants. 

The NFC West is No. 1 because of its 9-3 record in inter-divisional games. That mark will be challenged this week. 

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