It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Eagles and Chiefs are doing what the best teams do. They grind out games and outlast their opponents, and that’s why they remain at the top of my list. But the fast-rising Ravens and bye-week Jaguars are right on the leaders’ heels. Baltimore looks especially dangerous after blowouts of both the Lions and Seahawks in the past three weeks.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins and Cowboys continue to come up small in the biggest games, and the 49ers are just trying to reset after three straight losses. The Bengals, with a healthy Joe Burrow, enter the fray with four straight wins, including a Sunday night victory that knocked the Bills off the list.
With Chargers-Jets still on the Week 9 docket, here is my NFL top 10.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 8-1; Last Week: 1
Despite their struggles, the Eagles are sitting pretty with an 8-1 mark heading into the bye week. Jalen Hurts has overcome a few bumps and bruises to guide a balanced offense that wins with jabs (running game) or delivers knockouts with a calculated haymaker (passing game). With an opportunistic defense that features a ferocious pass rush to complement sticky coverage, the Eagles are the most complete team in the NFL.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Record: 7-2; Last Week: 2
The defense continues to come through for the Chiefs in key moments. The unit’s takeaway prowess and disruptive potential have allowed Andy Reid to chalk up wins utilizing a complementary approach that enables Patrick Mahomes to play as a “game manager” instead of as a playmaker from the pocket.
3. Baltimore Ravens
Record: 7-2; Last Week: 5
Lamar Jackson is quietly playing at an MVP level, directing a new-look offense with explosive playmakers across the board. The electric dual-threat QB is flourishing as a pass-first point guard, but he can still “get a bucket” whenever the Ravens need a big play. With the defense suffocating opponents with relentless pressure and overwhelming physicality, the Ravens are climbing the charts as an emerging heavyweight in the AFC.
Dave Helman reacts: Jalen Hurts, Eagles outlast Dak Prescott, Cowboys
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Record: 6-2; Last Week: 4
After reeling off five straight wins, the Jaguars took the bye week to relax and recharge for a challenging stretch run. Doug Pederson will take advantage of the extra time to work out the kinks that have prevented the Trevor Lawrence-led offense from lighting up scoreboards this season.
5. Detroit Lions
Record: 6-2; Last Week: 8
After racing out to a 6-2 start with an impressive win over the Chiefs to open the season, the Lions are well-positioned to make a run at the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Dan Campbell’s old-school methods have transformed the Lions into one of the biggest bullies on the block. With a roster loaded with blue-chip players with blue-collar mentalities, the Lions are dark-horse contenders in the NFC.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
Record: 5-3; Last Week: NR
Do not look now, but the Bengals are climbing back into the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Zac Taylor (offense) and Lou Anarumo (defense) have their units clicking on all cylinders, and Cincinnati has reeled off four straight wins after a 1-3 start. With a few marquee matchups on the horizon, the Bengals could make a late-season surge to the top of the charts as one of the hottest teams in football.
Are Joe Burrow and the Bengals back?
7. San Francisco 49ers
Record: 5-3; Last Week: 6
After dropping three straight games, Kyle Shanahan and his coaching staff have spent the past week in the lab tweaking the plans on each side of the ball. Brock Purdy & Co. need to get back on track with more efficient play and fewer turnovers from a unit loaded with elite players at marquee positions. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks must adjust his call sheet to match his players’ talents and comfort level in a scheme that is vastly different from that of his predecessor (DeMeco Ryans).
8. Miami Dolphins
Record: 6-3; Last Week: 3
After whipping a handful of lightweight contenders with their high-powered offense, the Dolphins suffered another TKO at the hands of a heavyweight. Although the squad climbed back from a 21-0 deficit to make it a one-score contest against the Chiefs, Miami’s big-game struggles make it hard to envision the Dolphins competing with the big boys in the postseason tournament.
Should Dolphins be worried about inability to win vs. playoff teams?
9. Dallas Cowboys
Record: 5-3; Last Week: 9
Mike McCarthy has his team attempting to play the right way with the offense, defense and special teams working together, but the Cowboys’ roster lacks some of the high-end depth to match some of their NFC rivals. To close the gap on the competition, the team will need Dak Prescott to raise his game to an MVP level to carry Dallas over the threshold.
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10. Cleveland Browns
Record: 5-3; Last Week: NR
While Kevin Stefanski experiments with various game plans to help his “franchise” quarterback find his way, the Browns’ destructive defense can spark a championship run as the most disruptive unit in football. Myles Garrett & Co. have shown the ability to take over games with a series of suffocating performances that cause sleepless nights for offensive coordinators around the league. After pitching a shutout against the Cardinals, the Browns are worthy of a spot on this list as a dark-horse contender in the AFC.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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