Another week of action in the National Football League brought more of the same. While Week 7 featured eight games decided by eight points or less, the teams at the top of the standings continued to feast on those towards the bottom.
There was some clarity about the legitimacy of teams in question — namely, the Rams are solid, while the Bills and Chargers are flawed — but the big story remains the ‘undefeated five.’ Each perfect team advanced to Week 8 without a loss, although three did so after resting for a week during their bye. With all five in action in Week 8, and two squaring off with one another — Denver and Green Bay — the real test begins.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
For three-and-a-half quarters of their Week 7 home game against the rival Jets, the New England Patriots were threatened. They neither panicked nor flinched. In fact, New England turned the tables on the Jets so quickly that they led by double digits with seconds remaining on the game clock. Until anyone completes what the Jets started, but failed — that is, actually beat the Patriots — New England leads the league.
2. Green Bay Packers (LW: 2)
The Green Bay Packers entered their bye week after cruising to wins in each of their first six games — only one of which was decided by less than eight points. Only one team in the National Football League has competed with the Green Bay for the top spot in the Power Rankings — the undefeated New England Patriots. Until New England slips up, the Packers will continue to play second-fiddle to the Patriots. There is no shame in trailing New England, however, as Green Bay is still the prohibitive favorite in the NFC.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 3)
No team has earned the right to celebrate its bye week more than the Cincinnati Bengals. Notorious for putting together winning campaigns that don’t quite put them over-the-top, Cincinnati has been completely dominant in the first seven weeks of the season. As always, surviving the gauntlet that is the AFC North will be the best test for the Bengals, for this appears to be the best team the franchise had fielded in years.
4. Carolina Panthers (LW: 4)
There is no use denying it: the Carolina Panthers are one of the league’s best teams. Carolina’s 6-0 start has been validated in recent weeks, and the team exudes a veteran-like confidence, despite youth at some of the most important positions. The Panthers will likely be in a footrace with the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South title, all season, but the division is currently Carolina’s to lose.
5. Denver Broncos (LW: 5)
The Denver Broncos have not looked perfect in their first six games, despite a 6-0 record. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning appears to slowing down, yet the Broncos’ defense — top-five in the league for points and yards allowed — has been the team’s strength. It will face arguably it’s most difficult task in Week 8, as Denver hosts the 6-0 Green Bay Packers, coming off their own bye week.
6. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 7)
It wasn’t easy for the Atlanta Falcons, but they rebounded from their first loss of the season with a road victory in Tennessee. Despite a 6-1 record, the close game is nothing new for the Falcons, as they have won only two of their games by more than one touchdown. They have, however, found ways to win, regardless of circumstance, and remain one of the best teams in the conference.
7. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 9)
For the first few games of the 2015 season, it looked as if the Arizona Cardinals were one of the rare unstoppable teams in the league. After losing two games in three weeks, however, questions arose. With their Week 7 victory over the visiting Ravens, Arizona moved further up the food chain, improving to 5-2. Most importantly, the Cardinals put some distance between themselves and the Rams, who might be emerging as players in the division race.
8. New York Jets (LW: 6)
The New York Jets showed the world the strength of their defense when they traveled to New England in Week 7 and held the Patriots to 16 points for three-and-a-half quarters. Unfortunately for New York, the Patriots simply have too many ways to win a football game, and the Jets suffered the same fate as five other teams have in 2015. The loss does little to derail the Jets’ season — as the AFC East has belonged to New England from the start — and there are far more positives to carry the team forward than the negative of losing.
9. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 12)
Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Vikings have turned in back-to-back victories, and won four of their last five games. Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater appears to be developing exactly how the franchise would have liked, and his team’s defense and running game have help picked up any slack. With a road game against the 2-4 Bears next for Minnesota, the Vikings have a great opportunity to continue their winning ways.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 8)
There was only so long that the Pittsburgh Steelers could survive without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Down to third string quarterback Landry Jones, the Steelers lost their second game without Roethlisberger in Week 7’s road defeat in Kansas City. Considering how well the Steelers have played in what appeared to be dire circumstances, Pittsburgh should be applauded — before Week 7, the Steelers had not lost a game in regulation since Opening Night in New England.
11. St. Louis Rams (LW: 11)
The St. Louis Rams have all the makings of a quiet team looking to make a sneaky run at a playoff berth. Returning from the team’s bye week to host the Browns, St. Louis turned in a double-digit victory in Week 7, during which the game was never in doubt. With two wins in their last three games — the only loss came in Green Bay — and a win against the division leading Cardinals in their back pocket, the Rams have a fighter’s chance to make a surprise play for the NFC West.
12. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 10)
Something is wrong with the Indianapolis Colts. Now 1-4 in games in which quarterback Andrew Luck has started, the Colts are kept afloat in the AFC South only due to horrible competition within the division. Make no mistake, Indianapolis will get caught if it doesn’t show some signs of improvement.
13. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 16)
Of all the ups and downs and questions surrounding the Seattle Seahawks, there appears to be one general truth — nothing will come easily to the 2015 Seahawks. The team refuses to accept that it might not be the same franchise routinely making deep playoff runs, but also continues to survive when the environment gets harsh. Seattle hasn’t looked as hungry as it has in years past, but it showed its killer instinct in a Week 7 road thrashing of the 49ers.
14. New York Giants (LW: 17)
The New York Giants have developed into the type of team that will not only play to the level of their competition, but do exactly what is necessary to win — no more, no less. Naturally, it doesn’t always work out for New York, but the Giants won another ugly divisional game when they outlasted the Cowboys in Week 7. In addition to avenging their heart-breaking loss on Opening Day, the Giants split their season series with the Cowboys, and evened their divisional record to 2-2.
15. Miami Dolphins (LW: 18)
It is rare that a change at head coach has such a profound impact as Miami’s. Winners of back-to-back games by a combined 46 points, the Miami Dolphins are suddenly looking as dangerous as their preseason projections suggested. The real test for Miami is approaching in Week 8, as the Dolphins travel to New England for a Thursday Night Football showdown with the undefeated Patriots.
16. Oakland Raiders (LW: 19)
The Oakland Raiders have had multiple attempts to field a team as solid as the one featured in 2015. Finally, behind quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper, Oakland appears to have found the pieces around which it will build in the coming years. The Raiders still haven’t played a solid enough stretch of football to suggest that they have a chance at the AFC West title, this season, but they certainly aren’t out of the conversation.
17. Buffalo Bills (LW: 11)
What happened to the Buffalo Bills? After starting the year 2-1 with only a loss in New England, Buffalo has lost three of its last four games, capped off by an international debacle against the previously one-win Jaguars. The defense — usually the strength of head coach Rex Ryan’s teams — has been a massive disappointment, and the Bills will need to find a new plan of attack during the team’s upcoming bye week.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 13)
Perhaps the Philadelphia Eagles haven’t quite turned the corner, just yet. After back-to-back wins that brought the Eagles to a tie atop the NFC East, Philadelphia dropped a road game in Carolina in Week 7. Considering the Panthers are now 6-0, the Eagles’ loss is not, in itself, a major concern. However, how the Eagles played during their defeat — that is, in a constant state of disarray — is worthy of fear.
19. New Orleans Saints (LW: 21)
Is it possible that the New Orleans Saints — multiple games behind the Panthers and Falcons in the NFC South — are not finished yet? Granted, their Week 7 game in Indianapolis was a perfect matchup for a Saints team that thrives on weak defenses, but New Orleans has now produced back-to-back wins.
20. Washington Redskins (LW: 22)
The Washington Redskins had played too good of football for a 2-4 team actually in a division race to allow themselves to lose to the Buccaneers in Week 7. For nearly the entire game, however, the Redskins were not acting like they deserved anything more than another loss. Give Washington credit, as it completed a 24-point comeback to secure its third win of the season, but it should never have trailed by three scores in the first place.
21. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 15)
Sorry, Dallas. It just isn’t going to happen without Tony Romo. Now losers of four consecutive games without their starting quarterback, the Dallas Cowboys have toppled to the bottom of their average — and winnable — division. At this point, nothing the team does can overcome Romo’s absence completely, as Dallas has probably already endured too much damage.
22. Cleveland Browns (LW: 20)
The Cleveland Browns had played as well as a 2-4 franchise could prior to Week 7. Eventually, the pressure was too much, and the Browns burst in St. Louis. Now 2-5 and almost completely lost in the AFC North, Cleveland will resume its usual role as ‘potential spoiler’ for the Bengals and Steelers.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 29)
With everything that had previously worked against the Kansas City Chiefs — a brutal schedule, a five-game losing streak, and a trip across the Atlantic Ocean pending — one piece of luck finally went their way — Week 7’s opponent featured a third string quarterback. Kansas City could not possibly lose every game, considering how well they had played, at times, and the Chiefs secured their second win of the season against the Steelers before heading to London.
24. San Diego Chargers (LW: 23)
The 2015 San Diego Chargers are simply not a good football team. Known for their incredible consistency over the past half-decade, San Diego’s yo-yo finally snapped, and the team went crashing to the floor. The Chargers’ home loss in Week 7 to the Raiders will likely be the fatal blow for a team that now shares the basement of the AFC West with the 2-5 Chiefs.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 25)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on the verge of winning back-to-back games for the first time since November 24, 2013. Turning the team’s bye week into a fast start in Week 7, the Buccaneers looked rejuvenated and dangerous when it traveled to Washington. By the end, the Buccaneers reverted back to form, and dropped to 2-4 on the season. With the Falcons and Giants coming up in the next two weeks, Tampa Bay might be slipping further.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 32)
Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars would be better served playing their home games in England. In what might have been an audition for a potential relocation, Jacksonville secured its second win of the season in Week 7. The Jaguars’ victory was aligned with their style of play — an impressive passing attack, but a defense that gives up big plays — and they enter their bye week on a high note.
27. Tennessee Titans (LW: 26)
The Tennessee Titans may not win many games in 2015, but they have a solid foundation on which to build for the future. Returning from a bye week to host the previously 5-1 Falcons, the Titans put forth an inspired effort in Week 7, holding Atlanta to ten points. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the Titans were unable to complete the upset, but the top-five defense is inspiring.
28. Chicago Bears (LW: 30)
Perhaps the Chicago Bears are not the worst team in existence. With two wins and an overtime loss in their last three games, the Bears entered their bye week after stabilizing what was a failing season. Certainly, Chicago will not threaten Green Bay for the NFC North title, but the Bears might a sneaky ‘sleeper’ for the remainder of the season.
29. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 25)
2015 has not been kind to the San Francisco 49ers. The team’s offense currently ranks last in the league for both points scored and yards gained, and its point differential of -77 places San Francisco at the bottom the pile. Maybe the 49ers will find a few wins scattered across the remainder of the season, but they won’t venture too far from the basement of the National Football League.
30. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 31)
With their Week 7 Monday Night Football loss in Arizona, the Baltimore Ravens fell to 1-6 and join the Lions as the only other one-win team in the league. Perhaps the biggest problem for Baltimore is that it is fielding largely the same team as last year — most notably, the head coach and quarterback. Unfortunately for the Ravens, there are no more excuses, and this might become the year that ignites a massive overhaul.
31. Houston Texans (LW: 24)
In an instant, everything fell apart for the Houston Texans. Despite a 2-4 record, Houston entered Week 7 only a single game behind the Colts in the AFC South. By the end of their matchup in Miami, the Texans not only lost an embarrassing blowout, but star running back Arian Foster for the remainder of the season. Whatever hope the franchise held in their weak division vanished in Week 7.
32. Detroit Lions (LW: 28)
It was more of the same for the Detroit Lions in Week 7. Losers of six of their first seven games, the Lions wrapped up the early portion of their season on American soil with a nine-point home loss to the Vikings. Detroit will travel to London in Week 8, where it takes the circus overseas for an International display of incompetence.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons. Mike Morbeck