While the NFL season is significantly shorter than other, lesser sports leagues, it’s still pretty long in real time. 16 games across five months with the amount of injuries players take really means a team can look completely different by the end of a season compared to who came to camp.
Look no further than your Denver Broncos. We’re all of six weeks into the season and the secondary and pass rush have been reshaped from what everyone expected. Bradley Chubb is out for the year, Isaac Yiadom is in, then out, then back into the lineup due to injuries. Bryce Callahan is a real person (maybe).
Even still, the Broncos defense has turned into the defensive unit everyone hoped for when Vic Fangio came to town, posting the first shutout since 2017 to help the Broncos get off to a 2-0 mark in the second quarter of the season.
This week presents the toughest test yet, with the banged up Chiefs desperate to get off the snide on a short week. Tyreek Hill is back in the lineup and Sammy Watkins may join him, which means the secondary will enter a trial by fire. Pass, and the Broncos become dark horse playoff contenders.
As always, the rankings below are aimed at who has the best chance at winning the Lombardi trophy. For that reason, there will be teams ranked above others who have a worse record. Health matters, schedule matters, and playoff odds matter. You can’t chase a trophy if you aren’t in the race.
All Cried Out
32. Miami Dolphins (0-5)
Dolphins’ fans have convinced themselves that Chris Grier and the top of the organization on down have a five dimensional chess kind of plan. Let’s just say I’m not so sure.
Dolphins announced that Josh Rosen was “settled” as their starter for the remainder of the season this week. They just benched him for Ryan Fitzpatrick.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) October 13, 2019
Don’t confuse the tweet above as unwavering support for Josh Rosen, who’s had his fair share of good and bad moments. Rather, think about Drew Lock. Back when Denver was without a win, the talk around Broncos Country was how it made sense to play the rookie as soon as possible to see if quarterback really was a long term need and if he had a future.
That’s basically where things are with Miami, but instead of getting an extended look at Rosen as “the guy” they’re yo-yoing back and forth. I doubt he’s their long term option, but at this rate he’ll be destroyed as a feasible backup option for the Phins. It’s a short sighted way to manage a bad team.
Me seeing Josh Rosen in Miami— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 13, 2019
31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-6)
At 2-4, it’s looking a lot less likely Denver winds up as a dark horse top spot contender. So I’m moving on and rooting for the Bungles to steal it. Chaos theory, and besides, they’ve tried to compete. In a just world, that’d help them land a generational quarterback like Tua Tagovailo since the fish would probably just David Carr him anyway.
30. Washington (1-5)
The best of the true dumpster fires, if only because Terry McLaurin is a legit steal.
Kid was ungaurdable at the senior bowl and then he goes out and runs a 4.3 but somehow fell to the 3rd.— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) October 13, 2019
Get It Together
29. Atlanta Falcons (1-5)
So I manage an auction league team for a friend I made in Korea. Two weeks ago, Pickle Rick was 3-1 with a tough loss against Patrick Mahomes. We fell to 3-2 because I was dumb enough to sit D.J. Chark for Mike Evans and fell to .500 through no fault of our own. We scored over 100 points, but my opponent started Kyle Murray, Chris Carson, and Devonta Freeman.
This is my long way of
crying saying I can relate to Matt Ryan right now.
Most losses in NFL history with 140+ passer rating (min. 20 attempts)— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar) October 13, 2019
1. Matt Ryan - 3
2. Tony Romo - 2
28. New York Jets (1-4)
Turns out Le’Veon Bell knew something the rest of us didn’t about Sam Darnold. It remains to be seen if shocking the Cowboys says more about them or Gase with a real QB. In the meantime, it only seems apt that the roster show their gratitude for newfound hope.
The Jets players welcoming Sam Darnold back to the lineup pic.twitter.com/uCUYRgV2eV— Roc (@hardROClife) October 13, 2019
27. Tennessee Titans (2-4)
A line that can’t protect either one of its quarterbacks and a coaching staff that couldn’t figure out how to exploit the Broncos’ patchwork secondary. All of the concerns I had for Mike Vrabel’s offense before the year are coming to fruition.
In the past 10 quarters:— Titan Train (@Titan_Train1) October 14, 2019
Texans: 91 points
Jaguars: 53 points
Colts: 50 points
Jets: 44 points
Dolphins: 26 points
Redskins: 24 points
Titans: 7 points
26. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4)
Did you know Philip Rivers has started every game come hell or high water since Drew Brees left for New Orleans? It’s a streak that goes back over 13 years. During that stretch, he played through a Grade 3 ACL tear, so it’s hard to believe battered ribs will knock the 37-year-old out next week.
Maybe it should. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year playing on a team quickly headed nowhere. I get that his contract is a sort of formality and all, but if L.A. tanks hard enough, they’re quickly headed into a scenario where this QB class has to be enticing.
I’ve probably just played too much Madden the last couple weeks. I know it won’t happen because Rivers is more likely to retire than ever play in another uniform, but one hypothetical imaginary trade I’d love to see is crying Phil with a team like Da Bears. Give him a legitimate chance at a Super Bowl appearance with a creative coach like Nagy and a healthy defense.
Philip rivers treating this DB like one of his 13 kids pic.twitter.com/Zsmxu5gYty— Tony X (@soIoucity) October 14, 2019
25. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4)
The Noah Fant vs Devin Bush debate is going to be insufferable at this rate.
Devin Bush has six takeaways this season.— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) October 14, 2019
Since the merger, it's the 2nd most by a Steelers rookie. Only Carnell Lake (7) has more.
It's Week 6.
Everyday is a Winding Road
24. Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1)
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4)
What if Mike Purcell, Alexander Johnson, and Kareem Jackson played against the Jags?
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
I was foolish enough to think Bruce Arians could fix Jameis Winston. Shame on me.
God help me if Elway kicks the tires on Winston. https://t.co/XZDaKQrqf0— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 13, 2019
21. New York Giants (2-4)
After Daniel Jones’ first start, all of the believers came out of the woodwork to tell us how dumb the doubters were. Never mind that the Buccaneers’ defense relies on pressure to hide a shaky secondary.
How about we just let the rookie quarterback play out his first year before telling everyone how right we were?
20. Denver Broncos (2-4)
Way back before the season started, I mentioned how I thought the Broncos would wind up hovering around 8-8 this season. An 0-4 start derailed those hopes, mostly because the defense looked so bad it seemed hard to trust this team as opponents got film on Flacco in the offense.
Things are starting to settle in on both of those fronts, so the lesson in all of this may be that I shouldn’t overreact to the early part of the season quite so much. Kansas City is going to be a tough, tough game, but even still, Fangio looks like the right coach to lead this team.
19. Chicago Bears (3-2)
Pretty good week for a bye with some serious injuries on offense. Unfortunately, a bunch of NFC contenders had a good weekend.
18. Cleveland Browns (2-4)
Remember back during the preseason how the national media was fawning over the #Browns and comparing Baker Mayfield to Brett Favre because of "moxy" and *insert cliche*?— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 13, 2019
Second year as a starter. pic.twitter.com/1DnqP9Ecn6
17. Oakland Raiders (3-2)
Really good week for a bye as most of the AFC contenders above them fell flat on their faces.
16. Minnesota Vikings (4-2)
Kirk Cousins had one of his best games as a pro, Philly’s secondary has no business sticking on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and a rookie left tackle struggles against the elite edge duo of Daniel Jones and Everson Griffin.
Good enough game that my brother gave up on his Iggles, but they still have to beat an NFC North team before I really care.
Also, consider Griffen has one of the 2 or 3 best bull-rushes in the NFL off the edge, w/Hunter's not far behind. Dillard's anchor was good in college but "good" vs. Pac-12 rushers won't cut it vs. the NFL elite. Dillard did good things too! Will have more once the all-22 drops.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) October 14, 2019
15. Carolina Panthers (4-2)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
If Kyle Allen had a mustache the media wouldn't shut up about him.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 13, 2019
What’s really interesting is how Kyle Allen puts Ron Rivera into a crossroads that could wind up defining his post-Super Bowl 50 tenure. If Cam Newton is able to play, should he start?
But will we see a truly healthy Cam Newton again? That's the real question.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 13, 2019
Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)
14. Detroit Lions (2-2-1)
Here’s what we learned from the game tonight: The Lions are for real. The pass rush did enough to win the game, Kenny Golladay is legit, and Matt Stafford did enough to win the game. My biggest gripe at Motown is how Patricia’s conservative 4th down and red zone decisions let the game stay close enough for the officials to decide it.
In a just world, they’re 3-1-1 right now.
The refs need to be investigated. This is horrendous. Check bank accounts. #NoExcuses— Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) October 15, 2019
13. Indianapolis Colts (3-2)
12. Los Angeles Rams (3-3)
11. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
At one point after Stefon Diggs’ second touchdown, my brother messaged me to say he was giving up on the NFL this year. He said it was too frustrating to get so upset over a thing he had no control over. He turned off the game.
I messaged him when the Iggles got it back to 17-24 to comment on how weird it is that a team with such a bad secondary could pull close. He said Kirk Cousins is a joke and the Cowboys would be unbeatable.
I told him Dallas could beat Dallas.
Then Stefon Diggs caught his third touchdown and I stopped bothering him.
10. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
Those Lincoln Riley rumors have to look better by the week to Jerry world.
9. Baltimore Ravens (4-2)
One of the more wild things about the Lamar Jackson debate is how the people who don’t believe in him want to ignore what his legs can do, or even use them against him (such as the “he’s just a running back” camp). I’m not ready to say he’s arrived as an elite NFL quarterback, but that’s okay. He’s a developing second year passer who’s athleticism brings an element to the game that’s nigh impossible to defend. If he does put it all together every week, look out.
Lamar Jackson is the second player in our database to have a game with 200+ passing and 150+ rushing yards— ProFootballReference (@pfref) October 13, 2019
The only other person since 1950 to do that in a game was Colin Kaepernick in the 2013 NFC Divisional Round game vs Green Bay https://t.co/jRGDUg1UXd #Ravens pic.twitter.com/GI34ulbaeD
8. Buffalo Bills (4-1)
Just one reason why the Broncos could stay alive in the AFC playoff picture:
The team with the 2nd-best record in the AFC needed a 16-pt comeback against the Jets, a late comeback and tipped INT against the winless Bengals, and watched the Titans miss 4 FG last week.— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar) October 14, 2019
Excuse me while I throw up.
What About Us?
7. Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
It’s amazing how easily the national media forgets the Pacific Northwest exists. Every week Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes gets the “only Mahomes” treatment, while every week in 2019 there’s been chatter that Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey is the MVP.
First: Aaron Rodgers was doing Mahomes things back when Patty Melt was in high school.
Second: We’re too smart to crown a running back as the MVP in 2019, right?
Last: Russell Wilson is carrying a young offense with a bad playcaller, as well as an overrated defense through the NFC West. Every single week.
Wilson is a diehard Christian, so let’s just say if he was raptured today, the Seahawks would finish the season with five wins. That’s how valuable he is.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (4-2)
This may be a bit of an overreaction after two big losses, but Kansas City has little chance to now catch the Patriots and that run defense makes Charmin look tough.
5. Houston Texans (4-2)
If Will Fuller hadn’t eaten a bucket of popcorn before the game, the Chiefs would have lost by a couple touchdowns. Instead, Deshaun Watson threw the team on his back.
All the elements of this RPO/PA stuff have been working out so well on this drive. Really great stuff from O'Brien. Lotta 12 personnel, again. pic.twitter.com/mVceUogssS— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 13, 2019
4. Green Bay Packers (5-1)
Let me just start by saying that I picked the Packers against the Lions. In a weird way, it’s the only prediction I made on a game outside of Denver this weekend. I was walking to the gym yesterday and an ABC cameraman stopped me to ask who I was rooting for (I was wearing one of my three Bronco hoodies) and why I thought Green Bay would win.
I mention this because I want to make it painfully clear that I wasn’t truly rooting for any outcome in this game. I had no money on anyone. I didn’t really care so long as it was a good game.
Got it? Okay, proceed:
This will go down as the worst officiated game I can remember. I was there when Denver got robbed against Jacksonville on the no-holds-81-yarder that wasn’t (and the iffy roughing call, and....). I was there when Mitch Trubisky made the most miraculous timeout call in the history of the NFL.
Right around the beginning of the second half, the game went from a closely contested match up between two division foes to a preordained Green Bay victory. The Lions got ripped on two dubious hands to the face, a touchdown was taken away, a catch was taken away, and the Packers made off with an obvious pass interference. I’m almost positive I’m forgetting a call or two because there were so many that I stopped getting upset over it.
I’ve mentioned it so many times I feel like I’m lying at this point. Normally I try not to be the zebra watcher because bad calls do happen and the NFL game is so fast it’s impossible to get every call right. This year’s been different. It’s gotten progressively worse.
Something needs to be done.
I honestly dont know.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) October 15, 2019
Full time referees. Lots of offseason schooling. Performance reviews.
What else can you do? https://t.co/B5Xkx6jWJw
3. San Francisco 49ers (5-0)
2. New Orleans Saints (5-1)
Remember when Teddy Bridgewater turned down a two year $10 million offer from the Dolphins to keep his backup job behind Drew Brees? He could have played the role of sacrificial lamb on one of the worst team’s in NFL history. Instead, he’s shown Sean Payton what he could do as a long-term starter and made himself a little cash in the process.
1. New England Patriots (6-0)
Patriots fans spent Sunday complaining about their offense as the rest of the AFC this side of Buffalo fell two or more games behind them. They have one of the most soft schedules in the league and are one of the more healthy rosters. Must be nice.