Ravens close in on top contenders heading into bye – The Denver Post

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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 10:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-0, No. 2 last week)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2, No. 3)

3. Buffalo Bills (6-2, No. 1)

There’s a new No. 1 this week. With a 29-17 win over the Texans on Thursday night, the Eagles moved to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history and solidified their status as the team to beat in the NFL. Playing in his hometown of Houston, quarterback Jalen Hurts delivered one of his most efficient outings of the season, completing 21 of 27 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, including a go-ahead 17-yard score to wide receiver A.J. Brown in the third quarter. Outside of Baltimore, the Eagles might have the most balanced offense in the NFL, ranking third in passing efficiency and fifth in rushing efficiency, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Their only weakness might be on defense. With rookie nose tackle Jordan Davis sidelined, Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce rushed for 139 yards on 27 carries, including a 36-yard burst that featured several broken tackles. Davis’ big presence in the middle is crucial for Philadelphia, which is allowing 3.9 yards per carry with the former Georgia star on the field (70 attempts) versus 6 yards per carry with him off the field (112 rushes). The Eagles still lead the league in turnovers (18), but they’ll need to be more stout up front come playoff time if they want to make a deep run.

In the AFC, the top two teams remain unchanged, but there’s a subtle shift in power taking place. While the Bills looked vulnerable in a 20-17 loss to the Jets, the Chiefs rallied for a 20-17 win over the Titans in overtime. The biggest difference Sunday was the play of the two star quarterbacks, as Josh Allen finished 18-for-34 for 205 yards with two interceptions in his worst game of the season. To make matters worse, he’s being evaluated for an elbow injury that could affect his performance the rest of the season even if he doesn’t miss any games. Patrick Mahomes, meanwhile, put together perhaps the best game of his young career, throwing for 446 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 63 yards and the game-tying touchdown and 2-point conversion in the final minutes of regulation. He’s the first player in the Super Bowl era to put up such a stat line, and the Chiefs needed every bit of it to overcome an excellent Titans defense that was able to pressure Mahomes without blitzing.

With the margin so thin between Buffalo and Kansas City, quarterback play could decide a potential postseason rematch. Right now, it’s advantage, Chiefs. While Allen still makes the occasional head-scratching play, Mahomes has demonstrated a true mastery of the position that should put him atop the MVP conversation alongside Hurts.

The flawed contenders

4. Baltimore Ravens (6-3, No. 4)

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

6. Miami Dolphins (6-3, No. 7)

7. Dallas Cowboys (6-2, No. 6)

For all the love the Eagles have received for their undefeated start, the Ravens could easily be right there with them. In Monday night’s 27-13 win over the Saints, Baltimore became the third team in the last 20 seasons to hold a double-digit lead in nine straight games to begin the season, according to ESPN Stats and Information, joining the 2011 Packers and 2009 Saints. They lost three of those games, but they’ve rebounded to win three straight and solidify themselves as a serious Super Bowl contender. Without top receiver Rashod Bateman, star tight end Mark Andrews and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, the Ravens still moved the ball efficiently on offense Monday, rushing for 188 yards and completing passes to 10 receivers. They’ve rushed for 150 yards or more in eight straight games, the third longest streak in the last 40 seasons and just three games away from tying the mark set by the 2018-19 Ravens. Lamar Jackson has not played at an MVP level in recent weeks, but he’s still captaining an offense that ranks third in overall efficiency, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The defense seems to be rounding into shape, too, with newly acquired linebacker Roquan Smith making an immediate impact with his ability to blitz, defend the run and drop into coverage. We’ve yet to see the best version of the Ravens, and they still have a projected 88.5% chance of winning the AFC North, according to ESPN. They look like the biggest threat to the Bills and Chiefs.

The Dolphins are right behind the Ravens in terms of teams you don’t want to play come January. We’re far enough into this season to believe that Miami’s offense is a legitimate threat with coach Mike McDaniel calling the plays and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa executing them at a high level. Wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are tough to defend in their own right with their game-breaking speed, but they’re downright unguardable in McDaniel’s scheme. They combined for 12 catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 35-32 win over the Bears, while Tagovailoa averaged 10.1 yards per attempt. The defense could end up being the Dolphins’ downfall, however, even with star pass rusher Bradley Chubb now in the fold. Miami let Justin Fields rush for 178 yards, the most by a quarterback in a single game in the Super Bowl era, and allowed three touchdown passes on just 28 attempts. The Bills’ loss to the Jets opened the door for a potential AFC East title, but the Dolphins aren’t going to win a shootout every week if their defense keeps struggling.

As far as the Vikings are concerned, there’s still so much to prove. A 10-point fourth-quarter comeback led to a 20-17 win over the Commanders and a dancing, shirtless Kirk Cousins on the plane ride home, but Minnesota has yet to beat a team with a winning record this season. This next stretch of games — at Buffalo, followed by home games vs. Dallas, New England and the Jets — will show exactly where the Vikings stand among the top contenders.

The wild cards

8. Seattle Seahawks (6-3, No. 8)

9. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4, No. 10)

10. San Francisco 49ers (4-4, No. 9)

11. New York Giants (6-2, No. 11)

12. New York Jets (6-3, No. 18)

13. Los Angeles Chargers (5-3, No. 13)

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5, No. 15)

15. Tennessee Titans (5-3, No. 12)

16. New England Patriots (5-4, No. 17)

A big trade usually needs a year or two before it can be fairly judged, but it’s safe to say the Seahawks won the Russell Wilson deal. Not only is Geno Smith the better quarterback this season, but the players and picks Seattle got in return for their longtime starter have been a critical part of a winning team. Shelby Harris added a sack in Sunday’s 31-21 win over the Cardinals and has been one of the league’s highest-graded interior defenders, while tight end Noah Fant broke out with five catches for 96 yards. Left tackle Charles Cross also looks like a solid building block, part of a standout rookie class that has carried Seattle to an improbable perch atop the NFC West. Kenneth Walker III has provided a spark since taking over as the lead back, rushing for 521 yards and seven touchdowns in the past five games. Seattle is not only enjoying success in the present, winning four straight, but is set up for consistent success thanks to its young core. It’s been a masterful job by general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.

Each week feels like a new opportunity for the Jets to fall back to Earth, but they just keep winning. The latest triumph, 20-17 over the Bills, is proof of concept for coach Robert Saleh that tough defense and mistake-free football can be an effective winning formula. After throwing three interceptions against the Patriots, second-year quarterback Zach Wilson completed a career-high 72% of his passes and didn’t turn the ball over, allowing the Jets’ rushing attack to do most of the work with 174 yards. The defense has been the real star of the show, sacking Allen five times and forcing two interceptions as rookie Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed played lockdown coverage on receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. It helps to have a legitimate star up front, as Quinnen Williams leads all interior defensive linemen with a career-high seven sacks this season. Wilson might hold this team back from being a legitimate AFC contender, but the pieces are there for the Jets to potentially end a 12-year postseason drought.

Not done yet

17. Cleveland Browns (3-5, No. 21)

18. Los Angeles Rams (3-5, No. 14)

19. Washington Commanders (4-5, No. 16)

20. Denver Broncos (3-5, No. 22)

21. Atlanta Falcons (4-5, No. 19)

22. Chicago Bears (3-6, No. 25)

23. Arizona Cardinals (3-6, No. 23)

24. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6, No. 28)

25. Green Bay Packers (3-6, No. 20)

26. New Orleans Saints (3-6, No. 24)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Packers, they score just one touchdown against the league’s worst defense in a 15-9 loss to the Lions. Two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions, all of which came deep in Detroit territory, while Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for just 59 yards on 20 carries. Rodgers was actually the leading rusher Sunday with four carries for 40 yards. Not trading for a wide receiver at the deadline looks inexplicable, considering the uphill climb that awaits. Green Bay will likely be underdogs in its next three games — vs. Dallas, vs. Tennessee, at Philadelphia — which might raise the drum beat for Rodgers to sit in favor of young backup Jordan Love, who the Packers drafted in the first round in 2020. It’s not crazy to think this might be Rodgers’ last year in Green Bay, whether he decides to retire or force his way to another team. Maybe it’s time to plan for the future.

The basement

27. Las Vegas Raiders (2-6, No. 26)

28. Detroit Lions (2-6, No. 31)

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6, No. 30)

30. Carolina Panthers (2-7, No. 29)

31. Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1, No. 27)

32. Houston Texans (1-6-1, No. 32)

After firing coach Frank Reich earlier this week, the Colts made the shocking decision to hire former Indianapolis center and ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday as the interim, handing a losing team to a first-time NFL coach. Saturday, a 14-year NFL veteran who last played in 2014 with Green Bay, has never coached above the high school level, going 20-16 as the coach at Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula, Georgia. Colts owner Jim Irsay said Saturday is “fully capable” of the role and expressed hope that the former offensive lineman could do well enough to land the full-time position despite having no previous experience. Not only does the move buck conventional wisdom, but it’s a slap in the face to more qualified assistants who have spent years working for such an opportunity. The Colts are clearly looking forward to rebuilding in 2023 after benching starting quarterback Matt Ryan for second-year pro Sam Ehlinger, but the players and coaches still have to come to work every week and try to win. Putting a novice in charge only makes things that much tougher for everyone.

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