NFL power rankings: Bills, Cowboys, Chargers serious contenders; Chiefs, 49ers drop for Week 6
Week 5 in the NFL was a wild one with many close games and wild finishes, but there also were plenty of teams flexing after the first quarter of the 2021 season. That’s caused more of a shakeup in the league’s hierarchy.
There’s still the lone undefeated team, but several strong contenders are looming right behind it. Overall, there are 17 pretty good teams above. 500 and a lot of teams to watch for a turnaround even at 2-3. On the flip side, two feline-themed teams are still winless.
Putting that all together and going into Week 6, here’s how Sporting News sees all the teams stacking up against each other 1-32:
NFL power rankings
1. Arizona Cardinals 5-0 (previous rank: 1)
The Cardinals’ offense cooled down against the 49ers but they showed how much they can also win with defense and a few big plays in crucial situations. The result is the best franchise start in 47 years.
2. Los Angeles Rams 4-1 (3)
The Rams made a rebound statement in the division by coming back with a strong half and then shutting down the Seahawks on the road. They got back to their grinding ways with running game and defense, which is a good sign to make them more complete contenders.
3. Buffalo Bills 4-1 (4)
The Bills put up a much better fight against the Chiefs on the road on Sunday night and Josh Allen finally outdueled Patrick Mahomes. They will be better positioned in the eventual rematch at some point in the playoffs.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-1 (2)
The Buccaneers got tired of seeing Tom Brady contained for one game and they unleashed a more unstoppable version of the offense against the Dolphins. The defense got a much-deserved break with a favorable script, too.
5. Green Bay Packers 4-1 (5)
The Packers got their ugly outing out of the way in Week 1 and have been locked in with Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur since through easy and difficult matchups, like the one in Cincinnati. Rodgers will need to remain on point with the defense down its best player, Jaire Alexander.
6. Dallas Cowboys 4-1 (8)
How about them Cowboys? They’re not losing close games or squeaking them out, either. This is a relentless offensive team that can beat anyone in many ways and the defense has become the ultimate complementary closer with Dan Quinn and Trevon Diggs.
7. Los Angeles Chargers 4-1 (10)
How about Justin Herbert? What sophomore slump? He’s loving the new offense and so is everyone around him, led by Austin Ekeler. Brandon Staley is your coach of the year front-runner as the Chargers are developing into a legitimate AFC powerhouse.
8. Baltimore Ravens 4-1 (7)
Lamar Jackson hasn’t played at an elite level again yet, but he’s getting there with more help on the way. There’s more on him with the running support not the same. The defensive backbone is slowly returning, too.
9. Cleveland Browns 3-2 (6)
The Browns’ defense had strange massive breakdowns against the Chargers, taking away from their best balanced offensive performance of the season with Baker Mayfield and the running backs. The injuries may have caught up to them there.
10. Kansas City Chiefs 2-3 (9)
Mahomes and the Chiefs are back under .500 with more mistakes given their limited margin offensive affair, and all their losses have come to teams (Ravens, Chargers, Bills) that all have the capacity to dethrone them from the two-year reign as AFC champions. The defense wouldn’t be a quick fix, even if it gets healthy.
11. Cincinnati Bengals 3-2 (14)
The Bengals were right there with the Packers and blew a few more chances to win in the best battle of Week 5. They’re not going away from AFC North relevance in the playoff picture, assuming Joe Burrow is OK from his injury scare.
12. Tennessee Titans 3-2 (17)
The Titans are getting into their groove again with hard-running Derrick Henry setting up a comfortable Ryan Tannehill. Mike Vrabel should be pleased that the defense went back to making complementary plays, even when shorthanded.
13. Seattle Seahawks 2-3 (11)
The Seahawks’ loss to the Rams came with the higher cost of losing Russell Wilson for.a while — for the first time ever — with a finger injury. Good luck to Geno Smith winning games with that defense. The streak of winning seasons with Wilson is now in serious jeopardy as his impressive ironman run ends.
14. San Francisco 49ers 2-3 (12)
The 49ers needed that defensive get-well game in Arizona but their offense is dealing with familiar injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle and Raheem Mostert. Trey Lance isn’t quite ready to run the show so the question will Kyle Shanahan’s get there fast enough with the rookie to contend.
15. Chicago Bears 3-2 (20)
The Bears are getting a lot of heat for the way Matt Nagy continues to handle the quarterback situation, even with a full-time commitment to Justin Fields. But that’s taking away from the fact they are still built to win games with the defense and traditional running game.
16. Las Vegas Raiders 3-2 (13)
The Raiders were winning improbably so it was predictable certain weaknesses would catch up to them against better competition, especially with defensive playmakers like the Chargers and Bears had. Don’t let the early record fool you; they are far behind the Chargers and Chiefs in the division.
17. Carolina Panthers 3-2 (15)
The Panthers’ offense has been missing Christian McCaffrey badly as Sam Darnold, hot rushing start at all, has started to show his true colors as a struggling passer. It won’t get any easier next week with the Vikings replacing the Eagles as the visitors.
18. Denver Broncos 3-2 (16)
The Broncos had a great start against previous winless teams but the Ravens and Steelers have been a wake-up call to realize they are more of a mediocre team with a limited offense and inflated defense. Don’t let the early record fool you; they are far behind the Chargers and Chiefs in the division.
19. New Orleans Saints 3-2 (18)
The Saints were forced to stick with a one-quarterback look with Jameis Winston in Washington and it paid off with some big plays in the passing game while also re-establishing Alvin Kamara as a dangerous receiver. They will hang around in the wild-card mix because of defense.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers 2-3 (21)
The Steelers found their long-awaited offensive formula with Ben Roethlisberger and Najee Harris harmonizing in a tough spot against the Broncos. They still are a work in progress trying to become a complete team in an even more difficult division.
21. Philadelphia Eagles 2-3 (23)
Jalen Hurts doesn’t always look pretty in delivering downfield passes and grinding out chunk runs, but he is effective with strong mental and physical toughness. Despite a rough game, he did what he needed to do to reward the Eagles’ defense in Carolina.
22. New England Patriots 2-3 (22)
The Patriots had a bit of a Brady hangover in Houston defensively but rookie Mac Jones continued to inspire the offense with good second-half play. They two-step into a next-level challenge next week against that other team from Texas, the Cowboys.
23. Minnesota Vikings 2-3 (24)
The Vikings aren’t getting many style points for their wins, which look a lot like their close losses. They don’t look as put-together as they need to be under Mike Zimmer, still making a wild-card playoff berth a long shot despite the overall talent.
24. Washington Football Team 2-3 (19)
WFT’s defense looked like it was dialed in again against the Saints, until the Hail Mary opened the door for the familiar breakdowns stemming from a lack of discipline and fundamentals. The burden of winning is starting to overwhelm Taylor Heinicke and the offense.
25. Atlanta Falcons 2-3 (27)
The Falcons have been figuring out a few more things with Matt Ryan operating in Arthur Smith’s offense and playing with more defensive respectability. They still have an uphill climb in a division where everyone else is above .500.
26. Indianapolis Colts 1-4 (25)
The Colts are still trying to find their identity and it’s been difficult with their offensive injuries and defensive disappointment. They are much closer to the bottom of the weak AFC South than the Titans.
27. Miami Dolphins 1-4 (26)
The Dolphins have gone from being a shaky run defense to an awful one all-around, which is shocking to see under Brian Flores. They are trying to get creative offensively with whoever’s out there, but they are meant to win high-scoring affairs.
28. New York Giants 1-4 (28)
The Giants have gone from showing major signs of life with Daniel Jones to a total offensive mess of injuries and the defense hasn’t been immune to losing key players, either. The jury’s still out on Joe Judge, but there’s suddenly a lot of lacking evidence again.
29. New York Jets 1-4 (29)
The Jets keep showing a little more positives with Zach Wilson and Michael Carter as their rookie offensive centerpieces. But they can’t find any consistency and their bad run defense is hard to overcome.
30. Houston Texans 1-4 (30)
The Texans did everything they could to improve the offense with Davis Mills at quarterback but they still ran out of defensive mojo at the end against the Patriots. The raised spirits are there; the high level of talent isn’t.
31. Detroit Lions 0-5 (29)
The Lions have been pulling all out the stops in search of their first victory under Dan Campbell. But they can’t seem to sync up their offense and defense and haven’t come through in two tough battles of attrition.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-5 (32)
The Jaguars tried to show more fight against the Titans but they made some weird calls in key times under Urban Meyer. The defense will continue to drag down whatever the offense flashes with Trevor Lawrence and James Robinson.