Please assign a menu to the primary menu location under menu

News

Ravens return from bye to a crowded group of top contenders – Boston Herald



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 11:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Kansas City Chiefs (7-2, No. 2 last week)

2. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1, No. 1)

With another stellar performance in a 27-17 win over the Jaguars — 26-for-35 for 331 yards, four touchdowns and an interception — quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the runaway favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player. The Chiefs have the best offense in the league, and it just got even harder to defend with the addition of former Giants first-round draft pick Kadarius Toney, who had 90 combined rushing and receiving yards and a touchdown on Sunday. According to ESPN, the Chiefs are No. 1 in expected points added (EPA) per drop-back, which accounts for factors such as down and distance, field position, home-field advantage and time remaining. The defense remains a weakness, although tackle Chris Jones is winning at the line of scrimmage at a rate similar to Rams superstar Aaron Donald, recording 1 1/2 of the team’s five sacks against Jacksonville. If the pass rush can deliver that kind of performance week after week, it’s hard to envision anyone in the AFC beating Kansas City.

How does an unbeaten streak come to an end? Costly mistakes. After turning the ball over twice in their first seven games, the Eagles coughed it up four times in a 32-21 loss to the Commanders on Monday night, including a fumble by wide receiver Quez Watkins on a 50-yard catch that would have put Philadelphia in position to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Brandon Graham then hit quarterback Taylor Heinicke on third down after he gave himself up on a sack, drawing a 15-yard penalty that cost the Eagles a chance to get the ball back with plenty of time inside the final two minutes. It was a frustrating night for the Philadelphia offense, which ran just 47 plays as Washington went 12-for-21 on third down and held the ball for more than 40 minutes. One loss doesn’t diminish the Eagles’ championship potential, but it shows there’s still work to do to not only secure the NFC’s top seed but win a division that now includes four teams at .500 or better.

The flawed contenders

3. Minnesota Vikings (8-1, No. 5)

4. Buffalo Bills (6-3, No. 3)

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

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

It’s hard to take much away from the Vikings’ 33-30 overtime win over the Bills given the wild way it ended. Thanks to recovering a botched snap in the end zone, Minnesota became just the second team since the 2003 Ravens to win a game after trailing in the final minute of regulation when the opponent had possession of the ball. The Vikings still needed an interception in the end zone to seal the victory after allowing Buffalo to march 69 yards in 39 seconds for the game-tying field goal in regulation and settling for three points on the opening possession of overtime. Minnesota has certainly been fortunate to go 6-0 in one-score games this season, but it deserves credit for overcoming a 17-point second-half deficit against one of the league’s best teams. While the Vikings haven’t been as dominant as some other top contenders, they have one of the best players in the NFL in wide receiver Justin Jefferson — who punctuated a 10-catch, 193-yard performance with an all-time great one-handed grab on fourth-and-18 with two minutes left — a healthy roster and a first-year coach in Kevin O’Connell who elevated veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins. In this year’s NFC, that might be more than enough to reach the title game.

For the Bills, Sunday’s loss showed cracks in one of the league’s best rosters. Playing through an elbow injury on his throwing arm, quarterback Josh Allen looked erratic at times, inviting big hits on scrambles and throwing an interception in the end zone with 10:27 left that sparked the Vikings’ comeback. It’s nearly impossible to tell Allen to be more cautious given his style of play, but both he and the Bills need to understand he’s too important to be taking unnecessary hits. The defense knows all too well the impact of losing star players, as a banged-up unit had no answer for Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook, who averaged 8.5 yards per carry. Fortunately for Buffalo, star cornerback Tre’Davious White could return soon, and safety Jordan Poyer might not be far behind. The Bills clearly need their defense at full strength to be a serious Super Bowl contender.

On the cusp of contention

7. San Francisco 49ers (5-4, No. 10)

8. Dallas Cowboys (6-3, No. 7)

9. New York Giants (7-2, No. 11)

10. Tennessee Titans (6-3, No. 15)

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

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5, No. 14)

Coach Kyle Shanahan deserves the benefit of the doubt given his track record as a play-caller, but it’s a bit confusing to see star running back Christian McCaffrey get fewer carries than 2021 sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell. In his first game since suffering a sprained MCL in Week 1, Mitchell rushed for 89 yards on 18 carries in a 22-16 win over the Chargers, while McCaffrey had just 38 yards on 14 attempts. San Francisco’s offense looks unstoppable on paper, but Shanahan struggled to get his top playmakers involved Sunday night, as McCaffrey, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle had a combined seven catches for 84 yards. By loading the box and allowing just 3.8 yards per carry, the Chargers might have delivered the blueprint on how to slow down the Niners: make Jimmy Garoppolo win with his arm. He was up to the task Sunday, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, but it’s going to be difficult for San Francisco to get back to the NFC championship game without more from its star players.

It seems like the Titans and coach Mike Vrabel never get enough attention for their consistent success, which continued Sunday with a 17-10 win over the Broncos. They certainly benefit from playing in perhaps the worst division in the league, but they’ve put themselves firmly in the playoff race despite having 18 players on injured reserve and fielding a passing offense that ranks 31st in the NFL. That’s all thanks to the defense, which limited Denver to 4.3 yards per play and sacked Russell Wilson six times Sunday. More injuries could push Tennessee to the breaking point, especially after cornerbacks Elijah Molden and Caleb Farley went down Sunday, but the return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks should provide some stability heading into a difficult closing stretch. If the Titans can maintain their grip on the AFC South, they could prove difficult to beat come January.

The wild cards

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

14. Seattle Seahawks (6-4, No. 8)

15. Los Angeles Chargers (5-4, No. 13)

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

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

18. Green Bay Packers (4-6, No. 25)

Maybe the Packers aren’t done yet? Green Bay ended a five-game losing streak with a 31-28 overtime win over the Cowboys, erasing a 14-point second-half deficit to stun former coach Mike McCarthy in his return to Lambeau Field. Thanks to the emergence of rookie wide receiver Christian Watson, who caught three touchdown passes Sunday after being plagued by injuries and drops to start his career, the offense might finally be headed in the right direction. Safety Rudy Ford was the breakout star on defense, intercepting quarterback Dak Prescott twice in the first half to solidify one of the unit’s weakest spots. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Packers just an 18.1% chance of making the playoffs, but two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers still might have something left in the tank to deliver a season-saving run.

Not done yet

19. Arizona Cardinals (4-6, No. 23)

20. Indianapolis Colts (4-5-1, No. 31)

21. Cleveland Browns (3-6, No. 17)

22. Atlanta Falcons (4-6, No. 21)

23. Los Angeles Rams (3-6, No. 18)

24. Denver Broncos (3-6, No. 20)

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6, No. 29)

Colts coach Jeff Saturday started his interim tenure with a 25-20 win over the Raiders, but the real story is the return of quarterback Matt Ryan after a strange two-game benching for second-year backup Sam Ehlinger. Ryan showed veteran command of the offense, completing 21 of 28 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and even scrambling for 40 yards to pick up a crucial first down late in the game. That’s the player the Colts were hoping for when they traded a third-round pick for the former Falcons star this offseason. Ryan’s return coincided with a breakout performance for running back Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 147 yards after being held under 100 in five straight games. Indianapolis might have dug itself too deep of a hole to climb out of, but there’s at least some optimism that this season isn’t completely hopeless.

The same can’t be said of the defending champion Rams, who lost 27-17 to the Cardinals in a duel of backup quarterbacks. Things already looked bleak heading into the week with Matthew Stafford in concussion protocol, and then star receiver Cooper Kupp suffered a nasty ankle injury that could keep him out for an extended period of time. That might be the final blow for any hope of a Super Bowl repeat, let alone a return to the playoffs. The Rams can rest comfortably knowing their bold moves produced a title, but the championship window might be closing fast, especially if Stafford can’t return to being one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Given their bloated salary cap and lack of draft picks, this could be the start of a slow downturn for Los Angeles. That’s the price you pay for going all-in.

The basement

26. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7, No. 24)

27. Detroit Lions (3-6, No. 28)

28. Chicago Bears (3-7, No. 22)

29. New Orleans Saints (3-7, No. 26)

30. Carolina Panthers (3-7, No. 30)

31. Las Vegas Raiders (2-7, No. 27)

32. Houston Texans (1-7-1, No. 32)

Quarterback Justin Fields looked despondent after the Bears’ 31-30 loss to the Lions, and it’s easy to understand why. With 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns Sunday, the former Ohio State star continued one of the best stretches of any dual-threat quarterback in recent memory, and yet Chicago still can’t get over the hump in close games. Fields’ 555 rushing yards from weeks 6 through 10 are the most by any quarterback in a five-game span in the Super Bowl era, breaking Lamar Jackson’s record of 473 from weeks 6 through 11 in 2019. He also joined Jackson and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with five consecutive games with 60 or more rushing yards. Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy deserves credit for finally unlocking Fields’ potential, as 132 of his rushing yards Sunday came on designed runs, the most by a quarterback in a game over the past 15 seasons. After a rocky start to his sophomore season, Fields’ star turn should provide hope for a franchise that desperately needs it. With more than $124 million in cap space and eight draft picks looming this offseason, Chicago might not be far from building a legitimate contender.

()



Source link