Bills solidify top spot with comeback win over Ravens – 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 5:

Super Bowl contenders

1. Buffalo Bills (3-1, No. 1 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (3-1, No. 2)

3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-0, No. 4)

The Bills nearly lost their grip on the top spot, but after falling behind 20-3 to the Ravens, they showed why they’re still the best team in football. Buffalo got some significant help from the officials and Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s decision to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal in the final minutes, but it still had to execute to pull off a 23-20 comeback victory Sunday. A banged-up secondary without cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Micah Hyde picked off Lamar Jackson twice, including one in the end zone on that fateful fourth-down play, while a defensive front missing Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips held Ravens running backs J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill to 4 yards per carry. Josh Allen wasn’t sharp, but he did enough to help the Bills score on four of their last five drives, including a 12-play, 77-yard march for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Buffalo isn’t perfect, but coach Sean McDermott’s team clearly understands how to win.

It’s still early, but it feels like we’re destined for another postseason meeting between Buffalo and Kansas City. The Chiefs got some revenge against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers for their Super Bowl loss two seasons ago, rolling to a 41-31 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday night. Patrick Mahomes threw three touchdown passes, all to running backs or tight ends, showing that this offense has found new ways to score without All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Kansas City was a remarkable 12-for-17 on third down and averaged 5.4 yards per play against a defense that entered Sunday ranked fourth in efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. With Mahomes playing at his typical MVP-level, the Chiefs remain the class of the AFC West.

In the NFC, there’s a clear top dog. In wet, sloppy conditions in Philadelphia, the Eagles piled up 210 rushing yards and overcame an early 14-0 deficit to beat the resurgent Jaguars, 29-21. Jalen Hurts had a down week by his lofty standards, including a pick-six on the opening possession, but he still averaged 7.1 yards per pass and rushed for a crucial 3-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter. Philadelphia’s defense was fortunate to recover four Trevor Lawrence fumbles, but it made some impressive plays to limit Jacksonville to just seven points in the final three quarters. The Eagles’ best start since 2005 has them well on their way to earning the conference’s top seed.

The flawed contenders

4. Miami Dolphins (3-1, No. 3)

5. Green Bay Packers (3-1, No. 6)

6. Baltimore Ravens (2-2, No. 5)

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2, No. 7)

8. Los Angeles Rams (2-2, No. 8)

We might call the Dolphins more unlucky than flawed after they lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a scary head injury in Thursday night’s 27-15 loss to the Bengals, but their initial handling of the league’s concussion protocols does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. The NFL Players Association-led investigation into the matter says as much. Tagovailoa has already been ruled out for Week 5, and while that’s a sigh of relief for many, it does little to reverse the damage already done. Regardless of how Miami performs the rest of the season, the organization deserves scrutiny for how it treats its players.

The Packers should be happy about their 3-1 start, but Aaron Rodgers said after a 27-24 overtime win over the Patriots and third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe that they can’t continue to win consistently like this. Rodgers himself is partly to blame, as he threw his fourth career pick-six Sunday and is averaging 6.24 yards per drop-back, the fourth-lowest mark of his career. Green Bay continues to run the ball effectively with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, who combined for 183 rushing yards against New England, but Rodgers has not looked like the two-time reigning MVP. Even more concerning for Green Bay is getting gashed by the Patriots’ rushing attack to the tune of 5.1 yards per carry. The Packers should be able to take advantage of a favorable schedule to win the division, but this is far from the most impressive team in the NFC.

While the Packers’ 3-1 start looks wobbly, at least they’ve been able to win close games. The Ravens have now lost seven straight one-score games, many of which have included aggressive decisions by Harbaugh that have backfired. The latest disappointment came Sunday, when the Ravens opted to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line instead of kicking a short field goal for the lead. Harbaugh defended his decision by saying it gave the team “the best chance to win the game,” but the frustration boiled over on the sideline when cornerback Marcus Peters exchanged words with Harbaugh and had to be restrained as the Bills lined up for the game-winning field goal.

After becoming the first team in eight years to lose multiple games at home when leading by 17 or more points, Baltimore is at a crossroads. In 2019, the Ravens bounced back from a 2-2 start to win 12 straight games and secure the league’s best record. Can they shore up their league-worst defense and get more consistency from their offense to pull off a similar run? Perhaps the potential returns of left tackle Ronnie Stanley, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and running back Gus Edwards can provide the spark this team needs.

The wild cards

9. Cincinnati Bengals (2-2, No. 10)

10. Minnesota Vikings (3-1, No. 12)

11. Dallas Cowboys (3-1, No. 15)

12. San Francisco 49ers (2-2, No. 16)

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2, No. 9)

14. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2, No. 14)

After losing quarterback Dak Prescott to a thumb injury in a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, things looked bleak for the Cowboys. They’ve responded by winning three straight to stay within striking distance of Philadelphia in the NFC East, and Prescott could be back as soon as this week. Backup Cooper Rush has been remarkably reliable, throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-10 win over the Commanders in which running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard averaged just 2 yards per carry. The defense has been even more impressive, hounding opposing quarterbacks and forcing turnovers behind a strong defensive line and aggressive secondary. For the first time since 1973, Dallas has held its first four opponents to 19 points or fewer. If they can keep that up, the Cowboys can not only challenge the Eagles for the division crown, but perhaps finally make a deep postseason run.

The murky middle

15. Arizona Cardinals (2-2, No. 17)

16. Denver Broncos (2-2, No. 11)

17. New York Giants (3-1, No. 21)

18. Tennessee Titans (2-2, No. 18)

19. Cleveland Browns (2-2, No. 13)

20. Las Vegas Raiders (1-3, No. 23)

21. Seattle Seahawks (2-2, No. 31)

22. Detroit Lions (1-3, No. 20)

23. New Orleans Saints (1-3, No. 22)

The Cardinals might be the hardest 2-2 team to figure out. They’ve looked listless early in games, but very impressive finishing them. Arizona is averaging just 4 points in the first half, but 18 in the second half and overtime. The Cardinals were tied with the lowly Panthers at 10 entering the fourth quarter Sunday before scoring 16 straight points to pull away for good. Kyler Murray remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks and wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has been a perfect addition, but until Arizona can deliver a complete performance, it’s going to be scrapping and clawing each and every week.

It’s been a similar story for many of the teams in this tier. The Broncos’ offense has been stuck in neutral with quarterback Russell Wilson and first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett, finally scoring more than 16 points in a 32-23 loss to the Raiders. The Titans won their second straight, 24-17 over the Colts, but failed to score in the final 38 minutes. The Giants lost starting quarterback Daniel Jones to an ankle injury and backup Tyrod Taylor to a concussion in an ugly 20-12 win over the Bears, forcing running back Saquon Barkley to take direct snaps for a series. The Browns’ banged-up defense couldn’t stop Atlanta from rushing for 202 yards in a 23-20 loss. The Seahawks totaled 555 yards, the fifth most in franchise history, yet allowed 520 in a 48-45 win over the Lions. The Saints got an efficient outing from backup quarterback Andy Dalton but turned the ball over twice and committed 10 penalties in a 28-25 loss to the Vikings.

These teams are talented enough to compete, but it’s going to take a significant improvement for at least one of them to be a factor in the playoff race.

Crabs in a bucket

24. Atlanta Falcons (2-2, No. 25)

25. New York Jets (2-2, No. 29)

26. New England Patriots (1-3, No. 27)

27. Indianapolis Colts (1-2-1, No. 19)

28. Washington Commanders (1-3, No. 24)

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3, No. 28)

30. Chicago Bears (2-2, No. 26)

31. Carolina Panthers (1-3, No. 30)

32. Houston Texans (0-3-1, No. 32)

Will a quarterback change be enough to keep Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s streak alive? Pittsburgh hasn’t had a losing season since he took over in 2007, but it’s already two games under .500. First-round draft pick Kenny Pickett provided a spark off the bench Sunday with two rushing touchdowns, but the rookie’s three interceptions proved costly in a 24-20 loss to the Jets. Tomlin is reportedly starting Pickett over Mitch Trubisky this week, which might be the turning point for an offense that entered Sunday ranked 26th in passing efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.

Another team that might make a quarterback change sooner than later is Carolina, which has struggled behind offseason addition Baker Mayfield. The former Browns starter has continued to struggle with turnovers, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble in a 26-16 loss to the Cardinals. Since entering the league as the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, Mayfield has had three or more turnovers in a game 10 times, the most of any quarterback in that span. Coach Matt Rhule’s seat is only getting warmer, which means his patience with Mayfield is probably wearing thin. Sam Darnold (ankle) could come off the injured reserve this week, but it’s hard to see him being the answer after a mediocre performance last season. The Panthers seem destined for a midseason coaching change and a top draft pick that could finally deliver the quarterback they’ve been searching for.



Source link