Dustin Baker’s Midseason NFL Power Rankings
The NFL season is at a midpoint, and the Buffalo Bills are favored to win the whole shebang, while the Houston Texans are trending toward the first overall pick in April.
The league’s pecking order will tremor violently in the next nine weeks — it always does — but let’s glance at power rankings through Week 9.
Please note: The chief criteria for any team ahead of another is “would Team X defeat Team Y on a neutral field?”
32. Houston Texans (1-6-1)
Houston will draft Bryce Young in about 5.5 months, which was probably the plan all along. Dameon Pierce is a supreme bright spot, meaning a pairing with the aforementioned Young next September will be fun.
31. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
Carolina, like Houston, is tearing off sheets from the desktop calendar, waiting for the day next April when a fresh QB1 takes over with a clean slate. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold are on their respective paths to career QB2 duties.
30. Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1)
They’ve benched the league’s MVP from six years ago to pursue a relative no-name at quarterback — while hiring a new head coach midseason who’s never, well, coached. Nope.
29. Detroit Lions (2-6)
You fell in love with them on Hard Knocks, but that’s what great television does — tells a good story. But this plot, known as the 2022 Lions football team, lacks substance. At least they have the 19th-best offense in the NFL per EPA/Play. Detroit has offensive trenches to build around.
28. Las Vegas Raiders (2-6)
Derek Carr will likely end up with the Colts or Patriots during the offseason carousel, and who knows how quickly Josh McDaniels will get the ax. When he does, back to New England he goes to assume the OC job.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)
Jacksonville tricked everyone into believing it was good back in the first few weeks of the season, but it was a ruse. They ain’t ready for big-boy talk yet despite a fancy couple of games.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
The not-decrepit version of Ben Roethlisberger really mattered to Mike Tomlin’s success. Weird.
25. New Orleans Saints (3-6)
New Orleans is trapped in post-HOF-QB hell. It tricked itself into believing that reliance on Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton at QB1 would suffice. Well, Sean Payton doesn’t work here anymore, and they need to be done with half-buttocks quarterback solutions. It’s time to find the next Drew Brees in the draft — or some reasonable facsimile.
24. Cleveland Browns (3-5)
Very soon, the Browns will bench the lovable and consummate professional Jacoby Brissett for the sketchy Deshaun Watson. A miscarriage of justice, indeed — the Browns wanted it this way.
23. Denver Broncos (3-5)
Denver will finish at least 7-10 and then decide whether Nathaniel Hackett is a hero for fielding a semi-suitable team after the dastardly start. If the faux heroism is not enough, Hackett will be scapegoated, and George Paton will take another stab at HC.
22. Chicago Bears (3-6)
Matt Eberflus got the memo about using Justin Fields more like Lamar Jackson — and less like Jay Cutler — so now the Bears have totally changed the trajectory of the young quarterback, who played buffoonishly during the first 1.75 months of the season.
21. Green Bay Packers (3-6)
Unless Jordan Love continues the streak involving 30+ years of Hall of Fame quarterback play, Green Bay is, alas, looking at a rough few years when Aaron Rodgers retires in January.
20. Washington Commanders (4-5)
These gents stop the run on defense like bloodthirsty fiends. And that’s about all they do well. Maybe they’ll dink around and stifle the run-happy Philadelphia Eagles this week. More on the green team later.
19. Arizona Cardinals (3-6)
There’s a good football team in there somewhere, but a new head coach — complete with rules regulating video games — must be found to extract it.
18. Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
The Falcons were supposed to be a laughingstock, according to their roster talent. But you are the laughingstock for believing they’d be a laughingstock, according to their roster talent.
17. Los Angeles Rams (3-5)
Like Ron Burgundy said in Anchorman, “I got no heart.” The Rams aren’t hungry anymore, especially after the head coach and best defensive player in the world contemplated retirement mere months ago.
16. New York Jets (6-3)
The Jets are good, but Zach Wilson is not, and that will catch up to them in the first round of the postseason.
15. Tennessee Titans (5-3)
They truly do “take on the persona of the head coach,” which is good enough to reach the playoffs. But no person living outside of Tennesse believes the Titans will knock off the Bills or Chiefs late in January.
14. New England Patriots (5-4)
Bill Belichick is just going to hover around 9-8 records until he hits on another quarterback. Tom Brady was the special sauce, and it took the nation way too long to realize it.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (5-3)
The Chargers roster was loaded heading into 2022, but injuries struck. And they’re such a rollercoaster that you never know if they’re about to beat a Top 3 team in the business — or lost to a Bottom 3 team.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5)
Yeah, yeah, yeah — the Buccanneers don’t deserve to be “this high” per their performance. Yet, it’s downright dumb to plop a Tom Brady-led team outside the Top 12.
11. New York Giants (6-2)
Like its New York counterpart, this team will get got in the first round of the postseason. Their offensive line stinks, and a good defensive coordinator will contain Saquon Barkley in a loser-goes-home game. Daniel Jones doesn’t have the gumption to carry the Giants all the way.
10. Seattle Seahawks (6-3)
We all owe the Seahawks an apology. Pete Carroll’s team was supposed to finish 5-12. They could end up at 12-5.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)
The offensive line repairs during the offseason didn’t work, and the Bengals don’t scratch the Top 5 accordingly. But they rank fifth in offensive and 10th in defensive EPA/Play. The Bengals are a threat, but they are not elite.
8. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
The customary “turn on the jets” mode from the 49ers is a couple of weeks away. They do this every year — lose to bad teams, then beat the Rams, and generally confuse the hell out of everyone until it’s time to concoct playoff seeding. They’ll be in the mix.
7. Miami Dolphins (6-3)
Miami’s 25th-ranked defense per EPA/Play doesn’t get called out nationally as naughty. But it should. Their defense isn’t good enough to reach an AFC Championship or beyond.
6. Minnesota Vikings (7-1)
The city of Minneapolis is waiting for the Vikings to blow the doors off one team. Enough of the suspense thrillers. Those can be watched on Netflix. Beating the Josh Allen-led Bills would do the trick, too. Overall, though, the Twin Cities aren’t ablaze with excitement yet, mainly because the Vikings win by hitting singles and bunting — not slugging homers.
5. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
The way Jerry Jones rebuilt the Cowboys defense, starting with the 2021 NFL Draft, was masterful. The swift process enabled them to sniff Super Bowl contendership two years later.
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)
A call: the Ravens will knock off the Chiefs or Bills — or both — in the AFC playoff tournament.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2)
The Chiefs became better without Tyreek Hill, and you just need to swallow it. Why? Because they were able to build out a defense with Hill’s massive would-be earnings.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (8-0)
Philadelphia certainly looks unbeatable, but its strength of victory is .425. The Eagles opponents to date have a combined .425 win percentage. And the Vikings, at 7-1, drive that up tremendously.
1. Buffalo Bills (6-2)
Assuming Josh Allen’s elbow drama doesn’t bleed into December, the Bills feel like a team of destiny, ready to shatter the Super Bowl-less-ness of yesteryear. Let’s see if they can avoid the Chiefs — somehow — in the playoffs.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).
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