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NFL power rankings: The Cardinals are on top, but the Bills and Cowboys are charging

Sacramento Bee logo Sacramento Bee 10/13/2021 Chris Biderman, The Sacramento Bee

Oct. 13—We're five weeks into the NFL season, which makes this a good time to rank all 32 teams. Let's have some fun.

1. Arizona Cardinals (5-0)

The Cardinals might not be the team you trust down the home stretch of the season, but for now they're the last remaining undefeated team. That has to be worth something, particularly with Kyler Murray an early season MVP candidate. He appeared banged-up in the second half of last week's game against San Francisco, so that's worth keeping an eye on after he struggled with injuries late in 2020 as Arizona slid out of the playoff race. Their impressive road win over the Rams two weeks ago makes them feel like a legitimate contender.

2. Buffalo Bills (4-1)

After thumping the Chiefs on the road and getting redemption from last season's AFC title game, the Bills have a league-best plus-108 point differential, which is completely bonkers five games into the season. The next closest team is Arizona at plus-62. Josh Allen fought off some early season struggles and was firing lasers through the souls of Kansas City fans Sunday night, proving the Chiefs aren't quite the same team while Buffalo might be the new power in the conference.

3. Dallas Cowboys (4-1)

The defense might not be great overall, but it leads the NFL with 10 interceptions thanks largely to defensive player of the year frontrunner Trevon Diggs, who has six picks this season, including at least one in every game. Is that sustainable? Nope, but Dallas has the weapons on offense to make Dak Prescott one of the game's most efficient passers. Also impressive is Dallas' second-ranked running game, making them one of the most balanced teams in the NFL.

4. Los Angeles Chargers (4-1)

Sorry Sacramento-area Dolphins fans (I'm sure there's a couple of you), but Justin Herbert might be the next big thing in the NFL, and getting him sixth overall in 2020 after Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa one spot earlier might sting for a long time. That said, the Chargers have a complete roster with stars all over the place. Derwin James and Joey Bosa highlight the defense while it looks like rookies Rashawn Slater at tackle and Asante Samuel Jr. are home run picks in the first two rounds of the recent draft. Oh, and Mike Williams is leading the league with six touchdown grabs.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1)

Tom Brady being 44 and still second in the NFL with 15 touchdown passes is bat guano insane. He's also averaging a cool 353 passing yards per game. What's concerning about the Buccaneers is their pass defense which has allowed more yards than any other in the NFL this season. Injuries are a key factor after being the healthiest team in the league in 2020 en route to winning the Super Bowl. Despite their ranking here they would probably be the team all NFC clubs would want to avoid in the playoffs thanks to No. 12.

6. Los Angeles Rams (4-1)

The Rams don't have a running game, but that doesn't seem to matter much with Matthew Stafford averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. Cooper Kupp is third in the NFL with 523 receiving yards and Robert Woods is coming off a 150-yard game while catching 12 of 14 targets after a sleepy start to the season. Aaron Donald is still Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey is still Jalen Ramsey (hashtag: analysis). Look for L.A. to start racking up wins with their next three games coming against the Giants (1-4), Lions (0-5) and Texans (1-4).

7. Baltimore Ravens (4-1)

Lamar Jackson is a really, really good quarterback. He completed 37 of 43 passes for 442 yards (335 came in the second half!) with four touchdowns while adding 62 yards on the ground in Monday's wild overtime win against the Colts. Baltimore early in the fourth quarter was down 25-9 and came back and win in overtime. The Ravens defense hasn't been up to their standard, but they have a chance to make another statement when they host the Chargers this week.

8. Cleveland Browns (3-2)

They are coming off a roller-coaster loss against the Chargers on Sunday that included 531 yards of total offense and 230 on the ground. They rank fifth in offensive yardage in fourth in overall defense, while the rushing attack is easily tops in the NFL. The Browns don't need much from Baker Mayfield with that formula, but he might be the difference between winning one playoff game and winning three in a conference loaded with MVP-level signal-callers.

9. Green Bay Packers (4-1)

The Packers are tied for the second-best record in the NFC despite having a minus-2 point differential. We'll throw that out because it appears their 38-3 loss to New Orleans in the season opener was the biggest outlier of the season. Green Bay ranks 22nd offensively heading into Sunday's game against the Bears, but they still have one of the best quarterbacks we've ever seen in Aaron Rodgers. Expect those numbers to normalize.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2)

Joe Burrow is a budding star, as is rookie Ja'Marr Chase, who has five touchdown catches and 456 yards in his first five games as a pro after opting out of LSU's season in 2020. The defense ranks seventh in scoring and 11th in yardage, though they haven't beaten a good team just yet. They fell at home to the Packers in overtime on Sunday in a wild game featuring about 26 missed field goals. With Burrow ascending, Cincy has the right formula to be relevant for a long time.

11. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3)

Yep, we have the last-place Chiefs ranked higher than two teams ahead of them in their division. And yep, it's been a bad start with some uncharacteristic losses. But as long as Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are still running Andy Reid's offense, we're not going to take them lightly. But that horrendous defense has to get its act together if K.C. is going to make a third straight Super Bowl run.

12. Tennessee Titans (3-2)

The rest of the AFC South is 2-14 combined. So we're going to assume the Titans get to the playoffs again on the back of comic book hero Derrick Henry, who's on pace to lead the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns for the third year in a row. No player makes professional football players look like they belong on junior varsity quite like Henry.

13. Denver Broncos (3-2)

Former 49ers coordinator Vic Fangio has built a very formidable defensive group, and it's balanced out nicely by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who ranks ninth in the NFL in passer rating and 10th in yards per attempt. It's Alex Smith-ian.

Video: Murray limited with right shoulder injury (NBC Sports)

Replay Video

14. Las Vegas Raiders (3-2)

Remember that impressive 3-0 start to the season? Me neither. Now the Raiders are in the news for all the wrong reasons following Jon Gruden's unceremonious exit Monday after leaked emails proved he was either a bigot or wrote e-mails like one. Knock on wood if you're with me.

15. Seattle Seahawks (2-3)

Russell Wilson is going to miss some time with his finger injury. He'll be back at some point, and he'll remain one of the most terrifying players in the league to play against, no matter what the rest of the roster looks like.

16. San Francisco 49ers (2-3)

Quarterback controversy, a missing offensive identity, key young players landing somewhere between coach Kyle Shanahan's dog house and the inactive list and a three-game losing streak. Other than that, things are going great. That said, look for San Francisco to bounce back after their much-needed bye.

17. New Orleans Saints (3-2)

Yes, the Saints have a better record than the 49ers and Seahawks, but they also have a loss to the Giants on their resume. Trusting Jameis Winston comes with the league's longest warning label.

18. Carolina Panthers (3-2)

Matt Rhule's team looked like it might be one of the league's most surprising teams. Then Sam Darnold reverted into Sam Darnold and threw five interceptions in consecutive losses after having just one in his first three games. In better news, the speed of their defense is going to give them a puncher's chance against anybody.

19. Minnesota Vikings (2-3)

Did Kirk Cousins try to fight his head coach while celebrating a win over the Lions on Sunday? Second question: is a two-point win over the Lions worth celebrating? Minnesota is a tough team to figure out.

20. New England Patriots (2-3)

Speaking of Kirk Cousins, Mac Jones is getting a lot of national praise for being a serviceable quarterback. Apparently running an offense that ranks 26th in yardage and scoring is worth drawing Tom Brady comparisons. The good news for New England? Their defense ranks fifth in the NFL.

21. Chicago Bears (3-2)

Matt Nagy did the smart thing by naming Justin Fields the starting quarterback. With Fields under center he's won two games against the Lions and Raiders. Chicago has a good running game but still ranks dead last in total offense. But at least Fields is getting reps to develop (—glares over toward Santa Clara—).

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3)

Ben Roethlisberger is more washed than your grandmother's China, but Mike Tomlin is still one of the best coaches in the NFL and that defense is fierce. T.J. Watt is one of the best players in the league.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)

The NFC East is shaping up to be a boat race for the Cowboys, while the Eagles could be the clear No. 2 team. That's not saying a lot given what we've seen from the Giants and Football Team so far. The Eagles have a talented defense but might be approaching quarterback purgatory if Jalen Hurts doesn't develop an intermediate passing game.

24. Washington Football Team (2-3)

The defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the league ranks 27th. And Taylor Heinicke is the quarterback because — in a shocking development — 39-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick got injured and hasn't worked out. The silver lining: there's a chance this team changes its name to the Red Wolves next season. Why we haven't had a wolf pack-themed NFL team is beyond me.

25. Atlanta Falcons (2-3)

Atlanta's two wins have come against the Giants and Jets. The Falcons own New Jersey.

26. Indianapolis Colts (1-4)

Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. are good young players. The defense is pretty talented. But Carson Wentz makes Jimmy Garoppolo look like Cal Ripken Jr.

27. Miami Dolphins (1-4)

The Dolphins had playoff expectations coming into the year. They have the league's third-worst defense and second-worst offense. But they do have some of the best throwback uniforms in the league.

28. New York Giants (1-4)

Daniel Jones is the Eli Manning of Blaine Gabberts. Think about it.

29. New York Jets (1-4)

The Jets haven't reached the playoffs since 2010. But they do have coach Robert Saleh, who I believe in wholeheartedly. Zach Wilson has nine interceptions and four touchdown passes. It's not what you want.

30. Houston Texans (1-4)

Rookie quarterback Davis Mills, a Stanford alum, might be a find in the third round of the draft. Unfortunately, you'll have a hard time finding anything else good happening in Houston right now.

31. Detroit Lions (0-5)

Congratulations, Lions fans, your team is not the Jacksonville Jaguars!

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5)

No joke, Urban Meyer might be the worst coaching hire since Jim Tomsula.


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