It appears that the league has hit a plateau, for the time being. While another unbeaten — Denver — suffered its first loss of the year, nearly all of the division races that seemed out-of-reach last week remain elusive, while the tight races merely experienced some shuffling.
What has become somewhat of a standard is the clear delineation of tiers. While teams are constantly shifting within the Power Rankings, they tend to remain in certain classes. Not surprisingly, six teams have two or fewer losses, six teams have two or fewer wins, and an incredible 14 teams have a record of 4-5, 5-4, or 5-5.
Certainly, there is time for a completely overhaul, but one does not necessarily seem imminent in the near future.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1) – Record: 9-0
Of all the teams that could give the New England Patriots their toughest game, it would be the New York Giants. For whatever reason — even with a different cast of characters– the Giants brought another inspired fight to the Patriots when the two teams met in Week 10. As New England has done in every game, this season, it won, and the team now improves to 9-0 heading into a Monday Night showdown with the division rival Bills.
2. Carolina Panthers (LW: 3) – Record: 9-0
One year after the Carolina Panthers won the NFC South with a losing record, the franchise clinched a winning season after only nine games. Now a perfect 9-0 with a three-game lead on the Falcons, the Panthers are destined for a high seed in the NFC playoffs. With four games remaining against teams currently under .500, the Panthers should keep winning.
3. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 4) – Record: 7-2
After starting the season 3-0, the Arizona Cardinals hit a speed bump by losing two-out-of-three games in October while the Seahawks were making a push towards the top of the division. Whatever possible regression the Cardinals appeared to be experiencing has since been erased, as Arizona has now won three consecutive games, most notably, a Week 10 Sunday Night Football victory in Seattle. As the Seahawks and Rams both lost in Week 10, Arizona’s lead in the NFC West improved to three games.
4. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 7) – Record: 7-2
Just like that, the Minnesota Vikings have supplanted the Green Bay Packers atop the NFC North. As the Vikings rattled off their fifth consecutive win in Week 10, the team improved to 5-0 since its bye week and moved one game ahead of Green Bay in the standings. There is hardly time for celebration, however, as Minnesota — with its top-ranked scoring defense — hosts the Packers in Week 11 for a much-anticipated divisional showdown.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 2) – Record: 8-1
It had to happen eventually. After winning each of their first eight games by an average of more than ten points-per-game, the Cincinnati Bengals finally failed. By playing at such an unsustainable level for so long, a loss was to be expected, but a Monday Night Football home defeat at the hands of the previously 3-5 Texans was completely unlikely. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, until the Patriots stumble, any chance for home field advantage in the AFC Playoffs remains out-of-reach, but the Bengals still hold a three-game lead in their division.
6. Denver Broncos (LW: 5) – Record: 7-2
How many 7-2 teams in a division where every other team is under .500 are actually in trouble? Hardly any, but the Denver Broncos are making a case where panicking is reasonable. The back-to-back losses — including a home defeat by the division rival Chiefs — are somewhat disconcerting, but the bigger issue is clearly the play of quarterback Peyton Manning. His performance has declined so quickly that head coach Gary Kubiak replaced him in the third quarter of their Week 10 loss. Denver’s top-ranked defense — in yards allowed — is still the catalyst for the team, but the lack of a fully functional — or healthy — Peyton Manning might lead to disaster for the remainder of the year.
7. Green Bay Packers (LW: 6) – Record: 6-3
Now there is cause for concern. The Green Bay Packers — previously 6-0 before back-to-back road losses against the Broncos and Panthers — lost their first regular season home game since December of 2013 in Week 10 when the Detroit Lions pulled off the upset. Now with three consecutive losses, the formerly unstoppable Packers have fallen out of the top spot in the NFC North, and must battle the Vikings in Week 11 to reclaim their position.
8. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 8) – Record: 6-3
The Atlanta Falcons opened up 2015 as a revived franchise ready to thrive under a new regime. However, the shine of a 5-0 record has begun to wear off, as the Falcons have lost three of their last four games. Atlanta still features a top-notch offense and has four of its remaining seven games at home, but the concern level must be raised after its recent stretch of poor play.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 11) – Record: 6-4
There is no team in the National Football League more resilient than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Entering Week 10 with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hurt — but active as a backup — starter Landry Jones was forced from the contest with an injury of his own. As only Pittsburgh would do, the team thrived under adversity, as Roethlisberger entered the game and led the Steelers to a divisional victory. At 6-4 and requiring as much rest as possible, Pittsburgh has earned a break in its upcoming bye week.
10. Buffalo Bills (LW: 16) – Record: 5-4
The Buffalo Bills have followed up their loss in London with back-to-back division wins, and currently find themselves in a playoff position. The icing on the proverbial cake was clearly head coach Rex Ryan’s successful return to MetLife Stadium, where his Bills knocked off the Jets in Week 10 on Thursday Night Football. With a trip to New England next on the schedule, the Bills may be getting hot at the right time.
11. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 10) – Record: 4-5
Once again, the Seattle Seahawks are reaffirming the belief: they are not the same team as the last few years. After completing an impressive comeback against the Cardinals in Sunday Night Football in Week 10, Seattle’s defense — still second-best in yards allowed — conceded yet another fourth quarter score to relinquish the lead. As the Seahawks suffered their first home loss in a primetime game since October 14, 2007, the team fell to 4-5 in what might also end up being its first non-playoff season since 2011.
12. New York Jets (LW: 9) – Record: 5-4
It’s hard to get worse than a nationally televised home loss against a team’s former coach via an ugly, embarrassing performance. Such was the fate for the New York Jets when hosting the rival Bills in Week 10. In addition to the personal implications of the defeat, the Jets have fallen out of the current playoff picture. With a 1-3 record in its last four games, New York must revert back to its early season form to survive in the AFC East.
13. New York Giants (LW: 13) – Record: 5-5
There is something about the non-conference Patriots that force the New York Giants into playing some of their best football. Frequently rising to the occasion to face one of the best franchises of the past decade, the Giants, again, went toe-to-toe with an undefeated Patriots team in Week 10. This time, New York lost, but the signs of stellar play were evident throughout the game. Then again, this is how the Giants operate — generally playing to the level of their competition — and the defeat still leaves them with average 5-5 record.
14. Oakland Raiders (LW: 12) – Record: 4-5
Just when it looks like the Oakland Raiders are about to put it all together, they come crashing back to earth, squandering a golden opportunity. As the Denver Broncos dropped their second consecutive game in Week 10, the Raiders did the same when hosting the now 7-2 Vikings. Clearly, Minnesota is on a dangerous run, but the Raiders failed to break 14 points for only the third time, all season. For a team that includes a top-ten offense and bottom-six defense, a roller coaster of results is bound to occur.
15. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 15) – Record: 4-5
The Indianapolis Colts are living on a week-by-week basis. At 4-5, and on a bye week after an impressive home win against the previously undefeated Broncos, the Colts are still tied atop the pathetic AFC South. The expectation for an Andrew Luck-led team is that wins are still in the future, but the quarterback was injured in the aforementioned Broncos’ game, and will miss the next few games, at least. Even with the AFC South being winnable by a team under .500, the Colts cannot afford to sink without their starting quarterback.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 19) – Record: 4-5
The Kansas City Chiefs are proving to be one of the streakiest teams in the league. After losing five consecutive games, Kansas City has now won three-in-a-row to climb back towards .500. Still three games out of the division lead, the Chiefs have a long way to go before rectifying their early season woes. They have, however, evened the season-series with the AFC West-leading Broncos, and — while unlikely — could make a push for the division title if the hot streak continues.
17. St. Louis Rams (LW: 14) – Record: 4-5
The St. Louis Rams appeared to be on the rise, only to lose back-to-back games to the Vikings and Bears, falling to 4-5 on the season. What’s more disappointing for St. Louis is that it entered Week 10 with a top-six defense in both points and yards allowed, only to concede 37 points to a Bears team previously with the seventh-worst scoring offense. If the Rams want to be taken seriously, such losses cannot occur.
18. Washington Redskins (LW: 20) – Record: 4-5
Don’t count the Washington Redskins out, yet. Although under .500 with a 4-5 record, Washington’s resume is fairly reasonable. Three of their five losses were against the Jets, Patriots, and Falcons — all on the road — who combine for a .741 winning percentage, to go with a seven-point defeat by the Dolphins and a division road loss to the Giants. While the Redskins’ wins have not been overly impressive, their results rightfully place them one-half game out of first place in their average division.
19. Houston Texans (LW: 22) – Record: 5-5
In the same vein that upsets occur when a perceived weaker team stays in a specific game longer than it should, a team that should be buried in a division — but isn’t — is inherently dangerous. As the idle Colts lost their quarterback for the foreseeable future, the Houston Texans took advantage of an awful division by winning their Week 10 Monday Night Football game against the previously undefeated Bengals. As impressive as the victory was — after all, no other opponent had topped Cincinnati — the Texans sub-.500 record is still an indication that there is work to be done. With a tie for first place in the AFC South, however, there is clearly motivation in Houston.
20. Miami Dolphins (LW: 21) – Record: 4-5
At least, the 2015 season won’t be a complete loss for the Miami Dolphins. With a road win against the Eagles in Week 10, the Dolphins improved to 4-5, and 3-2 since their bye week. With the division out of reach and the Bills and Jets both at 5-4, the Dolphins have an outside chance at a Wild Card berth. That is, if they have truly turned the corner.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 17) – Record: 4-5
The Philadelphia Eagles refuse to make it easy. Facing the Dolphins in Week 10, at home, the Eagles squandered a 16-3 first quarter lead to lose their fifth game of the season. With a string of opponents that featured the Cowboys, Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Lions, a 1-1 record after two games puts the pressure on Philadelphia to not stumble again in the near future. As it often does, the fate of the team largely rests on the health at the quarterback position, and Philadelphia will be without starter Sam Bradford reportedly for two games with an injury.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 23) – Record: 4-5
With a propensity to turn the ball over and give up points in bunches, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be overmatched by the rest of the league. Instead, the Buccaneers have managed four wins on the season — three in their last five games — and entered the realm of ‘respectable mediocrity.’ Is Tampa Bay good? Not particularly. But are the Buccaneers as terrible as they could have been? Definitely not.
23. Chicago Bears (LW: 24) – Record: 4-5
Who knew? After an 0-3 start that concluded with a 26-0 shutout, the Chicago Bears have won four of their last six games and are pushing towards a .500 record. More than just a ‘spoiler’ at this point, the Bears are actually improving and turning into a formidable team. Perhaps the slow start was nothing more than an adjustment period needed for the squad under new head coach John Fox.
24. New Orleans Saints (LW: 18) – Record: 4-6
The New Orleans Saints are the perfect sum of their parts. At 4-6, New Orleans — with the third-best offense yet worst-ranked defense — thrives against opponents’ weak secondaries, but fails when faced with resistance. After back-to-back losses to the Titans and Redskins, the Saints head into their bye week as the worst team in the NFC South. Not surprisingly, they also head into their bye week without defense coordinator Rob Ryan, who was fired following the team’s Week 10 loss in Washington.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 31) – Record: 3-6
It seems impossible to believe, but the Jacksonville Jaguars — previously 1-5 on the season — have won two of their last three games and now sit one game out of first place in the AFC South. With a miracle victory in Baltimore in Week 10, Jacksonville saved a season that had looked far worse than it should. The Jaguars feature a terrific young offensive core — led by quarterback Blake Bortles and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns — but their defense had been their downfall. With back-to-back games allowing fewer than 30 points for the first time since Week 2, perhaps Jacksonville has corrected its biggest flaw.
26. Detroit Lions (LW: 32) – Record: 2-7
They may not have many wins in the future — nor the past, for that matter — but the Detroit Lions pulled off a rare upset at Lambeau Field in Week 10, shocking the Packers. Completely out of any playoff hunt — barring an impossible winning streak to end the year — the Lions’ organization will attempt to save their collective jobs with as many victories as they can steal.
27. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 28) – Record: 3-6
With the pathetic offense that it brings to the field each week — ranked last in both points and yards — it is actually a surprise that the team has any wins, let alone three. Furthermore, it’s -97 point differential is the worst in the league. With the division on the verge of being mathematically out of reach, the 49ers’ only hope for the remainder of the season is to gauge the state of the franchise for the future.
28. Tennessee Titans (LW: 26) – Record: 2-7
It just isn’t going to happen for the Tennessee Titans, this year. With a home loss against the Panthers in Week 10, the Titans fall to 2-7 in what is, somehow, still a winnable division. With too many issues — namely, an undefined running game and the erratic play of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota — Tennessee is simply not good enough to creep up the standings, even with an above-average defense.
29. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 29) – Record: 2-7
There is a loss, and then there is the nothing-can-go-right-even-when-it-does heart-breaker. The Baltimore Ravens experienced the latter in Week 10, as they grabbed ‘defeat from the jaws of victory’ — along with a facemask — when the Jaguars pulled off a nearly impossible win. Such is the way the 2015 season has gone for the now 2-7 Ravens.
30. San Diego Chargers (LW: 30) – Record: 2-7
Given the numbers surrounding the San Diego Chargers, it is rather surprising that the team entered its bye week already on the verge of a losing season. With a point differential of -39, the team averages a 4.3 loss-per-game. Considering only one of the team’s losses has been by a two-score defeat, the surprise, therefore, is that San Diego hasn’t stumbled into another win. Perhaps there is hope for the remainder of the year, but it won’t carry the Chargers anywhere valuable.
31. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 25) – Record: 2-7
If the Dallas Cowboys weren’t already a franchise in turmoil, Week 10’s loss in Tampa Bay will surely put the team over the edge. Now losers of seven consecutive games and approaching mathematical elimination from, at least, the division, the Cowboys are searching for something to stop their skid. When it eventually happens, it shouldn’t last long, as Dallas continues to trend down.
32. Cleveland Browns (LW: 27) – Record: 2-8
The Cleveland Browns had, at least, played a respectable brand of football in the early portion of 2015. With four consecutive double-digit losses, whatever momentum Cleveland had been building was washed away. Through injury to starting quarterback Josh McCown, the franchise has been forced to turn to Johnny Manziel, however, his performance has arguably been the largest contributing factor to the disaster that is the 2015 Cleveland Browns.