Behind three clear Super Bowl contenders, the Ravens are among a muddled mess – The Denver Post


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, injuries and roster depth, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders.

Here are the rankings heading into Week 7:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Buffalo Bills (5-1, No. 1 last week)

2. Philadelphia Eagles (6-0, No. 2)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (4-2, No. 3)

Round 1 in the AFC title fight goes to Buffalo. The Bills got some measure of revenge after last season’s divisional-round overtime loss, beating Kansas City, 24-20, on Josh Allen’s 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox with 1:04 left. That seemed like plenty of time for Patrick Mahomes to lead a game-winning drive, but cornerback Taron Johnson picked off a pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster on the second play to seal the victory. Allen looks like the early favorite for Most Valuable Player, throwing for 329 yards and three touchdowns and hurdling a defender to set up the go-ahead score. Even more encouraging is the play of the Buffalo defense, which also intercepted Mahomes in the end zone in the first quarter and sacked him three times, including two by star edge rusher Von Miller. If the Bills can secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the postseason, they might be back in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993.

The last team Buffalo faces to win that elusive title might be Philadelphia. In a battle for NFC supremacy, the Eagles held off the Cowboys, 26-17, to remain the only unbeaten team. Quarterback Jalen Hurts delivered against one of the league’s best defenses, throwing two touchdown passes and picking up crucial first downs with his legs to halt Dallas’ comeback bid after the Eagles took a 20-0 lead. Philadelphia continued to impress on defense, picking off backup quarterback Cooper Rush three times to increase its league-leading turnover differential to plus-12. If there’s one cause for concern, it’s the Eagles’ continued struggles in the second half, where they’ve been outscored 57-35 this season. They’ll have to clean that up before making a deep postseason run, but there aren’t many NFC contenders standing in their way.

The flawed contenders

4. Minnesota Vikings (5-1, No. 7)

5. New York Giants (5-1, No. 12)

6. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2, No. 10)

7. Baltimore Ravens (3-3, No. 4)

8. Dallas Cowboys (4-2, No. 6)

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3, No. 5)

The Eagles, Vikings and Giants are the class of the NFC, just like everyone predicted, right? Minnesota’s Kevin O’Connell and New York’s Brian Daboll are making strong Coach of the Year cases in their first seasons, and while few of their victories have been convincing, the records speak for themselves. Both the Vikings’ and Giants’ offenses struggled for long stretches Sunday, as both teams entered the fourth quarter with just 10 points, but they found a way to win by forcing turnovers and finishing drives. Minnesota recovered a fumble by Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and intercepted a pass by backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the final five minutes in a 24-16 win, while New York picked off Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on a broken play with 3:04 to go and forced the 2019 MVP to fumble on the potential go-ahead drive in a 24-20 victory. That turnover luck probably won’t continue all season, but there’s enough talent and growing confidence on both sidelines to sustain postseason aspirations.

What are we to make of the Ravens after yet another blown second-half lead? They could easily be 6-0 with wins over some of the best teams in the league, yet they sit 3-3. Jackson is no doubt one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the main reason the Ravens are considered Super Bowl contenders, but his costly turnovers in the final minutes Sunday show why there’s such a fierce debate about his next contract. Each game should not be a referendum on Jackson’s worth — there’s too much variance in such a small sample size — but you can understand the hesitancy to make him the highest-paid player in the league, if that’s what he desires. He’s still a tier below Allen and Mahomes, and the numbers say so. This season, Jackson ranks fifth in Total QBR, 24th in completion percentage over expectation and seventh in expected points added per play. He’s a top rushing offense by himself, ranking fifth in the league in rushing yards (451), but that hasn’t been enough to finish close games of late. There’s plenty of blame to go around, from the lack of playmakers outside of tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Rashod Bateman to the frustrating play-calling of offensive coordinator Greg Roman to a banged-up defense that hasn’t been able to make crucial stop, but Jackson at least deserves some of the blame for the Ravens’ failures this year.

On the cusp of contention

10. Cincinnati Bengals (3-3, No. 13)

11. New York Jets (4-2, No. 17)

12. Los Angeles Rams (3-3, No. 14)

13. Green Bay Packers (3-3, No. 9)

14. San Francisco 49ers (3-3, No. 8)

The Jets — the Jets! — might be the hottest team in the NFL outside of Philadelphia. An exciting rookie class led by cornerback Sauce Gardner and running back Breece Hall has breathed new life into a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in more than a decade. In a 27-10 win over the Packers, Gardner played lockdown coverage and Hall rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown, propelling New York to its first three-game winning streak since 2019. Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 4, but it’s hardly mattered. Coach Robert Saleh’s defense has been dominant, sacking Aaron Rodgers four times Sunday and holding Green Bay to 4 yards per play, and the special teams came up big with a blocked field-goal attempt and a blocked punt for a touchdown. The Jets are for real, and it’s time to take them seriously.

The wild cards

15. New England Patriots (3-3, No. 23)

16. Tennessee Titans (3-2, No. 15)

17. Miami Dolphins (3-3, No. 11)

18. Atlanta Falcons (3-3, No. 22)

19. Seattle Seahawks (3-3, No. 26)

20. Indianapolis Colts (3-2-1, No. 24)

Two weeks ago, the Patriots were 1-3 and turning to fourth-round rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe in what looked to be a lost season. Two dominant wins later, it’s time to reevaluate coach Bill Belichick’s team. Zappe threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns, Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for two scores and the defense forced four turnovers in a 38-15 win over Cleveland a week after New England shut out Detroit’s high-scoring offense. Between Stevenson, receivers DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers and Tyquan Thornton and tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, the Patriots have a well-rounded group of skill players. Quarterback Mac Jones might be close to returning from his ankle injury, which should only help if he can take another step forward after a solid rookie season. While the vaunted AFC East is no longer the mediocre division it used to be, count out Belichick and the Patriots at your own peril.

Not done yet

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4, No. 18)

22. Denver Broncos (2-4, No. 20)

23. Arizona Cardinals (2-4, No. 16)

24. Las Vegas Raiders (1-4, No. 21)

25. Cleveland Browns (2-4, No. 25)

The Jaguars blew a chance to take control of the AFC South with back-to-back losses to Houston and Indianapolis, but there have been encouraging signs of progress for the team that ended last year as the league’s laughingstock. Trevor Lawrence already looks like one of the league’s best quarterbacks in just his second season, and running back Travis Etienne Jr. has emerged as the dynamic playmaker he was expected to be when Jacksonville drafted him in the first round in 2021, rushing for 157 yards on 20 carries and catching five passes for 63 yards in the last two games. In terms of expected points added on offense and defense, the Jaguars are in the third tier of competitors alongside the Bengals, Patriots and Buccaneers. They need to start turning that potential into wins, but this 2-4 start is not as discouraging as it might seem.

The basement

26. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4, No. 30)

27. New Orleans Saints (2-4, No. 19)

28. Detroit Lions (1-4, No. 27)

29. Washington Commanders (2-4, No. 29)

30. Chicago Bears (2-4, No. 28)

31. Houston Texans (1-3-1, No. 31)

32. Carolina Panthers (1-5, No. 32)

Maybe the Steelers aren’t that bad? A patchwork defense without star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and outside linebacker T.J. Watt held Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to 4.5 yards per play and 4-for-14 on third down in a 20-18 win, saving a season that was teetering on the edge of disaster. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett’s concussion thrusts Mitch Trubisky back in the starting lineup for now, but Pittsburgh is clearly not going down without a fight. A reinvigorated Chase Claypool, who had seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown after being held to just eight total receptions in the previous three games, might be what the offense needs to shake out of its funk. The next two games against the Dolphins and Eagles should show if the Steelers are good enough to turn this season around.



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