Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders, regardless of win-loss record.
Here are the rankings after Week 6:
The top contenders
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1; No. 1 last week)
2. Arizona Cardinals (6-0; No. 3)
3. Baltimore Ravens (5-1; No. 4)
4. Buffalo Bills (4-2; No. 2)
5. Dallas Cowboys (5-1; No. 6)
6. Los Angeles Rams (5-1; No. 7)
7. Green Bay Packers (5-1; No. 8)
In the first five weeks of these rankings, three teams — the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bills — mostly stood above the rest as Super Bowl favorites. With Tampa Bay banged up and Kansas City and Buffalo slipping, the top of the league’s hierarchy is unclear.
Tom Brady is carrying a Bucs team that’s been decimated by injuries, particularly on defense. Defensive backs Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield Jr. and linebacker Lavonte David are out, and newly signed cornerback Richard Sherman is expected to miss at least a few weeks after suffering a hamstring injury in Thursday night’s 28-22 win over the Eagles. Brady, who threw for 297 yards against Philadelphia to increase his league-leading passing total to 2,064 yards, will need to stay at the top of his game to help Tampa Bay weather this storm. One of the league’s easiest remaining schedules should help.
With coach Kliff Kingsbury and star pass rusher Chandler Jones out along with a host of others because of COVID-19 protocols Sunday, the Cardinals still found a way to dominate a Browns team that was missing its starting offensive tackles, starting running back and top wide receiver. A 37-14 win in Cleveland showed that Arizona’s unbeaten start isn’t a fluke, especially if quarterback Kyler Murray continues to play at an MVP level. The Cardinals’ offense has scored 30 points in all but one game this season and will add Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz to the mix this week after his trade from Philadelphia.
The Ravens made a statement of their own Sunday, dominating the surging Chargers, 34-6. Even with Lamar Jackson not at his best, the Ravens took advantage of the league’s worst run defense behind the veteran trio of Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell to pile up 187 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. But the biggest takeaway was the play of the defense, which held Justin Herbert under 200 passing yards for just the second time in his short career. Even with a banged-up roster, the Ravens continue to find a way to win. This might be the AFC’s best team by the end of December.
In the top-heavy NFC, it’s hard to separate the top contenders. Another brilliant performance from Dak Prescott helped the Cowboys escape New England with a 35-29 overtime win, Dallas’ fifth straight, but Prescott’s availability for its next game on Oct. 31 is now in question because of a calf injury. The Rams have proven they belong in the discussion as the conference’s best team, forcing four turnovers and getting four touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford in a 38-11 win over the Giants. Green Bay, meanwhile, has shaken off its Week 1 blowout loss to the Saints to win five straight of its own, with Aaron Rodgers throwing 12 touchdown passes and zero interceptions during that stretch. The Packers are also dealing with a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball, but they’ve proven they’re still quite the handful as long as Rodgers and star receiver Davante Adams are healthy.
The flawed contenders
8. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2; No. 5)
9. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3; No. 9)
10. Cleveland Browns (3-3; No. 10)
The Chargers’ performance Sunday was certainly a letdown, especially after three straight wins over potential playoff teams in the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns. If Los Angeles can’t find a way to stiffen its run defense and find some more playmakers on offense, a trip to the postseason is not guaranteed. Sunday’s loss in Baltimore showed that if Herbert isn’t playing at an MVP level, particularly on third and fourth down, the Chargers might be an average team.
The same concerns apply for Kansas City, which got back on track with a 31-13 win over Washington. Patrick Mahomes might be trying to do too much to make up for one of the league’s worst defenses, throwing two more interceptions to push his season total to eight, tied for second most in the NFL. The defense was better Sunday, but that performance came against a mediocre offense led by backup Taylor Heinicke. The Chiefs are going to remain a factor in the AFC, but this isn’t the juggernaut we’ve seen in recent years.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is at an interesting crossroads thanks to mounting injuries and a disappointing defense. The Browns have allowed 84 points in back-to-back losses to the Chargers and Cardinals, and to make matters worse, quarterback Baker Mayfield aggravated his shoulder injury and running back Kareem Hunt was carted to the locker room with a calf injury that’s expected to keep him out a few weeks. Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb is out, and starting tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin are still sidelined. A quick turnaround Thursday night against the Broncos might determine this team’s trajectory.
The wild cards
11. Tennessee Titans (4-2, No. 12)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2; No. 14)
13. New Orleans Saints (3-2; No. 11)
14. Las Vegas Raiders (4-2; No. 21)
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3; No. 19)
16. Minnesota Vikings (3-3; No. 17)
17. San Francisco 49ers (2-3; No. 15)
Tennessee needed to overcome a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Seahawks in Week 2 and lost to the lowly Jets in Week 4, but Monday night’s 34-31 win over the Bills shows that the Titans are still a force to be reckoned with. Running back Derrick Henry has shown no signs of slowing down, and while the defense has had trouble getting off the field, it came up big on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line against Buffalo.
Meanwhile, is it time to start thinking about the Bengals as a playoff team? We’ll find out this Sunday when they face the Ravens, but in the meantime, Cincinnati has a lot to be proud of. Thanks to rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the offense is more explosive, even if it sputtered in the first half of Sunday’s 34-11 win over the Lions. The defense, meanwhile, has become a strength, entering Sunday ranked seventh in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and likely to improve after holding Detroit to 3.7 yards per play.
And what to make of the Raiders, Vikings and Steelers? Las Vegas responded to coach Jon Gruden’s resignation with a 34-24 win over the Broncos under interim coach Rich Bisaccia, forcing four turnovers and playing efficient offense behind Derek Carr. Minnesota beat Carolina in overtime, 34-28, but the Vikings blew an 11-point lead and were hampered again by penalties (11 for 98 yards) and conservative play-calling. Pittsburgh needed a big play from edge rusher T.J. Watt in overtime to beat a Seahawks team led by Geno Smith, with the offense still looking disjointed behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Still in the hunt
18. Chicago Bears (3-3; No. 13)
19. New England Patriots (2-4; No. 23)
20. Indianapolis Colts (2-4; No. 22)
21. Carolina Panthers (3-3; No. 16)
22. Denver Broncos (3-3; No. 18)
Led by rookie quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones, the Bears and Patriots have established themselves as competent at the very least. Both teams might not be capable of beating some of the league’s elite, but close losses to the Packers and Cowboys, respectively, show that brighter days might be on the horizon once the young signal-callers get up to speed.
The Colts, seemingly left for dead after an 0-3 start, have battled back to stay within shouting distance of the Titans in the AFC South race. A 31-3 rout of the Texans on Sunday followed an overtime loss to the Ravens in which Indianapolis held a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. If Carson Wentz can stay healthy, this team should at least make Tennessee sweat.
The Panthers and Broncos are trending in the opposite direction. Once the darlings of the league with identical 3-0 starts, they’ve fallen back to earth thanks to some bad quarterback play from Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater, respectively. Both defenses remain strong, but it hasn’t been enough to overcome a recent stretch of turnovers.
Hanging on for dear life
23. Seattle Seahawks (2-4; No. 20)
24. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4; No. 24)
25. Atlanta Falcons (2-3; No. 26)
26. Washington Football Team (2-4; No. 25)
Smith led a valiant effort Sunday night, but until Russell Wilson comes back from his finger injury, Seattle doesn’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs. That might open the door for Atlanta, Philadelphia or Washington to sneak in as a wild card. The Falcons have the best quarterback of the bunch in Matt Ryan, but they first need to prove they’re not worthy of being ranked last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA entering Week 6. For Philadelphia and Washington, a playoff push might be asking too much from Jalen Hurts and Heinicke.
27. Miami Dolphins (1-5; No. 28)
28. Houston Texans (1-5; No. 29)
29. New York Giants (1-5; No. 27)
30. New York Jets (1-4; No. 31)
31. Detroit Lions (0-6; No. 30)
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5; No. 32)
Did Miami accelerate its rebuild too quickly? The Dolphins finally have some talent on their roster after a complete teardown in 2019, but an inexplicable loss to the Jaguars on Sunday in London shows there’s still a long way to go for coach Brian Flores to field a competitive team in the AFC. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s rib injury was a setback, but there isn’t much of an excuse for starting 1-5 after entering the season with postseason expectations. According to ESPN, 111 teams have started their seasons 1-5, and only three have made the playoffs.
There’s similar pressure on the Giants, who had postseason aspirations after a competitive first year under coach Joe Judge. New York has lost some of its biggest stars to injury, including running back Saquon Barkley, but a defense that was a bright spot last season under coordinator Patrick Graham has taken a big step backward, and the offense remains ineffective under coordinator Jason Garrett despite solid play from quarterback Daniel Jones. Judge deserves some benefit of the doubt because he’s missing some of his best players, but a 38-11 loss to the Rams on Sunday raises some questions about the team’s belief in him.